Shattering Conventions: Bob Calhoun Visits the San Francisco Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show

March 20, 2018

The live camels seem a bit out of place near the back of the Santa Clara Convention Center, but there they are. It is the San Francisco Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show so it all makes a kind of sense—especially when you emphasize the adventure aspect of the whole thing.

Standing off to the side of the camel pen is somebody wearing a lion costume topped by a pith helmet. The lion dances around to draw attention to the African section of the Travel and Adventure Show as if the towering camels weren’t doing the trick already.

Just a few feet from the dancing lion is a flat screen showing real lions in the wild gnawing on felled antelopes. The nature footage comes courtesy of Wild Eye, the purveyors of photo and family safaris in South Africa and Kenya. The company’s tagline is “Change the way you see the world.”

“I grew up going to the bush seeing lions, elephants and stuff,” Wild Eye co-founder Gerry van der Walt explained. “It’s just that passion that came around and that’s how Wild Eye was born.”

Van der Walt really starts to sell me on the whole safari thing when he explains that six of their tour guides in Kenya are traditional Maasai warriors.

“When they’re not working for us, they’re back home taming cattle,” van der Walt said, reeling me in.

I take a brochure and start planning my Kenyan photo safari.

Only a few minutes earlier, Ali Maao, cruise service director of the Vaka Cruise, had me convinced that I really needed to go to the Cook Islands.

“The Cook Islands are the last place in the world that exists like that,” Maao said, pointing to the large photo of a pristine white-sand beach met by clear, blue water that makes up his booth’s backdrop.

“The population on my island where I’m from is only 1,800,” he added, noting that we have schools with larger populations over here.

He sells me on this. I take another brochure. My backpack is getting heavy with them.

Iran is surprisingly popular at the Travel and Adventure Show. When I ask Hayahoo Tours President Mohammad Sadra Azimi why I should go to Iran, he said, “Because it will really piss off President Trump,” before telling me of his country’s friendly people and rich antiquities.

The orange one in the Oval Office seems to be on a few travel agents’ minds.

“Mongolia is the only country that made another country build a wall,” Gereltuv Dashdoorov of Mongolia Quest said as we sit down in the half-yurt that dominates his country’s booth.

“[Mongolia] is the country that established the largest continuous land empire in the history of mankind,” he humbly bragged before handing me a refrigerator magnet bearing an embossed portrait of Genghis Khan. This is the most bad-ass fridge magnet of all time.

I leave the Travel and Adventure Show only to find myself back in Santa Clara. But before I go on any African Safari or South Pacific cruise, I decided to make a run for the border and hit the Taco Bell drive-thru.

Every month in “Shattering Conventions,” author Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference looking for a way to fit ineven when he doesn't always belong. Calhoun is the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor." You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.

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About the author
Bob Calhoun