Caffeinated Clint : The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel

I still remember the first time I traveled overseas – my knees were wobbling from nervous excitement the moment I handed my boarding pass over to the attractive Asian flight attendant. “Have a nice flight”, she said as she guided me to my seat in the always rowdy Cattle-class seating area. “Er, yeah, Thanks” I say, “When do you start serving alcohol?”.

Sounds like I wasn’t headed to South America to fight the Predator with Sonny Landham and Jesse Ventura, doesn’t it? Ha! Hardly! I was off to Bali. Kuta. Home of the spruiker, bootleg Chris Isaak tape, and warm grog.

Indonesia, heck, Bali, isn’t exactly a far-off-place – it’s only a short flight from Australia – and it’s definitely not on the country’s “do not travel” list (it was for a while – after the terrorist bombing, but not when I traveled- it was Disneyland with fake perfume in the 90s). I had no reason to be packing darkies. Yet, I was – and to this day, I’ll never quite know why. Or do I?

What’s with the anxiety and nervousness some of us feel when we’re magically transported via flying monster to a Super-8 motel in a distant country?

I don’t know. Probably something to do with having to leave your comfort zone. Probably has a lot to do with being away from friends, family and fighto the dog for a few weeks. Might even have to something to do with having to order a different brand of beer while away.

But as I said, this was Bali – and they served Fosters. It was also hardly a place you’d fret over visiting, the most dangerous person you’d encounter in this city (then, not now) was a 10-year-old kid selling fake Stussy caps on the street, or a pushy woman with 14 kids trying to push her dodgy Rolex’s onto you. But I did. Spin out over it. That is. And for the first couple of days in the country, I pretty much sat inside my sweaty hut, drinking hot beer (don’t ask) and watching subtitled episodes of “Friends”. Hardly what you’d call “experiencing Bali” or “getting your money’s worth out of your trip” (in a further effort to keep me confined to my room, I was informed by the hotel clerk that the local McDonalds and KFC delivered to the rooms. “God Yeah! Now there’s really no reason to go out and get butt-fucked by a hair braider!”). I’ll just get drunk in my sweltering hot hotel room for 24 hours and tell my girlfriend-at-the-time stories from my childhood.

That got old pretty quick. The room got even hotter. The last thing I remember was my girlfriend walking out the door to “go shopping”.

What the fuck?! She’s going where?

Oh well, let her. I’m not rubbing cream on her assaulted butt-crack when she re-enters the room. And I’m definitely not sharing this cold KFC.

Then – well, after a couple of days of stale Bin Tang and non-subtitled MTV-Asia – something cracked. I threw my backpack over my shoulder, chucked the ray-bans on top of my head, and whacked the Footloose soundtrack in my cassette-walkman. I was off. I had to decide to brave the oh-so-scary streets of Kuta. I don’t know whether I was still drunk from the night before, or whether I just needed some air, but one thing’s for sure – the brain told the legs to get out and experience this holiday I’d paid for. So I did.

Before I had even walked out of the resort – yes, a real scary holiday this one; I was in a top resort where most nights were spent in a pool with a bunch of drunk Aussie women – I was approached by a street vendor. Then another. And another. And another. Before I’d even jumped into a Taxi, I’d bought a hat, fake watch, and paid for the woman I was staying with to get her nails done (which, from memory, cost me about $100 – because all four girls demanded $25 each. Robbery!).

The next day, I went further. The day after, further again. And by the end of the day, I had hired my own personal tour guide – a nice chap who ran a clothing store in the back-streets, desperate for cash from memory – to take me to see “the real Bali”.

And bloody hell, he sure did. We took off into the mountains – mountains that took about half-a-day to get to. I still remembering entering them, the mountains, my guide turns around and says something like “I tell you when to duck”. Yep, apparently tourists weren’t welcome up the hills he was taking me and he couldn’t tell me what’d happen if they’d spot me. I never did have to duck down, but I did have to pay off some cops – I kid you not, we were entering some bush on the other side of the hills when the cops pulled us over and demanded I hand over some fresh Aussie dollars to them. It was never explained to me why I had to do this. I can only assume that they try and keep tourists out of these areas, and tell most to turn around if they come driving up in their rented 4WDS, but now-and-then can be bribed into letting you thru.

On a separate day, I hired the guide to take me to the see the “sea” – somewhere far from the beaches of Kuta. All I remember is it looked a lot like the Island in “Lost” (Yes, Hawaii – only without the tourists) and once again, took several hours to get to (Again, I think we paid someone off to get access). He took me to the most beautiful fuckin’ place I’ve ever seen – dolphins jumping beside the wonky boat, not a tourist in sight, local fisherman catching their breakfast in the clear-blue waters on shore. A tiny dinosaur could’ve come out and bit me on my left nut and I’d still be swearing up and down how exquisite this place was.

For the next week or two I did it all – I went from Michael Bolton in “Office Space” to Jack Colton in “Romancing the Stone” in that short amount of time. Been the same ever since.
I scaled the surrounds of an active volcano, I peeled bananas and had hot beer with an Indonesian family in the hills, I learnt of the local religion (can’t remember what it is – just that we had to stop every few miles to place some kind of ashy flower on a monument by the side of the road), I got near-kidnapped by a shady Taxi driver (I ended up informing him that I was a police officer and my weapon was loaded, so he best return me to Kuta; he did, thank god!) and encountered all sorts of shady types.

And it was great – much better than drinking hot beer and eating from The Colonel’s bucket in a lizard-infested hotel room. I had lived. I had experienced something new. I had taken the first step to becoming someone else – someone not afraid to experience the unknown (and ever since, I’ve welcomed the opportunity to enter the dark forest and see what lies within). Fuckin’ bring on the banana-peeling cannibals in the hills! let me swim with the dolphins a gazillion light years from home! Bring me whatever breed of meat that steak was… again!

What I learnt on that trip, after 14 days discovering the beauty of the Indonesian countryside, is that you should always act on your nerves. In some respects, they’re telling you what you should be doing. Nervous about seeing a doctor because of what he’ll say about that discoloured mole? Of course you are, but you HAVE to go and see him/her! Nervous about that university exam? Again, that’s natural – but you HAVE to do it, if you want to pass your course! Want to see the world, and experience things and places you’ve never experienced before but are uneasy about leaving the comfort of your cushy leather couch? Fuck, I know, but you HAVE to do it – if you don’t, you’re not living.

And that’s what I loved about Thomas Whelan’s new movie “The Art of Travel” – it essentially says that same thing, you’re not living, if you don’t go out there and just experience the world. It’s not saying you have to go all “Into the Wild” and live off the cum of wild bears for six months, or seek shelter within the carcass of a shattered Hoth droid, but you shouldn’t be afraid to do things that are unfamiliar to you. After taking his unbelieveable journey – to places like Nicaragura and Rome – the lead character in this film, played by former sitcom star Christopher Masterson, is a much happier, more content person… he’s ready to take on the world. What his journey teaches him is that not only is there a lot to see out there, but life can be more than busted relationships and 9-to-5 labour. And he’s right.

And what an amazing film this is. It’s a very similair film to “Into the Wild” only this one has a happy ending – an optimisic one; it’s almost a feel-good movie, a movie that flys the banner for self-discovery and world exploration.

Conner Layne HAS discovered that his fiancée is having an affair with his best friend, he dumps her at the altar and heads off on his honeymoon solo. While experiencing the wonders that South America has to offer, including meeting two hot Swedish travelers and being robbed of all his money and belongings, he meets a friendly couple who are planning to cross the Darien Gap, a 100-mile-long streak of undeveloped jungle that separates Panama and Colombia, in record time with a ragtag group of foreigners. Conner decides to join them. His life will never be the same. His passport too.

Director Whelan went to some unbelievable fucking places to shoot this movie…

A) Managua, Nicaragua – Whelan says they shot “all over the city. When you see Conner Layne walking through Ghetto, he really is walking through the ghetto! We only had 5 days to shoot everything in Nicaragua. All our night time scenes where the hardest to film because at the time the city was dealing with rolling blackouts throughout the entire city! The scene where Conner checks into the scary hotel in Managua when he just arrives had to be lit by using the crew bus engine battery! That battery managed to light the entire scene and then when we wrapped the scene- the crew had to get out and start push the BIG BUS in order to start the engine to the bus to get back to the hotel! The scene that got away was after Conner gets robbed, he actually goes to a bar in the city and has the time of his life meeting all the locals of the city (before he comes across the girls again at the hotel for the last time). We set up the entire scene and then right when the cameras were going to roll, the rolling blackout hit us and we had to ditch the scene!”

B) “We shot quite a bit in Panama City but we actually shot a lot of the jungle stuff about 5 hours south of Panama City on the actual outskirts of the Darien Gap (all the village scenes and some jungle scenes). Then we also shot for about 7 days in an old abandoned air force base about 30 minutes from downtown Panama City. “

C) ‘’Cusco, Peru we stayed at for about 7 days and while there we also shot Machu Picchu The altitude of Cusco is around 11,200 feet! So you can imagine how the crew must of felt when we landed there. The city is absolutely amazing and any direction you decide to point the camera is just pure production value! Mashu Picchu is about a 4 hour train ride away from the city at a lower elevation but the scenery is amazing on that journey!’’

D)‘’La Paz and the Salar de Uyni in Bolivia. La Paz is a great city and the salt flats are about a 12 hour bus trip south of the city. The Salt Flats are amazing to visit and there were many areas we just didn’t have time to visit that would have blown your socks off!’’

And he saw it all.

Like me, Whelan and his crew were a little unsure of themselves at first – probably expecting to relive the first half-an-hour of Patricia Arquette’s “Beyond Rangoon” when they arrived in some of their distant locales.

“The place where the crew felt the most uneasy was Managua”, Whelan tells. “During the shoot a German tourist was robbed about 15 feet from the entrance of the hotel where the entire crew stayed. He came back to the hotel in tears and was returning back home and couldn’t wait to get out of the city. We thought the city and the people were amazing and never had any problems. No cast or crew member really ever got sick or hurt. The only time we had to deal with a medical issue was in Panama. Johnny Messner agreed to do the part and flew down to Panama on the condition that we didn’t have to deal with spiders (like what Masterson had to do). Everyone laughed and said no problem. On his first day on the set, while shooting in the jungle (30 minutes into the day) Messner was bitten by a poisonous spider and had to be rushed to the hospital with our set medic! But he showed up about two hours later and kept shooting!”

There’s something so delicate, so effective, so tremendously inspiring about Whelan’s movie. Look at it this way, if Danny Boyle’s “The Beach” played a lot realer – loved the film, but it still plays as a fantasy – it’d have been this movie… just without the vomiting-enducing Tilda Swinton-seduction scene.

…. And, for better or worse, the budget.

“We raised the entire budget with private financing. We had shot a film called “Somewhere” (budget about $65,000) about two years earlier in Thailand and Malaysia and used that film to shot investors that we could actually shot a film in a different country for practically no money”, explains Whelan. “I just believe it easier to film a low budget film on location rather than in Los Angeles. Let me put it to you this way – the two most expensive days on the entire film was the only two days that we shot in Los Angeles! Our crew was about 20 people and in the four countries we could take the entire crew out to dinner and say order anything you want and spoil them. So in Nicaragua we’d take out about 30 people and the total cost of the dinner would be $400.00 including drinks! In LA that price would be around $1,200 easy! Also, in foreign countries no one knows what a location fee is!”

One of the best films I’ve seen this year, “The Art of Travel” is as enlightening as it is educational and entertaining – it’s a full-on attack of all words beginning with the letter ‘e’. More so, it’s a nice middle finger at the big studio sprogfests that cost the equivalent of fifteen beach front property mortgages to finance….

Go Travel! Go See the World! Max up your Frequent Flyer Miles! Screw a foreign chick under a Wikipedia-friendly landmark!

Back with more ramblings shortly kids!