Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Favourite travel flicks (that don't involve Christmas)

If you have an urge to travel, but for whatever reason, you can't the next best option may be to watch a movie about travel. Or at least one that will take you on a journey of some kind.

Last December, I penned a post about some of my favourite Christmas movies, and they all involved some element of travel.

I've shared some of my favourite travel books in the past; now here are some of my favourite "travel" movies. They're not travelogues or documentaries about travel; they're fictional action movies that involve a fairly prominent degree of travel.

You may notice none of them involve paddling trips or anything to do with parrots; that's because I plan to blog about those more specific types of travel experiences in the movies in some future posts.

So they are - some of my favourite travel movies.

Any Indiana Jones movie. These movies may have inspired many to launch a career in archaeology (although if they did not heed Indy's words, "We do not follow maps to buried treasure - and 'X' never, ever marks the spot," they might be disappointed). Not many movie series involve more travel than this franchise. Indy's in South America, Nepal, Egypt, China, India, Italy, Austria, Germany, and even the fictional country of the Republic of Hatay (filmed in Jordan). Plus they always feature those cool "map route" video views.

Across the Pacific

You really can't beat the series for travel.

Any James Bond movie. Right on the heels of the Indy Jones flicks (some would say just ahead of) are the adventures of British spy 007.

That's a long list of places 007 has visited...
There's no doubt he gets around...the first Bond movie I ever watched featured him in China and Japan (You Only Live Twice).

The next time I saw him, he was in Venice (like Indy in that city, he's in the company of a ravishing blonde), then Brazil - then outer space! He's also been to India, Thailand, Cuba, the USA, Korea, Iceland, Montenegro, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Turkey, and Yugoslavia.

He's travelled by air, by boat, by space ship, by car (with that famous Aston Martin) and by train. He really gets around, that James...

Murder on the Orient Express. One of Bond's best-known scenes is the fight with SPECTRE assassin Red Grant while on the Orient Express in From Russia with Love. It's much more violent than the murder committed in the 1974 movie based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel, but like FRWL, it starts out in Turkey and heads east toward Paris. It's not only a great whodunit, it involves travel on one of history's most luxurious trains.

High Road to China. A 1983 adventure flick set in the 1920s, starring Tom Selleck - the man who almost became Indy Jones ahead of Harrison Ford (think about that). But his contract with the Magnum P.I. television series would not allow it.

Selleck plays a pilot hired to fly from Istanbul (how do all these movies seem to start in Istanbul?) to China to find her missing father. It's a real fun flick to watch.

King Solomon's Mines. Based on the book by H. Rider Haggard, there are several versions of this movie, but my favourite is the 1950 release starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. Again, the main female lead hires the main male lead to help her find a missing person, this time a husband and along the way through unexplored Africa of the 19th century, they find the famous diamond mines.

There's no word on whether Kerr's character arrives in Kenya via Turkey. But you never know...

Watch out for the rhinos!

Alaska. Starring a young Thora Birch and Dirk Benedict (Faceman from "The A Team" television series), this is a family adventure movie about two kids looking for their bush pilot father who's crashed somewhere in the remote Alaskan wilderness. They kayak and hike their way through the wilds to find him, stopping an evil poacher (played, appropriately, by Charlton Heston) and saving a polar bear cub along the way.

How the West was Won. Based on the Louis L'Amour novel of the same time, this star-studded flick - featuring the likes of James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, John Wayne, Karl Malden, and George Peppard to name but a few - chronicles the spread of American settlers from the eastern seaboard westward across the plains to the mountains on the Pacific coast. They travel by canal ferry, canoe, river raft, wagon train, paddlewheeler, horseback, and locomotive across the land and across the screen.

To the Ends of the Earth. A film noir movie from 1948, it follows the travels of US narcotics agent Michael Barrows (played by Dick Powell) from San Francisco to Shanghai, from Shanghai to Egypt, from Egypt to the Caribbean as he tracks a gang of murderous drug lords. Really well done, and it has a very surprising twist at the end. (He never makes it to Turkey, though!)

Around the World in 80 Days. I've seen two versions of this movie based on the book by Jules Verne and enjoyed them both immensely, one with David Niven starring as Phileas Fogg, the other with Pierce Brosnan playing the main character. They travel around the world from London and back, by balloon, steamer, and rail, racing against the clock to win a bet. Great fun.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The original Hemingway story takes place only in Africa, but in the movie with Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner, it has the main character - writer Harry Street - also showing up in Spain and Italy as part of the back story, told through the device of flashback. Good stuff, a pretty decent adaptation of the short story.

Ava Gardner is one of the lovely ladies in this film.

So...those are some of my favourite travel movies - what are yours?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

There are souvenirs - and there are SOUVENIRS

Memories are made of this...
Everyone likes to take home reminders, mementos of their travels abroad. For years, souvenirs have
been part of the travel experience. Aside from photos, they provide the best physical reminders of journeys.

Like everything else in life, this has its good points and bad points.

The best mementos often consist of something you cannot get at home, something produced by a local craftsman, something unique and special that calls back a specific memory of a trip.

The worst consist of the kitschy plastic mass-produced commercial souvenirs purchased often in airport gift shops, often before boarding a plane to leave and return home.

In no way is this meant to criticize anyone who purchases the latter on a trip. Hell, I have more than a few souvenir ball caps and beer mugs myself, from many of the places I've visited.

But I also have plenty of authentic pieces of art, crafts, and other reminders of my journeys. And while I enjoy sporting a cap that proclaims, "I've gone kayaking in the Cayman Islands," most of my favourite souvenirs are these hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind pieces of work.

Of course, those do the most good for local people, particularly in Third World Countries, and that's the best reason for spending at least a good portion of your souvenir budget on those types of souvenirs.

Lately, I've been favouring experiences over objects, trying to keep the clutter in my house down. However, I still will purchase special gifts from time to time when I travel abroad.

Here are some of my favourite items from past trips, in no particular order (I'm limiting each destination to just one souvenir - otherwise I could take up the entire list with objects from Africa.)

1. Wooden drum from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It's pictured above with a table from Malawi and a wine goblet from Tanzania. This was a really tough call, we traded for/purchased so many cool items in Africa, all created by individual artisans. They're scattered throughout our living room. As I mentioned in a post last month, half the fun - and all the memories! - of these souvenirs resulted from the bartering process.
Nothing like a good sacrifice to spruce up the kitchen!

2. Mayan wall carving. Obtained this one at a market in the city of San Ignacio, Belize, located right next to the Guatemalan border. I think it was actually someone from Guatemala selling it, but it looked really cool, and always serves as a reminder of my very first international trip, and a week spent in the Maya Mountains.

3.  Woven bag. This one was purchased partly out of necessity.

It's colourful and handy - I picked it up in a market in Ollantaytambo, Peru. And thanks to the work of my guide Liliana Bayona, who rapidly talked the seller down in Spanish during some rapid bargaining, I paid much less for it than they wanted me to, initially.

(Sadly, there's no picture of this - the mice got to it during an infestation a few years ago.)

Iban hornbill bowl.
4. Hornbill bowl. I picked up this carving at an Iban village in Malaysian Borneo. Because in a blog entitled "Parrots, Paddling and Ponderings," you have to expect I would include at least one bird item in my list, don't you? I was lucky to get the only one, as some of the rest of my group also liked it.

5. Huaorani blowgun. This is an actual blowgun used by this tribe in the Amazon rain forests of Ecuador (which offers much more than just the Galapagos, I might add).

We paddled with some of them in kayaks down the Rio Shiripuno for five days, spending one day in their village. Great experience.

The Huaorani blowgun: don't leave the village without it.
What are some of your favourite travel souvenirs?

While you're pondering that, you can listen to "Souvenirs" by John Prine.