Tag Archives: travel

A Greenish Hue

The annual contest to crown Europe’s most environmentally friendly city seems, to my mind, a little misguided. Clearly the greenest city is the tiniest, most remote one with no electricity, no espresso, and no labor disputes involving flaming tires. It’s the city tucked into a hillside with three people on unicycles sharing one waffle made by a free-range goat.

But…given that the European Commission currently weighing the 2012 eco-candidates has insisted on short-listing eight finalists with baseline carbon footprints the size of Henry Ford’s, these are the eight cities garnering praise and attention. Most have been reviewed by every travel magazine and Al Gore website from here to…wherever the internet and Al Gore end. And yet I feel it’s my duty—as an observant, mentally functioning human—to point out that several of the finalists have potentially troubling issues and should be removed from the running faster than an NRA member at a lesbian beauty pageant…

Nantes

This seaside city in Western France certainly scores points for its name, which calls to mind all things technologically slow: bugs, Nanas, and your mother’s elderly sister. And Time Magazine did name Nantes 2004’s “Most Liveable City”—assuming, of course, that one speaks French. It’s unlike Time to miss something so obvious, but apparently they were focused on factors like good looking mayors and buttered baguettes. The reason Nantes concerns me is because of how intensely it’s taking this competition. The city has always had a strong educational system, but has recently begun sending its young children 1) to farms, 2)  in the countryside, 3) with the express purpose of learning to grow their own food. Yes, food. Nantes has a festival called La Foile des Plantes (loosely translated, “Crazy About Plants”) and has a botanical museum dedicated to endangered foliage (loosely translated, “S’il Vous Plaît Get a Grip.”)  It’s all too much. I’m declaring Nantes disqualified.

Barcelona

Of course Barcelona is green: everyone is too drunk to drive. Yet, from my experience, they’re mostly drunk on sangria,  and flying all those oranges into town can’t be very eco-friendly. Citrus-rape of the planet aside, Barcelona does score green points for the fact that its most famous construction project (La Sagrada Familia) has been on hold for nearly a century. Not only is La Sagrada my favorite site in all of Western Europe (aside from the site of Italian soccer player Luca Toni shopping for milk while wearing a tank top), the one-of-a-kind cathedral has stood, gorgeously half-finished, since the day artist/architect Antoni Gaudí took a few steps backward into the street to get a better view of his burgeoning masterpiece and was promptly hit by a trolley car. He died and no one else could interpret his blueprints. But the trolley car was environmentally sound, and just think of all the tractor gas that’s been saved ever since. Barcelona also scores points for having fostered social cohesion in local parks and squares, and having designated a large number of “People Spaces” around the metropolitan area. Although by “social cohesion in parks and square” they mean the gay underground, and by “People Spaces” they mean “dive bars inside youth hostels.” Either way, Barcelona is definitely in the running.

Malmö

Sounds like a company that manufactures pretentious T-shirts. But no, Malmö is a lovely city in Sweden that I’m concerned about in terms of its intentions. It seems little Malmö has only stepped up its green game to spite big sister Stockholm, who won Europe’s eco-contest in 2010. Envy might be a green emotion, but as a motivator for environmentalism it seems a little juvenile. Malmö is so invested in winning that it recently began encouraging residents to participate in bike riding by installing enormous, unsightly gray “cycle barometers” all over the city. They literally count you as you ride past—and that’s just creepy. Disqualified.

Stockholm

See above. Stockholm won in 2010 and incumbents are incredibly boring. I’ll also mention that one of the main issues Stockholm tackled in the run-up to the big 2010 win was noise pollution. I’d have to check with Mother Nature, but I’m not sure boom box volume is high on her To Do list. Overall—been there, won that, disqualified.

Hamburg

Hamburg has already been announced as the winner of the 2011 eco-contest, primarily due to the fact that its Prius-style tram literally stops in front of every resident’s front door. It takes seven weeks to get to work, but gas consumption is measured in midget-thimbles. Hamburg is so efficient it actually absorbs carbon monoxide from surrounding townships.  But I worry that naming someone the winner, twice, for a contest-year still set in the future would reflect quite badly on the competition. It is also likely to discourage other cities who will very quickly find themselves uninspired to vie for titles to be awarded in the year 3000. So unless Hamburg does something extraordinary in the next few months—say, re-engineer cancer cells to fix Mickey Rourke and repair the damaged ozone layer—disqualified.

Reykjavik

Any city located inside the country currently blanketing all of Europe in three meters of toxic volcanic ash…seriously disqualified. Yes, Reykjavik has an interesting system of utilizing the heat from natural hot springs to power toasters and whatnot. But such schemes are all fine and good until said toasters band together and shut down Heathrow Airport.

Nuremberg

…where to begin.

As a humorist, it’s difficult to handle a subject/target both this easy and this touchy. So, in the interest of “Rising Above It”, I’ll settle for no comment. Although, in terms of this particular competition, I do have to disqualify Nuremberg for one simple reason: Despite the city’s heroic efforts to reduce waste, galvanize hippy activists, and foster long-term sustainability, the entire purpose of this contest is to encourage tourism, bolster the city’s image, and promote the region as a whole. And yet it is undoubtedly one of the great mysteries of modern times why, in the past fifty years, it hasn’t occurred to a single soul in the Nuremberg public relations department to change the name of the city.

I hear Goebbels Valley is also in need of a make-over…

Vitoria-Gasteiz

Where??

This Basque-country entry simply proves my point. Nestled in the scenic Cantabrian Mountains, Vitoria-Gasteiz is green because it’s rustic, hard to get to, little visited, little populated, small enough to cross on foot, and no one there speaks English (resulting in less Seinfeld-watching and far less energy consumption). Plus Vitoria is also Spanish, so everyone there is drunk too. All-in-all, unfairly positioned over the other contenders. Disqualified.

And the winner is…

Barcelona. Reviewing all evidence presented thus far, Barcelona is the only city not disqualified based on its current orientation, imagination, lack of evil side effects, and overall reasonableness of approach. That being said, Barcelona is now immediately disqualified based on its hosting of the 1996 Olympics, which caused more trash, toxins, pollution, construction, weird sports, bad dancing, crotchety medalists, closeted track stars, and general eco-nightmarishness to outlast all actions the city has taken ever since.

In fact, I feel that someone, at some point, should point out to the European Commission and all interested followers of this high-profile Eco-Challenge the following conundrum: Winning this contest will improve the reputation of the winning city. People will admire it, notice it, and be more likely to visit. And yet one transatlantic airline flight  emits more CO2 into the atmosphere than could be made up for by a lifetime of recyclable shopping bags and low-flow toilets. To truly support the environment one must vote for a winning green city and then swim there—preferably with a compact fluorescent light bulb clenched between their teeth.

Be sure to steer clear of the Gulf oil spill.

Good luck. And travel hard, my friends.

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Last Resorts

Nothing screams vacation like being afraid for your life. After all, people go on exotic trips to forget about their chores, their bosses, excruciating hiatuses in Mad Men…the little problems. So it only makes sense to vacation in a place with some major ones. Of course, much of what we label as dangerous is really a matter of perception: Just as dangerous dogs are a function of how you raise them, dangerous vacations are simply a function of how often you leave your hotel room. Luckily there are some truly lovely resorts in some seriously scary places.

 

One & Only Resort (Cape Town, South Africa)

When going on vacation, one should invariably head for the “Rape Capital of the World.” Now, I admit that this is somewhat unfair to say because South Africa is more accurately known as the “Rape, Armed Murder, Carjacking, and Kidnapping Hub of Plenty.” It was a close call for the Department of Tourism, but they wanted it to fit on a license plate. Recent  surveys also show that while 1-in-4 South African women have been raped in their lifetime, 3-in-2 had been carjacked that very day. So, in terms of overall safety, you should definitely focus on locking the car doors.

The point is that you’re highly unlikely to be the victim of any kind of crime in the stylish lobby of the One&Only resort in Cape Town. The One&Only is part of a chain, of course (there are seven of them), but this One&Only is certainly the only-Only on the African Subcontinent. (Truth in advertising is a core value in the developing world, where cigarettes are still marketed as stocking stuffers.) This urban-chic oasis features waterfront views, a world class spa, a Japanese restaurant with a Michelin-starred chef, and a seafood restaurant with Gordon Ramsay as the chef. Having him punch you in the throat is extra. For those lucky enough to book a suite, please note that each one comes with a 24-hour butler who guarantees superior service (i.e., Jasmine Tea), old world charm (little bit racist), and conducts himself with the utmost discretion (carries a switchblade and won’t tell your mother).

But no. I really am being tough on South Africa, a country that’s had more than its fair share of triumphs and tragedies. Cape Town itself was founded by the Dutch East India Company, the first and only multinational corporation with the power to coin money and wage war. Yes,that is…coin money…and wage war. The same people who thought that was a good idea later built a prison and put Nelson Mandela in it, although that mistake has since been rectified and commemorative jail-cell snow globes are now on sale in the prison gift shop. Even better, government statistics show that the only crimes officially on the rise in South Africa are “those dependent upon police action for detection.” As for what that means, it’s probably best to move on…

Bembridge Coast Hotel  (Isle of Wight, Great Britain)

Once upon a time in 1560, a disturbed young boy murdered his father and sister, and the dead girl, deranged and dressed in blue, now roams the foggy hills of England crying out for her mother, who obviously did a bang-up job raising these children. But that’s the Isle of Wight for you: the most notoriously, densely, and actively haunted island in the world. There are more dead people than tourists, but that makes booking a room fairly easily.

The Isle itself is diamond-shaped, five miles off the coast of Hampshire, and about 70 miles from London, where there are many supermodels who look dead but are really just “in demand.”  Resort-wise, Wight boasts many quaint areas, one of the most popular being Bembridge on the eastern tip. Offering a plethora of activities such as crabbing, shopping, beach-combing for the kids, and copious amounts of yachting, the only thing to worry about in relaxing Bembridge is the decapitated head of a 17th century pirate that is sometimes seen in fishing areas. Those who happen to comes across this head are advised not to panic, not to call the concierge, and to practice Catch & Release as always. Other Wight specters that have long been witnessed and solidly confirmed (confirmation defined as three or more mentions on two distinct websites) include a phantom monk who roams the grounds of a monastery, a woman in red who hung herself in her manor house, and an entire haunted police station complete with a sad and slumped phantom convict whose parole hearing is any day now. One personal favorite, specter-wise, is the ghost of a man named Michael Morey who chopped up his grandson with an axe in 1736, tried to hide the crime by shoving the dismembered body into several leather bags, got caught, and was summarily executed and displayed on the barrows. Today, he regularly emerges from the existential mist, forever damned to circle the ancient barrows on horseback, balefully crying out in rage and despair. What I want to know is what the poor horse did.

For those wondering why there is so much supernatural restlessness packed onto this one petite, polite British island that was otherwise minding its own business, it apparently comes down to the ley lines—of course it’s the ley lines!—as you will repeatedly be told in every pub from Bembridge to Dead Bridge by the many ghost hunters who annually flock to the island armed with little more than untutored opinions and a laminated map. Ley lines, by the way, are unseen alignments that have been carefully diagramed by New Age types in hemp shoes and, through means unknown, create powerful currents of psychic energy that crisscross the globe and converge with stunning accuracy at the direct points of intersection between major megaliths, ancient sites, holy places, standing stones, churches, cairns, astrological configurations, large playgrounds, oversized bunkers, abandoned Pintos, and anything else that happens to fall on one of the lines and not have a cash register or Book of Mormon. (The lines are very old and that religions is very, very new.)

All Mini-Hotels (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Why is it that every mention of Ho Chi Minh in casual conversation, at least in my world, is met with the same response: “Ho Chi Minh…isn’t that the place that…or wait, isn’t he the guy…?” The answer is no. It’s not the place where the guy stood in front of the tank with the daisy. But yes, it is the place where the helicopter took off and left Miss Saigon behind. So, sure, if you add the word “City” it is a place, but it was also definitely a person. But no, that person wasn’t also named Dien Bien Phu. And in some ways  perhaps (but for the most part hell no) he’s not the same guy as Mao Zedong. Got it? Good. Because in any case it’s not a great place to stay in a mini-hotel.

Let’s be more specific, first off, because if you have enough money you can find somewhere fabulous to sleep pretty much anywhere besides Darfur and Nebraska. But the so-called “mini-hotels” littering the landscape of Ho Chi Minh City, particularly those in the backpacking mecca of Phu Nhuan, are little more than death traps masquerading as fire hazards, all designed to distract you from the roving conmen and abusive staff. I don’t want to name names, but…let’s say..the Phu Phuong Hotel located at 338 Dao Duy in Ward 9…for example. We’ll call that one dodgy—and maybe don’t stay anywhere else in a five block radius. Among the things these mini-hostels are notorious for is:

  • Bait & switching on things like price and air conditioners;
  • Shouting obscenities when you question your $873 worth of “Good Bag Handle” charges;
  • Failing to have luxuries such as working phones lines or deadbolts that stop armed marauders  from breaking into your room while you’re, say, still in there sleeping and/or furiously pushing on the other side of the door (while screaming);
  • Shysters who say they’ll take you from the lobby to the airport then shove you out at an unlit Cambodian rest stop;
  • And of course the old “spike your food and sexually assault you” routine, which is never as much fun as they describe in the Lonely Planet.

There are maids in these hotels, but if you leave money in the room (as part of your innovative “Pell Grant for Pilferers” college scholarship fund), they will take it. And anyway the maids are mostly hiding in the deep recesses of the hotels where all the clean things are. Ho Chi Minh mini-hotels, in other words, are notoriously filthy. When you first enter your room and marvel at the parquet floors, for example, please be warned that the floor is actually a dull and lifeless beige. The brown comes from scum and the sheen can be attributed to cockroach pee. Fire is also a big concern in these tiny paradises, particularly for those staying above the 6th floor because local fire department ladders tend only to reach to the 5th. On the other hand, fear of fire will mitigate the paranoia caused by your deadbolt not working, as the only other means of egress will be the enormous hole your pedestal-footed bathtub is about to punch in the tile floor. That is, of course, if you have the audacity to have your own bathroom. If you do happen to share one (you will share one), please note that your bathroom cohabitants will unfailingly be six chatting, spewing, college-aged Australian males with penchants for cheap beer and the aim of drunken monkeys. Other than that, the only real concerns in Ho Chi Minh mini-hotels are the endemic nature of cholera, rabies, SARS, bird flu, dengue, HIV, HPV, head lice, hand warts, H1N1 (otherwise known as swine flu or “MSNBC Fever”), and the occasional but in most cases virulent outbreak of rampant homesickness.

 

 

Look it…the aim of this information is not to make you stay home. It is simply, lest we forget, to reinforce that travel is hard. As it should be. Most days, our biggest concern walking out the front door is whether or not we forgot an umbrella, and our biggest problem while lying in bed is whether or not we still like our current haircut. And what kind of life is that? The motto of the One&Only resort is “Live the moment.” So they’re very unlikely to let you die there. Plus it’s a good motto. And yes, fire safety in Southeast Asiaranks right up there with food availability on Southwest Airlines, but if you do make it out alive you’ll finally know the difference between Ho Chi Minh and Fu Manchu (Hint: Neither had good barbers.)

My passionate thesis is that the whole goal of travel is 3) to enjoy yourself, 2) to arrive home unscathed, and 1) to experience the planet. And a lot of the planet is a scary place. Whether the children are breaking into your rooms with daggers or hanging out beneath your windows with no heads, mixing adventure with danger is like mixing alcohol with a job interview: necessity and bad idea all at once. Most of the world will greet you warmly, some of it will murder you for your Levis, and the entire mess would be solved if we all just had our own butlers.

Bring a silencer, learn to make rope ladders, and go travel very hard, my friends.

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Racketeering

I think all couples should play tennis together. It’s a great way to expose weaknesses in your game (forehand, spin serve, etc.) as well as problem spots in your marriage (communication, someone’s getting fat, and so forth). And aside from the fact that you’re carrying a weapon, it really is a romantic sport. Adorable outfits. Lots of “love.” Just think of all the great romances that have sprung up on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon and RolandGarros:

– Agassi and Graf

– Federer and God

– Chris Evert and every top male player from                                    the 1970s

– Anna Kournikova and every spectator with a   pulse

– And of course the great love affair between                                       Serena Williams and herself.

For those of you who played tennis competitively as Juniors, I understand your reluctance to continue reading. Once you’ve been to one of these camps for months on end, gotten a 1986 perm, and been told by your coach that you look like cauliflower…the romance is sort of gone. For the rest of you, here are the world’s best and most passion-inducing options:

1. Roy Emerson Tennis Week, Gstaad Palace, Switzerland

Aside from the occasional funicular disaster, the Swiss Alps drip romance. Peaceful peaks, dramatic sunsets, and the stunningly turreted Gstaad Palace Hotel nestled in the heart of the Saanen Valley. Most people go there to ski.But twice a year (when there’s slightly less snow) Australian tennis legend Roy Emerson is choppered in to fix your backhand and ruin your marriage. Affable and upbeat, Emo (as the Aussies call him) is the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles and—at the ripe, skin-cancered age of 74—runs 5-hour clinics everyday for the entire six days you’re there (camp officials request that all guests be certified in CPR).

The reason I say Emerson Week will ruin your marriage is that there’s too much else to do. Horseback riding, squash courts, hot air balloons. And if I learned anything from camp it’s that people locked onto a tennis court six days a week will look for any excuse to do something else (Torture, Anyone?) You and your spouse will at some point get in a tiff, one of you will rent a mountain bike, end up in Germany, discover you prefer skiing, and never be heard from again. But go. Emo’s great.

2. IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Bradenton, Florida

The Bollettieri Tennis Academy is hands-down the most famous, sought-after, and not-inexpensive training program in the world. Founder Nick Bollettieri is also—in the words of the camp’s website—“one of the most influential figures in the world of tennis” (oligarch in Russian) and  a “legend who has transcended the sport” (long-since morphed into leather). But all the hoopla is understandable for a place that’s produced the likes of Andre Agassi (hates the sport), Monica Seles (got stabbed), Mary Pierce (father banned from all tournaments), Xavier Malisse (has panic attacks on court), Mark Philippoussis (got engaged on a reality show), Daniela Hantuchova (developed anorexia and now weighs less than her racket), Martina Hingis (dated the ugliest man in tennis then tested positive for cocaine) and of course Maria Sharapova (who always did excel at daily Cut-Throat Bitch and Endorsement Deal drills). Any questions? Oh yes, and another former Teen Queen phenom who—as a married adult—stalked a female writer I know.

Given the vast appeal of all this, weekend warriors will be thrilled to know that the Bollettieri Academy also has a grown-up division. These 3-day “Mini-Week “ packages are designed to “educate and drill in all aspects of the game including serve, return, ground strokes, volleys, overheads, approach shots, and specialty shots.” In three days. For those who’d also like to master Jedi mind tricks, the academy offers Max-Accelerated 3-day programs that recreate for adults everything offered in the Junior camp. Added Max features include Nutritional Consultation (cigarettes from an older kid behind the ball machine), Sports Massage (international co-ed dorms), Video Analysis of performances (see Sport Massage), daily private lessons (see Video Analysis), and one-on-one exploration of on-court mental performance (see Cauliflower). Morning sessions also include something called “Live Ball Warm Up,” which makes sense given that those white corpse balls were retired from Wimbledon years ago.

In terms of romance, the list of skills one can expect to pick up at the Bollettieri adult camp include: attacking, counterattacking, defense, posture, balance, and recovery. I’m not sure why these skills would be taught to Juniors because 1) children master these things naturally, and 2) such skills are clearly more useful in a marriage than a match. So head to Florida, take your spouse, and leave your poor talented child in the safety of its home. It can “friend” the academy on Facebook.

3. Sociedade Harmonia de Tênis, São Paulo, Brazil

The Sociedade Harmonia de Tênis foi fundada em 1930 por sócios do Club Athletico Paulistano, descontentes com a constante lotação das quadras de tênis daquela agremiação.

It’s Brazil, for god’s sake. Who cares. The camp has the word Harmony in the title, and you certainly don’t go on a trip like this to make sure you can beat your lobbing nemesis with the knee braces when you get home. You go to Sampa (São Paulo’s nickname) for sensory overload and a plethora of paulistanos (genetically sexy residents). You go for topless beaches (topless tennis?) and Carnival. You go to play tennis for five minutes, then run off to do things that will land you on YouTube. Not even the professional Brazilian players try very hard—because, in truth, nothing will improve your game like dancing in the streets (“Loose muscles are fast muscles”) or having your face painted by a man in peacock feathers. Kind of like the time in camp when the other kids decided it would be festive to draw all over my face with indelible ink and I inexplicably won my big match the next morning. (Although, full disclosure, I was later disqualified when tournament officials discovered that I was not, in fact, representing the Maori nation.)

But consider it. Whether you’ve never played, played professionally, or hate your partner with a burning passion, a romantic tennis holiday would probably do everyone a world of good. As globe trotters and campers alike will attest, even bad experiences somehow result in fond memories. I myself returned to the sport long enough to have a fabulous fling with a suave professional player of massive renown in his home country…but I’m not revealing who ‘til I get a book deal.

In the meantime watch the ball, boycott the Williams, and travel hard, my friends.

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Global Fandango

I’m not suggesting you pack up and fly off to a foreign country just to see a movie. But you should. There’s just something to be said for cultural understanding through cinematic experience (and no, watching Free Willy 6 on an airplane seatback doesn’t count). Some political philosophers go so far as to say that movies could save us all from nuclear war. Clearly they haven’t been following Eddie Murphy’s career. Yet it’s certainly true that big-budget Hollywood blockbusters couldn’t survive without international ticket sales from people who can’t afford to go, can’t really stand us, and can’t understand a word Sylvester Stallone is saying.

World peace aside, there are plenty of self-serving motives for seeing foreign films in the land from whence they came (self-serving motives being our biggest export behind Baywatch re-runs and eating disorders):

Bollywood

You just haven’t seen a Bollywood movie until you’ve see it in Bombay—a bold statement given that few people have actually seen an entire Bollywood movie and that Bombay, technically, no longer exists. The reason you should strive to overcome these two facts is the same reason I’m grateful for having seen Independence Day in Utah. Big Hollywood movies are meant to be watched in a theatre full of cheering patriots eating popcorn underwritten by Lipitor. And big Bollywood movies are meant to be watched after 1) getting into a rickshaw accident on the way to the theatre, 2) getting incorrect information about the start time (twice); and 3) being handed someone’s baby over a seatback for no other reason than that it was crying and you’re an adult. Try to see something modern and sexy like Dhoom II—which naturally has neither the same writer, director, characters, plot, or setting as Dhoom I. It does, however, have the oft-cast Aishwarya Rai (whom Julia Roberts once called the most beautiful woman in the world) and the oft-hot Hrithik Roshan (whom I still call the most beautiful man). The point is that—when you watch five minutes of a Bollywood movie in your living room—everyone looks silly. When you see one in India—everyone looks silly. And healthy. And happy. And contemporary and traditional all at once. You won’t get it ‘til you go.

Hong Kollywood

We owe a lot to Hong Kong. Not only did it endlessly confuse us by being Chinese then British then Chinese again, it also gave us Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan (whom we’ve since given back). Without the Hong Kong action movie, we wouldn’t have quite the same Quentin Tarantino (or basic-cable cage fighting) and we certainly wouldn’t know that black belts can fly (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Talent). Yet the main reason to see Hong Kong movies in Hong Kong is that we may be under threat of losing them. Turns out the entire Hong Kong film industry is on the verge of financial collapse due to fierce competition from…American movies influenced by Bruce Lee. It’s one of those crazy globalization catch-22s, like Hello Kitty being so American that she became Japanese. (Although it turns out she was born in Tokyo, used up by Hasbro, then traded back to Japan for a Prius).

If you can’t manage to get all the way to Hong Kong to see the next great wûxiá masterpiece, at least support the cause by ordering one online. And please bear in mind that Uma Thurman cannot, in fact, beat Jet Li in hand-to-hand combat.

Nollywood

Nollywood scares me. The Nigerian film industry not only makes the most movies per year by far (2,500 compared to Hollywood’s 450), it’s also the fastest growing film industry in the world (somehow without the help ofEntertainment Tonight) and most of what it produces is overtly Evangelical (somewhat like the U.S. Air Force Academy). I once heard a Nigerian film director instruct his cast and crew to “function to capacity in the name of Jesus Christ.” So…it’s a fun film industry. Nearly all the movies are made for under $10,000, most are in English, and every single one goes straight to video. Also they all seem to involve two people looking pained while having conversations on pastel-colored sofas. (Picture reality show contestants trying to make a Mexican soap opera.)

The issue of real importance when it comes to this expanding beast of an industry is this: At a rate of 200 movies per month, how have they not run out of story lines? Getting your hands on a Nollywood movie is a little tough, but a sampling of recent titles includes (and please look these up to confirm):  Baby Police, Broken Plate, Buried Emotion, Agony in the Family, Black Bra, Back from America, Accidental Discharge, Born 2 Suffer, Blood on the Altar, and April Fúùlù. I am, therefore, formally requesting that someone reading this please go to Nigeria, pick up a few dozen of these DVDs, and bring them back so we can all know what’s going on. My imagination is worse than most anything you could get through Customs.

Otherwise, when Netflixing your next foreign film (so you don’t ever have to leave your house again), just remember: No one cool calls it Mumbai, and Jet Li is so legit that he once broke a foot saving his daughter from the tsunami in Thailand. Try getting Brad Pitt to do that without accidentally slipping into a remake of Sophie’s Choice. Plus we’ve never seen him do line kicks in a sequined kurta. And unless we show a little support for the movies made by the other 6 billion people on the planet, we’ll end up living in a world where our Sherpas are surprised we’re not 10 feet tall and blue (the Avatarization of globalization). We have adventure tours, bike tours, wine tours—why not movie tours? The alternative could be a bland, uniform, nuclear future in which Ashton Kutcher is considered art and Nigerians have lost all sense of self-worth through repeat viewings of District 9.

Turn off your satphones, enjoy the show, and travel hard my friends.

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Sometimes, While Driving…

I recently heard a fascinating explanation of road rage: Human beings are designed to read faces, so the little bumps and missteps we have on sidewalks and in grocery stores are easily handled with a bashful smile, arched eyebrow, or other apologetic facial twitch. In a car, you can’t do this—thus people’s tendency to misattribute road incidents to entitlement, ignorance, or other human frailties worth punching someone over.

In Italy, everyone is in a tiny car, a convertible, or on a Vespa. Thus they can still see one another’s faces,  thus the Italians’ ability to get away with road shenanigans that would make most Los Angelinos pull a gun. The point is, you really do need to understand the culture in which you’re driving. So here are some handy international driving tips to bear in mind on your next holiday:

Ethiopia

Sometimes, while driving in Ethiopia, you’ll figure out why it has the highest per vehicle fatality rate in the world. Mainly it’s the livestock. Cars in

© Hulivili, Oct 2009

Ethiopia are allowed to go absolutely anywhere so long as they don’t hit anything. If you hit a donkey, it’s your fault because they have the right of way (this is true). Donkeys are actually among the best livestock to pass because they tend to stand still and let you decide. Cattle are the worst because they tend to be very still, then panic at the last second. Sheep are annoying in that they travel in packs, but the good news is that you only need to nudge one of them to the side of the road and the others will follow (this is also true of the sheep herders themselves).

As far as cars go, be aware that Ethiopian drivers are reluctant to stray into day-ending mud or pot holes, so they most often drive down the middle of the road. This means that two cars coming toward one another…will literally come directly toward one another. Drivers give just enough and only at the very last moment. It’s like a giant game of chicken that the entire country is playing (except the actual chickens). Ethiopian officials also warn that the country has very few “injury prevention programmes” (i.e., seat belts) and that terrorism is increasingly a problem. Those planning an African adventure may therefore want to heed the rather to-the-point policy statement recently issued by the Australian government:“We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Ethiopia.”

BANGKOK, THAILAND

Sometimes, while driving in Thailand, you’ll realize you’ve given birth in your car. Traffic in Bangkok is so bad that this was, in fact, happening several hundred times a year and Bangkok police are now required to be trained in basic midwifery. With a mere 9 million residents, Bangkok’s population

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density isn’t that different from New York’s—which means that something besides the sheer number of people is contributing to the problem. Among those somethings are: 1) the difficult mix of cars, trucks, bicycles, and tuk tuks (not to mention the many residents who regularly get out of their cars, don surgical masks, and walk down the middle of the highway); 2) the fact that Bangkok’s main form of public transportation (SkyTrain) doesn’t go into the city center (why would it!); and 3) the fact that public officials tried to solve the traffic issue by paving over the city’s many canals. The only problem is that locals used those canals to get around, and the excess rainwater the canals used to absorb is now flooding the streets. Civil engineers assigned to spring roll construction are being re-deployed as we speak.

For now, tourists are advised to plan all trips from anywhere in the city to anywhere else in the city with “2 to 3 hours of tolerance” (i.e., Valium) and the best way to guarantee making your departure flight is never to leave the airport in the first place. One upside to the traffic problem is the raging success of last year’s Bangkok Traffic Love Story, a Thai romantic comedy about a woman who crashes her car and falls in love with a SkyTrain employee. Unfortunately the movie was so popular that tuk tuk drivers are now watching it on their iPods while driving. In the sequel she will give birth.

BOLIVIA

Sometimes, while driving in Bolivia, you’ll wonder why you’re on something called the Road of Death. Technically it’s the Yungas Road, and only the locals call it the Road of Death. The Inter American Development Bank simply went with “World’s Most Dangerous Road.” It runs 43 miles from La

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Paz up a mountainside to Coroico, and is lined on one side with a cliff face ascending to the heavens and on the other side with…well, nothing. You’ll realize that there is no guard rail. You’ll realize it’s single-laned with hairpin turns and numerous tire tracks leading into the abyss. You’ll notice that your driver is muttering prayers, chewing cocoa leaves, and pouring beer out the open car door as an offering to Pachamama (goddess of safe passage and bad decisions). Cars plummet off the edge about once every two weeks and the road claims about 200 lives a year. It was built in the 1930s by Paraguayan prisoners of war, and it’s my hunch that these were some very clever prisoners. When the rains come, water cascades down the cliffs and over the dirt road, turning it to slime. When it’s dry, clouds of dust get so kicked up that visibility turns to nil. You’d think drivers wouldn’t overtake but they do. Cell phones don’t work there and anyway there’s no emergency response system. The elevation is so high (3 miles above sea level) that combustion engines sputter and die. You hyperventilate and pass out. And also it snows a lot.

For those of you now asking—Can’t they fix this problem?—please note that the Bolivian government has been working on a new road for the past 20 years. And it seems to me that the more important question was, is, and always will be—What the hell is at the top of this mountain that’s so important?

So, the next time you’re driving in a foreign country, just remember: Things that don’t happen here, happen there. Sometimes in Australia, people really do hit kangaroos and total their cars. Sometimes in France, people get stuck at a roundabout for so long that they sit on their roofs and enjoy wine and cheese. Sometimes in South Africa, the only thing that will save you from a carjacking is the Blaster, a small flame thrower installed on the underside of the vehicle and invented for exactly this purpose. And sometimes in Italy, you’ll realize that everyone parks like they’ve just spilled hot coffee in their laps.

Sometimes—very often, in fact—it’s all worth it. Drive well and travel hard, my friends.

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The Best U.S. Islands (And no, not Hawaii)

Not that there’s anything wrong with Hawaii. It’s simply being disqualified. Too easy. Too visited. Too…Obama. Let’s just say up front that Hawaii and all its stuff is amazing and blah, etc.: humid outdoor airports, gift shop macadamia nuts, Road-to-Hana family vomiting, and lobbies way too breezy for the carnival of a sarong someone talked you into wearing to breakfast (free orange juice when everyone sees your underwear and you cry).

1.) Sea Island, Georgia

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It’s a testament to the state of U.S. geographical enthusiasm that whenever I hear someone talk about Georgia, I assume they mean the ex-Soviet one. But no. Sea Island is an isolated resort destination off the coast of southern Georgia the state. It’s actually part of a larger group of islands known as the Golden Isles of Georgia, which include Jekyll Island (and its renowned split personality clinic), St. Simons Island (which lost its apostrophe in a hurricane), and Little St. Simons Island (which…just doesn’t sound right). In 2004, Sea Island’s remote location and luxurious accommodations led to its hosting of a G8 summit—although conference plans were derailed when the security team assigned to the detail was pulled away for Ronald Regan’s funeral (dead U.S. president more precious than live French one). Sea Island’s most famous resort is known as The Cloisters, featuring attractions like golf, spa treatments, skeet shooting, and sumptuous apology banquets for all the people who accidentally shot one another. All-in-all, The Cloisters is a marvelously scenic, tranquil retreat where “guests are encouraged to do everything – or nothing at all.” Anything in between will get you immediately escorted off the premises.

2.) Kodiak Island, Alaska

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Now here’s a place that will change you. Rugged. Awe-inspiring. As dangerous as it is…dangerous. (I’m sorry but there’s a bear named after it.) Yet Alaska’s Kodiak Island is also home to nature walks, whale watching, incredible salmon fishing (which I’ll hunt anyone who takes part in), and breathtaking “fjord-like bays” (never trust a bay that’s only “like” a fjord. It’ll turn on you in a heartbeat). Kodiak does have a Visitors’ Bureau  (which is encouraging) and it is among the largest of all U.S. islands (second only to those lei-loving who shall not be named). For those interested in learning more, the aforementioned Visitors’ Bureau generously provides a list of—and this is not a joke—75 Things to Do on Kodiak Island.

If you show up, the locals will have a 76th.

3.) St. Croix

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I’m only choosing one of the Virgin Islands (although there are 72 of them) and I’m choosing the island of St. Croix for several reasons. For one thing I can’t pronounce it, and yes the x is inherently cool. St. Croix’s official website refers to it as America’s Caribbean Paradise, so: tropical, closer than Bermuda, and far less famous for existentially kidnapping passers-by. But the number one reason I like St. Croix is that it is, all told: a Caribbean island; a country; an unincorporated territory of the United States; and a constituent district of the United States. Also the capital of St. Croix is located in St. Thomas—which yes, is a whole different country. I know of nowhere else that’s pulled that off. U.S. Virgin Island tourism officials would also like to remind people that all the scheduled hiking, camping, rum distilling, wood carving,  and other Deliverance activities would be taking place “wrapped up in the safety, security, and efficiency of the American flag.” I’m not sure why that statement also bothers me, but it does.

4.) Serranilla Bank

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Here’s a little unknown island, not too far from Jamaica, that I can’t help but include for its sweetly sad description: “a partially-submerged reef in the western Caribbean Sea with some small uninhabited islets.” Doesn’t sound like much, but dear Serranilla has been on the map since way back in 1510, and it’s odd, and it’s ours….

Well, mostly. It seems Serranilla has long been disputed and we may have stolen it. It also turns out that Colombia and Jamaica (neither country known for their drugs) have long maintained a formal agreement permitting one another to hang out around poor semi-submerged Serranilla—its rocky peaks struggling, like we all, against the rising waters—and more recently entered into a quietly drawn up “delimitation treaty” that established something called a “Joint Regime Area” allowing both countries to “exploit living and non-living resources.” I think I speak for all 24 fans when I say, Exploit what??

5.) Bald Head Island, North Carolina

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Bald Head Island would be the perfect place to have a memorable, laugh-riot, mid-life crisis, fish-out-of-water, Sex and the City-style girlfriends’ weekend away. It allows no cars (which most women find creepy); nearly all of the residents are the retired elderly (silently emerging from fogbanks in modified golf carts); it was the primary shooting location for Weekend at Bernie’s (featuring a corpse) and The Butcher’s Wife (featuring Demi Moore’s acting); and it is ominously located on the east side of…the Cape Fear River. It’s remote. And bog-filled. And the girls’ weekend would be fantastic because women excel at schadenfreude. Someone would fall in a bog, learn a lesson, break a heel, meet a man with priorities, or come upon a shriveled old lady who’s cryptic advice makes them rethink everything they’ve done since 1991. What more could you ask from an island.

So, when planning your next domestic island getaway just remember: Persons born on Serranilla Bank are considered U.S. nationals but not U.S. citizens. (Plus it’s partially submerged. Either way try not to give birth there.) But otherwise look into this island stuff—it’s interesting in a Who knew? kind of way. Our great nation has an island called Poker Hill, an island called Panic Rock, and a place called Houseboat Island (which somehow or other is in Arizona). If anyone listening has money, please god go to Kentucky’s Big Bone Island and build a fat farm there. And if absolutely none of this sounds appealing to you in the slightest way, there’s always Hawaii.

Travel hard, my friends.

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