I don’t know about you, but every now and then while I’m traveling, I need to take a break from all the exploration, discoveries and interactions, not to mention the challenges such as having a monkey steal your sandals in the middle of a city or hiking for five hours in the mud only to discover that you’ve taken the wrong path up to the famous Golden Rock. You know, the stuff that often makes travel nothing but an insane undertaking. Sometimes all I want to do is plop my body down, zone out for a few hours and just relax without having to worry or even think about anything travel-related.
Luckily, early on in my travels, I found the perfect refuge, a place that is found in almost every city or town around the world and which allows me to re-attain that mental balance that is so vital to my nomadic lifestyle.
That place is the cinema.
I’m a movie addict. Actually, I’m a cinema addict as I often don’t really care what movie it is that I’m going to watch. And while not caring what movie is playing might sound quite strange, trust me, when you’re stranded in the middle of Nicaragua with nothing to do during a two-day thunderstorm, after having most of your clothes lost by the laundry guy and spending a night in the most disgusting hotel room imaginable, watching Transformers 2 in Spanish is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours clearing your head and regrouping.
It also turns out, much to my own surprise at first, that the simple act of ‘going to the movies’ offers a more intriguing insight into a particular culture than one might expect.
For example, in Thailand, before a film begins, the audience is requested to stand up in honor of King Bhumibol and to remain standing while the “Royal Anthem” is played and a photo montage of the King’s life is shown on the movie screen.
In Cairo, the theater I went to was so full that some people spread out blankets in front of the screen so that they could lie down on their backs and manage to get a decent viewing angle.
There was the theater in El Salvador that had what I thought was a cozy balcony to watch the movie from, but which turned out to be the area for men to quietly ‘enjoy’ themselves during the sexier scenes of the film being played. Needless to say, I didn’t stay until the end of that one.
In Bangladesh, when the electricity cut out in the middle of a film, I had to duck for cover as the audience reacted with a full-blown riot that involved a hundred people ripping the seats out of the floor, kicking and punching the movie screen and tossing food all over the place.
In Calcutta, I once spent two hours in a theater watching six extraordinarily massive rats run up and down the aisles and back and forth across the stage in front of the screen. A few days later when I returned to the same cinema, not only were the rats still there, but the cinema staff released a cat into the room, which spent the entire time chasing the rats without success.
EATING & SEATING
I’ve yet to even mention the popcorn, which appears in some bizarre styles around the globe. While I’m not much of a fan of anything but normal salted popcorn, in the name of global exploration, I’ve now tasted toffee-coated, spicy salsa-soaked, chocolate-covered, cheese-dipped, lime juice-drizzled, chili-infused, fruit-flavored, garlic-sprinkled and curry powder-topped varieties.
Let’s also not forget about the seats. The typical, semi-comfortable version of cinema seating found in North America is often put to shame when compared to the VIP love seats and leather recliners of Thailand, the full sofas of Buenos Aires, the plush, futuristic-style benches of Kuala Lumpur and my personal favorite, the extraordinarily comfortable floor pillows at the Rooftop Cinema in Melbourne, Australia.
Some other notable cinema experiences I’ve had include passing through two metal detectors and a full-body pat down to enter a cinema in Lahore, having three pints of Budvar beer included in the price of admission for a film in Prague and enjoying endless tapas served to us movie-goers by a team of waiters at a theater in Barcelona.
There was also the small theater in Nepal where each seat was actually a driver’s seat that had been removed from a used car! And how can I forget the cinema in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where my friend was stung in the back by a four-inch scorpion seconds after we finished watching The Ugly Truth. (Perhaps that was the punishment for choosing such a film!)
And yet, not even that incident has stopped me from going to the cinema on a regular basis during the several months since it happened. I’ll admit, I do perform an abnormally tedious 22-point inspection of my seat for potentially fatal creatures before sitting down each time, but if that’s the price I must pay for a few hours away from the challenging aspects of life as a permanent traveler, I shall utter no complaints.
What’s your escape while traveling? How do you regroup when you just need a break?