My Asylum From The Insanity Of Travel

Derek Everything Else, Travel Tips & Advice 29 Comments


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?

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Comments 29

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  3. Sandi

    Oh, the cinema… sometimes the only place to get away from the sweltering heat and busyness of the streets. I have wandered many times over to Garden City Mall for the taste of life outside Uganda to use fast Internet, eat a calzone, buy shampoo, and catch whatever movies are playing. Oddly, they have comfy stadium seating and a fully stocked bar for those who want while waiting. Here in the village, the cinema is a thatched roof building playing 80’s Karate movies… still on my list to do.

    I had to stay an extra week in Kampala for work reasons and it was the most random week ever including bowling, karaoke, fantastic drinkies, a casino, swimming pool, Japanese Film Festival (which was amazing), and even a really bad performance by RKelly. Although that might have been a little too much in one week, it was still a great sanity week.
    .-= Sandi´s last blog ..Rwanda Genocide =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sandi – I’m not exactly sure if watching Karate films in a thatched roof building would help one escape from the exhaustion of travel, but it would be a cultural experience nonetheless and well worth it for sure. And that sounds like one jam-packed sanity week in Kampala. It’s excellent that you were able to take advantage of so much that the city had to offer. And I was laughing when I read ‘bowling’ because that is something I only tend to do when I’m in the most random places as well!

  4. Andi

    Gosh, you could write a book on your experiences in theaters around the world, love it!!! I too think cinemas are a great place to escape. I also download a lot of movies onto my laptop before I travel, so sometimes if I’m really wanting to escape I’ll just curl up in my hotel bed and watch the movie alone. I find picnics in a peaceful park are also great ways to escape.

    I hope your friend was ok after the scorpion bite? Yikes!!!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..imgp2629 =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Watching movies on the laptop is indeed a great way to escape the challenges of travel as well, and I wonder how many times you felt like doing that during your recent trip to India, especially considering it’s difficult to find a ‘peaceful’ park over there!

      And my friend was ok in the end, thanks for asking. We did have to rush over to a hospital but luckily, the scorpion turned out to be a non-deadly type and my friend didn’t have any reaction to the sting. So now it’s just a somewhat amusing story to tell!

  5. Dina

    Hi Earl, I have escapes too but it’s not usually movie. Because we love to be cheap, we usually watch movies in laptop. I have really bad memory for remembering which movies I’ve watched or what’s the story line or who are the actors. Ryan usually has to remind me “Yes, Dina, we have watched that together.”

    Talking about cinema, my favourite cinema is the floating under-the-sky cinema of Ruby Princess ship. It’s just very calming to watch a movie in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, sitting on beach chair that is padded with mattress and blankets, feeling the Atlantic wind and listening to the whistling ocean while watching the movie. (Unfortunately, I wish they had better selection of popcorn like ones you mentioned!)

    So anyway, my escape will be wide view of the beauty of nature. Just sitting on the grass or sand with mountains, valleys, lakes, the sea, in front of me, really giving me sense of peace. Of course it’s not easy to find such a place in the city. In that case, botanical gardens, city parks, or harbours usually do the trick. I prefer sitting on the ground than benches. Laying down is even better. Animals and birds are great friends for that. Here in Sydney, I like to go to the botanical garden and watching the cockatoos playing.
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Friday Photo: Alcázar of Seville =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – I do agree that the botanical gardens of Sydney are a wonderful place to take a break! I wish more countries embraced the idea of botanical gardens as much as they do in Australia.

      And I was actually going to mention the open-air cinemas that I went to every now and then on board the cruise ships that I worked on, but ended up leaving them out for some reason. It is quite a feeling to be in the middle of the ocean, with the fresh air and enjoying a good movie. Although every time I went, I seemed to get called back to work so I don’t think I ever watched an entire film on board a ship.

      Keep on enjoying Sydney!

  6. Maria Staal

    Great story once again, Earl!
    I never really spent much time in cinema’s during my travels, but I once had to wait 10 hours to embark a ship in La Spezia, Italy. It was cold, so after having wandered around the city the whole morning, I decided to see a movie to kill some time. Obviously I couldn’t find a cinema anywhere, but after about half an hour I finally spotted one in a narrow alley. I asked the guy at the ticket booth if I could buy a ticket. He said shook his head and said no. My Italian is rather dismal so I asked him again to buy a ticket. Again he said no, I couldn’t. I was baffled. Why couldn’t I buy a ticket? Then he said one word. Porno. Then I understood why he didn’t want to sell me a ticket. It was a cinena ‘specialising’ in porn movies. I had actually wondered why there weren’t any posters of movies around…
    I walked out of the alley and sat in a cafe drinking tea until it was time for me to board the ship.
    .-= Maria Staal´s last blog ..Can a quirky Family Tree make things Clear? =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Maria – That is a funny story! Although I’m surprised that they didn’t want to sell you a ticket. How did he know that you weren’t already aware of what kind of theater it was?! I guess those are the kind of situations we find ourselves in when we don’t speak the local language too well. Thanks for sharing that with us!

      1. Maria Staal

        Yeah, you’re right. People do get into these sort of situations because they don’t speak the language. I suppose the man assumed I wasn’t aware of the nature of the theatre, because I was a foreign woman who didn’t speak the language. I guess normally only guys frequented the cinema, or maybe they never sold tickets to women.
        Anyway, it was the first and only time I have ever tried to get into that kind of cinema, even though it was by mistake. 🙂

        1. Earl

          Haha…the ticket man was probably just trying to protect you from an even more unpleasant experience. Next time you’ll know to ask what’s playing before trying to buy a ticket!

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  8. Dave and Deb

    We love seeing movies while traveling and I agree, it is the best escape from the daily grind of being on the road. We have had some pretty unique times sitting in the dark in another country, but I think that your experiences take top prize:-)
    It is so true when you say you don’t care what movie you see. We go and see some of the worst movies that we wouldn’t even consider when at home. Like in Zambia when we saw The Game Plan with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Terrible.
    I love this post.
    .-= Dave and Deb´s last blog ..Mountain Biking Adventure in Pokhara Nepal =-.

    1. Earl

      You just admitted that you saw a film with “The Rock”? That definitely proves the point that it doesn’t matter what movie is playing when we’re traveling!

  9. Moon Hussain

    Earl, you had me laughing (internally) when you mentioned big rats running in the cinema in India. I can see that happening too. We lived in Pakistan for so many years but I never went to the movies there.

    On a more serious note, ..”my friend was stung in the back by a four-inch scorpion seconds”. Ouchies. Is your friend okay?
    .-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..11 Ways to Make Passive Income =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – My friend was fine in the end. But we did have to kill the scorpion (actually, my friend killed it despite being in pain as I freaked out a bit!) and then rush her to the hospital as we were living in the Mexican state with the highest rate of fatalities from scorpion bites. Luckily, this one turned out to be a non-poisonous type and after a quick check-up, the doctor didn’t find any negative reaction. But that could have turned out a lot worse!

    1. Earl

      Hey John – There’s just something about cinemas that force me to forget about all of my troubles and the challenges I’m facing during my travels. And almost always, I walk out of the theater fully motivated to keep on traveling. It’s better than a good nights sleep for me. I definitely recommend it!

  10. Liz

    Hey! You should try the VIP cinemas in Mexico! They are a bit more expensive, but they say it is well worth it! Leather seats, waiter service, etc.

    1. Earl

      Hey Liz – I’ve heard about those VIP cinemas here but have yet to try them out. I don’t think I’ve seen them in Playa del Carmen. But if I’m ever in a cinema that offers it, you can bet I’ll give it a shot!

  11. Shannon OD

    I can definitely relate – there have been points in the past 16 months were all I wanted was a movie (though I do really quite prefer if their in English!) and that anonymity where I can get sucked into a story and forget about everything else. I actually saw Harry Potter VI opening day in Prague with the HORDES of younguns and you’re right – that in and of itself was a cultural insight! 🙂
    .-= Shannon OD´s last blog ..A Little Tour…Coffee’s Amazingness Knows No Bounds =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – English does help but sometimes a foreign language will just have to do! That must have been quite an outing in Prague, as even when the film is your usual Hollywood hit, the experience is always local. I’m not sure I could have handled that situation though…I prefer smaller crowds such as the non-existent one in the photo at the top of the post.

  12. Erin

    Completely understand the need to escape, and the cinema is a great place for it. I am usually a bit of a film snob but when travelling my tastes get considerably less fussy! We have been known just to use a bad film as a place to sleep when we aren´t feeling well and are waiting for a night train.

    We loved the Bangkok cinema experience, but our favourite cinema was in Wanaka, NZ – old cars and couches as seats and homemade cookies & ice-cream in the interval.
    .-= Erin´s last blog ..Dancing and Violence in Rio de Janeiro =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Erin – I haven’t tried that yet, but using a cinema for a nap is not a bad idea at all. It’s sounds a lot better than sleeping on concrete train platforms. And I love the concept of old cars and couches, although it’s the homemade cookies that really grabbed my attention!

  13. Carlos

    Hey Earl,

    Are you still in Playa or have you moved on already? Just found out I’m headed down to Cancun on May 2 for work for a few days.

    My foreign film-watching experience would have to be seeing the new Star Wars (the first I guess, came out around 2002) in Berlin. Talk about fancy – even assigned seats. Then there were the student / art-house theaters in Holland, one night was random movie night. For a discount ticket you didn’t know in advance what they were going to play.

    1. Earl

      Hey Carlos – I’m quite sure I’ll still be in Playa around May 2nd so let me know when you have some free time. It would be great to meet up somewhere! And my schedule is quite flexible.

      I like the idea of a random movie night, I’ve never seen that before. That would be perfect for the traveler who doesn’t care what movie it is and only wants a few hours to zone out.

  14. Sam

    Love this post!

    I know exactly what you mean about the need for an escape from your own travels sometimes and that the cinema is the perfect place for that.

    I had my first experience of this in the Philippines, where in two weeks, I saw four films I probably never would’ve considered watching back home: “Confessions of a Shopaholic”, “Race to With Mountain”, “Watchmen” and “Push”. It didn’t matter that they weren’t great movies.

    Unfortunately, the cinemas I visited in the Philippines weren’t as, shall we say, colourful as those you describe. They sound amazing. I want to visit them all, though maybe not the ones in El Salvador or Calcutta, but especially those in Buenos Aires and Barcelona.

    And the popcorn. Oh my, you’ve given me a weird craving for the chili-infused, garlic-sprinkled and curry powder-topped kinds now. What a world of possibilities you’ve opened up for me! Thanks.
    .-= Sam´s last blog ..Fulfilment & travel accessories =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sam – I started laughing when I saw “Confessions of a Shopaholic” on your list as it made me think of all the films that I absolutely would never have seen as well had I not been traveling and craving a cinema break. Some of the ones that come to mind are “The Dentist 2” and more recently “All About Steve”. Yet, just like you mentioned, I’ll gladly see four ‘questionable’ films in a row until I’m ready to face the challenges of travel once again.

      And be careful what you crave for as I don’t know what was worse, the curry powder popcorn or the cinema in El Salvador!

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