Travel Blog #2 - ‘Happy Flighting’

Our day began at the reasonable time of 4:15am.

My alarm filled the room with its siren song and just like that, the gears began a’whirling. To start proceedings off with as much excitement as possible, Liana and I booked our transport to Heathrow’s Terminal 5 via ‘Pod’. Pod, for those not aware, is a driverless vehicle that is 50% impressive yet hilarious derp-mobile and 50% the beginning of the robot uprising. Regardless of anything else I could say about the pod, it did mean that before 5am we were beginning our pilgrimage to South America with a smile on our faces.

A 4am smile from Liana is indeed a rare joy (don’t tell her I said that!)

‘Open the Pod bay doors, Hal’

A relatively brisk flight from London to Madrid lead us onto the longest flight either of us had been on. We boarded at 12pm Madrid time and landed at 9:30pm in Buenos Aires. As I’ve previously stated, I’m a tall gentleman, so long-haul flights are a form of slow-burn torture for me. I’m also socially awkward, so at a point where my body is telling me to move about and have a stretch, my brain gives me an influx of fear receptors that make the mundane and necessary action of standing up excessively difficult. So that’s always a laugh.

If there’s ever a reason to stomach an early flight it’s for the views like this.

To break up the monotomy of the flight I watched a bunch of in-flight movies. In keeping with my other posts on this page, I’m going to review each of them in bite-sized offerings. Here goes…

Film 1: Cars 3 
Rating: 2/10
Review: I’m part of the extreme minority that is comfortable with saying they like the original Pixar film Cars. That nostalgic enjoyment, teamed with an anticipated joy of hearing Owen Wilson say ‘wow’ means I’ve endured Cars 2, and can now add Cars 3 to the downward trend of sequels I’ve seen.

That this film is actually a genuine Pixar entry and not a direct-to-dvd affair is an insult to just about everything I said in my Coco review. It’s boring from head to toe, the animation is lifeless and the writing is dreadful. 

Would’ve preferred to have watched actual Nascar.

Film 2: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Rating: 8/10
Review: Really enjoyed this film and found the high praise I’d heard spoken of it to be justified. An engaging and dramatic comedy that puts a nice amount of attention into just about all of its cast, it’s a quirky and unique story with quite somber undertones.

The highlight of the film is the performance of Sam Rockwell, who plays a moronic, power-hungry, mother’s boy, small-town cop to artistic brilliance. Recently Rockwell hosted the popular American comedy show, Saturday Night Live, which begins with the host delivering a monologue to the studio audience. Rockwell opened with the line, ’Most of you probably know me as ‘That guy from that movie - not the main guy, the other guy’, and it’s a wonderfully glib bit of self deprecation that is all to true for a character actor of his stature. I’ve seen Rockwell in a lot of films but must confess to not actually learning his name until recently, despite the fact I’ve always enjoyed his performances. Well, if nothing else, Three Billboards… is worth seeing for the skillfully layered character Rockwell has presented for us to enjoy. He’s supported by a flawless cast in Frances McDormand & Woody Harrelson, but it’s Rockwell’s performance that really stuck with me and is my biggest positive takeaway.

Film 3: Wind River
Rating: 7/10
Review: Jeremy Renner plays a skilled hunter asked to assist on an FBI investigation into a suspected homicide. I’d heard rumbles of positivity about this film last year and have to admit it pretty much went as I anticipated. It’s an enjoyable murder-mystery that’s light on the mystery and heavy on the Jeremy Renner being a bad ass. It could just be that I’m so used to Renner in roles as an American with some kind of gun/projectile that the idea of him as a damaged family man just doesn’t seem all that sincere. Wind River presents itself as having a location as much a character as the cast that resides within it, but the reality is it just comes across as another small town in a frozen whiteout part of America - perhaps to the point, but to me it was indistinguishable from any film set in Alaska. 

There’s some awkward lines of dialogue where Renner seems to refer to himself as a royal ‘we’ when speaking about the plight of Native Americans, but otherwise it’s an easy to enjoy action-solve’em with an engaging cast. Not a ‘Film of the Year’ by my own estimations, but an enjoyable film nonetheless.

Film 4: Let Me Eat Your Pancreas
Rating: 8.5/10
Review: This is a very personal film for me. Not in any kind of emotional way, but I found this Japanese romance really hit at what I enjoy and find interesting about a lot of Japanese media. I identify as someone who enjoys anime enough to glance through ‘best animes of the year’ lists on kotaku.com and potentially get involved in one that sounds interesting and has been met with positive reviews, but I am by no means a fanatic. That said, I find the storytelling and character archetypes of anime fascinating. Why do I mention this? Well, the exceptionally titled ’Let Me Eat Your Pancreas’ is an anime come to life in every sense of the description. From its dreamy presentation, set against a standard High School backdrop, to the interesting way the male and female characters traditional gender roles are flipped on their head.

In this story, as with a lot of anime movies and series I’ve seen, the female lead is the headstrong and self-assured character, where as the male (in contrast to typical Western productions) is the shy, unwilling and reclusive type.

It’s an indulgent film without apology; telling the story of a girl diagnosed with a terminal illness and the fallout from her unlikely friendship with the aforementioned class recluse. It’s a story about what living means to different people and how important it is to not let life pass you by. I get on with stories like that, likely due to my own insecurities about mortality and love, so whilst I enjoyed this I can understand why others may find it too sugary.

If you like anime, you’ll like this I’m sure.

BONUS ROUND

TV Series: Crashing
Rating: 8/10 (pending full viewing)
Review: I didn’t know about this series prior to seeing it on my in-flight screen, but I’m glad I’ve discovered it. Annoyingly there were only two episodes available to watch, but I really enjoyed both. American comic Pete Holmes plays a fictional version of himself as an aspiring, and struggling, New York stand-up comic trying to navigate his way up in that world whilst dealing with life-changing personal problems. 

I’ve got a soft spot for Holmes, I think when he’s on he’s fantastic, but can be hit and miss. With Crashing he’s presenting a fast-paced and interesting story that doesn’t come across as as much of a vanity project as the premise lays out. I’m looking forward to watching more when I’m back home.


——-

Several films, a few episodes of TV and a chapter of a book done and we landed safely in Buenos Aires. A quick taxi to the city got us to our hostel and that’s where I’m writing this post. We’re both shattered but so excited to begin tomorrow and explore this fascinating city. I only got to see glimpses of the larger portrait of this place through car windows in the dark, but already I’m enamored with the interesting architecture and energy of this city. 

I am so ready for some proper Argentinian food.


Travel Blog #1 : Anything to declare?

For someone who so constantly brags that his profession in photography has had him travelling all over the world, I really don’t have a clue what I’m doing here.

I’m so glad I get to re-post this image.

I’ve never been ‘travelling’ in the more social understanding of the term. Sure, I’ve been places, exotic places indeed and sometimes solo at that, but this is a different level. Not least for the fact I’m going to be navigating around South America for a solid 4 months this time, I’m not used to more than a couple weeks in any given place, and even in those places I’ve been in for long stretches the culture and language have been very familiar. 

It’s 10:30pm Tuesday 30th and my first flight of this trip is tomorrow morning at 9:30am, I’ll have to be awake at the unGodly hour of 7am so I should reasonably be looking to go to sleep soon. Instead, I’m sat on the floor of the lounge surveying the contents of my backpack strewn across the space questioning all of the impulses I have that say I certainly need seven t-shirts and four pairs of shorts, even when three of the travel blogs I’ve read this evening have said you will only need four of one and two of the later. I wear a different t-shirt every day of the year and I’m going to be away for 5 months, what madness justifies only seven varieties of shirt?!

My backpack is 60L, which according to these other blogs puts me in a position of gleeful ignorance. ‘I downsized to a 48L pack and it fits everything I realistically need!’, exclaims one such blog. During a provisional packing of my bag a week ago I discovered I came damn close to critical mass of those 60 litres, and that was with being fully aware I didn’t have all of my important items to hand.

This is my future isn’t it. I’m going to be *that* guy.

I blame daytime TV and its frequent propaganda about how useless humans are coupled with my own insecurities that whenever I opt out of bringing something I almost always end up needing it. 

‘It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it’. (Is there a name for a phrase that is so at odds with both being completely factual yet unaccountably untrue with regards to a specific situation?)

As someone who uses walking as their primary mode of transport, I’m often in possession of a backpack. Because of my work this bag is usually loaded with heavy gear and ‘just-incases’. I’ll take my camera with two lenses everywhere, my laptop + charger, a spare hoody (mostly to add as padding for the camera), a flashgun and anything miscellaneous I may be needing that day. My bag, as standard, is heavy. But that doesn’t mean I want to indulge in unnecessary weight with this trip. I want my bag to be light because I don’t want to be constantly thinking about it; I don’t want to resent it and I don’t want to deify its contents. This bag is my lifeline, the appendages of me I’m declaring as absolutely essential to my survival. And yet, it is also something I must be capable of losing without my world falling apart in the aftermath. Lord, this is confusing. 

Ironically I’m finding myself ignoring my own advice I made in a blog post a week or so ago. I said that in learning photography you had to embrace making mistakes and learn by doing, not observing and overthinking. And yet here I am, trying to jump ahead two spaces because all these seasoned travel writers are saying ‘Ha, look at all this stuff I took I didn’t need, what a fool I was!’. So I look at my clothes, my electrics and my washbag and mule for an eternity, ‘what can I ditch so I can be better prepared (and happier?) than those who have come before me?’ But in opposition to this, maybe I should pack everything? Maybe the point is to find yourself at the apex of frustration and elation where you empty your bag in triumphant madness and ditch those two surplus pairs of shorts you haven’t worn in 7 weeks, the trekking trousers (without which Machu Pichu would’ve surely been impossible) and the nice, albeit relatively bulky shirt you packed because, ‘we might go out somewhere nice?’


I’m sorry this image is bad, I’m prioritizing packing rather than my flat lays!

I’ve been looking at these items for literally hours now. I decided to make an itemised list of everything I’m taking to potentially help me see areas of excess I could part with, to try and narrow myself down to the bare essentials. Here’s what I’ve got, it seems like a lot…

CLOTHING
x1 hiking boots
x1 flip flops
x1 trainers 
x3 ankle white socks 
x2 Marino wool normal socks
x1 Marino wool long socks
X3 cotton underpants 
x4 sport underpants
x1 compression shorts (for Jiu-Jitsu training abroad)
x1 training shorts (see above)
x1 board shorts
x1 cotton shorts
x1 chino shorts
x1 jeans
x1 chinos 
x1 trek trousers (the ones that have zips at the knees)
x1 waterproof trousers 
x2 sleeveless tops
x3 cotton tshirts
x4 dryfit t-shirts
x1 rashvest
x1 warm lightweight long-sleeve top
x1 smart casual shirt
x1 lightweight hoody
x1 lightweight waterproof jacket 
x1 warm gloves
x1 doorag 
x1 wool hat
x1 shade gap 

Clothing Total: 53 Individual Items

ELECTRONICS
X1 canon 6d
x1 40mm lens
x1 100mm lens
x1 flashgun
x4 canon battery
x3 adapter plugs (UK to…)
x1 usb charger adapter
x1 mobile usb battery
x1 mini torch
x1 hard drive
x1 headphones
x1 phone
x12 AA batteries (flash gun)
x1 sd card
x1 micro sd card + adapter

Electronics Total: 20 Individual Items

WASH BAG
x1 sun screen bottle (Factor 50, I’m very white)
x1 toothbrush
x1 hand sanitizer 
x1 body/face wash
x1 shampoo
x1 conditioner (I have bleached hair and if I don’t condition it I’ll have dreads in weeks)
x1 insect repellent 
x1 bag of cotton buds
x1 moisturiser 
x1 toothpaste
x1 wash/groom set
x1 towel

Washbag Total: 11 Items

MISC
X1 Wallet
x1 business card pack
x4 tissues
x1 water bottle
x1 wet wipes
x1 multivitamins 
x1 wallet protector

Misc Total: 10 Individual items

The grand total of my backpack…

95!

-Time skip - 2 hours later-

95 items was a terrifyingly large number… Maybe, I’m still unsure if (for literally everything I’m taking) that’s on the money or completely removed from the money.

I ended up ditching two t-shirts though, so that’s something. If nothing else it means if I can deal with the weight and space those two items would’ve taken up then I can purchase two extra things on my travels. I almost parted ways with my chinos. In my mind I said, ‘I’ve got a pair of jeans for evening wear if it’s cool (especially likely in Vancouver, much more than South America), do I REAAAAALLY need the chinos? Do they add something significant to my bag?’ Well, I went from that bedrock of assured security to changing my mind completely. If I wash my jeans and I don’t have access to a tumble dryer, then they’ll potentially take a couple days to properly dry. If I need warmer evening wear then the extra pair of trousers could come in handy - wear one, wash one. So sod it, I’m taking the extra slacks. If I find they’re unnecessary down the line I can donate them or use them for an Art Attack, it’s not a massive hindrance.

I’ve come to the comfortable conclusion that trial by error is the best way for me to approach this. Why pretend to be something I’m not? I’m new to this style of travelling and in my experience the best way to learn is to remove ego. If I theorise that half of what I’ve currently got packed is excess then I’ll learn why along the way, and learning that why is what’ll make me a better and more efficient traveller in the future. I’ve gotta learn these lessons myself, even at the cost of my own comfort.


Update: I’m posting this from within the Thistle hotel just a stones throw from Heathrow airport. Liana and I are off to Madrid before the Sun will have woken up, and then on to Beunos Aires, so it’s an early night tonight and 13 hours of flying tomorrow. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ve gone from dreading that experience to actually looking forward to just enjoying films, reading and music. Bring it on!

PS. A Wetherspoons breakfast that costs more than £7 should be illegal. I hate airports.



Thoughts on ‘Coco’

As someone who could bore you to death with the many reasons I thought Pixar’s Inside Out was a bad movie, it was with some caution I went into viewing Coco, Pixar’s latest      offering, last night.

© Disney Pixar

The ironic problem with Pixar, a studio so revered for their animation and artistic prowess, is that often that work can go unappreciated (at least not justly praised for just how        special it is) or given a throwaway compliment like, ‘it looks beautiful, but then you’d            expect that from them’. It has to be said again and again till nauseam though that Pixar really have excelled on both animation and art design in Coco. It’s a visual feast of colours and motion, more so than films like Inside Out or even Toy Story 3, the latter of which though extremely colourful itself feels more like someone just pumping up the saturation slider than it having justified colour intensity. With Coco however, the decision to create a film around Mexico’s cultural celebration in ‘Día de Muertos’ (otherwise known as the ‘Day of the Dead’) the colours are intrinsic to the setting and feel completely justified.

© Disney Pixar

I really enjoyed the story of Coco, written with a heavy emphasis towards music throughout the runtime. Rather than a film like say, Frozen; stereotypical Disney where characters sing because that’s just what they’re expected to do. In Coco we are brought into a world and culture defined by music, so the appearance of songs and singing characters doesn’t feel like a disconnect, they instead feel natural and both serve to keep the plot flowing as well as push it forwards. The flamenco style of guitar is also a welcome genre of music rarely seen outside of films like this and Pixar really do justice to this emotive form of   communication through both production in the songs and in the animation to support it. All the voice actors that sing are fantastic, which again you may think of as a given with Disney, but I would apologise for making you remember that The Rock sings in Moana.

© Disney Pixar

Coco is by no means perfect, despite being a fun jaunt that rarely feels like it suffers from pacing, the story can feel very derivative and though placed in a setting that feels                completely fresh and original (sorry The Book of Life), the actual narrative is as                paint-by-numbers as Disney goes. This is of course to remember that Coco is a children’s film, plot holes and narrative coincidences abound, but it’s about the morale of the story rather than the genius of deeply written characters. The morale thread of Coco being      perhaps its most endearing quality.

© Disney Pixar

At the beginning I felt like Coco was going to be an exploration into what it means to        follow your dreams, especially going against the grain of something as imposing as a family legacy and instead pursuing something much more volatile, insecure and indeed, selfish, like life as a musician. However, that aspect of the story takes a passenger seat position to the cultural importance of family, specifically within Mexican traditions. This story is            interestingly relatable to viewers who, like myself, are not from Mexican heritage. It’s nice to see Pixar proudly showing the cultural differences of somewhere like Mexico and it does make you think if you celebrate and appreciate your family enough.

© Disney Pixar

I can’t even pretend like the last 15 minutes of Coco didn’t hit me like a knockout punch to my emotions. I’m not sure when this happened, but at some point in my early 20’s I         became very susceptible for animated films that deal with families expressing love in times of sorrow, especially the passing of a family member. The ending of Song of the Sea has a 100% success rate from the three times I’ve watched it of making my tear-up like a child and whilst I don’t put Coco on the same level as that film, it certainly comes close. At this point if there’s a company that knows how to make you emotional in a cinema, it’s Disney. I feel I want to make a point of saying it’s not because of anything clever that the studio have achieved, it’s a very formulaic type of emotional reaction, but one that strikes at your feelings nonetheless. Emotive responses are unique to each individual though, and the reason films like Song of the Sea and Coco affect me are because of everything that has     proceeded my life to this moment. That said, like how every relationship is different but yet everything break-up song feels personally adaptable, Coco presents a story that is easily relatable to anyone. Within that, I found the ending of Coco a rough, if enjoyable,            experience because of what the themes of family, death and love mean to me; your          experience may be different.

© Disney Pixar

On the whole I definitely enjoyed Coco. It handled the concepts of death in an approachable manner for children, whilst presenting the idea that death isn’t just finality and that the memories we pass down from generation to generation is what keeps our spirit alive. I had mentioned several times in conversation with others than I felt like Coco perhaps wouldn’t fare well in the box office, at least not in America and in relative terms to other Pixar outings. In the United States, where the most quoted of the current President’s          campaign promises sought to build a wall to divide America from Mexico it made me      consider just how willing the 40’something percent of Americans who voted for that man would be willing to see an exclusively Latin voice-cast present a film that is 100% Mexican in presentation and location. Hopefully that grim prediction is off the mark, Coco is a solid film with an honest message and world-class visual and sound design. 

© Disney Pixar

Some films shouldn’t be seen en masse to ensure we aren’t bombarded by copy/paste, lazy clones. Some films however should be seen worldwide to show that as an audience we will go to the film taking a chance with a message from another part of the world.

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