How to become a travel writer

I’m 40 something years old, and tonight I’m hopping a redeye to DC to do a story for Get Lost Magazine entitled “DC after Dark”. The itinerary is fierce: Dinner at Alibi, an personalized tour of the espionage museum, even a show at the Ford theater to name a few highlights. All in all there are 33 items on the itinerary over the three packed days I will be there.

DC. Cusco. Paris. I’ve been all over the world with Get Lost Magazine. I never tried or even wanted to be a travel writer, yet somehow been blessed with this enormous gift. I think the story is interesting, and one that could never happen again in our time. So, here it is, the real down and dirty of how to become a travel writer.

Follow the link below to hear me wax poetic bout it.

https://anchor.fm/roberto-serrini/embed/episodes/How-to-become-a-travel-writer-e1bqq70

One for the Road; The Bourdain of Booze.

That title may be pretentious but I’m a sucker for alliteration like most drunk poets (I’m looking at you Seamus Heaney). After a not-so-dry January, I’ve decided to take a look back at my long and wonderful love affair with alcohol.

My first drink was probably a drop of J&B on the gums as a teething baby. Although not Irish but Italian, no one puts grappa on a kid’s gums because that would be insane. Whiskey is the correct drink for a baby, this is a well known and documented fact. My real career in drinking began like most in college at UCSB (U Can Study Buzzed was thrown around often), where I was an avid reader of Hemingway because I loved the idea of making a living by writing drunk, boxing, and travelling the world. My drink of choice was a Rusty Nail, the drink my father called his favorite, a man who to this day claims he has never been intoxicated, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen him drunk. That said a Rusty Nail for me is 2 parts Scotch Whiskey to 1 part Drambuie and not to be messed with unless properly trained. I remember going to the legendary ancient jazz dive Arthur’s Tavern in NYC when I was 22 and asked the salty waitress for one. She paused giving me a hard look over and said plainly “you’re too young for a Rusty Nail, I’ll bring you a rum and coke” and proceeded to do so. Pure NYC.

a young, and perhaps sober Roberto, heading for Italy at 17.

From humble beginnings beautiful booze has brought me as many fond memories as it has clouded. I remember 50 cent giant cold Touborg beers on the veranda of a 16c. villa turned youth hostel just outside of Florence, falling in love with an Australian girl named Eva Toussaint. My parents, both airline employees, and Eva, just being an Australian, made a career of being a professional backpacker at very early ages, and like two international jet setters that didnt have two dimes to rub together between them, we would meet up in far-off places around the world in a blink of an eye for a shot and kanpai. Eventually I would move to Brisbane to be with her, fall in love deeper, be introduced to the true Dark and Stormy while watching the State of Origin on the tele, and ask her to marry me, all because of a cold Tuborg beer in Florence.

Unfortunately I was just turning 22. Man, writing that makes me laugh.

The proposal didn’t work out, I had to go back to the states and finish my degree and become a human. I left, heartbroken, unsure if I did the right thing, and confused about the future. Obviously I made a beeline for my local; Tom Bergan’s, the only real Irish bar in all of Los Angeles.

Tom Bergin’s was hallowed ground. It’s where I would go after a grueling day of work and school. My friends would pour in and we’d drink Guinness and Jameson all night, and when “Sweet Caroline” would come on the juke we would all pound the bar “Da Da Da, good times never seemed so good SO GOOD SO GOOD SO GOOD” like a drunk soccer chant (is there any other?). After 2 A.M. they would do a “lock in” with the regulars, and I would smoke cigs while my best friends Dave Hanson would talk about the plays he was writing (and later become a fantastic playwright) and Chris Sullivan would talk about the parts he would want to play (and become a famous actor) and I would talk about the places I wanted to go. We sat under the South-West corner of the U-shaped bar, beneath three green shamrocks cut out of a Mickey’s case of beer that had each of our names on it; a badge you were awarded if you were a true regular, and not easy to earn.

It was in Tom Bergin’s that my life would change forever over a drink.

I was there, crestfallen from recently breaking up with the first true love when I heard over the already rowdy bar the distinct intonation of an Australian. It’s an accent that is immediately recognized anywhere in the world, like the sound of a leaf blower or a glass breaking in a restaurant. In my semi-sauced state I saddled up to this nearly 7 foot lanky Aussie and made fast friends, as I knew I would with anyone from the great Oz, presumably to tell him of my woes and tales of love lost. Predictably our conversation turned to drinking at which point I made a startling discovery.

“You never had an Irish Car Bomb?”

There are few accolades I take true relish in. One is having a film in the permanent collection at the MoMA. Two is meeting Anthony Bourdain. Three is teaching an Australian something about drinking.

Jimmy the barkeep was always listening and without having to ask two half filled pints of Guinness and a shot of ice cold Baileys slid before us. We dropped our shots in the pints and opened our gullets to let the elixir slide down our throats. I can’t say it’s a drink I enjoy often, but I’m always amazed how much it taste like cake to me. Justin, the Australian, must have enjoyed it too because he never forgot this interaction, which would end up making my dreams come true.

A few years later I get an email from my long lost drinking buddy Justin saying that he runs a travel magazine in Australia, and remembers me telling him (somehow) that I was a writer and traveller. He was wondering if I would be interested in writing a local piece about NYC (where I was living at the time) for the mag. Boy was I.

I had never written an actual travel piece before but it came pretty naturally, especially about NYC a town I knew better than most others. Justin thought I was a natural and immediately started offering me other assignments. First hitting up random destinations like Memphis and Miami, then much more exotic ones like Peru and the Canadian Arctic. I have discovered rooftop Jellyfish Bars in Manila, elite speakeasies under the Little Nell in Aspen, and had muktuk shooters at the Northernmost Stripclub in the world. I have been writing with Get Lost Magazine for over a decade and have experienced some of the worlds most sublime adventures because of it, exploring the frozen North-West passage while sipping cold Corona’s in the hot tub on the deck a Russian Research (spy) ship. Drinking chicha (spit beer) along the Inca Trail while staying at the world’s most luxurious hike in lodges in the world, or a fermented ayahuasca drink in the Peruvian rainforest while studying Macaw parrots at the Tambopata Research Center. I’ve learned the secrets of distilling the northernmost whiskey in the world in Iceland (hint: it’s made with sheep dung). I’ve sailed to the illusive Marquesas islands in French Polynesia on a half cargo-half-luxury-liner named the Aranui and got tattooed by a chief in the bay where Melville wrote “Typee” while sipping warm champagne. I’ve eaten in the 3rd greatest restaurant in the world, Central, an elevation dining experience, and the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin, serving suckling pig for 500 years. I’ve done all of this because of a drink in a bar with a friend and never forget that.

Booze has intoxicated me more then just physically in my life and I would have it no other way. So here is a moment to look back at some of the finer moments I happened to document were a good drink has made magic happen.

3A.M. Shanghai Bar Tattoos

You know any video with me screaming “LET’S GET TATTOOS!” as I drinking snake infused baijui at 3 A.M. in a very dimly lit back alley Shanghai bar has to top a list somewhere.

Belgium is the Beer Capital of the World

Most every country makes a form of beer, from Makgeolli in Korea to Kvass in Russia, but in Belgium people’s viens run with barley and they bleed Lambics.

5 Oldest Bars in NYC

Good history only makes drinking better. NYC is rife with watering holes that precede the countries formation, and which is the oldest is seriously debated. One day in June I decided to get to the bottom of the debate and visit each one to hear first hand who could claim the crown.

Making 2000 year old Roman Vermouth.

Ancient history also only makes drinking better. During the pandemic with some time on my hands, my friend and I attempted to faithfully reproduce a 2000 year old recipe for vermouth found in one of the oldest cookbook in recorded history. All I can say is we didn’t go blind.

Booze is Better on a Boat.

Amsterdam might be best known for its smokable delights, but for me it was it’s rose colored ambrosia that stole my heart. Boat culture is something that many travellers overlook when exploring Amsterdam, which is a shame, because there is nothing more fun than cruising the canals with chilled rosé making new friends.

New Orleans

It’s hard not to think of drinking when you hear New Orleans, and for good reason because the streets run with rum down there. Fortunately I was with a Bywater local that showed me all the back alley spots locals wet their whistles at, letting me go full Bourdain in one of my favorite love letters to an amazing drink-centric city.

Spain Loves Monday Nights

Barcelona and Madrid both hold special places in my heart. Barcelona’s dolce far niente (or I guess dulce hace nada?) attitude rivals Madrid’s deep tradition of good living (they do have one of the best, and oldest, restaurants in the world). They also love a good party, and choose Monday as their day to let loose. Between Madrid’s “Fucking Monday” and Barcelona’s “Nasty Monday” it’s hard to choose where to be hung over on Tuesday (Hint: it’s Barcelona;)

Berlin is more than Brews

You know by now I’m a big fan of beer, but what I really like is finding the unusual, and if you can have a drink when you find it, all the better. So while travelling in Berlin we decided to scope out the more hidden gems, like a bar that serves drinks in a ketchup bottle, a bar that hasn’t been closed a day in over 40 years, and a parking-lot-bar-art-gallery that boasts the best view of the city.

Boston’s 5 Best Breweries

5 is a magic number for beers it seems, so when WOW airlines (remember WOW?) chose my friend and I to be travel ambassadors, the first exotic location they sent us was … Boston. I joke but Boston is one of my favorite towns, and if you even remotely like beer, you gonna love Boston, so we curated a brewery tour that took us to our favorite places and learn every variety the beer-centric Boston has to offer.

Jakarta’s Illusive Smokey Negroni

It’s usually pretty easy to find a drink anywhere I go in the world, save for one place: Jakarta. Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, which means no demand for alcohol (which is largely illegal), so to find a bar, let along a booze temple that boasts a magical smoky Negroni, was a very unique find indeed and required on the spot documentation.

Edinburgh’s Scotch Malt Whiskey Society

In Leith, on the waterfront of Edinburgh, if you are fortunate enough to meet someone that is a member of “the secret vaults of the Scotch Malt Whiskey society”, you might be asked inside, and if you ever so gently ask to interview their caskmaster, he might be willing to talk casually over a delicious dram. Lotsa maybe’s went into this. (on a side note, I have to add in Flokí, the Northernmost whiskey distillery I visited in Iceland, who flavors their mash the old style, that being, with sheep dung. It’s … impressive)

Liquor in LA

Let’s get one thing straight. The greatest bar ever to grace Los Angeles is Tom Bergin’s. That said I would never make that information public on a YouTube video. I would offer three more elaborate pics to show off the flair and pageantry LA is known for. A stripmall speakeasy, a NYC dive in WeHo, and a rooftop looker should do the trick.

The Brewhaha

Lastly, a blast from the past, and one of my first videos I ever made. Back when craft beer culture began to explode I thought it would be a great idea to make a beer variety show called The Brewhaha. It had beer news, skits, some history, contents, and a reference to the Snooki on the Jersey Show (this was like over 10 years ago, give me a break). I produced, shot, and cut together a pilot episode, and learned a lot about beer in the process that I have a hard time remembering.

The Brewhaha – Sizzle


The Brewhaha – Pilot

This has been so much fun to write, I don’t even know how to put it in words. I’m lucky I made films of some of these experience, to keep the memories sharp and the colors vibrant in my mind. Alcohol has provided so many interesting experiences in my life, from professional ones like doing commercials for Belvedere, Absolut, and Guinness, to drinking parking lot “tuba” wine in Mindanao and driving from LA to Hyder, Alaska in a straight shot, only to get “hyderized” at a bar and drive back (I failed that midterm). It was never about getting drunk, it was always about learning and connecting with people and places through something that is rather universal. There are so many styles, techniques, and varieties of drink out there that stretch back to the beginning of human culture, and is such a part of the human existence.

So nice to look back at a life well drunk, and here’s to the next round. Here are some pics … each has a special story … all have a drink to go with them. Salute!

>> Roberto Serrini is a travel journalist and filmmaker for Get Lost Magazine. He has explored the world making hundreds of video you can watch on his YouTube Travelclast channel, and works professionally as a commercial director when not out getting lost.

How I Became a Travel Host.

 

Last summer Brad Stuart and I got the chance to travel around the world and make films for WOW Air, having won their global TravelGuide Contest. It was a surreal experience, somehow being chosen from over 30,000 incredible entries, and learning how to produce a full travel program on the road with just two people.

We produced over 110 films in just three months, all while traveling, which pushed us nearly to the limit of exhaustion. The funny thing about doing what you love, you never realize how truly spent you are until you stop.

Coming back there was a lot to process and learn from, and share as well. Lots of people have had questions like how did we win the contest, or what’s the best way to travel like a travel writerhow did we plan our travel vlog, or just how the experience was. This week I sat down with the good people at The Points Guy and answered some of these questions, which you can read on their site, or down below in an extended interview.

A TPG Reader Dishes on Winning WOW air’s ‘Dream Job’ Travel Contest

— As much as the gig was touted as a “dream job,” having to uproot your life for three months and step away from your daily paid work couldn’t have been an easy decision. Was there one particular aspect of the opportunity, or one thing you were hoping to get out of it, that ultimately led you to decide to go for it?
Accepting to do the project was definitely was a decision we had to think hard about. We realized that being gone for three months without working and still having to cover the cost of our apartments in NYC was going to eat up any per diem WOW was offering us. So from the start we realized we needed to really make this project something special, perhaps much bigger then WOW was expecting. We knew we had to create a diverse library of quality content that could really show our potential as travel content creators. The fact that WOW was letting us have complete control over what we produced and how we produced it meant we could make this project as dynamic as we wanted to, so the opportunity to do what we love the way we wanted to for a brand like WOW was definitely the main draw.
— What sort of training, if any, did you get for the “job?” Did you meet a lot of the WOW Air team in person and go over strategy, or did you just sort of get thrown in the deep end and go?
It was nothing less than freighting how much they trusted us, but also extremely liberating and rewarding. After a casual conversation on the phone with the head of their marketing department we were on a plane to go live in Reykjavik for the summer. We went to their offices, met briefly with Skuli the owner of the company who seemed really excited to have us there, and then they gave us the login information for their youtube, instagram and website and told us to go make some fun stuff. There was no review process or any real brand guidelines which, working in advertising, was absolutely petrifying, but again, liberating. Being able to fully control production from beginning to end was what made this experience exceptional for us. We worked together on what cities we wanted to cover, they set up flights and hotels, and the rest of the job was up to us. 
— How hands-on was the WOW team in terms of what you posted? In terms of determining what you wanted to cover in each city, did they have specific ideas in mind, was that all up to you, or was it somewhere in between? 
They chose 4 cities and we chose the rest, other then that they were completely open to whatever we wanted to cover, which I think was the purpose of the whole contest. They wanted real travelers to explore cities and get others excited about travel, which is exactly what we believed in. We didn’t want to make content that was just another voice in the echo of travel videos already out there online. There is this dangerous cycle that happens, where influencers and influential sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp will only send tourists to the “top 10” places in any one city, and then those people end up writing only reviews about the top 10 places, artificially inflating their importance and value. Whatever was the original experience that made it great cannot be sustained, since its just flooded continually with tourists, and it eventually loses all it’s local vibe. So we felt a responsibility to do the work and discover experiences that were lesser know but just as magical. In order to do so we would check the obvious resources like Conde Nast, Lonely Planet, Thrillist and even Atlas Obscura to see what each city had to offer, but then used WOW’s extensive social media platform to talk directly with our audience, which was the key to finding true hidden gems. We would ask locals where they go on a Thursday night to eat, or on a Monday to drink, and got some amazing suggestions that were largely unknown to foreigners and were truly local. While we covered some well known places that had a big draw, sharing these lesser known places was a way to ensure our audience could get an authentic experience that wasn’t blogged to death about online. There is nothing worse then going somewhere new and already feeling like you’ve been there because you’ve seen it so many times online. 
— What was the biggest challenge you faced in dealing with the company? What about from a personal level of having a limited amount of time to shoot a lot of footage: what was the biggest challenge there for you.
WOW was a pretty great partner; they didn’t demand anything from us that we weren’t willing to provide, and in the end got a lot more then they were expecting. For the most part they let us do our thing and manage our time as we needed. Any pressure we felt came from us driving ourselves to produce dynamic content. We ended up making well over 100 films for 10 cities around the world in just under three months, which was insane, but the experience of learning how to produce so many segments efficiently is something that will definitely benefit us in future projects. 
— In what way(s) did the experience most exceed your expectations?
What was most exceptional was being able to do what you love with a best friend. I think we often forget how lucky we are to be living at this time in history, and just being able to travel, make film, and lifelong memories with a friend is the real prize in all this, not to get to Hallmark Card or anything. I didn’t expect it to be so rewarding in that sense, even when we were exhausted from being up all night editing, or having walked 30 miles with a backpack of gear through a city all day, it was that feeling of accomplishing something difficult for something you really love doing that is the perfect recipe for honest fulfillment. 
— What about the opposite end of that question: Were there certain aspects that proved to be particularly challenging or time-consuming? Any aspect of the process that, if given a second chance, you’d try a different way?
Laundry. Do you know that there is not a single laundromat in all of Reykjavik? Not one. I live in NYC and there are TWO, read that, TWO just in my building. Where the hell do these people wash their clothes? We didn’t have one in our little apartment, so we ended up having to wash everything in the tub with a broken broom stick like it was 1926. Joking aside, it was a rough start for sure. We took too much equipment, and didn’t have a working strategy on how to plan our trips efficiently, but what was truly amazing is how streamlined the process eventually became from the experience of working through it. We realized what gear we really needed, how to plan our day efficiently, how to contact places and people to schedule our day, and how to edit everything and deliver, and still have time to throw a few back at Pablo Discobar before the sun set. That’s a joke because the sun doesn’t set in Reykjavik in the summer. 
— If rating the experience from 1 to 10, 10 being the best, where would it fall? 
26. Honestly. It was the most difficult thing I think either one of us ever tried to do, but because it was something we were really passionate about and loved doing it pushed us to the edge, and there we found nirvana. It was unlike any other experience I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t of traded it for the world. I think what it gave us was well beyond the gift of travel, just merely visiting these cities, which was wonderful. It really taught us how to produce, and how to turn something we really love into something tangible and we can share. 
— Knowing things now that you didn’t know then: Are there questions you’d advise other people applying for similar travel dream jobs like this to ask of the  company providing the tip?
Make sure you really know what you’re getting into and what you want to get out of it, and make sure you communicate that clearly. Companies will dress up free work as a contest, which isn’t to say it can’t be mutually beneficial, but make sure you know the terms and contractual agreements before agreeing to anything. For us it was important that we could use all this work that we were doing to build off of, and banked on the exposure to do similar projects for other brands in the future. Also always ask if there is a place to do laundry nearby. 
— Would you recommend similar experiences to other people? Do you think there’s a certain personality type that’s best-suited for this kind of adventure?
Obviously anyone looking for adventure, loves to travel and make films are prime suspects for a good candidate, but being a good, self-motivated producer will definitely help you get the most out of the experience.  Knowing how to approach people and businesses so they would welcome us and our cameras was key for the success of the project, and as the summer went on we got better at opening doors. We set up private tours of museums, and got access to people and places that would be totally off limits to the average tourist, which made the experiences unique and profound, and in turn elevated the quality of the films from just average travel vlogs to actual curated segments. As an example we shot an entire film about Nobelhart & Schmutzig, a Michelin starred restaurant in Berlin that doesn’t allow cameras inside, so it was a real honor to tell their amazing story, not to mention one of the best meals we’ve ever had. We basically made these experiences happen for us, so the better you are at making your reality the more you’re going to get out of a project like this.
— Were you at all aware that the company was so close to ceasing operations? Were there any signs of strain or inklings about what was to come for the company?
Can’t really say we could, no. At the time they were a fluid, virile company that was forward thinking enough to send two travel maniacs around the world to make films for them. From an advertising standpoint the contest was a genius move. There is a trend happening now where brands will go direct to content creators and influencers to produce media for them, instead of working with a traditional agency, and for someone that works in advertising I really wanted to find out what was the potential of this type of work, and how far we could push the limits. It was a novel approach to a summer ad campaign and the idea was that they were going to keep the Travel Guide website up forever and have new guides each year go to new destinations. It was a fantastic concept, and I think really had the potential to connect with their consumers base.  
— If you had the chance to do it all over again, would you?
In a heartbeat, but in reality, we never really stopped. We may not be creating content for WOW but we’re constantly making new content to continually grow our own brand and channel. We’re just super thankful that we had the opportunity to do so much fun work with them while they were in business, and will definitely miss the fun little airline that did things a bit differently. 

and we’re off… buffalo racing.

Ah the illustrious world of buffalo racing. The pageantry. The jockeys with their sponsored banners and uniforms. All the pomp and circumstance that rivals even the Kentucky Derby.

Nah. Just kidding.

Buffalo Racing it turns out is about as country as you can get. It’s a mixture between drag racing and rodeo if stock cars had horns and we’re extremely pissed off. What I found personally interesting was the way Thai people from the city view Buffalo Racing. They think it’s backwater, hillbilly stuff. And to their credit, it is. Most of the actors in the film are from Bangkok, and they not only talk different then the locals here, but are noticeably whiter and very much on purpose. They cover themselves completely when they are not on camera. Then, they add a large amount of whitening to their already white skin. While westerners long for the bronzed skin that comes with a healthy tan, here it is anything but wanted. “White is right” said one of the kids on set, which sounded very, very strange to my ear. (on a side note, there is such a thing as “Nazi Chic” in Thailand that kinda blew my mind. I thought Juicy Couture sweatpants was the abomination of my fashion world… this definitely takes the cake.)

So this world is absolutely bizarro which makes it fantastically interesting. The buffalo are huge beasts that go extremely fast. Imagine a half ton of muscle and horn flying down a slippery mud runway at 30 mph… with you on the its back. What’s more is that it’s usually kids that race. They sit on the very back of the beast, hold on to a thin rope that is looped through the animal’s nose, and whip the shit out of them as they fly 100 yards toward a finish line. It’s not so much racing as controlled disaster. It’s riveting.

To stop the animal they… don’t. They simply jump off. That should give you an idea of what kinda control they have. Basically they run into a large body of water which slows them down, and then two dudes put their hands up and hope they stop.

DSC00215

They are beautiful animals. Before seeing them Joel the director had said how amazed he was with them, how much more expressive they were then other animals, say a dog or horse. They have these eyes, and can totally emote through them. You can see when they are happy, hungry, playful, or pissed off. It really is impressive. They owners love them as well and treat them like part of the family. They constantly bathe them. Constantly. It is amazing to watch the animal squint in pleasure as cool water is poured on him in the hot sun.

Oh yeah. It’s friggin’ hot. Really hot. Like 100 degrees hot. The palms of my hands got sunburnt. Luckily production was ready for it, and even had a bottle with my name on it ready to go at all times.

ahhhh.
ahhhh.

As for the production team, wow. I’ve never seen guys work so hard. They were amazing, rocking and rolling, making it happen. They set up dolly track in minutes, hardly ever was a word even spoken. Shooting on a RED as well in this heat could have been an issue, but not for these champs. None of the “not my job” attitude here; if it had to be done, it got done, regardless if you were the DP or an PA. It was a pleasure working with them.

I love sets like these. This is what I consider real filmmaking. The reason I got into filmmaking was because I get so bored doing just one task. I love the variety, the combination of talent it takes to make something really fuse together. So when I was asked to put down the drone and step in as the buffalo I was honored.

 

Considering how hot it was, how much there was to shoot, and the fact that we weren’t using set animals, the day went off without a hitch. Lotsa people came down to watch; there was even a sorta tailgate culture where young guys would bring out their freshly washed supped up kit cars with homemade spoilers to impress local girls. Lotsa food trucks and drinking as well, along with your lively betting under the stands.

Hired as an aerial cinematographer I had my work cut out for me. These muscle rockets were fast, unpredictable, and on the whole, did not like the wasp-like whine of my drone. That being said I think it’s been one of my favorite things I’ve shot to date. Flying and shooting with a drone can be a lot of fun; it excels at landscapes and cityscapes, and for the most part anyone can make such scenes look amazing with the right gear and experience. Moving objects, and more specifically, large running animals in a race with small humans on their back was definitely more of a challenge, and one that was ultimately more rewarding then chasing a car or flying over a ridge of a mountain. To watch in slow motion as you track along side of them careening into a lake of sunlit painted water was quite a nice moment. It’s times like these I wish I charged more.

Rs

 

day one. (send help.)

And so … it begins.

I met Joel right outside of customs at the Bangkok airport. I never formally met Joel, and frankly, didn’t really know much about what I was getting into. It sounded exotic, dangerous, and most of all, fun, so I was 90% there. As long as I had a place to stay and could do my job properly, I’d be living the dream. Joel seemed on the ball, an honest guy, and most of all, excited. People who are excited about what they are doing, no matter if you’re a garbage man or a tax attorney, make me happy. Passion is universal.

me and joel, my new best friend.
me and joel, my new best friend.

We jumped into a really nice transport van driven by Song, who spoke no english but pointed like a champ. So we’re driving. And driving. And driving. And finally, we “arrive” although if you saw the place you would have doubts you were anywhere let alone where you were supposed to be. We’re camped out in a place called Chon Buri, a South East dry district in Thailand. Dry because there is about a two days less rain than other places in Thailand, not because they don’t drink alcohol there. They drink. In lot’s of different ways, but I’ll get to that later.

Chon Buri It’s basically no where which makes it kinda amazing. While it lacks almost complete existence, it is home to one thing; Buffalo Racing.

bufalo buck'n

While it doesn’t take much to convince me to get on a plane and come fly a drone around, Buffalo Racing definitely perked up my ears, mainly because I had never heard of it before. Ever. And while it might seem pretentious, that is pretty odd to me. I mean, I love the internet. I love blogs. And for something as exquisitely exotic and certifiably crazy as buffalo racing to never even ping on my internet radar was quite amazing.

Kwai Keng, or Buffalo Racing, has been around in this “formal” incarnation for about 150 years. Originally a way for rice farmers to let off some steam (and make a little side cash on their luck) the event has become a big back alley festivity that brings a good chunk of people in to watch, race, and bet. We’re not talking Madison Square Garden numbers, but definitely WNBA numbers.  For the purposes of the shoot, they organized a special race to take place, as the real races happen in the Fall at harvest time. I immediately understood one of the benefits of shooting in Thailand, where you could have an annual event happen 6 months early, and people not only don’t charge you for it, but are happy to move it for you. We would be shooting over the next following days, and I was definitely looking forward to see what madness this event would bring.

Racing aside, we eventually made it to our “hotel”. It’s kinda an apartment complex that just exists there on the road. There isn’t much around; a little sad market that sells some sundries, and lots of chips and beer. Next to it is a little “restaurant”; basically a wok, and a few tables. Everything is new; like just built. Like paint still wet. But like Stalin built it. There is no style or decor, it’s just basic. Basic of basic. Cave with an outlet is kinda what we’re dealing with here people.

“I made sure you have the best room in the place,” said Joel, extremely proud and excited, “it has a television and air-conditioning.”

the room

Thanks Joel.

This place is hilarious. The bed, was pretty much on the floor. The furniture was all new, so new it had the protective wrapper on it still. My closet had the plastic wrapping on the hanger bar, but lacked hangers, which I thought was just the right touch. The TV (a 13 incher CRT job, remember those 1989?) had a miraculous 216 channels on it. Seriously. I counted. They were all either in Thai, Chinese, or Hindu. 189 of them were K-Pop/Music Videos that played the same 5 music videos.

At the very least, I thought, the bed was nice and big. I then tossed my phone on it and it broke. It broke. Cracked. Placing my hand on it cautiously I quickly realized that it was basically a piece of plywood with a vinyl cover.

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Brand new mind you, which kinda blew my mind. I mean, someone had to design this. There was piping around the edges, and it was made well. Someone had to actually say, “ok, so we’re sleeping on the floor. I need a solution for making that more comfortable. Wait, got it. We’ll take some wood and wrap it in vinyl and raise it 6 inches off the ground.” then another guys is like “brilliant Ted, but what if, and just walk with me a minute, we put white piping around the edge. You know, to class it up a bit?” And then they had a martini lunch celebrating their new product, “the mattress”.

I was pretty much in awe, until I saw the “bathroom”.

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The shower had a knob where water came out. You get just water temperature. Whatever temperature the water is at that time is the temperature of your shower. The funny thing is that at the hottest part of the day the water, which you would love to be cool, is at its hottest. Irony. In the end I had to respect the uniqueness of this bathroom; there aren’t many places you can bathe and take a shit at the same time. Pretty much the Ganges and here.

And it may sound really strange, but, I was extremely happy. I live in Manhattan. I have a sweet apartment, with running hot and cold water, cable, internet, and a city where anything you want from sex to a slice of pizza is available 24/7. Living like that can make you forget what you are made of, who you are, and what is really the value of comfort. So an experience like this I look at with hungry eyes, happy for the chance of discomfort, and the mandated focus on the reason I’m here in the first place. Let’s just hope that holds up for a month. I mean I’m not crazy.

After getting comfortable in my room, I headed down to met some of the “crew”. Another producer named Ray who was German, but had been living out in Thailand long enough to look like he’d been living out in Thailand. Ray had a comically thick German accent and loved to make off-colored Nazi references. It was like Mel Brooks knew I was going on trip and sent me a gift. Another nice kid named Weiss from South Africa that loved animals and loved hunting; a combination I always find interesting. He knew everything that could hurt, poison or kill you in Thailand and wasn’t shy to point it out to you at every turn. These guys were red and leathery with piercing light eyes. They looked like they worked on the docks, and knew what the business end of a knife was used for. Another glorious example of how the film industry takes all kinds.

The "hotel restaurant"
The “hotel restaurant”

Along with Joel we sat outside, shared a bowl of noodles, and drank several very cold beers in the afternoon heat. We discussed the film, traveling, meats we liked to eat, and places we liked to visit. We watched a massive thunderstorm roll in, over us, and out the other side leaving again a beautiful day.

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The German, Ray, Leo beer, L&M unfiltered, and crisps … aka … dinner.

While life here seemed slow and relaxed, it sure seem to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Eventually, after trying all the chip flavors in the shop (“Mexicans” was my favorite, go figure) We rolled out to dinner, at the shopping mall about 10 minutes away.

A giant TESCO in the middle of no where. Inside the Tesco there were other shops, anything you could imagine; barber shops, cell phones, dentist. It was like a small town. This is what I imagine the post apocalyptic future will be like; irradiated jungle badlands for miles, with a giant climate controlled warehouse filled with a village of commerce defying the nature surrounding it. This place was frightening with its variety; they even had a Swansons and Dairy Queen. As long as I can get my Blizzard on I’m good. There is something I hate about these places, mainly, it’s a parasite culture in a foreign place, but there is something miraculous about it as well, like taking the lowest level of art and raising it to museum quality. It makes me think of Charles Bukowski and Robert Moses at an S&M party. There is something perfectly mind-blowing about a perfectly short, brown Thai man in a red and white soda-counter stripped shirt saying in perfectly broken English “Welcome to Swanson’s” in the middle of a desolate jungle province.

The "Nightcap".
The “Nightcap”.

Back at the hotel I had a ceremonial Alka-Seltza and put on GnR’s “Welcome to the Jungle”. I peered out the window into the darkness. No street lights, no stars. Just jungle black. What would tomorrow bring, who knows. As for now it is late, and time to sleep on my wood plank.

Rs

 

getting there.

Jesus that was a long flight.

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I flew Cathay from Newark to Hong Kong. Flight left at 2am. That’s just rediculous, but the flight was relatively empty, mainly because who the hell wants to leave at 2am and also because there are riots in Bangkok right now. Great time to find cheap fares people, God bless civil unrest.

Going to Cambodia I flew Asiana (yeah, the guy that missed the runway in SF) and frankly it was a better plane; plugs, wifi, better entertainment system. But I didnt care, just happy to be in a seat sleeping.

Arriving in Hong Kong I was blown away by the airport. Super modern, clean, and with high end stores that rival Rodeo Drive.

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Since Cathay’s idea of breakfast is Congee, basically porrage, I decided take my Tale of Two Cities ass up to the food court and hope something was open. Boy was it, all sorts of delights; noodle bars, sushi, something called a Japanese porkchop palace, and of course good ol’ McDonalds. Oh, sorry, Mc Cafe, which is like the French Laundry of McDonalds. They have real paper napkins.

 

Of course I went noodles.

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Beef noodle. Spicy beef noodles. Who gives a shit that it was 530 am – this shit was going in my stomach. It was of course the best thing I ever ate and worth all 16 dollars or 9,476 Hong Kong Dollars (actually not surewhat the exchange was, all I know is I gave the guy a 20 dollar USD bill and he gave me 50 HKD back. Bonus, right?)

Belly full of brothy delight I went to the gate, taking an ultra modern train. When I boarded I gasped when I saw this:

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Bastards improved the damn pole people. The pole. Thats like saying “yeah, sure you have the wheel, but have you tried our wheel? It’s way better.” and it was. NYC are you taking notes? I’d really like to not be holding hands with that scabby dude on the F train any longer. Thanks.

After a short layover, just long enough to totally hate how crappy free internet is (such a first world problem man) I jumped the second flight, where I gasped yet again folks, at this:

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That blue colostomy bag looking thing on my lap is an airbag. For my crotch. Take that in for a sec. You’re on a plane. In the … air. and you have a … airbag. In the case you crash into… more air. What’s even more amazing is that it is protecting my balls, which is probably something I’d really want if I did extreme sports. I love traveling mainly for moments like this.

I landed in Bangkok, which has a modern airport of steel and glass, and makes you walk almost as far as Miami Int’l Airport does to get the hell out of it. At the exit I found Joel, our producer, who greeted me with a smile.

And so I would be home for the next month. Here we go.