“We can’t get on the flight??” I said to the agent. The flight to Hanoi was in final boarding.
“Sorry sir, but you don’t have the proper visa,” the agent replied firmly.
We were in limbo at Changi Airport, half way between the Philippines and Vietnam. Someone on our team screwed up and we didn't have our ducks in line. Vietnam would have to wait.
We went to a cafe in the airport and flipped open our laptops looking for a new direction.
Seven hours later I found "Shoe Dating" in Kuala Lumpur and we left the airport to pursue the lead.
From the shoe dates the whole Malaysian episode evolved. One date invited the crew to a party. Some of her friends were speaking about a political situation in Sarawak and I joined the conversation. I knew at once that this was an issue we had to cover. The episode took a dramatic turn.
While in Sarawak I experienced a really gratifying travel moment. We'd just arrived at the longhouse of some displaced locals. These structures embrace the concept of community in their design. Dozens of families reside in the longhouse; their spaces connected by stairs, bridges, and a gigantic back porch. After we dropped our bags the producer went to find the toilet and the cameraman and I decided to take a stroll along the porch. About 50 meters down I saw a sign on a door in English which said "Welcome! Come on in!" I pushed it open.
"Oh." exclaimed a man with his feet propped up on his desk, surprised at the two Caucasians entering his space.
It appeared to be a small convenience store for the residents of the longhouse. He had closed for the day.
"Sorry," I said, "the sign on the door said to come in."
"No, it's ok," the man replied in broken English, "my sister and wife are in the back. Come with me."
He led us to a room where the two women were making embroideries out of beads.
A large bottle of rice wine was opened and stories we shared. After an hour of this, it was hard to leave. I mean it was literally hard to leave. Every time I drained my glass and began the farewell speech (“Well, it was a real pleasure.. thanks so much for..”) the glass was immediately filled again. Both the cameraman and I made several failed attempts and were becoming progressively more inebriated. One or two more chances were left before we’d collapse right there on the floor.
With refined technique I shot the liquor down, lowered the empty glass to the table, and simultaneously stood up with a mouth full of gratitude. I was two steps from the table before anyone could top me off. The cameraman set down his empty glass but was too slow rising, so he got another one. I grinned back at him as I edged for the door.
Imagine yourself walking down the hallway of an apartment complex in your country and pushing open a random door. What are the chances you'd get invited in for some wine and a good conversation? In my city the odds would be slim. That's partially because of the design of the housing. There have been several studies that demonstrate how the shape of neighborhoods affects one’s sense of community and overall happiness.
You'll notice as you travel that you gain a new appreciation for the things your country does well, but you’ll also realize that other places do certain things better. Staying with the tribes of Sarawak convinced me that they have designed housing that fosters connection, and solid community is a key factor in keeping myself positive. I don’t want that house way up on the hill looking down on everyone else. That home will become my lonely prison. I want to be down in the community relating with people. I can hike up the hill to get a view.
The tribes of Sarawak need all the community they can get to overcome the recent challenges they've faced. As you'll see some are handling the difficulties better than others, but there is true beauty in the sacrifices made for a better tomorrow.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Tuesday night at 10.
Do you believe in Monsters? How about demons? In the Visayas, a series of islands in central Philippines, plenty of people do. They can even point to real life cases.
In this episode of Road Less Traveled I took a dark dive into investigative journalism. A school was afflicted with a case of mass demon possession. Kids howled and fought with the strength of adults. Not far off a village was allegedly attacked by a Filipino vampire called a manananggal, a beast that rips in half at night when it looks for blood and flesh. A child was found dead and another man was ambushed on a road in the middle of the night.
A lot of shows on TV which deal with the supernatural feel so hokey I can't help but believe they are simply pandering to the audience. What you'll witness on this episode was completely raw and organic. I got a tip and pursued the story. I struggled for days trying to put the pieces together. The resolution of one case was more complex and fantastic than could be imagined. The resolution of the other was muddled and troubling.
What do you think of these tales? What did you see?
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
"Why is everyone in a tizzy?" I asked my new boxing trainer.
"Because Manny is coming," he said.
Meeting famous Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was certainly a highlight of our first episode in the Philippines, and, as many things on our show, it was completely unexpected. His arrival was like the return of the king. Eyes lit up, the vibration on the streets buzzed, and people fawned to be near him. Hell, even I felt a little tongue tied when we chatted through the ropes.
A very different kind of tension hummed as I entered the so called "slum" of Tondo. I walked through a gate to descend. A creeping fear ran through my head that it might lock from the inside, sealing me into the neighborhood.
As I entered eyes peered from all kinds of angles amidst the dilapidated alleyways. I could feel people watching. Middle-class conditioning took the stage of my mind and performed a monologue: "This is a place to fear. You can't trust these people."
Some adults came out of a doorway and approached. They offered to show me around. I looked up to my crew, cautiously filming from the freeway above, and called them down. I admit, sheepishly, that I hoped I hadn't summoned them into a trap.
Why does our species have this propensity to create the "other"? The people in that neighborhood, in that country, across the tracks, with that accent, or with that skin color are distinct from us.
Recently I took a small vacation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. A good friend picked me up from the airport. He’s a kind hearted, open-minded guy. He cautioned me almost immediately about the locals, warning that their disdain for invasive mainlanders could manifest in violent ways. Although his intentions were good, my mind created a separate folder labeled "locals." Anyone in that category would now have the stigma of danger.
Days later I walked, bleary eyed, into a supermarket looking for a coffee stand. A big and strong local cruised by holding a large coffee cup in his hand.
"Hey man," I said, "did you get that coffee in here?"
The guy's rugged face broke into the warmest smile I'd seen on the island.
"Yeah bro, you can get it over there at that counter."
This was an alpha male of the dangerous “other” tribe affably directing me to my nearest caffeine fix. Not so scary after all.
How can we surmount this divisive way of thinking? The answer is to travel. Not all-inclusive, stay in the resort type travel, but get out and meet the people travel. As I mentioned in a speech I would give later in the Philippines, travel is not about the distance you go or the budget you have to spend. It is simply the act of having unique experiences with people different than you. actually, travel is about having unique experiences with people whom you perceived to be different than you. What we inevitably discover is that there is very little which separates us.
We all love something and fear something. We all want to belong. We all worry about the future. We're essentially the same consciousness spread over the globe, born into different circumstances, with different bodies and brains, from no effort of our own. Some were conceived in Peoria, Illinois and some in Tondo, Manila.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM
California reminds us how to dream, play, and dare. In the hustle to keep the engine churning (paying the bills, making appointments, knocking out chores) it's imperative to create moments where we can savor the experience of being alive. These experiences will not knock on our doors. We have to prioritize them.
California makes that process easy. It's a destination where you can find people honoring an Egyptian goddess with python dances a short distance from folks ripping motorcycles around a track. A place where you can spend the morning paragliding off dusty mountains and the afternoon getting an ass kicking from women on rollerskates. A place where the elderly still burn their candles bright as they chug through icy cold water surrounded by sea lions.
California constantly pulls me out of my serious mind. Reminds me that life is mysterious, random, and full of beauty. That we should never lose that child like side of ourselves which is full of wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm. That it's more than ok to be silly and ridiculous... it's vital.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Yup, that's really my arm being penetrated by a thick needle. The man with grubby fingernails is a dukun (shaman) who sanitized his hands by dipping them in a bowl of tap water. A moment later I thought I’d be crippled permanently. The other shamans surprised me with a series of trials (involving a machete and huge rock) to determine if the magic charm (inserted into my arm) was working properly.
I came into this scenario, like many things on Road Less Traveled, with little foresight. I'd asked around in Jakarta if anyone knew of a witchdoctor, and finally a reliable source led me to a house 20 miles outside of the city. When I came out, I had the charm (a susuk) under my skin with the power of strength and protection.
Two guys on horseback followed us up Mount Bromo, hoping we would tire and pay them for a ride. At one point one of the guys, on the verge of giving up, said, "Mr... no ride??"
"No ride," I replied, gesturing to my arm and flexing, "I have susuk... I am strong!"
The rider gestured back to the producer, who was struggling up the hill behind us.
"And you friend?" he asked with a glimmer in his eye.
"No susuk," I said as we both started laughing.
"Screw you guys," the producer yelled up between gulps of air.
'No susuk' would be a common joke for the rest of the season when anyone struggled with a physical task.
Months later I was in an interview with Playboy Romania. The journalist asked me about a crazy travel story, and I began to tell her about the witchdoctors and susuk insertion as i pulled up the sleeve of my sweater.
"I see it!" the lady exclaimed.
Sure as hell the piece of gold was jutting half out of my arm. I plucked it out and stuffed it in a fold of my wallet. It may still be there today. Whether or not the charm provides comparable power from the back pocket of my jeans is questionable.
I can't wait to go back to Indonesia. It's an archipelago nation full of mysticism, surprises, and stories. It's also more progressive and open-minded than most travelers realize. Now would be a great time to go.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM
The driver approached with a funny look in his eyes. Suspicion gurgled in my consciousness.
“You know, I’m gonna take the bus,” I said.
The businessman frowned. He had convinced me the Grand Palace was closed and directed me somewhere else.
“Why would you take the bus? Just get in the tuk-tuk!”
But it was too late. I could see the angles now and narrowly escaped his trap.
Bangkok has an ultra-refined scammer scene, with the slickest con-artists I've ever met. They almost got me twice in the past. As I returned to film RLT in Thailand, it was my turn to get them.
While on break, I munched down a bag of fried bugs. The cameraman decided to spontaneously film. It turned into our number one video on youtube until the foot fetish community discovered our segment about reflexology and blew the clip up. I never thought much about my feet, but it’s flattering to see their popularity soar.
I have mixed feelings about the Mahouts and their elephants. On one hand, these people have a long tradition with the massive mammals. On the other hand, elephants are social creatures. Unlike tigers, they are not wired to live alone.
Can you imagine yourself getting captured by an advanced alien species? You would now spend the rest of your life without seeing another human. Let’s say they treated you well, providing a big apartment with sweeping views of Planet X and a fridge perpetually full of lasagna, ice cream, and beer. Occasionally they’d send you out to gather firewood. Would you be happy with that arrangement or would you be a lonely soul?
You could replicate my technique as I turn the tables on the scammers, however, there are three popular scams to absolutely avoid:
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM
“Whack!” I swung the medieval club down with maximum force. It hit the iron rim of the sewer gutter and power flowed back up into my elbow like a sonic blast. Just below this commotion an enormous rat scurried unharmed into the shadows.
Filming in India can be taxing. The cities are chaotic and loud, schedules often go awry, and locals have a unique sense of personal space. However, if the goal of travel is to open the mind and expand perspective, there is no other destination that competes. Content waits to be discovered around every corner. If you can't find a story in India, you're just not paying attention.
The Taj Mahal Palace will blow your mind and you won't believe who has stayed there. We toured some of the rooms frequented by big name guests and sampled luxury at its pinnacle.
I left the Taj for an unsavory destination: A neighborhood of grimy alleyways, littered with overflowing garbage piles. It was a search for a clandestine branch of the city government known as the NRK (or Night Rat Killers). I'd wager we were the first Taj guests to spend their evening hunting rodents.
I was a horrible rat hunter. In retrospect I'm so thankful I did not smash one of the furry creatures. A piece of everyone's tax money has gone to pest control, but that doesn't mean everyone would be cool watching a rat crushed with a club.
There is always some member of society we prefer to keep in the closet. If not the NRK, it's the folks washing hotel sheets in Dhobi Ghat or the families sorting garbage at Dharavi. They deserve a modicum of recognition for dealing with life's inconvenient realities. It’s important to understand the broad spectrum of lifestyles on earth... to see things for what they really are.
We live in a virtual world now which lathers gloss on everything. Browsing a Facebook wall does not provide the experience of real lives, but rather the highlight reel of lives. Something is lost in this process. There is a piece of our humanity in struggle, hardship, and tedium. The story of our race rests as much in the rat killers of Mumbai as the guests sipping Darjeeling tea in the Taj.
I had heart wrenching love triangle moment. It happened in a class for Bollywood's aspiring stars, but nonetheless, for a good performance I had to reach deep inside. I remembered moments of romance and loss. I felt some of the butterflies and the pain. After the class the students gathered around spontaneously and I gave them a pep talk. The road of the artist is a difficult path. There will be family members who cajole them to "get a real job." In auditions there will be hundreds of "no"s for every "yes." Without family in powerful positions they will have to hustle for opportunity and hone their skills razor sharp. Even then they'll need luck.
The devoted artist does something remarkably courageous. They should hold their head up high. We need people in "real jobs" to keep the economy running. They are the meat. But the artist connects us with the full spectrum of the conscious experience.. They are the spice. Without art the world would be a flavorless dish.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel tonight at 9PM (Europe, Middle East, Africa)
The tension was thick as banana cream pie when we arrived in Amsterdam. I had no ideas. Deep internet research provided information about windmills and wooden shoes. Yawn. Desperate for a lead, I contacted the authors of guidebooks. They told me about great windmills and authentic wooden shoes. Was there no Road Less Traveled activity in the Netherlands??
The first day was spent recording old voice-over at a local studio. When I came out of the booth the two sound engineers said, "What the heck are you doing? This sounds awesome!" I explained the show concept and inquired if they had any ideas.
One guys asked, "Have you heard of fierljeppen?" and then he showed me a video. Yes!
The next guy said, "Did you know the Netherlands has the best kickboxers?" This guy made a phone call on the spot to Glory gym.
Ten minutes of conversation produced two amazing segments. Always ask the locals.
I felt a little weird about punching Marloes Coenen in the face. This is ridiculous because she's a professional fighter, but it's hard to overcome the "don't hit girls" programming. So I went in for takedowns. She was licking her chops watching my slow, telegraphed attempts to hug her to the ground. Marloes can wrestle and grapple at an elite level so I was really taking the tiger by the tail and she made me pay for it.
In Marrakesh we had an incident in the hectic Jemma El-Fnaa. This place is a mind-blast of intense sights, smells, and sounds; but tourists should be advised to watch their wallets. We negotiated a fair price for a quick shot of a snake charmer. We got it and I started marching off. Then I noticed my cameraman was absent. I turned around and saw him surrounded by five guys yelling, pointing fingers, and sticking their chests out. A game of intimidation for more money. I ran back and backed us out of their circle. "A deal is a deal guys. You must honor our deal. We're leaving.. you're not getting more money... goodbye!" He required saving once more in Thailand. Just replace the five intimidating guys with five tall and gorgeous ladyboys.
Relationships were strained during the long drive into the Sahara. On the long drive from Marrakesh to the desert we stopped and bought a delicious box of figs. A couple hours later these figs gave us terrible gas. I released an unholy breeze in the car. Within seconds our driver and his buddy pulled the loose ends of their turbans over their faces. I quickly (and convincingly) blamed the incident on the producer sitting beside me.
Watch this episode on the Travel Channel this Saturday at 9PM (Europe, Africa, and Middle East)
At the end of this month an unparalleled social experiment called Burning Man will occur once again in the hostile playa of the Black Rock Desert. If approached right it can be a mind-altering, transformational experience; leaving the participant more charitable, accepting, and humanistic for months or years to come. Although I'm no expert, I've constructed this post from advice received and lessons learned. Want to enhance your experience? Have a gander at this list and feel free to give feedback.
The 2015 burn was one of the most memorable and life-altering experiences of my life. It felt like a collective experiment to see how nice we could be to each other. Or as if we were all informed a meteor was definitively going to destroy the earth in a month... no more value would be placed on hoarding stuff or wearing a social mask. May as well share what you got, love fearlessly, and celebrate life. This is the burn.
Looking forward to seeing you on the playa. Swing by Center4RnD at 5:15 and G and say hello. If you've got BM advice to share please comment below.
** This year I plan to arrive early to shoot a small section of video and then be finished with electronics throughout the burn. If you do elect to photograph always ask permission; however, keep in mind it will never look as good through the lens as it does in real life.
*** Write the address of your camp on your bike with a Sharpie. This may help if someone accidentally grabs your wheels in the middle of the night and could also guide you home if lost.
"You!" I heard. I looked up to see a man in a top hat and vest approaching with his left hand up. His eyes glimmered and a small smile cracked inside a dark beard.
"Come get some," the guy said as we locked gazes.
I arrived at Lightning in a Bottle a bit frazzled. The decision to go was made a week prior, my friend dropped out a few days before, and I scrambled to find a photographer until the final minute. Arriving in the wee hours of the first night, I pitched my tent on a bare hillside. The person I'd come to film, Hannah Fraser, was on the other end of the grounds and we failed to connect. My photographer wasn't coming until the next night. I was alone as I set out to walk around.
Have you ever entered a raucous bar at 1am stone sober? Have you slipped into a solemn church feeling rambunctious? In both cases the disparity of the energy inside and outside of you is striking. This was me walking around LIB. The crowd was full of people who were amped. They'd spent weeks or months in anticipation. They knew the lineups and artists. They had been jamming it out in a caravan full of buddies the whole drive over. And there was lonely Jonathan ambling around like he was on a filming delay, very conscious of being friendless and on the older spectrum of the age scale. Maybe I'd just get the shots the next day and retreat to familiar ground.
Lightning in a Bottle is held in the sun scorched San Antonio Recreation Area of central California. Outdoor enthusiasts once came here for it's 16 mile lake which has since completely evaporated due to the drought. To get from one end of the festival to the other one must cross several footbridges which span dusty ravine beds that once fed the lake. It was on these junctions that I found my redemption.
There is an LIB tradition of high-fiving people who are walking the opposite way on a bridge. At least 50% of attendees are in on this game, and a good 10% are adamant about it. As I crossed my first bridge one of the true believers saw Mr. Humdrum coming and he singled me out.
"You!" said top hat, grabbing my attention.
"Come get some."
I pulled my hand out of my pocket and lifted it up. It was like a joust of good will, two men in motion narrowly crossing, one guy with his lance up, the other raising his just in time as the distance closed.
"Smack!" we made contact. And then "Smack, smack, smack!" The three folks behind him immediately responded to my upraised hand and emerging grin. I was suddenly on high-five automatic.
There is something quite miraculous that happens when you receive a high-five. It's almost impossible to not smile. A surge of energy streams through you. It's as if the giver is passing you a portion of their positivity or a jolt of their current. In fact, scientific studies have shown that this kind of touch reduces feelings of threat and promotes trust and cooperation. It releases the feel-good brain juice oxytocin and reduces the stress chemical cortisol.
Psychologist James Coan told the New York Times this contact communicates a sharing of your concerns and issues, “We think that humans build relationships precisely for this reason, to distribute problem solving across brains. We are wired to literally share the processing load, and this is the signal we’re getting when we receive support through touch.”
I immediately committed to being one of the 10% high-five enthusiasts. On every bridge at every occasion I had my hand raised. Take it or leave it, it was staying up. I could now spot people stuck in the rut of my old low-energy position, walking with their gaze averted, hands in pockets, shoulders slumped. I empathized with their state. To them I sent a warm welcome: "Come get some."
Let me encourage you to look for ways to acknowledge people today. If you see a lonely kid bust a trick on his skateboard, if you hear a person speaking of good news, or if you see someone go out of their way to act compassionately then tell them you see them. Maybe with a smile and a nod. Perhaps with a shout of "nice one." Or, if the moment feels right, raise that hand in the air and give some. I promise you'll get some back.
I'm Jonathan Legg
My college career counselor said living in LA and working on camera were unrealistic ambitions, so I chased my other passion: Travel. Now I do all three. The road, however, has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and facilitating understanding and appreciation for people different from me. I hope the content on this blog and my shows can bring a sliver of that juju to you.