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)
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.