I’m always of two minds about travel because it can be exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. Feet get sore, museums become overwhelming, and after a while, all you want is your own bed and a good old American hamburger with fries. But what if you come down with a case of wanderlust, or even fernweh (German for ‘farsickness’)? Here’s a roundup of some travel documentaries that can take you on a virtual tour of exotic locations all over the world. No passport required!
Last of the Caravans 1995 (966 LAS). In terms of production values, this is the crudest of these films, but in some ways the most interesting and authentic. We join a salt caravan as it wends its way from oasis to oasis in the deserts of Niger, in Africa. The caravan stops for only a few hours each night, camels carry their own fodder, and meals are eaten while walking. It looks romantic, but it is harsh. If the caravan leader loses his way or falls asleep, the caravan is doomed. Arriving at its final destination, we see the leader lying face down near a hedge, utterly exhausted. The Last of the Caravans moves at the stately pace of a camel, but I enjoyed its quiet calm–it was relaxing.
Exploring the Deserts of the Earth 2007 (551.415 EXP) I wasn’t sure what to expect from this—it was billed as “Five Continents, 50 Countries—900 Days.” A German filmmaker and Howard Stern lookalike named Michael Martin and his girlfriend/photographer Elke travel by motorbike through the major deserts of the world. Martin is not a showman, but has an unerring instinct in gravitating to the most amazing scenery and fascinating people. For me, this reached some sort of peak when he and Elke came to a lake in the Sahara desert, a lake that was a remnant of an enormous prehistoric body of water. There were crocodiles in the lake–the last four in existence. Camel caravans gathered there, and as Martin noted, it was a scene out of the Middle Ages. The whole series has weird, amazing things like this. There is an English-speaking narrator.
Edge of Existence: Exploring Communities on the Edge of Civilization by Donal MacIntyre 2009 (910.4 EDG) There were many moments as I watched when I wondered just why MacIntyre was doing all this. For instance, as he went canoeing with some former cannibals on a saltwater crocodile (worst, meanest kind) hunt in the dead of the night, in a little canoe, the edge of which is only six inches above the water. It spooked me. What if they weren’t really former cannibals? What if they had a relapse? What if the crocodiles got the upper hand? But I did learn how to make the call of a young crocodile—you grab your nose and make a high-pitched whinny. Who knows when this could be useful? MacIntyre had other adventures, including sailing with sea gypsies in Malaysia, and staying with a family of Bedouins in Oman.
Expedition Africa 2009 (DVD 916.7 EXP) Four travelers journey 970 miles using only a compass and old maps to follow Henry Stanley’s 1871 journey to find Dr. Livingstone. The explorers are experienced trekkers and authorities in their fields, but under the stresses of the journey, they fall to arguing, sometimes bringing this down to the trite level of your average reality show. Still, they trek through some incredible scenery, and fall into interesting situations, such as camping on a hippo trail along a nearby river (which even I know is a no-no), and trudging through a swamp full of mud and crocodiles. Afterwards, you may want to watch The Lost Diary of Dr. Livingstone (2014) (916.7 LOS).
Alexander’s Lost World by David Adams 2014 (938.07 ALE ) You may have already seen In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great 1998 (938.07 IN) by Michael Wood, and, if so, you will enjoy this. It features the latest historical research on Alexander the Great, debunking some myths about him. Adams travels through some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Central Asia, searching for the remains of a city supposedly founded by Alexander, called Alexandria, on the River Oxus. He runs across a number of ruins, which are recreated for us through CGI. You really feel like you are traveling through some of the remotest areas on earth, both in time and in space, and the scenery is simply spectacular. So whether you are a history buff or love exotic travel, this one’s for you.
Weir’s Way by Tom Weir 2008 (914.11 WEI). The late Tom Weir was a Scottish climber, writer and broadcaster and champion of Scotland’s wild places. He is best known for the long-running Scottish Television series Weir’s Way, which started in the 1970s. Wearing his trademark woolly hat and Fair Isle jumper, he explored the landscape and history of Scotland, meeting the locals along the way. Weir was an old-fashioned gent with a gift for the gab, and it’s relaxing to listen to him as he hikes through Scotland’s mountains and glens, expounding on history, geology and ecology. The original series was transferred to CD, so the color is slightly faded, but to me this only added to its old fashioned charm.