While we don’t have many rules, we do maintain some guidelines that keep our travels as authentic as possible. If United flies there, we don’t. We exclusively travel in our Vision SF50 private jet—a steal at $2 million—and only pack the essentials: seventeen battery packs, a pair of fleece pajamas (handcrafted from baby alpaca fur—so soft), fourteen amethyst crystals (for good vibes), a sheepskin parka, my pocket sitar, my Amex Centurion Card, my GoPro—a gift from my wife that I used obsessively in the slums of Hyderabad—and an emergency $25,000 in cash.
One of my favorite memories is of a dinner we shared in Culiacan—a quaint Mexican shantytown that’s been ravaged by the Sinaloa Cartel (and is free of pesky tourists!). My wife, Vanessamonica, was digging into an authentic taco in an adorable taqueria when four gunmen burst in and screamed, “¡Congelar o morir!” I quickly translated the threat using my Diccionario Español-Inglés (which features Latin-American and Pan-Spanish translations) and realized we’d been told to “freeze or die.”
When the gravity of the situation set in, I whipped out my Sony 4K camcorder—a gift from my wife that I used obsessively in the Haitian ghettos—and began filming. As quickly as I could, I translated, “If your last day in Culiacan was tomorrow, where would you go? My wife, Vanessamonica, and I are still finalizing–” and was shot twelve times.
Thankfully, I recovered after an eight-week stint in an authentic Mexican hospital (jagged bedpans!) and my wife, Vanessamonica, tried her hand at hawking authentic tamales on the streets. On her best day, she made 10 pesos, or 53 US cents, and we couldn’t have asked for a better look at Culiacan’s perro-eat-perro economy.
As I’m sure you know, there are tons of places to stay in Cameroon. But as soon as we learned about Cameroon’s skid row, we knew immersing ourselves in the nation’s poverty was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
From the slits in our canvas tent, we’d gaze in amazement at the speeding caravans stuffed with armed men and blindfolded children. The children would scream, “Help, please! We’re being killed!” with their adorably rounded accents.
“I’m sorry,” I’d say with a good-natured laugh, “I just can’t understand you!”
My wife and I love experiencing the unfamiliar, like state-sanctioned killings, nationwide poverty, or kooky cheeses. Speaking of the first two, my wife and I once vacationed in the Philippines. During our first night, we enjoyed authentic adobo and pancit in Marawi, a dangerous little district still recovering from an ISIL invasion. More than 3,000 of the city’s structures were destroyed in the gunfire which, while tragic, means Marawi is tourist-free!
Anyways, while walking through one of Marawi’s bloodiest slums, we saw a police officer standing over a man on his knees. Apparently, this officer was one of President Duterte’s “hounds” (some local lingo!) and he’d likely planted drugs on the man to justify killing him. My wife, Vanessamonica, could only stare at the harrowing scene, clutch her Hermès tote and amethyst crystal (for protection) and mutter, “Are you getting this on your Canon EOS 1D?” She was, of course, referencing the camera that I used religiously in the heart of Burkina Faso’s squalor.
And when the police officer shot the man, I couldn’t help but think, I mean, that’s just not the kind of thing you’ll see in Dubai, and I knew I owed it to the man to capture the authenticity of his murder on my five-thousand-dollar camera.
Which, I did, and the photo turned out beautifully.
My wife and I travel for many reasons. We enjoy getting away from the slog of cocktail hours, valet service, human rights, and air conditioning. We’re fascinated by the resilience of those living in the most inhumane, interesting conditions. I guess you could call us voyeurs of the human spirit, really, because there’s nothing that inspires us more than traveling to faraway places, watching little orphan beggars dance in the streets for bread, and taking that positive, can-do spirit back with us to the West.
A bit of feedback to street robatas in Japan, though—you might hate me for saying this, but the sushi is far better at Nobu! Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
Second City’s online “Writing Satire for the Internet” course, a fav among our writers, starts Sept 23. Use code PIC for 10% off.