Travelling a country, a continent or the world, people tend to develop something that they have to do in each different place. One of the most standard things to do ones is to collect country ‘patches’ – various flags that you can religiously sew on to your undoubtedly worn and battered rucksack as a kind of scrap book of the journey. Others are more original… remember the guy who literally danced, and is still dancing, his way all over the world? (aka Where the Hell is Matt?)

The thing that I have found myself doing in country after country is visiting the cinema. This might seem strange; why would you travel half way across the world – or even a two hour plane journey away – to sit in a dark room and watch a film that can be watched anywhere in the world?

Well, for me, experiencing the cinema in a different country isn’t about going to the first multiplex you may happen to stumble across showing  the latest Hollywood offering. 10 minutes of googling research  and more often than not, it’s easy to find listings, directions and prices for the nearest independent or art house cinema. Again, this may seem like a bit of an artsy, so-far-up-your-own-rear-end-it-hurts kind of endeavour. But it doesn’t have to be.

Independent cinemas tend to show national or even regional movies. This means that you’re experiencing a part of the countries culture – the real culture, not just the tourist equivalent. One of the best cinemas I’ve visited on my travels was in Cape Town. Inventively named the ‘Labia’ (a little bit awkward when lost in the street and asking where to find the Labia…), I saw an Africaans movie. Although the plot line was maybe a little lacking, and some of the acting debatable  the film I saw was entirely in a national language – which I’d heard very little of until that point – was about a very South African theme, and the cinema itself was full of – believe it or not – South African People.

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Until that point, I hadn’t really enjoyed my time in Cape Town. As one of the most popular holiday destinations in the whole of Africa, it was understandably full of Westerners, busy, expensive, and altogether a bit of a let down. I really didn’t feel like I’d experienced anything that stood out, or really anything particularly South African. The cinema combined with a bit of a messy night out with a guy from Cape Town gave me a new perspective of what it’s all about.

The cinema allows you to fully get involved with the real life of locals, something in which so many travelers desperately try to achieve but ultimately fail miserably at doing. And why do so many fail so epic-ly in experiencing the real culture of a country? Well maybe it’s because as tourists, we’re often subconsciously looking for something completely out of the ordinary, something so spectacularly exotic or weird that it blows our minds and opens our eyes to the unthinkable variety in the world, in short, something out of a guide book or, ironically, a Hollywood movie. But reality often doesn’t live up to the fantasy. And sometimes it takes participating in something altogether normal to immerse yourself in something entirely different.

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