13 January 2008 | Sweet_Ophelia
In 2005 Brook Silva-Braga put his seemingly idyllic life on hold to back-pack around the world. A successful television producer living in New York, Braga explains in a diary-entry type video confessional that now in his late twenties he sees himself heading down the same typical path as all his friends: success, marriage, children etc, etc. Seeing a small window of opportunity he tells work that he's taking a year off for a solo trip around the world, packs up his apartment and prepares for a journey that he documents with a hand-held camera.
Starting in Australia then travelling up through Asia, Europe and culminating in Brazil Braga's documented journey is an exposè on the backpacking lifestyle. Backpacking is a fairly new phenomenon that has come about thanks to Globalization easy travel, the global village, cheap airfares and an entirely new tourism industry that feeds and feeds off of backpackers. As Braga experiences different emotions, frustrations and makes some small self-discoveries he finds that his experiences are pretty much shared by all who decide to carry their lives on their backs. When he finds himself feeling lonely in his first few days in Sydney, Australia his feelings are articulated by the many fellow backpackers he turns his camera on to interview. All explain a similar feeling of depression in the first few days away from home and the loneliness of seeing beautiful landmarks by yourself, with no-one to share them with. But eventually all Braga's backpackers agree that a decision to make the most of a unique situation sees them making easy friendships with those they share a Hostel with and this is a subject touched upon many times in 'A Map for Saturday' the friendships that are made and broken in maybe a few hours, or a few days. Braga muses at one point that as a backpacker he has become very good at saying goodbye, not quite sure if this is a good or bad thing? A fellow American backpacker Braga meets in London feels the short-lived friendships are a blessing and special if only because unlike 'normal' friends who drift apart over a period of time, when backpacking it is easy to mark where a friendship began and ended. It is a bond made over a very short period of time, remembered in association with a place in the world.
In the second half of Braga's documentary, and at the tail-end of his year-long journey, he makes the interesting observation that while travelling he has only met two fellow American backpackers. Braga admits that in America, living the American dream means working all year long to make enough money to go away for two weeks on a luxury holiday. Where other cultures seem to have a high respect for self-discovery and soul-searching travel (he notes that the majority of backpackers he has met are proud Canadians) in America ad campaigns for travel aren't focused on 'roughing it' but rather, 'lapping it up'.
In the last half of his final episode Braga is clearly world-weary and maybe even a little tired of the backpacking lifestyle. Every fellow backpacker he interviews admit that eventually 'the five questions' they are constantly being asked begin to annoy ("where have you been? where are you from?", etc) and as one Irish backpacker admits, even the sights begin to bore "oh, another waterfall" he dead-pans. An English woman admits to being fed-up with living out of a backpack from day to day, and having to repack every day. And finally as if the universe is telling him personally that enough is enough, Braga is mugged in Rio De Janeiro it's time to go home. And here Braga's final musings concern the backpacker when they return home. How hard it is for those who traveled solo, to not have anyone to share their experiences with completely and it seems true enough, how to explain to someone who has been working behind a desk all year what a trip around the world was like?
Never having backpacked myself watching Braga's documentary made me want to give it a go. I only wish there had been a bit more practicality to his backpacking doco, a few helpful hints as opposed to purely focusing on the emotional journey of the individual backpacker. Braga's documentary is uplifting, funny and sincere I also just wish it had been made into a 6 part series as opposed to two hour-long episodes. There must have been a lot of editing of his year-long journey so much has obviously been condensed down. Perhaps a longer series would have allowed more observation of the various cultures and countries and more even handedness between the physical journey and the spiritual one, because Braga is a producer and does have an eye for scenery some of the shots he's captured are absolutely beautiful, it's just a shame that there isn't much focus on the various countries so much as the personal journey he is on. Still, that journey is an important one and fascinating to watch - particularly Braga's time spent in Thailand so soon after the Tsunami, or his daring travel to Nepal during a time of civil unrest. HIs time in these two places is perhaps the most fascinating because there is lengthy observation of the cultures and current political climate as well as how the countries impact upon him personally.
Still, 'A Map for Saturday' is a must-see series. Braga has explored a fascinating lifestyle that few dare to experience, and he has found a way to communicate and relate those unique experiences through funny and observing commentaries. I particularly liked his explanation of how it felt to be going home after a year abroad, after a year of travelling and discovering: "it's like breaking up with someone you love, like quitting a job".