When I first joined the film and TV industry I was 19 years old and had never traveled abroad.
I hadn’t once been away on holiday, not even to Bognor Regis! (for those of you who don’t know, Bognor Regis is a seaside resort in West Sussex, on the south coast of England. Typical weather; always raining! Well it is in the UK what do you expect?!).
Little did I know that when I finally managed to wedge my foot into the iron clad industry door how things would change.
Within less than 12 months of joining the industry as an assistant cameraman, I was assigned to a BBC documentary that was to be shot in the Gulf of Mexico. Before I knew it I was jabbed in the butt with every inoculation under the sun and found myself on a Boeing 747 drinking Margaritas in First Class with the rest of the film crew bound for Miami, USA. Not bad for my first trip abroad!…
When we landed at Miami International Airport I remember being in the plane, sitting on the tarmac thinking, “I can’t wait to get out of this plane, to get some fresh air”, it seemed so hot and humid in there. I shuffled my way to the door, desperate for a blast of cool oxygen, but to my surprise was met with a wall of immense heat and humidity… suddenly the plane wasn’t looking so bad! I’d never experienced anything like it.
After staying in the Miami Hilton for a few days (that in itself an amazing experience for me at the time), we caught a connecting flight down to Mexico. We stayed one sleepless mosquito bitten night in Mexico, before we boarded a light aircraft to take us on the last leg of our journey. Almost there.
The six seater light aircraft had defiantly seen better days, but her worn out seats, ripped upholstery and dog-eared carpets where the least of my worries. The aluminum outer skin of the
aircraft looked wrinkled and creased like scrunched up tin foil. The pilot, who wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Spaghetti Western, invaded my personal space with his sweaty face, looked at me through a half opened eye and in a rather charming native Mexican drawl mentioned the plane’s damage was something to do with “flying through tropical thunder storms!”. After stowing his huge guitar away in what appeared to be the engine compartment, he squeezed in next to his co pilot and fired up the engine. We spluttered down the runway, the limping aircraft weighed down by the camera crew, numerous boxes of heavy camera equipment and two overweight bandito aviators. But despite it all we somehow lumbered into the air.
Our two hour flight south took us over the Yucatan Peninsula across dense jungle which was dappled with serine turquoise waters of hidden lagoons. I couldn’t help but think what would happen if the engine should fail, nowhere to land and no one to find us. But even worse… being stranded with two overweight, tooth-pick-chewing desperado pilots, serenading us every night with Latin American music played on an out of tune guitar and improvised maracas! Gulp.
Thankfully those fleeting thoughts were interrupted by the breathtaking scenery. The cloudless sky, the lush green jungle below… I had never seen anything so incredible before in my entire life and it’s something I’ll never forget. Eventually a small makeshift landing strip came into view and we descended to our final destination; Boca Paila, an unsurpassed tropical paradise located where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean.
It was midday when the aircraft came to a standstill on the dusty airstrip and as we disembarked we suddenly realized the intensity of the tropical sun, talk about out of the frying pan into the fire.
After loading up the camera kit onto an open-back, beaten up old truck, we trundled off to our hotel. There were just four of us on the crew, Director, Cameraman, Soundman and myself. The Soundman and I decided it would be adventurous to stand on the back of the truck, it seemed like a great idea at the time. The cool breeze was welcome as we drove down the potholed track, what wasn’t so welcome was being occasionally slapped in the face by razor sharp leaves from overhanging palm trees… “Welcome to Mexico!”
Finally we arrived at the hotel, which in fact wasn’t a hotel at all. Something far more incredible; a few small mud huts dotted along a white sandy beach. After unloading all the camera kit we all decided it would be a good idea to take a dip in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, before a spot of sun bathing! Yes, we weren’t going to be filming here for two weeks without retuning to the UK with a good sun tan! Not for us the usual ashen white pelt that befits most Englishman typically starved of sunlight 365 days a year! No, we needed to get started right away! One of the locals rather sadistically suggested Coca Cola would be a good sun tan lotion, so after taking a dip in the sea we dutifully covered ourselves in the dark brown sugar concoction and lay sprawled out on the beach in the midday sun (once again, all this seemed perfectly normal to me at the time… what could possibly go wrong?). It was 45 degrees but it took less than ten minutes before we had all had enough! Better to be safe than sorry anyway right?
It was 3am when I suddenly woke up in searing pain. That midday tropical sun had taken its toll. If you can imagine a lobster with stubble, wearing white shorts and flip flops, then you have a rough idea of what I looked like at the time. I could hardly touch my skin let alone move my extremities. My legs had swollen and I could even witness water blisters forming before my very eyes! But I wasn’t alone, before long I could hear the pathetic whimpering of my colleagues from the other huts along the beach as they succumbed to the same fate.
So there I was, my first time abroad, burnt to a crisp in the Gulf of Mexico. My skin felt like sandpaper, my head was throbbing and tomorrow’s shoot beckoned. The filming schedule was about to fly out of the window…
…to be continued.
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Stay creative people and see you next time!
Free Spirit Film & TV
Film, TV & Online Video Production.