I love unexpected journeys. Those unscripted detours that happen out of the blue. Like taking a turn off a familiar road and discovering a new part of town you’ve never strolled before.
When my friend David said he was sending me the documentary that he’d just finished editing, about a tribe in northern Uganda, I was intrigued. Little did I know Ikland was to send me for a spin of a journey where all I’ve ever known, even as a tireless “everthenomad”, fell by the wayside.
I’m really into intrepid travel, forging new paths beyond the trodden trail, exploring off-the-radar lands. While I’ve done that plenty by most people’s standards, the journey to Ikland made me feel like the most square of travelers. Yes, there have been places in the world that I ventured to with no guidebook – because none exist – but the team who shot Ikland took things to another level, driven by the director’s curious obsession. They not only dealt with cultural dislocation but also constant danger and uncertainty of what the next step would bring. Frankly, they made my travel resume look quite tame.
The “postcard-style” footage of Ikland made me feel as if I was receiving notes from a friend traveling northern Uganda, with insightful commentary. Postcards as a form of communication are as good as dead, a dodo in this virtual time. Perhaps that’s why I love them so.
Ikland’s visual throwback to the postcard era felt like a nod to the age of discovery. And I don’t mean the Age of Discovery of centuries ago, when Europeans went out to explore and then colonize the New World. I mean the age of discovery in travel, when wanderlust-stricken souls hit the road with no signposts, maps or guidebooks, and just let things happen, landscapes unroll and people cross their paths.
The journey of Ikland did have a clear mission but no clear itinerary. There was just the Point B at the end of the road, the Ik, a tribe forgotten for over forty years. The director’s childhood fixation turned into an outing of discovery, a trip of a trip.
It may sound strange to describe the journey to Ikland as romantic (watch the film to see what I mean!) but to me it harks back to the romantic era of travel. The time when travelers witnessed new horizons and charted new lands, when cultural and linguistic gaps were bridged en route, when our cultural identity fell away and all the remained was our butt-naked humanity.