Every journey starts with a leap of faith and ends with a thousand questions. It is the spirit of discovery and the rush of exploring the unknown that has compelled me to travel since I was a child. Damon Redfern
Redfern, host of a "global lifestyle travel program" called "Karma Trekkers" (CNBC), isn't your typical travel host. He's more like a flower child who's gotten even mellower with age but still has that same burning desire to find out the secrets of life, the truths of our existence. And so his journeys take him to places where there's a significant spiritual component, where rituals and religion and meditation and the simple life of peasants brings a peace that modern humans working in cities would pay therapists thousands of dollars to acquire.
It's probably easy to develop a taste for travel when you're born in the United Kingdom, as Redfern was, but moved to Chile at age four and to Peru by age eight, educated in Spanish and allowed to play with Incan artifacts his archaeologist-tutor showed him. By the time Redfern was 15, he'd already traveled around the world several times, and after graduation from school he became a member of the Voluntary Service Overseas, the British equivalent of the Peace Corps. You can see his concern with people and the human condition in every episode, because Redfern's interactions with locals is a cut above the rest. It's sincere, and he approaches each local as if that person were a guru atop a mountain and he the lowly pilgrim. And yet he's comfortable in his own skin. He interviews them and asks questions--good questions--that show respect for their lifestyles but are also as pointed as any journalist could manage.
He's comfortable on-camera spending time among indigenous peoples, probably because Redfern isn't just a travel host. He's an actor who played Riffraff in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet," among other roles.
These "treks" come from the first two seasons of "Karma Trekkers," with journeys to Peru, Malta, South Africa, Myanmar, Bali, and Ireland filmed the first year, and Costa Rica, Nepal, Malaysia, China (Parts 1 & 2), Sedona, and Taiwan the second. So really, this boxed set could have been titled "Karma Trekkers: The Complete Seasons One and Two."
Disc 1: Sedona, Peru & Costa Rica
Redfern visits the red cliffs and rock formations of this northern Arizona mountainscape, popular with other trekkers because it's thought to have an "energy" or power. Since the area is steeped in Native American history as well, Redfern interviews some tribal people and learns from storytellers, artists, and yes, shamans. In Peru, Redfern hikes the mountains once home to the Incas. Hiking through Machu Picchu and interviewing locals he discovers that some of the old beliefs still exist, and that the Peruvians are comfortable with a dual Spanish and Incan culture. Finally, in Costa Rica, he explores the deep connection that the people seem to feel with the land-a pristine area that includes rainforests, beaches, valleys, and encapsulates a lifestyle summed up by one phrase: "Pura Vida," or pure life. Costa Ricans were ecology-minded before the movement started, and Redfern learns how being one with nature is itself a form of spiritualism.
Disc 2: Ireland & Malta
In Ireland, Redfern explores Ireland's spiritual history, which includes Celtic traditions, Druid rituals, and the split influence of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Along the way, he visits stone circles, ancient graveyards, and equally ancient churches. In Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean with a population of only 400,000, Redfern dives into legends connected to the Roman Catholic country, including the Knights of St. John, the miracles of St. Paul, and legends that the island was also connected to the fabled city of Atlantis. Once more he explores churches and local pubs, but also museums.
Disc 3: Malaysia & Bali
Though we see plenty of footage of Kuala Lumpur and those striking towers, Redfern mostly travels the rural areas and observes local dancers, farmers, and is struck by a religious tolerance--even harmony--that exists here. On one street there exist Indian and Chinese temples and an Islamic mosque, side by side, and when one of the houses of worship has a festival all are invited. In Bali, meanwhile, he doesn't mince words when talking about how touristy and crowded the streets of the main city are, but once he leaves the "carnival atmosphere" he's able to interview Balinese about their lifestyles. Each episode opens with a quote or proverb appropriate to the region, and this time it's "Paradise is open to all kinds of hearts," a Balinese proverb. What strikes him most here is that the Balinese are comfortable with the idea of death, and they seem to accept the "invisible world" of spirits. "Here, the living walk beside the dead with joy," he remarks.
Disc 4: China (Parts 1 & 2)
As with Malaysia, we get narration and footage of the modern and metropolitan areas, but always the trekker (khaki cargo pants and an explorer's shirt just don't cut it in the city) Redfern heads for more remote areas to seek out some of China's 56 different ethnic groups. Some of the highlights include a trip to a Dong village, where we see the most intricately built bridge in the world, and to a Yao village where a young woman who's returned from the city to live there again talks about the allure of the simple life in harmony with the three principles of Tao: Compassion, moderation, humility. In the second part, Redfern delves deeper into China's ancient history and visits the Imperial Court.
Disc 5: Nepal & Myanmar
Here too, we see the dirty, smog-ridden valley of Kathmandu, but soon Redfern moves deeper into more isolated regions of this country, which is tucked in the Himalayas between China and India. As in Malaysia he finds respect for other beliefs, as Hinduism and Buddhism peacefully coexist in harmony with the land. Meanwhile, in Myanmar, better known by its former name, Burma, Redfern treks deep into jungles and visits Buddhist monasteries and talks with people ranging from nuns and monks to schoolchildren.
Disc 6: South Africa & Taiwan
Capetown is the starting place for a trek that leads Redfern to ride an elephant, talk with Bushmen about their beliefs, and learn from villagers whose sorrows are still somehow cause for celebration. As he occasionally does, Redfern also interviews someone who's established a tourist resort, and these interludes typically feel a bit like infomercials plopped in the middle of his spiritual journeys. But hey, a guy's got to sleep somewhere, and this is apparently a way of paying the bills. Finally, in Taiwan he begins in Taipei and spreads out to the rural areas, even taking part in local dances and yoga sessions. And once again, he speaks with just about everyone he meets. All totaled, there are 10 hours of treks in this collection, and apart from those times when Redfern lets people talk just a little too long, the journeys are remarkable.
Though the menu is 1.33:1, the episodes are presented in 1.78:1 aspect ration, and the picture is, as expected, a little grainy with some loss of coloration. It also appears slightly distorted on the sides, as if it's been stretched to fit a widescreen TV.
Very heavy front speaker centric soundtrack. It's obviously a Mono presentation, with nary a peep from the other speakers. At least there's no snap, crackle, or pop.
There are no bonus features.
Redfern knows that you can't understand a place without understanding the people, and vice versa, and his treks are pleasant journeys that acquire more significance than the typical travel-show jaunts. You learn something, and you feel something by participating vicariously. He enlarges our world, while at the same time making it smaller through observations of the things that are common to all human beings. That's why "Karma Trekkers" is a cut above the standard travel show, and this collection is worth watching more than once.