Earth: The Soundtrack – A Traveler’s Playlist

As someone who has a soundtrack playing through their mind at all times, I can attest that music, much like the pairing of a choice wine with a certain dish, can greatly enhance the ‘flavor’ of a destination. The right tune can deepen the impressions it leaves on one’s memory, and forever serve as a trigger to call those images of a distant locale back to mind in just a few notes. While I do have certain songs that I attach in my mind to specific locations due to having heard the song there, there are several songs that due to the lyrics or style inevitably draw me back to a particular country, a particular city or particular memory. If you have a trip on the horizon and would like to “pair” some music to go with your destination, please enjoy my traveler’s playlist for the world.

Ends of the Earth, by Lord Huron

Ready to fly off to the Ends of the Earth (or New Delhi as seen here)

This indie-rock ballad about a man bent on exploring the world while at the same time hoping for a companion, resonates quite deeply with me. The style I feel could best describe this piece is a mash-up where ‘world music meets the Old West’. There’s a pleasant combination of soulful strains as the lyrics play, which then switches over to faster-paced percussion during the instrumental parts. The lyrics are what truly hit home for me, especially a line toward the end of the song that goes:

“What good is livin’ a life you’ve been given, if all you do is stand in one place”

If that doesn’t sum up my philosophies on travel, I don’t know what else could. Powerful stuff.

Though no specific destination comes to mind when I hear it (though the American Southwest would fit nicely with the tone), my mind can’t help but wander toward the horizon from the shot of wanderlust this song instills.

The World At Large, by Modest Mouse

Float On towards the World At Large (or New Mexico, whichever’s closer)

This short, poignant song that literally flows into the more popular hit Float On sounds to me like the ramblings of a drifter with a taste for adventure whose restlessness takes him on a never-ending journey. It’s a soft, simple tune that in my mind combines a wistfulness to keep on exploring, and the inevitable sadness at the fact that moving on means leaving things behind. Once again, this is not a destination-specific piece, but the conflict between the desire to wander and the transitory nature of experiences when one is only ‘passing through’ both inspires me to keep traveling, while at the same time leaves me feeling the loss of people and places I’ve left behind.

Storms In Africa (1 & 2) by Enya

Storms or Not, Africa Is A Spectacle Worth Seeing – especially the Chobe River on the border of Botswana & Namibia

Africa, as anyone who’s been there can attest, leaves a mark. I think it’s because of the powerful contrasts; as home of some of the most failing and corrupt governments in the world, the African people have been left destitute, brutalized and left to fend for themselves. Yet in all my travels there, the people I’ve met have almost to a person been smiling, good-natured and open to connect with others. Despite the plunder of warlords and multinational corporations, the landscape is still refreshingly rural and dramatic, with wildlife and terrain who leave no doubt as to who’s really in charge. From the breathtaking sunsets to the majesty of seeing animals like lions, elephants and hippos in the wild, this beautiful melody set to a backdrop of quintessential African drumming takes me back to game drives in South Africa, smelling the wet vegetation and wondering what might appear just around the next bush. If you’re headed out to a safari, be sure to download these songs for the perfect soundtrack to your explorations.

The Postman, Soundtrack from Il Postino, by Luis Enriquez Bacalov

Postage Not Required on the Island of Ponza, Italy

If you’ve never seen this classic movie portraying the tale of a lonely postman (hence the title) on a remote Italian island who woos the girl of his dreams with the help of an exiled poet, then consider yourself as having plans this weekend. Spoiler alert, it does follow the tradition of other famous Italian movies such as Cinema Paradiso and Life Is Beautiful by simultaneously ripping your heart out while filling it with love by the time the movie ends. Though the story itself is great, the music is perfectly suited for the Italian island backdrop, and on my own travels to Italian islands – particularly the island of Ponza – the various iterations of the song The Postman are playing in my head anytime I look out at the craggy cliffs and boxy, whitewashed houses that hearken back to times gone by.

Latika’s Theme, by A.R. Rahman

The Softer Side of the Subcontinent, Agra, India

Speaking of bittersweet movies, this gem from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack was often playing in my head during my trip to India. The haunting female vocals and soft strains of the sitar conjure images of the subcontinent’s softer side, serving as a counterweight to the cacophony of beeping horns and bustling crowds that are the real soundtrack of India. Though fascinating, India is an all out assault on your eyes, nose and taste buds, so why not treat your ears to this soothing melodic sound of this lovely piece of music to block out the chaos, and focus on the stunning examples of artistry and architecture that are visible in nearly all directions.

Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley

Reggae = Caribbean, and especially Jamaica as pictured here

Really just about any Bob Marley song will do, but Three Little Birds is to me the primary example of how a music genre can define an entire region. When I hear the cheery notes of a steel drum pounding out the cadence that is so distinctly reggae, I can’t help but envision not only the tropical beauty of the island of Jamaica, but that of the greater Caribbean as well. Marley’s songs are the musical equivalent of the vibrant colors that distinguish the Caribbean’s markets and architecture, and one can’t help but feel “sunny” listening to it. Add the fact that there’s not a cruise ship in the region that doesn’t have at least one band playing Marley at any given time, and you can see why this popular tune mentally brings me back to swaying palms, turquoise water, and fruity drinks with little umbrellas.

Walzing Matilda, by Various Artists

Go Waltzing Matilda yourself in Australia’s Undara Lava Tubes National Park

While there may not be any one official recording of this classic folk song, only Waltzing Matilda could rightly be considered the unofficial national anthem of Australia. Telling the story of a fiercely independent squatter who would rather drown in a lake (a.k.a. billabong) than give himself over to the authorities, nothing is more quintessential Australian than this quirky ditty straight out of the Outback, complete with local phraseology that will require a few Google searches for non-Australians to comprehend. In my mind Waltzing Matilda is synonymous with anything Australian, and when I think of my travels there I can’t help but hum the tune (or vice versa).

Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert, by Pink Floyd

Set Your Sights on Obscurity in the Falkland Islands

From the wide appeal of Australia’s most famous ballad, we’ll now drastically zoom in to a very obscure tune, from an obscure album, that speaks of events in a very obscure location that most people would be hard pressed to find on a map. The location in question is the Falkland Islands, a rather barren, rocky archipelago deep in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina. In fact, if you were to head south, the next stop would be Antarctica.

The song is a nod to the Falkland Conflict that took place in the early ’80’s between the U.K., who has ruled the islands since the 1800’s, and Argentina, whose ambitions to push them out resulted in nothing more than the senseless loss of hundreds of young soldiers and sailors. Following the title’s words being shouted out and subsequently obliterated by the sound of a mortar blast, a string quartet plays a few chords before the single stanza of lyrics are sung:

“Brezhnev took Afghanistan. (a reference to the then-recent Soviet invasion)
Begin took Beirut. (referencing the Israeli Prime Minister’s actions in Lebanon)
Galtieri took the Union Jack. (referring to the Argentinian invasion of the islands)
And Maggie, over lunch one day, (that is, British P.M. Margaret Thatcher)
Took a cruiser with all hands. (referencing the Argentine ship General Belgrano)
Apparently, to make him give it back”

Very few people make their way down to these islands, so once I knew it was on my itinerary I made sure that I had downloaded it to my device, and gave it a listen as we neared port. From that point on, anytime I’ve heard this short yet meaningful song (rarely), my thoughts immediately head out to the South Atlantic in contemplation of an eventual return (unlikely).

Final Thoughts

These are just a few songs that I feel encapsulate either the travel experience or the essence of a specific destination. I am quite aware that there are still lots of places to see and even more music to hear, so if you have a song that takes you back to someplace you’ve traveled, be sure to leave a comment below. Who knows – I may even add it to my future playlist.

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Echoes of Pink Floyd in the Falkland Islands

The “sights” on the Falkland Islands

Of all the locales immortalized in song, one place in particular comes to mind as being just as obscure as the song that contains it. In Pink Floyd’s 1983 album The Final Cut, there’s a tiny track entitled Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert. It starts with the sound of wind echoing across a plain and a distant voice shouting the title to a pair of men whose questioning whispers are interrupted by a deafening mortar blast. This is followed by what sounds like a string quartet launching into a catchy little tune. After one refrain, bassist Roger Waters comes in with a single stanza of lyrics:

Brezhnev took Afghanistan (a reference to the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979).
Begin (pronounced BAY-gin, a reference to the Israeli Prime Minister) took Beirut.
Galtieri took the Union Jack (a reference to General Leopoldo Galtieri’s invasion of the British-held Falkland Islands).
Maggie (British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) over lunch one day, took a cruiser with all hands (the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano).
Apparently, to make him give it back.

This ditty is ended with some humming before seguing into the next song.

As a teenager I was obsessed with Pink Floyd and always felt a certain fascination about this short but poignant song that inspired me to look it up just to find out what it was about. Not surprisingly, it was this song that I was humming when the cruise ship I was traveling on pulled up alongside the windswept coastline of the Falkland Islands and I prepared to disembark.

The Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas depending on the side of the conflict you’re inclined to support) are a pair of dry, hilly, butterfly-shaped islands not far off the extreme southern coast of Argentina. A British possession since the 1840’s, it’s hard to imagine that this barren landscape at the bottom of the world would be worth fighting over. But fight they did, and those few months of conflict in the early ’80’s still reverberate in the minds and fields of the islands today. More on that later.


North Sea or Southern Ocean? It’s hard to tell how far from England you are

Stanley, or Port Stanley is a tiny town that looks as if it has been wholly transplanted from rural England. From the architecture, the gardens and the fish and chips offered daily in the town pub, from the inside you’d never know you were on the doorstep of Antarctica and not in the North Sea.

In town there’s a cathedral with an interesting whalebone sculpture alluding to the settlers’ reason for coming to the islands so many years ago. There are also some quaint houses, souvenir shops, a memorial to the fallen during the conflict and the aforementioned pub. Beyond that, this is not exactly what would be considered a metropolis.

On the outskirts of Stanley there are some lovely coves such as Grace Bay, where penguins congregate along a shimmering green crescent of water. Gun emplacements and shipwrecks dot the coastline, and that’s probably when you realize you’re not in England anymore.

Mines Ahead

Watch your step – there be mines ahead

Remember when I mentioned that the Falkland Conflict still plays a role in modern times (like, four paragraphs ago)? This is because there are still active minefields dotting the open landscape, clearly marked as danger zones. For such an undeveloped and tranquil place, the threat of death from below is a constant reminder of the ‘sins of the fathers’. My advice: Don’t go in there.

The Stone Runs

A stone river runs through it

An interesting geological anomaly are the so-called Stone Runs, located a ways down the coast of East Falkland. Essentially rivers of rock ‘flowing’ down from the grassy hills, they attest to geological activity that’s even older than the ’80’s.

The People
The people I interacted with during my one-day stay were very polite, resilient and more than just a little patriotic. It won’t take long to sense that annexation by Argentina is NOT a preferred alternative to the island’s inhabitants. One would think that anyone daft enough to live year round in this lovely yet forlorn outpost of human habitation should have some say in which far-off government they get to pay taxes to, but most people would probably say “Who cares?”.

Getting There & Around

Getting to the Falkland Islands is not all that easy. Last I heard there are no direct flights from Argentina (the nearest landmass) which means that Chile would be the closest departure point. Far easier is to arrive as I did – by cruise ship – either on an Antarctic or Round the Horn sailing. With not a whole lot to see, one day should sate most visitors’ curiosity, though I would recommend hiring a guide to get the inside scoop on the island and its history – as well as pump a few dollars into the local economy.

The Scoop
The Falkland Islands are a place you see when you’re headed toward somewhere else, but this doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeing. Anyone who is a fan of (mostly) untouched landscapes, penguins in the wild and the occasional active minefield will find that a day or two here is a pleasant diversion. As for the rest, take a listen to Pink Floyd’s Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert and see if the concise lyrics are enough to spur you on a journey to the last stop before Antarctica.

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