The Wanderer: Matthew McConaughey

Sep 16, 2011

by JOE YOGERST, Travel Writer

“If you said to me, ‘What’s something you can give me that would help me understand who you are?’ I would give you my passport,” says Matthew McConaughey in his trademark Texas drawl. “I think that’s a great blueprint. Every one of those trips has a story, a different place and a different time in life. It’s a great portrait of someone. Your passport is like your DNA. There’s not another one like it. ”

The always laidback (and often shirtless) McConaughey may be best known as the star of films such as A Time To Kill, Fool’s Gold and The Lincoln Lawyer, but he admits that deep down his most ardent passion has long been travel. Not to Mustique, Monte Carlo or other jet-set havens, but to out-on-the-edge places that take him well beyond the comfort zone one expects of Hollywood actors. McConaughey has backpacked solo through the West African bush and bummed his way around the Amazon and the Andes. He’s surfed all around the planet, including Queensland’s Gold Coast (not so remote) and the north shore of Papua New Guinea (very remote). He famously spent three years customising a silver Airstream caravan and driving it to his shooting locations in the US and Canada – like some kind of roadie rather than a leading man.

“Doesn’t it feel good to just be on the approach,” says McConaughey about landing in a new place. “Those types of trips are really ones that leave a lasting impression.” Born and raised in rural Texas, McConaughey says his family never did anything but local hunting and camping when he was a child. Going into town for a Friday night movie was a big deal. By the time he was 17, McConaughey was ready for a change. “I was just coming out of high school, catching green lights, man. Golf game was good, had money in my back pocket, had a hot girl across town, had made my grades. But I was also savvy to the fact that straight As in high school and a diploma don’t do much for you any more.” So he applied for and won a Rotary scholarship that would take him overseas as an exchange student in 1988. McConaughey chose to be posted in an English-speaking country and wound up in Warnervale on the central coast of New South Wales; a place that a lot of Australians have never even heard of, let alone a teen from Texas.

In addition to attending classes at Gorokan High School, McConaughey washed dishes, cleaned out chicken coops and got his first taste of the surf at beaches such as Noraville and Toowoon Bay. “Population 395,” McConaughey remembers. “In the sticks, man. But I was cool with that. It was a very life-changing year because I was removed from all the crutches that I had in my life. I depended on myself – stumbled, fell and survived. It was a great year getting to know myself. I’m an extrovert, and it was a very introverted year and has a lot to do with what I am right now – one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

McConaughey also credits that year in Australia with infecting him with a travel bug he has carried with him. Part of it was talking to young Australians about their own travels, and the other was just getting his feet wet for the first time. Since then, there has been no stopping his wanderlust, such as a 2001 spur-of-the-moment journey to Mali. While filming the dragonslayer movie Reign Of Fire in Ireland, McConaughey heard the music of Ali Farka Tour for the first time. As soon as shooting wrapped, he was on a flight to West Africa and venturing up the Niger River in search of the famed musician. After visiting Tour, he took off across Mali with his backpack, living with local people in beehive huts and trekking through the wilderness.

He says the hardest part of solo trips like that isn’t the cultural or geographical challenge as much as coming to terms with your own being. “There are times when you’re not enjoying hanging with yourself. But there comes a point where you get over it. You’re like: ‘Guess what? There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m stuck with you, so we might as well get along’.” McConaughey has also delved into volunteer travel – going places with the purpose of helping those less fortunate than himself. Case in point was a journey to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, during which he became one of the leaders of an effort to rescue stranded pets. “I went down there not knowing exactly what the needs were going to be.” Checking in at one of the volunteer centres, McConaughey realised there was an urgent need to help animals as well as human victims of the disaster. “A lot of hounds were saved. A lot of people got their animals back, especially people who needed them to get through that time.”

McConaughey returned to New Orleans last year to make the forthcoming black comedy Killer Joe and he’s currently shooting in the Big Easy again – with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron as his co-stars – in murder-mystery The Paperboy, set for release in 2012. Even though that gets him on the road, McConaughey can’t wait to take off on another exotic adventure. “Everyone – some part of them – would like to do what we’re talking about,” McConaughey muses. “But you put it off, you put it off, you put it off and then, all of a sudden, you’ve formed a life
that ties you down and you are not moving. The hardest part of anything like that is packing your bag and putting on your shoes. But once you do that, things fall into place. It may not be what you expected, but they fall into place.”

Source Qantas The Australian Way October 2011
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