Bandit camping outside a small village in Indonesia, I fall asleep to the sound of rain drops on my tent. I can see the kerosene lamps burning in the simple dwellings from a distance, they illuminate the front porch which has homegrown tobacco drying on the rafters. I’ve left my scooter on the side of the road tucked in some brush and assume the night conceals it well enough. Around midnight I wake up to voices, footsteps and the shining of flashlights. I’m told to come out of my tent, I expect one or two curious residents whose land I’m trespassing on. I emerge to find 18 villagers standing in a semi circle around my tent in the middle of the woods. The rain has ceased and is now occasionally dripping off the leaves of the dense canopy above . I can’t help but laugh at my hopeless odds if this should not go well. Their first question in broken english? ” What the hell are you doing in our woods?”
What brings one into contact with dangerous situations?
Do people seek danger out or is it to be avoided at all costs? The answer, like many conclusions throughout life is, it depends. It depends on where you’re at or what time of night you go to the gas station for cigarettes. More importantly for travel, It depends on what kind of person you are, what tolerance you become truly engaged in a moment and if that moment expresses itself as excitement or pure terror.
For those who seek out danger and so often have it find them, it is a medium to be dealt with by acceptable tolerance and degrees. For the inverse group, those who avoid it all costs (not negative, simply a different viewpoint) it is a harrowing and fearsome experience that is not to be repeated if possible. These two groups simply have different perspectives and different perceptions of a good time. What sounds like a splendid vacation to one sounds like a hysterectomy to the other and vice versa.
Balance is key to all aspects of life and applies just the same here. Hitchhike through Yemen right now and you’re probably gonna end up on CNN with a ransom note attached to your forehead. Travel through Algeria with a good plan, inform yourself on what areas are unreasonably dangerous, have a solid awareness of what risks are present and how to mitigate them and you’ll probably come out just fine. Better than fine actually. You’ll see a world that few people experience because of fear, because of a low tolerance of potential danger. Maybe you’ll die, keeps things interesting right? Simply because an area is considered “dangerous” by the U.S. Travel Advisory does not mean that it cannot be visited safely. The absolute key element to this type of travel is common sense. Most dangerous situations arise due to stupidity and lack of awareness, two attributes I happen to store in abundant resources.
I’ve found myself in some interesting situations over the last couple years.
I realize in retrospect what I could have done to avoid sketchy encounters and travel more intelligently. I also can’t help but wonder how much more I would have experienced had I approached traveling with a higher tolerance for danger throughout the last few years. As Robert Young Pelton says “… Danger is a friend you don’t want to meet too often, but it’s good to keep in touch.”
To be honest, our perception of adventure, of danger, has become cheap. In an era of replicating the appearance of adventure we have lost the true essence of what we’re seeking to attain through an endeavor. It’s all about the pose, the share and the shutter speed. Honestly, I’m the same, I’m wondering right now how many people will like this, if anyone will read or share this. Adventure in and of itself is a deeply personal experience, it should challenge you, affirm you and expose your weakness all at the same time. It should provide new questions and shed light on insecurities you didn’t realize existed. It’s a challenging and dangerous experience that every young man and woman should embark on at least once in their life.
Honestly, is an adventure even an adventure any more? Compared to the likes of Eric Shipton, Percy Fawcett or Chris Bonnington our term “adventure” is a paltry comparison that isn’t even deserving of the same term. How about Reinhold Messner climbing Everest without oxygen, ALONE in 1980? It’s an extreme reference but it drives home the point of using an external endeavor to develop an internal awareness of one’s physical and mental limitations. That’s an exploration of a person’s own well of fortitude and grit. Regardless of your choice of poison, whether train hopping, class 5 rapids, hairy alpine ascents, whatever it may be, the expansion of your own personal understanding is sure to benefit you in everyday life. It gives you perspective and memories that stand out like red wine on new carpet. Marco Polo knew a thing or two about pushing into the unknown and described adventure as such: “Adventure is misery and discomfort, re-lived in the safety of reminiscence”. A round trip suffer fest. It’s important that it’s a round trip though, not sure it counts if you die…
Where do I start if I’m not a natural risk taker?
Just do a normal trip, something that sounds like a good time and add some spice to it. Do a 3 day canoe trip in an area you know well but only eat the food you can catch. Hitchhike across your state. Take a rock climbing course or engage in something that freaks you out a little bit. It won’t apply to all readers, but a taste of adventure whets the appetite for riskier endeavors. You will progressively gain confidence and things that once seemed intimidating (driving across the country to start a new life without a job) will simply become a part of life. Whereas once a plane ride to Los Angeles seemed like an Into The Wild montage, a plane ride to Azerbaijan will simply become another trip, another memory you’ll store away to entertain your mind until you get on the road again.
These experiences influence how you handle yourself in normal circumstances when you’re not on a trip. Running out of gas in the middle of nowhere simply becomes a situation to be dealt with instead of a near death encounter. The more you push your boundaries under your own controlled circumstances the more you realize how adaptable and resilient you are in uncontrolled and unexpected circumstances. That story at the start about the villagers around my tent? After finding I was not an incarnate demon lurking through the woods (a legitimate concern) they were concerned for my wellbeing. They invited me inside their homes, they laughed about Americans and Donald Trump and the next morning I had instant coffee and a cigarette for breakfast. I still keep up with the one good english speaking guy on facebook. If traveling is fatal to prejudice and bigotry then adventure is the death knell of an ordinary life lived without risk and uncertainty. Do something dangerous, you’ll be glad you did.
‘Til Next Time,