There is a difference between vacations and adventures. A vacation is about rest, relaxation and enjoyment. It is, by definition and choice, intended to lower the blood pressure, facilitate mindless hedonism and indulge the senses.
An adventure is completely different. It is best described in a recent blog post called “go to the fun countries” https://crossingenres.com/go-to-the-fun-countries-ae4b64002e28#.o9m2lp5v4
A fun country is a challenge, a puzzle. It takes me out of my comfort zone. A fun country is full of adventure; things work but not in ways I understand or are familiar to me. It is a place where the language, culture and prevailing mores don’t resonate, where basic institutions are not reliable and dependable, where life’s daily pace and rhythm are out of sync with mine. It’s full of perceived risk and danger; “fun” may not be the descriptor that comes immediately to mind.
Fun countries require needless worry. Planning is required, patience is necessary, tolerance for differences many and varied is mandatory and a sense of humour is helpful. Simple acts like a taxi ride become complex, confusing and compromised.
A meal is a random walk through tastes, textures and combinations we’ve never imagined and are ill prepared to digest (literally). Smells assault us; our other senses shout; “warning, this does not make sense!”
In fun countries I must be constantly vigilant, not necessarily for safety reasons but simply to comprehend what is happening about me.
I must carefully navigate to get from point A to point B, to not get lost or stay lost. I must think my way through my day to experience the delightful differences of this fun country. I make myself aware of cultural nuances, observant of small mannerisms and sensitive to subtle ambiguities; I try to respectfully mimic the behavior of others, celebrating these differences.
Why? Because when I worry, needlessly or otherwise, my senses come alive. The food is risky but it beats hiding out at some westernized local version of McDonalds.
I’m off on another adventure next week. It’s another pilgrimage so I’m trying to get physically prepared; I worry that I will fail. My daily preparatory walks over the past two months are getting longer. They cover tougher terrain with more elevation; but my inner critics is shouting “Not enough, prepare to die by the side of the trail – wet and alone.”
I don’t even want to talk about the complete failure – again – of my preparatory weight loss program; those pounds I was going to lose before leaving home – don’t dare ask!
On walking trips I carry all my gear on my back. I’m lazy so I worry obsessively about everything I’m going to carry – and leave behind. My gear selection is crucial; when I carry it, it had better be necessary to my survival. I am focused, a lazy beast of burden who can choose what he is to carry is beautifully efficient. Shave – fuggedaboudit, a razor weighs ounces, I’ll grow a beard. I must brush my teeth but I cut the handle off the toothbrush – dropping another ounce of unnecessary weight.
I’m a failure at learning Japanese. I have the basic five words and a long tradition of pantomime hand signals and facial expressions developed in past failed-foreign-language survival training. There is a lifetime of worrying in being unilingual.
Technology always presents a challenge, Geez, it’s a challenge at home in the comfort of my man-cave; imagine my panic at trying anything in a new country. After weeks of head scratching incomprehension, pestering friends and reading advice to the technically challenged – seemingly translated into english from ancient sanskrit texts – I have given up. The solution is simple. I bought an international plan from my supplier. I have been reassured that 7/11 stores (which proliferate in Japan like weeds) have free wifi, That is my solution. I am flying light with just my I-phone.
This decision saves a world of needless worry and it contributes to my pack-weight reduction program. Who needs access to all-Trump-all-the-time on CNN? But I miss home so, dear friends, send emails; it is lonely out there in fun country. I promise to cherish your every word.
The rest of my needless worries list is like a random walk through my personal KALEIDESCOPE OF NIGHTMARES.
I fear small robes that will leave me exposed in the ryokans, small hotels where the robes are expected to be worn everywhere – even at dinner. I may take duct tape with me to save face, the only part of me likely to not be over-exposed.
I fear the Japanese bathing ritual, highly routinized and fraught with nightmarish scenarios – believe me I have imagined a few.
I fear sitting with my legs crossed under a small table for more than three minutes and having to be carried back to my room unable to unwrap myself and stand up on my own.
I fear stepping on tatami mats with my shoes on.
I fear bowing too low or not low enough.
I haven’t even started on Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Monsoons!
Well, you get my drift. I don’t want to lose all your respect by describing more…you might think I’m obsessive.
So, you keep asking, why do I do this at all?
The answer is simple. I do it because of all of the above; not in spite of it – because of it.
It keeps me alive, it forces me out of my ruts. It stops the hardening of my attitudes. It leads to a sense of accomplishment in a time when any individual achievement is tough to measure and illusory.
I engage in needless worry because it sharpens my senses. I do it because triumph over my needless worries is a never-ending struggle.
At some point on my pilgrimage I wake up and recognize that this dangerous land I am wandering through is someone’s back yard. Needless worry indeed.