I’ve always considered myself as being born too late. In my head I had always romanticized the exploits of explorers from the days of Columbus when falling off the map was considered a high-probability outcome, to the “gentlemen explorers” like Shackelton on his Antarctic quest, to Stanley & Livingstone and other such adventurers seeking the headwaters of the Nile. But now, with middle-age looming on the horizon and enough experience in my rear view mirror to weigh the facts, I’m happy to say: I am soooo over it.
Why the change? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s my predilection for indoor plumbing. Or perhaps it’s my deep-seated aversion to malaria. Perhaps it’s even due to my personal preference to not go years without informing my loved ones back home that I’m still alive. Yes, as awesome as it must’ve been to be the first to discover all those empty spaces on the map, I’ll be the first to admit that I like being able to walk onto a plane, sit down, eat a meal of mediocre but generally parasite-free food, ‘ease nature’ at 30,000 feet (while admiring toilet water in that amazing shade of blue!) then stand up again to walk out onto a different continent mere hours after I left. Had such an option been available to Vespucci, I’m inclined to think he’d take it.
Yeah, I’ve gone soft. While generations before me were learning valuable survival skills like hunting, navigation, and animal husbandry during their formative years, I spent mine using a controller to guide an Italian plumber from castle to castle in search of a princess held captive by overgrown turtles (“Sorry Mario, but our princess is in another castle”). And now, with leaps in technology, I can do even more than that while being whisked off to exotic locales where basic plumbing and sewage may be lacking but everyone’s got a cell phone. Think of what THAT would have meant to early explorers (Stanley, with his Bluetooth: “Livingstone, can you hear me now?”)
While such days of adventures seem really cool now, all it takes is to read up on the realities of such journeys to make the rest of us feel contented that such realities are not ours as we take in the planet from air-conditioned vehicles. As a case in point, narratives such as “The Lost City of Z”, detailing early explorations of the Amazon Basin, and “River of Doubt”, recounting Teddy Roosevelt’s harrowing expedition along the river that now bears his name, do nothing to make me wish I had gone along. Clouds of swarming insects day and night, a lack of food, trudging through territories of hostile natives—I have no problem limiting myself to reading about it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no wuss that can’t handle some deprivations, or is shocked by the underdeveloped conditions of the Third World. Sometimes I even like being stripped of modern (American) comforts so long as the experience immerses me in the culture. But at the end of the day (or week) I am quite content to return to drinkable water that I don’t have to boil first, posting my pictures on Instagram, and the option of having some authentic pad thai within a reasonable drive. It don’t feel like I’m asking for too much.
For anyone interested in an entertaining read that echoes the same principles I just expounded, I suggest taking a look at the memoir “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria,” by Eve Brown-Waite (www.evebrownwaite.com). Not only is it really witty, but her reactions to life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador & Uganda resonate with the best of us, and only go to prove my point.
So while I may call upon my own head the ire of hard-core travelers with this post, I just have to be honest. I like the convenience of modern travel. I like the convenience of modern communication. And what I really, really, like, is not having to make in the bushes. For that, I apologize to no one. If you feel the same, leave a comment. It will make for interesting reading in the bathroom…