Adventure is a broad brush. It’s not just climbing death-defying mountains or gasping with thirst in the Sahara.
One of the most adventurous moments of my life was when, aged 18, I over-filled an inappropriately massive, shiny, new rucksack with all sorts of things I would never need and flew to Africa to spend a year living in a small village there. It was the happiest and most important year of my life.
No adventure is ‘better’ than another. The important thing is only the way it makes you feel and what it teaches you. And nobody forgets their first backpacking adventures.
Travelling by train, for example, is a sedate, civilised way of seeing the world. Certainly there may be moments of chaos, particularly if you choose to sample the rare delights of the cheapest classes of train carriages. I once travelled by train through Pakistan, from Islamabad to Karachi. We were virtually out of money for we were returning home at the end of a long trip.
At one of the many lengthy delays at a small station, my friend headed out clutching the very last of our Pakistani money to spend it wisely on the largest amount of food he could find. We were both extremely hungry. We were hot, too, suffering and sweating in the stifling heat in a crammed budget carriage without air-conditioning or fans. I waited eagerly and impatiently.
He returned, looking delighted with his haul: a big pile of battered balls that looked filling enough to fuel us to the end of the journey. Biting into them, though, our faces fell. The last thing you want in a hot, sweaty train so crowded that even the disgusting, stinking toilet had a family permanently perched in there, was a bagful of deep-fried red hot chillies…
It was a deeply unpleasant 40-hour journey as our mouths burned, our bodies sweated, and our bowels gurgled!
Our delight at eventually reaching the end of this train torture was tempered measurably by our bicycles no longer being in the luggage carriage we had stored them in. ‘Don’t worry,’ the station master reassured us, ‘they will perhaps arrive on the next train. Tomorrow. Inshallah.’ Full of doubt and out of cash we could do nothing but wait. We slept amongst the rats and homeless people on the station platform until the next morning when, to our great surprise, our bicycles arrived on a totally different train.
That was a memorable train journey, though considerably less enjoyable than the night train I once rode from South Africa to Zimbabwe, the delightful experience of crossing southern India by train, or even the wonderful brilliant British adventure of riding the overnight sleeper train from London to the Scottish Highlands.
In India I had just walked from one coast to the other and was returning by train in order to fly home. I was exhausted after the walk, jubilant to have succeeded, and enchanted with India. I sat in the open doorway of the train watching India unfold before me. I drank sweet tea and grazed constantly on the little snacks sold at every village station we stopped at. My bare feet dangled from the carriage, the warm wind ruffled my hair, and I had one of those special feelings of realising that this was an experience that I would remember and treasure for the rest of my life.
Not bad for the price of a very cheap train ticket!
Hitch-hiking can be an even cheaper way of seeking out adventure.
The vague, unofficial ‘rules’ of hitch-hiking vary from continent to continent. In some places you’ll be expected to contribute to petrol costs or buy the driver coffee. Sometimes, though, you’ll find the drivers buy you food and your only duty is to provide interesting conversation to help pass the time on a long journey. I’ve cadged rides in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe and enjoyed the experience everywhere.
I hitch-hiked around Spain and France in the summer I graduated from university. My two friends and I often hark back to the glorious randomness of that experience, the frustrating delays in places you’ll be happy never to see again, the gambler’s rush of excitement and action when a car stops and you run up to the window hoping you’ve scored a lift in the right direction, hoping that the driver isn’t too weird, but so caught up in the thrill of crossing the next horizon and the vast possibilities of the endless road that you don’t really care too much.
And off you go! Revelling in being in motion once again, starting a new relationship, a new conversation, leaning forward to the next crazy venture.
At first you follow a formula to and fro – where you’re from, where you’re going, where you’ve been. And then, just like the infinite twists and turns of the road, you’ll be off on all sorts of new conversations, about politics or work or football or music or heartbreak. It’s all there, every story there ever was in the world. Just waiting for you out there in the world…
What are you waiting for? Allons! Let’s go!
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