In describing a prosperous future, George Orwell theorised that “the inhabitants of Utopia would create artificial dangers in order to exercise their courage, and do dumb-bell exercises to harden muscles that they would never be obliged to use” (The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937).
He is a clever man to make such an accurate prediction almost 100 years prior to the advent of 24 hour gyms and adventure sports. But I haven't pulled this passage out to rail against the Segway or the prominence of lifestyle diseases in our health statistics. I quote this because I feel that it has gotten harder and harder to have an adventure in the true sense of the word.
I will share a recent experience to help explain why I feel this way. We recently travelled to Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire. The name and its place at the bottom of the world has long inspired my imagination. And it is a wonderful part of the world, an awe inspiring place. But it has become a tourist trap. To get anywhere costs you a peso, and all the tour companies are doing the same thing. Here it truly is hard to get off the beaten track.
Don't get me wrong, we had a good time and I love the area. But a part of me was disappointed. I am not the first person to point at some remote part of the map and say “I want to go here.” But even in Ushuaia, the world's southern most city, with all its ships, this is too difficult.
I am probably coming across as ungrateful, as it is remarkable that we can reach Ushuaia. To be fair, modern travel has made it much easier to explore the world. But paradoxically, it has made it harder to discover.
This is not a unique sentiment and in fact it was expressed well before my time. “The big blank spaces in the map are all being filled in, and there's no room for romance anywhere.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote this in The Lost World, 1912. A brilliant line.
So what does it mean to have an adventure in this day and age? Can we still find genuine risk in a world of tours and tourist traps? Has Lonely Planet covered all the bases or are there still secrets to experience? Is there still a place for the man with a bull whip and a fedora?
I guess I will know the answer by the end of this trip.
In fact, I have a few ideas on how to make it happen. Firstly, I think it takes time. While modern travel has made it so much easier to get from home to the heights of the Andes, in that rush 'to get there' one can pass over the places that many are missing. But to find these places one needs to slow down and take the time to learn 'the lay of the land', if you get my meaning.
Which brings me to my second point. I should get to know the locals. They know their region as well as I know mine. They know the interesting places worth exploring, and the dangers. And while a tour company might not be willing to take us to that hidden destination, the guy at the pub might.
Finally, we can't escape the fact that having an adventure can also require a lot of money. For example, a customised trip in the Pantanal costs around USD250 to 350 per day. So I think it is important to determine which adventures require a serious financial commitment, and how passionate we are about making that trip. Because not all adventures need to be expensive, some are just a cheeky hitch hike down the road…