adventure incognito

Adventure Incognito

“Everything will work out.”

A simple mantra chanted regularly by travelers around the world.

“Everything will work out.”

Easy to advice, more challenging to receive, and sometimes downright impossible to believe.

Easy to advice — when it’s not YOU who has just had your only credit card (and only form of monetary funds) rejected at the third bank due to “inadequate funds.” Challenging to receive — when you find YOUR backpack slashed and your passport missing. Impossible to believe — when you find YOURSELF stranded on an island because of bad weather, with a flight to catch the next morning.

But it happens to all of us. Very few travelers are spared at least a few fearful, panicked, nerve-wrecking or adrenaline-pumping moments while on the road. And it doesn’t matter how many credit cards you bring, or how many locks you put on your pack, or how many days you left yourself to get to the airport because The Travel Gods of Misfortune and Accident care little for those details. But maybe we are making judgments too quickly? Maybe, if we look closer at our most memorable travel tales, we will see that it is exactly that element of insecurity, mistake or hazard that made those excursions so remarkable and memorable. And maybe we will recognize that it is actually the Goddess of Adventure, spreading her magic in the GUISE of the God of Misfortune and the RUSE of the God of Accident, but simply traveling incognito.

Maybe.

Amsterdam, Netherlands (August 1999)

The last day on my two-month tour of Europe and I found that in addition to overdrawing my two bank accounts, I had somehow lost my emergency fund of forty dollars that I was relying on to get me through the night and to the airport. After having run across town to three different full hostels, I found myself at the counter of The Flying Pig hostel in downtown Amsterdam. Exhaustion, trepidation, and apprehension were only a few of the feelings wrenching my gut as I dropped my heavy pack to the floor and with begging eyes, inquired as to if a single cot in the dorm was available. The attendant, without looking up, apologized and said no. My panic must have taken form, jumped up on the desk, let out a yelp and collapsed on the booking sheet he was studying, because he looked up, into my eyes, and said, “Um. Well, wait here. Let me see.” An hour later I was settled into a cot paid for at the discounted rate of “whatever you can dig up in your pack” (which actually included money in three different currencies). Somehow, the rumor of my moneyless-ness had spread, and as I collapsed into the pillows in the living room, I found myself approached by three different strangers. One dropped me off a sandwich, one passed me a beer, and one offered me herb; Three kings with offerings better than frankincense and myrrh. I was even offered the train fare to get to the airport. And they expected nothing in return. “Everything worked out,” thanks to the astounding generosity of these favors from complete strangers.

Isla Grande, Brazil (March 2000)

We had hired a boat and captain to take us to the other side of the island on a three-hour tour (…a threeeee-hour tour). Our “mistake” was not checking out the quality and speed of his boat. It took us five hours just to get to our destination on the other side of the island. Our captain informed us that it would take at least as long to get back, but now it was getting dark, the water was rough and we were going against the wind and waves. I had to get back by the next afternoon in order to catch a ferry to the mainland to get back to Rio, where I was to catch my return flight to the US. But the four Australians we had just spent a fantastic day with on the boat invited us to flip off that fate and, instead, camp out the night on that side of the island with them. We asked the captain if he could return and pick us up first thing in the morning. He told us he couldn’t assure anything, but he’d “try.” “Will any other boats come by?” we inquired. He told us the chances were very slim.

“To hell with it! Drop us off at the next village!”

The next village was a small stretch of beach with a few houses — all home to related families of fishermen. We waved goodbye to the captain *wondering if we’d ever see him again* and hopped onto the beach with nothing but our bikinis. That night, the six of us toasted Caipirinhas on the open deck of a house owned by one of the fisherman. He cooked for us a splendid supper of the fish and squid he had caught that day and proudly showed me a picture of a “brother who’s best friend had a son that lived in California.” Another local made his way up to the deck playing a tambourine and singing in Portuguese. He played, laughed and danced until we had pushed all the dinner tables out of the way and were ALL dancing, laughing and singing with him. It went on like this for hours. Eventually a swim was suggested. Having never heard of phosphorescence in science class, I could only conclude that the trail of glowing light that followed each underwater movement was NOTHING less than pure magic. Our enthrallment and pure delight with the underwater fire works made even the blood dripping down our legs (from crashing up on the coral) only laughable. “Enchanted” is the only word I can use to describe that night. And the next day the captain DID show up….two hours late. On the ride back home, we caught up to a speed boat, hailed it down, jumped boats and raced back to the port. We made our scheduled ferry by about five minutes — and, *surprise* — “everything worked out” just perfectly.

Tortugero, Costa Rica (October 2000)

Tortugero is a small town in Costa Rica that is ONLY accessible by boat through canals or by plane. Opting for a day longer on the island instead of a day traveling by boat and bus, my best travel mate Kim, and I, had purchased plane tickets to get us back to San Jose in time for our return flights to the States. We showed up at the “airport” promptly at 7:30 for our 8:00 flight. I put the word “airport” in quotes because the “airport”, in this case, was simply a sand landing patch. A plane landed and we loaded our luggage and boarded the small craft. After take off, I inquired as to why we were heading North instead of West. I was told that we were picking up a few more passengers in a small town called Yamaha. This I noted as peculiar as I looked around and saw that there was only ONE seat left vacant on the plane.

I nudged Kim and laughed nervously, “We ARE on the right plane aren’t we? Cause we didn’t give that guy our tickets did we?”

A man across the isle interjected, “You’re going to San Jose right? Yep! This is the right plane!”

As the plane came down for landing, Kim and I laughed at such a silly idea. Ha! Busses and trains, sure…but now really, who could actually get on the wrong plane?

While we all waited patiently, I observed outside two awaiting passengers talking with the pilots. I watched as the passengers hand gestures became more animated and angry, and as the pilots pulled out papers and scratched their heads.

And then I knew it. A shit-eating grin was all I could manage as one of the pilots boarded the plane and announced, “I’m going to read off a roster of names. If you could please raise your hand if your name is NOT called, I would appreciate it.”

He didn’t need to read the roster. We raised our hands and I choked back on my giggles.

He looked us directly in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry. But one of you will have to stay here.”

I could stifle no longer. Laughing, I asked, “And where are we sir? And are there any busses or boats we can catch to get to San Jose?”

“I’m sorry. But one of you will have to stay,” he repeated. “You can only leave this town by plane. I will try to contact the plane that you were SUPPOSED to be on, and maybe they can come and pick you up here.”

THAT was certainly an idea worthy of more laughs.

Five minutes later, we found ourselves sitting on our backpacks, in the middle of the runway, in a town in the middle of NOWHERE, waving goodbye to our plane…. and laughing hysterically about these facts.

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When the laughing fit finally subsided, we smiled and exchanged “Now what?” glances at each other.

“Everything will work out. It always does,” we agreed.

As if on cue, a man, out of nowhere appeared and said, “Hear you guys have a problem. I know a guy. I’ll send him over.” And he walked away. Five more minutes later, we met Mr. Brown. He shook our hands firmly and said, “Ya know? It JUST so happens that I have a flight of guys coming in for a fishing expedition in half an hour. My plane is going to San Jose afterwards. I’ll let you jump on board for half of whatever you paid for that other flight.” My mate flashed me a “Shit! Do we have enough money?” look that Mr. Brown caught faster than I did. He grinned. “Hey…how ‘bout you guys just pay me back the next time you’re in Costa Rica, okay? Deal?!” He flashed us a huge and happy smile, handed me his card and wished us blessings. We were in San Jose less than two hours later.

I could tell a few dozen more stories, but I have faith that the reader is recognizing a pattern. The story problems differ, but the conclusion is always the same; “Everything always works out.” And once this is recognized, the equation can be simplified and the factors of “stress” and “worry” crossed out. Life has this endearing quality of constantly moving forward…and like pulling out the knots on a roll of rope, if you just keeping moving forward, focusing on one inch at a time, things seem to have a way of simply pulling themselves out straight.

“Everything works itself out.”

And the favors that I received from those strangers never go unappreciated. That day in Amsterdam, I happily vowed to be forever in travel-favor-debt. Now I regularly invite homeless travelers to crash on my couch and take opportunities to slip some cash into the book of someone who’s credit card was eaten in an ATM or offer a beer to a traveler on his or her last and penny-less day of adventure abroad; All in aspiration of having the opportunity to offer a Mr.Brown-type-blessing one day. It came around and I will make sure it continues to go around, taking my turn, and playing MY role in “making everything work out” for others.

Many travelers have learned, as I have, that some of the best adventures are found off the planned path. It’s important not to label those turns in the road as trouble or misfortune, for really, they are not so much “turns” in the road, as they are forks. Adventures are never lost, but they can change. And that change might be instigated by something originally perceived as “less-than-lucky.” But if not for lost money, how would I have found a new faith in the goodness of strangers in a hostel in Holland? But if not for a misleading captain, a slow boat and some rough water, how else would I have found the magic in the music of a tambourine and fireworks in the water of a fishing village in Brazil? And if not for sand-patch airports and poor check-in procedures, how else would I have witnessed an angel in action and received the blessing of Mr. Brown? It is in thanks to “misfortune” and “mistake” that today I can raise my hand and proclaim, “Yes! Actually, I HAVE gotten on the wrong plane before!”

Watch events unfold and stay open to a possibility of a happy, even IF alternative, conclusion. For Adventure travels incognito. And recognizing and receiving her as such — are what put both the fun AND freedom into traveling.

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