Friday, April 24, 2009

Meditation On Adventure

Two days ago, I walked into the kitchen at the hostel, expecting to see nobody save possibly Lucia, the young lady who works here at La Perla Cuencana. What I found was quite a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. It was my friend Dario, a Spanish chap that I met in Quito and found in Baños, along with his girlfriend Ji from Korea. They are really interesting people, and easy to get along with and travel alongside.

As we told of the month in between our last meeting, we discussed the various places we’d visited, and some quick ideas about what the immediate future might hold for each of us here in Ecuador and beyond. Of course, my month had been spent partially in Salinas, Alausí, Patate, and Guaranda, though the majority was spent here in Cuenca.

Now, during our time in Quito, these two joked a bit with me about having moved into the Hostal Residencial Sucre permanently. You may remember I had some problems with my visa and ended up in the national capital for nearly two weeks. The manner in which they poked fun was overwhelmingly friendly, and I never took offense to it, rather chose to get involved and play along. We joked that, ten years from now, they will return to Sucre to find me living upstairs with my wife, my children running wild and playing with their Ecuadorian great uncles, Don Jose Miguel Abad Carrión and Sargento Rodrigo Lanas. I hope they’re not offering the children liquor as frequently as they did me.

Of course, when Dario discovers that I, again, have been in a single place for nearly a month, he jokes about my tendency to linger. I laugh, and again am not offended in the least.

As I walked around the city today, in what has been perhaps the most beautiful day here so far, I began to ponder what it is about my personality, my strengths, my challenges, my curiosity, my fears, my identity, whatever, which makes me enjoy the idea of staying in a place for a number of days. This led me to wonder if I’m totally devoid of a sense of ‘adventure.’ Having met a slew of people who have ‘done’ South America in a matter of a few months, I’ve often thought about this idea of ‘adventure’ and ‘being adventurous.’

My initial thought was that there was some part of me that feared the unknown, the adventure, the spontaneous. Such fear would likely have its roots in real difficulties that come with arriving in a new, unknown place, with little more than a guidebook of suggestions. I know these difficulties well, despite only having been in half a dozen towns here in Ecuador. They are real, palpable difficulties that represent for some, adventure, for others, sheer terror. I somewhat enjoy the act of searching out a place to stay, a nearby spot to eat, the town’s point of interest, and so on. I also have somewhat of a healthy (in my opinion) fear or desire to avoid such challenges, which is to say a comfort in having knowledge of my place.

Thinking beyond this, I began to ponder what it is about staying put for a while satisfies me so. I think I may have come up with the solution.

I believe that, for me, the adventure, or perhaps the challenge, is not simply delving into the unknown, simply aiming to survive another day, ready for the next destination. The challenge for me is striving to be oneself, searching out those things that interest one, maintaining principles, viewpoints, and ideals. By staying in one place, one is forced to evaluate one’s daily actions and activities outside of judging whether or not they perpetuate survival. That is to say that I think that the adventure comes in staying in a single place, discovering what it has to offer a person, offerings that allow the person not only to survive, but rather to flourish, in a natural, empowering, and progressive manner.

In other words, I now think it more simple to bounce from place to place, eating crappy foods because you just have to eat, never making lasting relationships (with the local community, the climate, the land, the food, the culture) because it’s on to the next stop, never taking time to advance oneself in terms of ideology, beliefs, identity, because one’s mind is clogged with bus fares, city maps, hostel recommendations, arranged tours, and backpack maintenance.

I’ll give an example. I spent one night in Guaranda, on the way from Riobamba to Salinas. In that evening, I ate too much shitty Chinese food (MSG monster), drank 6 beers, and watched Dr. No on television in my hostel. Now, I have had my fair share of crappy food, beer, and movie nights, I’ll tell you. And for one night, the damage is minimal and evanescent. It’s not profoundly harmful here and there. However, consider the impetus for having such a night. Purely and simply, I just needed to survive so that the next day, I could move on to the next stop.

If this point of view, nay, this driving force dominates one’s brain, consider how difficult it is to slow down and challenge oneself in regards to personal development. Nearly impossible, at least for this guy.

Living day to day is wonderful, however leaving behind one’s interests, curiosities, beliefs, passions, and desires simply to guarantee making it to the next day, the next stop, or the next country is not acceptable for me. I need to know that wherever I am, I am making a conscious effort to use the things (people, land, music, buildings, newspapers, soccer games) around me as catalysts for my growth, and at the same time, sharing the person that I am with that world by truly living my identity, in a clear, open, honest, and proud way. That’s the challenge. That’s the adventure.

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