Check Adventure Light

giza camel“Oohhuuuuuuhhhmmmmmmmmeeerrrrrrrrrr…”

My dad is groaning. And I am sitting on the other side of the phone, timing it.

I have long been timing my dad’s groans in response to my year’s holiday destination. His groan has become the barometer by which I measure the adventure quotient of my trips.

No groan means that the place does not worry him. Italy and France are no groan destinations. A two-second groan usually means the place was the scene of urban unrest when he was young. Budapest might be a two-groaner, as might Northern Ireland.

A three-second groan means the place has been in the news in the last two years. This might include Turkey, Puerto Rico, or Thailand. Anything above a five second groan suggests that it’s a place with a completely different alphabet, and not in Europe or North American and that he doesn’t know much about it. Israel was a nine second groan.

Ethiopia proves to be an eight second groan. So not as bad as the Middle East, but it is accompanied by two I don’t know, Dames and a few muttered Are you sure about this? for good measure.

It’s worth the cost of the flight itself.

I live my life as a normal enough person, I work too much, go out with friends, gripe about social affairs, cook and read and watch sitcoms on weekday nights, drink too much occasionally. But every year around the end of February, towards the end of the long and bleak winter, a little light goes on inside. It’s the kind of light that goes on when your car starts making sounds like an emphysema patient playing soccer.

A warning.

My Check Adventure light.

In my life, summer has always meant adventure, and I have always taken my adventures very seriously. Ask anybody I grew up with. As a kid, when the first long days of summer came around, I became obsessed with heading into the woods. If it was a bigger adventure, then it was the deep woods, and if it was an uber-monster adventure, it was the deep-deep woods (not original, but got the point across).

I would stage or go along with all day adventures in the woods. Sometimes we poked around the caved in cabins in the deep deep woods, eons abandoned, the lore of which still resonates in my head. We swam in the Neshaminy River, went to the quarry, hunted fossils and Bigfoot in the park, anything if it meant being away from home for the afternoon.

This love of adventure carried over into my teens and adulthood. At sixteen, I chose to do community service in Mexico City instead of visit Disney on our family vacation. This was the first appearance of Dad’s groan-o-meter (six seconds). Then there was India a few years later (seven seconds), backpacking around Europe alone (alone. five seconds), a camping fishing trip around the Northwestern U.S. with my cousin (lost consciousness).

I became obsessed.

So as each summer approaches, my Check Adventure light goes on, warning me that I have been a relatively mellow member of society for the previous nine months and it is now time to go out adventuring. Last year it was the ghost trip around Ireland, a few years ago, it was a World War II battlefield tour around Northern Europe.

A couple of years before that, it was the Middle East with Mark, my partner in adventure. We landed in Tel Aviv during the heaviest day of bombing in Israel’s history, a fact I withheld from my parents until my safe arrival in the U.S a month later. We sifted through the hottest deserts on Earth in July. We traveled through Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, visiting some of the oldest cities in the world, taking the half-wreck minibuses you only see in bad Dustin Hoffman movies. We sat on trains lined with bullet holes, bandits taking pot shots from the desert as we roared past. He stood half-terrified of grimacing border guards, had machine guns pointed at us in an industrial park in Sharm el-Sheikh while searching for the Happiness Hostel. It was not there.

It was fantastic.

We called it our Indiana Jones adventure, our goofy way of saying we’re doing something off the beaten track and out-of-the-way and surrounded by heat and goats. However, I have wondered since if it isn’t a more appropriate moniker than we first thought. Indiana Jones lived his life mostly as a normal university professor, but once in a while his Check Adventure light went on and he knows it’s time to throw on the fedora, grab the whip, and head off.

So when my Check Adventure light went off this February, I was not surprised that Mark was there to whisper the word Ethiopia in my ear. Well, virtually. The tickets were bought in April, so the die, it seems, has been cast. There’s no going back.

Now my head is filled with rock-hewn churches, the lost ark, and the bustling insanity of Addis Ababa. I am about to be introduced to a whole new people, culture, country, and cuisine. My excitement is matched only by the curiosity as to whether my intestinal tract will share this exuberance.

It’s hard to leave my beautiful Prague in the summer. It’s so comfortable, safe and perfect here, an oasis in the middle of an unruly world. There are quiet strolls to beer gardens, nighttime movies in the park, drinks on the riverfront at any number of Naplavka festivals.

But I guess that’s part of why I have always left my cozy places for adventure, they are always a little more perfect when I come back. Because if you never visit the unruly world, you never fully appreciate home. Groaning parents, notwithstanding.

What do you do when your Check Adventure light comes on?

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