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Adventure Blog

How do you handle the unexpected?

Buzz Poole
10/04/2011 - 00:00

A great trip, like life, will always contain surprises, some better than others. No matter how carefully you plan and research, nothing can be predicted with utmost certainty. Sometimes it rains for a week during a month when it usually doesn’t. Sometimes the restaurant that is always open on Tuesdays closes on a Tuesday. Sometimes there is a natural disaster. Sometimes revolution erupts.

Guernica has published “The Driver,” by Kate Grace Thomas. She had been preparing a new edition of the Lonely Planet guide for that country. In December 2010, she hired a driver to take her to Benghazi where resorts and ruins awaited reviews. Along with the driver’s wife, they traveled along coastal roads flanked by “juniper bushes and olive groves; lemon trees, their branches bowing under the strain of swollen fruit.” The sand was “buttered” and their faces were all “coppered.” She seemed to see everything through the tantalizing tint of amber honey produced by bees that feed upon the shmari berry.

But by early 2011, change was in the air. As Thomas writes: “The guidebook I researched last winter was never published, put on hold when the Arab Spring surged into Libya that February. I was writing a guidebook to a country that no longer exists; a country where busloads of Italian tourists gathered around hotel buffets; where billboards advertised the Qaddafi brand—forty-one years, they sang, the leader’s face peering down at the cars on the highways like that of a god who thought he created them. The guidebook I researched was a guidebook to the past.”

Because of her knowledge of Libya, however, Thomas became a war reporter. It was not something she went looking for, but it found her. Reading her piece, I was reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s now famous No Reservations in Lebanon. Having traveled there in 2006 to film an episode, his producers and handlers never could have predicted that war would break out between Hezbollah and Israel, right in Beirut. But it did.

In both instances, Thomas and Bourdain rolled with the punches. It is a good lesson, both in terms of travel and life. I’ve never found myself in a war zone, but I’ve had portions of trips defy my expectations, in the bad way. Or rather, I let it be bad, until I took a deep breath and just worked with the situation at hand. Of course, there is a big difference between war and earthquakes and bad weather and erratic hours of operation. But if we’re not careful it is all too easy to let them all impact us equally.

What do you do when the unexpected happens?

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