Adventure is a mindset, not a destination. The thought of it alone both hurts and invigorates, for no pleasure can exist without pain. No desire without restraint. No sweet without the sour.
Therefore adventure is something you either carry with you or you don’t; some may not realize they’ve had it in themselves all along until they finally experience a reawakening, or rather the external idea of what we would describe as an adventure. Whether it then becomes a choice or habit depends on consciously committing to a momentum afterwards.
So the beginning of the rest of your life can be detoured, but it must never be postponed. And whether we would detour from our original plan to Syria, this would still be no ordinary detour.
You’re going to miss that reawakening, the end of a lifelong hibernation when you knew you were about to embark on a seminal experience that will reignite what had long laid dormant within. Mine was 12 years ago. Yours may have been 12 months, 12 weeks, 12 days ago. Better late than never, excuses are otherwise just lies we tell ourselves at avoid another chance at growth.
You’re going to miss the first impressions of sneaking as many people as you can into the business class lounge at Istanbul Airport followed by the overnight scavenger hunt for the notes left behind by your fellow monsooner only 24 hours before. You may not miss the tiring wait for visas on arrival at ungodly hours for the jet-lagged, but you will miss the excitement over a freshly stamped visa that most anyone you know back home will never get to have, hiring a driver with a fancy hat to take you towards the surreal first minutes’ drive into a new city, the unique security checkpoints along the way to your hotel and having your car sniffed by a K9, and the first shisha and meals together, the live music outside, the overly fresh-squeezed fruit juices, the funny way they park their cars here, your first Middle Eastern sunset, your first Middle Eastern sunrise, the first hugs in the hotel lobby to start you off on your first day in Baghdad.
You’re going to miss the brief nap sleeping in, or the first and only unaccompanied gallivanting around Baghdad, finding a quaint coffee shop a few doors down from your hotel before having an outdoor lunch with locals and setting off for a proper tour of the second largest city in the Arab World, passing by the square where history happened and Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled, taking a group photo next to riot police, the remarkable negotiating your way with both the military and the site director to having the entire Al Shaheed Monument all to yourself, the drive past a cemetery that stretches so endlessly it reminds you of all the sacrifices that would allow you to visit in the first place, the beauty inside a Sufi shrine and on top of one of the 3 oldest minarets in the Middle East, late siesta drinks by the pool, and the fried-yet-soft-as-a-pillow masgood fish that was so más goooooood even though (or, because) it took over 2 hours to prepare before your hungry eyes.
You’re going to miss the comprehensive morning breakfast spread at your hotel, a late morning start for a drive outside of Baghdad, the road trip vibes past checkpoint after checkpoint after checkpoint of seemingly imposing but authentically welcoming military guards, the sense of humor you shared with your guide throughout, the first abaya you ever put on and to be motherly fixed up in all the possible ways so that it stays on, that electricity on your skin when you walk into a holy pilgrimage site and yet the surprise at being invited in so easily.
You’ll miss soaking in the energy from the deluge flow of worshippers inside, taking in the scene before moving on to lunch at a roadside stop, posing with the bullet-riddled and only remaining portrait of Saddam Hussein, the drive towards a radiantly blue Gate of Ishtar that confirmed you finally arrived at the true location of the ancient city of Babylon and where Alexander the Great met his end, being allowed into exclusive excavation sites and getting to cradle millennia-old tablets in your bare hands, eating up and walking through 4,300 years of history of a city you only knew from a distance through classroom textbooks and childhood history projects, before actually and literally reliving your childhood by exploring an abandoned building and having a former palace of an authoritarian dictator all to yourself, souvenirs included.
You’re going to miss impromptu PCR testing while souvenir shopping, crossing Baghdad streets as police stopped traffic for you as if you were VIP, the long drive south listening to Arabic music, 90s music, impromptu karaoke music, and all kinds of sing-alongs that even the interminable number of checkpoints were entertained by your presence. You’ll miss the odd roadside lunch spot with birds and portraits of weird dictators on the wall, before admiring the only remaining Islamic capital retaining its original architecture, layout and artistic relics let alone the great minaret itself and formerly the largest mosque in the world. You’ll miss the winding vertiginous walk up to the top and all the selfies you can take with your fellow travelers and curious locals there, finding it hard to leave so soon, and the quiet night drive back home to receive your negative PCR results, and having an entire restaurant revolve around your group’s whims for your last dinner together in Iraq.
While you may not miss worrying over your guide’s well-being during dinner, the least of your problems being trying to order food for the first time without him, you will miss the relief at seeing his smile when he bounces back after a nap and his appreciation for your concerns. You’ll then miss the first hugs goodbye at the hotel lobby, the gratitude from your guide and driver at the recognition of their kindness, and the early morning ride out through numerous airport checkpoints just to taste your first reminder of non-Nescafe black coffee before flying out to your next country of wanderlust.
You’re going to miss the relative airport upgrade at Amman complete with fancy but abandoned COVID-19 testing booths, being greeted at passports by someone who ended up not really doing … much… other than rooting for us during the seemingly long visa on arrival procedure that almost makes you forget about the one back in Iraq, being picked up by a cheerful guide in his happy van as he drives us with gusto to our spa time at the lowest dry point on Earth. You’ll miss feeling the weightlessness when you take a trust fall into nature, letting the saliency of the Dead Sea keep you floating even as you jog vertically through the waters. And while you won’t miss accidentally getting salt in your eyes, you will miss the silky smooth skin that you’ve reawakened after bathing yourself in caked sea mud before trying to meditate in an apparently useless chilly salt room that was really a place for adult nap-time.
You’re going to miss the winding roads up the desert mountains mouth slightly agape at the views below as if you were about to rocket off to a different planetary object in the universe, the climate changing and cooling down as if to confirm even to goosebumps that you were no longer in Kansas anymore, dancing twinkling lights on the mountainside for your dinner views over bubble tents, the meditative dreamlike walk through the 1.5km long gorge towards the a sight to behold at night as thousands of candles illuminate both your past and future before finally staring up at the rose-red city half as old as time with your own naked eyes just wondering how places like these could exist and why it had taken you so long to get here.
You’re going to miss waking up to an unearthly hailstorm and the foggy drive back to planet Earth, the long rest stop for coffee and souvenirs, the heartfelt conversations in the van afterwards as the clock ticks down towards the beginning of the end of another trip, taking comfort in each other’s existences finally being justified, another airport goodbye, the chagrin over Jordan not really wanting to let you leave, the jovial mood and round of shots at the airport lounge before your next flight, the uneventful landing into a country that proves to be anything more than uneventful when you see how special it is on their faces when it’s everyone else’s first time in a city they had long yearned to visit, that Good Samaritan who retrieves your passport you left behind on the flight, the ease of your visas on arrival before taking an Uber into the largest city of the Arab world, and the giddy and exciting first 4 electrifying hours walking, smoking and eating through millennia-old neighborhoods that breathe into you so much light, youth, and fire that you can’t help but sit silently grateful that you’re alive right now.
You’re going to miss waking up to a decaffeinated buzz at 4:30am for a morning to the rest of your life. Strings in the air as 9 horses then take you on a ride into eternity; a sun rising above, your tears rising underneath, tears from those very eyes finally landing upon the silhouettes of the Great Pyramids on the horizon as if they were teardrops themselves on the face of the desert.
You’re going to miss climbing, once again touching, 4500 years of history before driving onwards towards from a barren desert to a patch of countless trees of a desert oasis that rise above this endless stretch of sand, collecting calcite crystals to your heart’s content as if it were the exit through a gift shop, turning a cave into your temporary playground, that whisper of a thrill when you lay your eyes to land formations you never even knew about until today, realizing that adventure and living the life of your dreams were finally at your fingertips when you spar looks and a laugh across vast distances now made to feel ever smaller, the fresh fine sand between your toes, and then the nostalgic frustration that you could only do this for one night as you laugh with your new and old Bedouin friends once again over fear, travel, romance, and love.
You’re going to miss waking up to the eternity moment of a different kind of night sky, the top of the sun peeking over another alien horizon, the last breakfast together, and fresh warm solar rays painting your face as you ponder the 30 seconds of complete silence to tune into your own frequency, confronting the bittersweet reality you may never — but still could — set your eyes on such sights ever again.
You’re going to miss the last lunch together in the oasis, the timeless conversations during your shorter-than-expected drive back to Cairo, a romantically nostalgic and tranquil rest stop in the middle-of-nowhere for tea at dusk over date-covered-chocolate-covered pistachios, the anticlimactic and still amusing last dinner and carefree outdoor shisha in the neighborhood, the real balls-to-the-wall climax of a city tour of Cairo you did not expect the morning after — complete with broken down Ubers, harrowing Tuk-Tuks rides in between traffic, hiking busy thoroughfares and garbage cities better than any game of Frogger — followed by the all too soon subsequent goodbyes and final hugs, and another all-nighter that included driving a Mustang down Sheikh Zayed Road — a postscript to another chapter in your life that you didn’t know whether to conclude or begin writing . . .
. . . because you’re going to miss most of all, the camaraderie in the company of so many diverse personalities at different stages in their embrace for adventure, and the way we may all look back one day and ask ourselves: “Did we really just live through all these places? Graced the edge of what it means to feel this alive?”
“Yeah, we did.”
“… and together again we will.”