19 Jan 2017
All Adventures Great and Small
by Gary Burnand
I have had more adventures in my mind than I have had in three dimensions. Some become manifest in time, though never quite as I imagined. But the size and scope of an adventure isn’t always proportional to the feeling and experience you enjoy. Sometimes its inversely proportional, sometimes the small adventures last longer.
And adventures exist within adventures, micro-experiences in the greater whole. As a professional photographer, just getting your equipment on the plane is often an experience. Finding a daily electrical charge for your batteries is an adventure. So is taking a shower. And sometimes these minutiae are the whole experience. Foreign food can be an ‘essential’ adventure.
A couple of years ago, I was heading out of Kabul, to Dubai, to renew my Afghan visa. The day before I had photographed a guy with an AK47. He looked every inch the bad guy, but in fact wasn’t – he was my fixer. Security asked me to get all my kit out and turn my cameras on. As I did so, that image flashed up on my camera’s LCD. I immediately saw it, and turned the camera towards me, hoping to shield from prying eyes. The security guy just smiled at me, and said something along the lines of ‘Too late buddy, got ya. Step away’. The next thing I know, I am up against a wall, everything confiscated, a sea of police. Oops.
It’s good to have friends though, and by chance, the Afghan Vice President was one of mine. A quick phone call, the handing over of handsets, and I was on my way. Moments like this, benign but irritating, are the frequent companion of adventure. In fact they make it tangible. While observing that gloriously majestic sweep of the African savannah, peppered with life on an epic scale, is why we think we travel, it is nearly always the little things that create the memories. That glorious majestic sweep is hard to take in, it is too biblical in its scale – it defies understanding, it is almost… well, intangible. But you will never forget the infuriating buzz of a thousand mosquitos. Or the thunder of rain on canvass.
I have never climbed Mount Everest, and I would commit that I never will. That fear of heights, the clear lack of experience, or any noticeable ambition consigns that to whatever is the opposite of the ‘bucket list’. I have flown by Everest however, and strangely it’s up there as one of my all time favourite experiences. We are so used to seeing life as a tiny dot from 30,000 feet, that to see it at eye level from your window, is a deeply confusing thing – how can this be, I feel like I am at the edge of space, and there’s this mountain just to my left. My experience of Everest can be mine. Just because six million people a year come to Paris, is my visit any less valid?
Adventures are personal, and they come in different sizes. We remember the tangible bits and the rest, we feel. We feel the sun, but we remember its warmth. Adventures are partially planned linear journeys, broken into small unexpected pieces; the packing of bags and the swimming with sharks, but without the visa application, the feeling can never manifest itself, like waking from a dream and realising that… it was just that. Without the packing of bags there can be no swimming with sharks.
Every second is an adventure on a piece of rock hurtling through space at thirty miles per second. And how we perceive that movement through space and time is entirely up to us, and is uniquely ours. But if we lose sight of the minutiae, we lose sight of the whole, because that is where the real experience exists. The rest is just the memory of a feeling that was too big to comprehend.
They say we should learn to see the beauty in small things. There is nothing more true than that. Packing your bag is as beautiful as unpacking on arrival. A cold shower the same. I will never climb Everest, but I have seen it from on high, from the window of a plane travelling at 500mph at 30,000 feet above a rock hurtling through space and time. It was more than enough.
Packing to go away. You never know when the most memorable adventure will show itself. But it won’t start until you leave.
I have an unshakable routine when I travel – it's a trigger movement that tells me to be ready, a reconfiguration for experience.
All words and images © 2017 Martin Middlebrook. All rights reserved.