I'm a five-star urbanite, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. When my Aussie friend Devarni recently announced her plan to go hide out in the jungle of Laos for a few days, a big chill passed through my body. I might have considered meeting up with her in Chiang Mai, but more than a few hours in the jungle is out of the question. I'd rather face a flooded inner Bangkok. (Apparently, we're not completely out of the woods yet, but why venture into the woods by choice?)
The great outdoors are lovely to look at, but I've always preferred to experience them from the comfort of a balcony, a luxurious terrace, or, as I tend to walk everywhere, en route to someplace that I need to be (the supermarket, a Pilates class, a nearby bar), or while jogging. The idea of sleeping in a tent, or worse, in a sleeping bag exposed to the elements -- and any wild beast that happens to be wandering by -- just doesn't appeal to me. As diva-like as it might sound, it's just a few steps down from three-star-and-below accommodations and shabby chic.
Yes, shabby chic. I can deal with "chic," but "shabby" has got to go. I once checked out of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles after only two nights because it was just a bit too rock & roll dingy for me. I can understand why some would be into that, but the Mondrian across the street, with its sleek, white, spotless, interior design is simply more my speed.
I was thinking about all of this last night as I watched a program on the Discovery Channel about an Australian father and daughter duo who spent eight days stranded in the Australian outback (where the temperature reached 115 degrees during the day and plummeted to below freezing at night), thanks to an auto that suffered several flat tires and eventually burst into flames. The final two days were completely water free. I thought about Kristin Scott Thomas dying alone in that cave in The English Patient. What a terrible way to go!
At least dad and daughter had each other. They'd both pretty much given up hope and were lying down by the side of the road waiting to die when a car that happened to be passing through rescued them. The young girl was apparently only hours away from certain death. They almost lost their lives for a fishing trip!
I appreciate the need for father-daughter bonding. As a kid, I often wished for more quality time with my dad. But a trip to the beach or to Disney World would have done just fine. There's no treacherous outback in Florida, but I certainly would have nixed a boat ride through alligator-infested waters.
It's not that I'm not up for adventure. I think my life the last few years has proven that I am. Even before I launched my ongoing continent-hopping journey in Buenos Aires in 2006, I'd driven all alone from Los Angeles to the Joshua Tree desert in California after lying to the Avis, who wouldn't rent a car to an under-25, about being on a very important assignment that couldn't be completed without wheels. The person behind the counter bought both my story and my fake tears. I'd made the nine-hour solo car trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I'd driven in Mexico and in New York City, and travelled all over Europe on my own.
And let's not forget, I'm still in flood-threatened Bangkok. But here I get to sleep in a comfortable king-size bed every night with the AC set at a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius. And stray cockroaches aside (yes, I spotted one on Saturday night and went after it with a boot, murder on my mind!), there's not a wild beast in sight.
One of my first orders of business when I return to Australia in January will be to finally experience the Outback. It's the part of Australia I've always wanted to see, much more so than the Great Barrier Reef, for which I tossed aside my inability to swim and my fear of drowning and went snorkeling, and Sydney's Opera House, which is a lot more stunning in photos.
But there's got to be a better way to see the Outback than running the risk of being stranded without food and water due to flat tires and exploding four-wheel drives. It doesn't have to be a five-star experience. But if it at least comes close, I'm so in.