When the Carnival cruise ship Splendor was towed into the San Diego Harbor late last week after being stranded off the coast of Mexico by an engine fire, many news reporters and bloggers commented that the 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew had endured an “adventure at sea.” As far as I know, however, none — during their short, three-day excursion — had scaled a mountain peak or swam with sharks or done anything else that usually conjures up the word adventure in our minds; or at least, would have called the term into play just a few decades ago.
It is true that those on the ship lived with no hot water, hot food, air conditioning, or electrical power for several hours and some days. But have we become so drowned in comfort in recent years that doing without the luxuries of modern living for even thirty-six hours is cause for labeling an experience an “adventure”? Or is it because these inconveniences were suffered away from home that the incident took on the mantle of a heroic feat? In other words, is travel a necessary component for having an adventure?
Hungry for adventure heroes
Much has been written about what the Splendor’s passengers were eating after the ship’s power failed. There were reports of hot dog salads, yogurt on bread served as dessert, and the now-infamous Spam (although, Carnival staunchly denies that the Spam was ever served to the passengers). Yet according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, every day in America about five hundred thousand households suffer from hunger and more than a million of our children feel the stomach pains that come from not enough food to eat. More than ninety-five million Americans have no hot water, no electricity, no toilet, or no bathtub or shower. Yet no one would call the circumstances of their lives “adventurous.” The difference then, it would seem, between them and the Splendor’s passengers is that the hardships they suffer happen at home.
We saw the same sort of craving for far-flung stories of adventure — however flimsy — operating in the news media when thirty-three Chilean miners got caught a half mile deep underground for sixty-nine days after their gold and copper mine collapsed. The deprivations they suffered — no electrical power, little light, small food rations, and twenty-three thousand feet of rock overhead — were dire to be sure. But does such an event qualify as an adventure?
It would seem today it does. A month after their rescue, the miners were being offered book contracts and movie deals for their “adventure” stories, as well as all-expenses-paid trips to see their favorite soccer teams in Europe. They demand — and get — thousands of dollars for interviews. Similarly, one passenger aboard the Splendor could be seen holding a banner that read “Next Stop: The Daily Show” as the boat was being pulled into port.
The right stuff
For hundreds of years, poets and men and women of literature have pondered exactly what adventure is. Some have decided that leaving home is a requirement to having one, which would explain why the Splendor’s passengers and the trapped miners are regarded as adventurists and the poor, at home, aren’t. Author William Bolitho (1890–1930) once wrote, “Adventure must start with running away from home.” And André Gide (1869–1951), French writer, humanist, moralist, and 1947 Nobel Prize winner for literature, once said “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Other thinkers, though, leave the necessity of being away from home out of any definition for the word adventure. Although he mentions travel, Wilfred Peterson (1900–1995) states that adventure may take many avenues: “A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies, and adopting new viewpoints.”
One relatively modern pundit and adventurer himself, Roald Amundsen (1872–1928), a Norwegian who explored Antarctica, doesn’t use distance from home as the ultimate measure for adventure. And with regard to the Splendor, especially, he may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “Adventure is just bad planning.”
Here’s to your adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,