When you find yourself in a maelstrom of chaos and uncertainty, it's sometimes an opportunity to step up, embrace the experience and profit from the opportunity. Adopt a manic, wild-eyed enthusiasm instead of putting your head in your hands and being swept out of control! Be like a Mexican monkey and howl forth your intent...
In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!
“One side of the craft began to rise from the water. Ben, ever my faithful wingman (!) reached over and with one hand and strength suddenly amplified out of urgency, lifted me up and deposited me on the other side of the vessel. For I was lapping up the excitement being sat on the side that was going to tip over into the drink. Now would definitely not be the time to: a) lose a man overboard, b) flip our raft upside down, with it’s overladen cargo of kitchen sinks. "
Enjoying the maelstrom
Have you ever been taken umbrage upon by a feral monkey?
It’s not a rhetorical question.
In Mexico, the simian locals are quite testy and aren’t shy of telling you as much.
The Howler Monkey TM has a good set of lungs and a guttural roar that will scare the pants off those who think a trip deep into the jungle is going to be a picnic.
I was out and about somewhere in the hinterland between Mexico and Guatemala with my good friend and travelling (minstrel) companion, Ben. We were striving to push our adventurous ambitions to the next level, when we encountered a whole troupe of irritable howlers. They harangued us for about a mile from the treetops, shaking branches, hurling twigs and eventually letting loose their disdain by emptying their bladders in our general direction in some Pythonesque display of creative insults.
It put a dampener on our visit to a remote Mayan temple hidden deep in the jungle borderlands, which was rarely visited and becoming subsumed back into the undergrowth whence it came.
On another occasion a week or so later I was woken rudely by another such beast creating a furore as it seemingly ran right through the shack I was sleeping in (I was on the concrete floor). It was most likely in the back yard, but the primeval sound had me standing up straight to attention in an instant shouting “WTF!!”
Otherwise, I can heartily recommend a ‘trip down river’ for those wishing to add a little adventure into their lives. There is something totally mesmerising about drifting with the current, committed, uncertain, immersed in a wilderness that is utterly green and dense. Punctuated by high canyon walls, swirling rapids, and of course the ever present ullulations of mini-Kongs heralding your invasion into their world. A couple of dinosaurs might have polished the whole scene off to make us feel we were in Conan-Doyle's lost world.
Instead, the dinosaurs were us, on our intrepid travels, the original Ant ‘n’ Decs.
I had decided it was time to go on a ‘proper adventure’. Not a zip wire through the treetops. Or a motorised thrill ride with 10 strangers lasting an hour.
Instead, this outfit mentioned in their disclaimer that we were heading into ‘Zapatista rebel’ territory. And this required local knowledge, and awareness of security concerns. A discrete presence, winning hearts and minds along the way.
We must have failed with the monkeys as they weren’t impressed.
Fortunately, discretion is my middle name as I can blend in unnoticed wherever I go, fluent in a patois of my own making that can fool any linguist (Geordie). And my sun-toned skin is chameleon-esque, being suited to any climatic extreme. Let’s not mention the hair.
We travelled downriver – the Rio Uscaminta – for over a hundred miles, saving the best section for a night passage through a steep sided canyon with turbulent rapids.
I mean why not.
There’s no point in doing what could be treacherous during the hours of daylight when you can see the dangers. When in fact you can do it in the rain, in darkness, and you can’t really see what’s going on when all hell breaks loose.
What actually happened was we entered the swirling rapids and things got rapidly hectic. The small raft we were on began to buffet and twist. Our sturdy Mexican river guide on the oars began to row like a man possessed.
We careened towards the side of the canyon then lurched back into the centre of the maelstrom.
One side of the craft began to rise from the water. Ben, ever my faithful wingman (!) reached over and with one hand and strength suddenly amplified out of urgency, lifted me up and deposited me on the other side of the vessel. For I was lapping up the excitement being sat on the side that was going to tip over into the drink. Now would definitely not be the time to: a) lose a man overboard, b) flip our raft upside down, with it’s overladen cargo of kitchen sinks.
A moment later we bounced off the canyon wall and I only just sat back in time to avoid being splatted against it.
Another moment later Ben repeated the favour in hefting me aloft and re-depositing me back on the other side where I had previously reposed. For we were about to go ‘high side’ again.
The upshot of all this twisting and pulling, fighting the mighty force of the river, was that our Mexican, using superhuman strength, had managed to snap an oar. Not ideal. Now we were in a natural Waltzer, as you find at fairgrounds, unable to keep straight. Spinning around as we moved swiftly on, at the behest of the river.
We eventually popped out the other side of the rapids and all was swiftly calm again as we drifted gently along on flat water and came to a stop against the muddy river bank.
Often times in life, all is madness, chaos, a rollercoaster of emotions and nervous energy. Then it stops and shifts to a lower gear. There is time to take stock, review what just happened. Life is punctuated with such moments and transitional periods. If we become too reactive to the moment, we can be overwhelmed by it all, in shock during the chaos, and traumatised in the aftermath.
Some instances need to be survived, gotten through, but these are often the moments where life is lived to the fullest. It might not always be pleasant, but it’s time like these that will define the narrative laid down later. All too often we have experiences that, looking back, were formative, thrilling, transformational even, but we fail to recognise this, or to grasp that moment and rise to the occasion.
I always try, in such instances, to adopt a wide-eyed manic enthusiasm (even if it’s somewhere I feel I want to escape from). This sets a precedent for telling your brain that this is a positive experience. It adopts an approach-centred attitude – especially when the voice in your head is screaming to avoid it at all costs. This way, you take control over your response to the situation. It helps form positive memories that stitch together later to reinforce a life-affirming narrative about the experiences you have had. Which is the basis of resilience.
I cast a glance at Ben during the turmoil, and the expression on his face said it all, and will stay with me forever. We look to others to confirm our own perspectives, as with infants looking at their mothers to work out what expression or emotion to adopt, being uncertain how to interpret how things are.
Ben simply wore a wry half-smile, accompanied with a little shake of his head, as if to say “this is has gotten serious, but hey ho, it’s sooo wild!!!”
That was all I needed to break out in a manic grin. This is brilliant, hahaha!!! I had needed that little bit of permission to realise when it’s all looking like its spiralling out of control, that's the time you can laugh at it all and go with the flow. Enjoy the wildness!!
(Later on, after we had dragged the kitchen sink up the riverbank and hacked a camping spot out of the jungle with machetes, and we had cooked up a hearty meal, and we had settled down on camping chairs with our backs to virgin jungle and its creepy denizens, and we had sunk a few shots of tequila....that’s when the ordinarily quiet and unassuming Mexican, Herman, spoke up about what had just happened: “In all my times of guiding on rivers, be that in south America, the Grand Canyon, Mexico...I have never stopped and thought to myself in the midst of the rapids – we are totally f**ked!!!”)
At the end of the day, it’s all just monkey business.