The Adventure Park was supposed to be something my friends would envy. I was supposed to go home with stories of swinging, free and fearless, through a Mauritian forest. What else could the prospect of an “Adventure Park” full of zip-lines possibly connote?
As I quickly found out, “adventures” in Mauritius are endeavors requiring near military stamina and muscle control. I’m not a complainer by nature; even when I was a kid, I was never given to whining. But clambering through endless obstacles, hanging above a forest, scratching at fiery red mosquito bites, blowing ineffectually on my hands to cool the rope burn, exhausted and wiping sweat-soaked hair out of my eyes, I was struck for the first time this voyage with an overwhelming and desperate need for my mother.
We arrived at the Adventure Park at about 10:30 that morning. At a mention of concern from our trip leader, we lined up to spray ourselves down with Deet, mentally patting ourselves on the back for our forethought. Then we promptly climbed into our harnesses and followed our guide out into the wilderness.
Three suspended bridges into our two hour excursion, those of us who had been expecting effortless good times were quickly clued in to the course’s degree of difficulty. The bridges were shaky, far from the ground, and frequently missing planks and handholds. Scaling a wall of rope, a waifish blond girl just ahead of me complained that she was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, and couldn’t possibly continue. She became the first in a series of people to quit early; others skipped entire segments of the course they didn’t like.
I couldn’t skip. Not out of any particular strength of character, or because I, too, wasn’t miserable and wanting to just go home. In fact, my bravado faded in exponential decrements with each insect I attempted to swat from my legs. And perhaps if I was in the U.S. right then, I would have found the voice to complain. But the truth was that I felt too pigeon-holed into representing American tourists in a positive light, and too embarrassed by my exertion-intolerant friends, to stop. I didn’t have the courage not to finish the big scary obstacle course. I began to wonder to what degree I was expected to put aside my discomfort in the name of national pride. Was I allotted less leeway to complain when I was abroad?
In answer to my own question, I finished the entire course; the value of my dignity is at least thirteen zip lines in a Mauritian forest. And I left the park with itchy legs and the assertion that being in a foreign country will always guarantee a leap from one’s comfort zone. Sometimes we just have to suck it up.