Because of the Travel and Adventure Show, I can die a happy girl.
It had been an up-and-down sort of week. I desperately needed a good weekend. But a spontaneous trip to Kansas to visit a friend, planned on Thursday, got canceled on Friday. My mom, a fellow traveler, invited me along to the Travel and Adventure Show in Rosemont as a consolation. SeaWorld was bringing penguins from their new Antarctica exhibit, so naturally I accepted. What consoles better than animals?
The show overall was disproportionately Midwestern, and as a Midwesterner, that’s not really our idea of “travel” nor “adventure.” Kansas alone filled five booths, including one for Manhattan, Kansas, “the Little Apple,” which as far as I could tell had only its nickname going for it, and one for Hike Kansas, which I won’t pretend to understand.
A good number of destinations better fitting the “travel and adventure” category handed out glossy brochures that would be recycled hours later and various trade show swag including a satisfying amount of international candies. Aside from the standing-room-only crowd for Rick Steves, the Global Beats stage demanded some attention, but not so much by the Nordics, to whom “dancing” seems to mean serious, coordinated walking.
I learned a few things. For instance, there is island called Yap. It’s in Micronesia. I have a map to prove it. A map of Yap.
As nice as candy and information is, I came for penguins. So, soon I was able to back-trace the steps of a small boy in a penguin hat and located the artificial Antarctic ice cave that housed them.
They say things happen for a reason, and what happened next makes me a believer for life. Outside the ice cave, a SeaWorld employee shoved a penguin hat, an official Explorer’s Passport, and a Coca-Cola cup into my hand and told me not to miss the live penguins (duh, buddy), opossum, lizard, and—wait for it—monkey.
A real monkey. Live. No cage. No glass. No bars. Here. Right here, ten feet away from where I stood.
There was a brief moment of shocked silence and then total confusion as I shoved the penguin hat, the official Explorer’s Passport, the Coca-Cola cup, and my tote bag of swag into my mother’s arms in a mild panic.
I probably don’t need to pause at this point to explain that it has been a life goal of mine to meet a monkey in person. I’ve loved them since I was a little kid, and I feel a wild sense of injustice when I see people on TV interacting with baby chimps in diapers or any similar circumstance. How are they so lucky? So not fair.
But now, here he was. A marmoset, on the end of a two-foot leash, was right out in the open, in front of me.
I stayed for a long time. I cooed and exclaimed. I shared the significance of this moment with the monkey’s caretaker, who kindly tolerated me. I leaned against his little wooden platform and asked if people were allowed to touch him, knowing the answer, but it didn’t matter. I was literally face to face with him. He looked at me. He ran around. He looked at the person dressed as a giant penguin. He looked at me. He ran around. He nibbled my wristband.
He nibbled my wristband!
“I’m not touching him, but I’m not going to stop him from touching me!” I shouted insanely.
Soon I pulled myself a way. I was hogging the monkey. I visited the other animals and then came back for a second look before we moved on to the rest of the show. After that, everything I saw was amazing, all of it drenched in a warm monkey glow.
I thought it was going to take careful planning, a lot of finagling, some wheeling and dealing, and a stack of cash to make my monkey dream a reality. But all I had to do was go to Rosemont.