"Expect the unexpected," my wife and I were told before heading off to the former Soviet Union 15 years ago to adopt our child.
Totally self-contradictory, of course. If you expect something, it isn't unexpected, right? But, as a Sovietism, it made sense: a way to calm us, a you're-not-in-Kansas-anymore expression warning us against getting excited when things weren't working the way we wanted.
Now it's the family mantra, a catch-all phrase we use when travelling anywhere unfamiliar. (Or familiar. There's always the chance something unexpected will happen when you're visiting family and friends, like water leaking through a kitchen ceiling below a bathroom where the shower curtain was left outside of the tub.)
We can expect, our daughter Georgia being a teenager, that there'll be a certain amount of reluctance to daily travel plans that don't involve swimming or that necessitate leaving the hotel room before noon. It's not quite as bad as her tantrums of old: bucking, arching the back or going dead rigid so we couldn't fit her snowsuit on, but ... it's reluctance nonetheless.
Often the unexpected is Georgia herself.
Georgia has been riding horses since she was three or so. It's such a pleasure to see her, tall in the saddle, and it's so clear that she gets pleasure out of a ride. So it was a surprise to her mother and I when, at the entrance to Petra on a trip there in 2009, Georgia was reluctant to ride down to the Pink City. It could have been the heat (we were there in mid-April after all); it could have been the fact there was no saddle (although she likes the closeness of riding bareback); it could even have been the unfamiliarity of the horse, but since these horses are used to having so many strangers on their backs hour after hour, Georgia needn't have worried about encountering a steel-willed, unbroken horse.
The heat, in the end, is what got her on the horse actually. It was just too far to walk with the temperature near 30 degrees. We met Georgia at the drop-off point half an hour and many photos of her smiling later.
The next day, we expected Georgia to buck again, when I announced I'd hired three horses this time, one for each of us, to visit a Bedouin village on the road to Little Petra. This time, however, perhaps eager to show her parents she could do something they couldn't, Georgia was hot to trot.
Last Easter, outside Jaipur, India, I was enchanted with the idea of riding to the Amber Fort on an elephant. I envisioned a lazy roll as a long line of pachyderms meandered up the zigzagging cobbled street. My wife begged off, out of concerns the motion could set off vertigo, though I half suspect she wanted more time in the gift shop.
Given our past experience riding animals to the entrance of tourist spots, we expected Georgia to baulk. But she scampered up the elephant's back and into the open howdah without hesitation.
Not what I'd expected.