While maps are an indispensable tool for travel, they don’t always provide enough detail to get around. A map of Marrakech doesn’t show the maze of the medina. When one has to walk through a graveyard in Mexico to get to a remote beach, there isn’t a signpost saying ‘This Way‘. If you don’t know which road you’re on in Costa Rica, a map won’t help you figure it out.
As world travelers, we must also use our intuition to figure out where we are and where we’re going. By increasing our awareness, we can glean information from many sources to paint a clearer picture. For example, when hiking in the hills, a stream can lead you downhill to a river and possibly a bridge. Most of the world being north of the equator, the sun is generally to the south. In the morning it is also in the east, and in the afternoon the west. At night, the north star has guided explorers for millenia.
You can also estimate the time without a sundial if you have a general idea of when sunset or sunrise is and where in the world you are. Holding your arm outstretched and spreading your four fingers against the sky is about 15 degrees, or one hour. One has but to trace a line from the horizon to the sun, at an angle roughly equivalent to the latitude, and you can count the number of hands to get an idea for how many hours you have to get down off the mountain before nightfall.
Besides reading the heavens, one can obtain clues from the man-made world as well. When lost in Costa Rica a few years ago, a couple of passing buses with their destinations on the front helped us get going in the right direction. On our first night in Marrakech, trying to find our way through the labyrinth of the souqs to Djemaa el Fna, we could ask for directions to the bazaar from passers-by, but how would we get home? As we took turn after turn, we would look behind us and notice a particularly crenelated doorway, or a sign for ‘La vache qui rit‘, leaving behind a string of landmarks that we could follow home.
What techniques do you use to get around, when a map doesn’t suffice, or even exist?
(Photo by ninja_pixel via Flickr.)