Maps and the art of travel

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Andean Adventure

Maps and the art of travel
Maps give shape to our imagination. They are an essential tool from the beginning. I always buy a basic inexpensive map of an area for initial planning. With my map on the wall I can beginning understanding the relationship of places. Cities, distances, and terrain stick more readily with a map.

Yet maps distort. Sizes aren't exact. Place names can be incorrect. Roads are missing. The map's purported truth removes our obligation to see with fresh eyes. We follow the line of the road at the expense of unmarked turn-offs.

The trick is to find a balance between both ways of seeing. The map provides important essential navigational details. Without it we are lost--but getting lost is one of the great joys of travel. Without bearings, our senses are naked and alive. We focus richly on the surroundings.

Today, with departure two weeks away, we have pinned an eight-foot map of South America to our wall. One inch of our map represents 1 million inches of South American land. For the first time, the enormity of our proposed undertaking looms. Even at a millionth actual size it seems too large to comprehend.

Most city maps aren't listed. Topographic maps, useful for hiking, climbing, or cycling remote areas, are produced by most governments; they are expensive and available coverage is often limited.

A good planning map is made by MapArt. At $2.95 it is also the least expensive. Shaded-relief details shows terrain, but political boundaries are indistinct. Scale 1:10,000,000.

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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