The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Travel

The Land No Man Would Claim

"No man’s land" is a term that, to the modern ear, can sound like stepping onto a battlefield. In fact, the phrase refers back to the idea of unclaimed land (recorded as "namesmaneslande" in the Domesday survey of England of 1086) and still carries an echo of perennial hopes for free land, for places beyond the control of others. Ordinary places become extraordinary in no man’s land.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/alastair-bonnett-unruly-places_fe.jpg","align":"right","size":"medium"}%}

Such in-between places remind us how dependent we are on borders—that our sense of order and certainty draws deeply from the knowledge that we are in governed territory. No man’s lands may be vast stretches of unclaimed land or tiny scraps left over from the planning of cities, though the uncertainty of the no man’s land is especially keenly felt in places that the outside world refuses to recognize or that appear to be between borders.

The notion that places might slip down between borders led me on a geographical quest. I went looking for the farthest possible distance between the border posts of two contiguous nations, to see how far they could be stretched apart.

Most border posts face each other. A change of signage, a different flag, a line on the road, all combine to signal that no sooner have you stepped out of one country than you have arrived in another. But what happens if you keep on opening up that space?A few years ago, with the help of hours spent blinking at the tiny fonts favored on travelers’ Internet chat forums, I found what I was looking for. Along a road between Senegal and Guinea in West Africa the distance between border posts is 27 kilometers.

It is not the world’s only attenuated border area. The Sani Pass, which runs up to the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho from South Africa, is the most famous. It’s a rough road, although much visited by tourists in 4x4s seeking out the highest pub in Africa, which sits near the top of the pass. The drama of the trip is heightened by the thrill that comes from learning that this is no man’s land. The South Africa border control, complete with "Welcome to South Africa" signs, is 5.6 kilometers away from the Lesotho border office.

Another specimen is to be found in the mountainous zone between border posts on the Torugart Pass that connects China and Kyrgyzstan. Central America also has a nice example in Paso Canoas, a town that can appear to be between Panama and Costa Rica. It is habitually described as no man’s land because, having left through one border post, you can go into the town without passing through immigration to enter the other country. Some visitors relish the impression that the town around them is beyond borders. Partly as a result, Paso Canoas has developed a darkly carnival atmosphere, as if it were some kind of escaped or twilight place.

What these gaps reflect back at us is our own desires, especially the wish to step outside, if only for a short time, the claustrophobic grid of nations. We probably already suspect that it’s an illusion. Shuffling forward in a queue and making it past the passport officer does not mean you are, at that exact moment, leaving or entering a country. Such points of control exist to verify that you are allowed to enter or leave. Their proximity to the borderline is a legal irrelevance.

Yet this legal interpretation fails to grasp either the symbolic importance of the border point or the pent-up urge to enter ungoverned territory.The fact that Paso Canoas is split by the Panama– Costa Rica border rather than actually being between borders doesn’t stop people from describing it as an "escaped zone."Similarly, the steep valley up the Sani Pass is nearly all in South Africa, and the road down from Senegal into Guinea is always in one nation or another, but that isn’t how travelers experience it or even what they want.

{%{"quote":""There is a primal attraction to entering somewhere real, a place that can be walked on, gotten lost in, even built on, and that appears to be utterly unclaimed.""}%}

The attraction of these in-between spaces has a lot to do with the fact that they are on land. Going through passport control at an airport provides no comparable thrill, even though international airspace is far more like a genuine no man’s land than any number of dusty miles on the ground. It seems that escaping the nation-state isn’t all that is going on here. There is a primal attraction to entering somewhere real, a place that can be walked on, gotten lost in, even built on, and that appears to be utterly unclaimed.

Some of the overland tourist trips that occasionally rumble along the Senegal–Guinea highway offer camping in the no man’s land as part of the package. Like other examples, it’s a zone that provokes people to muse on allegiance and belonging. In his essay Life Between Two Nations, the American travel writer Matt Brown describes encounters with villagers along the Senegal–Guinea road that provoke speculation on the nature of national identity:

I stopped my bike to chat with the woman pounding leaves. I asked in French (my Pular only goes so far), "Is this Guinea?" "Yes," she answered. Surprised that she even understood French, I posed a follow-up question. "Is this Senegal?" I asked. "Yes," came the reply.

A little later Brown sits on "a nationless rock" and imagines these villagers as freed from the "archaic, nonsensical national borders drawn up by greedy European leaders at the Conference of Berlin over 100 years ago." Stretching out border posts does seem to break the seal on the national unit. The resultant gap may not be of much legal import, but for travelers on the ground it creates a sense of openness and possibility.

Yet while travelers may relish this expansiveness, the consequences for those who have to live and work in such places can be less positive, such as heightened insecurity and a sense of abandonment. This is one of the reasons why African states have been trying to close the gap in such anomalous spaces. The African Development Fund, which supports economic infrastructure projects across the continent, has made "establishing juxtaposed checkpoints at the borders" of its member states a priority, including at the Guinea–Senegal border.

What most concerns the fund’s members is the impact that these distant border posts have on the flow of trade. Along the Guinea–Senegal route there are nightmare tales of vehicles being sent back and forth by officials who keep asking for new documentation or demanding new bribes. In-between land can easily turn into a place of bureaucratic limbo where both travelers and locals are uniquely vulnerable to tiresome and corrupt officialdom. Patches of ground "between" nations are places that can be thought of as free, but they are also places where we are reminded why people willingly give up freedoms for the order and security of being behind a border. 

Excerpt from Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. Copyright © 2014 by Alastair Bonnett. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Read More

High Society, Higher Trails

The Leadville Race Series is right around the corner, and if you've scored one of the two suites at the Governor's Mansion, consider yourselves lucky. The historic building on Eighth Street is not only blocks from the race start but also among the few accommodations in town that offer full kitchens complete with cook tops, refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, and coffee makers (runners, you can cook your oatmeal or cream of wheat exactly to your liking on race morning).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-governors-mansion-kitchen_fe.jpg","caption":"With it's full kitchen and cozy leather couches, the Governor's mansion is a quaint home away from home."}%}

Athletes will also love that each suite (which can sleep up to four) has its own entrance and private bath; no waking up everyone on your floor at 3 a.m. as you're sneaking out to the race start or attempting to clear your bowels for the tenth time that morning. 

The first-floor Jesse McDonald suit, named for the former Colorado governor who built the house in 1893, opens into a formal parlor with high ceilings and a gas fireplace. In fact, the Victorian decor—lace curtains, floral wallpaper, antique furniture—makes you wonder for a moment if McDonald himself might come through the front door.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/governors-mansion-bedroom_fe.jpg","caption":"Both suites are kitted out in unque decor that will transport you to a different time."}%}

The property is now owned by Jo Ann and Jaime Stuever, who relocated to the Centennial State from Florida in 2005. "Both Jaime and I feel that if you are going to change your life, do it in a big way," Jo Ann says. "I always dreamed of living in an old Victorian house, and when I first walked in the front door, I knew the Governor's Mansion was perfect."

During the past nine years, the couple—in addition to learning to ski—has enjoyed hosting guests and sending them out on adventures in and around Leadville. In fact, they became so engrained in the community that in 2011, Jaime was elected as Leadville's mayor. If you ask him, he'll tell you all about the town's mining history and how it came to be the highest incorporated city in North America.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-mineral-belt-trail-view_fe.jpg","caption":"You'll feel like you're on top of the 10,000-foot town when you wake up at the Governor's Mansion."}%}

Surrounded by the highest peaks in Colorado, the quintessential mountain town main street boasts several sporting goods stores, antique shops, and eateries, all in a half-mile stretch. Start your day with an early morning latte and breakfast burrito at City on a Hill, a charming coffee shop that roasts its own beans and showcases local art (this summer, Precision Peaks grace the walls; you likely won't be able to leave without purchasing your favorite mountain).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-downtown-evening_fe.jpg","caption":"Downtown Leadville is a half-mile of mile-high tradition, with old-school main street shops."}%}

If time allows, explore the area's many trails (check out the Mineral Belt Trail, which loops 11.6 miles around town, or go father afield to Turquoise Lake or Mount Elbert). Afterward, refuel at High Mountain Pies or grab a late-night beer at the Silver Dollar (what the saloon lacks in local draughts, it makes up for in atmosphere).

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-downtown-saloon_fe.jpg","caption":"The one and only saloon is the perfect place to have a cold one and bask in the glory of the Wild West."}%}

And don't forget about the second-story deck back at the Governor's Mansion. It just might be the best place in town to watch the sun set over the Rockies and prop up your tired feet.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/leadville-marathon-mosquito-pass_fe.jpg","caption":"In Leadville, you are going to find some spectacular landscapes that will take your breath away--if the altitude doesn't."}%}

Read More

Your Travel Photos Are Helping Rhino Poachers

Seeing a rhino in the wild is one of Africa’s quintessential safari experiences and a lump-in-your-throat moment for those lucky enough to realize the dream. This is what you came to the continent for, right? 

Maybe you’ll zoom in with your SLR camera and snap some great shots that you’ll edit later and share online with friends. Or perhaps you’ll take quick pics on your cell phone and post on Facebook or Instagram within minutes.

Either way, what you might not realize is that the second you share that photo online, you could be helping a rhino poacher find his next victim.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/black-rhino-blue-sky_fe.jpg","caption":" ","size":"medium"}%}

Finding Rhinos

The Hospitality Association of Namibia recently posted a photo on its Facebook page of a sign hanging in a safari vehicle that reads: "Please be careful when sharing photos on social media. They can lead poachers to our rhino. Turn off the geotag function and do not disclose where the photo was taken."

Geotagging is the process of automatically including geographic information in cell phone pictures. When you share your photos with others, the information is embedded within the photograph, and anyone with access to the Internet can extract that data from your picture.

Plug the longitude and latitude into Google Maps, for example, and you could discover the exact spot where the photo was shot, give or take a few feet. Combine that with the fact that rhinos are very sedentary and often hang out in the same general area for days at a stretch, and you have a potentially serious situation.

"If you’ve got a fresh GPS coordinate for a rhino—or you know where it’s going to water every night—it’s very easy to quickly find and poach it," explains Chris Weaver, director of the Namibia program for World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Rhino poaching has dominated the news recently, as the number of endangered animals killed over the past few years has risen astronomically—all in an effort to sell the horns of the prehistoric mammals. Some believers of traditional Asian medicine think pulverized rhino horn will cure strokes, convulsions and fevers, among other ailments.

Though there is no scientific proof of such medicinal value, rhino horn is nonetheless highly prized—so much so that a single rhino horn can fetch $250,000 on the black market.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/white-rhino-mom-and-calf_fe.jpg","caption":" ","size":"medium","align":"left"}%}

Faux Tourists

As more and more of the endangered rhinos are killed, conservationists and government officials in some parts of Africa have become extremely protective. In fact, they try not to discuss the animals publicly anymore.

"While Namibia would love to boast about its success with relocation of protected species into private parks and the growth of its rhino population and rhino tracking activities, unfortunately such positive news may draw poachers to our area," said Gitta Paetzold, CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia. To combat this, several organizations have started educating travelers about how poachers can pluck GPS coordinates off photos that tourists post on social media sites.

Poachers can also examine your photos and identify markers in the background, such as a particular grove of trees or a mountain peak. And some illegal hunters even pose as tourists, going on guided expeditions on game farms or in national parks. The first time this happened, in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, two men killed a pair of white rhinos. The men were later arrested. It’s even happened in India, where poachers killed a pair of one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/two-white-rhino-watering-hole_fe.jpg","caption":" ","size":"medium","align":"right"}%}

Guides, of course, lead their visitors right to where the rhinos are, and the faux tourists may then snap photos without raising any suspicions. Would-be poachers or informants can then send a photo with a location tag to anyone or return to the spot later to seek out the rhino.

Weaver was recently exploring the Namibian desert with some guests when he came across a group of tourists who took an unusual interest in two white rhinos. They snapped more than the typical number of photos of the animals with their cell phones and spent more time with them than Weaver has observed during his 20 years working in Namibia.

"I’m thinking, how would a person know that they’re not just forwarding these photos on to China or Vietnam and saying ‘How much will you pay for information on this rhino?’" Weaver said. "Pass that on, and five minutes later, you’ll have an answer back: ‘I’ll give you X amount for that set of horns."

It’s not a far-fetched proposition. In South Africa, for example, officials have become more vigilant about rhino tourism, documenting the names and visits of tourists. Weaver said he’s even heard of some spots where cell phones are forbidden on safari vehicles.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/black-rhino-profile_fe.jpg","caption":" ","size":"medium","align":"left"}%}

How You Can Help

Although visitor photos may inadvertently help poachers on occasion, there is a silver lining: travelers can actually be a huge aid to rhino conservation efforts, especially in Namibia where tour operators work with community members who value wildlife and work tirelessly to protect it.

"You as a tourist are actually making a difference," WWF’s Weaver says, explaining that a portion of tour payments go toward community conservation efforts. "Your tourist dollars create long-term incentives for people to set aside habitat for wildlife and live with wildlife."

To ensure you’re not aiding poachers with your travel photos:

  • Disable the geotag function in the settings section of any smartphone you use to take photos.
  • Strip off the location data on photos previously shot.
  • Be mindful of privacy settings on social media sites. if posting photos of rhinos, only share them with trusted contacts.
  • Pay attention to fellow tourists. If you see someone acting out of the ordinary or hear a few too many questions about where rhinos are and how long they’ll stay there, alert national park staff or your guide. That person could be a poacher informant.
  • Be wary of sharing too much information with overly interested people, such as taxi drivers or hotel staff. If a line of questioning gets too detailed about the location of an animal you saw that day, answer vaguely.

Learn more about what WWF is doing to stop rhino poaching.

Read More

Bourke House: The World's Nicest Tent

While you might not notice it immediately, this family’s private summer cabin was designed to mimic a series of tents.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/1Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(3).jpg","size":"large","link":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/1Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(3).jpg"}%}

Perched on a hill with stunning views of New Zealand’s Buckleton Bay, the retreat’s separate sleeping areas are connected to a central space–the heart of the base camp. Here, groups can gather to cook, eat, and lounge under a soaring white roof. Tethered by red masts, this horizontal plane rises toward the sea, while the deep overhang provides shade, much like a tent’s awning.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/2Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(8)-1.jpg","size":"large","link":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/2Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(8)-1.jpg"}%}

Low-maintenance materials (concrete, wood, and glass) make the transition from inside to out. The concrete terrace wraps around the full perimeter of the house, and encircles a brick fireplace.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/3Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(14).jpg","size":"large","link":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/3Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(14).jpg"}%}

In the summer, residents can slide open the glass walls to let in the sea breeze and take in views of the bay.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/4Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(1).jpg","size":"large","link":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/4Bourke_House_by_Pacific_Environments_Architects_photos_by_Lucy_Gauntlett_(1).jpg"}%}

Read More

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Categories

Authors

Advertisement

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

Previous Posts

2014

2013

2012

Blog Roll

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.