It started at a very early age. The Wandelgek was mesmerized by trying to catch the physical world around us or in our imagination in to a model. In other words: cartography.
It started at a very young age when The Wandelgek aked his parents for a Bos atlas at his birthday. Not because he was obliged to do so by school, but out of pure fascination. This Bosatlas (the 48th edition, to be exact) became one of the most consulted books in his young life. Many evenings he was thinking out routes on the major natural and political maps towards Africa or Tibet; the routes of the Polo’s from Venice to Xian or simply trying to locate Santa in Lapland …
At the end of primary school and early high school he became passionate about geography. This also included the memorizing of as many placenames, mountains, lakes, seas and rivers on the maps from the Bosatlas as possible. And later he got interested in history as well and learned about battles, tribal migrations and cultural or religious influencing currents on the maps in historical atlasses.
School Study: The South Pacific
After reading a Donald Duck story about The Pacific, the area became more and more interesting for the Wandelgek. When a subject for school geography study had to be chosen, the South Pacific was his choice. He learned about atolls, mid ocean ridges, plate tectonics, volcanism and the formation of islands, but also of the migration of peoples from Asia and South America to the islands and of the anthropology and culture of the islands.
However, one of the main tasks was to memorize the innumerable islands and island states names and locations.
That’s what The Wandelgek thought and he got quite desperate when he plowed through the atlas, until he thought of a brilliant alternative idea. He would draw a carbon copy of the map of the Pacific Ocean and of each tiny, individual island. Nothing works better to learn islands by heart. Believe me!
The imaginary map
When The Wandelgek was 18 years old, he got seriously ill with high fever and a prolonged stay in bed was needed. When the disease subsided somewhat, he quickly got bored and asked his brother to borrow the huge book: The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, from the local library. That book he devoured and it is still one of his favorite books. This was exacerbated by the presence of maps of the countries where the main characters passed through. Fabricated maps yes, but the great writing style of Tolkien made these all to realistic.
I started copying maps and drawing travel routes of fictionary characters on to these maps.
More maps from fantasy or classic children’s books (think of Narnia, Gullivers Travels, Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh) followed and the dreaming about imaginary countries on these maps turned out just as stunning as dreaming about real countries on a map of the real world.
In The Netherlands the cartoon character of Oliver B. Bommel and his side kick Tom Cat are very famous. These books sell well. About the invented world by Marten Toonder, a travel guide was written with hikes, boat rides and tourist excursions and again it was accompanied by a map 🙂
Then followed invented atlasses, first from literature (Lord of the Rings), but later inspired by philosophical or emotional life. Wonderous to be able to to travel through the city of Stress towards the Mountains of Work 😉 Or simply to stay on the Island of Haute Cuisine… 🙂
Reading accompanied by maps
Two of the most important books I ever read which also influenced my latter travelling life, were accompanied by maps. The first and foremost was Tin Tin in Tibet. A european comic book by Herge, which I still reckon is the best comic book ever written. It was the reason why I visited Tibet and Nepal in 1999, which was my first adventure outside Europe. In the footsteps of a young adventurous reporter…
The second book was Mark Twains masterpiece The adventures of Huckleberry Fin… It follows Huck and Jim (an escaped slave) on their boat trip up the Mississippi, towards freedom in the north… Why this is a masterpiece? Well, did you know that all charcters in the book speak in local dialects…
Twain also wrote the travel related quote which I most like and which became my motto:
” Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Innocents Abroad
Designing invented maps
My obsession with maps became even worse when I had started reading comic books and phantasy books. I wanted to created my own phantasy comic and yes, that should contain a map…
Finally I discovered how much fun it is to inspect old historical maps and compare them with new up-to-date maps of the same area.
E.g: the area surrounding my home town of Deventer. If you’d take a map of 1900, you’d recognize a lot of placenames, but still the area is far from being urbanized. Nowadays there are cityquarters which were small agricultural villages back then…
But the more you go back in time, the bigger the differences get…
Don’t laugh! The world outside Europe was almost completely unknown territory. Much of the knowledge of what was achieved by the Egyptian, Greek and Roman conquerors in discovering the world was lost after the fire at Alexandrias legendary library, the fall of Alexanders empire and the fall of the Roman empire…
Maps and travel
Then The Wandelgek started traveling himself on the road less travelled and wandering of in to unfamiliar areas, the map mania really took off to new hights. For example: a large map of Sweden was no longer sufficient. Topographic detail maps were purchased to support wonderful walks through Lapland. You could see each building and each muddy dirt road was drawn. Only animal trails weren’t.
Then came the age of the cell phone, the smartphone and Google Maps…
Well you can do it all with that, but where’s the romance of the old map and compass reading?
I’m still an old fool I guess who likes to unfold a map when it’s rainy and stormy 🙂 So I’m still buying my Lonely Planets or other paper travel guidebooks because of the maps…
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