Exploring Strange Parts

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I’m a fraud. I write reams about my urban wanderings and have deluded myself into believing I am some sort of great contemporary urban explorer, seizing every opportunity to wander off the beaten path to discover places no one else is interested in.

But give me real off-the-beaten-track, and I wimp out.

Thunderous weather yesterday meant no private coral beach for me or anyone else, so whilst Middle and Youngest Daughters hunkered down to watch an exorbitantly priced Harry Potter video rental, and Himself sought consolation in the spa and gym, I decided it was high time I tackled the 10km jogging trail. On a bike.

It’s true the trail was clearly marked throughout and there was no real chance of me getting lost. But the hilly terrain strewn with volcanic rock was a challenging (hrrrum) bike ride, and the rest of the world wasn’t out enjoying the damp greyness. It was one of those outings where you think intrepid daring thoughts at the start, but increasing distance from the bubble-like security of our idyllic resort was reflected by increasing nervousness at the overwhelming sense of isolation.

Early on I thought, Well I’ve got this far so no point going back, but that is always screwed logic when you aren’t yet half way round. At what I judged to be the farthest point out, I was off by a factor of 100%. At least. My pedalling became ever more frantic, and every time I dismounted to weave through volcanic rubble, I practically ran. The tropical foliage closed in on me at every turn, and I lost all sense of direction. This was the moment when I realised: I am no explorer.

So I am all the more in awe of those Dutch, Portuguese, French and English navigators of the 16th and 17th centuries who sailed the high seas with only the stars and sun to guide them. And what they did on cloudy days, I have no idea. It’s a miracle not only that they found anywhere, but that they also found their way home again to report in. I’m currently reading a 1901 travel guide to Mauritius penned by some 19th century German eugenist. His remarks on the natives he encountered are eye-watering, but his accounts of the discovery of these Indian Ocean islands is quite fascinating.

I can say one thing with certainty: left to me, no one would have discovered anything.

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