It was the dead cat that did it. As I stumbled along in the dark, my foot touched something that shouldn’t have been on a footpath. The rigor mortis had set in but as I glanced down, I noticed that the cat’s one eye glared back at me as if to say “Nice mess you’re in now.”
I was in Athens three weeks ago and my friends and I had dumped our bags in our apartment and set off to find a supermarket for vital supplies. These crucial household items turned out to be tonic, soda, water, lemons and various snacky treats. Our duty free purchases supplied the rest of the nourishment.
We had ventured out into a large metropolis in an unfamiliar suburb without a map, mobile phone, GPS, phone number of our English-speaking landlady or the address of where we were staying. Call it over-confidence, ennui or forgetfulness but none of us carried the usual accoutrement favoured by travellers.
We found the supermarket easily enough but through a series of wrong turns, funny comments and temporary amnesia we became terribly lost. After a while it became unbearably hot, the shopping bags were cutting into our hands and the funny comments had lost their humour.
I tried to think of The Odyssey. The traffic island became Calypso’s Island, the lady watering her concrete was Poseidon and we were clearly off course. It was the one-eyed cat, Cyclops, that made me panic. Panic was just what was needed – a mild shot of adrenalin saw instinct kick in and I was no longer happy to drift along. A series of active decisions were made and we got back safely.
We all realised later that we could have taken the equipment with us make the trip to the supermarket smooth. Technology could easily have been our friend – we had all packed phones and my iphone had already helped me with maps and GPS. But there was a sense of satisfaction that came with relying on instinct, a sense of direction and being proactive.
I discovered that I loved getting lost. I took the opportunity to get up early a couple of mornings a week to wander off by myself with the express intention of getting lost. I got lost in Damascus, Corfu and London.
Don’t get me wrong – there is no way I would travel without a phone. Google, GPS, text and email are all as important to me as Imodium and clean socks. However, I saw more, noticed more and sensed more when I was lost.
Joel Stratte-McClure is an American journalist who walked around the entire Mediterranean Sea. His book is called “The idiot and the odyssey – walking the Mediterranean”. He says that for him, the trip was about the journey itself and he would set off each day with no final location in mind.
This piece in the New York Times talks about wilderness being everywhere – it’s about having the courage to get lost and find it.
What do you think? Can technology limit our instincts, sense of adventure and ability to cope in a crisis? Or does the safety net it supplies make you more willing to try something new?