modern day explorers

When the first great travelers roamed the world, unknown places were truly strange, in the sense that when one ventured way out of his own little corner of the planet, soon there would be no more shared language, world view or creed. Not to mention the differences in landscape, vegetation, climate, food, and culture. I like to imagine that back then, setting off in a sailing boat to unknown places was a bit like going to another planet in the current age. We know that these days no matter how far you go on this earth, you will find other human beings, or at some stage it was visited. The last pockets of un-contacted tribes are running out. The human web is almost completely interconnected, although some parts get more traffic then others.

What I have found during our travels is that even since the last time I travelled far – some 10 years ago – things have become less strange. With the omnipresence of the Internet and affordable plane travel, the scene has changed; the travel industry has intensified its efforts and therefore the destinations that count as authentic, adventurous and so on seem to decrease in number (depending on your point of view of course: more access and comfort has increased the number of adventurers out there……including us!)

There seem to be laws that govern this pattern of simultaneous ‘discovery’ of the authentic places on our planet by the modern day adventurers. It used to be that access was restricted by one or more of the following factors: 1. physical distance and accessibility (many places are out of reach for non-specialized and insufficiently equipped travelers), 2. funds needed to get there (not everyone can mount an expedition the way early explorers did), 3. social / political conditions (chaos in the country of destination, hostility of people living there) and, importantly, 4. information (which way to sail…). The first and the fourth factor have become less important as infrastructure, information availability, quality of equipment and modes of transport have developed quickly. As for the second factor, more people are able to spend money on travel then ever before. The third factor depends on your destination but with better information, hazards become smaller.

What illustrated this for me was our visit to Patagonia, traditionally known as an out-of-the-way place visited by aspirant sheepherders looking for work, people looking for strange destinations and of course outdoor enthusiast wanting to hike or climb out there. Well, now there are plane loads full of people roaming the streets of El Calafate, once an outpost and now (almost) a gleaming tourist destination where Argentinian investors fall over each other to build big empty hotels anticipating the complete McDonaldization of the area. Especially the friends of the President (she is from there originally) seem to do a roaring trade.

Now, this is not a sad story, it just shows that if you want to go off-grid, previous selection criteria no longer apply. What is the way to go? My hunch is that you need to either go more extreme, or go more local.

(V)

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