Navigating Around The World

21.August 2011

Our Journey

magnetic fields

Photo Credit: IKO


I reach the bottom of the stairs and turn right. Nothing is familiar.

Where is the little pond with the statue and waterfall? What about the cafe that was there just this morning? What has happened to all the landmarks that I so carefully memorized on my way up?

‘Where are you going?’ Jason asks patiently, as if we haven’t played this scene out a thousand times before.

‘Oh…I’m just checking out what’s over here’ I reply over my shoulder.

I hear a low, mumbling ‘Mmmmm, hmmmm’ from his direction as he waits for me to retrace my steps and join him.

‘Ready now?’

‘Yep’. Oh, there’s the pond…and the waterfall…and the cafe. I had just turned the wrong way…again.

I am awful at navigation. Beyond awful if truth be told.

I can almost always be sure that if I get to the bottom of a set of stairs, or come out of an elevator, or off an escalator, or am faced with an east/west/north/south exit ramp that I should go with my gut…and then promptly turn around and head in the exact opposite direction.

My mis-sense of direction is that strong. It’s like my internal compass has a permanent magnet near it; constantly steering me wrong and, even when right, it can’t be relied upon.

I try, I really try.

We recently moved to Calgary and I had heard that navigation is easy as the city is laid out in a grid with north, east, west, and south quadrants. Avenues run east/west and streets run north/south. Center street is, well, the center of the streets and the river marks the north/south determination. Easy, right?

I am a menace on the roads.

First off I must have the map oriented in the direction that I am driving. Of course that assumes that I know the direction I am driving. (I bought a globe compass for my dashboard to help with that piece. See…I am smart.)

Then I have to know which 54th and 7th I am heading to. Is it Ave first, and then Street? Or Street and then Ave? Is it in the NW, NE, SW or SE quadrant? Because, believe you me, there is a 54th and 7th in every freaking one of them!!

If I want to head west, and I’m traveling north, does the road I’m on have traffic lights allowing me to turn directly into the direction I wish to travel? Or does it only have ‘right-side’ exits meaning I must actually head in the opposite direction in order to travel in the correct direction? Do I really want to head west or have I gotten it confused again? At this point I am trying to picture the map in my head…heading north, the destination is to the left on the map…yep, that’s west.

All this is going through my head at the same time as I contemplate which lane to be in, whether the lady ahead of me wants to get into my lane, what’s my speed, do I have enough gas, what did Paul really mean today when he said that the report needed ‘tweaking’, and what are we having for dinner again?

Don’t worry. I have a system. A series of little maps in my head that get me from Point A to Point B every time. I memorize how to get from here to there and back again. Lots of here’s to there’s. Just don’t ask me to make a detour. And, if there is a new Point B I write it out in large handwriting and tape it to my dashboard. Seriously.

So how on earth did we get our sorry asses around the world you ask?

Simple answer; Jason. The man is a navigational wizard.

Not only could he get us from country to country and city to city using official maps with regular map-type markings, but he could get us around any city, or country-side, or neighborhood using just the slightest hint of map scribbled on a piece of paper or directions given to him by some random-man-standing-on-the-corner who doesn’t even speak English!

I was constantly astounded as we rounded a corner and, low-and-behold, there was our hostel and I once again (although briefly) knew where I was again.

I trusted him implicitly, and relied on him heavily.

I can only think of one time that I was left to navigate on my own. He was sick in Cusco, Peru and needed me to go to the pharmacy to get some medication. We looked at the map together and plotted a route. I took the map with me. And promptly got lost. It must have taken me more than an hour to return from, what should have been, a 10 minute jaunt to the corner. He didn’t even so much as ask me if I had lost my way. He simply thanked me for the pills and waited for my inevitable confession of wandering around not knowing where I was until, miraculously, something looked familiar. He never left my side after that.

I spent a year wandering the world, seeing fabulous sights, creating unforgettable memories and having the time of my life. What is the greatest lesson I learned in all of this?

Never piss off the one person in the whole world who can get you back home!!

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21 Responses to “Navigating Around The World”

  1. Gareth @ Says:

    When I’m in a familiar territory I my sense of direction stinks. I’ve spent the last 8 months living in Brisbane, a relatively small city, but still cannot figure out which direction is which. I tend to blame the meandering Brisbane river for totally throwing my sense of perspective.

    On the other hand, when I’m in a completely foreign territory, some sort of ‘spider sense’ kicks in and I’m like some sort of navigational genius.
    Gareth @ recently posted..New Zealand – Fun, friendly, epic

  2. Glenda Says:

    Hee, hee… sounds familiar. I suck, Karl is brilliant. I have a poor sense of north/south/east/west (as was proven in my bush work this summer) but I have travelled enough on my own that I can get myself around a city (with a map of course) 90% of the time. Thanks for this post – fabulous. Miss you guys… big hugs.
    Glenda recently posted..hello

  3. Dalene Says:

    Whoever told you that Calgary was easy to navigate – wrong!! Lived there for 15 years, and still had to be very conscious when I was driving where I had to go – do I want the east or west exit? Ugh. And then once you get into the suburbs – forget about it – Ranchlands Drive, Ranchlands Blvd, Ranchlands Cres. Awful.

    I am the same way, so grateful to have Pete. He can pinpoint where things are so easily, and has a crazy memory for places we’ve been before. I stop offering any input, and follow along blindly (as much as it drives this control-freak in me crazy!) :)
    Dalene recently posted..The Causeway Coastal Route – In Photos

  4. Amy Says:

    I am the you in this story; Sean is Jason. Except you seem like you put more effort in it than me! I just give up. There is no doubt that Sean guided us around the entire world. We’d still be lost out there somewhere if it was up to me!

  5. Nomadic Chick Says:

    I dunno gals, Calgary is built on a grid system & I always found it easy to figure out & I am the queen of shitty navigation.

    Now Vancouver? I’m pretty sure ALL the city planners smoked pot before planning this city. You will be on one street that curves (slightly) and suddenly it turns into a whole new street. No demarcation, no other street to cross OVER to denote a new street.

    And everyone uses the same names and phrasing for completely different parts of the city. West side. West end. West Vancouver. OMG – why???

    I love your lesson at the end, because I need to learn that. :)

    Nomadic Chick recently posted..The Insane Solo Traveler

  6. Claire Says:

    You and me both! I am a sorry excuse for any sort of map reading, and I always take along someone who is actually skilled in the art of it, so that I can get to and from. My most recent trip was solo though and I was forced to do it on my own. One day, I decided to visit a certain landmark and so I studied my map, poring over it, turning it every which way to ensure I was situated. Then I went 5 blocks in the wrong direction when the landmark was literally one block behind my house! Great post, and I agree…NEVER piss of the one who can get you where you need to go!
    Claire recently posted..This Is What Panic Looks Like

  7. Mica Says:

    I can navigate anything while I am traveling solo, but once I travel with my partner, its like my internal gps takes a dump and I rely on him for everything. It’s crazy. Especially late at night when we’ve been drinking and everything looks the same, I depend on him so much. Keeping my partner fed is a great way to keep him happy!
    Mica recently posted..On Location: Photo of the week- Jasri Beach

  8. Jim Says:

    My wife is a typical woman- can’t navigate for nuts! But give me a map, and once I’ve sorted out which way is North I’m off and never get lost. I think I was a migratory bird in an earlier life.

    Nowadays just get a GPS!
    Jim recently posted..YouTube Tuesday: Runrig – AN DEALACHADH

  9. Theodora Says:

    I have no sense of direction so can totally relate to that…
    Theodora recently posted..Will Madam Be Having Lard With That?

  10. Erica Says:

    Shaun is the one with no sense of direction. He can get lost in a city with one street. I know, I’ve seen it before.

  11. Jess | Globetrottergirls Says:

    I can’t find my way out of a box! If it weren’t for Dani, I am not sure how this whole adventure thing would go! She is amazing and can find her way back to a hotel in a city we’ve just arrived in. I don’t know how and I never will, but I am so thankful for it! Great post!!
    Jess | Globetrottergirls recently posted..Observations from the halfway point on the Great American Road Trip

  12. Nomadic Samuel Says:

    I seem to be able to get around quite well when visiting a new city; however, put me in a huge mall & that’s another story! :P
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Singapore Photo Essay | FOGG Odyssey

  13. Natalie Says:

    I can totally relate to this. I can never navigate and have to reply on hubby. Setting off in two weeks for a four week tour on my own. Hubby seems to think I won’t find my way back. :)
    Natalie recently posted..7 Reasons Why I Need Alcohol When Booking a Flight Ticket

  14. Siddhartha Joshi Says:

    My brother-in-law is like you, constantly getting lost everywhere; while my sister is the navigator. Always :)

    I generally make maps in my mind as I travel (unless I am not driving), and that makes things much easier…
    Siddhartha Joshi recently posted..The women of Tarnetar

  15. flipnomad Says:

    i feel for you… i look for some recognizable landmarks but most of the times i just get lost… lol
    flipnomad recently posted..Deja Vu in Siem Reap: 10 New Observations

  16. Nancie Says:

    Good lesson to learn! I used to drive Atlantic Canada on business and had to learn where I was going. I still wouldn’t say I’m a map expert, but I always managed to get where i was going without being late for my appointments. I often surprised myself!
    Nancie recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday, September 8, 2011 — Sake Barrels, Kushida Shrine, Fukuoka, Japan

  17. Dan Collins Says:

    Oh man I can’t navigate to save my life! I’m glad I’m not the only one out there…
    Dan Collins recently posted..Edinburgh Castle and the Attractive Tour Guide

  18. Cornelius Aesop Says:

    I always though the more you traveled the better you would get at it…hopefully that’s true for me. I have some navigating know how but I don’t think I can be your Jason for me and my navigationless wife.
    Cornelius Aesop recently posted..New Brew Tuesday: Brasserie De Saint Sylvestre – Gavroche

  19. Erica "Locavorista" Chua Says:

    This was a hilarious post and one I definitely relate to as I am extremely directionally challenged. My husband also does all the navigating, although I do appreciate that every now and then he follows me just to give me a self esteem boost. I agree with the moral of your story; never upset the person that can get you home! Safe travels.

  20. wandering educators Says:

    i NEVER get lost, but my husband does – it’s nice to read about the other side! LOL!
    wandering educators recently posted..Food & Wine Harvest Holiday in Le Marche, Italy


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