Geodiaries

This is a short, weird blog describing an experiment in travel story telling.

During my misspent youth I did a lot of backpacking and hitchhiking. Here’s an index of trips, accounts, photos.

I was largely inspired by the accounts of Vladimir Dinets, an accomplished zoologist who later became a friend and mentor.

I’ve always been a map nerd and, largely stuck at home through most of 2020, I decided to revisit ideas I’d long been exploring about combining geographically relevant text-based narrative accounts with the wild data capacities of Google Earth.

While cataloging my travel diaries I realized one was missing, from the first trip I ever took. Fortunately, a photocopy had been sent to a relative and was found, by chance, and saved from the dumpster. It is now safely scanned and backed up! One can only be a neophyte traveler once and, after I’d gotten into Couchsurfing and knew how to avoid the top 50 scams, my tales became a little less entertaining to read.

The accounts below date from the early 1990s in Vladimir’s case, and 2006-2007 in mine. This was the last major trip I would do without a mobile phone, and, more recently, a universally roaming internet connected smart phone. While these tools enable all kinds of impossible things, and in particular readily shareable video documentation in a way I could only dream of, and which has in a way motivated this reconstruction, they also rendered obsolete the ancient skills of basically navigating a strange foreign city without a map, or a guide, and figuring it out before starving to death. To my younger readers this may sound like Stanley and Livingstone but it’s true, somehow we reached adulthood without Facebook and, more impressively, were able to coordinate meetings with unknown people in unknown places weeks or months in advance.

The result is the Geodiaries prototypes you can explore in the browser here, or download as .kmz files for your own Google Earth application. Dinets Europe. Dinets China. Handmer Eurasia.

I may periodically “transcribe” other accounts into this format and add them here. There are limitations of this approach – the Google Earth interface evidently is not as well loved within Google as more popular products, and I haven’t yet streamlined a process for adding what limited photos I do have into this medium. But perfect is the enemy of the good, or in this case, the barely okay. My hope is that you, the reader, have an excuse to rediscover the scifi miracle of Google Earth and read some wildly unbelievable stories that, nevertheless, occurred.

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