Left, Right or Straight Ahead?

The virtue of maps, they show what can be done with limited space, they foresee that everything can happen therein. ― José Saramago, The Stone Raft

Ready to hit the open road with the canoe and Apache camper. Elmhurst, Illinois circa 1973

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a fondness for maps. Perhaps it stems from my days as a kid when we would take the obligatory summer road trip in the family station wagon. My parents always had a road atlas in the car as well as many local maps and the memory of my mom spending the whole trip with them open on her lap is vivid. Both of my parents could read a map and read it well, but there was always the inevitable wrong turn or unexpected construction that found us turned around or heading down a dark alley. I clearly remember my dad spreading the maps open on the dining room table for weeks before a trek to study the different routes and which one was the quickest or most interesting depending on the trip .

My, how times have (not) changed. Now, I use maps even more than I did as a kid. Going to a new restaurant in the city, a party, down the block or around the globe, maps are still my consistent companions. Although the foldable, or seemingly not foldable, maps are not as common anymore, I do have several resources for my cartophile tendencies to be sated. iPad, cell phone, google maps, etc are fantastic tools for the modern lifestyle and traveler. The map fascination for me is simple, it’s either: I’ve been there and I know what it’s like or I haven’t been there and I wonder what it’s like.

While Rich was learning to become a private pilot, I was ecstatic at the thought that while he was masterfully minding the controls, I would be his navigation guru. Just like in the car I could spot locations on the map and then out the window or vice versa. Imagine my horror when he casually tossed his sectionals aside in favor of a new iPad with total disregard as to how I would fill my time during long flights! The time was quickly taken up by reading on my kindle, but I often stared out the window wondering where we were and what it was that I was looking at. I’m happy to say that after a whimper and a sigh, I too had an iPad of my very own (his hand-me-down) complete with the latest map apps. (Yes, the old saying is true: If the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy ; )

My love of maps has also served us well during travel. Whether long trips to foreign countries or at home around the U.S. I always find myself with my nose in a map to see where the action is, or in the case of most of our hiking trips, where the action isn’t. Here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico the situation isn’t any different. I carefully scoured maps before we came for the location of our house and it’s distance to the many sights to see. Now that I’m here, I have a good sense of where I’m going, but as with those road trips in the 70′s, there’s always a curveball.

San Miguel de Allende is, like many mexican towns, organized around a town square with a church as the center. Although these streets are on a loose grid, the names of the streets tend to change as they proceed from north to south or east to west as they cross the plaza principal. For example, Calle San Francisco on the east side of the plaza changes to Canal as it exits on the west. Many streets that don’t go near the plaza change names simply because they change in latitude: the street Pila Sec changes to Cuadrante to Hospicio to Garita as it crosses downtown! Another interesting tidbit is that many streets have changed names over the course of history and the old street names can often be seen right next to the newest ones.

Callejon de la Garza, our little street.

Just like the rest of the town the streets are very old and traditional. There is very little here that is paved. The streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks (if there is one) is very uneven and varies in width. The old streets were not designed for modern traffic but that does not mean that people don’t drive their big trucks and some large SUVs through this quaint little town. As in other countries, the fact that women wear the highest of high heels on cobblestones is beyond me, but some young women here do. Rome is making an effort to repave their streets to make it easier for the stiletto wearers, but If they make it to their destination without blowing out a knee or fracturing an ankle, I applaud them. We live on Callejon de la Garza that is relatively flat and a quiet little street. With a main road several blocks up the hill and the main square about a half a mile away, we usually only hear birds, church bells and the occasional rooster.

I guess it’s no surprise that we’ve become very familiar with the streets of San Miguel even in the short amount of time we’ve been here. My obsessive map disorder combined with our desire to go on ‘walk about’ within minutes of landing in a new place have made it easy. Yup, we still make those wrong turns and like my dad I get the maps out long before we hit new soil but therein lies part of the magic, the wonder and the excitement of traveling. What is where and how do i get to it. I have a world map on my wall at home, a topo map app on my cell phone, a US atlas next to my bed, at least three or four maps for every place we’ve ever visited overseas on my shelf, the entire Delorme US National Atlas & Gazetteer Set in my living room and no less than two maps in my purse right now. Sound crazy? I wouldn’t have it any other way.



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