There are times when I drift off from work or planning a trip and end up Google Maps or Google Earth surfing for hours. It usually starts out as trying to draft itineraries for business or vacation trips then gradually progresses into aimlessly scrolling over satellite photos of the surrounding areas, going further and further away.
The latest episode of map surfing happened just a couple of nights ago. I bought cheap round trip ticket to Tokyo on a seat sale, and wondered whether I could spend a couple of days in nearby islands or countries to the north (Vladivostok or Korsakov) or east (Jeju Island, Korea), or even much further east (Taiwan). Its not going to be my first time in Japan. Last time I was there, I spent 10 days making at least 6 rides on the Shinkansen west and south of Tokyo and back, plus countless rides on the JR lines. It was the Cherry blossom season of this year and I loved it!
So, deciding I’d go back next year to experience summer in Japan, I traced the JR & Shinkansen lines again on the map for the next itinerary. Ferry routes are indicated there too! I discovered that there are cruise and cargo ships that ply the routes from some places from the coast facing the Sea of Japan to Korea to Vladivostok, taking a total of 2 days per way. There is also a Wakkanai – Korsakov route that you have to book through Japanese agents. That would be an adventure! I also wanted to go to the northwards to Hokkaido to the farthest point wherever the trains could take me (Wakkanai?). Imagining the smell of Russia, meeting some Ainus, and feeling the Okhotsk breeze from just across strengthens my resolve on this option. I still have lots of time to think about that so my mind wandered off again as I scrolled down to the islands currently near me.
Map Surfing : Places near the northern tip of Japan
ITURUP ISLAND – I wonder if I can go here. It says on Wikipedia that it is an island controlled by Russia, but Japan has claims to it as well. Perhaps it would be difficult to get there from the Hokkaido island? Will I need a Russian Visa? Are there small planes going there? Its worth finding out!
I just have to visit this place once in my life!
Map Surfing : Places near where I am now
One of the things I love about Map surfing over archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia is that the islands themselves look amazing from above. All the time I’ve spent scuba diving, surfing, and exploring the coast somehow made visualising how the landscape would look like if I were looking at certain islands horizontally quite vividly and very detailed just from satellite imagery. I’d imagine how rough or calm the waves would be, or what the soil and rocks would be like, or what type of corals would be prolific in certain areas of an island. I’d plan out the whole imaginary trip from which small port I’d be coming from, to where the best entry to the island is, to where I would set up camp and where I’d start the dive, to planning a trip to a nearby island by kayak-paddle board hybrid, etc. Its creating the whole experience of it, and I get so lost in my thoughts of “being there”.
Some of the new finds on Google Maps in the Philippines are :
Sumaluc Island, Tawi-Tawi
Barun Dakula Island, Tawi-Tawi
Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Pulau Bodgaya, Sabah, Malaysia
Quiniluban Group of Islands, MIMAROPA
OK, I must admit that this doesn’t apply only to Google Maps / Earth for me. I LOVE maps in general – old maps, new maps, paintings of maps, maps of fictional places & worlds, maps of other planets, I can even fool myself into thinking that I’m doing something productive when I update Waze maps for hours.
Indulging in map surfing whenever I’m idle makes me look forward to the future, pushes me to explore more, and reminds me that what I know and have experienced so far is miniscule compared to what is out there. What is contained in these images is not only geographic frontiers, but people and cultures, history and prehistory, flora & fauna that I have yet to encounter, and the experience of the journey towards that pin and set of numbers I have marked as my destination.