I put up the free map that came with my gap year travel book and have started throwing darts at it. I have no intention of going to Greenland, but it’s fun to do.

Last night I went to Mike’s house and helped him plan out what he’s going to do on the way home from his stint at Camp Schodack. We hooked his laptop up to the projector and, in MS Paint, put red dots and lines all over the CIA World Factbook Map that was now emblazoned across his entire living room wall. New York, Orlando, London, Paris, Munich, Barcelona, Cairo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the myriad air routes in between.

I wonder how many thousands of commercial aircraft there are in the sky at any given moment. I wonder how many ferries and trains and buses, how many millions of people in transit.

There’s in island in the Andamans, an Indian archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, called North Sentinel Island. Anyone can find it on a map. It’s inhabited by a tribe of uncontacted people, who are hostile to the outside world, who still hunt with spears and bows and arrows. In the 1980s a container ship washed up on their shores after a storm, and helicopters had to be dispatched to rescue the crew because the Sentinelese were attacking them. After the tsunami in 2004, the Indian government sent a chopper to see if they were still there, and the pilot responded in the affirmitive, because wooden arrows were bouncing off the undercarriage.

My cousin Georgie is a flight attendant for Qantas, based out of London. I was taking to her on Facebook at 1 am the other night, and announced that if I decide I hate Korea, then I’m taking a ferry from Incheon to Tianjin, a train to Beijing, the Trans-Siberian across Mongolia and Russia, and then a plane from Moscow to London, where I will sleep on her couch until Mike shows up and we can all bum around Europe together. I did the calculations this morning, and taking the Tran-Siberian would only cost about fifty or a hundred dollars less than a direct Seoul-London ticket. But then, it’s not really about saving money.

The longest non-stop flight in the world is Singapore Airlines Flight 21, an eighteen hour haul from Singapore to Newark. Because of the curvature of the globe it doesn’t cross the Pacific, but goes north/south, directly up over Asia and the Arctic Ocean and then down across Canada. Imagine being a pilot on that flight. You get up, shave, have breakfast, go to work, and ten hours later you’re above an iceberg choked sea with the rainbow colours of the Northern Lights playing across your cockpit windshield.

After playing around with the map, Mike and I went to Ranger Camping and Anaconda to look at backpacks. I need a good solid one for Korea and whatever comes after. I’ve sworn off Denali after the duffel bag I bought for Japan split open on the last day of the trip and ejected my possessions across the train station in Hiroshima. Right now I’m eyeing off a Black Wolf Cuba, for around $220.

There are cruise ships to Antarctica. Package tours to Mt. Everest. You can get dunked into the water with great white sharks in South Africa, swim with humpback whales in Tonga, hike into the mountains to see silverback gorillas in Uganda.

Chris has made it through the wall of adjustment up in the Kimberley, and is starting to enjoy himself. He sent me a photo of him sitting in a tree that was leaning out over a pool in a rocky red gorge, that classic Australian outback image. We’re spinning out wild ideas about travelling overland from Cape Froward to Murchison Promonotory. Via Central America or the Caribbean? There isn’t an unbroken chain of ferry services across the archipelago arc, but someone with enough time, money and determination could hang out in the ports waiting to hitch a ride on a private yacht or freighter. We’d have two of things. Central America has its own problems: the Darien Gap, a vast swathe of undeveloped jungle and swampland connecting Panama and Colombia, no roads or railways, inhabited by several different groups of guerilla fighters with a penchant for taking Western hostages.

There’s a guy called Karl Bushby who is walking overland from Cape Horn back to his house in England, an enterprise he calls “The Goliath Expedition.” He started in 1998 and he’s currently in Russia. He walked across the frozen Bering Strait.

By the end of this year I will be a dual citizen of Australia and Ireland. The way things are going, I’ll soon be able to live and work anywhere in the European Union.

The fabled snows of Kilimanjaro are shrinking, and in twenty years they’ll be gone. The islands of the South Pacific are slowly sinking beneath the waves. Cuba can’t stay a stronghold of socialism forever, and when the embargo goes, so will all the vintage cars. Last year the King of Nepal was forced to abdicate the throne, and one day there will be no more kings and queens and emperors, just bland presidencies and parliaments.

Zanzibar and Timbuktu and Xanadu are real places.

There are 203 sovereign nations in the world. I can name all of them, even the obscure ones – Bhutan, Burundi, Cape Verde, Nauru, Kiribati, Moldova, Azerbaijan – and I can place them on a map. But I’ve only been to three of them. I don’t know shit.

I still haven’t swum with whale sharks. I’ve never crossed the equator while awake. I’ve never set foot on the mainland of any continent except Australia.

I’m really tired of Perth. I’m tired of these endless suburbs, of the same people, of the same places, of the thousand kilometres of concrete curbs and roads and footpaths, of the eucalyptus trees and the shopping centres. I’m tired of my routine. I’m tired of having nothing to challenge me. I’m tired of the feeling that my life is being stripped away, second by second.

If everything goes well, then in a month I’ll be sitting in the departure lounge of Changi Airport as a stopover enroute to Seoul. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to teach kids, or live alone in a foreign country. But I’m damn well going to give it a shot. And if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll fling myself on my cousin’s mercy. You don’t have to stay anywhere forever.

I like this stage in my life. I like the fact that the people closest to me are scattered across the globe – in the outback, in London, in America. I like the fact that we are at a stage in our lives where we’re travelling wherever we want, doing whatever we want, broadening our horizons and seeing as much as we can of this enormous, incomprehensible world. You can tell when you’re entering a new stage in your life: I knew I was when I started uni, and I know I am now. It’ll certainly last for five years. It might last for ten years. It could last the rest of my life.

“We all live in cages. We don’t want to admit it, but a lot of us walk in there voluntarily, cause the stuff outside can be really scary. We have these reasons why we can’t do stuff and they limit our options until we’re forced into whatever’s left. So we sit in there complaining about what we ended up with, and eventually we forget that there’s no lock on the door.

Well I figured out about the lock. I went outside and nothing bad happened. I got some weird looks from people, but no one tried to stop me and I’m still prancing around outside the cage. I don’t want to get back in.

Planet Earth is a hoot. It’s not all hidden lagoons and virgin rainforests; there’s lots of awful shit to deal with. But that can be fun too.”

– Matt Harding
www.wherethehellismatt.com