Saturday 14 September 2013


When I was a boy sitting in history class, I spent a good deal of my time staring out the window. However, I always paid attention when the teacher would start talking about Marco Polo, Lewis and Clark, Dr. Livingstone, Christopher Columbus, Vasco De Gamma and Daniel Boone. These people and their retinues set out into the unknown for various reasons and ended up discovering the world. Today, we just can’t understand how terrifying these trips must have been. Maybe not for the men themselves, but for the public at large it sure would be.
 David Livingstone.jpg
Stories of monsters that would kill travellers on sight or the ocean just dropping off were very real fears back in the day. There were other very real dangers of course. Wild animals that didn’t really care whether the next meal was wearing shoes or not, deserts, mountain ranges and rivers that needed to be crossed. Most of the travelling was accomplished either on foot or by horse/camel/donkey.
Some of the explorers actually made a fortune from their discoveries, but most just travelled in order to see what was beyond the next hill. Some probably left home to get away from a harpy of a wife, or to avoid the drudgery of farming. I doubt that travel back then was romantic, except for Captain Vancouver who discovered Maui. Why he left I’ll never be able to figure out. Of course he discovered Vancouver Island which when you think about it was an amazing coincidence.

These people were cut from a different cloth than the rest of us. Mostly, we are content to stay in our comfort zone and really, why would we care about some savages that live half a world away. These guys though, for some reason needed to find out the whys, who’s and where’s of the world, and it is a good thing that they did. If Marco Polo hadn’t discovered China, where would all of our stuff be made? I’d probably be living in either England or Greece which wouldn’t be too bad I guess.

Back then, you could walk in almost any direction and if you walked far enough you would run into something worthy of claiming for your Queen or King. I kind of feel sorry for those explorers that are trapped in modern bodies. There really isn’t a lot left to discover. Oh sure, you might stumble upon some as yet unknown toad after spending a few years in the South American jungle, or maybe you might find some blind white fish that lives at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, but who cares? A toad or a blind fish hardly compares with discovering the Americas, China or even the source of the Nile.
Yes, there will be a lot to discover in a couple of hundred years when and if we manage to get out into space, past our solar system, but the guys with the itchy feet who were unlucky enough to be born now have nothing to do. Maybe these are the guys that walk across Niagara Falls on a wire or float to space on a balloon and then jump off. They need to do dangerous things to feel alive I suppose. If they are seeking danger, they can drive in Montreal or Toronto at rush hour. I wish them well, but the only hope they have of making a real discovery is to be born again sometime in the future.

I don’t think everything has been discovered, just the really big things. Today’s explorers will be wearing lab coats and make their discoveries by looking inward instead of out.


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