Have you ever wondered what driving in Lesotho is like?
But now I can say, without having been there, it’s a lot like the altiplano.
You know the altiplano. Well above tree level and not a thing to see after the first glance. But curiously entrancing. People live at this altitude? Well, with lots of thick wool and really red blood … apparently.
Or go a little north to Botswana. Mad Max country. The Australian out-outback. English on the wrong side of the road and miles a miles of … miles and miles.
Dropped to these places by spaceship without knowing where you are? How do you find yourself?
In Holland, such questions are answered immediately. The Dutch apparently even label their bus stops with unique names, available for decoding 24×7 through Google’s super-computer. As are the names of little Estonian villages, in case the spaceship dropped you there.
The spaceship is at MapCrunch
Click on “Options” and check “Stealth”. Then make sure all the countries are either highlighted or none of them are. Toggle “Options” off. Punch “Go”. Welcome to somewhere in the world’s farmland as shown in Google’s Street View.
Right now, click maps.google.com and click on the street view thingee down in the lower right. It toggles showing where street view covers. Zoom a bit in and you’ll see where the real coverage is. Germany, Austria, India, and China have only isolated 360° images. They are not street-viewed.
Apparently, a popular MapCrunch challenge is to get from your drop point to an airport for a flight home. No outside help. No Googling. No other Internet tools. Just drive and look. I can advise you not to accept this challenge. Airports are few and far between and driving even 30 miles is really, really slow and RSI inducing (make the window small for fast refreshes). Maybe it would be better to just drive to somewhere you can get some food. Restaurant or store or whatever.
I binged for several days on an alternate game: Figure out exactly where you are using outside help. This game can still be slow. You can open the real Google Maps Street View in another window and find the location you’re at by matching the cloud pattern in the sky. Desperate times call for desperate measures. When you’re cruising south on some road in scrub-land Bolivia, not a town in sight, you gotta do something.
http://www.lexilogos.com/keyboard/russian_conversion.htm is very helpful when you’re in Cyrillic-land and don’t have a Cyrillic keyboard.
You’ll want Flag Finder for when you just arrive and see a rural police station’s flag.
Which way to go at the start? Down hill.
Is the sun north or south? You’re below or above the equator. If it’s to the west, consider driving the same direction as the Google car. He’s headed home for the day.
Satellite dishes point to the sky above the equator.
Driving on the left narrows things down.
The script in signs can peg the country. Korean is easy to spot, for instance.
Signs may be in indecipherable script, but URLs are on those signs. URLs have country codes.
You may even find LAT/LON values on signs. My little LAT/LON interpreter is handy to get to those locations.
Mileposts are give-aways. They have the highway number and, usually, a kilometer-to-some-town/bridge/landmark on them. Go to the direction of the lowest kilometer number when first orienting.
After a while, some things stand out:
New roads. New houses. New factories (P&G in countryside Romania). All over the world.
Cell phone towers everywhere.
Contrasts: Bleak, bedraggled Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan. Sunny Albania. Thriving Slovakia and Serbia.
Deep red dirt of Uganda.
Frosted Polish trees.
Rebar sticking out of Latin American buildings.
Concrete of the tropics.
Pristine Scandinavian buildings. Red.
Road signs with weirdly chosen destinations. Why is that town on this sign?
Highway numbers that make little sense. But are still able to be found in a Maps window overlooking the country.
Many, many one lane roads, indistinguishable from American bike trails.
If your body has some miles on the odometer, play this game: Erase cell phones and scale the car quality back. What year in America are you looking at? Countryside Panama in 2010 looked like the ’50’s to me.
Ignore country-specific things like languages, zoning laws and building style. Notice the big differences you see between places in the world are rural/urban, not country/country. Cities look the same everywhere. Same stores. Same brands. Same way things are built. Houses are built for the climate and culture. American houses are surrounded by toy farms, for instance. We call them “lawns”. Other places have their oddities. Walls around the house, for instance, are common.
Notice you can’t peg a location by the highway, itself. Yes, guard rails and such do vary, but the road engineers of the world seem to be in close contact. New roads are especially generic. I was sure I’d hit Nevada when I dropped in on a desert highway in Botswana. It took a couple trucks going by (“Anderson Trucking”) before I noticed they were on the wrong side of the road. … The road, whose lines and signs were clearly ‘merican.
In case you think it’s just a couple of odd, Brit holdovers who drive on the left, what with #1 and #3, China and US being right-siders, consider #2 and #4, India and Indonesia on the left.
Final advice: Don’t binge on this thing. After a 34 hour session, I slept fitfully with more than a little pain and porcelain throne facing for 22 hours. And then wrote this advice.