Circumnavigation – Around a Modern World in 13 years

Reading BBC headlines today, I came across an article about Jason Lewis, a man who circumnavigated his way around the world using only human power. Bicycles, roller-blades  kayaks, pedal-boats… motor-less and wind-less vehicles ONLY. My first thought about this is -why do we always hear about zany records like this after they’ve been set, rather than while they are in progress?

My second thought was “circumnavigation… what on earth does THAT mean?!”, followed by opening up a new browser for my trusty online dictionary. ‘Circumnavigation’ means to make one’s way around, and no, I don’t mean in a kinky way, but a-ROUND; a circular journey around, for instance, an island, a continent, or in Jason Lewis’ case, a planet.

European explorers were familiar with circumnavigation; expeditions, predominantly led by ship went full circle as early as the 1500’s, crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for the first time and making port in previously uncharted territory. Today, its possible to view records of travels to the New World at The General Archive of the Indies in Seville, the starting point of many early Spanish circumnavigations.

El Archivo de las Indias (& me) 2010
El Archivo de las Indias & me (2010)

Being an anthropology undergraduate at the time, I thought it best to make the most of raw historical resources at my disposal and put aside a day to wander into the archive’s public exhibition. Apart from various models of ships, there were elegant glass cases holding the swords of expedition leaders, spindly nautical instruments, and pages of travel logs; I still marvel at the exquisite curly penmanship.

Travel Log I

I once completed an assignment for a history class mimicking this cursive, but my paper was returned to me with a comment: Please do not graffiti assessed work. Does anybody else think that classic calligraphy skills deserves to a little more appreciation or has modernity standardized everything these days?

Photo of Travel Log II (taken in 2010)

On the other hand, while writing skills are being given a back seat, modernity has equipped explorers with express forms of documentation. We could very well assume  that our forefathers would appreciate the convenience of a laptop rather than lugging about a typewriter or how clicking a button on a pocket-sized digital camera is capable of capturing the essence of a moment in ways writing cannot.

Watching Jason Lewis’ newly released film, The Expedition, is officially on the top of my to-do list. And although today is certainly not the first time the world has heard about eccentric travel records being set (or written, OR filmed), it is interesting to acknowledge how the mind-blowing idea of traveling the world using one particular mode of transport is frequently found, then lost, then found again. Furthermore, a whole new generation of young global citizens are presented with yet another example of how goals, no matter how colossal they seem or how many geographical obstacles, human-imposed boundaries and health risks stand in your way, are still achievable.

For more information about:

Jason Lewis and his man-powered circumnavigation:

The General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain:

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