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Trip 24 -- Aruba Walk
21 December 2020 to 2 January 2021
I've long struggled with deciding which parts of the world to cover in the few decades I get to do it. The status of travel during the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic was discouraging; Americans weren't welcome in many places. I decided: Why not simply go where I'm allowed? It's arguable that nonessential travel should have been avoided, but long walks alone seemed safe.
The situation wasn't as bleak as I thought. The site http://canitravel.net listed a few dozen "countries" open to Americans, though the inclusion of some was of dubious legitimacy and utility. I'd never heard of Bouvet Island (a tiny Norwegian territory midway between Africa and Antarctica), for instance, and even if I was permitted in, how the heck would I get there during the pandemic?
Many places on the list, however, were reasonably easy to access and enter, in the sense that commercial transportation was going there pretty dependably and with proper preparation one did not need to quarantine. Two of those were also suitable for warm walks of a week or two. Those were Aruba and the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.
I mentioned this to my mother's cousin, who immediately responded, "If you do Aruba and Zanzibar, how will you be able to resist finding islands starting with all the intervening letters of the alphabet?"
In "The Lost Art of Walking," Geoff Nicholson discusses psychogeography, a notion developed by the French philosopher Guy Debord that describes the influence of geography on people's behavior. Many of Debord's ideas strike me, and Nicholson, as either silly (that people need to walk together in order to reach an "awakening of consciousness") or incomplete: Debord's definition of psychogeography as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment" on people doesn't say what kind of laws he's talking about, and clearly people's reactions to their surroundings are unique and personal and not dependent on any kind of law.
Enough people are evidently into this idea, however. Nicholson attended the Conflux psychogeography festival in Brooklyn, an annual event first held in 2003. How had I never heard of it? I seem to have missed my shot, as from what I can tell it fizzled out around ten years later, and the festival's Web site returned an error message when I tried to visit it.
One component of Debord's description that Nicholson and I can get behind is the element of "playfully constructive behavior." Some historic "constrained walks" and walking challenges are smirk-inducing, such as Captain Robert Barclay Allardice's walk of a thousand miles in 1809: exactly one mile in each hour for a thousand consecutive hours. Nicholson embarked on one of his own: When the crowd at the psychogeography festival overfilled the bar hosting one of its lectures (can you imagine?), he abandoned it for Manhattan's West Village, where a few streets are laid out in the shape of a martini glass. He headed out to walk the route and have some suitable refreshments along the way.
So my fate was sealed, precipitated by the pandemic, the promise of psychogeographic fulfillment, and Karen's A-to-Z idea: I was going to walk an island starting with each letter of the alphabet.