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Indonesia Without a Map

In most of my travels, a map has been the surest way to measure time, distance, and experience. Living in Berlin, the creases of my street map were so worn it fell to pieces. Biking across the Netherlands, we relied on 9 overlapping maps of the country's bike routes, a source of endless frustration until we could figure out how the map's coding system matched the paths beneath our wheels. When I drove from New York to New Mexico, from Connecticut to Florida, from Montana to Alaska, an atlas was always perched across my knee.

This October I traveled to Indonesia without a map, and I never got one. My boyfriend and I had a few destinations in mind and so our travels were determined not by points on maps but by suggestions, impulse and whatever transportation we could find. It's the only time I've traveled without even the illusion of a bird's eye view understanding of a place.

I want to map out our travels, highlighting significant places and modes of transportation: first as a rendering of the mental map I created without reference to an actual map, and second tracing our route on a map of Indonesia. I want to look at the differences in my mental map and the physical map as a reflection on how our minds create impressions of space.

One thing I'm really excited to look at—and for this reason I'm thinking the mental map will be hand-drawn and the "accurate" map computerized—is how transportation methods distort our impression of distance. We traveled by bus, shared car, taxi, train, scooter, public van, airplane, and foot. For me, the distance covered on airplane didn't feel like it was traversed at all, whereas the hike—straight up a volcano—felt endless.

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