Tourists of Our Own Planet

 

IMG_0725Having now added the Villa Borghese Gardens, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Pantheon to the list of sights I’ve seen in Rome, I can now reasonably claim as to have visited the main highlights within Italy’s capital city (the sights without await my third visit).

In reality, that means I’ve barely scratched its surface, something my parents — who’ve got months of experience in Rome — proved repeatedly by suggesting we visit what was ostensibly “some random church” that turned out to house a masterwork. Informed Romans could doubtless run circles around them, and people with genuine expertise in the subject could — on a good day — credibly say they “know” the city. But me? I’m just a tourist.

In an age when Google Earth covers the entire globe — and when we spend billions imaging our solar system’s smaller, more distant bodies — it’s easy to think that we’ve already learned most of Earth’s secrets. But as The Economist suggests, it’s likely more true that we’ve just noticed the most obvious, exceptional points on our planet, and that there’s a great deal left to explore — both things we’ve heard about but haven’t truly studied, as well as countless mysteries and discoveries of which we’re completely ignorant:

[Let’s] start with mountains. All 14 higher than 8,000 metres have been scaled; the tallest of all, Mount Everest, has been climbed more than 7,000 times. But many thousands of peaks across the world are still unconquered, including hundreds in the Himalayas rising to 6,000-7,000 metres. Only 200-odd of the 2,800 Nepalese mountains that are higher than 6,000 metres may have been climbed, guesses Glyn Hughes, the archivist of the London-based Alpine Club. The highest unscaled mountain is Gangkhar Puensum, in Bhutan, near the border with China: the authorities have closed it to climbers to respect local beliefs. Muchu Chhish, in Pakistani Kashmir, is thought to be the highest unscaled mountain that it is still possible to get a permit to climb. It defeated a British team in 2014.

Most of Antarctica is virgin and unexplored, as is — at least in all ways that matter — most of the interior of the world’s forests. And if you’re interested in going under the surface, there are even more opportunities:

Caving offers explorers opportunities to test themselves that until recently were not even known to exist. Speleology “has changed massively” in the past two decades, says Andy Eavis, widely considered the world’s foremost caver. The Krubera cave in Georgia, near the Black Sea, down which a Ukrainian team descended in 2004, is twice as deep, at more than 2,000 metres, as the Pierre St Martin cave in the French Pyrenees, which had been reckoned the deepest when Mr Eavis plumbed it in 1971. A new technique of laser scanning can measure such “chambers” far more accurately than before. Mr Eavis still marvels at the great chambers still being found in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. In 1981 he was the first to explore a cave there that is still the largest by area in the world—it could enclose the Hollywood Bowl. Now South China, among other places, is offering new opportunities for cavers. Its Miao Room, penetrated in 1989, is 852 metres long, and the largest by volume.

The world’s most extensive unexplored place is undoubtedly the seabed. At first the aim was to get to the ocean’s very bottom. In 1960 Jacques Piccard, a Swiss oceanographer, and Don Walsh, an American, touched the floor of the Mariana Trench, the ocean’s deepest point, off the Pacific island of Guam. It is nearly 11,000 metres down; for comparison, Mount Everest rises 8,848 metres. Since then only one other person, a film-maker, James Cameron, has achieved the feat, in 2012.

If the name Piccard makes you smile while reading a piece on exploration, it’s not a coincidence: indeed, Jacques Piccard came from a family of notable Swiss explorers, and his father and uncle were the namesake (with a slightly different spelling) of a fictional space captain who ended the first episode of a of certain show with this wonderful line.

There are 19 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    When they say that the mountain “Defeated” a British team… does that mean “terminally”?

    • #1
  2. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Tom, why such an interest in the city of Rome?  Just curious.

    • #2
  3. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Not too long ago a waterfall was documented in northern Ontario that had never been documented before, which is pretty remarkable for a major industrial country.

    (I use the word “documented” instead of “discovered” cuz first nations folk probably knew about it, but it wasn’t on any maps and it wasn’t referenced in any written record.)

    • #3
  4. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Manny: Tom, why such an interest in the city of Rome? Just curious.

    Better question: why not? :)

    In my specific case, though, 1) I’m a Roman Empire/Republic history nerd and 2) I was raised Catholic (the faith didn’t stick, but the Vatican is a spectacular and amazing place and anyone who’s part of Western Civilization and isn’t interesting in oggling and exploring it has some odd tastes), and 3) My family’s made a habit of semi-regular trips to Italy.

    • #4
  5. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    While astronomers turn to their telescopes, I would much rather know more about our own seas and forests.

    The holy grail of exploration, in my opinion, is something similar to a fish finder with greatly improved scope and accuracy. Maybe one day we will be able to push beyond mere estimates of animal populations and coincidental sightings to bay-wide or forest-wide thermal/sonic snapshots, revealing an environment’s total population.

    Think of it like a naturalist radar. Instead of “Let’s go over here and see what we find”, it would be “The scan shows a mid-sized animal over there. Let’s check it out!”

    • #5
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    When I was a kid, the aye-aye was only rarely spotted and giant squid were still considered fantasies. Today, I see videos of each.

    Animals can live immediately around people and not be sighted. My area includes bobcats and wolves, but they are nocturnal and almost always keep out of sight. So many people don’t even know they exist.

    Then there are the countless mysteries of behavior and biology. What makes an alligator’s blood so incredibly immune to diseases? Do cuttlefish communicate with their chromatophores? How does ExJon drink so much coffee without living in the bathroom?

    If you browse the animal pictures at 500px.com, eventually you will see ones that are unfamiliar to you. I’ve studied animals my whole life and I’m still surprised.

    • #6
  7. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Aaron Miller:While astronomers turn to their telescopes, I would much rather know more about our own seas and forests.

    Thing is, it’s arguable that exploring space is actually a heck of a lot easier than exploring the oceans.

    For example, it’s a heck of a lot easier to build a suit that lets a human survive a zero-atmosphere environment than one that let’s a human survive a thousand-atmosphere environment.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Aaron Miller: The holy grail of exploration, in my opinion, is something similar to a fish finder with greatly improved scope and accuracy. Maybe one day we will be able to push beyond mere estimates of animal populations and coincidental sightings to bay-wide or forest-wide thermal/sonic snapshots, revealing an environment’s total population.

    Apparently, modern camera-traps have made huge in roads that way. Also, revealed this bit of craziness.

    • #8
  9. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    A couple of places in Rome I really recommend if you get a chance.

    A walk on the Via Appia Antica. You will swear you can hear the Legions marching in the distance….

    The Jewish Quarter.  Particularly in the spring during artichoke season.

    • #9
  10. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Manny: Tom, why such an interest in the city of Rome? Just curious.

    Better question: why not? :)

    In my specific case, though, 1) I’m a Roman Empire/Republic history nerd and ) I was raised Catholic (the faith didn’t stick, but the Vatican is a spectacular and amazing place and anyone who’s part of Western Civilization and isn’t interesting in oggling and exploring it has some odd tastes), and 3) My family’s made a habit of semi-regular trips to Italy.

    If you get the chance the next place to visit is Istanbul nee Constantinople.  Walking along the land walls I was overcome with the knowledge that that’s the spot where the Classical world died in 1453.

    • #10
  11. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Kozak: The Jewish Quarter. Particularly in the spring during artichoke season.

    Did that (different season) and strongly second the recommendation. That was also new to me.

    Kozak: If you get the chance the next place to visit is Istanbul nee Constantinople. Walking along the land walls I was overcome with the knowledge that that’s the spot where the Classical world died in 1453.

    We actually went there back in March (Old Rome and the New in one year!). Also, strongly seconded. Airfaire’s dirt cheap at the moment, and the exchange rate is extremely advantageous.

    11071590_10205653471763613_1738378100374368235_n

    • #11
  12. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Misthiocracy: Not too long ago a waterfall was documented in northern Ontario that had never been documented before, which is pretty remarkable for a major industrial country.

    A half-day’s drive north of almost any major Canadian city gets you into pretty virgin territory (albeit normally surveyed).  This is a place I’d like to see–the fifth largest impact crater and second largest lake island in the world, plus a large arch-buttress dam.

    • #12
  13. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Tenacious D: A half-day’s drive north of almost any major Canadian city gets you into pretty virgin territory (albeit normally surveyed). This is a place I’d like to see–the fifth largest impact crater and second largest lake island in the world, plus a large arch-buttress dam.

    That’s actually been on my list for a long time, as well!

    Meet-up on Mount Babel? :)

    • #13
  14. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: That’s actually been on my list for a long time, as well! Meet-up on Mount Babel? :)

    I’ll bring the canoe. And a shopping list for the SAQ.

    • #14
  15. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Manny: Tom, why such an interest in the city of Rome? Just curious.

    Better question: why not? :)

    In my specific case, though, 1) I’m a Roman Empire/Republic history nerd and ) I was raised Catholic (the faith didn’t stick, but the Vatican is a spectacular and amazing place and anyone who’s part of Western Civilization and isn’t interesting in oggling and exploring it has some odd tastes), and 3) My family’s made a habit of semi-regular trips to Italy.

    Thanks.  I’m actually a Roman history nerd too!  And I was raised Catholic but it did stick with me.  ;)

    By the way I’m of Italian ethnicity and go to Italy every so often.

    • #15
  16. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Go where no man has gone before? meh.

    I prefer to do what no man has done before. I can do that in the comfort of my own mind.

    • #16
  17. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Majestyk:When they say that the mountain “Defeated” a British team… does that mean “terminally”?

    I hope so.

    • #17
  18. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    iWe: I prefer to do what no man has done before. I can do that in the comfort of my own mind.

    A great many important things can be done so, and that’s awesome; others require we go places; neither is inherently better.

    • #18
  19. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    iWe: I prefer to do what no man has done before. I can do that in the comfort of my own mind.

    A great many important things can be done so, and that’s awesome; others require we go places; neither is inherently better.

    Nonsense. Going someplace is merely travel. Doing something is certainly inherently better than merely experiencing or observing.

    When we do things, we can improve ourselves, others, and the world around us. When we climb a mountain, we have achieved none except possibly the first.

    • #19

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.