There is a whole wealth of debate to be had about the benefits (and there were at least a few) versus the evils (of which there were many) of the age of colonialism. This post is NOT that debate, though I will point out that one of the things that always stuck me about that era was the astounding arrogance. Transferred to today, can you imagine a guy comes strolling through your local neighbourhood, introducing himself as Livingstone, or some such, and claims to somehow have “discovered” your neighbourhood, before proceeding to give everything new names?
Leaving that aside, I also cannot help but admire the tenacity of these early explorers. They headed off not into unknown lands, but lands unknown to them, where they couldn’t speak the language, and had no idea if the peoples they’d encounter would be friendly, or kill them. That same tenacity is shown by cyclists who go touring around the world, as cycling around the world certainly means riding through some dangerous territories. Now I have long believed that people around the world are mainly the same. Oh sure, we speak different languages, eat different foods, and often dress quite differently, but those are superficial. Underneath, we all want to be happy, to be safe, warm and well-fed, and we want that for our loved ones. We want our children to grow up to be prosperous (however you interpret that) and happy.
And yes, there are small minorities anywhere on earth who don’t want those things. You probably have as much risk of being mugged when cycling though any western city as you have cycling through so many developing countries, yet we don’t tell people to never go cycling through London, Birmingham or Manchester, do we? Oh, and I only mention those three cities because they’re the biggest urban centres in the UK, not because I’m implying anything about your safety in those cities, and I’d happily cycle in any of them.
It is easy to fall into the mindset of “If only I lived during Livingston’s time, I could have had proper adventures. I could have discovered new areas!” Livingston absolutely did NOT discover new areas! He only discovered areas new to him. To the people in those areas, it was their local neighbourhood, and they were very familiar with it.
You can “discover” new areas, too! You can get on your bike and pedal somewhere you’ve not been before, and discover it for yourself. I don’t care if you think you know the UK very well (or if you don’t live in the UK, then your own country) – there will always be more to explore, and places you’ve not been before. We all run the risk of becoming jaded with things that we see as familiar, and interpret that as somehow boring. Change your mindset! At this stage, I will strongly suggest you go read The Rules Of Being A Tourist.
To Livingstone, the Age of Wonder was when he lived, and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of mistakenly thinking that everything’s been discovered. Crumbs, even climbing Everest has in the main been reduced to an act of mindless ecological vandalism, with (literally) a queue of people lined up, just like at a fairground ride. The reality is, it doesn’t matter if others were there before you. All that matters is whether YOU have discovered it for yourself.
The Age of Wonder is now, so go exploring! Even if it’s just the next town over!
PS: The image for this post is of Livingston, courtesy of Wikipedia.