Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton’s Blog: In Search of the Last Great Google Street View

19th century cartographer, meet 21st century mapping.


Photo courtesy of mooi

July 20, 2012, 10:04 p.m.

Like all such ventures, there be many a hindrance to commencement, but methinks there no moment more brilliant than when such slow beginnings slowly begin. Of course, our Prius broke down immediately. We were told to carry on if we were to map the last of the unmapped, if we were to be great men who bring light to the darkness that is new-laid road, hitherto unseen views from the online street. I recall Meredith on speakerphone, her words so clear: “That or we can just send out someone else. It’s like whatever.” To which I declared we would finish what we started. Speke nodded in affirmation. So it is that we have had to rely on porters of dubious loyalty to carry our equipment. They joined excitedly but have already begun to lag. Most of them shirk their duties in preference of chasing soccer balls or indiscriminately petting passing fauna. Furthermore, tensions betwixt Speke and I run high. He is still in a funk over my editing his blog post last week. His lack of adverbs makes me terribly, inextricably ill. “What cook can hate the man who adds a much needed spice to his bland dish,” I advise him. He has not spoken to me for several hours. We make camp in a tube slide.

July 21, 2012, 12:20 p.m.

We mapped a dozen more roads but already we have expended most of our surplus supplies to keep the porters focused. All candy, mints, chewing gum, and ChapStick have been used as payment, but the porters greedy hands are quick to flick out again in request for more, while our fragile satellite equipment and other baggage is mutinously dropped onto the hot asphalt. They are vile natives, all short, predominately of a cheerful disposition but with an underlying streak of treachery. They are inclined to the extremes of mood, at one moment laughing the next stomping and shouting, demanding to return to their homes immediately. I realize only too late that I am renting their loyalty at an ever-increasing rate. It cannot be bought. I attempted to scare them by stating that they were free to abandon the caravan at any moment, just run along home alone in suburbia. Take your chances! It silenced many of them, but the effects were not long lasting. One porter pulled out a phone, extended a hand like a gun, and said his father would, I quote, “Tear up my ass up. Bang. Bang.” I took the phone from him and smashed it on the ground. It was a gamble, I knew, but this act of decisive violence silenced him and made clear my intolerance for subversion. Needless to say, he is my least favorite porter.

July 22, 2012, 5:15 p.m.

My Syphilis is cured by Job! Speke snidely remarked that I ought to “blog about it.” Nonetheless, I believe I have sweated out what remained of those corkscrewed devils thanks to the heat of the asphalt and the fever induced by my consumption of a two-day old Cheesy Gordita Crunch. The porters have proved indispensible as they pulled me along in a red wagon. They have made our progress in the face of such hurdles feasible. I thank them often, but just as frequently return my hand ominously to the inside of my jacket pocket to ensure compliance. Speke complains constantly of his eyes that have grown red and swollen. During night two, bivouacked in a small pink hut we promoted within a native compound, I told him to remove his contacts but he boohooed me saying that he would not be able to see without them. Hark, how that bites him rightly now. He attempted to extricate the lenses this morning but succeeded only in furthering his optical discomfiture. I fear he has succumbed to a severe case of ophthalmia and will soon be blind.

July 23, 2012, 07:22 a.m.

My least favorite porter attacked me in my sleep last night. I awoke as he pounced. He beat me over the head with the iPad I had leant him as a sign of good faith. I cried for Speke’s help but his blindness kept him from being of any use. He swung wildly with his walking stick but succeeded only in clobbering me about the head in tandem with the tablet until I called him off and knocked back the double-crossing porter myself. I took back the tablet and cursed him. I declared him banished, no longer a part of our enterprise. He smiled and shouted joyfully, no doubt a theatrical display to cover his disappointment at being excommunicated. He ran off, whistling and hooting and disappeared amid the dense well-trimmed hedges of the night.

July 23, 2012, 01:13 p.m.

O fuck thou Street View is oft my refrain on this horrid day. My clothing reeks of sweet energy drink perspiration and deodorantless armpits. Nothing but the animal left. I have a rash that runs up my neck and onto the back of my scalp and a monstrous amount of chaffage where my undergarments have cut into my thighs. We are closing in on the final street however! Speke limps along with his stick, blisters on his feet, blind as a bat, but I admire his pluck and desire to continue. He speaks often of a desire to be pulled in the wagon, but I insist we must transport the satellite equipment in it. The porters are tired and clumsy and the success of our mission cannot be entrusted to their faltering little grips. I fear also that my sinuses are infected, that I may need to return to the wagon — but I do not say so aloud.

July 23, 2012, 8:24 p.m.

We have arrived! I blog this proudly. We have come to the last unmapped cul-de-sac. Speke’s legs gave out and he collapsed in a heap upon my cry that the unattainable had been attained. I faltered at first and then leapt out of the wagon. I dropped to my knees in a most prayerful manner—to my country, my corporation, my soul? I knew not. But something about the way the street extends so straight and true, the circle at the end sitting so perfectly circled (for lack of a better work), what form! There are the half-built houses rising up on dirt mounds, even the dust and bulldozed dirt tracks that add another layer of meaning to this final, most significant stretch of asphalt.

I declare it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Speke, of course, complains of his blindness and claims a toe has fallen off. For posterity, I fired up my iPad and drew my own map with only a few minutes of battery remaining. A line with a circle at the end. Labeled it “street.” As I write, the porters drag the satellite camera to-and-fro and I bask in the success of our venture. The sun is on its way down, crimson in the west, and there are sirens in the distance and I think perchance we will not have to return the way we came, so challenged. And my goodness, right now patrol cars are coming around the corner! Speke smiles a stupid, cheerful grin at the sound of our rescue and the porters are finally beginning to rejoice as well, leaping up and down, shouting, and waving their arms. What a glorious day for mankind, online and off!

Zane Shetler lives in Durham, North Carolina. His last expedition through suburbia went poorly. There might be more at his website?