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The Michelin Guide of Travelling

Travel inspiration can come from anywhere – some of mine come from the UN

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View Kurdistan Summer & Dar to Cape Town on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Mask dancing

Mask dancing

Whether you mean to or not, travelling is a learning experience. About foreign lands and cultures, and about oneself. Even the laziest of package tour tourists, regardless of how much of their time they spent at the pool or beach, will have some new experiences. If for nothing else, because their tour company will inevitably have arranged some kind of cultural night with local food and some sort of cultural entertainment. Probably a local dance show. A big part of my love for travelling is my enjoyment of learning about and getting to know the world.

Mapungubwe

Mapungubwe

Earlier on this trip, I almost took a 2,000 km detour to visit the Island of Mozambique, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Had I had a week or ten days more to complete this trip, I would probably have done it. Instead, a couple of days ago, I settled on a mere 140 km detour to visit the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in the far north of South Africa another World Heritage Site. I somewhat happily paid 15 US$ to enter a national park I wasn’t allowed to drive around in on my motorcycle, only to spend another 5 US$ to visit a museum with a viewpoint. Just because this place is on some fancy list?

Mozambique

Mozambique

Most seasoned travellers have an idea about how many countries they have visited. Many keep count vigorously. And just about everybody who’ve visited more than 50 countries like to brag about it. However, the utmost travel-nerds, people such as myself, counts more than countries. One friend of mine needs to visit one more Federal State in Germany before he has visited them all. I, and quite a few other travellers, count UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I use it as my personal Michelin Guide.

To be clear, the real Michelin Guide is essentially an effort by a tire manufacturer, to go out of their way to visit restaurants. Go figure, a company selling tires want people to drive longer and use up their tires quicker. The definition of Michelin Stars awarded to a restaurant is, for two stars, “excellent cooking, worth a detour,” while three Stars are for “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” UNESCO doesn’t offer starts to their sites, though.

Cave Paintings

Cave Paintings

What United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage Committee does do, is to pick-out already-classified landmarks for their unique geographically or historically significance. Places that in some way or another constitutes a remarkable accomplishment of humanity serve as evidence of our intellectual history or are worth conservation for posterity. Thus the sites vary hugely. All those you would expect are there: The Pyramids, Acropolis, Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos, even the Statue of Liberty. Then there are the obscure ones: A Scottish bridge, Dutch pumping stations, unknown cave paintings in the middle nowhere and a seemingly random house in Buenos Aires.

Vic Fall's on the List

Vic Fall's on the List

Nobody needs a random UN-list to travel out of their way to visit the Pyramids or Great Barrier Reef. Like most people, I’d happily take a long detour to visit the Galapagos Islands, cost and time allowing it of course. But why would some of us, weird people, go out of our way to see a bridge in Scotland? I even dragged my friends along. UNESCO Sites, especially the obscure ones, is a chance for me to learn something new about the world that I would not have discovered otherwise. How the Dutch reclaimed prodigious sways of their country from the sea with the pumping stations.

Tiny rhino

Tiny rhino

The random plains and cliffs of Mapungubwe turned out to have been the home of what is largely thought to be Southern Africa’s first organised polity – that is, its first proper kingdom – trading gold and ivory as far afield as China. It’s one of the first evidence on the continent of hunter-gathers and farmers living side-by-side. They also produced adorable tiny rhinoceroses of gold. The World Heritage Sites, particularly the lesser-known, are fantastic opportunities for anyone travelling to emerge themselves in what travelling is inevitably about. Learning about those bits and pieces of our world and history that we never knew we didn’t know.

And let’s not forget that it gives me a niche bragging opportunity towards my fellow travellers. By Christmas, I’ll have mapped 108 countries and 210 UNESCO sites. Then again, the World Heritage Committee adds around 20 new sites every year, and with the current number standing a 1,121, I won’t run out anytime soon.

Posted by askgudmundsen 09:38 Archived in South Africa Tagged culture history travel overland unesco motorbike world_heritage south_africa southern_africa learn list learning lists reasons Comments (0)

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