Map Reading Memories

An image of a map and an old-fashioned brass compass to go with my post about map reading memories.

I’m sure when I decided on map reading as a prompt for Wicked Wednesday, something must’ve triggered me. I decide on prompts weeks ahead (at this moment I have prompts listed until October 2022), which means when a prompt comes around, I can’t remember why I chose it, and sometimes even what I wanted to write.

This time is different.

I wanted to share memories about my experiences with map reading. You see, I was actually quite good at it.

First map reading experience

I was fourteen when I was selected to go on a survival trip to the Namib Desert in Namibia (back then, it was still South West Africa). On that trip, we learned basic survival skills we could use in nature, under which map reading and how to use a compass.

Towards the end of that week-long survival trip, we were dropped off on the coastal road, with a map, a compass, and a limited supply of food and water. Oh, and coordinates of where we had to go.

Before we started walking, we used the map and the compass to determine the direction we had to walk, and then we started walking.

Learning more about map reading

In South Africa, back when I grew up, you went to high school when you advanced to Standard 6, and then, in Standard 8, you had to choose the 6 subjects and start getting ready for your end exam (Matric) in Standard 10. Afrikaans and English were compulsory subjects, and besides those I chose German, Geography, Maths and History.

Geography was my best subject when in Standard 8, but I failed it in my Matric exams, as I wrote those two papers a week and a half after my daughter was born.

I turned out to receive A’s for Geography for all of Standard 8. The subject was split into theoretical and practical sessions. In the theoretical ones, we learned about sediments and the weather, space and the world. All of this interest me so much that I went from wanting to be an archaeologist to a meteorologist to an astronomer.

I did well in all of those, but where I always received full marks was the practical part. Map reading. Understanding the legends on the map. Knowing what terrain is shown on the map. Finding coordinates. Reading a compass. One day, the teacher — after I was yet again the only one who had a perfect score — said he thought it would be better if he sat down and I would give the lessons. I declined, as I was far too shy, but my heart burst with pride when he said that!

My basic training in the army

When I did my basic training in the army, we once more had dual lessons — those in the classrooms, and those in the field. During the six weeks of intensive training, one of those weeks was dedicated to outdoor training. We went to Bela-Bela (back then it was Warmbad/Warm Baths) where we lived in tents, our toilets were stinky holes in the ground and we bathed in the stream running alongside the camp. We had guard duty at night, and during the days we had to march or run to different places, or had to simulate war situations. They even had us walking through a deep pool of water, holding our backpacks over our heads to keep it dry.

I loved every minute of it!

On one of those days they drove around in circles, and then dropped us in some rough terrain, with the coordinates of our camp in hand, a compass and a map. We were in a group of eight, and this was the only day we were allowed to train with the men. The moment we were dropped, one of the men — the only sergeant in the group (I was a corporal then) — took charge. I watched as he determined the direction we had to walk, using the map and the compass, and I saw him making mistakes. Someone told him that, and he shut them up.

He held onto the map and the compass as we set off to walk, and refused to let go of it. Once more, people said we were not going where we should, but he wouldn’t listen. The further we walked, the angrier I got.

Now, I have always preferred not to be in the spotlight, and back then was no different. All I wanted was to get through the basic training. But, part of my nature always was that I have a lot of patience, until I don’t. That day, my patience ran out. I know he outranked me, but that was the last thing I thought about when I scolded him and told him to just give me the map and compass, because he had no idea what he was doing. I used the map and looked at the surrounding mountains to determine where we were and then re-calculated where we had to go.

We made it back to the camp, and I thought the thing would come back to bite me, since I sort of reprimanded someone senior to me in rank, but it never did. I guess he was afraid of me telling whoever the reason I had done it.

Sense of direction

I always had a good sense of direction. When I drive somewhere using navigation once, the next time I can drive there without. When we are in an unknown city, walking from one place or the other, I can always find my way back.

My mom never could, and neither can my daughter. They always relied on me for that. I always had to laugh when we were out shopping, the three of us walked into a store, and then, when we came out again, my mom and daughter turned in the direction we came from, instead of where we were heading. And my mom… when I lived in another city, she always — and I mean always — got lost when she came to visit. She always took the same wrong turn! We used to tease her with it, as she could get lost even when using navigation!

Oh, the memories…!

© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay


Wicked Wednesday

6 thoughts on “Map Reading Memories

  1. I’m not great with directions or maps. I thank goodness for GPS now, even though it has gotten me lost before. I learn my way by habit and guide myself by landmarks rather than direction. It sounds like your skills came in quite handy!

    1. I love GPS too, simply because it means I can use one of my ‘gadgets’, but using a paper map and compass… I would love to do that again, somewhere out in nature 🙂

  2. How wonderful it must have been to be selected to go on the trip when you were 14 – what a great challenge for a youngster. I have always loved maps too – i can’t say I have managed to master a compass thou – still time!
    May xx

  3. I love maps. Topographic, ancient, metro, they are all art to me. My house husband draws them, creates imaginary places or discovers history through ancient maps.

    There is something about knowing where you are and where you want to be. I. The words of Bukaroo Bonzai “No matter where you go, thee you are.” But with a map and a compass the world is your oyster.

    1. It would actually be great to go on a trip again where I have to navigate with map and compass, but alas, I don’t think that will happen.

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