How To Get Lost

In a time when anything can be found the best thing to lose is yourself

Paul Greenberg

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“Map of the World in Columbus’ Boyhood (1920)” by Eric Fischer via Creative Commons

Sometimes you need an excuse to get lost. Half a dozen years ago, before magazines began to perish in droves, a publication called Afar started an innovative feature called “Spin the Globe.” The concept was simple. A writer was told to hold a week open and then a day before travel the editors would quite literally spin a globe and pick a point at random to send said writer.

I was lucky enough to participate in this experiment of getting lost. What follows is my particular week-long journey made back in the mid 2010s. Reading back through it now I am struck by how important losing your bearings can be and how much more of a person you can become when you embrace the weightlessness of not knowing.

I am going to Brazil. Probably Rio. I know this because my editor has revealed too much. Vaccines are required “only in the interior.” Visas may be purchased at the airport. The weather will be hot and muggy. When I suggest bringing my Speedo, my editor replies slyly that a Speedo might just be all I’ll need. Definitely Rio. I will avoid the interior altogether. I will have a real Brazilian beach vacation. I will find a trainer at the workout stations at Ipanema. I will get my back waxed. I will drink fruit juices.

I wince and reach into the toilet to retrieve the paper before it goes down. The water is hot. I then brush my teeth with insect repellent.

I pack only light and skimpy things. And when I realize it’s Carnival time down in Rio, I shimmy my hips at the sad dads at school drop-off. Then I check my email and read a message from my editor. I frown.

I get on a plane bound for Paraguay.

Paraguay is completely landlocked. It is all interior. When I fly into Asunción at dawn, I see from the airplane window not wide sandy beaches and azure ocean but a vast brown smudge of a river. In line at passport control I read that one does not flush toilet paper in Paraguay, then forgetfully flush in a bathroom just past customs. I wince and reach into the toilet to retrieve the paper before it goes down. The water is hot. I then brush my teeth with…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org