I remember two years ago or so, coursing my way across the Atlantic Ocean on Google Maps and finding my way, with two fingers sliding along my computer’s track pad, to the first place I would land in Europe if I could magically fly directly east from the town of Manchester Vermont along my specific latitude line of 43.10North. The feeling still resonates today- an excitement of discovering my latitude line and sharing that discovery with others.
We can think of this latitude experiment as the test of a sort of string theory, the idea of making the world much smaller by following a specific east-west string around the world, into all the local and sometimes forgotten places around the world which also have a profound thing in common- Shared Latitude.
And here, after zooming out and zooming in, I found it, the first place in Europe I would land should I follow my latitude line from Vermont directly east. Camariñas Spain, in the independent province of Galicia, along La Costa da Morte, a forbidding and treacherous stretch of coast known for shipwrecks. I do a little research on Wikipedia- In ancient times, this area of Spain was referred to as Finisterra- the end of the earth for people looking out at the expanse of Atlantic Ocean to the west. Many months later, in March of 2017, I am driving near the coast and give a ride to a local to the next village. He shouts and excitedly points toward the coast- “Finisterra! Finisterra!” But I was looking at this same place- the end of the earth- as in fact a true beginning- the first place I would visit along my latitude line overseas, and the manifestation of a multi-year brainstorm on the possibility and power of latitude line in the mess of modern times.
So my latitude journey in Europe would begin at the ‘end of the earth.’ Camariñas would turn out to be one of the key places of my Europe trip supporting the big hunch that is the Latitude Movement- that now is the perfect time for communities along latitude lines to connect with one another in new ways integrating technology, traditional people to people exchanges, and most importantly, the growing sense that we need new models and frameworks with which to understand our own place in the world and connect our place in real ways with other places globally.
Camariñas is completely the kind of place that falls into the category- ‘I wouldn’t have gone otherwise’. The only traditional beaten path to Camariñas consists in ships crashing on the rocky coast, or pilgrims along El Camino wandering here as an extension of their journey. But now that I’ve been to Camariñas, the question becomes why, why places like Muskegon Michigan and Manchester Vermont and Ogunquit Maine and Camariñas and a thousand other towns and cities along our same Latitude aren’t already on each other’s maps, and so hidden from one another. Why is there so little latitude literacy? Latitude is such a huge influence on our daily lives, from seasons, to crops to culture, why wouldn’t we see every latitude as a kind of international community of shared planetary experience? I’m not trying to be out there or mystical, just practical. Latitude is a practical and clear, fundamental connection that communities directly east and west have with one another.
To some extent, throwing a dart at a map can achieve the same sense of ending up somewhere you wouldn’t have and meeting people you wouldn’t have- somewhere ‘random’. The dart approach to travel is a good one, and worth pursuing, with appropriate judgement calls in order. We tested this theory in college, with a midnight ‘Outing Club’ that would throw a dart at a map of the Vassar Campus, and the results were consistently good. We found and spent time in places we wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s always value in this, so long as you survive to tell the tale.
But there’s something about the collection of ‘darts on a map’ directly east-west of one another- a specific latitude line, which is that not only do you ‘discover’ some amazing people and places, but in theory, they also discover you. The framework of latitude for this kind of connecting the smaller dots of the world entails a kind of wiki-open sourced diplomacy and cultural exchange, with you as participant. That means that connections seem at first random, with early adopters who focus on latitude as a thrust in their travel and other endeavors, but this is not really random at all. Latitude is as significant a factor in shaping our existence as any. And perhaps most fascinatingly, what begins to emerge is not just the possibilities of a shared future, but a shared history. Latitude is not so much to be discovered, or forged, as revealed, like sculpture.
Camariñas proves a bit hard to get to, particularly as other destinations in Europe clamor for the attention of international travelers and tourists, including myself (landing first in Porto, Portugal, I had difficulty leaving the amazing city, and my one day planned there as a frantic American tourist turned into five as an awestruck wanderer). A rented Fiat Panda proved my savior, as the simple pleasure of driving it helped me escape to Galicia.
Camariñas. Here, on a quiet coast with driving winds and long stretches of coast without even a soul, is a place I perhaps would never have found if it wasn’t for the string I was following- the east-west string of specific latitude. And now I am here. The small city is worn, it is not a tourist destination, and it seems to like it that way aside from the struggling economy. There is a pride and quiet vibrancy here in the working culture. But there aren’t enough jobs for the young people, who move away. It reminds me of my town, if my town had a 10th the tourism from major U.S. urban centers a half day away like NYC, and was weathered by salty sea mist, and was thousands of years old.
There should be artists here, everywhere. It is kind of like a vintage Ogunquit. The people of Ogunquit would love this place, a kind of reminder of the old, working Ogunquit Maine. Camariñas would benefit by a small surge in visitors to create a few more jobs, but how can that happen while keeping this place as real as it is, with gigantic kale leaning over ancient walls, and grain storage cribs made of ancient stone, even the ones that are collapsing. And who will make sure the sheep have a vantage point of the sea, something which is almost impossible to find on the wealth-dominated coast lines of the U.S.? What can the people of Camarinas teach us about livelihood, and the vitality of small communities? About navigating life like their dangerous coast?
The Latitude Movement itself is an integration of four basic components, hugging the definitions of both Latitude and Movement:
1.Latitude as freedom of thought, freedom to roam in our pursuits (building new bridges and making new connections…after all creative brainstorming is what opened up this latitude project in the first place as a possibility) Latitude as wandering, and stretching our minds to see the connections that we can build on.
2.Latitude as a line, a line which every place on earth has going through it, a geographically specific east-west line along which all communities experience the exact same daylength each and every day of the year and therefore have something profound in common impacting agriculture, culture, and lived human and natural experience. Latitude as a line of inquiry, a path into the world that helps us focus our wanderings.
3.Movement as the act of changing physical location, as in going east or west along a latitude line, either locally, nationally or globally, or some combination of all three. Movement as in going somewhere, or hosting someone, and the movements within the two of those basic activities.
4.And finally Movement as a group of people working together to advance something, in this case, advancing simple latitude connection, a practical framework for comprehensive and creative global connection and exchange, awareness and conversation along latitude line. The goal of The Latitude Movement is actually simple- to create lasting connections amongst people and places sharing the same latitude. It is not to advance a particular social or political agenda beyond connection, and honors and appreciates differences of perspective. The Movement here is for listening, dialogue, bonding and bridge building. It is about honoring the importance of all places, and helping us to understand the connections all places share.
In early March 2017, I arrived to Camariñas Spain, not on a floating plank from a shipwreck like so many others, but certainly with a sense of desperation, and hoping to find something magical along my latitude line, something that again would tell me, ‘keep going with this project.’ Camariñas delivered, not because it was the most amazing place on earth, but because here was a beautiful, living and breathing small city by the ocean, the kind of place that can only be described as a true gem in that it is alive and that it would never appear in a ’36 hours’ travel article. From my conversations, I can only say that I need to spend more time here to get to know the people, but I was nevertheless surprised by being invited to coffee/beer three times in a day. This is your first time in Galicia? Welcome!
There’s much more to write, but I want to do frame out the special places of my journey, and essential thoughts. I was inspired by how people here read the paper, everywhere they read the paper. The Voice of Galicia. It’s time for us to hear this voice, the voice of locals, calling to us from across the sea, if we wish to listen.