For several days we was visiting Marrakech and its colorful bazaars, the blue and white town of Essaouira and the oases of the Atlas. Its people, the looks, something familiar, “Alí Baba”, someone tells you pointing to your beard. In Morocco, it is always like being at home. The last stop on that trip was Zagora, a prelude to the Moroccan Sahara, where a jayma was installed and Berber hosts arrived with trays full of fruit, Moorish tea and tagine.

As we ate rich flour soup, our guide Afra stuffed his camel’s saddlebags outside the tent. He went to pray in the desert, the real one, that place where the coordinates melt and after days among the dunes mirages can manifest themselves in the form of beaches, old lovers or Perrier waterfalls. Amused, Afra suggested that I accompany him on this adventure that would last fifteen days, but I had a plane to catch and the idea of ​​seeking Allah for two weeks in the desert was not in my plans. However, I think what scared me the most was the idea of ​​diving into a place where everything would be the same, where not even satellites could reach if I fainted from the heat. In the Sahara, maps are born from faith and intuition.Caravan of tourists on camels in the Sahara desert.

On the way back, Afra’s proposal resonated in my head to move me to an afternoon in the 90s leaning on the desk in my room. In my childhood I liked to draw maps of my town: the cross that indicated the presence of our apartment, the cement factory to the east and, beyond, the airport, the lighthouse, the sea. As he discovered new places, he added them to the map. I did my own research on Saturday afternoons, when I walked with my father along the train track and, when we reached a certain palm tree, we always went back again. “What lies beyond?” he asked her. “The town of the grandparents, Madrid and, if you continue, you arrive in Galicia”. “And beyond?”. And my father laughed.

When the explorers of the Middle Ages looked out over the edge of the known land, they used to draw figures of sea serpents and mythological animals to indicate the presence of an inhospitable area. Over time, the phrase Hic sunt dracones (There are dragons here -the name of a magnificent podcast-) began to be coined when referring to these unexplored scenarios, as confirmed at the beginning of the 16th century by the well-known Lenox globe, one of the oldest globes in existence.

In the desert everything is the same, maps are born from faith and intuition

Centuries later, the world of cartography has evolved so much that today we not only use maps to identify our place in the world but to improve people’s lives. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the maps not only made it possible to monitor the spread of the virus around the entire planet, but also to know its origin, the number of people affected or the impact of the recovery measures implemented by the different countries. Today, there are even maps that measure the happiness of each territory, the most sexual, peaceful, violent or tolerant.

But if we go further, we discover that a map also speaks of people to meet in real time, the curiosity to discover new places, deserts that we still don’t dare to visit, stories and answers to so many questions. Maps help us understand the world, humanity and its history. And sometimes even ourselves.

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