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Letters of the Week

We don't know about you, but travel always makes us want to write long juicy letters to everyone we know. Maybe it's bragging rights, maybe it's a burst of poetic inspiration from seeing the Taj Mahal, but one way or another, suitcases and sunsets in strange places turn us into letter-writing fools. So, if it turns out you're the same way....be sure to include us in your list of people you just have to drop a line to. Don't worry, you will make us jealous...but hopefully we'll also be inspired by your adventures.

Want to see what other Savvy visitors have to say? Read our letters of the week, and be sure to tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you!

June 22, 2001

GPS Revisited: It's Not that Bad
(But It's Not Perfect Either)

Dear Savvy Traveler:

In a recent show, Martin Stott relates his unhappy experience with the Garmin eMap, which often lost satellite signals in the canyons created by New York skyscrapers. He much prefers his Lonely Planet guidebook.

My wife, Gail, and I took along a Garmin eMap while visiting a friend serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa, early last year. The GPS provided two unique benefits that made it worthwhile for this particular trip:

1. It was able to record my route traveled as a "track" - which is like digital bread crumbs. We spent two weeks in and around the regional capital, Kankan. I spoke neither French nor any of the local languages. But after visiting a place with my GPS, I could later retrace my steps to my starting point or find my way back to the destination.

2. Our path out of Guinea was over a sometimes roadless backcountry route. The journey was in one of the ubiquitous Peugeot 504 taxis, repaired with whatever was at hand. Although our experienced driver did his best to avoid potholes, bicycles, animals, and large 14-wheel trucks, the 504's transmission started making awful sounds when we were fifteen miles outside of the last village. Knowing we could find our way back if the taxi gave out was very comforting.

Of course, there were no skyscrapers in Guinea so I had no difficulty with satellite reception. The only difficulty I encountered was relatively minor: A GPS receiver should be able to find your location within 100 feet. However, the available map covering Guinea and Mali sometimes was off by more than a quarter mile for highways and bridges.

Portland, OR

Beyond Tokyo

Hello Savvy Traveler:

I am a JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program alumnus, and I lived in rural Japan during my stay. I chose rural Japan after reading a National Geographic article about the "Backside of Japan" (the side toward Asia).

After visiting Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or other major cities, most people believe they have seen Japan. But really, they've missed some of the best parts. The town in which I lived is called Mizuho-cho in Shimane prefecture. It's about an hour away from Hiroshima city, has stunning natural beauty and a great ski resort.

Even some Japanese don't know where Shimane prefecture is located, but they recognize the name from the folklore associated with it. Shimane literally means "Root of the Island." Japanese folklore tells the story of a god who pulled extra land from the Korean Penninsula using a huge rope and made Shimane Penninsula. It is a thriving center of traditional arts, and one of the most important shrines in Japan -- Izumo-Taisha -- is located there.

Unfortunately, I've noticed that most travel books devote only a few sentences to this part of rural Japan, and my Internet search didn't turn up much either. But I enjoyed my stay in Shimane so much, I wanted to let others know about it.



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