The Map is Not the Territory

We headed back up to Amed Beach last weekend. It’s about a three-hour ride, and if you avoid the coast it’s a bit like driving back in time. And, you know… motorcycle time machines are the best kind!

Anyway, Amed is at the foot of Mt. Agung, which at about 10,000 ft is the tallest volcano on Bali, and that’s saying something. If you look up Amed Beach on Google Images, practically every picture includes a shot of the mountain.

So there’s this place called Lahangan Sweet. It’s a mountaintop about 45 min from Amed Beach that offers about a 270-degree panorama of sea and mountains. If you wanted, you could come early, watch the sun rise over the sea next to one mountain, spend the day making TikTok videos of container ship traffic on the Bali Sea, and then capture the perfect Instagram time-lapse video from a tree-top platform while the sun sets behind Agung.

The last mile before you get there is a punishing ride up something that is officially a dirt road but is actually a cross between a dry riverbed and a lava flow. It’s dangerous as hell but the view it’s worth it.

So, here’s the story…

If you look at Google Maps on your phone, there are two ways to get from Amed Beach to the beginning of that dirt road. One is mostly paved and longer, and the other is mostly not but shorter. Discretion being the better part of valor, we chose the paved road.

2/3 of the way up this road, Google Maps indicated a sharp right turn… unambiguously the ONLY turn in the vicinity. So we took it. The road suddenly acquired a whole lot more UP and a whole lot less pavement.

Soon the paving was almost completely gone and we were in a tiny village on a mountainside. The villagers all seemed to know exactly where we were headed, were all in agreement that we were going the wrong way, and were all eager to charge us the exact same fee to show us the right way. But we were still right on the little blue line on Google Maps, so we pressed on.

You know that story about the frog in a pot of boiling water? Turn up the heat slowly, and by the time the frog realizes he’s in trouble it’s too late. I figured that out in the middle of a rocky high-altitude bamboo forest when I realized that if I followed that stupid blue line another ten feet I was going to lose the ability to turn our bike around.

There was never NOT a villager within earshot. So we hailed one of them, paid his suddenly-quite-reasonable fee, and followed him on his bike all the way back to the main road, which took us—with Google Maps shouting in disagreement all the way—right to the foot of that dirt road to the top of Lahangan Sweet. Which now didn’t feel like too much trouble at all.

Is there a moral to the story? Well, a General Semanticist would look down his smug nose and point out that the map is not the territory.


But how about this: by the time we finally turned around in that bamboo forest, it was EMINENTLY clear that we were NOT the first tourists to get lost there on their way to Lahangan Sweet. And by local standards their course correction was NOT cheap. So here’s a remote alpine village whose entire hard-currency economy is based on one stupid error in Google Maps.

If you ever wanted evidence that the Cloud Economy reaches absolutely everywhere, there it is!

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  1. Jason, you are such a vivid storyteller…I felt like I was right there with you, and have also challenged Google maps’ solutions. It’s the difference between Maps and Waze, with some real-time info.

    I was heading into DC towards what appeared to be a *very* clear path…and get there to find it blocked off, as it apparently was during certain times of the day (something Maps couldn’t “see.”)

    So I had to try a different direction, completely winging it, until Google stopped trying to divert me back to the original route, and finally gave another option.

  2. Brilliant! You could write a whole business lessons/travelogue based on your experience in Bali!

    1. Haha Taylor THAT is a crowded market! This island is utterly CRAWLING with 22-year-old life coaches doing precisely that, only with more interesting facial hair and way better abs in their Insty stories.