This is the story of how some maps that needed to be digitalized came to be so, and how I contributed to the process. And while that process sounds like a straightforward, all-in-a-day’s type of work, the experience was anything but. This is a story not only of maps, but also of cross continental networking, lost and miraculously found footwear, rugged and extraordinary landscapes, and also maps.
It’s probably best to start at the beginning, and as it happens, the beginning of this story takes place far, far from Cajas National Park, in the heart of the magical beast that is NYC at the UN Headquarters, admittedly one of the coolest venues at which I’ve attended a conference. It was there, at State of the Map US 2015 that, whilst standing in line for a cup of joe, I had the pleasure of chatting with Jereme Monteau of Trailhead Labs about the exciting work they’ve been doing. But bear with me — we’ll come right back to Jereme. First, let’s get back to Ecuador.
We were actually in the country for a very different project: volunteering for 6 months in an orphanage for Une Option de Plus, a Franco-Ecuadorian organization that provides resources, sometimes in their human form, to grassroots projects all over the country. We were based not far from what turned out to be a spectacular national park spanning 285 square kilometers and peaking at 4450 meters in altitude. I’d been mapping interesting trails on Open Street Maps for a while by then, and as it became clear that the trail I took with my partner, Ann, that day wasn’t particularly well-marked, it seemed natural to start mapping it. A few days later, it occurred to me that this massive park had several trails that needed to be mapped, and it would be awesome to make that data open and available to all. And the Open Trails specification, one of the brainchildren of Code for America, was the perfect technology for bringing a larger project along those lines to fruition.
A couple of days enquiring at various offices in nearby Cuenca eventually brought me to ETAPA, a municipal enterprise responsible for a variety of needful things, like potable water and telecommunications in the area. They also run operations at Cajas, and they were keen on the idea of participating in an open data innovation in a meaningful way, so after conferring with Jereme by email (I told you we’d get back to him), we were on our way. ETAPA would provide me with a park ranger who’d serve as my guide, and we’d knock out the walks in a week or two.
But before I could get started, I had the trip of a lifetime planned out with Ann and two of our best friends. We were bussing our way across Ecuador, from the volcanic Sierra to the white, sandy coasts, back up to Cuenca, and then into the Amazonian Oriente. Ecuador didn’t disappoint: it is visually stunning and incredibly heterogeneous. Even in the same part of the country, within 5 minutes’ drive the landscape can change drastically from green and lush to auburn and barren, and the cultures that inhabit the various regions are no exception to that rule, though there is without a doubt some things distinctly “Ecuador” about all of it and all of them.
It was our last day on the coast before heading back to the Sierra. We were leaving Ayampe, a sleepy, paradisiacal village to which I’d been before with Ann, and with which we were in love (not least because of Cabanas la Iguana, where we stayed both times). We needed to get to Puerto Lopez for an early-ish bus heading to Cuenca. Buses and taxis regularly head up the Ruta del Sol, so getting to the nearby Puerto Lopez wasn’t too much of a worry, but after half an hour had passed, we started to think we’d miss our bus inland. We later found out there was a parade on in one of the towns between, hence the lack of traffic from where we were to where we needed to be, but without any other option, we hitched a ride with a guy heading our way in his truck. We dumped all our bags in the bed of his truck and jumped in, explaining our situation. He was really nice and didn’t mind at all — he had the tranquility of the recently vacationed about him, and told us he was heading home that day to Quito. We arrived on time for our bus by the skin of our teeth, and as I threw out backpacks to my cohorts, they rushed off to get on the bus.
We’d loaded our packs onto the compartment below and were pulling out of the station when it hit me: I’d forgotten my boots. Normally they were hooked to my pack by a carabiner, but I’d detached them for some unknown reason, and now they were on their way to Quito. I’m a big guy, and my feet are no exception. I knew my US 13 (EU 47) boots would be of no use to any of our Ecuadorian Good Samaritan’s mates back home, and worse yet, I knew I couldn’t possibly hope to find a pair that would fit me in Ecuador.
The first of many obstacles had presented itself, but I was up for the challenge.
Stay tuned for more of my mapping adventures…coming up next: Did he hike barefoot? Did he even hike at all???