Location, location, location.
In the sales world, it’s the secret to success.
You can say the same about exploration – except there have been times in Latin America when finding a location was the secret.
In one memorable instance, according to consultant David A. Krause, the directions to get to a location in the plains of central Venezuela, the Llanos, included the instructions:
“Turn left at the abandoned white refrigerator after you leave El Sombrero.”
Actually, those guidelines worked just fine – until someone took the refrigerator.
“The confusion that ensued was only corrected when someone else was kind enough to abandon another white fridge in the same location,” Krause said.
There had to be a better solution – and Krause believes, thanks to the development and growing use of GPS technology, that better solution emerged.
Krause was among those in the late 1990s who got “enthused imagining how the GPS technology could be applied in Latin America in particular” – a region with few road signs to help modern-day explorers.
“GPS devices required highly specialized maps and, although resources were being invested to make GPS maps for rich countries, similar investments in less-affluent regions, such as Latin America, were lacking,” Krause said.
“But, as groups of technophiles grew and new mapmaking tools developed,” he said, “a way to change this situation began to take shape.”
In the Beginning
In January 2003 Krause started an Internet group (called GPSYV) that served as a forum for people interested in GPS technology and its application in Venezuela. Within months, GPSYV had more than 200 active participants – including people who no longer lived in Venezuela.
“One of the first problems the group set out to solve was matching up the capabilities of the GPS systems with the need for useful GPS navigation aids for Venezuela,” Krause said.
Around this time, a Brazilian programmer released an application that allowed users to graphically show and manipulate data that had been collected with GPS receivers. Then an Austrian programmer who enjoyed traveling to emerging countries released an application that enabled the compilation of these maps into a format that could be read by GPS receivers.
In May 2003 GPSYV released its first map.
“It contained little more than a dozen fuel stations and three main highways,” Krause said, “but it was the beginning of matching the emerging GPS technology with the needs of users in Venezuela.”
People who traveled around Venezuela began recording the coordinates of destinations and the roads or tracks to reach them, submitting the data to Carlos Solorzano, a Venezuelan programmer who took over the publication of the maps.
“Although these early maps were only ‘moving maps’ that worked in the relatively basic GPS receivers that were available at the time, both the available software and the GPS receivers continued to improve,” Krause said.
In 2006 a Polish programmer released an updated software program that enabled the creation of “routable” or “turn-by-turn” maps that could be used in the GPS receivers that had started to become available, according to Krause.
By this time the data in the Venezuela map amounted to 30,000 locations and 90,000 kilometers of roads and trails.
“The difficulty in initially converting this data into the needs of the routable maps could be compared to trying to tape together 90,000 pieces of spaghetti that were strewn about a room,” Krause said, “and the performance of the early version of the maps painfully reflected this.”
But the initial difficulties were overcome, and by late 2006 a routable map of Venezuela (dubbed “VenRut”) had been produced.
“This was a huge step forward,” Krause said, “and as the almost 1,000 members of our group sent additional data and reported items that needed to be corrected, the quality of the maps continued to improve.”
(As of last year, the VenRut map includes over 150,000 locations and 200,000 kilometers of roads and trails, according to Krause.)
After VenRut’s introduction, further developments progressed steadily.
♦ In 2007, a member of GPSYV who frequently traveled to Colombia suggested a similar project for Venezuela’s western neighbor. Users from Venezuela and Colombia pitched in for this new project, dubbed “ColRut.”
“By 2009 it was clear that the rapidly-growing attention and dedication required for the project exceeded our available capabilities, so it was transferred to a group coordinated by Carlos Ruiz, a resident of Bogota,” Krause said.
♦ In 2008, Ivo Santamaria, a group member who lived in Venezuela but had married a Peruvian, started to publish GPS maps of Peru – and an Internet group was created to coordinate the work of compiling and publishing the GPS maps of Peru.
♦ In 2009, William Argueta, a resident of El Salvador, began publishing GPS maps for his country.
♦ Recognizing the need for a regional program that covered the relatively small and less affluent countries in Central America, in 2010 “SalRut” was expanded to become “CenRut.”
♦ The most recent project has been BoliRut, coordinated by Jesus Hidalgo, which started publishing free maps of Bolivia in 2013.
The variety of uses for which these mapping projects are employed is extensive, according to Krause.
“Countless Venezuelan teenagers regularly list the VenRut GPS maps at the top of their ‘must have’ applications for their smartphones,” Krause said. “First responders consider it an essential tool to reach accident victims or lost hikers (who invariably were not using the VenRut map).”
Other examples, Krause said, include big cat tracking, tourism in the Andes, mountain hiking and to navigate in rural communities that would otherwise require tedious and often dangerous requests for directions.
Today VenRut, ColRut, PeRut, CenRut and BoliRut are cooperative projects that serve to match the needs of travelers in their countries with the capabilities of the GPS technology. The combined memberships of these groups number over 50,000 people, and the freely available maps are currently used by an estimated two million users throughout the region.
And geologists and explorationists all over the region are able to get a better route to the location that could bring big success.
All because someone grabbed that white refrigerator …