Keeping track of tourists - Leo in Brazil

von LEA BAUER am 11.02.2016

Capao is nestled in a green valley in Chapada Diamantina National Park. The hippie enclave consists of one cobblestoned main street lined by a few bed and breakfasts, eateries, one bar and a supermarket where you can run a tab, if you’re a local. At night, the smoke of ‘special’ cigarettes fills the air, and a crowd of barefooted vagabonds in colorful garb and long dreads congregates around a rickety table where two girls sell vegetarian pizza that’s being baked in the room behind them. Leo, skinny, with long soft curls, buys four enormous slices. “First round,” he says, and digs in. Leo moved to Capao from Brasilia six years ago, and shares a place with his wife and sister in law. All three work as guides for trekking tours in the area; they are part of the local guides association. Leo will be taking me and four others on a three day tour to Pati Valley, starting tomorrow.

Leo, my guide for a tour to Pati Valley

“It’s beautiful, very green with all the rain recently. We did have big problems with fires in the last years.” Indeed, the park has seen its fair share of bush fires. At the end of 2015, a fire that lasted over 40 days incinerated the vegetation in over 10% of the protected area. Quite a few of the hill’s I’ve seen over the last few days are covered in the charred remains of bushes and trees. “The government doesn’t care. It’s a national park, and they don’t even have an office in the area. The guides are the ones that do something, and we don’t have any power or money.“ Frustrated, he shoves the rest of the last slice into his mouth. “There’s even a documentary about it, by CQC. It’s the only one that shows the truth, if you’re interested“.

I ask Leo how the fire has affected his work. “Obviously, we couldn’t work for a long time. And we had radio repeaters all over the area. They were all burnt to bricks. We used radio when we were taking tourists into the park, to communicate with each other, and with the tour agencies. There is no mobile phone signal in the region, but radio works. Even the internet here in Capao - you noticed how slow it is? It’s via radio! Like a third world country!” So, I wonder, when we head out tomorrow, there will be no communication with the outside world? What if someone falls down a cliff, and we need help? “We have GPS, that’s the only communication now. I send GPS signals to the Agency, so they know where we are. I can send a distress signal, too.”.

The next day, he shows me his GPS device. It’s a yellow plastic block the size of my hand, with four buttons. “It’s not much better than smoke signals, but at least I can transmit our location so they know when to pick us up. And also when to send help.” He points to the different buttons. “‘ok’ tells the agency where we are. ‘help’ also goes to the agency, to notify them that we have an issue.” And the US-centric “911” button? “That notifies emergency services in the area, I think. I haven’t used it, fortunately.” I’m surprised that the whole of Chapada Diamantina’s tourism operation runs on personal GPS trackers. Isn’t that quite crude? “Yes, we don’t have a choice. I mean, if we had phone reception and mobile internet, we could use Runkeeper. I could share our location and progress with the agency. Right now I only use it to show the groups how far we have walked.” He opens the app on his smartphone. Only 8.9 kilometres in 3 hours? He laughs as I frown. “Maybe that’s why we’re relying on GPS, it makes the tourists feel better!"

Lea Bauer ist als InnoLab-Korrespondentin auf der Suche nach spannenden Geschichten zur Mediennutzung, unterschiedlichen Kommunikationsformen und Tech-Trends rund um den Erdball. Ist WhatsApp eigentlich auch in China angesagt? Wie sieht es mit der Digitalisierung in der Mongolei aus? Und was ist die heißeste Innovation aus dem Silicon Valley? Lea berichtet in ihrer Kolumne von den Menschen, denen sie auf ihrer Reise begegnet und gibt wertvolle Einblicke in die Medienwelt außerhalb Deutschlands. Lea ist Absolventin des MBA Medienmanagement 2009 und hat danach vier Jahre bei Google gearbeitet. Weitere Infos zu ihrer Unternehmung könnt ihr auf Leas Blog nachlesen.
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