Posts Tagged ‘ tourism ’

Finding a nation off the beaten path

Beyond its namesake canal, Panama isn’t a country that typically generates much interest among the American public. It doesn’t have the glamor tourist destinations and cultural touchstones of western Europe, nor the branded image of adventure associated with Africa and parts of Asia.

But those who overlook this gem of a country are missing out. Among the many great lessons I’ve learned on this service/education trip is that you don’t have to follow the tourist template to of name-brand destinations to have a truly memorable international experience.

The nature of the project raising awareness and support for treating OI has allowed for an immersive tour of the country without sacrificing any work time. At this point we’ve interviewed more than a dozen OI patients, doctors and volunteers on location where they live and work. Those interview sites have stretched from the pacific beaches and resort-like settings of Panama’s western half to the highly modern metropolis of Panama City to the jungles of eastern Panama to the colorful Caribbean coast.

Along the way we’ve passed through historical districts, sandy beaches, impoverished slums, thick forests, majestic mountains and sweeping farmland. We’ve sampled several types of authentic cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’ve learned of Panama’s history as a nation and its altogether unique mix of American, French and Spanish cultural influences. We’ve seen rainbows over the jungle, sunrises over the Pacific (yes, it’s geographically possible, check out a map if you don’t believe me) and skyscrapers over the harbor.

It all adds up to a country that can’t be defined by just a few of its parts. Outside of the canal, there are no internationally recognized landmarks, yet drive 30 minutes in any direction and a new discovery invokes surprise. Even the canal never fails to impress despite its well-known status. The engineering marvel changes elevation multiple times, requiring a complex system of locks that make navigation a tight squeeze — so tight, in fact, that ships going through must surrender the wheel to a Panamanian captain for the duration of the trip. That doesn’t stop the ships from coming and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pass through the channel. Drive through the city on any given moment and there’s a parade of giant tankers and cargo ships lined up along the ocean awaiting passage.

This trip is by no means a vacation, with 12-hour work days the norm. But I can think of few better ways to authentically experience a country than by interacting with its natives in an open-ended format. The foundation we’re working with has been our guide through areas often too remote or unfamiliar for the average tourist to enjoy. It’s unnerving at times, a bit awkward at others. But after the initial culture shocks comes a deep appreciation for a country I hope to return to again some day, and one that deserves a greater profile

among the international community.


How maps survived the threat of GPS and even became cool again

The extroverted children played with action figures. The introverted ones sketched pictures.

I was a weird hybrid of the two archetypes. I charted maps of the neighborhood.

Now I might get to revisit that outlet of youthful imagination.

Just when it seemed that maps were dying a slow death at the hands of GPS systems, interactive media has opened up a limitless range of new possibilities to put visual representations of streets and terrain to practical use. These are uses that go beyond what Mapquest offers or even the voyeuristic appeals of Google Streetview and Google Earth. Now both the content and the design of each map can meet the unique navigational needs of each user. They can also help spotlight a particular subject and function as the perfect establishing shot to orientate audiences to a new interactive world.

Take North Carolina wine, a product that figuratively speaking really has struggled to get on the map against better known European and Californian competitors. Dozens of new wineries have popped up across the state in recent years, but they’re usually in remote areas and hard to discover navigating with traditional maps alone. Enter the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council, which put together this interactive map that makes it easy to plot out your own wine trail and compile info on each stop along the way. It cuts out all the clutter and simplifies the interface around the target objective — getting visitors to explore multiple wineries no matter where they live.

On a much more advanced level, the Los Angeles Conservancy is also using an interactive map to build awareness of the city’s historical attractions. It simplifies what is usually a crowded-looking metropolis on any map into an organized set of info that invites users to plan their own trips and see the city as a living museum. You can scratch the surface, go into details or use it to figure out which sites to see in person. In this map, they no longer have to compete for attention with L.A’s plethora of distractions, making it both a navigational tool and a promotional spotlight.

On the news side, check out this interactive map on the potential consequences of global warming. You can see what parts of the world will be underwater if the oceans rise by various amounts. At 1 meter, my brother in Wilmington is still safe. Beyond that, his city starts sinking.

These sites are just scratching the surface. Imagine being able to access an interactive grid of power lines or water pipes next time there’s a break in your utility service. Envision learning about military history by scanning  maps of old battlefields to see where troops were positioned and how enemy ranks were broken. Consider getting wrapped up in a fantasy/sci-fi tale by scanning a map of the fictional world to learn about the culture and zoom in on any location for more detail.

Maybe it’s just that kid in me who’s still charting roads while on his bike or marking down landmarks while  hiking trails, but interactive maps are among the most exciting and dynamic uses of the the communications technology already available to us. Over the next few months, I hope to come across countless more examples of their potential being realized, and reengage in my own love of map-making  all over again.