Mapping Latin America by Bike: Tales From Nomad Maps

Alban Vivert from Nomad Maps went on a six-month bike trip in Latin America. He captured his journey on Mapillary and used the imagery to edit OpenStreetMap. This is his story.

Alban Vivert is a geographer, adventurer, and the founder of Nomad Maps, the collaborative mapping project that combines mapping and exploration by bike. Nomad Maps was set up in 2017 to tap into travellers and encourage them to contribute map data while they’re travelling. In the words of Alban himself: “Travellers are a great source of map data—they have to use maps during their travels and they might as well contribute imagery at the same time.”

Alban took Nomad Maps on its first big adventure in 2018 when he spent six months on his bike cycling through parts of Latin America, from Colombia down to Peru through Ecuador. He strapped his smartphone on his bike and captured imagery for mapping purposes while he cycled a total of 5,200 kilometres, collecting some 110,000 images that he uploaded to Mapillary throughout his travels. Once uploaded to Mapillary, Alban used the images to edit and improve OpenStreetMap in the different cities, towns, and villages that he cycled through.

Cycling through rural Peru

While mapping, Alban noticed that the map lacked in detail in some areas more than others: “There were huge gaps in the map with regards to schools, hospitals, and roads, so that’s what I decided to focus on. Many of the roads and buildings weren’t even on the map at all, particularly in the rural areas and in the jungle.”

Alban's mapping setup

Alban made some 10.000 edits in OpenStreetMap over the course of his trip. He uploaded images to Mapillary and edited OpenStreetMap from cafes and hotel lobbies, or wherever else he could access wifi. Improving the map while exploring new places is just one of Nomad Maps’ objectives. Another is to meet fellow mappers, create a tightly-knit community across borders, and better understand how local mapping groups try to address local mapping challenges. Alban explains:

“The compass of my trip was meeting with local mappers. Different communities face different challenges, and as a result, the communities look quite different. Ecuador suffered a big earthquake in 2016 and that’s played a big role in shaping their mapping community since it’s focused on remapping the parts of the country that were devastated by the earthquake. It’s a young community, born from disaster. The OSM communities in Colombia and Peru, on the other hand, have been around for well over a decade and face different challenges. There are many mappers in Lima, the capital of Peru, but Lima is huge and setting up meet-ups and mapping events can sometimes be challenging because of traffic congestion.”

Alban, somewhere in Latin America

Apart from mapping his journey and meeting up with local mappers, Alban also recorded a film of his travels. He ended his six-month trip by going to State of the Map Latin America in Buenos Aires where his film premiered. It’s since been screened at State of the Map Africa in Ivory Coast and it’s been seen by more than 2,000 mappers worldwide.

Nomad Maps, “Le Film”

Alban and Nomad Maps are currently doing mapping excursions in Alban’s native France, with the next big trip being planned for Africa 2021. Stay tuned for more of Nomad Maps’ adventures by following them on Twitter.

/Said, Community Operations Manager

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