Updated: Aug 16, 2020
A big part of my experience in the Amazon was influenced by the different kinds of technology I had in my inventory. I was equipped with a satellite phone, DSLR cameras, solar panels, GPS units, power generators, batteries, cables, and various specially designed storage containers. Over the years, I've learned how the Amazon absolutely eats up your equipment and supplies. Nothing lasts down there. However, I've gathered a lot of experience in knowing what equipment works, or doesn't work, and sharpened my skills in their maintenance and upkeep. When your days away from the nearest dispensaries and even further to the nearest communication outpost, it was crucial to ensure that my equipment was functional. And if it broke...well, then that was it. No way to replace parts in the middle of Yanomami territory.
The video above discusses my experience using the Garmin InReach Explorer Plus during my expeditions to Yanomami territory in the Venezuelan Amazon. PLEASE NOTE: This is not a comprehensive review of the product; simply another story in the Amazon. I couldn't help but laugh out loud for my silly complaints of not having coffee and enough to time to get ready. I usually have a checklist two pages long for me to start my day in the Amazon. For the Yanomami, they are up and out in less than 5 minutes.
Much has changed since the early days of exploration of the Amazon. Being able to have advanced satellite technology certainly played a big role in how I managed my expeditions and the overall experience of living, working, and studying among the Yanomami people. The InReach became essential to my expeditions in three ways:
1. Collecting data. It allowed me to collect GPS data like elevation, distances to and from garden sites or foraging sites, average traveling speed, location of villages, etc.
2. SMS messaging. I would say that this the InReach's primary function. It's user interface is a little clunky and I wouldn't use this as a primary device for research. However, its satellite connection and ability to send and receive message has been absolutely reliable. I could check in with my family and kids. I could provide updates and give my friends and family a peace of mind when I went deeper into Yanomami territory. I was able to coordinate logistics, manage important Good Project operations, and discuss research with my colleagues. While messaging from the device was doable, it was best to sync your smartphone using the Earthmate App.
3. Tracking. Not only was I able to send messages but I could send out a tracking link that provided GPS location pings every two minutes (using the Expedition service). Friends and family with that link could pull up my location and track my movement and view my way points! That was amazing. They could see on a map how I've made my way closer and closer to my village or know that I've stopped for the evening to make camp.
Bringing this kind of technology to a remote indigenous territory in the Amazon has surely shaped my overall experience. As far as maintaining communication it was an essential tool in my kit. However, it does come with its burdens. Many times, I felt like this link to the outside world came with a certain weight on my shoulders and stress. I couldn't just escape and immerse myself totally into the world of the Yanomami. The GPS unit was also a small conduit that trickled in the worries and strife of the outside world. If I was out fishing with my nephew, or hanging out by the fire with my mom, or chopping down trees with my brother, I had slight anxiety over whether I had responded to any pending questions. It was certainly a clash of two worlds.
All in all, I totally recommend this device if you're going on extended ventures deep into backwoods, out on the high seas, or trekking across remote tundras. If you've used Garmin InReach Explorer during your adventures I would love to hear your story and how it has worked out for you.
Visit https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/561269 to learn more.
To learn more about the Good Project and support its work with the Yanomami visit jointhegoodproject.org