When I heard that the group of snowboarders known as Beyond Boarding was looking for a photographer/videographer to head to South America with them, there was no doubt in mind I was their guy. The purpose of the trip was the combination of humanitarian work and snowboarding. After a few weekends of fund raising, sending mass-emails and making phone calls, I found my self on a plane headed South, destination: Peru. I couldn’t have done it without some help from my friends and family.
I went down to South America with the intention of being involved in Hope International’s Development Agency's Sustainable Work Project in the slums of Iquitos, Peru. My role would be to shoot photos and bits of video for the Beyond Boarding media outlets. I filmed 50 out of the 65 days on the road for the feature documentary on the trip. I built some personal relationships that I know will last a lifetime, experiencing development work and the struggles and wins within it. In addition, I had the chance to ride some of the best powder in my life in the Chilean Alpine. I flew back to Canada with a lot more than I had ever expected.
The trip felt like two separate chapters. It started with working with locals in Belen to build a floating garden raft. The temperature was usually 40 degrees Celsius and always humid. From there, I took a 65 hour bus ride into Chile, followed by a ride back of a truck. We drove up 50 plus switchbacks to arrive in the mountains where there were three feet of snow on ground. It was a trip filled with adversities.
While working with the local youth in Belen I learned about the complexities in creating sustainable and successful development. This opened my mind and made me respect everyone involved with La Restinga, a local organization that works with people and problems within the Belen community. While I spent a month’s time in the Amazon on a project put in place to help the community and youth, I can’t say it was without its struggles. Working alongside people that live their lives in such harsh conditions, so different from my world back home, I found myself grappling with the question of whether or not I was really making any sort of a difference here. Walking away from it all, I have learned that development is not something that you can show up and do, rather it is created through lasting, sustainable impact you can make by building strong personal relationships and learning together. We need to find creative ways of improving people’s lives, from their perspective, rather then changing the people.
In the second chapter of my travels, after taking a circular saw to my snowboard and cutting it in half to create a splitboard, I found myself knee deep in fresh powder in the Chilean Andes, touring, photographing and riding with nine other riders. During our two week road trip south of Chile’s capitol city, Santiago, we were in search of fresh lines and snow-covered volcanoes. We travelled by the van that we nicknamed “The Toaster." Things get interesting when you travel with nine snowboarders in a three person cargo van, full of board bags and camera gear, for up to 14 hours a day. Needless to say, it was a good time. Touring and riding down two of Chile’s many volcanoes with epic mountaintop views and snow-covered peaks, made for some surreal feelings of gratitude. I felt a true appreciation for the life and the privileges I have been given as a North American. By Canadian standards we were roughing it, spending nights sleeping in the van to cut costs on occasion. But compared to the people of Belen, we were living a life most would not even dream of.
Having such a wide range of experiences packed back to back this summer, left me flying back to Canada with renewed appreciation. I am thankful when I turn on the tap and get clean, cold, drinking water. It makes me remember the children in Peru begging for a sip from my water bottle. Water was something they struggled to find daily as we worked on the raft project together in the Amazonian heat. I feel appreciation for the clean air in Canada. In Iquitos, more days than not, I was plagued with headaches caused by the mass amounts of exhaust fumes from the moto-taxis. I appreciate our health care. In Iquitos, I spent a good portion of my days on the road pushing through sickness, because I had no other choice. I appreciate my friends. Together we have had a life altering experience. Their passion for helping others is inspiring.
I want to send out a huge thanks to my friends and family who helped support my becoming a part of such an amazing trip this summer. A big thanks to Rainbow with the Hope International Development Agency, for letting me become a part of this project with so little notice, to Tamo Campos, the founder of Beyond Boarding for bringing me on as their photographer/videographer and to Eliel Hindert for connecting me with Tamo and the project. A BIG thanks to my "Peru family," who allowed me to share experiences in a world so different from my own, and to my "Chile family," with whom I shredded and road tripped through some amazing alpine. Thank you to everyone else I met in my travels for leaving a lasting impression. I am excited to be able to bring back a documentary to share the amazing experience we had.
Stay in touch and watch what Beyond Boarding is up to as we hope to release a few smaller movies this winter and our feature film in 2013-2014.