Ramen Noodles or Prada?
When I started traveling the world in the early 90’s, travel at first came as a curiosity to what lies across great oceans and past country borders. The thrill of adventure, the unknown and new experiences, I had a need to learn more than school and college had provided me. And, the idea that travel came with an attitude of a “been there and done that” mentality with an edge of adrenaline rushing adventure fills required would pulsate through my veins with such intensity that I had only one thing to do. Get a backpack, a camera and a lot of Ramen Noodles then; GO! TRAVEL & SEE THE WORLD.
Traveling in the 90’s took me to places that in comparison to now, just 20 years ago was still considered 3rd world, with dirt roads and cows in the middle. Now some of those places are eco-tourism capitals that pay homage to the 80’s American pop culture that plays overhead as backpackers sit in cybercafes updating their Facebook statuses and emailing tales from the trails back to family and friends, or the tweets that say, “Mom, I am still alive, all is good, having an amazing time, met new friends, tweet again soon. With love, your kid.”
Then, life was simple in some places, and “Americanized” was not apart of the street scenes with signs of the standard fast food. There were no McDonald’s, KFC’s signs or store windows filled with American wear or Prada. There were only the simple stores serving up the local fare. Such as pizza served with goat cheese, chicken for lunch, no problem at all, but there may be some feathers still on him when he makes it to your plate and home stays that left you sleeping on dirt floors with real feather beds with not many feathers for the fill. If you don’t know the language, just grin and nod your head, they will do the same, and showers that left you standing on wood boards with a dim flickering light, exposed electrical wire and condensation collecting on live wires as you showered encouraging you to maintain great balance on the slender wood board and make sure you don’t step off into the mud puddle collecting inches below your feet. As a traveler, a grassroots traveler, you learn a lot about survival and you learn it quick.
Nearly, 20 years later and well over 620,000 miles traveled to different locations near and far, I can say I have not only seen a fair amount of this world, but I would consider myself seasoned. I know about the antiquities of Pompeii, the artwork of the Lueve, the geology of Yosemite and the lurk of street gypsies in Italy just before they empty your backpack. Truly a small but rich and diverse education in the world around us where you quickly learn the more you learn the less you know, but the thirst to know is overwhelming and you hope you never lose the need to fill the need to know more. Simply said, traveling is amazing.
I realized that my years of seasoning had become in a sense a bucket list checking off each adventure, new country or death defying act, one small tic mark at a time. Adventure travel had become a need to keep stepping up the challenge. Climb higher, trek further, fly farther, go colder, go remote. All adventures were well planned, well organized and well researched. As a past outdoor educator I knew not only how to plan but how to get home on alternate routes if necessary. What was spontaneity in the early 90’s had turned to well calculated plans before stepping out of the front door.
But this past March, the opportunity for spontaneity came. One that was to a location that had never registered on my radar to go, certainly there were no big mountains there, no search for great wildlife, or jungles to explore. Then why on earth would I go? Then again, why not, it was an opportunity to go somewhere new. What I did not realize at the time was what an impact this act of spontaneity would have and how it would change my direction to help make a difference in the world around us. What I would learn would be overwhelming, what I would experience would be at times frightening. I would question our safety and I would wonder why we were there.
The Destination: Haiti and Dominican Republic
I joined a medial missions team as a photojournalist documenting the experience as the team worked in local Bateyes of Dominican and would deliver bags of food to the earthquake ravaged country of Haiti. We would see first hand life in a 3rd world country already destitute now stricken with disaster. The plea for food, the reaching hands, the destruction. The lack of modernization that surrounded us and at that moment, I was whisked back nearly 20 years to my first travel experience where every sense of your being was alive and aware of every thing around you. Where I was, was standing in the middle of a rubble filled street in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Raw with emotion and the duty of a job to do, I picked up my camera and started capturing life as it unfolded before me. The images will send chills through your spine, the photographs that hold the intimacy of the events would almost haunt you days and months after traveling there. The experience no doubt life changing, but it would not end there.
The team worked in several local Bateyes during our mission and on this day, this one in particular had a strong sense of uncertainty about it. I don’t know exactly what made me have an uneasy feel about this location, but I had it and I did not know why. Our team worked quickly to set up the clinic and one of our local contacts came over to me and said, “whatever you do, do not go into the sugarcane fields, if they take you, you will not be found”. Certainly a statement like that not only enforces my already punchy feel of where I was standing on earth at that moment. But I really wanted the ability for the future of Star Trek to be at modern-day and not to be an 80’s futuristic scifi TV show. I needed “Beam me up Scotty” and I needed it now.
About that time a felt a light tug on my pants and looked down to a young Haitian boy reaching to take my hand. His name Miguel, and his simple act of curiosity to meet a stranger would be that moment of change I never expected. A walk with Miguel would become my inspiration and would be a lesson in how to see the world. It was time to take the blinders off and not only look at the world around you but to see it.
My walk with Miguel is the drive behind this challenge: Greater adventures, simpler living and more giving. My 2011 resolution……spending 1 year “Living Philanthropic”. My challenge to you, whether you are at a backpack filled with Ramen Noodles or you are that store front shopper looking for Prada, I challenge you to help make a difference. Each month for the next 12 months find a charity or an organization that works in humanitarian efforts, roll up your sleeves and give them a few minutes of your time. I challenge you to change, to spontaneity, to seeing. I challenge you to simpler living and more giving.
Follow the adventure online as we spend the coming year joining teams around the world to help build schools, rebuild orphanages, provide clean water and provide helping hands. I can’t think of a better way to live!