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Little Light, Big Difference: Mpowerd

I can’t believe it’s been a month since we wrapped up shooting in Guatemala. I want to say a huge thank you to the company Mpowerd  for sending some of their Luci solar lights with me to light up the homes of the students in Yepocapa. With limited access to electricity for some famlies, renewable/non-toxic light sources have a huge impact on day to day life. Here’s a couple of my favorites and check out their site and insta feed for more.

 

San Pedro Yepocapa, Guatemala

Helping out with lunch on a wood fired stove. San Pedro Yepocapa, Guatemala San Pedro Yepocapa, Guatemala

Students in San Pedro Yepocapa, Guatemala

Dedication and Generational Investment – Guatemala

I’ve been contemplating how to wrap up and summarize the last month of our travels in Guatemala. Do I talk about some of the issues that Guatemala is facing? Talk about the poverty level, the malnutrition in schools, the impact of tourism on local culture or the environmental and health issues caused by the volcanoes? Throughout our trip I searched for some narrative besides the documentary we were working on centered around coffee. And then I realized, the people I’ve met and grown to love have one thing in common; an undercurrent that runs through them and the Guatemalan culture as a whole. That torrent that I got to experience first hand is dedication.

 

My first brush with this side of Guatemala was through the coffee farmers (Campesinos) who have dedicated their lives just as their fathers, and thier fathers’ fathers have. They recognize that every drop of sweat put into their terranos (farms) is a generational investment in their families future and well being. In Monte Llano and on the shores of Lago Atitlan in San Juan, women dedicate their time and efforts into weaving beautiful patterns in textiles and patate. In little Yepocapa, a pair of brothers are the best Jade artisans in the country (some claim the world- their work graces the necklines of British royalty) and live in their workshop honing their craft and spending the rest of their time out searching for their next piece of material to turn into a masterpiece. Dedication.

 

The largest chunk of our time in Guatemala was spent under the roof of Erick and Karen. Erick spent his early adulthood fighting a deadly illness and (with a supernatural intervention from God, he says) emerged completely healed and with a degree in education. He teaches at the local school and is known as a pillar of the community and an inspiration for family guidance in a Christian household. Dedication. This drive isn’t limited to the men of Guatemala, the women here are true superwomen. Karen recently graduated from medical school after ten years of commuting back and forth to Guatemala City (sometimes six hours in a chicken bus) while keeping her family running and having a newborn baby. Dedication. Many of the families in Guatemala are large. Mama Lipa raised a family of six, including Tia Pati, who manages to work miracles on a couple of wood fired stoves using ingredients found in the Yepocapa market (eating food that didn’t travel thousands of miles first…what a concept!). Dedication.

 

Here’s a few of the stills I shot when I could no longer resist and had to break away from all the videography. I’ll be editing the video over the next few weeks and hopefully will have at least a teaser up in a few days.

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Volcan de Fuego (Accurately named Volcano of Fire) peaking out from between the clouds of ash that it’s continuously spewing. Yepocapa sits below the Volcano at approx 5,000 ft. One frame from a timelapse i’m working on…stoked to share that with you after the film is edited!

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Don Lipe’s hands covered in ash after tending to some of his coffee plants. Ash from Volcan de Fuego is a constant source of nutrients for the soil around Yepocapa.

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Cutting (harvesting) coffee and trying not to get eaten alive by the bugs.

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Many of the Terranos (farms) are owned by third and fourth generation Camposinos. These three represent generation number five to be cutting these plants.

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Cutting coffee is all about the technique. The cherry must be at the correct stage of ripeness and it must be cut in such a way that the stem is not damaged. Otherwise the plant will not grow a cherry in that spot next year. I found it easiest to twist the cherry as I pulled.

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As you can see, the cherries all receive nutrients at different rates (green, underripe green and red, and ready all shown) resulting in different stages of ripeness. A well cared for Terrano will be cut two or three times a week as each cherry ripens to allow the nutrients that were going to that cherry to pass on to the next in line.

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Back at the Cooperative in Yepocapa measuring out and bagging coffee that has gone through the process and is ready to ship. Cooperatives give the farmers access to processing machinery and tools that would otherwise be too expensive for small land owners (among other perks which will all be explained in the film).

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Sew it up! Ship it out!

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Papa Leon, as he is affectionately referred to by family and friends, grew up on his Terrano above Yepocapa. He is at least a second generation Campesino (accurate family records are rare) and still makes the trek into the hills to cut (harvest).

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Photographing Mama Lipa (Papa Leon’s wife and mentioned in the story above) was a complete honor and privilege for me. Mama Lipa is Kaqchikel which is one of the indigenous Mayan tribes of Guatemala, so it a took a little bit of two-way translation (my poor Spanish into Kaqchikel) to get the ball rolling, but photographing her in her kitchen reminded me of everything I love about photography.

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The village of Monte Llano, situated on the crest of a hill in the western Guatemala highlands. The traditional clothing varies from area to area but each village has its own unique pattern (notice the embroidered mountains?).

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Tz’utujil backstrap weaving in San Juan La Laguna.

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After being spun into thread, the cotton is dyed naturally. In this case, the red is extracted from the body and eggs of the Cochineal.

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The villages around Lago Atitlan can mostly be reached by road but the majority of travel is done in precariously overloaded lanchas.

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Getting in a little evening of fishing.

 

All of these people have one special ingredient that has made this kind of dedication possible and it’s something we’ve lost (but not forever) in US culture. Community, and lots of it! I wish I could pinpoint what makes this place different and how the community as a whole impacts the outcome of each individual. It seems I’m incapable of articulating exactly what that secret ingredient is that we’re missing in the Unites States. If I had to take a stab at it I’d say that it’s our hyper inflated sense of pride and our innate lack of humility that gets in the way..but I think for now, that post, will have to wait ; )

Cafe, Jade and Machetes – Yepocapa, Guatemala

It’s been a crazy few days of filming. Scrambling through the jungle visiting campocinos (small coffee farm owners), hanging out at the Coffee Co-Op going through the steps that it takes to turn red cherries into the cup you and I enjoy every morning. I never realized just how extensive the process is to harvest , transport, de-pulp, sort, and dry each and every bean. Visiting with the campocinos and watching the workers cut (harvest) the coffee, you start to get a sense of the devotion these people have to their plants. For example…the very first step, harvesting, has to be done at exactly the correct ripeness and picked so that the original stem isn’t damaged, otherwise another cherry won’t grow there next year. Many of the campocinos will harvest multiple times a week to ensure that each cherry has reached optimal ripeness, giving the bean inside a chance to absorb as much of the sugar and taste from the cherry as possible. This of course means that an excellent cup of coffee comes from cherries that take a long time to ripen. This is one of the reasons Yepocapa is an excellent place to grow. The high altitude, mild climate, rich soil and constant nutrients from the volcano, makes for a long ripening process. I’ve had a couple cups of local coffee now and it is unlike anything else I’ve ever had!

Yepocapa, Guatemala. Downtown

View from the roof of Erick and Karen’s (The most amazing family that has taken us in) Towards the neighborhood of Aldea San Francisco.

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Looking out the other direction last night.

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If there’s one thing Guatemalans do well (and there’s many) it’s family. Family dinners, family churches, family walks, family terranos (farms). Of course my favorite is family dinners ; )

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Not sure how she does it but Tiapati manages to make some pretty amazing food between two wood fired stoves.

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Fresh EVERYTHING.  All grown in and around Yepocapa.

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Machete in hand, roaming the hills around Yepocapa with Papa Leon. One of the many reasons i’m in Yepocapa is to shoot some stills and film for our friend Ryan who’s working with the local Coffee Co-op on exporting single origin (legitimate single origin…as in, let’s go find it on the map) Coffee that honors the legacy of generations of Campocinos and their dedication. I’m stoked for you guys to meet these individuals once I get all the editing done back in the states!’

 

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That, is what perfectly ripened Coffee looks like after it was just cut (picked) from some pretty happy plants.

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The Co-ops receiving area starts bustling about 3pm as trucks start rolling in. Time to film!

 

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My assistant working hard. Thinking I might get replaced soon.

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End of the day recap as we figure out how to end a film we don’t want to finish.

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We had a completely unexpected treat the other day. We were walking towards the market when someone standing in one of the side street yell “buenos tardes!” at me. I mange to mumble “buenos tardes” back and continue my long strides down the hill, except, this guy is following me! And he’s still saying “buenos tardes” which unknown to me means I should stop. After a couple more repetitions I turn around and so does Ryan to find that it’s Maestro Carlos, one of Guatemala’s top Jade craftsmen. Even after I was being so insulting (unintentionally!) he invited us into his studio and we got the tour. Come to find out that Maestro Carlos and his brother Luis use Guatemalan jade, some of the best in the world, to craft pieces for all over the country and have even sold pieces to British Royalty. Carlos proudly showed off all the pieces he’s made in a collection of magazines he keeps handy explaining that Guatemala has extremely hard Jade compared to other countries and all of his tools have to be diamond coated (diamonds are a 9.5 on the hardness scale where this jade is 7.5-8). We scheduled another visit with him to photograph and shoot video which i’m really excited about!

 

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Just another day commuting Yepocapa.

Dia Numero Dos o Cinco – Yepocapa, Guatemala

So internet in Yepocapa works kind of like this.

1. Walk to find a shop with a Claro sign outside

2. Buy a Claro Internet Movil card for 15 Quetzales that allows you 1GB for 24hrs.

3. Stay up late getting everything done before time runs out.

 

Of course this means that you’re getting a few days at a time. Disclaimer: I’m editing on a netbook so I have no idea how far off my colors are! Therefore i’m saving some of my favorite images to share later when I can do them justice.
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Wandering around among one of the nearby public schools and couldn’t resist the colors of this sink and faded wall.

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Got to visit El Colegio Berea for the first time today! This place is really beautiful and it has no shortage of assistants.
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The home team posed for a quick photo before the first futbol match: Yepocapa VS Gringos. Guess who won.

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Yepocapa (all of central America really) is full of cool and hard working toyota pickups. So i’m starting a photo collection. No idea what this thing is (partially chevy for sure) but it has a toyota grill so i’m including it.
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Hiking above Yepocapa going to photograph Campocinos.

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Don Lipe mulching around newly planted Cafe saplings. There may have been a Gringo trying to assist him and that gringo may have gotten attacked by fire ants…more to come in a video ; )

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The term “Don” may be similar to “Sir” in english or “Senor” in Mexican espanol but here I get the feeling that it means so much more. These men work so hard nurturing these plants and working the black volcanic soil.

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I leave you with a rainy day here in Yepocapa. Hoping the weather turns for the better as we’re going to visit more Campocinos and the Coffee Co-op over the next few days.

 

 

 

 

 

Viva Yepocapa! Day Numero Uno – Yepocapa, Guatemala

Thank you Boeing for helping us visit sunny Miami for 30 minutes. After being delayed in Denver for an hour thanks to a mechanical issue with our shiny new 787, we missed the connection from Houston to Guatemala City. United had no open flights for three days so bumped over to an American Airlines flight via Miami the next morning. One bad hotel and two meals courtesy of United later and we’re on our flight to Guatemala City. We landed and hooked up with my buddy Ryan and met our first chapine…Carlos! Couple twisting, turny hours later and we’re in Yepocapa, Chimaltenango, Guatemala!

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Minimal internet means few and far between posts and lots of work when I get back. Now to get shooting!

Sandstone, Silks, and Lots of Rain Day 7 – Moab, UT

You guessed it…day 6 was rain all day again. So we’re skipping to day 7 which finds us heading up to the Top of The World.

Top of The World Trail is normally a mild trail that takes you to the top of the plateau above Fisher Towers. However come fall it starts getting tricky since the shelves start getting dug out. We hit the trail after rain all evening so it was muddy and hard!

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Bit of a struggle getting to the top with all the mud on the shelves. Busted out the winch before I broke something.

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Sneak peak of our third and final rig in Moab. Look for those when I have more time to edit ; )

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Weather is turning bad so we’re headed out in the AM!

 

Sandstone, Silks, and Lots of Rain Day 5 – Moab, UT

Day five was 8 hours of rain non-stop. So it was boring and we hung out in the nest getting some editing and writing done. So i’ll skip all that and dive right into the awesomeness that was day 5 in Moab!

I’ve always loved the drive up Onion Creek. Constantly in and out of the stream, hoodoos everywhere, soaring towers that defy gravity and slot canyons all over the place. I wanted to rig the silks there pretty bad so we went scouting.

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Got some rigging in down at the bottom of the canyon.

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Rigging up! Images from the shoot coming once I get the chance to edit.

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Life for adventure dogs sure is rough.

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One of my favorites from the shoot before the light ran out.

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Our rigging lit in the center of the frame. Everything else lit by the super moon ; )

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Much thanks to the Juniper trees that so many canyoneers like us trust with our lives.

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Night night.

Sandstone, Silks, and Lots of Rain Day 3 – Moab, UT

With the weather being off and on we wanted to find somewhere near our aerial shoot to hang out and spend the night before it got dark so we did some exploring. Found this amazing place with an arch, a stellar amphitheater and rappel/swing.

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Waiting for sunset.

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The amphitheater.

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Amphitheater rap with a little bit of moon.

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Moonflare and a different take on the amphitheater and arch.

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Sometimes you just feel like being a caveman.

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Nothing like some hot beverages after a late evening of shooting and listening to the rain batter the desert below.

Sandstone, Silks, and Lots of Rain Day 1 – Moab, UT

We rolled into Moab via Salt Lake City after a full days sprint from Craters of The Mooon, Idaho. It was getting cold up north so we thought that heading down to the desert to get dry and warm was a good plan.

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Pleasant surprise to find our friend Corey Kopischke (aka: Corey Kopischke Photography) hanging out with his resto-mod Campster at Willow Springs and getting in some shooting around Moab.

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Too rainy to pop the nest last night and way to tired to do much but roll out the BA camp pads in the back of the truck. But the weather looks promising!

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Passed this awesome van on our way down from SLC and ended up camping next to it. All Wheel Drive, Diesel Power and a little lift…win.

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Rolled up to Hurrah Pass after some scouting around for potential arial rigs. Last minute decision as the sun started to set and the rain continued payed off!

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Sketching.

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Playing with some sunstars Image 1.

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Playing with sunstars Image 2.

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I glanced over my shoulder while shooting towards sunset and  saw this…

 

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Hurrah Pass is overlooked in the Off-Road community because it’s tame compared to other trails in the area. But if you’re looking for somewhere quick to soak in the red rocks and the last few rays of the day, you can’t beat it.

Trestles and a Million Board Feet of Lumber – Supersecret, ID

There’s something about bridges. The effort that mental energy that went into designing them, the blood and sweat that went into building them, or maybe because they represent the talent of men, we’re all drawn to amazing bridges. The only thing that could make it better is discovering a new bridge with friends.

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Family outing on the bridge.

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“Don’t pose like a corpse, you’re on a railroad…that’s just morbid!”

 

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Any train coming?

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Oh and a sneak peak of what we’ve been up to for Aerialist in The Wild

Heading to Idaho – Troy, ID

Leavenworth was getting cold and rainy fast so we retreated to Idaho yesterday in hope of better temps and clear skies. It’s always nice having friends and family spread all over the country to recharge. Oh and to setup a circus in their backyard ; )

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With and impromptu lesson from Kaydee, everyone got in the silks at some point.

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First time in the silks and learning how to fly!

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Backbend is getting good.

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Embrace the flare!

 

Fires and the Aurora Borealis – Lake Chelan, WA

We headed north to checkout an abandoned hydro plant as a possible rigging location and thanks to lots of security cameras, no one to get ahold of, and some sketchy beams we decided to bail out towards Lake Chelan. It was getting dark as took off up Shady Pass so we found a spot once the sun dipped that overlooked Cascade National Park and the lake.

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Sunset over Lake Chelan.

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Dipped my head out of the tent to go check the exposure for this shot….

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And found this out our front door!