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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.