the .raw story : Guardians
Out of the blue I get a call from a friend inviting me on a 16 day backpacking trip through the northern coast of Colombia with Guardians & ultimately an invitation to become part of the guardians team.
Who are the guardians you ask? A guardian, in my words, is someone who gives back, provides for & protects our Mother Earth. We have the best resources that our mother provides for us and we’ve lost touch with the knowledge on how to utilize those resources in a sustainable fashion while not depleting the land nor taking more than we can give back. The mission of the Guardians expedition is to remember, teach, harness and implement these practices with students & participants during a cultural expedition in Colombia learning from indigenous and giving back to the locals in the area through the means of service projects.
Within two minutes after hearing the mission and what my role would be from Ian (cultivator of the trip) I knew I was going to head the call. My role would be to document the trip, gather stories from the indigenous to begin to share their story and help with marketing for future trips. This is exactly what I had been searching for without even knowing it. Earlier this year I wrote down a line in my resume bio stating that it was my hope that my photographs will “help keep indigenous practices alive” with no plan in place at all on how or when that was going to happen. I wrote another sentence in an instagram post that it was my goal “to go on an expedition”… again no idea where or when that was going to occur and come alive. Two weeks after writing that post about the expedition.. I received the Guardians call. The universe was literally placing things in my lap… & there was no way I could pass on this opportunity.
This first trip was the pilot trip. Ian has been building this dream & relationships with the indigenous & local Colombians for 8 years now. He was ready to run a test trip. We gathered 7 friends & members of the guardian team to join us on this trial expedition. The team was a perfect combination of newbie hikers, experienced outdoorsman, moral mediators, creators, holistic healers & bird enthusiasts. We had it all. Darian, Devon, Capi, John Paul, Teddi, Ian & myself.
Like any trip we ran through bumps and hiccups but in the end, the experience is almost indescribable. There was so much magic that filled the air, so many serendipitous moments & so many life lessons that brought out self reflections within all of us… which inevitably is another key component to the trip. This expedition isn’t easy. But it isn’t super difficult either. Anyone can do it that is if you have the will power. The hikes are hard & long. They will test you, they will push you & they will definitely get you out of your comfort zone. And that’s the point. The outdoors has a way of reflecting ourselves and showing us what we often look past. It can inspire our creativity, show us our weaknesses, our strengths & show us how we respond to these situations of pushing breaking points. Growth is what we are striving for. Growth for our leaders, within our students, our Mother Earth & the indigenous we encounter. How can we all grow together and be sure it’s in a harmonious way?
So while guardians is an adventure expedition giving participants an experience like no other, the main mission is to give back, provide, put in place & teach eco tourism systems to the locals in the area. An eco tourism system is one that benefits the community while also benefiting the local natural resources in the area verses a system that takes from & changes things in a negative manner. This tends to happen when large cooperations come in and start profiting off of a natural site or a high tourist destination. For example Machu Picchu, La Cuidad Perdida Colombia, Grand Canyon Arizona, Lake Powell Arizona, most destinations in Hawaii, Moab UT, & Estes Park Colorado are all examples of places you will experience high tourism systems. These are not eco tourism. They are taking more resources from the natural land than they are giving back through clean water consumption, trash, CO2 emissions, food transport, electricity, fuel and transportation, human waste disposal, infrastructure etc. Hawaii for example, if every tourist that visited island was required to pick up trash for one hour during their stay, the beaches would be spotless. Imagine if every tourist wanted to participate in a cultural building projects or community planting projects where they learned about Hawaiian traditions and keeping Hawaiian practices alive which could provide homes or food for local members of the community & schools. Imagine if every place you visited you did something that benefited someone in the community in an act of service other than through the exchange of money. Now there are tour companies out there that are similar to guardians who practice the act of eco tourism, they are just hard to come by and its something our world desperately needs more of!
During our pilot trip after experiencing the La Cuidad Perdida with a macro tourism portion of our trip, we headed to a Kogui village & did a small service project of helping them plant a vegetable garden. This was a small ice breaker project to open up the conversation upon what more we could help the community with. We concluded that in this particular village they had been seeing an inevitable influx of tourism coming through the area and there was no human waste system set in place. The village has lived the entirety of its existence defecating in their cacao fields or on the skirt of their village, which is fine for them because they are all eating things of the same food source that they’ve been accustomed to for thousands of years. With so many tourists coming through, it’s incredibly unsanitary to have foreigners with westernized or unfamiliar diets coming through and contaminating their plants & fruiting trees that they would then later consume. The next trip with Guardians will included a building project of a dry composting toilet that they can use safely as fertilizer for their gardens. This will be a harmonious exchange of teaching our students how to build a composting toilet as well as teaching the Kogui village community. We left the village with excitement to return and in mutual agreeance that this was a positive impact we could imprint on them in exchange for the experience, knowledge and stories they share with visitors!