Since June of last year the longest amount of time I’ve spent at my own house has been 3 weeks and this June was no exception to the craziness of traveling and working. I’ve been so fortunate not only to have had the incredible opportunity to travel with the Fifa World Cup Trophy Tour but also to continue my connections with Coca-Cola and football and work with both of those iconic worldwide loves to keep my own career moving forward.
Earlier this month I flew to Brazil to work at a grassroots football program run by Coca-Cola to encourage the love of the sport, heathy and active living and to reward those young players that have given everything for football.
Arriving in Brazil and heading straight to the site of the opening match was a bit surreal but not as overwhelming as slowly welcoming over 120 youth players from all corners of the globe. Busses filled with teams from Kazakhstan to Iraq, Thailand and Chile arrived and filled the secluded camp, located a few hours away from Sao Paolo with their laughter and song and love for football.
My task was one that was familiar from my work on the Trophy Tour. Capture these players enjoying their once in a life time experience, their chance to visit Brazil, share their love of sport with players from around the globe and take in the opening ceremonies and games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This type of work is 100% different from my normal workflow, there’s no posing or concepts, no time to wait for the best light it’s just go out and shoot. Couple this with my laptop decided to hibernate for the duration of the week and it meant that there would be no editing the photos, just using my camera to fulfill my job. And I loved it.
I laid in the grass capturing players juggle empty Coke cans, I watched teams of mixed nationalities carry each other above their heads, laughter echoing through the trees. I watched as the teams, despite the language barrier, communicated and played together forming bonds and celebrating each goal as one team. It was a week of capturing happiness and I’m confident that I did just that.
Going to the opening match was a day to itself. We awoke at 4 am to begin the long bus ride to our first event, a renovated pitch dedication at an after school program inside the security zone. We were welcomed a former FIFA World Cup champion, Bebeto and I watched as kids played their favourite sport without prompting in the shadow of the Sao Paolo stadium. When it was time to walk to the match, it was crazy. A sea of yellow and green formed into a river toward the stadium, surprisingly we didn’t lose any one and each of our 150+ posse made it their seats in time to watch the Happiness Flag, Coca-Cola’s massive mosaic flag being unveiled ahead of the opening ceremony. The game itself was a thrill, it was my own first real football match and what a first! When Neymar scored the first goal for Brazil the stadium shook with excitement and 60,000+ fans screamed into the night. A perfect way to wrap up this crazy year-long ride with football.
After my assignment with the camp was over, I flew to Peru to meet with a friend, Daniel who had invited me to join him in Northern Peru for a bit of a holiday and a chance to get away from ‘regular life’ for a bit. It’s been a few years since I’ve had a real vacation, where I didn’t have a million things to do and where I could just take some time to recharge.
We spent half the trip in the beach area of Vichayito and Mancora. It was amazing to just move from the hammock to the pool to beach and back and just enjoy the sun and sand without having to worry about anything else.
We explored the town of Mancora and rode a motortaxi to a secluded mud bath/hot spring tucked away in the hills. It was a bit weird jumping into a wooden framed hole of brown hot water in the middle of nowhere but it was certainly a fun experience!
On our last full day at the beach we took a tour with an eco-tourism company out on a boat, catching a pod of 500 dolphins jumping through the water and eventually found ourselves at a feeding spot for Galapagos Turtles and enjoyed an amazing snorkel with the giant creatures. It was so peaceful floating above the turtles as they swam just a few inches away, even though the water was cold at 9 in the morning, I was smiling ear to ear (under my snorkel gear of course!) It was easily one of my favourite and most amazing memories ever.
After spending the week at the beach we took a couple of busses to the town of Chulucanas to visit Daniel’s family. When we arrived I was feeling a bit under the weather and admittedly not in the best mood but over the next few days I grew to love the town and the time there more than that at the beach. The family we stayed with were amazing, putting up with my vegetarian request and feeding us all day with delicious food and laughing along the way.
We played football in the hallway, walked through the markets and up to a lookout and enjoyed the smiles and hugs of family and new friends.
Spending time in a modest home like the one we stayed at was eye-opening and humbling and made me so appreciative for what I have. There wasn’t hot water or internet and we were awoken each morning by the rooster living a few feet away, but each morning I woke up in the home I looked forward to the smiling family that greeted me and welcomed me with smiles and fresh bread.
Walking through the town and seeing how little some people had and how it contrasted to how much I do have, made me think a lot. I try very much to give back as much as possible and to be appreciative of everything that I have and this trip reinforced that in me. I went through my backpack and gave Pierro and Carlito, two boys that spent time at the home too as many souvenirs from FIFA and Coke as I could and their reactions to getting trophy key chains, Canadian coins and other treats was heartwarming.
It was tough to say goodbye at the end of the stay, Daniel and his family were incredible hosts and I hope one day to return to Peru and visit the area again. I think it’s important to visit not only the “tourist areas” of a country, but to visit the real people, the real communities to see how the country and it’s population really lives. I loved this vacation because it was a combination of different types of holiday experiences and helped me grow as a person.
I’ve made a video of my trip if you’d like to watch it here: