The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, both of activity, travel and emotion. Since I wrote my last post, the Trophy Tour has been island hopping around Central American and the Caribbean which we will continue to be doing for the next couple of weeks. Our first stop after arriving back in Atlanta at the end of September was Costa Rica. This day was a big day for the tour as it marked the first flight of the entire team, as well as the first flight in our very own plane! It was a bit surreal for me to arrive at the Atlanta airport and see the bright red jet that will become my home away from home for the next 8 months. The entire team was impressed and excited and the energy of that first flight was buzzing. I was interview by Jay More, writer for Coca–Cola’s Journey blog and it was a bit surreal talking about my role on tour, being on the plane and really feeling it all happen. You can read the interview here: http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/finding-focus-photographer-lands-picture-perfect-gig-with-coke
Our first stop on this leg of the trip was Costa Rica, we had a huge event planned with over 17,000 people in attendance throughout both days. It’s amazing to see the detail, energy and passion that is put into these big events. There are dancers and music, people performing football tricks, a huge hologram, art walls and of course the FIFA World Cup Trophy. Being around such a positive and energetic environment is contagious and it’s hard not smile with people when they react to the whole event. The second day in Costa Rica a few of us drove out to a smaller town to watch a local team play a match and then we explored a bit of the beach, it was nice to get a chance to see a different part of Costa Rica and meet some local people.
Next up was Honduras, a busy few days for the tour. We met the President of Honduras on the plane which was exciting, there have been a few presidential meetings so far and it’s always thrilling to be able to shake hands with a head of state. Vincent, one of the videographers on tour, and I set out into the city of San Pedro Sula to capture some content. We explored a windy road up a mountain and found the perfect little football pitch at the top, unfortunately nobody was around to play in it. After that we wandered around some of the streets in San Pedro Sula and eventually found a small team of boys practicing in the setting sun. That evening we took a small commercial plane to one of the most difficult landing airports in the world, Tegucigalpa. Our event there was great, another big event with a lot of people and again it was amazing to see the energy around the entire event.
After leaving Honduras we headed over to Panama City. I was surprised by how big the city was, how many huge skyscrapers built up the skyline. We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was a pretty cool place to stay. I had a bit of a chance to explore a bit of the city to capture photos for my job and it was a really cool afternoon. We had another big event there and it was strange to be in such a commercial area after being in so many smaller countries and places. We had a nice stay there before heading off to Jamaica.
Jamaica was one of my favorite stops on the tour so far. The Prime Minister, a really energetic and spirited lady came onto the plane to greet us and I even got to have a short conversation with her about why she loved football. My role in the tour gives me a really great opportunity to actually get out and see the communities and countries that we are visiting, while much of the team stays behind to set up events, organize the day and meet with local teams, myself and the video team get escorted off into the cities. In Jamaica, we sped through the city of Kingston on our way to photograph and meet a local young football star. Driving through these cities is probably the biggest culture shock for me. There aren’t really solid rules on the road and at times we are dodging goats, dogs, children and bicycles sometimes a combination of those! While we were shooting in Angels, Jamaica a young boy wandered over to our little set up and immediately started asking questions about my camera and phone. I let him take some photos and he loved it so much that he must have taken about 500 pictures of everything he could. It was a happy moment that brought a smile to my face when I explained it to the rest of the team.
The next morning Vincent and I set off again to shoot some photos of our local football star and we found ourselves in the poor fishing community of Port Royal. It was an interesting place, once being the pirate central of the area and being known for its wealth and debauchery, most of the city now lies under the water after an earthquake. I photographed some kids fishing off boats and then a young boy showed up and I asked to photograph him playing football. After a few minutes of taking his picture I asked him why he liked the sport and his answer pretty much broke my heart. He answered “It’s the only thing that I can do to escape poverty, to help my family live a better life” Here was this boy, only 14 years old feeling like it was his responsibility to find a better life for his entire family. It froze me for a second and we talked for a few more minutes about how he plans on advancing and making the national team. It amazed me that the power of this sport runs so much deeper than just a love of the game, for some it’s a literal way of life, a way to live a better life.
After our conversation we walked around the streets for a while, the sun beating down on us on one of the hottest days on tour so far. We came across a group of young kids playing football in street. It was a classic scene of what you might expect in a poor neighborhood. The kids were barefoot, using garbage and crumpled clothing as goalposts and for the most part they ignored the fact that I was there taking photos as they ran across the scorching pavement in the sun. As I took photos one of the kids slowly approached and tapped me on the shoulder and whispered “Do you have a drink?” Again my heart sank, looking at this kid no older than 8, sweat beading on his forehead and without shoes. Right away I nodded and walked over a corner store across the street, I spent every dollar of Jamaican money I had buying drinks for the kids in the street and as good as it felt, I walked away with a heavy heart knowing that there was so much more I could do if I had more money. It was a weird morning of feeling blessed and guilty and humbled all at the same time.
Jamaica was one of my favourite stops not just because of the culture and the happy people I was able to meet, but because it was the start of me really seeing the bigger picture of this trip and of my own life in regards to how fortunate I truly am. While it’s amazing to experience these really cool cities in fancy hotels and have the opportunity to meet presidents and dignitaries, it’s the moments when I’m sitting in the street, dirt on my pants watching and capturing unfamiliar scenes and people who I truly feel are the highlights of this trip. It’s already inspiring me to give back, to want to make a bigger change in this world and to make the most of the blessings that I have.
Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve been island hopping. Visiting new communities and countries almost every day and it’s a constant buzz of energy and happiness. I wake up tired but go to sleep filled with energy of the smiling faces, the laughter, the energy and the positivity that we get to experience every day. It’s a bit of a rush, packing up and flying out each morning but each new country brings with it a new story, a new person that both fills my heart a bit more and yet takes a piece of it away with them. It’s only been 5 weeks and I’m already changing into what I hope is a better, more generous and grateful person. The next leg of our tour takes us to Haiti, Belize, Trinidad, Nicaragua and more before we head to Africa.
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