Tales From The Road – #2

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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

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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If you’d like to see more photos of my trip please follow me on Instagram @findjoel : http://instagram.com/findjoel#

and follow me on the Trophy Tour’s official Twitter account @trophytour! http://twitter.com/trophytour

 

 

Tales from the Trophy Tour – Part 1!

I’ve finally found a few hours to sit down and write about the first few weeks of my amazing new job. And by finding a few hours, I really mean that the jetlag that I’ve been avoiding has finally hit me after travelling from one side of the world to the other and back in about 9 days! So far as of Sept 27th, I’ve travelled over 44,700km in just over 2 weeks!!

As a bit of a recap to what this exciting job is, back in April of this year I received a phone called from an organization that works with Coca-Cola’s big campaigns and they had an amazing job opportunity that they had in mind for me. The group organizes (among other campaigns) the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by  Coca-Cola and they were offering me the role on tour as the photographer and blogger. The tour, which is a joint effort by Coca-Cola and FIFA, is centered around bringing the physical World Cup Trophy around the world to 89 countries to unite the entire world around the sport of football. Needless to say the opportunity to travel the world with a company that I’ve long respected and been a fan of was an offer that I couldn’t refuse and as of Sept 10th, I’ve been on the road with the tour.

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Our first stop was Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where the launch of the tour occurred. The first day in Brazil was incredible, my hotel window looked over Copacabana beach and I spent a few hours enjoying the sand and sun trying to wrap my mind around how lucky I am to have such an amazing opportunity in my life. Rio was an interesting and beautiful city to visit and I was fortunate enough to see a few different views of it. The second day of my stop there I followed our video crew to visit a young football fan and player who was being surprised with a ticket to the launch, where he would get to see the trophy at the Cristo statue and also meet 5 Brazil champion players. Getting a chance to go to his neighborhood was eye opening and powerful, his community was so happy and supportive of him and even though it was in a poor area of town, the feeling of pride and excitement made everything feel so upbeat and happy.

 

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The video was just posted this week and you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXSern9Zqp4&feature=share&list=PLCGIzmTE4d0gBDk0w2z_JoqcSGb1Sr6n2

The launch day was one of the most surreal days of my life. I remember not too long ago reading an article about statues around the world and thinking to myself that I would probably never see the Christ The Redeemer statue in real life. And suddenly there I was early in the morning with an opportunity to see the statue and the view it has with almost nobody else around. The launch was full of awesome moments; seeing the Trophy for the first time in real life, getting to meet the 5 world champions, watching David Correy, Gaby and Monobloco perform the new anthem as it echoed it’s way down to the streets of Rio. It was a day I’ll never forget.davidgabymonoblocotwo

The rest of our stay in Rio was filled with more great moments, some of which are a bit of a secret for now. On the last full night of our stay there I found myself along with 3 of my colleagues going to Rock in Rio to see David Guetta and Beyoncé perform! In a matter of hours I went from sitting in the Coca-Cola Brazil office to a private Coke booth at the concert, rocking out to Beyoncé and pinching myself because it all felt like it was too surreal to be actual life. After a fairly relaxed final day in Rio we set off for literally the other side of the world, Tahiti.

In a matter of a few stops and a nice layover in Los Angeles that gave me a chance to see Carolyn Hampton and her daughter, we were on our way to the beautiful Pacific Islands. The first stop, Tahiti, was beautiful.  Our hotel looked out over an incredible lagoon and the sunset over and island every night. Our stay in Tahiti was short, only a couple days but it was filled with amazing moments. We had our first big event, an football experience at a local stadium with World Cup winner Christian Kerembeu as well as the captain of the Tahiti National Team. It was really neat to see so many people engaged and excited about the trophy and the whole experience.  After our short stay in Tahiti it was off to Fiji!

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Fiji was incredible. We were met off the plane by warriors and then ushered into a huge ceremony where the President arrived to welcome us and hold the trophy. The whole ceremony was moving and it was fascinating to be a part of such a rich cultural experience that doesn’t happen very often. Our stay in Fiji was filled with so much activity, we had a huge event at a football stadium, bringing the trophy and Christian Kerembeu to welcome the citizens of lautoka.  We had another event at night with fire breathers, dacncers and great music. Fiji was one of my favourite stops so far and I’m already hoping that I can go back one day soon for a longer visit.

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After Fiji we hopped over to another island, Vanuatu. We met the President here as well and he was very excited to be able to see and touch the trophy. The Vanuatu trip was short and punctuated with rain showers that made exploring the local beaches and village a little more difficult. We managed to visit the market and explored a short section of beatufiul blue water and soft white beach sand.

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This trip so far has been life changing, I’ve learned a lot about myself even in the few weeks that I’ve been on the road and it has opened my eyes to a lot of things. We’ve been fortunate to stay at some of the best hotels there are and at the same time experience the poorest neighborhoods and people I’ve personally ever seen. It’s an opportunity though to appreciate what we have and remind ourselves to give back and share as much as possible.

This is just the first of many posts to come, the next write up will include our first trip on our private jet, our trips to Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama! Stay tuned!

 

Make sure you’re following @trophytour on twitter to get all the updates!