POV

Global Odyssey: False Start

Our friend Eric Hill has a mission: “To visit all 194 U.N. recognized countries in world record time and film and document the exciting journey to show that awesome exists in EVERY country, especially with the people.” Eric’s journey will be one of full cultural immersion, while simultaneously raising funds and awareness in partnership with a variety of charity organizations. CBK will be reporting on his progress as he moves along. Check in next time for another tale from a great adventure.

By Eric Hill - http://gowitheric.com/

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

August 19th, 2013 marks six months since the start of The Global Odyssey. But it wasn’t the original plan to have the official start date February 19th. Originally the project was supposed to start September 10th, 2012, and it did… sort of. It was the theft of the most valuable thing I owned that changed everything.

A few months before September, a couple of my friends and I decided we would actually go through with a plan to buy an old school bus in Salt Lake City, Utah and drive it south all the way to Costa Rica. We’d split the cost of the thirty-foot yellow bus and when we sold it in Costa Rica we’d split the sale price. With the higher value of buses like that in Central America, we even had a chance to make a profit or at least cover most of the cost of the trip. This was perfect since the budget was still small and the countries I would start out in would be cheap to hire a cameraman to bring along.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

The plan was coming together perfectly. We planned to spend most of September making our way through every country in Central America; meeting the locals, helping with a charity in Nicaragua and having all sorts of crazy adventures along the way. But, as the trip got closer and more friends got invited, the plan got shorter. Nine different people with nine different schedules whittled the planned time down to only fourteen days, not very long for a five thousand mile trip through seven countries. I was already having my doubts that we’d really be able to experience what I hoped for the official beginning of The Global Odyssey. But even though in the end we indeed shaved off some key parts of the plan, I was still excited to call it the beginning of the project.

The week before the trip was mostly dedicated to bus prep, ripping out the old seats and putting in second hand couches and mattresses. Then seven of my friends and my camera guy piled in the bus and took off towards Mexico. I left a couple days later because of some passport issues to rendezvous with them in Tampico, Mexico and on September 10th the project began.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We got some great footage the first couple days from a restaurant we stopped at on a street, empty due near-nightly gun fights between drug lord gangs and soccer at the beach. Plus we shot the official start to the project when I had the excited reunion with my friends in Tampico. I mean this was the beginning of the potential journey of a lifetime and the footage captured the moment.

The last place we stopped in Mexico for gas, my camera guy, sleep deprived from the non-stop bus ride, unknowingly left the primary camera at the restaurant… with all the footage of the entire beginning of the trip! No big deal though, we would have turned right back around to get it, except that after that stop he slept in the back for nearly fourteen hours straight. It was only when he woke up when we had stopped at the Belize border that we realized it was gone. So sad.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Oh well, right? Yes, it was a tragic loss, but it was only three days worth of footage and Mexico would be the easiest country to repeat. Plus, we still had a back-up camera and a couple GoPros. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the worst loss that would happen. We encountered some other surprises as well.

Taking a giant school bus across Central American borders was much more difficult than expected. We spent nearly an entire day on average at each of the six borders we crossed by bus. The time spent with the locals and some of the charities got cut shorter or even eliminated as the delays mounted. In fact we even had to cut El Salvador off the itinerary because of lack of time and we ended up in Nicaragua too late to participate in the building project we were supposed to be a part of. Don’t get me wrong, we had and incredibly fun time with each other. How could a bus full of buddies driving through Central America be boring? It’s just that The Global Odyssey is supposed to be more than that.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

So the trip continued this way all the way to Costa Rica. We played in waterfalls, “flew” through the countries on the top of the bus and slept in some amazing surroundings. When we reached Costa Rica, the girlfriends of my buddies came to meet us as planned and those of us single guys headed out. Some of the fellas went home, my camera guy and I started off to Panama. Obviously it’s easier to stay on plan without a school bus and with only two people, so this is when the trip started to match what I had been dreaming about for the project.

John and I skipped down to Pavones, Costa Rica and met up with a native tribe in the jungle. The way we got to them was awesome. An Italian guy who we met at a surfer’s hostel drew us a map on a piece of scrap paper. The instructions were to wait for low tide so we could walk two hours down the beach where we SHOULD be able to make it across before the tide would come back and wash us against the cliff.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

After two hours, he said, we SHOULD see a river, where we SHOULD see a rock with a palm tree growing out of it, where we SHOULD see a trail, which SHOULD lead us to a little house, where we SHOULD meet a family that SHOULD welcome us to stay. Sounded solid enough for me! So we accepted the mission and ended up finding the house after dark, but no family.

We decided to sleep there for the night in the open-walled house and continue to look for the family deeper into the jungle in the morning. We found a giant toad and toyed with the idea of eating it for dinner, but we had no way of making fire in the rainy jungle… luckily. It turns out it was a poisonous cane toad. Even from playing around with it, I had an allergic-type reaction in the middle of the night that constricted my breathing and made my eyes swell. But, after some heavy antihistamines in the middle of the night and a few hours of light sleep, we pressed on in the morning.

We ended up finding the family we were looking for less than a kilometer away. They had been staying in a second smaller home used when they are foraging in the forest. They were welcoming, and we spent an unforgettable day with them roasting freshly picked cocoa beans, helping with separating the chafe from the rice and all sorts of other chores.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Later in the afternoon, the father gave us our second hand drawn map. It showed how to get to the schoolhouse we planned to visit and teach a lesson to the children. I got there with my shirt tied around my head and machete cinched around my back. I felt like a warrior, and I’m sure if I showed up to an elementary school in the US like this, I would have been on the evening news, but here the children just seemed excited when we arrived. We got there at recess time, so my lesson plan changed. The lesson I taught? How to play duck-duck-goose… a truly necessary life skill, haha!

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

After a couple days of living like locals in the jungle, John and I got back on the roads towards Panama. After a few days, we ended up on the coast overlooking the San Blas Islands with the hope of meeting some awesome locals there. We found out that this wasn’t allowed, but as fate would have it, we ended up right where we wanted to be. We met a young fisherman that told us about an island where we could stay. No villagers lived there, but it was owned by his village and was a place we were allowed to stay. Though I was really hoping to meet the people of his village, I figured this would still be a really cool experience anyway, so I agreed to the terms and we took to the sea on a small dugout canoe.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

As we paddled out, a massive storm whipped up the waves. As fate would have it, we were forced to dock on the home island of our boat captain, a small little island with about three hundred people living on it. Perfect. We were escorted to the central village hut where the elders of the village sat. In order to stay, the elders had to give permission. We waited in the dark hut with the rain pouring down outside while the elders discussed things in hushed tones on the other side of the hut. Success. The deal was that we would help with the next day’s fishing for the village, which is what I was hoping for anyway.

After a dinner of fish and spam and a night on the hammocks set up for us in the long house, we helped the entire next day with the fishing and other chores to earn our keep. The water was still murky from the storm the night before, so we ended up coming home empty handed, but I had an incredible day all the same. Things hadn’t gone perfectly as planned on this Central American trip, but it was still good enough to call a rough beginning to the world wide journey. It is what happened three weeks later that changed that.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I had a BASE jumping event in West Virginia and some family to visit in a couple states before heading home. I hadn’t backed anything up since Nicaragua, but I figured I had the hard drive in my hands the whole time so it would be ok until I got home to back it up. I spent well over forty hours editing pictures and video prepping for the launch of the project. I was heading home from DC with the plan to back everything up the moment I landed in Salt Lake City. Earlier I had promised some friends I would do a BASE jump with them in Nevada the day after I got back, but because of some canceled flights I ended up making it back to UT just in time for my friends to pick me up from the airport and drive directly to Nevada.

I had the best jump of my life so far and I had the beginning of my dream come true on the hard drive in my backpack. I was on cloud nine. We stopped in St. George, Utah for a sandwich just four hours from my place. We took our time eating, laughing about the amazing jump we had just done. Little did I know, as I was sitting there enjoying my time the most important thing I owned was being taken away forever.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We got back in the car and after about twenty minutes, I fished around for my backpack so I could get a little work done on my computer. I couldn’t find it. We pulled over so I could dig it out of the back. My calmness started to fade. We were all digging through everything looking for it. Yeah, we had three parachutes and a bunch of gear that could have made it a little difficult to find, but a backpack that size wouldn’t stay hidden forever. I began panic as I came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t there. I took the drivers seat and blitzed back to the gas station where we saw it last. I kept repeating to my self over and over, “It’ll be there. It’s got to be there!”

It was nowhere to be found. We got ahold of the security footage within a couple hours and actually saw the nightmare play out. I watched the split-screen security footage in horror. On one camera we were happily munching our sandwiches while the other camera showed a beat-up white sedan pull up next to where our car was, a man get out, grab the back pack and drive off. I couldn’t believe it! Here I was four hours from home after over a month of traveling. I’d gone through five states and six Central American countries and it was in St George, Utah that I would lose the hard drive!

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I made a police report, sent my friends home and rented a car to drive all night looking for it. No luck. Amazingly, I got a call three days later from the St. George police saying they found the car and arrested the guy in the video! Unfortunately, they said the guy admitted he had already traded all the stuff in the backpack for drugs in Las Vegas. I kept my cool, and offered a deal.

“If you can get me my hard drive back, all the rest you can keep and I will drop charges.” I offered to forgive him for nearly four thousand dollars worth of cameras and computer equipment and all he had to do was recover a one hundred dollar hard drive (worth much less on the black market, I’m sure).

Also unfortunately, he led me to believe that he could do it. Three months of this went on with him dragging me along. It wasn’t until the guy was arrested again for petty theft that I officially gave up hope for recovering the hard drive. According to the few things I knew about him, it seemed like this was a lifestyle for him and he had no intention of changing it.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I pieced together what little footage I had and collected the pictures and footage from my friends’ cameras. I was actually able to get most of the timeline together through all of our pictures and video, but with the Panama and Costa Rican native experience mostly lost forever, what I was left with kind of a party-bus picture book. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time and the pictures show it, but without the substance of the pictures and video we lost, it gave a skewed view of what The Global Odyssey was all about. Plus by the time I’d given up on the hard-drive, three months had passed and I had only reached one additional country when I went to Japan. So from September to February I had only reached seven countries. I’d lost most of the footage and I was terribly behind schedule.

It was time to cut my losses and start the project again. But even with a detailed path planned out for the entire world, I didn’t know where to begin. I was lucky enough to be shown the way when the biggest variable of the world trip was eliminated. I got news that my North Korean visa cleared! And the official beginning of the project was set again.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

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