I'm currently typing this blog post from La Sin Ventura Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala. This is part of continuing evolution of my travels in Central America. You can read the previous story on my adventures to Semuc Champey here. Over a week ago, I finished a transformational week-long retreat in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan, widely considered to be the most beautiful lake in the world! This occurred after I successfully hiked over 13,000 ft to the top of Volcan Acatenango , undoubtedly one of the toughest experiences of my life. I've learned a lot about my inner chakra powers during my travels thus far. I'm feeling empowered for my upcoming adventures in Costa Rica shooting tours across the country, all expenses paid while meeting new friends and continuing to combine my passion for travel with photography! I've accomplished all of these adventures in Guatemala on less than $500. I'm frequently still in starving artist mode but I will remain ever persistent and continue to hone my talents. Just call me an "Adventure Capitalist".
Shortly after arriving in Antigua and checking into a hostel for two nights, I booked a full hiking tour to the top of Volcan Acatanengo. A shuttle picked me up the next day and drove nearly two hours to the base of the volcano. We began hiking up a steep incline of volcanic ash. Just as in a meditation practice, I focused on consistent in-out breathing, forged ahead, frequently staying ahead of the other dozen hikers. We took breaks every half-hour as the tour guide led the way. After approximately 6 hours of intense hiking, we finally reached the base camp and began setting up our tents for the night. There was a heavy fog concealing the active volcano Fuego on the other side. We sat around the campfire for hours before the fog lifted around midnight and we caught the first glimpse of Fuego spewing out "liquid hot magma" (in the voice of Dr. Evil). Of course, I immediately ran down the hill, perched my tripod on a rock, and started taking long exposure photos. After all, that was the main reason I climbed all the way up here in the first place.
After awhile, our tour guide offered the opportunity to hike downward and up the active volcano. After a few minutes of a deliberation, I decided to join the brave ones on this crazy mission. We hiked through perilous trails with steep falls and then upward until reaching a long narrow ridge leading to the molten crater. I set up my tripod and began capturing epic photos of volcanic eruptions. We were so close I was able to use my wide-angle lens. We reached the base camp around 4am, feeling exhausted and energized from the adrenaline. I got a few minutes of shuteye before we began climbing to the summit, reaching the top after another 1.5 hours of intense hiking through volcanic ash. The panoramic birds-eye views from up here at 13,000 feet were truly astonishing! It should be noted that Volcan Fuego erupted violently for the first time since 2012 only two nights after I was standing on it. I'm lucky to be alive! Life is short, appreciate the precious days you have on this Earth.
This intense experience tested the limits of my personal willpower and taught me the power of the maxim "Mind Over Matter". The descent was considerably easier. I was able to literally surf down volcanic ash from the summit to base camp and eventually broke off from the crew on a solitary hike listening to music on the way down where I drank water and meditated until the others arrived and we caught a shuttle back to Antigua. I immediately checked out of my hostel and boarded a notorious chicken bus. What ensued was quite possibly the most unusual experience of my travels abroad so far. The driver was flying down city streets and taking corners at a ludicrous speed. I was literally on the edge of my seat. We stopped along the way and a guy at the front began speaking rapid-fire Spanish of which I couldn't understand a lick. I had directions to get off at a Puma gas station and cross a bridge to catch another chicken bus to Panajachel. It started pouring down rain and I waited under the bridge with Guatemalans for awhile before catching another bus. This one was full of people packed in like sardines. I was standing up holding on for dear life as the souped-up engine propelled the bus forward. The crazy guy is charge of luggage would routinely climb out the window onto the roof while the driver took mountainous corners at excessive speeds. Once a seat opened up, I sat down next to a guy who spoke decent English and we spoke for a long time. It just so happens he was already familiar of my Instagram profile. Small world. After two more chicken buses, I finally reached Lake Atitlan, and it was such a beautiful sight to behold driving down mountain hills at sunset with majestic water on all sides. I made conversation with a cool guy from Germany on the way to catch a boat to San Marcos. Just in the nick of time. The sunset boat ride was short but oh-so-sweet. A nice woman showed us to Hostel Del Lago and, after a delicious meal of nachos, I was out for the night. I learn time and again that it's very easy to meet new friends during travels abroad, especially if you approach everyone you meet with kindness and respect. That goes for even the smallest animals...
The next day, I took a refreshing dip in Lake Atitlan and captured a short video on my iPhone, which I only recently discovered is waterproof. Afterward, I decided to hike uphill to the Golden Temple by myself rather than wait for the guide. It appeared to be relatively close on my GPS, but the reality was quite different. I had to ask a young boy for directions along the way, and luckily he spoke enough English to point me to a temple perched atop a mountain. Determined to reach the top, I hiked up steep hills for nearly an hour before finally reaching my destination. The panoramic view of Lake Atitlan from this elevation was absolutely stunning! It almost feels like a dream. Joshua and Jenna were waiting for me on the porch as I collapsed amidst my heavy bags. I would later discover that my excessive Solar Plexus chakra was hard at work during this intense mountain hike. Before the retreat, my skeptical mind would have written this off as "hippie nonsense" but I sing a different tune now. I learned a lot about myself during this week through the wisdom shared from the 7-person retreat crew. Each day was dedicated to a different chakra with plenty of adventures along the way. The other Austinites arrived after two days; Erin, David, Johnny, and Jessica. They each brought different unique energies into the mix and I really enjoyed getting to know them better. I didn't journal during the retreat, so my experiences are coming directly from memory. I maintain a blog to keep a record of all my new experiences. Every morning, we'd wake up and do an exercise, either some form of yoga or meditation. This was a great way to start the day. Many successful people praise the benefits of stating off with a short meditation to ease the mind into a stress-free, productive day. This is a practice that has never come easy to me. I find that listening to relaxing music or a mindfulness audiobook (suggestions: "Mindfulness for Beginners", "Wherever You Go, There You Are", "Peace Is Every Step") helps motivate me to quiet the mind. After the retreat, I realize the importance of integrating a daily meditation practice into my impatient lifestyle.
The first day was dedicated to the Root Chakra. We were given common traits on the excessive and deficient side elaborated by Joshua from the book "Eastern Body, Western Mind". I determined that my Root was very deficient. Why? A few reasons. I love the freedom provided by travel, lack a stationary place to live, enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone, and don't have a consistent source of income. I've never been able to hold down a 9-5 job longer than 2 months. I also enjoy flying my drone, which symbolizes imaginative flights of fancy, not rooted to the physical ground. However, I have come to embrace these traits as a positive side of my character as a traveling creative entrepreneur. This, combined with my overactive Solar Plexus, are a dynamic duo that I believe will eventually lead to long-lasting success in business. However, I also recognize that it's important to trust my intuition rather than continue to proverbially "bash my head against a wall". If something is not working after multiple failed attempts, perhaps it is a wise decision to think about the problem differently from other angles. For example, I've been using email marketing as a technique to grow my aerial photo/video business in Austin Luxury Real Estate markets. After building a database of nearly 1,000 real estate agents and actively reaching out to them with limited success, I've decided to direct my efforts elsewhere. Although I still believe this will be a lucrative career choice in the future, I would rather focus on my true passion of travel and adventure. I'm already taking positive steps in the right direction. I will be shooting tours in Costa Rica for the next few months! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'm very enthusiastic about! I want to use my mindfulness powers to fully internalize all the new experiences in the pipeline! Parasailing and zip-lining at Manuel Antonio National Park, first-time surfing lessons at Hermosa Beach or Tamarindo, deep-sea diving with dolphins, and essentially living like a "Movistar" (cell service provider in Costa Rica). I would also like to visit a few friends around Costa Rica during my travels. It's not work if you love what you do. Life is short, appreciate the novelties while you're alive! #PuraVida
The highlights of my experience at the retreat were hiking to a magnificent waterfall near San Marcos and the rejuvenating hot springs on a nearby mountain. I learned the importance of listening to advice from others and asking questions. In order for people to be interested in you, you must take a genuine interest in them. I also learned that vulnerability is a key to attraction. The most difficult part of the retreat was suppressing my emotions for Jenna. I wish her true happiness in love and life! In the words of The Beatles, "If he loves you more, go to him." She is like a muse and inspires me everyday to be a better man! As a hopeless romantic, I'm still searching for my true love. I'm firmly convinced that the best way to find her is through following my passion. This will help me strengthen the Sacral chakra, which is responsible for creative, pleasure, and sexuality. Currently, I'd rather direct my efforts into business pursuits and making a name for myself. The Third Eye Chakra is primarily responsible for visionary forward-thinking. I'm constantly focusing on the future, worrying about not living up to my full potential, and striving to reach enlightenment. However, the only moment we truly have is NOW. Think too much and you may miss it. Live in the present moment and you will create sustainable happiness. This is the most important spiritual currency of all!
The retreat wasn't without trials and tribulations. For example, I was intensely ill at the beginning and end, which I attribute to a parasite, food poisoning, or a radical shift in diet. It felt like a fire was burning in my stomach throughout the night. In hindsight, I believe this was my body's technique of purging built-up toxins from my system. I will make positive steps towards altering my diet over the next few months. I need to educate myself on proper diet and start adding more fruits/greens/vitamins to my heavy carb/protein diet. Just because it tastes good, doesn't mean it's good for you. The bacteria in your gut are able to convince your mind to eat foods heavy in sugar and salt so they can continue to grow. Although I'm still skeptical of this assertion, if it's true, this is scary stuff! It is important to be healthy in body, mind, and spirit. I believe diet is an important part of the equation for success in life. Communication (Throat Chakra) and love/compassion (Heart Chakra) are important keys to building long-lasting romantic relationships. For more information on balancing charkas, check out this website.
Another breakthrough moment was the realization that I need to have the humility to ask for help when the going gets tough. This resistance has been a struggle for quite a few years. My sheer will of determination (excessive Solar Plexus) often prevents me from delegating tasks to others. Working with my business partner Alex in Costa Rica will be a positive step toward building a team. He is in charge of booking all the tours, reserving accommodations and transportation, which frees me up to focus on the artistic components of filming and editing. I'm currently staying in San Jose at a house in a safe neighborhood. His mother cooks three meals a day. After only three days in San Jose, I'm already very excited for the coming attractions! We're leaving for Manuel Antonio after this weekend! I had the chance to visit this stunningly beautiful national park during my travels last year and it is by far my favorite destination in Costa Rica so far. I refuse to crash my drone again this time!
My adventures in Guatemala were excellent preparation for shooting tours in Costa Rica that will certainly lead to paid opportunities down the road. I enthusiastically welcome the challenge with open arms! There's so much to be grateful for in life if you have the right mindset. Good health in body, mind, and spirit is more important than monetary wealth. Do what you love, and the money will follow!
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post. I will leave you with the promo video from my travels in Guatemala. Stay tuned for further updates!
**Don't hesitate to contact me if you need a professional photographer. I specialize in aerial photography, event photography, concert photography, real estate photography, and wedding photography. Currently accepting new clients in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and surrounding areas!