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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


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Adventure Travel

Jun 14, 2018

Jorge Cervera Hauser: Far From Shore

Underwater photographer, award winning film producer and ecotourism activist, Jorge Cervera Hauser, has a resume as vast as the ocean (pun very much intended), that has connected his intense love for the deep sea and the creatures that inhabit it—particularly the toothy ones we think we’re most scared of.

WRITTEN BY

Alyssa Fowler

“It’s funny how things happen and how only after you see they’re all connected. If I hadn’t lost my toe, I would have never made films and had this business that I love. And it all took me back to the ocean, which is the thing I care about the most.”

He is a Discovery Channel ambassador (although more recently and excitingly for us, recently signed on as a brand ambassador for The Outdoor Journal), has spoken at TEDx, and his breathtaking and explorative underwater photography has led to producing the award-winning documentary México Pelágico, a film that beautifully captures and advocates for the critical balance between local shark fishermen and the ocean ecosystem.

Recently acquiring the legendary SolmarV and running unique and sustainable open water expeditions with Pelagic Fleet, Jorge is bringing more awareness and appreciation of the sea to everyone his work touches.

But at only 22 years old, after a debilitating accident, none of this was on the table for Jorge—least of all, winning the top prize in a Discovery Channel competition.

Animal Planet’s Unearthed

“I was working as a film producer on a channel comparable to MTV, and I was like ‘fuck this’ I’m going to be a safari guide. I had all the paperwork and was getting everything set up to go to Namibia to become a park ranger, and then I had a dirt bike accident. So I lost my big toe, was in the hospital for a month and couldn’t walk for 5 months.

“During that time I had a good friend that came to the hospital, and to my home when I was there, and talk to me about an Animal Planet show where they were looking for the next hot wildlife photographer. He was like ‘That’s you! You should be there!’. And after those months of him coming and telling me about all the episodes, I was just starting to walk again and feeling pretty anxious and ready to go back to work—just laying in bed all the time was horrible. At 7am one morning, that friend called me and said ‘okay, you have to go to this link and submit your application because they’re going to do a second season and you’re going to be in it.’ It was a ton of forms and a lot of trouble… and I was sure I would never be picked. At that point, I really just wanted to get back on track with my life.
“Finally, I had a day with nothing to do and I went back into it, filled stuff out, made a demo-reel, etc., did this stupid casting video. As it turns out, they picked 4 of us out of 35,000 people to spend time in South Africa training and compete in film and photography challenges.

Unearthed Intro from Jorge C. Hauser on Vimeo.

“I didn’t really start off well with the producers because I was a 22-year-old arrogant kid who thought I was there to film my documentary and didn’t realise I was there to be a part of a reality TV show. So, anytime they would ask me to pretend or pose for some shots pointing at something, I would hate it.

“I wouldn’t smile for the photographs and the viewers didn’t like that.”

“And they knew that I loved the ocean and scuba diving and sharks, and I think they did it on purpose that I missed the great white shark part. It seemed like they were always trying to create tension and pin us against each other, even though we were actually pretty good friends. It was funny, but it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. In the end, I got to spend 2 months in the African bush with all of this infrastructure. At the time it was the most expensive Animal Planet production. So it was a super fun and interesting project. Once I realised it was about the show and not about me, I had a really good time.”

And then he won the entire show!

After going out on his own for 3 weeks, filming, editing and all the voiceover on a documentary, Jorge’s film was selected and screened on Animal Planet stations around the world for the following 6 months. An amazing opportunity at the time and one that spiraled into the multiple careers he’s keeping up now.

Pelagic Life

After years of exceptional underwater film and photography, even leading to starting a production company called Calypso, Jorge joined a non-profit organisation with the intention of protecting wildlife and inspiring ecotourism.

Sea lions by Jorge Cervera Hauser

“Pelagic Life started as a group of friends exploring the open ocean. It’s very easy to go to a reef and scuba dive, but to go out into the big blue dessert and try to really find something, that’s a completely different story. And that’s how we started, to film and photograph sardine baitball with marlin hunting.

“It all came from a deep passion for the ocean. We all have different backgrounds. There’s the lawyer, the consultant and the guy that sells tires, but what we all have in common is this big love for the ocean. We have all been in touch with the ocean since we were kids—mostly through fishing, ironically, through our families. Yet, through that sport-fishing background we started scuba diving and began enjoying the ocean from a different angle.
So, we were exploring the open ocean and seeing this amazing phenomenon, these creatures, and we knew it was our duty to share it. We strongly believe that we cannot care about something we don’t know. And most people don’t know what’s out there. For us, Mexico is such an amazing place for pelagic life and people don’t really know that. You ask people about great white sharks and they’ll talk about South Africa or Australia and they have no idea that the best place in the world to see great white sharks is in Mexico. We knew we had to document and share this. That’s at our core: exploration, then documentation so we can share it. “

This eventually lead to exploring sustainable tourism as an alternative for the local communities and fishermen, reshaping them for tourism so that they would be the sincerely interested in taking care of the resources.

“We started working on offering shark tours as an economical alternative to shark fisherman so that they could make more money taking people on tours to see the sharks than killing them.”

Tiger & bull sharks by Jorge Cervera Hauser

México Pelágico

“With the documentary, we pretty much did it backwards. We had 3-4 years worth of footage, and then we realised there was actually a story to tell here. So with 80% of the footage, we built a structure to the film, came up with a sort of script, and then figured out the pieces that were missing to really start to make the film.”

Mexico Pelagico | Trailer (1) English from Pelagic Life on Vimeo.

“When you do something with this level of passion, with the production company and all of the suppliers and all of the contacts, I started stretching the budget, asking favours and everyone did the same on their end and we ended up doing this independent documentary
Unlike France or the UK, Mexico doesn’t have a huge audience for documentaries. I knew we had a good relationship with Discovery Channel and it would very likely that the documentary would end up there, but then one of the largest movie theatre chains in Mexico were interested in the movie, it ended up showing nation wide. It was a huge shock. You really just don’t normally see documentaries in theatres in Mexico. Then a lot of people started inviting us to a lot of places to screen the film.”

It played at Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, Berkley, even the Pixar Headquarters invited them to screen the film and talk about it. More people watched it than Jorge had ever expected, which opened new doors and changed a lot for the work they were doing with Pelagic Life.

“Before the film, there were a lot NGO’s and people in the diving communities that knew what we were up to, it was a very close circle of friends and friends of friends. After the film, it became so diverse. At each screening there are a lot of people there specifically to watch the film. A lot of people that have never been in touch with the ocean. They’re super interested and want to be involved and help. And the was the whole point of the film, to make people engage with the ocean.

People don’t realise how easy it is to get out there and jump in the water and experience this for themselves. And once you see and experience it, you’re going to want to do something to protect it.

It’s the best way to make a difference. You can post all you want online about any subject and you can try and change legislation, but if you don’t try to actually change the lives of the people who are making their living out of this industry, everything else is pretty much pointless.

“It’s also very easy to see the fishermen as the bad guys, from sitting in front of a computer, but these are people that have been doing this for generations and it’s all they know how to do. They’re not doing it for the kicks of it—it’s a way of putting food on the table and it’s not an easy world they’re living in. If we don’t try to understand where they come from and try to help them, then we’re just jerks with an opinion. That’s why we think this approach is the way to go.”

Jorge, proving he’s not just a “jerk with an opinion” about what sharks are.”

Pelagic Fleet, Solmar V and Ocean Safaris

With his production company and documentary doing well, on top of all his work with Pelagic Life, Jorge realised he had two full-time jobs, “the one that paid the bills—I hated it—and the one that was taking more of my time and money—the one I loved—the ocean. That’s when I knew I had to find a way to make a living out of it. Then the opportunity came up to buy this boat, this live aboard diving boat called the Solmar V. I bought it with my partners in October of last year.”

Jorge says it wasn’t easy and the deal almost fell apart a few times over the two-year period. “The owner of the business, it was his baby. He spent 23 years of his life building it. He is a pioneer and the first one to explore these islands [Socorro Islands] as a diving destination—the first one to explore some of these great white shark hot spots. He wanted someone to carry on with his love for the boat and business and didn’t care as much about the money. I learned a lot during that time and still am. Every day I realise it was the right choice.”

Want to explore a part of the world and its wildlife you couldn’t normally get to? *link*

What’s Next?

It seems pretty clear that Jorge isn’t very good at staying still. Only having bought Solmar V this past October, they’ve already acquired another smaller boat for their Ocean Safaris and are still on the hunt for more.

Needless to say, that’s not all.

Years ago, Pelagic Life spent some time in Chinchorro with luring American saltwater crocodiles out of the murky waters to photograph them as never done before. GoPro took notice and liked what they saw so much that they invited them back there last year to team up with them, only releasing the footage this month.

Crocs Chinchorro (GoPro Production) | Pelagic Life from Pelagic Life on Vimeo.

As the area was an old fisherman’s town, this was the ideal success story of what Jorge and Pelagic Life have been trying to do with the fishermen in Baja: discover new places with wildlife and make them into tourist destinations to interact and protect the wildlife (as opposed to making money off killing these beautifully misunderstood creatures). Jorge says, “Now this guy charges a lot of money to take photographers out there and is booked for the next 2 years. It happened so fast. I hope that over time it will be like that for the fishermen in Baja, that they could have such successful businesses so easily and quickly. ”

However, his favourite projects right now? He a personal project where he’s heading to the Amazon in September to photograph anacondas on the water. “We’re a small group of 4 people that really don’t know what to expect because only a couple people have done this before.”

Pelagic Life is also working with a bank to come out with a coffee table book to give away to their VIP members. “I always love it when we’re able to go back to our roots of exploration, a little bit of conservation work just by showing people what’s out there. And I love that.”

If you would like to purchase México Pelágico then you can do so here.

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Adventure Travel

Jul 12, 2018

The Power of Community: A Motorcycle Journey from India to Scotland

In January 2017, Ben and Prashant left behind comfortable lives to explore a project-driven motorcycle journey of community service and adventure - across 60,000 km and 20 countries.

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WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

With a strong vision of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – “The whole world is one family” – Ben and Prashant help projects in education, housing, and skills training with communities in remote areas from India to Scotland: one motherland to another on their Royal Enfield.

This is Vasudhaiva Ride.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

After 17 months of motorcycle riding, and five service projects in three countries, Ben and Prashant feel certain and optimistic about three truths: humans thrive in communities, sustainable design can save the environment, and the road to discovery is emergent in nature.

The duo tells us about their vision, values, experiences, and commitment to community service and sustainability.

“The world is one family”

Ben and Prashant have a powerful and inspiring vision to create a better world. That’s how they set out on the journey of Vasudhaiva Ride, along with Buddy, the dog, with a strongly belief in the positive impact of human togetherness and environmental sustainability.

How projects of Vasudhaiva Ride begin

Ben and Prashant identify and collaborate with people in diverse global communities who are driven by service and impact. Once synergies are established, they ride to specific communities and stick around to finish what they start. All projects are driven by the same vision and promise for the joy of craftsmanship and collaboration.

The essence of each project

Every project needs to be community-driven and sustainable. Whether it’s conducting workshops on sustainable design with school students, or actually building an entire community centre with upcycled waste materials, Vasudhaiva Ride engages in every project as it comes.

Prashant is experienced at building upcycled design and architecture, and Ben enjoys organising communities inspired by human connection and collaboration.

The journey with local communities (so far)

Vasudhaiva Ride began in Jijamata Nagar, a slum community in Mumbai where the two worked with EDUCO, a local school and conducted workshops for teachers and students on sustainable design and experiential learning.

Then, they rode 1000 km to Pushkar, Rajasthan to collaborate with Nivedita Chopra who was keen to build a home to inhabit 12 people. Within 24 days, they applied existing skills, learned from the locals about sustainable design, and worked with 40 local and international volunteers to build a model for affordable and self-reliant housing from locally sourced materials. All that for under 1 lakh rupees ($1,500 USD).

Next up was Bihar, where Prashant is raised. Having rode 11,000 km, they created a model for self-reliant housing, working with 3000 youths, over 100 family workers, and more than 40 trainees alongside volunteers from every continent. The project took place over 9 months in Arrah, Bihar and Buddy, the dog, was around to help too. This time, not only did they turn waste into resource, but also integrated solar, wind, and water filtration systems in place, along with urban gardening.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride
Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride
Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

In March 2018, they left Buddy, the dog, with Prashant’s family after riding with him throughout India, and rode up to Nepal to collaborate with Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) to build a playground for change. They built an upcycled learning centre at the elementary school in Kagati village, 14 km from Kathmandu. The two also trained a local women’s group in upcycled design to be financially self-sufficient, and build affordable learning playgrounds.

After crossing China and Tibet, they reached Kyrgyzstan where they are currently working with another local community.

The power of human connection

Each project done by Vasudhaiva Ride has been possible because of people. From finding the right collaborators and raising funds to gathering volunteers and garnering media supporters, Vasudhaiva Ride has lived its mission with the help of the global community. The project is entirely crowd-funded and relies on the generosity of people’s time, effort, and resources.

When they started, Ben and Prashant had an idealistic view of the power of human connection and thankfully their journey so far has revealed that the ideal of human compassion and connection is completely real and achievable.

You can support them here.

Follow the Vasudhaiva Ride:

https://www.facebook.com/Vasudhaivaride/

https://www.instagram.com/vasudhaivaride

 

A chat with Ben and Prashant

We had a chance to have a quick conversation with Ben and Prashant about their journey.

TOJ: What surprised you about humans during the Vasudhaiva Ride project?

Ben: I think the questions that were on our mind before we started the ride were: are people ready to make a shift? Is the average human who is aware of the large issues of the world ready to start changing the way they lived for a positive future? And I think what we found, which I suppose was a surprise, was that by and large, yes. Whether we were talking with farmers, city youth, international travelers, local rural Indians, or homeowners, everyone was very keen to connect with us and join us in the work we were doing.

This is why our projects were so successful – because no-one hesitated in helping us, in whatever way they could.

TOJ: How was the endeavour of community building challenging? What are some things that helped handle those challenges?

Ben: Certainly, especially in Bihar project, we were working in a region which was known for its conflict between social groups. We had several deathly shootings in our neighbourhood while we were there. Unemployed youth were pelting stones and killing multiple people at a train station, just 500m away from where we were staying and the same station where all our volunteers would arrive to. The context we were in was about violence between people and that’s one reason why we wanted to work in Bihar. One of the things that helped us with those challenges is Prashant. He is an extraordinarily natural community-builder. People in the West study this kind of thing and Prashant just does it.

We hired workers from different places and in the first few days, there was a showdown between the workers from Dhanbad and Arrah. The workers from Dhanbad came to us and said that they are going to kill us. Prashant went down to the field and he got all the workers together. He talked to them and said,”Look you all may be Bihari, but I’m also a Bihari. Noone messes around here.”

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

To zoom out of it, one of the ways we overcame such challenges was through the common vision we shared.

The story of Vasudhaiva Ride would make them REALIZE that what they are working towards is something that the whole world is watching. I think that led people look beyond than their local identity and engage in a truly global ENDEAVOR.

Prashant: The biggest challenge was to work on these projects in places that we don’t come from. We have been travelling to different places and hosting large-scale projects in unknown places with people from different countries. In one sense, the projects are for people we are serving in the local community, and in another sense, they are for volunteers and the global community. Working with people with a common vision is what made it easy to overcome this challenge.

Photo Credit: Jyoti

TOJ: Why do you think human connection is important? What is its purpose in the contemporary context and how has VR advocated its significance?

Ben: If you look into any study, you will see that humanity is the same all over. Human connection is about recognizing those commonalities as opposed to focusing on the differences. It’s one way of resolving conflict between peoples and by recognizing that larger connectedness we all share.

We are in a time now where, at once, human connection is more possible than ever. Yet we are also in a time where differences are exaggerated in media, or political and social systems. In such contradicting contexts, we feel our responsibility to advocate for human connection. Our vision of “Vasudhaiva Kuthamabakam” is about “one world, one family,” and in a family, you can have differences. The experience of a Bihari laborer would be very different from the volunteer from Czech Republic. But once you recognize those differences, you’re able to talk about them.

Photo Credit: Romy Ardase

I think what we do in our projects is that we create spaces where people can talk together, share food together, teach each other customs about weddings, cooking, mourning and so on.

In our projects, we have seen people connecting on a very human level.

TOJ: What are some classic ways you’d bring people together? What worked and what didn’t work? How did you resolve when it didn’t work?

Ben: Just by hosting the project and living together to complete the project, we are bringing people together. More specifically, by sharing a vision with a team of people, be it Indian artists, privileged artists from the Western world, or labourers from rural India. What works is simple things – cooking, sharing, gifts, reciprocity of kindness. Bihari cook would invite volunteers for a Biryani and the same volunteers would share bread they brought all the way from Argentina. We didn’t have to do much to make those connections happen. We just brought people into a space, suggested a few norms of being open to new experiences, facilitated the process of people working together, and then we just let things arise. More than anything, that’s how the connections happened.

Photo credit: Ashanti Richardson

Sometimes, it didn’t work. Of course, there would be conflicts of personalities, cultures, or otherwise. We would talk to people involved and just ask the questions that needs to be asked in any conflict: what do you feel and what do you need? And always, we would come to a peaceful conclusion and people involved would come and work together to create. In that way, co-creation is a healing process.

TOJ: Can you elaborate on keeping your complete faith in the life of service?

Ben: To answer that question, I need to look at the major norms in the global, modern societies that push people away from a life of service. Being told that if you value your work, you should be paid for it. So what does it mean that we are not receiving any money? In fact, we are working harder than we have ever worked in our entire lives and we are going into debt. So the capitalist framework has definitely shaken our faith.

Another way of seeing it is that every single dollar or rupee that’s gone into Vasudhaiva Ride is used towards service in at-risk communities. That’s important to recognise and that is what gives us faith when it’s rainy.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

Prashant: I completely believe in the life of service and I encourage people to live this life. It’s not a new concept. All societies and the entire universe works on this principle – we take something from someone, and we give something in return. That’s how we maintain balance in the ecosystem.

TOJ: Please describe ways in which you and Prashant are similar and different and how that affected the project collaboration.

Ben: Prashant and I play the stereotypical roles of an easterner and westerner. At least, we used to. I come from a background of wilderness guide and academia where everything is planned on a spreadsheet, weeks in advance. Prashant is from a world of India and artists with little pre-planning but a strong vision and an intuitive sense of how to get there. Those two ways work together very well. Prashant is the visionary and I help him put down the vision onto paper and into a plan.

We are similar in extremely important, deeper ways. I met him at Khoj international artists residency in Pune and there was a power outage on the opening day. We ended up playing live music. So in terms of energy, spirit and soul, we are very similar. We connect very easily and have a strong foundation of trust and mutual understanding. We are also both optimistic and realistic and pretty hard to distress. Whether it’s a road accident we witnessed or facing potential violence in the region we were in, neither of us got distressed by that. Both of us have an appreciation for the larger goal, which keeps us grounded. Lastly, we are both very simple people with simple means and getting by with what we have.

TOJ: Can you describe the feeling of finishing a task given to a team of people and draw a comparison to the feeling of reaching the project finish line?

Prashant: You feel very satisfied when your imagination and vision come true with the hard work of all the people involved.

After finishing the day, I would take a walk around and think of what we have achieved. I feel that it’s the most important part of the project. It’s a time of learning, understanding, reflecting, and improving.

As for team work, we followed routines where people would break for meals, exercises, and discussions as they engaged throughout the day according to their experiences and choices of tasks. Every five or ten days, we would check with the team about how it’s going. My main responsibility has always been of seeing how we are getting closer to the vision.

Photo credit: Romy Ardase

Every project brings its own set of challenges when it comes to the finishing line. Some finish earlier, others take much longer. But each project helps us get better at accepting the emergent nature of the task at hand.

TOJ: In what ways was building infrastructure from scratch different in each project? How was it influenced by the community you were working with?

Prashant: It was different for each project because of the diversity of culture, region, people, land, work styles and so on. When we did a project in Pushkar with a 24-day timeline with affordability in mind, we fastened the process of getting volunteers and worked according to project specifications. In the Bihar project, the space was different where things didn’t happen on time. Nepal was similar in that the work styles were different. But what was common in all the places is that we found people who are skilled at working with hands, and while working on the projects, we all managed to refine our skills.

The community influence also varies. The volunteers weren’t as skilled as the locals. The latter group defined the effectiveness and the timelines of the projects.

TOJ: Please highlight some of the most challenging and rewarding emergent moments of building something concrete with people from different backgrounds and age groups.

Prashant: Gathering different waste materials was both challenging and funny. Since Bihar is a dry state, for example, no one was ready to transport huge amounts of empty liquor bottles that were not even sent to a recycling factory. No drivers wanted to transport it without an authorized official from the government. So sourcing materials was very challenging. Another material we needed was sand and even that was not available for two months. So when we finally outsourced wasted liquor bottles and sand, we used them in construction during early mornings so that no one could see us with them. It was quite funny because it felt like we had smuggled gold or something.

The vision of making a house with waste made it easy to work with people from different cultures and ages.

For the locals, turning waste into resource was very new and they were also anxious about results. But finally, it was rewarding for them to discover its value as a low-cost and sustainable alternative. Now they even share it on social media.

All of this is basically emergence because there were no teams available. We found people over a period of 5-10 days for certain kinds of tasks. That’s what made it challenging and beautiful.

Photo credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

TOJ: In what ways did your past prepare and help you commit to your present?

Prashant: Whether it’s building cars with a team, starting a company from scratch, or doing a lot of technical work that involves hands-on effort, my past gave me a lot of confidence and experience to do bigger, better things. I feel that through Vasudhaiva Ride, I am refining my work in better ways and learning a lot, which will definitely be helpful in the future.

TOJ: Can you please elaborate on the synergies you find between riding motorcycles and doing community-led projects?

Prashant: They are both certainly very different. But I feel that doing a project while riding around the world is so much more fun because it helps us reach the weirdest geographic locations possible, whether it’s deep jungles or huge mountainous regions. For example, in Orissa, we were in Niyamgri hills in Dongria Kondh, and horses and motorcycles were the only way to get into the local community. Travelling by road on a motorcycle also helped me discover India so much more than I ever imagined. And of course, when your bike breaks down, you make new friends. People also look at you differently when you’re on a motorbike as opposed to traveling by plane. They see you as someone who has ridden for a long time to get to their community for a project-driven interaction and as one they can trust to work hard within their local context.

TOJ: This project is emergent, spontaneous, and adventurous at its core. How would you define the values and philosophy behind Vasudhaiva Ride in the context of adventure travel? In what ways does it connect to human connection and community living?

Prashant: Soon after the moment we met, Ben and I saw emergence happen. We decided that this journey will be project-driven and based on service throughout the world. It could have simply been a fun, motorbike journey across the world, but we knew that we wanted more.

Photo Credit: Vasudhaiva Ride

Because of the nature of our journey, adventure is inevitable. We went to the base of Mt. Everest and rode through the Himalayas, found ourselves in the mountains of Nepal and the deserts of Tibet to get to Kyrgyzstan. For us, service is embedded in adventure.

We feel happy thinking of the positive impact we left behind at the last stop. That satisfaction means a lot in such a journey.

We were just two people in the beginning, with a dog. Now, we are 3000 people from all over the world. They all believed in our vision and have helped us in every way possible.

Every place that we reached and left behind, our people formed an emotional connection. All created long-term friendships and carried a hope with them for a better future.

You can follow Vasudhaiva Ride on Facebook and Instagram

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