Conscious Evolution

How do you expand your consciousness?

This is one of many questions that we ask the people we film on our travels across the globe. Almost two years ago, a friend of mine came to me in Seattle with a proposal: “Let’s buy a camera, go to another country, and film everything that happens to us along the way.” Six months later we were traveling through Colombia with a camera and a list of questions. Among them were, “What do you think is the greatest problem in the world right now?” and “How can average people make the world a better place?”

The world is changing, fast. Soon, the problems that we collectively face will become a tangible reality for us all, if they haven’t become so already – climate change, over-population, teetering economies, take your pick. Across the globe, people are questioning the methods that our leaders are taking to lead us. In a world of over 6 billion people, how can one person possibly make a difference?

The title of our documentary is The MapMakers:Project Colombia. Before going to South America, everyone I knew warned me about the infamous country I was about to visit. I was told that I was crazy to go there. I would probably get kidnapped, robbed, or killed. None of these people however, had ever been to Colombia themselves. Their information was usually relayed from whatever television news source that they regularly watched. Consequently, their beliefs about the rest of the world were also very similar.

Fear, unfortunately, has become a staple in the American media diet.

Consider that. If we are constantly bombarded with problems with no real call to action, other than fear, how are we supposed to meet the challenges that we now face?

The answer may be surprising.

After asking hundreds of people what the average person can do to make the world a better place, we got an overwhelmingly similar response: Change your attitude.

“If I change my attitude about the world, about the world’s problems, and about myself, and this change in attitude is positive, then I am on my way to improving the world,” said one person.

“Many people are always looking to blame something exterior. It’s the government’s fault, it’s the media’s fault. But if we change our attitude, and look inside ourselves, then suddenly these problems are not so big anymore, as long as we take the next step to change our own behaviors,” said another person.

Hence the name of the documentary, The MapMakers. Each of us has the power and opportunity to look at life any way we choose to – we each travel through life using the map we ourselves have created. We can believe that the world is full of scary people, scary situations, and hopeless scenarios. Some of these beliefs may be true, and some of them may not be true. Life is of course, a very subjective experience.

Now with that in mind, we can choose to look at life the opposite way – that the world is full kind and helpful people, that not everyone is out to get us, and that these big problems that we face are not as overwhelming as we have been led to believe. My point is this: we are at a critical moment in history and our collective beliefs will shape the outcome of our world. If we continue to believe that our problems are beyond fixing then we have already failed the challenge to fix them.

Luckily, we can wield our positive perceptions of the world and share them with those around us. We can begin to map out a new reality, one that is not based on fear but on cooperation and open-mindedness.

Creating your own map of reality is not always easy. But fortunately, you don’t have to go to Colombia to do it. All it takes is a bit of courage and curiosity. It takes courage to question your beliefs about the world, and it is curiosity about the world that creates the canvas on which we will draw our maps.

In March we will travel to Ethiopia to film our next documentary. Literally halfway across the world, Ethiopia couldn’t be further from our concept of “normal”. My own perception of that country comes from what I see and hear on the news – poverty, AIDS, war. But like all else, there are two sides to every coin.

I invite you to visit our website www.themapmakers.org for more information about mapmaking and how we can begin to solve the problems that we all face. I do not believe that these problems are so great that they cannon be solved. But it will take more than just one perception of a positive future…

The definition of travel

It has been some time since we´ve seen used a guidebook and it has been some time since we have seen a fellow backpacker.

Now two months traveling in Colombia and just two months remaining, my travel companion and I have much country to explore. With a little intuition and a bit of luck, we have found ourselves in some of the most beautiful and unique places the country has to offer. But surprisingly, we are often the only gringos in sight. Adam, my companion, commented that maybe we should call the documentary “Where is Everyone?”

At the moment we are in a small beautiful beach town on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Our hotel is $10 a night for the both of us, a great big plate of big fat fish costs about $2.50 and a beer on a nearly deserted beach costs 70 cents.

Where is everyone indeed. Perhaps the answer lies in the Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet is perhaps the best selling guidebook in the world. It´s usually filled with reliable information, good advice, and country hot spots. But its popularity is a double-sided coin. Small remote villages quickly lose that far away feeling when they suddenly become filled with foreigners and ATMs. Guidebooks become so trusted that travelers often forget to guide themselves. I cannot count the times I´ve seen tourists with their noses buried in their guidebooks instead of looking at the beautiful place they´ve been guided to. But it would be wrong to say that Colombia is suffering from a lack of travelers.

The tourist industry in Colombia increases by about 20% each year. So where are they? Open your guidebook and there they are. The two places we have been that are mentioned in Lonely Planet were filled with backpackers. Follow the tourist trail and you will always find tourists. But stray just a few miles off the loop and suddenly no one speaks English, prices are local, and real traveling begins. So what is real traveling? A question we ask people we interview is “What´s the difference between a tourist and a traveler?” One man responded, “Tourists take pictures of the locals and locals take pictures of the travelers.” Maybe real traveling is just going somewhere uncomfortable and finding comfort. If this is the definition of traveling then anyone can travel, it only takes an open mind and the desire to experience something new. In Colombia, something new is about to happen. We can feel it, because everywhere we go we see mirages of five star hotels and tour buses. Being in Colombia right now feels as if we just walked into Cambodia 15 years ago when they opened their borders to tourism. Word is traveling fast and everything in Colombia is about to change.

Three weeks ago we were in a pueblo called Guatape just two hours outside of Medellin, the third largest city in the country. In Medellin, we met a woman on the metro who invited us to stay at her lakeside 4th story apartment in Guatape, by ourselves, for a week. Guatape is one of several villages surrounded by hundreds of lakes and green-shrouded mountains. It is beautiful. Naturally, we were the only foreigners there. But not for long. In 2010, the South American summer games will be held in Medellin. That means that all the water sports will be held in Guatape. A local informed us that a field of cows will soon be replaced with two resort hotels and that sand will be brought in from Cartagena to create artificial beaches. If safety in Colombia continues to improve, Colombia just might well become the Costa Rica of South America.

But for now, just off the tourist trail (you understand if I don´t reveal our exact location) life is quiet and life is good. Be it tourist or traveler, finding yourself in someplace new changes many things, if not just your perception. “Can traveling make the world a better place?” we ask people. This traveler believes that it can. We are all ambassadors of our place of origin, like it or not. When we meet someone from another country, we often reference that country based on our experience with the people from that country. If it´s a good experience we might say, “You know, I met a Colombian/American the other day. They´re not so bad after all.

So may we represent ourselves well, tourist or traveler.

check out our documentary — The MapMakers: Project Colombia at http://www.themapmakers.org