I've come down to Costa Rica a few weeks early to get everything set up for the expedition. After working in Central America on a few previous trips, it is painfully obvious to me that even on a bare bones trip like this, things will come up, pieces of the puzzle will be missing, and nothing will happen like you plan it. At a certain point, it's always necessary to just take what you have and go for it. Like deciding which stroke is your last on a painting that has taken hours or days to complete, a certain point comes where whatever you do will only complicate things further. In a few days, Izzi's plane will land in Liberia, Costa Rica, and we will head south on our 8 hour drive to the Osa Peninsula where, with all the planning that has been put into this trip, plans will change and it will gain a mind of its own. These are the best kinds of trips. We have goals, but how we get there will be a fluid and entertaining process.
My Brother, my friend Tony a girl (who has yet to be decided) and I will be following up on my Cocos Island Project along by Kayaking around the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, going through the Sierpe Reserve, Drake Bay, Isla Cano National Reserve, and Corcovado national park. The trip will be fully self supported, living mostly off of the land (coconuts and speared fish), and will take about a week of kayaking through mangroves, open ocean, and uninhabited coastline to complete.
The trip will be going through a number of ecological habitats known for sharks, Rio Seirpe and Rio Sirena are fresh water hunting grounds for inumerable Bull Sharks, and Isla Caño attracts some of the same schools of hammerheads that we documented off of Cocos Island. Isla Caño is only 10 miles from shore, and about 40 miles from some of the closer fishing villages, so I am anxious to see how much more affected it is by the fishermen than Cocos Island.
Our plan is to sleep in hammocks on the beach, eat coconuts and catch fish for food, all the while surfing what waves we can on the secluded coast line. This adventure is to be an example for other young people, by showing that adventure can have a purpose.
This expedition will be taking place the first week of January, and we will be covering it with HDV video, and High quality still imagery above and below sea level.
A new generation of explorers has been invited to sit around the same table that has been Will Steger’s base of operations for over twenty years. The biggest difference between the planning of our expedition and those before us is the road that allowed our easy access to Wills cabin, far removed from the town of Ely Minnesota which itself is far removed from the city life that has become all to present in my life. It used to be that to get to wills cabin, skiing, dogsledding, or canoeing across the lakes was the only way in, and this is exactly how Will brought in the supplies to build his cabin. Few buildings sidetrack my gaze as I scan the shoreline along Wills lake. Steam rises from the lake and a stairway descends almost directly into the water from Wills sauna. After letting the sauna wring the sweat from us, the cold water is as inviting as a tropical beach and for hours we trade off between hot and cold.. We are here because Will has chosen each of us to join his latest expedition. We are from around the world, and we all have different takes on life, but we come together for a single task. Through the Circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island in the high arctic, we will be bringing back first hand accounts detailing the effects of global warming. My job is to capture the many critical moments on camera and to bring home the imagery that will inspire people to take action.
It seemed more like a vacation, a month in Indonesia shooting surfing is nothing to complain about. I left the US again, but this time took a few extra weeks to just do some freelance work before the surfing shoot started. I found a small Island called Gili Air just off of North Western Lombok and took a transport out to the Island. With no motorized vehicles on the Island, I walked the extent of it over the three days that I was there. The Circumference was dotted with the occasional restaurant or hotel, (an expensive one being $5Us) But the interior was tranquil and untouched as the few tourists who visit never venture far from the turquoise waters and the local dive shop. Once beyond site of the beach, paths disappeared, and plots of land with little thatch huts started to pop up under the coconut trees. The people here work mostly as coconut farmers and are happy with their quiet lives. Soon I was to return to the dollar soaked tourist town of Kuta, Bali, and when in need of an escape, I only needed to imagine I was once again on Gili Air.
The colors are brighter, as they usually are in a dream. The water is bluer, and the horizon is rippling with steadily marching clones of the perfect wave. Through the ethereal water that moves more like a fog than an ocean, the corral is stretching toward my feet, and tiny jewel fish take refuge in the shade below my surfboard. In the dream, I’m riding a fluorescent green board, and wave after wave wraps around me, carrying me all the way to a beach covered in seashells and coral. It’s a dream that I struggle to keep myself from waking from. It’s the inevitable grumble of my fully awake stomach that finally rattles me out of bed.
I walk the quarter mile to the beach and check the swell with a fresh cup of coffee. The swell has risen, and although not the ribbed ocean from my dreams, waves twice my hight stretch to the distant horizon. Nobody is out, and I grab my board and run down the beach to the most manageable peak. With a quick stretch to wake up my muscles, I slip into the water, letting the rip tide drag me beyond the peaks quickly.
My first wave comes, and I turn to face the shore. Less than halfway into the wave, I get thrown in front, into the teeth of the ocean, where water gnaws away at a retreating shoreline. Thrown over myself again and again, I watch the light change directions around me, and try to keep track of which way is up. By the time it’s done, I am standing somewhere between where the sand is churned up in the wave and where it makes up the solid floor of the ocean, and this time, I’m not in the rip-tide, so the paddle out takes twice as long.
Again and again, I’m thrown into the churning white-water, and it seems impossible to get my board into the wave before it pitches over. Demoralized I head for the beach and with my head down, I walk back to my hotel to rinse of the salt and the memories.
That afternoon, I walk through Kuta, and stop into one of the back alley surf shops where other travelers have sold their boards desperate for cash or just demoralized like I was. There, sandwiched between a pair of old beat up boards, a sliver of fluorescent green catches my eye. Curiosity couldn’t possibly describe what I felt, but that is the closest word I can think of. I pull it off the shelf, and right there in front of me is the board from my dream. Hardly a pressure ding in it’s smooth glassy surface. And it’s cheap.
Before I know it, I’m standing up on a set wave, gliding over the coral and under the waves pitching teeth, caressed by the ocean. The colors are brighter, as they usually are in a dream. The water is bluer and the coral waves at me as I surf by, and in the half-speed world that comes around during these moments, the water moves more like a fog than an ocean.
Greenish storm clouds roll off of the frothing ocean and collide with the Decrepit buildings of Singapore’s red light district. The sun as strong as it is, only just filters through the clouds enough to give an eerie glow to the buildings.
I´m on Cocos Island photographing sharks and shark poachers for my project that I´m working on with National Geographic, and on my last night on the Island, after a full day of diving with massive schools of sharks, we decide to do a night dive and hopefully catch one of the more impressive congregations of sharks, a feeding frenzy. There is a pretty reliable group of perhaps 200 white tip reef sharks, each between 5 to 7 feet long that come into the particular bay that we were diving in every night.
After about 45 minutes of taking photographs of these sharks searching every crevice in the reef for fish, I began to get a little to comfortable... I allowed myself to descend into the school which stuck pretty close to the bottom, and was mostly left alone except for one of the bigger sharks that rushed me, and was successfully discouraged when it ran into my big metal camera housing.
Perhaps 20 minutes later, just as we were about to resurface, I was alone on the bottom perhaps 50 feet underwater, behind me a huge boulder hid the sharks from my view and I hoped me from them. The sharks swarmed around the boulder, and I was instantly in the midst of hundreds of sharks! One of the larger ones, obviously a leader in the pack came up from behind and latched onto my foot from the side, and began to thrash about. I put a good kick into it´s nose a couple of times and it finally released me and took off, seeing it run must have discouraged the other sharks, because they all turned and swam a safe distance away, I dashed up about 15 feet to get above the school, and then looked down to assess the damage done to my foot. I count myself extremely lucky, because the fin was torn not an inch from my flesh, and the thick rubber together with a neoprene boot had stopped the sharks teeth from penetrating too deep, and left me unscathed. This seemed the perfect time to end the dive!
It will be a few days until the full moon, but the way the light shimmers on the sea makes the area light up. I´m getting dropped off in Waffer Bay on Cocos Island, and the captain of the boat doesn't want to risk coming close too shore. The water is shallow, only ten feet or so with reefs coming up almost to the surface, but it´s that way for about a quarter mile. So as they lower my gear overboard and onto a kayak, I look into the crystal clear water and wonder what lies below. As if on cue, the unmistakable silouette of a shark passes under the boat, perhaps 7 feet long, but it could be deeper, and bigger. Wafer bay is full sharks using the cover of night to hunt. It´s one of those places you don´t swim past dusk. Soon however, I´m halfway to shore, approaching the shallows, where the water is only 5 feet deep. The waves are beginning to break, and as I paddle to ride a swell to shore, the familiar shape slides alongside the boat, and surfs along side the kayak only a few feet away, ducking away just as the wave finally breaks on the rocky shore.
Even the hardened sailors got sick on this passage. 36 hours of traveling against the swell, with the boat constantly crashing into the next wave, then gaining speed and rising only to crash again. Inside, where you can´t see the windswept ocean, it looks like the walls themselves are dizzy, rocking back and forth trying to find balance. I finally have arrived on Cocos Island, and am greeted by a rising sun. The Island is lush, and overgrown. More so that I remember. I don´t believe in omens, but i need one, so I take it as a sign that this trip will finally end my search for the perfect image to go along with my project. Setting foot on the sea soaked sand, my body sways back and forth, as if the island is being rocked back and forth by the swells crashing against the limestone walls that make up the coast. I know it´s just me though, and I stumble to my bunk to sleep off the Dramamine...
I'm sitting on the Pier, waiting for a boat to take me out to the Sea Hunter, the vessel that will be taking me to Cocos Island for the last time. I'm told that the sharks have arrived, and that the water is clear, so my hopes are high that I will arrive in time to finally finish off my project. I present to the Geographic on the 10th, and with some dedication and luck, I will be able to make a difference for Cocos Island.
The breeze from the wings are all that alerts me to the Ispiritu Santo hovering just behind my shoulder. Its head turned to the side throws an inquisitive look at me which I’m sure I returned. In the green world full of ferns feathering off from whatever they can hold onto, the little white bird seems to have been sent down from another realm, an ethereal light pouring out from its feathers. Up into the canopy it returns to it’s roost and our team moves on with not a step lost, even in a moment which has had as many moments in it, as all of eternity.
Kicking slowly through a great blue void, to deep to see the surface, and hundreds of feet above the ocean floor, I allow the current to carry me so that I can conserve the priceless breath of air I'm holding in. I can hear a pod of spinner dolphin approaching, though I can’t see them yet. First a few flashes of light off of the sides of tuna, then the torpedo shaped fish begin to dash by on all sides. Following close behind, five hundred porpoise effortlessly glide by in formation. Some circle just beyond arms reach and others herd the young away from me. As quickly as the ocean revealed them, they are gone, their whistles still audible. With a single kick my body rises along side the bubbles that the dolphin had left behind. With the appearance of the surface, the hull of our 38 foot sailboat looms overhead like a gigantic oceanic bird resting on the surface. With no land in site, the sails are hoisted, and slap of the waves on the side of the boat carry me away, and below into the void.
For over 60 years Costa Rica has had ties with Taiwan, and now, the ties have been cut and Costa Rica announces their new contract with China. Taiwan was granted the fishing rights to the Costa Rican waters and had hungrily scooped up everything in it's path, now, with an even hungrier benefactor, the oceans of Costa Rica are about to come under siege. Already, over 90% of the large fish are gone. Not missing, just gone.
Costa Rica let it happen, bribed by Taiwan with bridges and roads, and of course large payoffs to the right government officials. Costa Rica has long enjoyed the reputation that it's held as the Eco friendly vacation spot. With tourism dollars pouring into Eco tourism, hotels have been built on what was once mangroves, cities have been built around "pristine" rain forest so as to bring gawking tourists closer. Thus isolating species, and encroaching on their habitat.
With one of the best dive spots in the world in Costa Rica, they again appear to be doing everything just right, all those who visit are wooed by the vast schools of hammerhead shark, the gigantic tuna, and the jack schools so large that they block out the sun. This Island is a protected area, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Costa Ricans have dedicated one small boat to patrol over 450 square miles of ocean. Fishing boats enjoy lax laws that just barely allow the government to say that they are making an effort. Just outside of the the 12 mile radius, sea life falls off drastically, a testament to the overfishing that is rampant in the region.
It seems odd that a country whos number one income is tourism would risk it all by openly squandering their recourses, and they will continue to do so until that tourism market is affected. Of course, your average tourist is ignorant of the main issues of the world, and travel to places like Costa Rica where there is little besides the landscape to make them feel like they have gone too far from home. Awareness is our only weapon against transactions like these. When it is common knowledge that we are on the brink of disaster, and that certain places like Costa Rica have actively fooled us for decades, then and only then will they take action.
Four days on safari in Africa feels like you just dipped your toes into a cold pool. You feel like you know something about it, but there is nothing that can capture the feeling of diving right in. There is strong desire to get out as quickly as possible, yet it's so invigorating. I'm going to dive in, by walking around Lake Eyasi with a group of Bushmen. Traveling for two weeks with the second oldest tribe of people on the planet will be a good way explore the Dark Continent. The Hadzaba tribe is threatened right now, by a family from the United Arab Emerates that wants to relocate the people outside of their valley, and redesignate the area as a hunting preserve. Hopefully, through photo-documentation, and making the world aware of their plight, we can hold off their destruction and have the Yaida Valley and Lake Eyasi made into a reservation of sorts. How though do you make a reserve for a Nomadic People? That's why I'll be living with them, to better understand their way of life. A way of life which we desperatly need to keep on our planet. Without them, we will have lost a large part of the soul of the human race.
For More Information: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06 /09/AR2007060901465.html?hpid=topnews
It feels like I'm home, and yet, I can't remember being here before. They say that human life started in the Rift Valley, and my body tells me that's right. I'm in the Serengeti, and the rare but powerful grasp of instinct has taken hold of me. It is quickly forgotten however, and the comforts of life 20,000 years later drown out the part of me that says never to relax, you never know what lurks in the tall grass. I'm hunting, but my trophies are images, not skins. It's better that way, harder too.
At the age of 26, Ben Horton’s biography reads like that of a seasoned
explorer. Highly influenced by his love of travel and adventure and
his constant search for something new, his imagery is vibrant with
fresh and creative energy. Raised in Bermuda, Ben Horton has spent the
majority of his life traveling and seeking out new adventure. Ben is
the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Young
Explorer award for research on Cocos Island involving shark poaching.
This led to a 2 month Expedition to Ellesmere Island in the Canadian
Arctic with Arctic legend Will Steger. As his career has developed,
Ben has adapted writing and the organization of his own expeditions to
complement his photography. To support his conservation photography,
which is Ben’s passion, he works as a fashion and advertising