A couple of weeks ago Jo and I crossed the border into Guatemala. As we were leaving Mexico, the world received news of the US election result and we could hear animated Spanish commentary erupting from TVs, radios and in the streets everywhere we went.
Since then, there has been a flood of discussions and speculation about what this means for the world and where this new leadership will take us.However, the world has also continued to spin on its axis, the sun has still risen, and Jo and I have continued on our journey southwards.
From the first day we arrived in Antigua, Guatemala, we found this to be a place of huge energy. The city itself with its beautiful cobbled streets seems quiet and conservative on the surface, but delve a little deeper and like the volcanoes that dominate the horizon around it, you can find frenetic havens of energy. The town has a cosmopolitan feel but the level of poverty in the surrounding areas is strikingly evident. Luckily a lot of the entrepreneurial energy here is focussed on addressing the inequality.
Our first meeting in Antigua was with Philip Wilson - Founder of EcoFiltro. With our broken Spanish we initially struggled to locate his factory and offices just outside the city. However the taxi driver quickly picked up that we were talking about EcoFiltro and - ignoring our directions - took us straight to the front door. It seemed the company was well-known! Philip is an inspiring entrepreneur who had already set up successful businesses in the USA and Guatemala, but found that something was missing. Money alone was no longer enough, and referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he told us how he is now motivated by a desire for something more to achieve self-actualisation – to find purpose.
Whilst walking around the factory Philip told us that one in 20 children in Guatemala die before the age of five from drinking unsafe water. We were immediately struck by the importance of this beautifully simple product. The clay filter that can provide clean drinking water for people at the bottom of the economic pyramid, a product that has been culturally accepted and saves lives.
Digging a little deeper we learned that the filters also offset the carbon emissions from wood traditionally burnt to boil and sterilise water in poor communities, so they are good from the environment too. A powerful contribution from a product made from local clay, by local people, for local people.
Furthermore Philip has succeeded in making the same product desirable to customers at the top of the pyramid who already have clean drinking water but like the taste of EcoFiltro. By commissioning local and international designers to create bespoke versions of the filter, Philip has made his product a fashionable, functional, and desirable commodity, expanding his market vertically. This allows him to employ more people in his open aired factory and subsidise filters for the communities that need them most.
This is a holistic approach similar to that of Bibop G Gresta’s plans for the Hyperloop project in LA, making variations of the same product available to the whole economic pyramid. It is simple, but genius.
Antigua is a relatively small town and after meeting with Rich Ambrose - Founder of Pomona Impact and Impact Hub Antigua - we quickly realised that this was a place where everyone knows each other and collaborates to drive progress. I learned that Philip Wilson was no stranger to the Hub and always willing to share his expertise in scaling businesses can be called upon as a mentor for local entrepreneurs. As I walked into their offices, of course there was an EcoFiltro sitting on the desk. The hub itself was a hive of activity in a beautifully serene surrounding. Hammocks lined the open airy courtyard and on the wall was an active calendar of upcoming events, seminars and training courses in the hub - one being run by Philip’s wife.
Collaboration has been a constant and recurring theme in the five months we’ve been on the road. The benefits of sharing knowledge and expertise has been echoed by every interviewee we’ve met, so it’s no surprise that we find it here in Guatemala too.
As well as investing in small growing businesses in Central America, Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador - Pomona Impact and Impact Hub are helping to grow its local business community by developing the Antigua Innovation Center. The center aims to provide training, resources and mentoring to encourage young people wishing to develop their own platforms and tech initiatives. Just another example of businesses in Guatemala collaborating and expanding vertically as well as horizontally.
We have learned that some of the greatest inspirations and ideas are only able to reach your mind once you’ve cleared it of all the clutter
After a frenetic few days of meetings in Antigua, a breathtaking and truly exhausting two-day hike to watch the eruption of Volcan de Fuego, Jo and I decided it was time to take a break and allow ourselves a few days dedicated to recuperation, both physical and mental. We love what we’re doing, but after five months we’ve learned the importance of stopping to recuperate.
Having originally planned to stay in San Marcos on the shores of Lake Atitlan for three nights, we’ll be checking out of our hostel here tomorrow, nearly a week later. During this time we have continued to keep up to date with our social media, posting photos of this stunning environment, but agreed we would allow ourselves a break from editing and trip planning.
San Marcos is a beautiful tiny town connected to the lake by a series of rickety wooden pontoons, and is dedicated to holistic therapies and mental well-being. It would be easy to be sceptical, but the value Jo and I have taken from this place is immeasurable.
During our five months on the road, we have learned that some of the greatest inspirations and ideas are only able to reach your mind once you’ve cleared it of all the clutter. Being constantly on the move, planning your next stop, how you will get there, where you will stay and who you will meet, all whilst editing videos, writing blogs and taking selfies for Instagram doesn’t leave your mind much room for new inspiration - room to listen.
Inspiration at the end of the day is the biggest reason to travel, to absorb new cultures and challenge your mind with new ways of looking at the world - and new ways of looking at yourself.
As I sit here writing, a local kid who is selling banana bread has sat next to me and started playing with my laptop. For me this is an everyday tool to enable us to curate what we’re doing, but for him it’s a fascinating and exotic window to a new exciting world he’s never seen. It has stopped me in my tracks and as I show him videos from our trip I realise just how lucky we are.
So after a few days of clearing out the clutter we are back on the road, we feel recuperated, we have learned more about our own internal terrain and have been inspired by new ideas that have struck us whilst not concentrating at the task in hand.
In a few days we will be in Nicaragua and looking forward to meeting more great businesses and people doing good on our enormous journey. We still think often about where this journey will take us after we reach Argentina. The same questions we all ask ourselves - what our lives will look like, where our careers will take us, how we will support our families, and where we will live. But, for now, we are just making the most of this moment.
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