April 27, 2013

MSSOA : "The Man" vs the Honduran Wild


Did you ever lose sight of your fellow expedition partners after wandering into a blizzard in the Arctic Refuge? Maybe your Berber guide decided to take off without you when the sandstorm hit midway through your trek across the Western Sahara, or perhaps your boat capsized in the Pacific and you drifted onto a deserted island becoming a lone castaway! In case you are ever involved with such mayhem, your fate could very well be decided by choosing one of the following courses of action: either a) go to a fetal position, lose all hope and slowly meet your death, b) put up a help sign and wait for another expedition or an actual rescue party to get to you, or c) make camp and let your survival instincts kick in. Depending on your will to live, the right answer should be c; but remember, time is of essence, so at that exact moment when you are trying to keep it together, organize your thoughts, and come up with a life saving plan – your mind begins to get foggy and only then you realize that perhaps it would have been a good idea to have paid more attention to that guy from the Discovery Channel who enjoys getting stranded in remote locations on purpose, just to teach us what we could do in case we ever encounter a similar situation.

I am sure you’ve probably heard about this guy before – I am talking about Bear Grylls, that seasoned adventurer and star of Discovery’s TV series Man vs. Wild. This former British Special Forces officer takes his craft to extremes in just about every scene of this program. You will always see him running, jumping, swimming, sliding, rappelling, and climbing onto any surface in sight. With only the aid of a small pack on his back, he is covered from head to toe in his own Bear Grylls survival clothing line (not to mention a thick coat of mud), trying to show us how to survive under extreme weather conditions and in some of the most inhospitable locations in the planet. If you still can’t put your finger on him, perhaps you can remember him as that guy who loves to drink his own pee and eat all kinds of slimy critters to “stay alive”. Now that I am sure you know who I am talking about, you will be surprised to know that there is a Honduran version of this guy and I happen to know him. Not just that, we have been on expeditions together and just like Bear he knows his outdoors. In fact there are plenty of obvious similarities between the two and others which are a little more subtle, and as usual, I will try to do my best in explaining it all with the added help of a unique and appealing anecdote. One thing I can assure you is that if I ever end up in any of the three scenarios described above, I wouldn’t mind having either one as company. 


MSSOA'Sobstacle course inTATUMBLA
Let’s begin by introducing our Honduran counterpart into the story and set up the discussion for some of their most obvious similarities. His name is Alejandro Gallo, and if you know your Spanish, you know his last name means Rooster – but forget for a minute that they both share the name of an animal in their titles, that is not what I am going for. Interestingly, it is their meaning, that which has greater significance. We already know what Gryll’s nickname is and what it represents, but did you know Gallo in Spanish also means “The Man”? With this in mind, it would only seem proper that from now we shall ONLY call him Gallo. But let’s keep the contrasts going; if you have already met Gallo you know he only travels in outdoor performance garb (in his case it’s North Face apparel), so just like Bear (with a deluxe survival clothing line of his own), we could say they both like their gear to be breathable, waterproof, and with taped seams, basically clothing engineered to withstand some of the harshest conditions on earth and what every true outdoorsman wants for protection. I guess just like the Boy Scouts slogan, they want to be prepared for any sudden atmospheric changes! Past the technical clothes, they will never participate in any expedition without the proper footwear and especially the right backpack, only difference here is that Alejandro’s pack is usually a lot bigger than Bear’s, remember Bear likes comfort as he needs to be agile in his show, and Gallo runs his “show” for days so he needs to have improved large-load control. If you still want to look closer, then there is also an item which easily identifies each one, Bear with his trusted knife and Gallo with his trusted cowboy hat - They will never leave home without it. 

CANOEINGin theSALADO RIVER
OK, we have only scraped the surface so far, however, if we had to select a quality that uniquely sets them apart from everyone else and at the same time binds them together, it would have to be their tireless work helping others, in particular disadvantaged young children who did not have an easy upbringing. If you were not aware, do not worry, I wasn’t either, Bear Grylls is an active team member, ambassador, volunteer and leader of countless organizations which sole purpose is to help those in need. Their invaluable projects are saving lives by providing aid to children who did not have equal opportunities; in particular those from war ravaged communities, poor neglected and orphaned street kids, as well as children with disabilities. With Bear’s help, these charity organizations are raising funds in order to provide safe drinking water, new schools, and healthcare among other things. Together with government agencies, NGOs and the community they are doing a fantastic job by giving young children a second chance at life; certainly a noble accomplishment on his behalf.

MSSOA EDUCATIONALinstructing nature guides
Gallo does not stay far behind in this department either, as he is the mastermind and creator of a unique organization with similar objectives based in Honduras. It goes by the name of MSSOA, not to be confused with the popular corn flour brand MASECA (believe me, it has happened already), and it stands for Mountain and Sea Spirit Outdoor Adventures. Their mission is to help people from all walks of life, but in particular young kids who are living under precarious conditions, by providing them with the tools to conquer their own preconceived ideas of what their futures should be. This company is taking the classroom to the great outdoors, where supervised challenges are set up for the participants to triumph and overcome and in the process realize that they can do more than they ever thought possible. This methodology is based on the philosophy of Kurt Hahn, the educator and founder of Outward Bound (OB), a non-profit educational organization with several schools all over the world. So just like OB, MSSOA offers several programs designed to impel participants into mentally, emotionally and physically demanding experiences about self-discovery in beautiful natural settings. Just recently, MSSOA was involved with an alternative education program with USAID, the US government agency responsible for international cooperation, where efforts have been focused on young people with limited educational opportunities who may otherwise be attracted to crime, gangs, and violence. By participating in the outdoor challenges organized by team MSSOA, these youth have gained very positive results which ranged from increased self-esteem, newly developed leadership skills, and environmental awareness, among others – very rewarding and pretty much what Gallo had in mind when he started this endeavor.

MSSOAcamping grounds 
And so the Bear and Gallo resemblance continues but it does not stop there. In addition, they are both businessmen looking to capitalize on their brand, and that is the main reason why I have included MSSOA in the Travel & Tourism Honduras blog. You see, they also organize mountain and sea expeditions with a wide range of objectives, to just about anywhere in Honduras, for instance: programs designed for companies which are interested in further developing their human resources (MSSOA Professional), outdoor education aimed at schools at all levels (MSSOA Educational), as well as activities with a more eco-friendly focus (MSSOA Environmental / summer camps / scientific expeditions), etc. It is important to point out that all participants benefit from the experience and supervision of qualified personnel no matter the program they are in, given that MSSOA’s staff has been trained in some of the best international outdoor schools around (Outward Bound – North Carolina, the American Camping Association, and Wilderness Medical Associates), just to name a few. This means that they know how to handle medical emergencies in low resource settings and are more than capable of leading the way into treacherous and inhospitable regions just like the Honduran wild.
between theSALADO RIVERand theATLANTIC OCEAN
And that is exactly where they took me on the 21th of December 2012, my second tour of the untamed wildlife refuge of Cuero y Salado; an expedition which was marked by a memorable event given the significance of the date, the beginning of a new era for the Mayan civilization; more on this journey in the following entry.