“The only value we have as human beings is the risks we are willing to take.” (Ernest Hemingway)
I’ve been dragging camera gear around with me for more than 20 years now, in all types of conditions, and have been quite fortunate to never have sacrificed anything of great value to the elements. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Last week in Trinidad our group set off on an afternoon horseback riding venture. Since we were just starting out and going to be stopping shortly for lunch, I left my pack in the two-wheeled horse cart with 2 of my clients and the driver. They were far ahead of the rest of us, who were adjusting to the bumpy ride and learning the commands. When we rounded a bend and arrived at a river crossing, we saw the cart was empty of riders and upended in the river; my pack along with one other were submerged in the murky water. I immediately jumped off my horse and ran to the river while our guide, Gelin, dismounted and grabbed our packs from the cart. Apparently, the horse was struggling to get across the river and bucked, upending the cart in the process. As it turned out, it had been sitting there at least 10-15 minutes. I opened my pack to find my brand-new Nikon D850 camera body along with my D700 and 3 of my best lenses completely saturated. With the help of my group, I began emptying water from the gear in the hopes that some of it might be salvaged. Soon we arrived at the little restaurant in the countryside where, thanks again to my clients, we stuffed napkins into the open compartments and obtained a bag of rice from the hosts to begin the drying process.
Before I go any further, I must acknowledge that the situation could have been far worse as two of my guests were riding on the cart that spilled into the river. While I was obviously upset about my gear, I was grateful that nobody was injured. Material items can be replaced but there is no value that can be placed on human life or the wellbeing of my clients. Initially, some in the group seemed to be more upset than I was (one remarked it was as if Sydney Laurence had lost his paint brushes, a very kind metaphoric compliment, I must say) but I reminded them that everybody was OK and, in the end, that is all that really matters. I told them that I’ve been through far worse and experienced greater loss and came out on top and this would be no different, no matter how expensive or inconvenient the situation might be.
Rather than finish the ride, I decided to make my way back to town with one of people who had been on the cart when it tipped over. She was understandably shaken but in good spirits. We had no choice but to ride the cart back, this time avoiding any rivers. We did encounter a few large mudholes and despite the driver assuring us that we did not need to dismount, I demanded that he stop and let us down when the horse started to buck again. We made it back to the casa carrying drenched backpacks and a 20 lb. sack of rice filled with thousands of dollars’ worth of gear. After transferring everything into Ziplock bags, I made some calls and arranged for a new D850 to be brought down this week. I stashed the rice and gear at a casa in Havana and set off to Viñales a couple days later. At this point, I still do not know what, if anything, survived. One way or another this will all work out, even if it means shooting a few more weddings this season to replace what is lost.
I could have avoided all this by never stepping outside my comfort zone, but what is the purpose of life without adventure? At this point, there’s nothing left to do but smile and keep moving forward…