Everyone should take a journey of self discovery at least once in their life. I haven’t been fortunate enough yet to experience the awe that comes with a trip like this, but it sure felt like I came close by following the travelling Jeff Johnson with 180° South.
180° South is a documentary film about Jeff Johnson, a young man from California, whose life aspirations are to climb to the top of Corcovado, located in Patagonia, which was pioneered by Yvon Chouinard, creator of Patagonia clothing and Doug Tompkins, creator of North Face company. This is not just an adventure film, but also about the sense of responsibility to protect wild places. The film travels by boat from Mexico to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to Chile, into Santiago and on down towards Patagonia. 180° South takes a hard look at what is wrong with the world, without being overbearing. There seems to be a common thread between Jeff and all the people he meets: they are all surfers. Not only are surfers seeking natural highs from a big swell, but they seem to share in a sense of adventure that others can’t quite grasp.
Jeff is the kind of guy who has worked a multitude of jobs just to make enough money to go on the next adventure, and when he hears about a boat travelling from Mexico to Chile and needing some help for the trip, he couldn’t pass it up. This is two birds with one stone for him, a job and a free trip to Chile. From Mexico, they travel nearly a month before he can really adjust to the lifestyle of being at sea, where time is irrelevant and the only time that matters is the rise and setting of the sun. When the boat encounters a strong storm and loses the mast of the ship, they must stop in at Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, for fuel and repairs. When the repairs take longer than expected, he spends time with a local named Makohe and learns the history of the island. What she teaches him is something we could all take solice in: the country of almost 30,000 became so obsessed with making the famous statues that the island is now known for, that they destroyed their own environment cutting the whole forest down, eventually leading to war, starvation and cannibalism. The lesson from this becomes a bit of a running theme throughout the journey and through the different places that he passes through.
I have every reason to be jealous of these group of individuals. They live free, off the grid, and only take a job to make enough money to pay for their next trip. They have no worries, it’s no wonder these folk live so much longer than the rest of us back in our grimy cities with news channels terrorizing us daily. Yvon is almost seventy years old, living in Patagonia and still going mountain climbing, along with surfing and fly fishing. What I would give to live a life like these guys. I’ve been living vicariously through movies up to this point and this one actually makes me want to give it up for a life of adventure and unknown.
After the stop in Rapa Nui, the boat gets back on track and heads to Chile. Once the boat gets into port, he travels through Santiago and on his way to Patagonia, meeting more of the locals. More of the same problems occur south with the government interfering and building pulp mills and factories and killing off natural reserves. The message behind this film is about fighting against change for natural wonders like Chile. Taking part in conversation to prevent industrialization, and dams from shutting off people’s way of life. Jeff spends time in each place learning about the economy and the people and what is changing and what has stayed the same. In almost every place, there is trouble with the government stepping in and claiming what wasn’t theirs to start. The interference of humans in these remote places is based on the world’s obsession with over consumption.
Even though there are some serious topics covered in the film, there was still plenty of surfing and rock climbing. As well as the thrill for life, another common link these people share is their interest in preserving what they have discovered. Yvon and Doug have purchased millions of acres of Southern Chile to add to the natural preserve and absolutely stop the destruction. I can speak from experience from the places that I have traveled, though they are not as remote as this trip, are still very beautiful, and I would be devastated to find that pulp mills and factories were put in it’s place. I’m humbled by this film. Not only in their amazing conquers, but seeing the worldwide problems that government and industrialization can have on any part of the world.
As much as I enjoyed the narration of Jeff and watching him live his passions, I really enjoyed the people he met along the way. Yvon was probably my favorite as he was very passionate and didn’t let age slow him down. He described himself as a chill Buddhist who would help where he can. As he sat and sipped his Yerba Mate and talked about the CEOs and surgeons who hire shirpas to help them climb Everest, he said, “You will never learn anything, you are an asshole when you start and you’re an asshole when you get back.” As for the scenery, I loved watching Jeff and others surf with dolphins and seals just feet away from them and watching Jeff run in the countryside along side wild horses. This not only added to that sense of awe that I spoke of in the beginning, but brought back that itch to travel more. Jeff did eventually make it to Corcovado to climb with Yvon and others, but due to the lack of snow on the peak was unable to climb the entire peak for safety reasons. I wanted that sense of accomplishment that he sought out for him and myself. Perhaps where he met resistance, we should prosper. If you think that I mean you should go climb a mountain, well then you should! If that’s not your idea of prospering, then get involved. “We can’t just keep making a flawed system work.” Visit these sites for more information:
I give 180° South 4 “happy animals” out of 5
by Angela Davis