The Woman Behind the Crusader

A chat with Vida Amor De Paz, Guatemala’s crusader for protecting the planet

Her smile is electric. Her energy is vibrant. Her achievements … inspiring. My brief interview with Vida Amor De Paz has certainly left me with a powerfully affecting impression. I am new to Guatemala and can claim no more than five months of exploring the country and its people of influence. I’m certainly no expert on De Paz and her prominent social repute. But learning about some of her most recent adventures and listening to her life’s mission not only moved me, but encouraged me to continue chasing after my own dreams. After spending time with her I felt rewarded—rewarded with renewed inspiration and motivation. And, as she recounted, that is exactly what she is after:

“I believe more in telling people: ‘Hey, you can be a good person. I trust you.’ What’s going to happen when I tell you that? That’s going to empower you. And you’re going to feel a responsibility to be able to live up to that. So that’s the way I think. That’s my philosophy of life.”

In just two hours, I quickly came to understand that De Paz is a true go-getter. As a former TV personality, a children’s songwriter, a regular columnist in the Guatemalan newspaper the Prensa Libre and the founder of two environmental organizations—one based in Guatemala and a sister foundation based in the United States—it is apparent she is a very difficult woman to “sum up,” let alone try to define or describe. Yet, in her own words, she is simply young at heart.

“I still think like a child … because I trust people. And I want to continue trusting people. Of course, I have two little antennas when something tells me, ‘Hey! Watch out!’ But I think we are missing the trust. When we grow up we lose the trust that we should continue having in others.”

And not just trust in others. De Paz has that rare and admirable quality of truly trusting herself. When the woman was first faced with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of traveling to the North Pole in 2007, it was essentially an opportunity for a “free ride” with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But that chance to spin her lifelong message to protect the environment in a new, unique way quickly fizzled into a “no ride” when Russia rocked the boat of opportunity (pun-intended), claiming the North Pole as its own in July of that same year. Thus, world politics unraveled De Paz’s opportunity to go—at least with NOAA. Once the idea for such an adventure weaseled its way into her agenda, there was no stopping her. With persistence she tracked down a smaller expedition that was already conducting research in the North Pole. Though the TARA crew reportedly would not even host the likes of National Geographic, De Paz’s distinctive Mayan angle proved to be intrigue enough for the TARA scientists to invite her.

“Everybody was telling me I was crazy, that I was insane trying to get there. Some people didn’t even think that I was going to make it. … Honestly, I really wanted to know how it all converged. What the Maya were trying to tell us. What the scientists are trying to tell us. How that all converged. What was the parallel. And that’s what really took me.”

That and some expert fundraising. De Paz managed to secure €17,000 of funding from beauty brand Paul Mitchell as well as another €12,000 from the Guatemalan phone provider TIGO.

“Some people asked me if I was scared before we landed. And to tell you the truth, the landing could have been catastrophic. We could have died. But I was just not thinking about that. I was just not thinking negatively. I was thinking, ‘Wow! We’re landing at the North Pole.’ … I think the only other time I have experienced such excitement is when I gave birth to my kids.”

Such perseverance not only earned De Paz the adventure of a lifetime, but also the chance to share her message of environmental care worldwide, through a documentary of her trip. De Paz reports that her film, From the Maya to the North Pole, has already been featured in Poland and Barcelona and is scheduled to appear in Italy, Egypt, the U.S., Copenhagen and Argentina.

De Paz’s adventure and resulting film already make her stand-out. But the mission could very well have earned her an achievement of a true pioneer. The Guatemalan personality just could be the very first Latin American to reach the North Pole. Currently, a woman from Vera Cruz, Mexico, is making the claim. But her trip was completed one year later than De Paz’s.

“Still, I don’t know. I guess I should look into that,” De Paz remarked.

But for the moment she is too busy looking into transforming her documentary into a book as well as writing a science-fiction novel based on Mayan history. De Paz reports that she is also considering a television show and adds that she has every intention of continuing to develop more film projects. She is also helping organize a new campaign that aggressively urges Guatemalans to become more directly involved in protecting their natural habitat. De Paz asked me to keep the details “hush-hush” for now, but the project is scheduled to go live in about a month.

Still, all these plans are not enough. When asked, “what’s next?” The non-stop “grandmother” quickly asserted: The South Pole.

You can find a 10-minute preview of De Paz’s documentary on Youtube by searching for: From the Maya to the North Pole.

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