He returns next week thousands of miles short of his stated goal to travel from Milwaukee to Tierra del Fuego – the archipelago located as far south as South America goes.
“I am slightly disappointed by our distance but consider it a success. We just ran into too many nice places and people that we couldn’t pass up.”
The sophomore journalism student is now writing a long self-critique to complete his independent study.
“I’m a terrible blogger,” he says. “My writing needs practice.”
His digital camera with manual focus and exposure was too much equipment to manage while interviewing in imperfect Spanish. But his helmet-mounted video camera didn’t fail.
As for Natasha “Danger” Suzuki, the 40-year-old dirt bike that Peters and the crew at Fuel Power Sports tuned up, duct-taped and polished before his Jan. 24 departure, her return to Milwaukee is uncertain.
“In Panama her electrical system failed. I was completely lost on how to diagnose or fix it. It’s one of those things on a bike that is not supposed to fail.”
He’s no mechanic but Peters did study wiring and circuitry as an explosive ordnance expert for the U.S. Air Force, enlisting “open general” in high school. He chose between driving a fuel truck and diffusing bombs.
In Afghanistan he worked comfortably with U.S. and Afghani forces. Anything from a pile of rubble to a plastic bag had to be treated with suspicion.
After six years training and in the field, Peters left Afghanistan. He made it through New Zealand, Japan, China and Northern Pakistan – hitchhiking or on a Chinese motorcycle. Local hospitality kept him safe and well fed.
Peters continued to depend on the kindness of strangers on his independent study, which came after a traditional first semester at UWM.
Leaving in the midst of a Midwestern ice storm, he made it to Illinois in one day, Texas in three weeks, and Mexico by Feb. 25, after two attempts at border crossing (he was turned back the first time because Natasha’s registration paperwork wasn’t in order) and with the help of bilingual border guards who called him a “crazy bastard.”
Peters’ Spanish and salsa flourished, blog posts and photographs proliferated at http://dantpeters.com/. Journalism faculty David Backes, Marc Tasman and Tess Gallun provided critiques, encouragement and “much needed focus” as he posted video, photos and essays from the road. Natasha kept him hopping borders to find mechanics and spare parts. She experienced a flooded engine, melted seat and ran out of gas. Often.
Peters will always be grateful to the driver in Mexico who found him and Natasha sidelined on a mountain road. The man tore apart his truck’s fuel filter to fill plastic bottles of gasoline to get Peters to the next gas station.
The trip ground to a serious halt April 23, when Peters met the Velasquez-Morales family in Mixco, Guatemala. He wanted to make a documentary for his two cousins who were adopted from that suburb of Guatemala City.
“I had been in Guatemala City four days without any luck in finding the right family. What seemed like such a simple idea became more complicated once I became immersed in the largest Central American city. Security was a slight concern as I wandered the different zonas of the city like a lost puppy with a camera. Everyone I met told me to watch out for armed robbers, and that the shotgun wielding security guards were false comfort.”
Peters asked Elisa Velasquez-Morales if he could spend time documenting a day in the life of her family of nine. Elisa agreed only after Peters showed them his UWM ID.
Days turned into weeks. Peters recorded hours of interviews. He joined the family as they sold lighters, cigarettes and gum nightly. As Peters documents, that work provides the barest of essentials but was among the family’s only options following the parents’ layoff from the local airport.
Audiences will have to wait for the full story.
“I have hours of Guatemalan Spanish to translate. It’s slow going, but I want to translate it myself.”
He’s now blogging and biking in Colombia, where he’s planning a counseling job at Camp Manito-wish and biking trip to Canada before his 18-credit fall semester – including Spanish, Arabic, political science and journalism.
“I missed the mark of a documentary by a long shot and ended up with a ‘movie trailer.’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlhG0MlAMiQ I learned a lot about how to make these docs.”
He’ll hone his craft locally as an intern with i level media, a Milwaukee-based television and interactive production company. He’ll get back on a bike to search metro Milwaukee for leaders of the city’s landmark Civil Rights movement.
“I’m sure I’ll love it,” he says of his next assignment.