Eli's Background and Wild Adventure Experience
The SMr crew couldn’t be more stoked on our new addition to the team. Eli Baylis, photographer by profession and adventurer by life, is a man with vigor for a challenge and a heart for people. Eli left his lucrative lifestyle as Chief Photojournalist at the Vicksburg Post, to come slum it with us in Nicaragua. Though Eli was typically found either jetting around town on his red KLR, camera bag on side, and fedora on top, or laid back with an ice cold Laughing Skull on the porch of his Antebellum Mansion, Eli’s true passion is quite the opposite. Comfortable living is not where Eli belongs, it’s in the hut of a village, elbow deep in the mud while a new well is being built, walking side-by-side, barefoot, on the dirt roads of a third-world country as a villager reveals his past struggles and future aspirations. Eli craves life without borders. He’s a storyteller, but he doesn’t want to simply capture a photo, or write a story and be done with it, he desires to truly live it first.
Eli has certainly lived the life of a vagabond traveler setting his paces towards untold stories and hidden places. After much work and play in his own country, voluntarily putting roofs on houses, cattle farming in South Mississippi, alligator wrestling and snake wrangling on Lake Washington, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and fully appreciating the beauty of his homeland one coast to the next, Eli packed up his life into one pack and a camera bag and headed overseas.
Subduing a Gator
Eli headed to Nairobi, Kenya where he worked as an outdoor living instructor, lived in a dung hut for a bit, and traipsed around the Savannah in his off time. You can see the glimmer in his eye as he takes you on a journey alongside him, in remembering Africa.
“I stayed with the Maasai tribe for a while, just cutting up with them, eating, dancing, and hanging out. They allowed me to join in a marriage dance one night. The dance consists of jumping in one spot, each trying to jump higher than the other. They were so impressed with this white boy’s ups that they bestowed a handmade tribal necklace upon me as a congratulate prize for being able to keep up.”
Eli became close with the tribe Chief during that time who soon challenged him to a bow and arrow competition. The onlookers were amazed as Eli championed the competition. The Chief regarded him with a stern face, which cracked into a smile, and then a laugh. Bidding his farewell to the tribe, Eli moved on to the next venture, kayaking a portion of the Nile river.
“You could ride, balls to the wall, through the rough white water sections, but it was the calm waters where every slight movement mattered. I had to stay completely straight and still through these sections, knowing that to tip over could lead to a risky encounter with a man eating reptile.”
Eli had his spats with southern US gators, but in these waters, he was simply a vienna sausage appetizer to a 18ft, 1,500lb Nile crocodile. Eli especially enjoyed the time he spent rock climbing in Hell’s Gate, and camping out in the safari grasslands.
“One evening, right as the sun dropped below the horizon, we spotted a good bit of movement heading our way. We soon realized it was a troop of baboons, a hundred or so, moving fast on a mission to ransack our campsite. It’s happened before, and they take everything we have to survive, while showing no mercy, so this time we were ready. We posted up on a plateau with a three-man operated water balloon launcher, and as they grew near, we began catapulting rocks their way. It seemed to hold them back a bit, but these aggressive soldiers with opposable thumbs were relentless. We thought we had turned them away when the alpha climbed up the cliff towards us and perched on a rock face 100 feet away. He was a big bad dude, but we had him; queued in, lock and fire!! We watched in complete dismay as the small boulder we launched blazed towards him. He didn’t budge, he didn’t blink. He simply shot a hand up, caught it midair like a Bruce Lee move, never deflecting his stare from our faces, and sent it soaring back in our direction. The troop did move on, but we knew and he knew, that he had bested us.”
Eli spent time in Calcutta, India volunteering in an orphanage for mentally handicapped boys in the morning, a physical therapist at an open wound clinic in the afternoon, and caretaker in a sick and dying facility at night. "Yea. I never ate. I couldn't. They needed me." Said Eli. Though he found himself, time after time, in dangerous situations that might have claimed his life, it was here, in Calcutta, that Eli stared death in the face. He met an Indian man in town, they hit it off and chatted for a bit, then the man invited him back to his village to meet his people. Of course Eli agreed, not truly realizing what he was getting himself into. After a long taxi ride, turned into a long train ride, turned into a haul in the back of a truck, turned trek on a three-wheeler, and a short walk, they finally arrived. Eli was not prepared for this, he expected a short travel time and basically only brought the shirt on his back. Eli was feeling a bit strange and woozy, but continued on to meet the elders of the village. Soon after he suddenly threw up and passed out. And that was the last he remembered. Severe Dehydration. The heavy setting sun had pelted him all day, and the dry dusty air coated his lungs and parched his tongue. He was blacking in and out and there was not a hospital within two days travel time. The next Eli remembered was laying in a hotel, of which he had no idea how he got there, in a bed of sheets soaked in his own sweat. The door slowly opened and a doctor entered. He gave Eli a shot, and exited just as quickly and mysteriously as he arrived. Eli would not have survived had this phantom doctor not appeared, however, he never paid him, talked to him, or even saw him again.
Man at tea in India who led Eli to his village
Flock of sheep paraded through streets in India on the way to be slaughtered
Haiti and Grenada. After the earthquake in Haiti, Eli took a taxi ride across the island documenting the disaster and helping as he could. He also served in a homeless shelter in Grenada, Spain. But these are stories best saved for another time.
Two boys after the earthquake in Haiti. by Eli Baylis
Haitian Man Awaits Promised Water Relief captured by Eli
Richard and I will be moving temporarily to our manufacturing headquarters in Managua, Nicaragua to work hands-on with our team there as production of the Nubé begins. Eli, along with Amanda Braun, and Lacy Greer, will be making the drive from Vicksburg, MS to Managua, Nicaragua on the last week of September. He plans to document the drive through Mexico and Central America, and continue to portray the struggles, glories, and true life of these wonderful people and cultures in Central America and seek out every drop of adventure to be had along the way.
Why did he choose to join SMr?
“I support the way SMR chooses to run their business. Their passion for responsible business practices, like providing good paying jobs to people that need them and funding clean water for communities in undeveloped regions but also for their adventurous spirit.
I spent years volunteering with mission organizations and charities in undeveloped parts of the world and know first hand both the enormous need and incredible potential for companies like SMr.” - Eli Baylis
Founder Richard Rhett and Eli ice climbing in Ouray. So GQ.