North America

Christmas ‘ 20 – Five Days & Ways of Giving

I love to travel because it jolts me out of that dull and unfulfilling zone and into a “wow” zone. And one reason I love giving back is how good it feels to take the focus off of me and onto someone else. Giving back is one of the most selfish things that one can do. What a lovely way to be selfish?

2020 has not been kind to travel, but it has opened the door to giving. Even in the world’s wealthiest nation (the US), people are suffering. But imagine the pain being felt in places suffering long before Covid 19 made it’s grand and morbid entrance.

As the 2020 holiday season limps along, it would be nice to shift away from a culture that discounts humans as consumers and allows us to humanize our neighbors once again.

On Raw Travel, we’ve profiled dozens of organizations doing good things in their little corner or chosen field of the world. I thought I’d list a few recent ones for you if you wanted to give to them in someone’s name as a gift this year. We’ve featured dozens, and there are so many more deserving than on this small list of five. But, since there are just five days of giving left before Christmas, I thought I’d limit the list to five. However, if you remember a particular “Give Back” that touched your heart and you’d like to give back in some way, please reach out on social media or email at We’ll try to hook you up with the best way to give.

This should probably go without saying, but obviously, any day is an excellent day to give back. Be it a birthday, holiday, or just a plain old vanilla Monday, giving can always make the routine day a joyous occasion. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

  1. HIDDEN TOURS JAKARTA – As seen in Season 8’s Episode 801: Going Solo: Jakarta, Indonesia. Our pal Ronny of Jakarta Hidden Tours takes travelers to meet the majority of Jakarta, Indonesia’s citizens and gives travelers an idea of Jakarta’s poor communities’ lives. This not only opens the eyes of travelers but creates an income-generating opportunity for the locals. Ronny donates the proceeds from his tours to the poor families he works with within Jakarta. He helps arrange for travelers to assist in everything from providing health care to books for children to necessary hygiene supplies. I’ve been in touch with Ronny since Covid hit, and it’s been devastating as tourism in Jakarta has dried to a trickle. You can find out more about Ronny and his organization here at or by sending a donation via PayPal or email to .

2) FREEDOM HOUSE HAITI – You may recall our visit to Haiti and our work with Freedom House, an organization rescuing orphaned restaveks (child slaves) and raising them in a loving and caring environment. We’ve helped this organization raise money over the years. This year you can help by visiting their new fair-trade gift site at  . Freedom House’s USA main office is based in East Tennessee. Tennessee residents can take advantage of free 24-hour front porch pickup in Maryville, TN. Others can get delivery in 2-3 days. Find out more about Freedom House Haiti at or their website at

3) CASA GUATEMALA – We’ve been working with this great organization since our first season during a brutal eight-week journey through Central America. When we arrived by river boat to Casa Guatemala by the shores of the Rio Dulce River, it was all worth it. We fell in love with the mission of Casa Guatemala. For decades now, they’ve been educating and caring for orphaned children in Guatemala and helping the struggling families in this rural region of Guatemala. We’ve been blessed ever since that fateful trip. It’s where we met our current cameraman/editor Nate, who was a volunteer at Casa Guatemala at the time we first filmed. Little did we know when we interviewed Nate getting his perspective as a volunteer that he’d one day join our team and go on far-flung trips with us to various corners worldwide. Nate is still with us, and Heather and the team are still doing their good work despite the challenges of Covid and Weather-related issues in 2020. Love these guys. It would be a great place to donate in a loved one’s name as I know the money goes to great use. Here is the link,

4) HUMANOS 3D / Formerly “Enable Medellin” – You will see these guys featured in early 2021 on Raw Travel – Socially Conscious Colombia, but I first met them in 2019. Despite having lived in Colombia for almost a year, I had no idea it was one of the world’s most land mined countries. The resulting number of missing limbs from kids and adults alike is mind-boggling. Humanos 3D uses cutting-edge, open-sourced technology and a network of volunteers to provide the coolest and most useful prosthetics for FREE to those who need them. You’re going to love this organization when you see them, but if you don’t want to wait until 2021 to help, here is a link to their fundraiser for 2020. I’m sure they can use the help, and I’ve seen first hand the joy brought to the hearts of Colombians who’ve suffered too long from the after-effects of a brutal civil war. Find out more and donate here

5) RED CLOUD INDIAN SCHOOL IN PINE RIDGE SOUTH DAKOTA: One of my most fulfilling episodes was filmed in the United States at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota in the summer of 2016. Much has been documented about one of the poorest counties in the wealthiest country in the world. The gripping poverty, lack of housing, drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse have led to past epidemics of teen and pre-teen suicides on the Oglala Lakota Sioux Reservation. I was so happy we could show another side of that narrative.

We showcased an all too rare hopeful and optimistic vision of the reservation, which is happening thanks to countless volunteer organizations and the Oglala Lakota Sioux themselves. Red Cloud Indian School has been educating Native children on the reservation for decades. They’ve changed a lot over the years. Now the Lakota language and culture are cherished and taught. They have an excellent track record of sending students to major universities, many in the Ivy League. We raised money for the art program at Red Cloud Indian School when we sold Raw Travel, “Still here, still proud!” T-Shirts designed by a local art student on the reservation back in 2016. Education is the key to allowing proud folks like the Lakota Sioux People to pull themselves up out of the horrific cycle of poverty. Red Cloud Indian School is key to this success. Find out more and donate here.

South America

Help Us Feed Those Affected by COVID 19


As tough as the economic toll of this pandemic has been on the USA, it’s been devastatingly worse in many developing countries where the poorest of the poor live day-to-day. These folks, who struggle mightily in the best of times, have been unable to work to garner their daily meals due to lockdown restrictions.

The governments of these countries do not have much if any, social net to speak of. Only private individuals, companies, or NGOs are able to help and they are now struggling as well. The United Nations has issued dire warnings of hunger of biblical proportions is something isn’t done. So what can we do?

We can each do something big or small (a little goes a long way in developing countries) to help trusted and vetted partners address their communities’ hunger.

If you remember my pal Andres Ocampo from Medellin Colombia (Los Suziox lead singer, Raw Travel theme song composer & El Sub music venue owner) from Raw Travel Episode 706 – “Going Solo: Medellin Rocks”? Andres has turned lemons into lemon aid (pun intended). His venue, El Sub is unable to host any events or concerts during the lockdown, so Andres has turned the space into a repository for donated food & toiletry items for the poorest of the poor in El Castilla and surrounding working-class and poor neighborhoods in Medellin, Colombia.

Hungry Homes put out red flags to alert charities that there is a hungry
MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA Red flags indicate homes where there are locked in hungry people

People who are unable to feed themselves let their needs be known by placing a red flag outside of their home. As you can see by the photos and videos, there are lots of donated items, but there are lots of red flags outside of homes as well.


GUATEMALA: Our old friends at the orphanage of Casa Guatemala are doing something similar in rural Guatemala, collecting funds for their neighbors who are locked in and unable to work and thus feed themselves. Casa Guatemala is a much-respected resource in their rural area of Guatemala near Belize, and they understand that their neighbors are suffering.

We didn’t want to simply call attention, we wanted to come up with a way that our affiliates, vendors, advertisers, and viewers could help, either big or small.

Casa Guatemala is sharing food with their neighbors.

Between now and May 15th, 2020, donate $50 or more to either Casa Guatemala HERE:

or for El Sub’s Relief for Medellin, Colombia HERE: and we will donate the money directly to the organization.

Then simply send us an email of your donation receipt to and we’ll forward you a pass for a free rental pass for Raw Travel – Season 1 good for all 19x episodes of Season One HERE

If $50 is too much to ask for this vulnerable time, we have smaller increments and rewards:

2) Between $6 and $49 donation will get you access to all three of Season One’s Colombia and Guatemala themed episodes:

Or if you prefer to rent any individual Colombia themed (#105 & #105) and/or Guatemala themed (#116) episodes between now and May 15th, the $1.99 entire rental will be donated and split between both organizations.

I know these are tough times, so we are trying to do our best to give you an avenue to help in a small or big way depending on your situation and hopefully at the same time help you remain entertained while at home.

But please if you are suffering economically yourself, do not donate. But if you are like me, feeling blessed at having a fairly secure job and outlook economically I thought this could be a good way to help.

As always, thank you all. God bless and stay safe… and sane. I know, I know… easier said than done.

* Please note this offer to view episodes is limited to viewers in the US only. Sorry Canada and others, it’s a territorial rights issue. But please do feel free to donate if you so desire and still send me an email and we’ll work out a way for you to be rewarded as well.

UPDATE MAY 17th, 2020 : Thanks to the following contributors who helped Casa Guatemala raise several thousand dollars and our pals at Justice for Andres in Colombia raise hundreds of dollars to help feed their neighbors in during the Covid 19 crisis. Special thanks to:

Stacey Pryor – Casa Guatemala

Laura-Lee Gosa.- Casa Guatemala

Rosalba Gordon – Colombia

Judy Smith – Colombia

Heather Pauli – Colombia

Brian Eubanks – Colombia

Lauren Wheat – Colombia

While our fundraiser is no longer active, if you do wish to donate, please feel free to do so at the links above and we will make sure the money gets to the right place as hunger, as you know, doesn’t take a holiday!

Central America

Guatemala…Land of Volcanoes (and Hugs)

Livingston Walking 3
Walking in Livingston

We crossed the border by boat from Punta Gordo, Belize into Livingston, Guatemala and could immediately feel the difference, not in the weather (still unbearably hot), or the mosquitoes (still out for fresh blood) but in the culture and the way things immediately went smoother for us. Buses& boats ran on time, no more hassles about a camera and we felt completely safe and at ease.

Livingston Kids
The kids of Livingston

Livingston is not a typical Guatemalan town by a long shot as it is largely shaped by the mixture of Garifunas, indigenous Mayan natives and tourists. But don’t get it wrong. Livingston is not throngs and throngs of tourists, more like a smattering of backpackers and adventurers who are used to hitting obscure destinations. The town is peaceful and tranquil with a good energy.

canoeto school
Canoe to School

After over-nighting in Livingston we headed up the incredibly beautiful Rio Dulce River to Casa Guatemala, an orphanage that began to help the many orphaned kids from the decades long, brutal Guatemalan Civil War. The orphanage, originally founded by a Canadian Couple who had established similar outposts in other war torn areas in Southeast Asia, is well known in the area and overlooks the beautiful Rio Dulce River. If you didn’t know better it could easily be mistaken as an eco-touristic resort from the distance on the water. But it’s no resort. The work they do is heart-breakingly serious.

making up bed
Cheerfully Doing Chores

Over the years, the orphanage has evolved into a home and school for orphaned, disadvantaged and abused children as adoption laws have changed. They’ve expanded beyond their founding mission to also help care for and educate kids from the neighboring communities. Many of these families have fished or farmed in the area for centuries.  

Some of these kids commute can include a combination bus, hiking and /or canoe over miles of terrain and water. The kids that have to travel 3 hours or so usually stay on site for free and only go home every 6 weeks or so. The kids that live in the adjacent villages come back and forth every day.

The orphanage, school and medical clinic, like many non-profits, depend largely on donations and grants (no government money) but they are also doing their best to ride out the inevitable rough spots by being as self-sustainable as possible. I don’t know what impressed me more, the very organized but loving way they ran the place or the way they used their resources to attempt 100% self-sustainability.

Sneaking Food

The kids catch and clean the fish they catch for dinner in the river. They have a farm where they raise animals and crops to eat or sell in their nearby Hotel Backpacker’s  hostel and accompanying store. The kids all have chores and they range in ages from very young up to 17 or so. It’s an equal mix of boys and girls which is notable because in much of Central America (as in many parts of the world) school is so expensive for the family that all too often only the boys will get fully educated. 

All in all they care for anywhere from 250-300 kids at a time and volunteering travelers are key to the orphanage’s long running success. We met travelers from all over the world including Spain, The UK and San Diego California (shout out to Nate, whom we’d later serendipitously run into in Roatan).

Chow Time!

They guys were cool enough to let us eat lunch with the kids (it was a long weekend so only the full time resident kids were around). Even though we were there only a few hours, I felt a connection to this place and especially the kids who were not shy at all with giving out hugs and making conversation. I don’t have a lot of kids in my life on a daily basis so I was really touched and overjoyed to be there and enjoyed every hug, every conversation, every chance to interact with these precious, happy souls.

Long term volunteers typically pay around $300 U.S. for a minimum 3 month volunteer program which covers their food and very sparse lodgings. Shorter term volun-tour stays are also available which is where their Hotel Backpackers hostel comes in handy. I can tell you that unlike too many so called “Voluntour” organizations, there seems to be very little administrative and other fat at Casa Guatemlala with the $ going directly to help the kids.


It was an incredible experience and we didn’t want to leave but we had a date in Guatemala City so Heather, our contact, and her crew took us in their boat to the neighboring town of Rio Dulce where we caught a bus to Guatemala City.


We arrived in Guatemala City at night which I’ll admit made me nervous. I had traveled to Guatemala City back in 2009 and even back then had been told time and time again how dangerous it was to wander around downtown Guatemala City at night.

Our hotel was in the middle of downtown, a lovely hotel called “Posado Belen Museo Inn” which I think may be the most unique and lovely little hotels I’ve ever stayed in. The owner, Francesca, was so sweet and even drove us to a local restaurant to have a late dinner. Posado Belen Museo Inn is somewhat famous for their hospitality, getting rave reviews on Trip Advisor and other sites and I understand why.

After 3 days at the Posado (Bed & Breakfast) and traveling around central Guate (as the locals call Guatemala City) I was no longer afraid to step out the door. Guate admittedly has a bad reputation.  perhaps because the buildings are so old they are historical status and the owners are not allowed to tear them down but instead required to restore, which means lots of $ typically. Since many building owners don’t have the kind of $ needed to restore, many buildings remain in disrepair and look abandoned giving parts of  downtown Guate a bit of a ghost town feel. 

Posado Belen Museo
Posado Belen Museo Dining Area

However, just beyond the abandonment are actual businesses, and some of them, like the Posado Belen Museo Inn and the gym down the street I was able to visit a couple of times, are very nice.

We spent a lot of time in nearby Ave. Sexta (6th Avenue) which is a completely redone pedestrian street downtown with great restaurants and nightlife. On the weekends it’s packed with families and tourists enjoying downtown Guatemala City. I won’t say yet that Ave. Sexta rivals the upscale nightlife zone of Zona Vive, the upscale suburb on the outskirts of the city, but it’s a great addition.

I’ve stayed in Zona Viva and it is indeed nice and gives travelers a sense of security they perhaps don’t have downtown but after this experience in downtown Guate, I’ll return there again and again. It’s more authentic and just more my style.

Goat’s Milk Straight from the Goat

The highlight of the trip for me was drinking goats milk directly from the live goats parked in the middle of downtown Guate. Warm and good.. what an ingenious, entrepreneurial idea.

Another highlight while in Guate was when we covered a punk show with some old friends of mine from an initial trip I’d made in 2009. They were cool enough to put on a show in honor of Raw Travel and my return. It was a full day of music with 10 or so bands playing.  It was good seeing old friends while making new ones. The show was pretty much over just before dark as many of the kids and bands had to return home to their neighborhoods on the outskirts of town.

Punk Show in Guate City

Earlier in the day we hit the downtown market and it was clear we weren’t in Belize or Mexico City anymore. People were eager to show us Guatemala City culture and they almost even hammed it up for us with incredible hospitality.  

It hit home what a friendly place Guatemala can be when a grandma in the market would not take my money insisting instead on giving me fruit from her stall for our journey. Free fruit at the market?

Perhaps this was the point I began to realize I was falling in love with Guatemala. This would be a feeling I’d encounter over and over in my travels throughout Guatemala.

downtown Guate
Downtown Guatemala City

There was a somber side as well. On the Sunday of our arrival at the town square we noticed a group of Guatemalans, mostly women, who were demonstrating to commemorate the ghastly array of war crimes committed against women during the Guatemalan Civil War (one of the main perpetrators and so called political leaders of that era had been convicted of war crimes recently but was so old would likely never serve time).

We also came across posters of some of the “Disappeared” plastered on the walls. It was a reminder of how much misery and pain engulfed this place not so long ago.

The “Disappeared”

Perhaps that is why people were so friendly. I’ve noticed in my travels that places that have recently emerged from tragedy and loss (i.e. Colombia, Serbia) that people seem to really enjoy living life and are gracious, friendly and outgoing towards visitors. It’s just a theory but I remember thinking as Francesca from the hotel hugged me goodbye as we were heading to the beautiful city of Antiqua nearby, how many hugs I was getting in this country and how good it felt to be in Guatemala.


It’s a fact, Antigua is crawling with tourists and travelers but for good reason. This is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in all of the Americas. They readily welcome travelers with accommodations and restaurants that fit almost any budget and desire. You can’t walk a block in downtown Antiqua without your mouth falling open in awe at the beautiful historic architecture and parks. It doesn’t hurt that the town is surrounded on all sides by 3 awe inspiring volcanoes (one active). Yes, it’s full of tourists, but for good reason and after a while on the road, you crave some “pampering”.



Speaking of awe inspiring, a trip to Panajachel and the incredible Lago Atitlan should be on any Guatemala traveler’s agenda. In the 1970s hippies from all over the world discovered the village of  Panajachel and the lake and many of them never left.

One of Lago Atitlan’s Villages

Another sign that I was not in Mexico or Belize anymore was the quick response we received from the Guatemalan Tourism Bureau when we reached out to them. Within a day we were offered an English speaking guide, transportation and set up with one of the fine travel companies in the region Viva Atitlan. As the name suggests, Viva Atitlan specializes in helping visitors get in touch with the several unique and different cultures in the surrounding villages at the lake and they know their stuff. Marlon from Viva Atitlan picked us up at our hotel and made all the arrangements for us when we arrived.


Perhaps the best thing Viva Atitlan did was connect us with Delores. Delores is a native of one of the villages surrounding Lago Atitlan. She ended up marrying one of those hippies from the 1970s (who ended up becoming a successful author). She subsequently lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for over a dozen years. Delores perfectly straddles three cultures, Indigenous, Latin and U.S.  

Now living back home, Delores was very well known among all the villages as she guided us from well-known local painters to village Shamans conducting ancient spiritual ceremonies to a cooperative of women artisans who dye and sell their textiles directly to tourists. Delores even tried to teach me how to carry a bundle on my head like the indigenous ladies of Guatemala do so effortlessly.  Not as easy as it looks I assure you.

With Delores (Middle) and a Village Host Family

Delores was a gentle, calm spirit and I really enjoyed filming with her and learning about her culture and can’t wait for these segments to air so others can be turned on to her expertise and energy. Many thanks Casa Guatemala, Guatemalan tourism board, Posado Belen Museo Inn, Guatemala city Punks, Viva Atitlan, Delores and most importantly, all the friendly helpful people of Guatemala. I hope we can do you all proud.

Next up.. Honduras.

Producer Renzo with some cool Lago Atitlan village kids
Producer Renzo with some cool Lago Atitlan village kids