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.

North America

Pine Ridge Reservation – Tribal Tourism

I first heard about the situation in Pine Ridge reservation a few years ago while watching Diane Sawyer profiling the tragic issue of teen suicide there. I pledged then and there that if ever I was able to help the people on the reservation, I would. Finally, during the 4th of July holiday weekend of 2015, I visited Pine Ridge to produce an episode of Raw Travel entitled “Pine Ridge – Tribal Tourism” and my life has never been the same.

This Recently Built Skateboard Park Gets Lots of Use
This Recently Built Skateboard Park Gets Lots of Use

Nothing that specifically extraordinary happened to me on that trip. I simply met regular folks from the reservation who were kind and hospitable to me, a total stranger. But I was very impressed by their resiliency in the face of difficult circumstances.

I was equally impressed by the large number of locals, transplants and volunteers working to help make the situation on Pine Ridge better, especially for Lakota Youth.  I can think of no better way to inspire young people to believe in themselves than to allow them to explore the innate creativity present in all human beings.

Celebrating 4th of July at the Batesland Pow-Wow
Celebrating 4th of July at the Batesland Pow-Wow

I was made aware of the lack of creative outlets by youth on the reservation when I interviewed the local band “Scatter Their Own” where Scotti & Julianna informed me that no music schools existed on the entire reservation. After interviewing the folks at Red Cloud School I thought a good way to help would be to assist their efforts to expand their after school arts program.

I hope we can work with some talented musicians, filmmakers and other artists and entrepreneurs to visit the reservation and speak to the youth on a consistent basis. I’d also like to try to create a small film school. Who knows where, if anywhere this will lead but I do know that to do nothing, is in essence choosing to endorse the status quo, and that I cannot do. Whatever we can contribute, big or small it will help.

Pine Ridge Still Here.. Still Proud TShirt
“Still Here.. Still Proud” Shirts

Even though this fundraising effort kicks off to coordinate with our Raw Travel – Pine Ridge / Tribal Tourism debut, it will be an ongoing effort and will continue as long as there is interest in helping Pine Ridge help themselves. For me this already is an ongoing cause I’ve pretty much resigned to be dedicated to until either things improve drastically or I die, whichever comes first.

With your help, they I’m confident they can and will get better. For more information on Raw Travel – Pine Ridge and to donate please go to or for other ways you may choose to help then click the “How To Help” link at which will be updated as time goes on.


Thank you for not standing by while good people needlessly suffer.



North America

Giving Back: Adopt-A-Native-Elder



While filming in Park City, Utah this summer I fortuitously came across a promotional flyer for a program called “Adopt A Native Elder” and was immediately intrigued. We made contact and interviewed founder, Linda Myer and her dedicated staff and volunteers at their warehouse in Salt Lake City where they were packing for an upcoming “Food Run”.  According to their website, the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program exists to create a Bridge of Hope between Native Americans and other cultures.  They do this by providing food, medicine, clothing, fabric and yarns to help these Elders, some of whom are in their 80s and 90s or even older. 

As they have become elderly, it has become more difficult for them to support themselves on the Land in their traditional ways. After my interview with Linda and Roger, the organization’s Navajo interpreter and ambassador, I was so taken with the program that I pledged then and there to participate in an upcoming food run.


Months later, I was finally able to fulfill my pledge by participating in the Many Farms Food Run in a remote area of the Navajo reservation in Arizona and it was as amazing as I expected.

I flew into Phoenix on some business the day before and then drove almost 5 hours to the meeting point in Chimle, Arizona. I arrived late at night at the lovely Best Western hotel in town and woke up early to meet up with the volunteers and to get briefed at breakfast.

Linda immediately spotted me and after our greeting graciously asked if I’d brought any long pants (I was wearing 3/4 length pants). Luckily I had. It turns out the Navajo are conservative and to show proper respect, the volunteers are asked to dress conservatively with the females wearing long skirts and men wearing long pants. No sleeveless t-shirts either. The main thing is to keep oneself covered.

Linda introduced me to the group of volunteers as I nervously apologized for my inappropriate dress (an unintentional but now long running theme throughout the show),  and everyone laughed. It was a jovial, giving and welcoming atmosphere with approximately 50 or so volunteers from all over the U.S. including Utah, California, Texas, Indiana and at least one other person from New York City.



It was a somewhat older adult crowd with many retirees taking advantage to give back, but there were also younger folks and families with kids as well as solo travelers in attendance. The kids particularly impressed me with their selfless attitude and commitment. In my view, these kids are bound for a lifetime of giving, empathy and betterment. I spent a lot of time with them and found their maturity and character at such a young age simply inspiring.   

We left in convoy from the hotel and arrived at the gathering point on the reservation around mid morning before any elders would arrive, some making a several hour journey in from remote corners of the reservations and many arriving in walkers or wheelchairs, many of which had been donated. It was obvious that many rarely if ever are able to leave home but the ANE Foodruns are special occasion for these folks.



Not only does the event allow them to stock up on food and other necessities to get them through the winter, they view these ANE occasions as social where they are able to fellowship and see old friends be they fellow tribes people or volunteers from ANE, many of whom have been coming for years and have developed long held bonds and relationships with the Natives.

Witnessing deep friendships that transcended generational, ethnic and cultural gaps was perhaps the most heartwarming part of the entire Food Run process

The elders were as sweet as could be and they and their caretakers (if they had them) of sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, etc., were grateful and appreciative. Many of the elders did not speak English but as always, smile and a warm handshake or hug bridged any language or cultural barrier. Some of the Natives also brought gifts for exchange (rugs, yarn, etc.) giving the event a festive rather than charitable feel. 


The ANE foodruns have been going on for over 30 years and by now, it’s run like a well oiled machine. Every possible scenario was covered and it was obvious this organization is a “waste not, want not” kind of place. The support that ANE receives goes directly to the native elders with very little administrative overhead that you would find in a larger organization.

They know by now the things that the elders most need. Items that might seem humdrum to you and I such as work gloves, knit hats, hand lotion, instant coffee, peanut butter, yarn, etc. Every elder is taken care of and every effort was made to create an event that was more of a celebration of a culture among good friends rather than a charity give away.  There were skits, entertainment, games and giveaways along with a wonderful buffet style lunch that was a mixture of Native and non Native food. 

Indeed, it was hard for me to keep a dry eye during the parts of the day. The love and good will flowing from Native to Non Native and back was palpable. When the young Native children showed up for their toys, I thought I would lose it.  Simple pleasures from kids who don’t know a thing about a computer or video game but who were absolutely thrilled with a new plastic toy car or action figure that most kids in our country today would simply sneer at. 


The Elders.. the kids.. the volunteers… the love… the warmth.. in the peaceful (if hot and dusty) setting of the Arizona desert, it was surreal as well as a mind and life altering.

I hope I’m able to actually “adopt” a native elder or return on a Food Run soon and while it remains to be seen, it’s a memory I’ll treasure and keep for life.

I encourage you to find out about the ANE and see if it’s for you and if you are so moved, participate on a Food Run or Adopt-A-Native-Elder yourself. Please visit their website HERE and look for their segment in 2016 on Raw Travel.


Public Relations

Voluntourism Vs. Disaster Capitalism


Coincidentally, the evening before the big earthquake in Nepal, I watched Vice On HBO’s report on the confounding money pit Haiti has become after their devastating 2010 earthquake (below is a debriefing by Vice Reporter, Vikram Gandhi).

Like many who’ve donated money to Haiti, the report was beyond frustrating to see. Unfortunately it is not surprising.

I kind of had the feeling that this would happen. The fact that private U.S. companies are benefiting with millions of donors’ and taxpayer dollars while providing nothing of substance to the Haitian people hammered home the surprisingly difficult task of giving, especially when large, self interested bureaucracies like the U.S. Government, United Nations and a struggling third world government like Haiti’s are involved.

When we’re on the road filming up against intense deadlines in a country we’re often not familiar, The Giveback  segment is often the most stressful of all segments we produce.

My biggest fear is giving media credibility and valuable exposure to an individual or organization that is  a sham, scam or simply dishonest. There are so many so called “not-for-profits” that are set up with the sole purpose of making money by securing funds with little or no resources actually going to those in need.

On more than one occasion we’ve walked away from a filming opportunity because something didn’t feel right. Unfortunately, this is a horrible gauge of whether to help or not, but with scant research available in many of these destinations, we do the best we can and rely on what we see when there on the ground. So far, I don’t think we’ve made any mistakes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Project Pearls in Manila
Project Pearls in Manila


Large, well funded organizations with slick websites and marketing plans can give the impression of stability, security and goodness of mission. But as we’ve witnessed and the Vice reporter underscores, this can be misleading.

That is one of the reasons we encourage DIY (Do It Yourself) Voluntourism and working with smaller, lesser known organizations run by locals. When there is less money at stake, there seems to be less opportunity for graft, corruption and waste.

Further, I feel our exposure has a larger relative impact and viewers who decide to help may get a more visceral feeling working with smaller organizations.

Our “Give Back” segments are less about the particular organization we happen to be highlighting and more about shining a spotlight on Voluntourism as a travel option in general. Viewers are encouraged to do their own research and get out there and do what makes them feel good. Giving after all is ultimately a selfish enterprise. We largely do it because it makes us feel good, but what a great way to be selfish.

This is not to say that all larger organizations are bad or corrupt. Unicef, World Vision, the Red Cross and dozens more like them are doing good work. We need these guys and we need to support them.

DIY Voluntourism - Water Filters in Honduras
DIY Voluntourism – Water Filters in Honduras

But we also need to ask hard questions and expect the right answers. What is happening in Haiti is a travesty of human greed and reflect the worst angels of human nature. But I know among all that misery, all that waste and disgusting display of capitalism disguised as charity, that there are people doing the right things and working hard to make a difference. I know because I’ve seen them and witnessed the results of their efforts first hand.

They, thankfully, are large in number even though it’s often maybe not a sexy story for the likes of CNN and other corporate media concerns.

We’re planning a trip to Haiti for our upcoming Season 3. We had every intention of going in Season 1 but then the earthquake hit and we weren’t established enough to handle producing in a disaster zone. We still aren’t. But if we wait for Haiti to fully recover then I fear we’ll be waiting a long time. Plus one of the main reasons for going is they still need our help.

In the meantime, I hate to say it but I’ve been thinking twice about donating to  disaster relief in Nepal, a place I haven’t visited but have every intention of getting to eventually (not to climb Everest but to get to know the people and culture).

That’s the tragedy of these things. The disaster capitalists rip us off in Haiti and then we’re hesitant to give the next time the need arises there or somewhere else.

But in the end I can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I do believe most short term disaster relief through most large and reputable organizations does get to the  intended targets and without that help, disaster would be multiplied many time over.

Nepal needs help so I’m going to do it. I’m including links below to Unicef and the Red Cross and World Vision. Three organizations I feel comfortable with. I’m sure there are many more.

A good tool to reference is Charity Navigator before you give to some of the more established and larger charitable organizations.

If you know of other, reputable, on the ground organizations in Haiti or Nepal, who could use Raw Travel’s brand of help, let us know. We’d like to check them out for ourselves and if we like what we see, maybe give them a little exposure.

Vice focus on the greed and corruption of the bad guys and I’m very thankful they are.

As for Raw Travel, we’ll continue to focus on the good.






North America

Moctezuma Kicks My Butt.. And We’re Not Talking Lucha Libre



Renzo & Moses in El Zocolo
Renzo & Moses in El Zocolo

Two days without any solid food. Only liquids and even they don’t go down without a fight. Was it the fried grasshoppers? The questionable tacos at the local food market? No, we’ve narrowed it down to some Italian food in a very touristy restaurant in the Zocolo. Figures. It’s not the authentic food that gets you, it’s the very bad idea to have Italian food in Mexico. The culprit was the sauce.

But the cause is irrelevant. The result is a full day in bed. No shooting for me. Except for that one shot of me giving a standup (more like a “laydown”) from my sick bed. My crew is relentless and insistent that we keep things real. I acquiesced, reminded myself that I had long ago given up vanity when it comes to this project and somehow croaked out a few words about feeling bad and I can’t even remember what else honestly.

Yesterday was a blur. I rallied for the evening because we had a big, Lucha Libre match to attend where we were set to see one of the most popular and historic sports in Mexico. The taxi ride there took forever because of traffic (I know, I said traffic was  not as bad as I expected but when you are in danger of throwing up every other stoplight, any traffic is bad).

Lucha Libre moves are intense.
Lucha Libre moves are intense.

After what seemed like hours to garner permission to shoot, we were finally admitted entrance where the match itself was a spectacle. Lucha Libre has gone international and has a big following in the U.S. (very understandable given the immigration there) and in places like Japan (where there is virtually no immigration to speak of). In fact one of the wrestlers was from Japan and our guide and luchadore himself, El Kiss, told us of an  instance of 2 Japanese sisters who actually moved to Mexico City to follow their favorite sport. Now that is dedication.

The acrobatics of the wrestlers were phenomenal. Despite the testosterone atmosphere there are many female fans and there have been female luchadoras for decades, including one legendary luchadora who is still wrestling in her 80s! Now that too is dedication.


I momentarily forgot my extreme discomfort and got into the match. It was so tremendously fun and addictive that I’ll probably go again, sans camera (and hopefully sans food poisoning).

Today, I was allowed to sleep in and I tried a little breakfast, mainly fruit and yogurt. No good. It’s bizarre not being hungry for so long.  As diets go, the Moctezuma’s Revenge Diet is painful but damned effective. I’m pretty sure I’m down 5-7 lbs.

Today we hooked up with a local, Sitlali (an Aztec name), who took us to one of the most famous Pulquerias in town. Pulque are like  bars but instead of beer, wine or liquor, they serve naturally fermented juices. It’s a tradition that is gaining new popularity with the young, hip crowds of Mexico City.

We walked in at 2PM and it was jam packed like a bar in NYC at midnight. Surreal. After garnering permission to shoot (this time, very easy, big hats off to the waitress with the half shaved head and leopard spot tattoos) we sampled a few of the drinks. In the hot, crowded, noisy bar with sever stomach issues, drinking strange, fermented juices is a no-no, but I did it anyway. At one point I was sure I would pass out, but somehow, I kept it together long enough to put together what we think will be on of the highlights of the show.

Then we took the metro (subway) back to our hotel and as if by fate, it began raining, just as our shooting day had completed.

I took that as a good sign because I will be 100% honest when I say being this sick, while traveling is disheartening and gives me pause. It’s one of those moments when I question myself and say “why am I doing this”… “what is the payoff”? Why oh why didn’t I take an easier, safer route?

While those moments pop in my head from time to time, they usually pop out just as quickly. Once momentum starts to happen, it’s hard to stop something and I feel it with this project. It’s been picking up steam since January. But now all I want to do really, is eat solid food again.

Then I’ll be happy and life will be good again.


I’m happy and life is good again. I honestly forgot what feeling normal felt like. Now I’m ready to work out and rip the world a new one. Right after one more swig of Pepto (OK, I’m not 100% just yet but I’m close).

The Lunar Pyramid of Teothuacan

More importantly, I feel back on track creatively. Thank goodness for my dedicated and TALENTED crew Renzo & Moses. They know just exactly what to do when I’m unable to contribute 100%. The show is a true collaborative effort and I think we balance each others strengths and weaknesses out naturally.

Today, it was off to the pyramids and ancient pre-columbian city of Teothuacan. This amazing human accomplishment has been around since BC times and at one time housed 150,000+ people. The climb to the top of the tallest pyramid, The Sun Pyramid, is a workout and you need to rely on ropes along the way it’s so steep. At the top, the view was incredible (best we could muster it was 21 or so stories high) but we didn’t dilly-dally long at the top because it was cold, rainy and windy. I felt we had just climbed Mt. Everest or something.  I don’t typically do museums that often but the one at Teothuacan is a must see full of ancient artifacts and preserved skeletons from the burial grounds.

Early Residents of Teothuacan

The next day the crew and I took some time to work with some special needs teens and adults in Southern Mexico City at The Integrated Center of Special Education school. It was raining and that cut attendance to 10 or so students but that was the perfect size for us. We were to teach them some recycling tips and how to reduce, reuse and recycle (they already knew quiet a bit so we were pleasantly surprised).

I’ve never worked closely with special needs people before and I was a tad nervous about doing it on camera. The last thing we wanted to do was come across as exploitative or glib. But literally after 5 minutes the personalities of the students began to assert themselves. There are no hidden agendas or politics with these guys, what you see is what you get. Omar was the class clown and he was hilarious, boasting 70 girlfriends and dancing a jig when some Mariachi music was played. It was Maria Jose’s birthday party and the staff and students invited us to cake and flan and we stuck around to help them celebrate.   They even gave us each a parting gift of beautiful lamps made of recycled glass. I just hope I can get it home after 8 weeks on the road. You could tell there was no shortage of love in the school.

Our New Friends @ Integrated Center for Special Needs Students
Our New Friends @ Integrated Center for Special Education

In many ways these are the lucky ones. The Center is in a nice neighborhood and is a private school where parents of these kids can afford to pay the tuition. I thought of the many special needs kids with parents more like the majority of the Mexico City citizenry who have precious extra $s to spend on their care and attention. Who is helping them? How are they making it in the world?


Next we headed by metro (Subway) all the way to the opposite end of the city (about 40 minutes by train I’d say), to the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most visited religious sites in all of the Americas, and for good reason. Here is where the apron of Juan Diego that shows the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is displayed. The Basilica is one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Catholicism and is visited by several million people every year. The gardens and smaller basilicas were some of the highlights for me, so tranquil and beautiful, a true oasis from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.

Making the pilgrimage
Pilgrimage to the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe

We had to cancel a shoot later in the evening by a Mexican-American journalist who jerked us around all week and finally, eventually just cancelled (ironic that everyone came through but that the person with the “professional” resume acted the most unprofessionally). No worries. We’ve got a great episode for Mexico City in the can.  But like clay from the artifacts from Teothuacan it will need to be formed and shaped, pulled and formed.

But next, we switch gears completely and head to the the jungles of the Yucatan. Stay tuned for what are bound to be some tremendous adventures!


Giving Back While Shrunken Heads Abound!

We began our 2nd day of shooting by visiting a small school in one of the poor barrios on the outskirts of Quito. The Fundacion Honor de la Vida (Foundation for the Honor of Life) School’s mission is to work with poor children from even more difficult backgrounds (an addicted parent, an abusive situation, etc.). The school is solely supported through private grants and donations and serves a few hundred poor and special needs children.

The Kids from The Foundation For The Honor of Life

Because school supplies are always in short supply, we brought along pencils, sharpeners and erasers, as well as Punk Outlaw and Afro Latino stickers which were a big hit. I spent about 30 minutes teaching them some basic English words and to my surprise, a couple of them actually knew some  of the words already. To my further surprise, I really enjoyed teaching these kids. Though I come from a family of teachers, I’ve never considered the profession seriously myself (I hear you need something called “patience”), nonetheless we made it through 20 or so basic English words like “hello” “goodbye” mother, “Father” etc and the kids really seemed to comprehend.

Afterwards the kids were all over us, hugging us and hanging on to us as they asked us questions all at the same time, like how to translate their names into English, or the meaning of certain English words along with some pretty personal questions like our age, family status, etc.  This was by far my most rewarding time in the trip so far.

Next, Bernardo, the owner of the Folklore Hotel where we were staying, picked us up and took us on a tour of Mitad del Mundo (or Middle of the World). Bernardo acted as our Driver/PR guide/Fixer and Guide and handily got our admission to almost all the area attractions waived. Gracias to Bernardo and the fine Folklore Hotel, a good budget accommodation in a great location in Quito that is a step above a hostel but not like staying at some multi national chain (we were not compensated in any way for that endorsement).

Mitad del Mundo

The very touristy Mitad Del Mundo is the one that you see in all the brochures and tour books. However, it is not the actual center of the world. Thanks to GPS technology, we now know the French, who first established this as the center of the world with a latitude of 0 x 0 degrees in the 1700s were off by a few meters. Still pretty impressive given their instrumentation back in the day and the site is still very much worth visiting, especially if you happen to hit it on the weekend when there is folkloric dancing and traditional musical entertainment.

But to me the most impressive was the much smaller but wildly popular museum just down the road, the Museum Intinan.  Our guide, Javier, was a charming, English speaking young cat who also happened to play drums in a punk band so we hit it off immediately. Javier showed us how the water drains differently just a few feet each side of the equator.  If I remember correctly, when to the north it drains clockwise, to the south counter clockwise and directly over it flows straight down. A truly a fascinating demonstration.

With Javier from the musuem

The museum also had an impressive collection of fake and actual shrunken heads that were fascinating. The practice of shrinking the heads of noteworthy enemies when they were killed and important members of the tribe after they died was outlawed just over 60 years ago in Ecuador.

Actual Shrunken Head - Over 200 years old

After the museum we hit up some pre-Inca ruins which were close by and afforded an incredible view of the valley below. I always get chills when I visit Indigenous ruins (even when it’s not windy and cold). I could just imagine the local indigenous tribe defending themselves against rival tribes who were foolish or brave enough to try and climb the hill to attack.

Shooting from the Inca Ruins

We made it to the La Virgen del Panecillo on Panecillo Hill just in time for sunset and to grab some pretty incredible pics and video of the towering statue, which can be spotted on the hill over the old city from miles around.

La Virgen del Panecillo

For dinner, we grabbed some local street food at one of the nearby parks, which judging by the crowd is a very popular spot for locals. I can understand why. The food was incredible. I tried Menudo (the soup, not the Puerto Rican boy band), Tripe (intestines) and a couple of other items full of mystery meats. My hat is off to anyone that can make intestines taste good enough for me to eat.

Later that night I had an interview with a local punk band El Junta at Plaza Foch. The guys were super cool and invited me to a punk show but I was exhausted and we had a big day trip planned to Otavalo the next day so I had to pass.

Ecuador's "El Junta"

Working with the poor school children in Quito was a great start to a great day. I have to admit, things in Quito seems to be looking up, but I’m looking forward to getting out of the big city to some of the more traditional small pueblos of Ecuador.