The fight of the century featuring Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather was a disappointment to most. No surprise there. Anything that hyped, with that much money at stake is bound to be a let down.
Which is why I love to travel to under hyped destinations, even places that people would never think to visit. Manila, Philippines is one of those cities and if you go in with low expectations (as we did) you are bound to be rewarded with an unexpected experience that could have you raving about the place when the trip is over.
The Philippines are a group of over 7,100 islands with some of the most stunning landscapes and beaches in the world and this is why most people visit.
Manila is simply a landing point, a place to catch a flight, renew your visa perhaps or take care of business, but it’s definitely not on many traveler’s trail.
We were tight on time and we had a choice. Get to know Manila, a city with very little appeal, at least according to most online reviews, or a more typical tropical, beach vacation.
I grew up on a farm, but live in Manhattan and I’m kind of a city boy at heart so we chose the less traveled route of spending our precious time in the Philippines with a stay in Manila.
At first I regretted it. The traffic was overwhelming. The grittiness of the city and getting around and the hot, hot sun reflecting off concrete & steel combined with the normal sights and sounds of an overloaded capital city was intense. Manila, like many urban areas in developing nations, are falsely seen as a beacon of hope to impoverished citizens who moved in to try to work their way into a more comfortable existence.
But then, about day 2 or 3, as we toured sites like Intramuros, Makati, Chinatown and outlying areas, I began to fall in love with Manila and more importantly the good-natured and fantastically friendly Filipino people.
It happened so slowly at first that I didn’t really notice, but Manila grew on me to the point that by the end, I didn’t want to leave. And this was, mind you, after 26 or so straight, grueling days of traveling and shooting (Manila was our last stop on our 4 country Southeast Asia tour).
We weren’t staying in luxurious accommodations. We were in fact living as many regular Filipinos lived but with, of course, the knowledge that we’d be leaving soon. We had a choice to be there, many do not.
Like those in Tondo. Tondo is a community of garbage pickers that essentially live in a garbage dump, doing what they can to get by and feed their families by sifting through garbage looking for food and salvageable items to sell or use. We visited with the Project Pearls organization and the entire crew agreed it was the highlight of our trip.
You won’t see Tondo in many travel brochures and on most if any other travel shows most likely. It may or may not cost us the chance at sponsorship or support from tourism industry types but that’s a small price to pay for telling the truth and gaining a new perspective on the world and in one’s life.
Tondo and other places like it (there are other similar communities in Manila such as Smokey Mountain), need not be the thing that governments and tourism bureaus try to hide. Indeed with more travelers than ever choosing voluntourism and giving back over the banality and sterility of a resort or all inclusive destination, these areas can be a draw to a whole new category of travelers.
I know there are some folks (someone’s always unhappy) who may say we are exploiting the living conditions of these folks for our own benefit and maybe that’s partly true. But if this exploitation leads to helping them then I’m all for it. The people of Tondo need it and organizations like Project Pearls and volunteer travelers are stepping in where the government is either unable or unwilling to.
Nothing new under the sun there. Governments will always be poor substitutes for neighbor helping neighbor. Even if that neighbor happens to be 8,000 miles away.
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.
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.
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 Unicefand 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 Navigatorbefore 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.
This past January we traveled to Southeast Asia for the very first time for what can only be described as a mind blowing, life changing adventure.
As we made our way from Thailand, through Laos, to Vietnam and then onward to Manila, Philippines I was in awe of Eastern culture and the zen like and restrained, respectful way in which people carried themselves and treated others.
The extraordinarily beautiful Buddhist temples full of chanting monks at sunset…the incredible, exotic and yes sometimes shocking food.. the traditional and (you know me) non traditional music.. the colors and of course, the people were this traveler’s mecca.
It was at times overwhelming but always fascinating and entertaining. Southeast Asia is affordable, safe and a raw traveler’s dream come true.
One month is not enough to see even one of the countries we visited much less four and much less all that Southeast Asia has to offer.
But it did whet my appetite for more, more, more. If I can brave the 24 hour flight and the ensuing crushing jetlag, you’ll see it on my face when you watch the shows, again then I will. You can bet that I’ll be back and this time making my way through Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and more.
In the meantime, enjoy many more photos from our travels at our FLIKR page HERE.
and check out the new video teaser trailer, hot off the press. Be looking for full episodes beginning in early May and carrying throughout the summer into the fall of next season.
Hope you enjoy watching them as much as we enjoyed shooting them!