Guayaquil has a whole different vibe than Quito but has plenty to offer a curious traveler for a couple or three days. Though many people may tell you the central part of town is dangerous, that is based largely on outdated information from the 1990s. We stayed in a lovely apartment flat cum hostel called “Casa Romero” in the central part of town that was perfect for our needs.
The Malecon or waterfront boardwalk is the area to see and it was completely redone in a very intense renovation in the year 2000. Today it is a beautiful part of the city and a great and secure place to go walking (day or night), but especially around dusk or sundown when you’ll see families and tourists doing what they do best, enjoying life.
There are restaurants, bars, cultural monuments and statues, artisan markets and on weekends and holidays usually entertainment (the night we were there a live tribute to the music of the 1960s). And perhaps most importantly lots and lots of police and security stroll around so that a traveler never should feel insecure.
The end of the Malecon leads to the beautiful Cerro Santa Ana the historical part of Barrio Las Penas. Cerro Santa Ana has over 400 winding steps that are numbered so you can track your progress.
If the hike is too intense, don’t worry; the area is full of colorful restaurants, bars, souvenir shops etc., so you can take your time. On the day we were there it was packed because it was a holiday but we made it all the way to the top which has a lighthouse and church, both which afford a great view of the city and surrounding river.
Also near the central part of town is the famous Parque Bolivar which is better known as Iguana Park because it is chock full of friendly and cool iguanas that will even let you pet them (though I saw signs telling us not to, we, along with about a dozen kids, did anyway). Iguana Park is small and besides the iguanas isn’t that unlike many of the dozens of other parks we’ve visited, but it’s still one of my favorite parks in all of Latin America.
Now if you have time to head outside of the center of town, I recommend Parque Historico, which is out in a newer, wealthier suburb of Guayaquil just past the airport. Parque Historico was built in a naturally occurring mangrove.
It has a zoo that features the native wildlife of the area that is not to be missed. The animals aren’t really in cages as much as fenced off and contained in naturally occurring areas that make it feel like your observing them in their natural habitat. We saw monkeys, foxes, exotic birds, leopards, caymans and more. While zoos don’t really turn me on, I must admit the monkeys cracked me up with their antics. Hilarious and so human like.
The park’s namesake comes from the fact that they have a scaled down replica of what the Malecon was like during the heyday of the late 1800s and 1900s. The buildings feel pretty authentic and it seemed like a small movie set.
They also have other traditional exhibits which showcase the different types of homes, complete with the culture and traditions of the 1800s including a hacienda (ranch) and a rural farm typical of the coast.
It felt pretty authentic because it comes complete with actual actors in full character. On the weekends we hear they have shows and demonstrations that add to the feeling. All in all, Parque Historico is worth the drive/taxi ride if you have the time.
We also visited the Botanical Gardens way, way on the outskirts of town on top of a mountain. The best thing to me about the gardens was the beautiful view of the city as well as the monkey and bird exhibit.
Let’s face it plants just aren’t that exciting. The guide map promised a butterfly reserve, but we could only spot two butterflies in the whole exhibit. Maybe they escaped or were in hibernation? All in all I can’t recommend the Botanical Gardens unless you are really, really into plants.
But Guayaquil, I can most certainly recommend, especially if you want to get a different flavor of Ecuador beyond Quito and the indigenous, mountainous cities and towns. It’s not as cultural as Quito or Cuenca, but there is something about the coastal vibe that you feel immediately upon arrival to Ecuador’s largest city.
Perhaps the best thing about Guayaquil is that it is just a few hours bus ride to the coastal towns of Salinas and Montenita, which is where we are headed next to wind up our trip.
InBañoswe stayed at the eco-friendly hostel, La Casa Verde(The Green House) owned by a lovely Australian/New Zealand couple Doug & Rebecca ho live there along with their adorable 4 year old son Jonathon. It’s hard to say enough about La Casa Verde and the good work they are doing. A few years ago I might have ignorantly referred to Doug and Rebecca as tree huggers or hippies, but now, the more enlightened version of myself is thankful for what they are doing.
At a time when being “green” is more marketing term than an actual way of conducting business, La Casa Verde more than lives up to its name. Despite the higher cost, La Casa Verde was constructed with wood from a nearby tree forest (trees that are planted and harvested in controlled conditions and grow very quickly) as well as recycled materials. They grow and maintain their own organic and sustainable garden which provides much of the food for guests. By foregoing pesticides they happily allocate 10% or so for the birds and insects (call it nature’s tax) and share their bounty with their Ecuadorian neighbors.
When they do find it necessary to purchase food in town, they insist on bringing their own reusable containers (no paper or plastic thank you) and buy in bulk. So that guests don’t have to buy plastic bottles (which are not recycled in Baños ) of water, they provide free purified water in the kitchen. They built their own septic tank (very unusual in Latin America) and separate the black (sewage) from the grey water (shower, sink) which is reused in the organic garden. Not to mention the shower water is hot, the breakfast delicious and healthy and Rebecca makes some incredible, all natural brownies and granola bars that still has my taste buds going through withdrawals.
Indeed there is something about Baños that brings out the inner hippie in everyone. I suddenly wanted to go for a bike ride (something I probably haven’t done in over 10 years). We took the 28 KM (17 miles) or so tour of the lovely Rio Verde (Green River) via the Ruta Cascada (Cascade Route), an amazing bike route where you can view incredible waterfall after incredible waterfall throughout an ideal scenic landscape of green mountains and deep valleys.
Now we were assured (accurately as it turned out) that most of the bike route was downhill. This was important because we were each carrying some type of expensive and not so easy to balance camera equipment on our backs. You can imagine how surprised we were when we were struggling almost right off the bat to get up a never ending, ridiculously steep hill. Turns out this was no little hill but the local (and very active) Tungurahua Volcano, which is just a mere 16,000 feet in height!
We had misread the map and taken a very wrong turn. Finally after about 20 minutes of breathlessly walking our bikes uphill on the side of the road and erroneously thinking the plateau must be near, a kind soul in a pickup truck took pity and told us our mistake. We were able to correct course and the rest of the bike trip seemed like a breeze afterwards.
Once back on course, the bike ride was absolutely amazing, incredible or whatever cliched adjective you care to insert. But dare I say (can’t believe I’m saying this) that for me it was the highlight of the entire trip. We stopped along the way to take a basket ride over an incredible (that word again!) ravine to view one of the (I won’t say incredible) waterfalls up close and personal. The baskets are like uncovered cable cars and are more than a simple tourist draw. They are a very practical means of transport for people who live across a steep valley or on top of a mountainous terrain.
To further prove that Baños does something strange to you, I stopped to bungee jump off a bridge, something I’ve never attempted or cared to attempt before. Do you even attempt bungee jumping? You either succeed or fail right? I meant there are not many “do overs” in this “sport”. This hit home when the guy started outfitting me with gear.
I realized no releases were being signed, no legal disclaimers were being spouted and how unofficial everything was looking and I started to get really nervous. Who is this guy and how do I know this isn’t his first day on the job? Will it be hard to get my corpse back to the U.S.? Do I want to be buried in New York, Tennessee or California? Maybe in Ecuador? Or at sea? or just throw me in the volcano? Did I remember to donate my organs? Will Social Distortion play at my funeral?
By the time I was standing on the side of the bridge ready to dive headfirst into the rocky terrain below I was in full panic mode. But I felt it impossible to back out because a small crowd had gathered to watch the scared Gringo; no doubt baited by the TV cameras recording my first ever jump (failed jumps are great for ratings I hear).
I vowed not to make a sound but am afraid I ended up screaming, if not quite like a little girl, like a scared man who was about to lose his life in a very stupid way. It was instinctual, primitive and over in a split second. And when it was over, I was swinging to and fro, slowly being lowered to the ground below and it was really no big deal. I’d easily do it again, but I might check the credentials of the personnel first.
The bike tour was capped off by a stop at the Pailon del Diablo falls, the most miraculous and powerful falls I’ve ever seen so close up. We all got a little wet from the powerful spray and we were exhausted at this point so we bussed it back (hey, don’t judge! most people do) to La Casa Verde.
Later that night we tried our luck at spotting the Tungurahua Volcano’s lava flow. We hired a taxi who took us to the top of the mountain (the very same one we had ignorantly attempted to climb on our bikes earlier in the day) to one of the volcano observations stations high, high up.
It was dark and cold and it felt eerie being this close to an active volcano that could blow at any moment. But alas it was too cloudy for observation. We gave up after about 20 minutes and went home. If we’d have hung in there all night we would have probably eventually seen something like the photo below.
The next day our outdoor adventure continued. My producer talked me into trying a thing called Canyoning, which is really rappelling down a slick water fall. It was pretty cool. I’m not sure my instructor was old enough to drive, much less guide a clumsy beginner in a dangerous sport, but I’m alive so he guess he did ok.
To be honest the scariest part of canyoning seemed to be climbing to the top where one wrong move and your could fall on a pile of rocks and the flimsy little helmet would probably be of no use.
Finally we took a break from all this adrenaline and took advantage of what Baños is so aptly named for; it’s naturally occurring, volcano heated thermal spring pools. There are dozens all over Baños but I soaked in the one right smack in the middle of town, the popular Banos de la Virgen. I wasn’t alone. It was a weekend and the place was packed with Ecuadorian families enjoying the cheap entertainment of the pools.
With my pale, decidedly un-suntanned body I stood out in the brown crowd as the only Gringo in the pools. Where were all the Gringo tourist I had seen in town the night before? Probably out biking, bungee jumping, rafting or cascading.
Baños is a town I thoroughly enjoyed. It was economical (taxi rides from our hotel to the center of town, $1.50 U.S.) , full of great outdoor activities and had a little nightlife as well. It was cultural with the indigenous residents mixing in with the tourist quiet naturally. There are vegetarian restaurants and spa and massage services for those who prefer a more laid back experience.
But if you go, remember to wear your mosquito repellent. I had been lulled into a false sense of “we don’t need no stinking repellent” in Quito and as a result got eaten alive for the two days I was in Baños . You could almost hear the little critters singing over and over “Gringo Blood… ummmmmm.. delicioso” as they went to town on my arms, legs and neck.
Despite the incredible natural beauty of Baños and really all of Ecuador, it ain’t easy being green there just yet. Thanks to the efforts of many eco-conscious travelers, transplants like Doug and Rebecca at La Casa Verde and the numerous locals who obviously care about the future of Ecuador, hopefully this will begin to change over the next decade before it’s too late.
Baños, you get a big, if a bit mosquito ravaged, two thumbs up from me! Keep keeping it fun and please for God’s sake, keep it green.
The goat races in Buccoo Bay, Tobago are not to be missed, so I took the ferry from Port of Spain, Trinidad to Tobago (2.5 hours) to catch the kick off of Goat Racing season. The ferry is a very inexpensive and easy way to get back and forth between the two islands.
Buccoo Bay is a tiny fishing village not far from the much larger Crown Point, which has scores of hotels, a couple of good beaches and the airport. If the ferry is full (as is often the case during certain times) then a flight from Port of Spain to Crown Point is usually very inexpensive as well.
Buccoo has a small, remote beach and is a good place to catch a glass bottom boat and do some snorkeling at the stunning Buccoo Reef. But what makes Buccoo really noteworthy is their big Sunday night street party called “Sunday School” which I assure you has nothing to do with church and the Buccoo Goat Races, which take place beginning the first Tuesday after Easter and each following Sunday throughout the summer.
Goat races have been going on in Tobago since the early 1900s and Buccoo is ground zero for the scene. Here they recently built a big Goat Racing Complex and Stadium that at first glance, looks really out of place in this small village, but come Goat Racing day, it really comes alive.
Considering a big expensive stadium was build, you can probably guess that goat racing is pretty serious business in these parts. Goats and jockeys (the jockeys follow the goat with a rope at full sprint) undergo a rigorous training routine year round in the hot Tobagonian sun which includes running, swimming (I guess goats can swim after all) and sprinting.
The jockeys are young and athletic and the goats have owners who may own an entire roster of racing goats and sometimes even corporate sponsors. There are classes of goats too, from A to C depending upon how many races the goat has won. Prizes are no joke either with some prizes totaling several thousand TT (a thousand U.S. or more).
During race day, over 3,000 locals and tourists attend the races, which also generate somewhat of local media frenzy. Indeed, I had to get special permission to shoot video of the races. I felt like I was dealing with the National Football League or Major League Baseball for a minute. But after meeting Winston Pereira, who in addition to being in charge of this year’s festivities also runs the local Miller’s Guesthouse, we were able to work things out.
In addition to goat racing, they held a crab race to break things up and get some of the tourists involved. Both inside and outside the complex, there were all kinds of traditional Tobagonian food being cooked and sold (including crab, not sure if you could eat the losers).
The races lasted until sunset, when the racetrack lights had to be turned on for the big grand finale. After all the trophies and prizes had been distributed, the massive street party and concert began. I had secured a room at the Seaside Garden Guesthouse, and while it was super convenient and right in the middle of all the action, the problem was, it was right in the middle of the action. Trying to sleep there that evening was like trying to sleep during the middle of a concert at Madison Square Garden. I was pretty sleep deprived and am not a big partier, so I walked about ¼ mile or so to the edge of town to the hostel Fish Tobago. The owners were kind enough to cut me a deal on a bed for the night. I slept like a baby, oblivious to the extreme partying going on just down the road.
Aside from the beach, snorkeling, goat races and Sunday night parties, Buccoo is a nice little village where you can get to know the locals if you stay long enough. But they are somewhat jaded by tourists and some people may be quiet ambivalent about your presence.
Buccoo also lacks some infrastructure such as a good selection of restaurants and Tobago in general suffers with transportation infrastructure issues. If you don’t have wheels, just getting to and from Buccoo to nearby Crown Point is an adventure unto itself.
Miller’s Guesthouse has an excellent restaurant with breathtaking views of the bay. Eating there is very tranquil and relaxed and they have excellent food along with my favorite amenity; free Wi-Fi (evidently the rest of the island of Tobago didn’t get the memo that Wi-Fi is free for travelers almost everywhere else in the free world). While the food is really impressive, eating there for every meal can get a little expensive if you’re on a tight budget.
On Sunday night, some locals cook up a nice meal under a tent and you can load up on mahi-mahi or jerked chicken and other local favorites, but it’s going to cost you $15 U.S.
Buccoo’s beach itself is good if you like to be away from other travelers. There were times that I had the beach to myself. But there are many other things to see while on the island of Tobago, like the National Forest Reserve, the well preserved Fort King George in Scarborough, the much more commercial beach at Pigeon Point, surfing in Mt. Irvine Bay, diving in Charlottesville, etc. etc.
But if you’re looking for a more remote getaway without a bunch of other tourists around or if you have wheels (they drive on the left side of the road, btw) and just need a good home base, then Buccoo Bay is a great spot. Unless of course you go during the big Sunday School Parties and Goat Races and would actually like to sleep!
Our “wrong-side-of-the-road” driving adventure continued as we made our way to Grande Riviere, a remote beach haven on the north coast of Trinidad. Grand Riviere is accessible by car through miles of very narrow and windy roads via the northeast of the island. However, the drive along the east and north coast is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced with remote beaches and charming little villages all along the way.
We stopped several times and as a result arrived in Grande Riviere after it was already dark, admittedly not an ideal situation for navigating the unmarked road, narrow switchbacks and unpredictable terrain.
As a tourist destination, there is not that much to the town of Grande Riviere. It’s a small fishing village like so many others but with one distinct advantage, it’s a prime spot for watching the endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles lay their eggs. With a couple of hotels strategically located right on the beach, during the turtle watching season (March-September) you can literally walk a few feet to the beach and see them doing their ancient business first hand.
During the season, the beach area is protected at night, which is when the turtles come ashore to nests, so you can only access the beach with official permits (easily purchased at the small Visitor Center close by) and under the guidance of a trained guide. The tour itself is relatively inexpensive and very informative.
Trinidad is one of the most important Leatherback Sea Turtle nesting sights in the world and at peak season, Grande Riviere can have up to 300 nesting leatherbacks in a single night. On the night we were there, there were probably around 50. Adults can weigh up to 2,000 lbs. and only the females come to land. They always return to the same beach where they themselves were born. While on the beach the female digs an egg chamber a few feet deep with her flippers and can lay up to 100 eggs.
After slipping into a slight trance while laying her eggs , she covers the chamber with sand and smooths it over to disguise the area from predators and returns to the sea. She may return up to 8 times a season to lay eggs.
The leatherbacks’ numbers have declined over the years for a variety of reasons including loss of habitat and people taking advantage of the slow moving creatures by using either their eggs or the turtles themselves as food.
Indeed the night we were there we saw a turtle that had obviously been injured, probably the result of a boat propeller cutting an ugly gash in it’s shell. At least this one survived.
Our guide regaled with tales of other turtles missing fins, as people would cut off parts of a live turtle to use as food. He also said there had been instances of people actually piggy back riding the turtles when they come ashore, interrupting their nesting patterns.
Most likely only one or two out of a thousand eggs will survive their natural predators. The beach was full of eggs that had been dug up by local dogs and sucked dry.
Now, Ill be the first to admit that watching a turtle sounded as exciting to me as watching paint dry, but surprisingly, it was the coolest experience of the entire trip.
Watching these endangered, pre-historic animals haul their immense girth from God knows where in the deep, to lay dozens of eggs deep in the sandy beach is nothing short of amazing. The turtles are on a mission that is ingrained in their tiny brains, to lay as many eggs, as deeply in the sand as possible and to keep perpetuating the species. They use their fins, which serve them so well in the ocean, to struggle onto shore and clumsily maneuver themselves on land. Then they use their tail and fins to burrow their back end as far as possible before they fall into a trance and lay the eggs.
At night, flash photography and flashlights are prohibited as the turtles are very sensitive to light and this would interrupt the nesting. So we were restricted to the guide’s infrared red light for visibility. We were not allowed to touch or disturb the turtles in any way, until they fell into their egg laying trance, at which point we were told it was OK to touch them. It felt like you’d expect a shelled reptile to feel, hard and prehistoric, not warm and fuzzy at all.
We had heard that if we were industrious enough to rise just before sunrise we might be lucky and spot some of the laggards who had arrived late in the night (early in the morning) and would be finishing up their business before heading out to sea.
As much as I’m not an early riser, we are used to sleep deprivation on these shoots so we set our alarm for 5AM and hit jackpot. When the dawn arrived there were still half a dozen or so leatherbacks on the beach finishing up their tasks.
One mama turtle got disoriented and ended up in the bay rather than the ocean. We were able to eventually help guide her out to sea.
All in all the leatherback turtle watching is a pretty awesome thing to experience. I hope as sustainable tourism continues to take hold in Trinidad that their numbers will continue to rebound. If you want to learn more about saving the leatherback turtles and how you can help, check out the fine folks at the Turtle Village Trust.
We left Grande Riviere and headed back to Port of Spain but not before stopping off in Arima to visit the AmerIndian Museuem, which is in a reproduction of a long house used by indigenous communities centuries ago. The AmerIndian community in Arima is the last vestige of a shrinking organized community of people with indigenous roots on the island. We were led on a tour of the museum by Ricardo, the current Chief, who maintains the museum and also conveniently lives next door.
With all of the different ethnic influences in Trinidad (East Indian, African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Venezuelan, etc.), it’s easy to forget that the island was once inhabited entirely by indigenous tribes. But as Ricardo said, evidence of their influence is everywhere from the names of roads and towns, to the way food is cooked. Arima is only a few kilometers from Port of Spain and easily and economically accessible by “Maxi Taxi”, a small shuttle bus. Entrance to the museum is free, though a small donation is asked for and appropriate.
Our first day of filming in Port of Spain proper and we started the day by visiting Andres, a former cricket pro who owns the cricket store at the Queens Park Oval, one of the oldest and finest cricket clubs in the Caribbean and former home to the greatest Cricket player in the 20th century, Brian Charles Lara.
In addition to being a cricket expert Andres is also a really nice guy. He’s also very patient. He helped explain the history as well as some of the rules of cricket to me, a guy whose eyes glaze over at mere mention of baseball, the New York Yankees or “Spring Training”. Despite being a really slow game (some matches take up to 2 days!), I found many elements of cricket very fascinating.
When he hooked me up with some cricket gear (about $1,000 worth) and bowled (pitched) to me, I saw first hand that the game has a real element of danger as well. The small red ball can be bowled really fast (sometimes up to 90 mph) and it is very unpredictable as not only can the bowler put some mojo on it similar to a baseball pitcher, it also usually bounces before you get to swing and can bound off in any direction.
Anyway I got a chance to try my skills at the game and combined my knowledge of golf (nil) with baseball (close to nil) but after about 4 or 5 slow pitches I finally made contact with the ball and felt pretty good about things.
After Cricket, the crew and I tried one of the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants. Chinese food is very popular in T&T and Asians are a considerable cultural influence on the island, many having migrated there as the East Indians, as indentured servants.
The Chinese food in Trinidad seemed so much healthier and less greasy than the Chinese fare we are so used to in NYC.
After lunch we headed over to “African Trophies” and incredible store on the main thoroughfare in the Woodbrook section of POS. The store’s owner is Mr. Fitzgerald Francis, an Ex United Nations executive and also a really nice guy. Are you sensing a theme here?
Fitzgerald is trying to help reinstate African history to the island after decades of attempts by the ruling classes to separate African slaves and their descendants from their ancestral heritage.
Fitzgerald graciously filled us in on the significant African history and contribution to present day Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) then he toured us around his store which is nothing short of amazing.
There are 4 floors of incredibly, beautiful, authentic handicrafts direct from almost every country in central and southern Africa. From huge, incredibly detailed woodcraft African drums that go for $25K U.S. to smaller handcrafts around $20-$30 (more my speed) to complete furniture sets, clothing, books, DVDs, visiting Mr. Francis’ store is like visiting the continent itself.
They even have a small display of real ivory that Mr. Francis acquired by special permission in order to showcase to people and hopefully educate them about the dangers of poaching elephants for their ivory.
I’ve always wanted to visit Africa and now I’m afraid it’s a permanent condition. If you are ever in Port of Spain and have 2-3 hours to kill, African Trophies is the spot.
Next up was a brief meeting and interview at the National Carnival Bands Association of Trinidad and Tobago, the people who help organize the massive Carnival celebration. Mr. David Cameron was extremely helpful in getting us access to video footage from past carnival celebrations and perhaps most importantly we were able to dig into the deeper, more historical meaning of carnival in Trinidad which is one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world.
It started to rain (hey, I thought this was the dry season!) so we took some time off and had a quick dinner of jerk chicken before heading just down the street to the famous “Invaders” steel pan orchestra practice.
I had stumbled upon the Invader’s practice a few days ago while hunting dinner and I just followed my ears to their rehearsal space, a big lot in front of the Queens Oval Cricket stadium. One thing I love about Port of Spain is the fact that you will hear live Calypso music wafting through the streets on almost any given evening. It’s a huge part of the culture here and not just a style of music you hear during Carnival time.
The Invaders are the oldest steel pan band in the world (having formed in the 1940 as “The Oval Boys” shortly after the steel pan was invented) and they tour all over the world. Indeed, ironically enough some of them were in my home state of Tennessee, touring Dollywood when we shot.
After hearing them play I can understand why. Jason is the leader and he ran them through a couple of songs for us including an original tune they had composed that had won them a high standing in the latest Panorama competition, an event that brings together the best Steel Pan in Trinidad (and thus the world).
The Invaders, like most steel pan orchestras, has a diverse mix of male and female, young and old playing together. One impressive young player, Luke Walker, was just 10 years old and had been playing since the age of 3. He was a true pleasure to watch.
After playing a few very simple tunes on one of the drums myself, it was now past 10PM and we headed back to the hotel to try to get at least 6 hours of sleep before we do the dreaded “car rental” and I drive on the left side of the road for the first time. Should be interesting. Stay tuned to see if I survive!
Port of Spain has been awesome and after a great night out of “limin'” (hanging out) with our buddies from Anti-Everything it was an early wake up call for our first full day of shooting.
We hired a local driver, Jared, for the day and he was great and most importantly a safe driver familiar with the ahem, uh.. lets just say “uniqueness” of Trinidad’s driving culture and infrastructure.
Our first stop was Maracas Bay so that the film crew could get a taste of the famous Bake n Shark. This was my 2nd time so I guided the guys through the process of hooking up their Bake N Shark at the buffet line. It being a beautiful Sunday and Easter vacation beginning, well the line was much longer than when I went last Thursday, but worth the extra wait.
We then doubled back and headed to the small, remote village of Lopinot Village, where Arturo Guerrero and his considerably large family have lived for generations. They opened a guest house for travelers wishing to experience this lovely little town. Arturo, his mother and 7 sisters and their extended family welcomed us with a traditional Spanish song called a “parang”. The singing of Parong is from Venezuela and is normally performed at Christmas, but in Lopinot, is sung year round.
W e toured the Lopinot Museum which was more fun than you’d expect thanks to the colorful presenter/curator there. The Guerrero’s then fed us a delicious meal and sang some more Parangs for us as we reluctantly had to part and return to Port of Spain to hit the Anti-Everything rehearsal.
Anti Everything is Port of Spain’s only punk band and they are currently recording their 2nd CD, so we dropped by the lead singer, Bryan’s house to hear them perform a few songs. Bryan’s family graciously fed us some excellent Roti, an East Indian style of food that I’m starting to really dig. The guys have been nothing short of amazing in their hospitality and arranged for us a ride to our hotel as we had worked a 14 hour day.
I was really glad we had hired a private driver because the roads to both Maracas Bay and Lopinot are really, really winding and narrow, not to mention they drive on the other side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car! I couldn’t help but dread Tuesday when I was scheduled to rent a car for a drive down south Pitch Lake.
But in the meantime, I reveled in the friendliness of the Trinidadian people. They are so laid back and friendly in a very real and non patronizing way. It’s really an infectious vibe that I hope I can incorporate into my own life on a regular basis.
Port of Spain has been great so far. Food is good, people are friendly and “laid back” is the mantra. I can deal with this. Of course it’s always hard for an ex-New Yorker to keep his cool and chill sometimes, especially since we’re working and up against deadlines. But then my Tennessee roots get a chance to shine and take over.
I finished up my last bit of pre-production by taking in a little Cricket match at the Queens Park Oval. Andres, an ex professional player for T&T and proprietor of the on site Cricket sporting goods store graciously showed me around and we agreed to hook back up on Monday when the film crew is here. Though cricket looks a little slow for my taste (some matches last 2 full days!), the outfits look mad cool and I’m hoping Andres can show me some pointers.
Also, last night the guys from the local punk band (yes, the only one on the island), Anti-Everything took me out for a little pre-limin, limin if you will (“limin” is Trini talk for “hanging out”) after letting me sit in on one of their studio sessions as they get ready to record a new CD.
I had a meat pie which was excellent but held off on the Roti and Doubles until the camera can document my first reactions when the crew gets here. If it’s anything like the meat pie or the bake n shark, well, this show could be come the “No Reservations” episode cause I’m telling you the food here is good. And while I certainly don’t claim to be Anthony Bourdain, I will say that though we normally eschew food segments on the show due to the proliferation of food themed travel shows, for this particular episode, I think we’ll make an exception.
I mean in Trinidad you have so much diversity on display simply through the food choices; East Indian, American Indian, African, Spanish, Asian and um, well.. also there is … British?!
And then there is the music. As you’ve probably guessed punk music is not that big of a deal on an island with only one punk band, but the fact that there is one excellent punk band on the island does sort of speak volumes about how a culture of 1.3 million people are open to different influences. Last night we witnessed some Tassa drumming from East India and it was nothing short of spectacular. I have a little lo fi flip cam video of that coming soon so stay tuned.
And we’re just getting started. On our first day of filming, we’re heading to the world famous Maracas Bay beach to sample some Shark N Bake (more food!) and then off to Lopilo, the island’s historic Spanish colony before ending the night with a rehearsal from the guys of Anti-Everything.
And that is just for starters! so hang tight, our trip to Trinidad and Tobago has just begun!
Today packed up to make our way over to Colonia Del Sacramento by bus (2.5 hours from Montevideo).
But first we took the morning to wind up with a few last shots of Montevideo. We really wanted to shoot this lovely, antique bandoneón store in Cuidad Vieja. We had seen it on multiple occasions but it had always been closed.
This morning we were in luck. The store was open! Mario, the proprietor has been refurbishing musical instruments for decades, since he was a child. His father began the store in another location a few blocks away.
Mario was very gracious and gentle older gentleman who patiently told us about the history of Tango and the relationship with the bandoneón. The store had some beautiful, refurbished bandoneóns, some worth over $5,000, as well as accordions, mandolins and other musical instruments. But all were old and refurbished and the store resembled a museum more than a place of business.
Mario allowed me to “play” a bandoneón. It was very difficult with a lot of hand/eye coordination going on. After this weak showing I decided to let the experts take over, so Mario and a client who happened to be there demonstrated for our cameras how a bandoneón can and should be played. Best part of the trip so far.
Carnival was in full swing in Uruguay where we were there and it’s a very unique celebration compared to other carnival hotspots like Brazil and Trinidad, so we hit the Carnival museum as well. Then we headed to the hotel to check out and taxi over to the bus station to catch our bus to Colonia Del Sacramento as we wanted to get there with enough daylight to shoot.
We had about 10 minutes to choke down a quick lunch at the bus station before our bus left. This bus ride was one of the worst I’ve ever taken and I was not expecting it given the general good infrastructure of Uruguay. .
The bus ride was a non air conditioned, unventilated, stop and go hell ride that made a direct 2 ½ hour trip turn into 3 and ½ hours thanks to so many unscheduled stops and pickups.
This was such the opposite of my ride over from Buenos Aires a few days earlier on the Buque Bus. The Buque Bus had Air Conditioning, lots of leg room and even wi-fi on the bus. Most importantly it didn’t make any stops. Next time it’s Buque Bus all the way for me.
Colonia Del Sacramento is a small but beautiful and very historic town with cobblestone streets, old forts and an interesting if bloody history as the Spanish, English and Portuguese wrestled for control of this little town by the Rio Plata. It was so very tranquil and relaxing with the river beaches and an incredible sunset that it was hard to believe so much blood had been shed here.
You get an idea how life is here when the cars actually come to a full stop for pedestrians in the middle of the street, allowing them to cross first before they carry on their way. Such an incredible contrast with 99% of Latin America (or for that matter the U.S.), it really was shocking at first. We walked our way around town but if you’re tired, in a hurry (why would you be?) or just a little lazy, well then you can rent little golf carts to tool around town and see what you need to see
Later that night I ran along the beachfront road which is really the Plata River, not the ocean and then off to bed fairly early because we had to catch the ferry (45 minutes) to Buenos Aires the next day with a full day of shooting.
Colonial Del Sacramento is a day trip for many people traveling between Buenos Aires and Montevideo but I really recommend you consider staying one or even two nights, so you can really appreciate the beauty of this tiny little gem.
For more pics of Colonia Del Sacramento, visit our FLIKR PAGE.
Robert G. Rose is a successful media entrepreneur, producer and host of the internationally syndicated television series, Raw Travel ®. After flirting with long term travel for years, in 2008 Rose sold his successful startup media company and had the opportunity to live and travel abroad full time. This experience cemented his love of travel and produced life changing moments that inspired Rose to share his experiences by developing a TV show that would focus on authentic travel in a socially aware context.
This idea became reality in 2013 when Raw Travel ® premiered. Today heading into its 5th Season and 100th episode, the show can be seen every weekend in over 160 U.S. cities in over 93% of the U.S. on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, CW, etc. affiliates. Raw Travel is also broadcast in several countries and territories around the world including on National Geographic in Asia, Amazon in India, Fox in Europe and many more. The show can also be seen on a variety of In Flight Entertainment on a variety of domestic and international airlines such as Virgin America, Alaska Air, Air Canada, FinAir and more as well as several digital outlets coming in 2018.
With almost 50 million viewers tuning in annually in the U.S. alone, Raw Travel currently lays claim to have become the most watched authentic travel show on U.S. commercial television, broadcast or cable.
Raw Travel’s rapid rise lies in its DIY (Do It Yourself) approach to both filmmaking and travel. With a relentless mission of showcasing less publicized aspects of destinations and doing good while having fun, the show combines themes such as eco-tourism, voluntourism (giving back), underground music and subcultures.
Rose has visited over 50 countries and counting. When not traveling or working on Raw Travel, Rose reads voraciously, volunteers, blogs and runs his production & distribution company AIM TV Group & hs digital record label, “Punk Outlaw Records”.
Andres Fernandez has been editing video for over 16 years focusing on video from Network Television to Post Production Houses specializing in commercials, promos as well as both long and short format television shows. He also has worked as a Motion Graphics Designer and Post Production Supervisor.
His credits include ABC, CBS, MTV, TLC, Sony TV, B.E.T, MTV Tr3s, HGTV, VH1, Destination America, Univision Network, CMT, Bravo, Raw Travel TV and more.