RAW TRAVEL WINS TWO TELLIES FOR “STEADFAST IN UKRAINE” – For Ten Seasons I resisted nominating Raw Travel for any awards, for a variety of reasons I won’t get into. However, I felt it was finally time to allow the people who worked on the very special “Steadfast in Ukraine” to garner some well-deserved recognition. Some shows may be titled “Solo in…” but they are anything but. Television is a collaborative medium, and thankfully so, as I enjoy nothing more than working with fellow creators to hopefully create something of value.
Congratulations to Creador Pictures (Editing), BtOVEN Music (Sound Design), Chaliwa Music + Sound (Audio Mix), Anastasia Zui (Videographer) Julia Avramenko (Consulting Producer), for winning the Silver in “TV – Travel & Tourism” and the Bronze for “TV – Video Journalism.”
Also, a shout out to fellow Telly Award winner Mickela Mallozzi of “Barefeet with Mickela” who convinced me to apply, proving she’s broad-minded and big-hearted enough to know it’s all about “coopertition”, not competition. Press Release Below:
RAW TRAVEL’S “STEADFAST IN UKRAINE” WINS AWARDS Visit to Ukraine During Wartime Wins Two Telly Awards in Two Categories
NEW YORK, NY: May 31st, 2023– AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV), producers of the nation’s most-watched travel show, Raw Travel®, announced their episode “Steadfast in Ukraine,” featuring a visit to wartime Ukraine garnered two Telly Awards. The episode won a Silver Telly in the Television, Travel and Tourism category and a Bronze Telly in the category of Television, Video Journalism.
The special episode featured Executive Producer, Writer, and Host Robert G. Rose as he and Ukrainian refugee videographer Anastasia Zui traveled from Poland to film in Western Ukraine. Anastasia, a talented cinematographer and regular member of the Raw Travel crew, is a twice-displaced refugee from the Donbas region. In the episode, she continues from Lviv to Kyiv to reunite with her mother for the first time since fleeing the country with her young brother. At the same time, her father serves in the military.
The episode also documents the difficulty and misery of crossing borders during wartime and an impromptu “off-camera” interview with an anonymous escapee from then-Russian-occupied Melitopol. There is also a life-affirming on-camera exchange with a recently injured Ukrainian soldier and an emotional visit to the ever-expanding Lychakiv Cemetery, where recently killed soldiers are buried. All set among the unpredictability, suspense, and drama of air-raid sirens as Russia fires missiles into Ukraine.
But the show’s primary theme is the Ukrainian people’s steadfast, optimistic, and hopeful spirit as they bravely fight for survival and freedom.
In addition to Anastasia and Robert providing videography and direction, the episode was edited by Renzo Devia, Executive Producer at New York City-based Creador Pictures, and sound designed by New York City-based BtOVEN Music. The episode was audio mixed by Chaliwa Music + Sound in Miami, Florida. Julia Avramenko, a Ukrainian television professional living in New York City, provided Consulting Production services.
“Winning awards is never our objective, especially in this case,” says Robert G. Rose, Producer and Host. “However, I felt it was important for the creatives on this special episode to be recognized for their work and professionalism, especially under the circumstances. I’m grateful for the Tellys for recognizing their achievements,” Rose continued.
Raw Travel is currently in its Tenth Season of broadcast syndication and can be viewed in 180 U.S. cities in over 96% of US TV homes. Viewers have thus far helped raise over $20,000 to support grassroots organizations such as Care4Ukraine.org and Keep the Kids Learning, two organizations led by Joseph Nichols, an American logistics professional living in Ukraine. Viewers may visit RawTravelGiveBack.com to learn more and donate.
AIM TELL-A-VISION GROUP ANNOUNCES “RAW TRAVEL” TV SERIES
– Indie Producer Announces a New Kind of Travel Series for Curious Travelers –
– AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV), the company that pioneered syndicated English language TV programming for U.S. born American Latinos, announced today their latest production “Raw Travel®”, a new kind of travel series showcasing the rapidly growing wave of socially and environmentally aware, independent travel.
The series incorporates eco-tourism, voluntourism (giving back) and adventure sports, with underground music and culture in a way, that is unique to television. The inspiration for the series occurred when AIM TV Founder Robert G. Rose was traveling abroad and discovered a trend among a growing number of socially conscious travelers who were striving for more authentic and rewarding experiences.
Rose collaborated on the project with his long-time production partner, Renzo Devia. The award winning duo rekindled their creative relationship and enlisted the help of other trusted associates from their many years in production to create four (4) complete, one hour episodes. The crew traveled to off the beaten path destinations which offered unique opportunities for authentic cultural, environmentally sustainable and socially aware travel experiences.
True to the title, the program illustrates the raw and, sometimes unglamorous, frustrating reality of independent travel while simultaneously showcasing how this type of travel is not only more affordable, but can spur the kind of growth and fulfillment that rewards and changes lives forever.
“Travel is the most powerful experience I know. It takes you through a wide range of emotions ranging from often irrational fear to almost always incredible fulfillment. We hope to demystify the concept of socially aware travel and, in the process, encourage people to get their passports and go meet the neighbors,” states Rose, Executive Producer and Host of the series. “Travel can spur empathy, deeper cultural understanding and personal spiritual growth. These are experiences that I believe everyone can and should have,” Rose continues.
The episodes currently produced include treks to Colombia, Argentina & Uruguay, Trinidad & Tobago and Ecuador with additional episodes slated to begin production once distribution is secured. An 8 minute video trailer can be viewed at the show’s website www.RawTravel.tv along with more information on the show, links to the blog www.RawTravelBlog.com and more.
AIM TV will be attending the upcoming NATPE convention as well as Real Screen summit to screen the series for interested networks & media outlets.
ABOUT THE AIM TELL-A-VISION GROUP
AIM TV is an independent content production and distribution company founded by media executive and entrepreneur Robert G. Rose. AIM TV aspires to produce and distribute positive, compelling content that reflects their mission of presenting Media That Matters. Visit www.AIMTVGroup.com for more information.
After a stopover for lunch in Riobamba, we arrived in the small town of Alausí, about 4 hours by bus from Baños. The bus ride from Riobamba to Alausí was made much more entertaining when I made friends with Lupe, a little 4 year old Ecuadorian girl who was fascinated by my camera. I never saw her parents but she said her father was a few rows back.
I am still amazed by the independence little children in Ecuador seem to have. I can’t tell you how many times I saw young kids, sometimes as young as 4 or 5 walking by themselves by the side of a busy highway. Contrast that with the U.S. where I swear I’ve seen kids the same age being pushed in strollers in Manhattan!
I didn’t complain when Lupe came up to share the ride with me. She was cute as a button and I taught her a few basic English words before she eventually got bored with me and my camera and she went over to our producer’s (Renzo) side of the bus, where she promptly fell asleep. She was still sleeping when we got off at Alausí, so I slipped a piece of candy in her little folded arms so that she’d have a sweet surprise when she woke up. I’m such a big old softy when it comes to kids, especially cute little Ecuadorian kids. Simply the cutest.
Alausí has a big indigenous influence and despite having the famous “Nariz del Diablo” or “Devil’s Nose Train” station it didn’t seem to have a lot of tourist infrastructure to speak of.
That being said, the people were friendly and the food at the local Chifa (Chinese restaurant) across the street from our hotel was good. You can get a good sense of Alausí in about 2 hours walking around town and if the altitude isn’t kicking your butt too bad, a great view of the city can be had from the lookout with the large San Pedro monument which towers over the town.
We woke up early to take the 1st Devil’s Nose Train which was scheduled to depart at 8AM and arrive back in town at 10:30AM. Since we didn’t have tickets (the ticket office was closed when we arrived the day before) , we had to wake up really early to buy our tickets at 7AM at the ticket office. Buying tickets was by far the worst part of the train trip, it took 45 minutes and we were the 2nd group of people in line. Maybe there “system was down”, but it killed any chance of us getting breakfast (and me, my much needed coffee fix) beforehand.
The Devil’s Nose Train is probably one of the most famous and infamous tourist sites in Ecuador. If you research on the web or guidebooks before you go, you’ll get an amazing amount of outdated, misinformation. This stems from the fact that the train used to depart from Riobamba for a much more grueling all day train ride and not that long ago, tourists could ride on top of the cars. Of course, this is dangerous and eventually someone died so that no longer is allowed. A round trip train ride from Alausí is only 2.5 hours and that includes a 50 minute stop in the town of Sibambe for lunch.
As of this writing, the train currently runs from Alausí 3 times a day (8A, 11A, 1PM) Tuesday-Sundays and the cost is $20 U.S. per adult. You can buy tickets at the ticket office in Alausí or at the old train station in Riobamba before you get there. Evidently weekends and holidays are pretty packed so you’re advised to get your tickets as early as possible.
You’ll also get mixed reviews about the train ride itself, some saying it’s a tourist trap and that the views are just as great by bus. Not so. The train ride overlooks cliffs and valleys in a way no bus ever could (or that you would want) and because the speed is slower (and the ride smoother) it’s much easier to get video or photos and appreciate the beautiful surrounding landscape.
The train was built in 1901 and many people died building it and when you take the ride you understand why. The terrain is precarious. I can’t imagine the amount of manpower needed to build around the mountains at that time. At times the train is so close to the side of a mountain that if you stick your hand outside the train car, you’ll lose it.
There are two types of train cars. Buses that are retrofitted to ride on train tracks and the kind we thankfully took, which are refurbished train cars from back in the heyday of the route when it was used for transportation and not just a diversion for tourists.
When we arrived in Sibambe we were welcomed with folkloric dancers and surprise, surprise you could buy souvenirs from the local artisans. We also toured the museum and had a light lunch before we headed back.
The train ride is not that adrenaline pumping excitement you’ll get in Baños from some of the adventure sports and I admit I was disappointed we couldn’t ride on the roof, but the views are stunning nonetheless and it’s really a good way to feel like what travel was like in these parts not that long ago. If you have the time and are in the area, I wholeheartedly recommend the ride.
We hopped on a bus to Cuenca (another 4 hours) and realized when we arrived that we had left our tripod (valued at $250 U.S.) on the train. Getting it back proved to be an adventure but Marcos the manager of the Train was so cool and eager to help us out. We wired him some fare money to put it on a bus to Cuenca and we got it back the next day. Big gracias to Jose Luis (our guide who found the tripod and turned it in) and Marcos for their help.
Below is a small video clip to give you some idea of what the train ride was like.
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.
We wanted to see what was beyond Port of Spain, so we rented a car for a 3 day journey around Trinidad. I’ve driven in many a 3rd world countries, often with road signs in another language. So one would think Trinidad would be piece of cake with their English language road signs right? Wrong!
Being a former British colony, Trinis drive on the opposite side of the road. For the Yankees from the U.S., the steering wheel is where the passenger seat normally sits, the blinker and windshield wipers are on opposite sides meaning that every time I signaled to turn, the windshield wipers would go instead, leading to snickering from my travel mates, at least the first 10 times or so.
Also, I can’t count the number of times I jumped hastily into the passenger’s side, ready to drive before realizing I was in the wrong seat. This also ceased to be funny after about the 15th time.
Driving on the left side of the road was disorienting especially the first day. Can I turn left on a red light? I wouldn’t dare try it and would ignore the honks of protests behind me.
Judging distances on the other side of the car proved challenging. Many times I ran off the shoulder and more often than not there was no actual “shoulder”, just a 3 foot deep concrete ditch! Not 3 hours into the drive, I had successfully busted the passenger side mirror by getting a wee bit too close to a parked truck. Time to review my insurance coverage (I recommend doing this prior to renting by the way).
Speaking of parking, Trinidad has a distinct and very unique driving culture. Parking against traffic on the opposite side of the road whenever one feels the need is the norm. The effect was that it always felt I was headed for an inevitable head on collision. The narrow roads with no shoulders made passing these parked cars a challenge.
Alas, after a short while I finally got into the groove and found the unwritten rules of driving in Trinidad. I also found that most Trinis are very courteous, often blinking their lights and softly tooting their horn to signal you to cut into traffic in front of them, etc.
In Port of Spain at least, they almost always stop for pedestrians, allowing them to cross. So unlike most of Latin America where I’ve traveled and it seems the cars are taking aim at you (one notable exception is Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay).
Luckily, the mirror scrape was the most serious mishap but there were other close calls. My general thoughts on foreigners not accustomed to left side driving, is don’t do it. But if you really want an adventure and are confident in your driving abilities abroad and have a good co-pilot (I had two), then go for it, but as I said, I’d check your insurance plan first.
Unfortunately public transportation in Trinidad leaves so much to be desired that if you want to see the beauty that is Trinidad beyond Port of Spain (and who wouldn’t) on your own schedule, then a rental car or a hired driver is really the only way to go.
Our first day we journeyed to the southern part of the island to see Chaguanas, the East Indian town a few minutes south of Port of Spain and then further down to Carapichaima to see the famous Waterloo Temple by the Sea and the Datta Yoga Center complete with an 85 foot Hanuman God statue.
The Temple by the Sea did not disappoint but the weather did. It started raining heavily just as we arrived but we managed to get off a few decent exteriors and even one shot of the interior before being told by the groundskeeper no photos or video taping of the inside were allowed. Whoops! I made a nice donation in hoping to compensate properly for my happy mistake.
The original temple was built by Sewdass Sadhu, a laborer, in the 1940s. He originally built it on shore on land that belonged to the local sugar company. After 5 years it was knocked to the ground and Sewdass was sent to prison. When he was released he decided to build a new temple in the sea, where no one owned the land. He spent over 20 years building the Waterloo Temple with whatever materials he could get his hand on. It was constantly eroding because of the water, so in 1995 the government had it refurbished to the temple you can see today.
On the way out we noticed a parked car with big loudspeakers blasting fundamental Christian music, seemingly to harass the visitors of the temple which belied the overall impression I have that all Trinis are very tolerant of other religions. Some are, some aren’t, just like everywhere else.
Next we searched for the giant Hanuman Murti statue and Davina yoga center in the rain but to no avail. Since it was raining hard by now and we were running behind schedule we decided to catch it on the return trip.
By now the rain had ceased and it was nearing dusk, a perfect time to visit the trust. We were taken on an hour long tour and while I never really considered bird watching an exciting travel activity, but I may just have to change my mind after touring the Trust.
The dedicated group at Pointe A Pierre have done nothing short of an incredible job to to provide a beautiful sanctuary for birds, many of them endangered. The grounds are located ironically inside of a huge oil refinery and are alive with the squawking and beautiful sounds of birds everywhere. There are peacocks spreading their wings, the national bird, the scarlet ibis along with all kinds of other species of birds.
The folks at the Trust are true conservationists, breeding endangered species for release into the wild and taking in animals that are the victims of illegal pet keeping. Upon arrival you are met by a parakeet in a cage who will carry on a conversation with you. He’s the only bird kept in a small cage and that is only because he is unable to fend for himself in the wild after being permanently injured when someone tried to smuggle him out of the country to sell as an exotic pet.
They also have a small but cool Indigenous museum that features relics of the island’s Amerindian past as well as live reptiles and other wildlife found on the island.
It’s easy to see that Molly and Karilyn and the entire staff at Pointe-A-Pierre are true lovers of nature and are doing a good work at not only providing a sanctuary for birds (they tend to fill to capacity during hunting season as the birds seek the sanctuary out) but also in educating visitors on how we can change our ways to co-exist with nature.
Their partnership with the oil refinery is perhaps the best example of how nature and commerce can co-exist. I hope for all our sake that organizations like the Pointe-A-Pierre Trusts will continue to flourish and influence the way we treat our planet.
We spent the night in San Fernando, Trinidad’s second largest city. Next day we were up early to go see the ugly but amazing, naturally occurring asphalt lake, Pitch Lake. After driving down windy and ironically horribly paved roads we arrived at Pitch Lake to be accosted and gouged by not one but two tour guides (one was a guide and another a “demonstrator”), charging $45 U.S. each. We obviously screwed up by not getting an official guide, which are identified by their red shirts with logos identifying them as official tour guides. On closer observation after it was too late, our guide’s seemingly official red shirt had a Dicky logo on it. Very clever.
The entire tour became a battle of the guides, as I suppose each was afraid they’d get cut out of the payment, so they yelled and tried to out do each other in demonstrating many of the lake’s interesting attributes. Despite the unofficial, unprofessional demeanor of the guides we did learn a few things.
The bad pavement on the way over was no coincidence, the lake sucks the ground and objects in an around in over 100 acre circumference. This includes the ground below the pavement and under some houses that live on a “vein”. The foundation on the houses on this vein must constantly be adjusted and jacked up every 3 to 4 months to remain level. Stationary objects like trees, or whatever you may leave on the ground for a few months will also gradually get sucked into the lake and make it’s way underground to eventually to be spit up by the lake.
There was also an asphalt version of quick sand. Our “guide” stood in it for a few seconds and was sinking steadily up to his kneecaps. Had he not moved, he would have kept on going and as he says “one mistake and it’s all over for me”. He told us a few months ago, 6 cows perished in the asphalt quicksand. Maybe he was worth the $45 U.S. after all.
After paying our two extortionists, excuse me, “guides” we headed back the way we came to make the drive to Grand Riviere for some turtle watching that evening. This is a hell drive by Trini standards as you are basically going from one corner of the island to the other, much of it curvy, windy almost one lane roads.
So in order to break up the trip we searched for the Datta Yoga Center in Carapichaima once again and this time, in hot, sunny weather we spotted the huge 85 foot Hanuman Murti or monkey-faced God, the largest outside of India.
The statue and surrounding temple area are nothing short of amazing. A colorful oasis in an otherwise hot and scorching day. It was pretty much deserted so we had free run of the place for photos and video and once again I made a nice donation in hopes of gaining favor by the Murti for a safe journey on the winding roads to Grande Riviere for some turtle watching.
I arrived in Uruguay by boat (approx. 45 minutes to Colonia del Sacramento) from Buenos Aires and immediately hopped in a bus (2.5 hours) to Montevideo.
I arrived a couple of days early to do some pre-production for the Uruguay/Argentina episode. My buddies from the band Rudos Wild were having a concert the night of my arrival. I decided it would be cool to go see it since I hadn’t seen them in over a year.
Renzo (Supervising Producer) was already here as well. He had been in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay for almost a month when I arrived.
I checked into the lovely Posado Al Sur in Ciudad Vieja (the old city) which specializes in alternative and sustainable tourism in Uruguay. It was already late afternoon so I grabbed a quick bite (or what constitutes a quick bite in Latin America) and then went for a run along the Rambla just as the sun was setting.
It was a beautiful way to start the trip.
Renzo was staying in the Posada Al Sur as well but his room was an apartment on the roof with a beautiful terrace overlooking the old city. He must be living right!
Later that night I hooked up with my amigos from Rudos Wild for the big punk concert which was in downtown Montevideo and thankfully not far from my hotel. The concert got going late (around 11PM) with an excellent surf-punk band kicking things off. Rudos Wild was up next and they are a bit more raucous with a punk-rockabilly sound (dare I say punkabilly?).
The boys invited me up on stage to sing Social Distortion’s “Cold Feelings”. I tried to get out of it, but they wouldn’t hear of it so I relented. About 1/2 way through I got a little lost and forgot the lyrics and just started mumbling and humming but no one seemed to notice. It was my first time singing on stage in front of a crowd and I must admit it was a blast.
I couldn’t find a taxi so I walked home at about 4AM and got lost in downtown Ciudad Vieja. I don’t recommend you try that. Luckily I made it home safely but I was definitely testing fate with my expensive camera in the backpack wandering around dark side streets at that time of night.
The next day I hit the beach to try and tan my pale skin and then scouted some locations to shoot. I mean I am supposed to be working after all!
Later that night we had a BBQ over at Peyo’s (Lead Vocals for Rudos Wild) house. It was a blast.
When Uruguayan’s have a BBQ watch out, lots and lots of meat involved. I found out Leo 666 (bass/vocals for Rudos Wild) is a vegetarian and I was amazed at his will power to resist the grill full of meat from seemingly all parts of the cow, pig, etc.
Ah but I was out way too late again and our first day of shooting is tomorrow.
Today we visited thefood market which is primarily Afro-Latino. It’s a muddy, unhygienic mess because of the horrible rain and flooding. I’ve been to markets like this before in Brazil and other countries and it takes some getting used to seeing the raw meat just laid out bare on tables, without refrigeration and crawling with flies.
The one thing I always seem to notice is how everything gets used, we’re not just talking pig’s feet here, we’re talking pig brains, bull nuts, you name it they got it at the market.
And that is why the locals come here. It’s a cheap place to buy meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, but not just food, you can also buy toiletries, toys and you can get a haircut or buy some music, recharge your cell phone (or buy a cell phone).. it’s like a mall, not as nice by a long shot but way, way cheaper and full of mini entrepreneurs selling their wares and wheeling and dealing to make their living.
We get a decent amount of footage shot with Luis Towers providing the guidance, but once again just as we’re getting rolling, the rain sets in and dampens the rest of our shooting schedule.
Moe and I head out at night to a new part of the city, Boca Grande, and eat Mexican (a nice change of pace from the typical Colombian food we’ve been having) and get some footage of the Chivas, Colombian party buses. Boca Grande is not as charming as the old city but it’s a nice change of pace from the constant touts and vendors hounding you to buy buy, buy!
The Next day, we shot some more in the old city during the day. We find an English speaking tour guide Rolando, who agreed to be on camera with me and gave me the lowdown on a couple of historic spots in the old city including the famous Plaza Santo Domingo, where back in the day, slaves were bought and sold but today feature touristy restaurants with outdoor eating with live entertainment like traditional Afro-Latino dancing troupes, etc.
We get a few more establishing shots in before rain once again interrupts our plans.
We chilled for a bit at the hotel and then headed to a cool little restaurant owned by my friend Flavia called “Bazurto Social Club” on the edge of Getsmani for dinner. We were in luck because that night they were featuring live Champeta music, which was perfect to get us in the mood for our trip to San Basilio Palenque the next day. Tomorrow was to be a long day, so we hit the hay early, but not before doing some damage on the dance floor. While Moe and Renzo were dancing for fun, I was doing my “please no more rain” dance. I hope it works.
We woke up brutally early to catch a flight from Pereira to Cartagena with a stop in Bogota. Renzo, the Supervising Producer, was really, really sick all night. Food poisoning. Definitely not good.
Once at the Pereira airport, complete with an hour long delay, Renzo was not getting any better. Poor guy was in hell. We arrive at the Bogota airport to catch our connection to Cartagena and I got something to eat but Renzo could hold nothing down.
At Bogota airport we met up with Moses, our cameraman / editor who joined us for the remainder of the trip. Moe is a talented and experienced guy so luckily, Moe and I could at least carry on without Renzo. There is never a good time to be sick when traveling but at least we have a back up with Moses.
In Cartagena the weather was absolutely horrible on arrival. It had been raining hard for days and the streets were completely flooded. Our hotel situation was not nailed down either but Renzo’s buddy, Luis Towers, a local Champeta musician was on the case and nailed down the Villa Colonial in Getsmani just outside the old city. It was cool.
Since Renzo was exhausted after being up all night and needed some sleep, Moses, Luis Torres and I headed out to shoot some b-roll. It started raining again so we stop to have a light lunch, but we really don’t get much video shot. We instead go on a quest to buy ponchos for everyone as it looked like we’re going to need them.
Later that night the rain lifted for a bit and Moses and I took advantage to get some night shots of the old city. I sure hope this rain goes away tomorrow. Cartagena is not as much fun when it’s raining, but it still beats snow any day of the week!
We woke up early (are you sensing a theme here?) to head to the San Vicente Termales (Thermals), a beautiful, eco-touristic retreat about 1 and ½ hours outside of Pereira. We were met by Laura (our film student assistant) and Alexa, our bi-lingual guide that had been recommended to us and we had met the night before.
The terrain of the winding road was really rough from the rains with the small rental car bottoming out numerous times, but the scenery was incredible.
We arrived in a dreamland of exotic foliage, waterfalls and ponds (thermals) with steam wafting from them.
The first thing we did was to take a hike and after Renzo fell and barely escaped pitching into the rolling rapids (along with the camera) we realized tennis shoes were NOT the right footwear for trekking in these parts, so if you go, wear boots!
Alexa and I then did a canopy, the 2nd canopy ride in my life (all in the past week) across an incredible landscape of greenery and trees whizzing by and below. I did mine superman style which is laying belly towards the ground and going face first. Very cool!
We then hit the thermals and it was like a really, really warm bath outside in the mountain air surrounded by trees, flowers and the sound of nature. It was incredible and naturally heated from the nearby and (I hope!) inactive volcano.
We broke for a delicious lunch and the owner, who is a well known expert on the healing power of thermals and somewhat of a celebrity in these parts, pulled out a crystal to read all of our energy. All but one of us had negative energy, so one by one he fixed us up.
After lunch it began to rain but thankfully that passed and we were able to continue shooting my favorite part, which is getting buried up to our faces in hot volcanic sand, followed by a Turkish bath, an invigorating but painfully cold water rinse from a natural spring and then we hit the thermal spas again.
This combination supposedly opens your pores and allows the natural minerals to get inside, healing you from the stress of life from the inside out. I don’t know about all that but I will tell you I felt like I could sleep for a week afterwards.
But wait, there was more. Then we were given mud baths from the natural algae pools. The greenish mud didn’t smell great but it was warm and gooey and afterwards my skin has never felt so soft, like a baby’s behind!
The drive back was exquisite with the sun setting over coffee country. A magical day thanks to the hospitality of the people from the San Vicente Termales. If you’re ever in coffee country you really should check them out and their overnight accommodations are both charming and reasonably priced. You can find out more about them at their website HERE.
Renzo and I grab a late dinner and discuss our progress and give feedback to each other. So far so good and how could I complain after a whole day of pampering?
I think I’m beginning to dig this job!
Check out more beautiful photos from San Vicente Termales HERE
We woke up early to take the 5 hour or so bus ride to Pereira. The bus was big and comfortable and we made a couple stops to eat along the way so the time passed surprisingly fast.
After we pulled into the Pereira bus terminal we were met by Renzo’s friend Laura, a local film student who had agreed to help us out on our shoots while we were in town. We were glad for the help and she was glad to get some real world experience in her field.
After checking into the hotel in the central part of town, we rushed out to the rental car agency because Pereira was really just our home base and most of our shoots were an hour or so outside of town.
After renting a decent sized vehicle we headed over to the Villa Martha Coffee Finca (ranch). The drive was absolutely stunning as we climbed the mountainous terrain and the weather thankfully held out. We arrived late afternoon, a perfect time for shooting.
Javier, the owner of Villa Martha met us and, appropriately enough, offered us some of his home grown, organic coffee. I found out later that almost all of the best Colombian coffee is exported to places like the U.S. and Europe, with the worst quality held back for sale in Colombia locally. Not so with Javier’s coffee, it was extremely fresh, just picked and processed days before and I can honestly say was the best coffee I think I’ve ever tasted (and trust me, I’ve drank a lot of coffee over the years) .
Javier doesn’t speak much English, but I instantly liked him and we built a good rapport as we shot a few on-air segments with Renzo shooting camera, and simultaneously translating my English questions to Spanish for Javier and Javier’s answers to English for me. Not an easy job even without the worries of shooting camera!
The Villa Martha Coffee finca (farm) is relatively small and the sole purpose is tourism. The coffee it grows is sold exclusively to tourists and those who come to the finca specifically to buy the coffee. The accommodations are rustic but beautiful and run around $30-$50 US Dollars per night, depending on the season. There is also a nice pool out back, tiny hummingbirds and colorful butterflies all over the place. All in all, it looks like a very relaxing and tranquil place to vacation and I was bummed we weren’t going to be spending the night.
We met one young European guest who was in the middle of an epic motorcycle journey from Alaska to the tip of Argentina! He had some great stories to tell but since he’s hoping to write a book about them someday I won’t steal his thunder.
We wrapped up the shoot and headed back to Pereira just as it was getting dark. I felt really good about the shoot today. I sure hope tomorrow that the Termales (Thermal Spas) will offer more of the same.