WATCH RAW TRAVEL SEASON-ONE ON-DEMAND & HELP FEED HUNGRY IN COLOMBIA & GUATEMALA
As tough as the economic toll of this pandemic has been on the USA, it’s been devastatingly worse in many developing countries where the poorest of the poor live day-to-day. These folks, who struggle mightily in the best of times, have been unable to work to garner their daily meals due to lockdown restrictions.
The governments of these countries do not have much if any, social net to speak of. Only private individuals, companies, or NGOs are able to help and they are now struggling as well. The United Nations has issued dire warnings of hunger of biblical proportions is something isn’t done. So what can we do?
We can each do something big or small (a little goes a long way in developing countries) to help trusted and vetted partners address their communities’ hunger.
If you remember my pal Andres Ocampo from Medellin Colombia (Los Suziox lead singer, Raw Travel theme song composer & El Sub music venue owner) from Raw Travel Episode 706 – “Going Solo: Medellin Rocks”? Andres has turned lemons into lemon aid (pun intended). His venue, El Sub is unable to host any events or concerts during the lockdown, so Andres has turned the space into a repository for donated food & toiletry items for the poorest of the poor in El Castilla and surrounding working-class and poor neighborhoods in Medellin, Colombia.
People who are unable to feed themselves let their needs be known by placing a red flag outside of their home. As you can see by the photos and videos, there are lots of donated items, but there are lots of red flags outside of homes as well.
GUATEMALA: Our old friends at the orphanage of Casa Guatemala are doing something similar in rural Guatemala, collecting funds for their neighbors who are locked in and unable to work and thus feed themselves. Casa Guatemala is a much-respected resource in their rural area of Guatemala near Belize, and they understand that their neighbors are suffering.
We didn’t want to simply call attention, we wanted to come up with a way that our affiliates, vendors, advertisers, and viewers could help, either big or small.
Between now and May 15th, 2020, donate $50 or more to either Casa Guatemala HERE:
or for El Sub’s Relief for Medellin, Colombia HERE: and we will donate the money directly to the organization.
Then simply send us an email of your donation receipt to RawTravel@aimtvgroup.com and we’ll forward you a pass for a free rental pass for Raw Travel – Season 1 good for all 19x episodes of Season One HERE
If $50 is too much to ask for this vulnerable time, we have smaller increments and rewards:
2) Between $6 and $49 donation will get you access to all three of Season One’s Colombia and Guatemala themed episodes:
Or if you prefer to rent any individual Colombia themed (#105 & #105) and/or Guatemala themed (#116) episodes between now and May 15th, the $1.99 entire rental will be donated and split between both organizations.
I know these are tough times, so we are trying to do our best to give you an avenue to help in a small or big way depending on your situation and hopefully at the same time help you remain entertained while at home.
But please if you are suffering economically yourself, do not donate. But if you are like me, feeling blessed at having a fairly secure job and outlook economically I thought this could be a good way to help.
As always, thank you all. God bless and stay safe… and sane. I know, I know… easier said than done.
* Please note this offer to view episodes is limited to viewers in the US only. Sorry Canada and others, it’s a territorial rights issue. But please do feel free to donate if you so desire and still send me an email and we’ll work out a way for you to be rewarded as well.
UPDATE MAY 17th, 2020 : Thanks to the following contributors who helped Casa Guatemala raise several thousand dollars and our pals at Justice for Andres in Colombia raise hundreds of dollars to help feed their neighbors in during the Covid 19 crisis. Special thanks to:
Stacey Pryor – Casa Guatemala
Laura-Lee Gosa.- Casa Guatemala
Rosalba Gordon – Colombia
Judy Smith – Colombia
Heather Pauli – Colombia
Brian Eubanks – Colombia
Lauren Wheat – Colombia
While our fundraiser is no longer active, if you do wish to donate, please feel free to do so at the links above and we will make sure the money gets to the right place as hunger, as you know, doesn’t take a holiday!
The life changing possibility of travel is by far my favorite thing about my favorite activity. The way travel flips things on their head or side, or more accurately I suppose, how it flips me, the traveler and changes my perspective… forever. My brain expands to proportions from which I’m sure it will never return. Travel, I firmly believe, prevents brain (and heart) shrinkage.
Until this most recent trip to the Western Frontier of the United States (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming & South Dakota), I was convinced that in order to create that atmosphere where mind and body are stimulated to a point of dramatic change, a potent dose of culture shock was in order, the kind I most often get from entering another sovereign territory’s borders.
I figured one had to dust off (or obtain) that little blue book (for Americans), the passport, and immerse one’s self into a totally foreign environment for maximum shock value. This gets the brain waves to flow in different directions than the day to day routine conditions which often dictate our lives.
While I still believe that international travel is by far the best, quickest and most rewarding way to get quick use of that other 90% of our brain that is just sitting there waiting to be tapped – you know that part that helps us realize we’re all connected – I must now, ever so slightly, amend my thinking.
Yes, a trip within the U.S. has changed my thinking on the very subject of travel and change. Not the last bit of irony this trip would uncover.
I’ll be the first to say that I had mixed feelings about taking this particular trip within the borders of my own country, to areas some of which, I’d even briefly visited before (albeit for extremely short visits and all solely dedicated to “business”).
But almost immediately upon arrival to New Mexico, I felt a familiar and welcoming feeling creep upon me. Upon the drive to visit the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuaryin a very rural, remote and beautiful part of New Mexico the realization hit me that this particular trip was going to trigger some of those very reactions in my brain, heart and soul that I regularly receive when abroad. There were amazing things to see right here in this country, beginning with rescued wild life. Wolves are amazing creatures it turns out and you put 70 or so together, howling in unison… it’s an amazing experience.
Producing is not my first love, but it is my greatest love. I love to produce and am able to produce largely because I’ve been able to do the other things associated with business (distribution, marketing, sales, etc.) to such a degree that I can, for the most part, call my own shots, and produce how I see fit. It is a rare advantage of being an independent producer in an increasingly non independent world.
Since I call my own shots, I had chosen this area of the U.S. Western Frontier as our next big trip for a few basic reasons.
1) I felt Raw Travel needed to broaden it’s message to folks who may, for whatever reason, be unable to embark on international journeys.
2) This was an area of the U.S. I was least familiar and I was curious.
3) I was charmed by the landscapes, recent history (the 1800’s are still very much celebrated here) and not so recent history (fossils & dinosaur digs abound) and by the people who live there
4) The still potent Native American culture & influence which has intrigued me since a child.
5) Let’s face it traveling in the U.S., theoretically at least, is easier. Less prep is needed and no language barriers.
Little did I know that this experience would have so many similarities to our international experiences in developing countries (i.e. working, adequate wi-fi was virtually non existent in a surprising number of brand name hotels we stayed in, my cell signal was at zero bars more often than not in the mountainous terrain and while most people spoke English of course, there were legitimately a few who still spoke their native dialect on the Indian reservations).
In short, I was in heaven…we would get our mind blown after all. This trip could be a mind bending, life altering adventure like all the rest. A couple of quick examples… ableit in the more negative column.
Just minutes after our first test flight (and crash) of our drone in Colorado, a very large and very live field rat was discovered in the glove box of our rental car. This somewhat cuddly (but scary when driving down the interstate at 70 MPH) creature had somehow made it’s way into our vehicle unbeknownst to my companion, cameraman & co-producer on this trip, Renzo. Renzo reached in said glove box to grab the rental agreement and instead let out a scream that would have made an 11 year old girl very proud. In all fairness, I joined in perfect, shrill harmony.
Then in Lander, Wyoming we unwittingly rented an animal excrement filled hotel room and promptly checked out just after checking in.
Also in Lander, a small charming town with a relaxed vibe, I couldn’t help but notice the proliferation of guns holstered on so many hips. Evidently a shoot out at the local burger joint could happen at any time. Come to think of it, the food orders were extremely accurate.
Ironically, the last time I saw such a blatant display of “freedom” was in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
But these examples are somewhat anomalies.
The kind of mind & heart expanding experiences I’m really talking about were more tame but just as powerfully etched in my brain. The interactions with everyday Americans in the height of vacation season was a wonderful opportunity to get to know locals and travelers from all over the U.S. in a totally different light.
Whether it was the family on vacation from Dallas taking their first hot air balloon ride (mine too) with Rainbow Ryders high above the town and terrain of Albuquerque, New Mexico…
or the Philadelphia businessman on vacation with his wife and young kids at the legendary (some say haunted but I say lovely) Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming…
or the young adventure seekers in Utah and Colorado who came to pursue adventure sports like Base Jumping (jumping off a clip in a wing suit), paragliding, rock climbing, etc. and seemed hell bent on seeing if they could get a pansy, not-so-well-known travel host to throw up…
or the Wyoming rancher who, instead of throwing us off his land, pulled over in his big pick up to tell us where we could get an even more picturesque “picture” for our cameras.
No, I couldn’t help but happily notice that Americans ARE indeed a very friendly bunch.
Sure, you can easily find a cranky, grumpy person anywhere, usually quiet easily. But you have to look extra hard in places like Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota.. to find one single impatient, non hospitable jerk.
With or without the cameras, people were cooperative, easy going and amazingly friendly and laid back.
In fact in Salt Lake City even the dreaded airport security personnel were super friendly.
Whatever is going on at the TSC in SLC I say bring on more of that to JFK please.
But I digress.
It wasn’t just the people that impressed. The landscapes of each of these incredible states simply stunned me on an almost minute by minute basis. I mean, I expected to get blown away (and even melt) in the high desert of Moab, Utah. The photos just don’t do the place justice. It’s surreal.
But I didn’t expect to try and look for ugliness in Colorado and be unable to find it. Every curve or corner turned into an “oh wow” moment it seemed.
BTW, Boulder…yep, I think I’m in love with you. It’s like the whole town is one big Whole Foods supermarket. In addition to eating healthy, organic, local, etc. Boulder folks can Kayak or Fly Fish right in the middle of town and they bike.. EVERYWHERE.
Colorado, unlike say Wyoming, has loads of people but they are ALL, it seems, outside all the time.
I discovered a side of Denver I never knew existed and despite the ruckus about legalizing marijuana, I saw very little evidence that this place is obsessed with this nearly as much as the national news media. I know it’s not as sexy, but if you ask me, Colorado’s mountain towns and mountain music are what people are high on. Marijuana, as I was to learn, is just a natural plant that’s been grown for centuries in North America and used legally for most of that time, for everything from clothing to medicine.
But the most mind blowing part of the entire journey was in South Dakota. No, not Mt. Rushmore (we didn’t even visit) but the Oglala Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge South Dakota where we ended our journey and spent, ironically enough, the July 4th Independence Day Holiday by celebrating with the 1st Americans at a local pow wow.
If you don’t know about Pine Ridge Indian Reservation I invite you to simply google it. As we followed the trail first blazed by journalist Diane Sawyer, we too found all the sad facts… poorest county in the United States…. rife with substance abuse…some of the most prevalent rates of teen (and even more tragically pre-teen) suicide rates in the U.S., etc. ,etc. Online folks will go on and on about how this area is a third world country within the U.S. borders, and they wouldn’t be exaggerating that much. It is poor and there are problems that are fairly well documented.
But what you will also find and what is much less documented (and we therefore plan to showcase), are the many positive things happening on the reservation.
Organizations like Re-Memberand Native American musicians like Sequoia Crosswhite & Scatter Their Own are working hard to turn the messaging about this place around. They are grabbing control of their shared destiny and helping others help themselves.
Other positive things like Thunder Valley sustainable housing, the Skate Board Park recently constructed and for me at least, most excitingly, the travel and tourism industry is beginning to grab hold and help offer valuable income opportunities for many.
Key to this and most importantly (and not surprisingly) to me, Pine Ridge has some of the nicest, humblest, soulful people I’ve met on this earth. They are rightly proud of their heritage, culture and spirituality that I think we as a nation need much more of.
I firmly believe that the right kind of sustainable, respectful tourism can help the folks at Pine Ridge turn over a century of tragedy and heartache into something positive economically while allowing and encouraging them to continue their proud heritage.
We conversed at length with proud descendants of famous leaders such as Red Cloud, Dull Knife and Black Elk and I found the reservation to be as fascinating as any international destinations I’ve ever visited.
I’ll admit, I have a thing, a good thing, for the indigenous peoples of the world and in particular Native American culture here in North & South America. They touch my heart and soul in a way that few other people do.
I’m very excited by what I hope you are going to see on Raw Travel – Season 3 this fall. I firmly believe it will be the Western Frontier as never or rarely experienced on television before. But I’m most excited about our time with the Native American peoples, especially at Pine Ridge and the opportunity to do some good.
I hope with our special episode profiling this wonderful place, that we can make real progress in some small way helping these proud and friendly people grasp the opportunity before them and that we can, in some minor way, help young people create a more optimistic outlook for themselves.
Yes, it’s official. I love Americans all over again…all of them… including the very first ones.
That’s a surprising gift and it’s one worth remembering.
“RAW TRAVEL” SEASON TWO PREMIERES WITH BIG GROWTH SPURT
– Successful Debut Season Leads to Big Growth & Proves Popular Among Variety of Viewers –
NEW YORK, NY: October 1st, 2014 – AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV) announced today that the syndicated television series Raw Travel® will debut its 2nd season this weekend in over 113 cities representing 85% of the U.S. and almost 100 million homes signifying a big growth spurt for the series.
Thanks to a successful debut season that saw the show quickly become one of the most watched authentic travel & lifestyle shows on commercial television, the series added an additional 40 markets to its affiliate list including Washington DC (CW), Cleveland (NBC), San Diego (CW), Dayton (CBS), Baltimore (Fox), Richmond (ABC), and Honolulu (My) among several others.
In addition to over 50% growth in the number of cities served, the show received station and time period upgrades in a variety of markets such as Houston (NBC), Philadelphia (My), Tulsa (Fox), Knoxville (NBC) and more, giving viewers more access to Raw Travel than ever before. Viewers can visit www.RawTravel.tv/wheretowatch for a complete listing of cities, affiliates and time slots.
One of the keys to Raw Travel’s growth was the show’s demonstrated ability to reach traditional broadcast audiences while simultaneously attracting new, young and hard to reach viewers like the sought after 18 to 34 year old demographic and millennials, a rare feat in broadcast television.
Raw Travel’s upcoming fall episodes will showcase authentic and alternative sides of popular destinations such as such as Krakow, Poland; Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary and Brooklyn, NYC. The show will also continue its specialty of shining the spotlight on less traveled, more “raw” and off-the-beaten-path destinations like Slovakia, Serbia, Romania & Bulgaria. While filming Executive Producer & Host, Robert G. Rose, and crew traveled like typical budget travelers, and continued their theme that travel is not just for the wealthy or famous, travel is for everyone.
“Raw Travel’s touchstones of respectful and authentic travel combined with adventure sports, underground music, social responsibility and environmental sustainability really connected with viewers, especially young people, many of whom seem to share my personal and idealistic view of the world. We’re helping shred the myth that young viewers won’t tune in to broadcast programming.” Rose says. “I couldn’t be more humbled and inspired from the reaction of passionate viewers of all ages. Besides, my mom says Raw Travel is ‘awesome’, so there you go.” Rose continues.
Raw Travel’s Season Two spring episodes will also feature treks to burgeoning travel locations in Southeast Asia and North American destinations such as Utah, Louisiana Cajun Country and more.
Raw Travel is an adventure travel & lifestyle series showcasing the rapidly growing wave of socially and environmentally aware, independent travel. The series weaves together themes of ecotourism, voluntourism (giving back) with underground music and authentic culture in a way unique to U.S. television. More information can be found at www.RawTravel.tv and viewers can visit www.RawTravelTrailer.com for a short video preview of the upcoming episodes from the fall episodes.
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ABOUT 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 its mission of presenting Media That Matters. Visit www.AIMTVGroup.com and www.RawTravel.tv for more information.
– Successful 1st Season Leads to Big Growth Spurt for Syndication’s Only Authentic Travel Show
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 2nd, 2014 – AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV) announced today that their latest production “Raw Travel®” is cleared for a 2nd season of syndication this fall. The show’s 2nd season will debut via broadcast stations in over 100 markets nationwide, representing over 90 million homes and over 80% of the U.S. homes this coming October.
In addition to several mid-season additions in Season 1, Raw Travel added 30 new markets for its record setting 2nd Season, including Cleveland (NBC), San Diego (CW), Richmond (ABC), Baltimore (My), Grand Rapids (Fox), Memphis (ABC/CW), New Orleans (ABC), Little Rock (Fox / CW), Albany (CBS/CW), to name a few. Additionally, Raw Travel upgraded stations and time periods in key markets including Top 10 markets Philadelphia (My) & Houston (NBC). The additional markets represent a growth spurt of over 40% from the series’ debut last fall.
Raw Travel is an adventure travel & lifestyle series showcasing the wave of socially and environmentally aware, independent travel. The series weaves together themes of eco-tourism, volun-tourism (giving back) with underground music and authentic culture in a way unique to television.
The show’s first (and current) season saw Raw Travel pulling audience increases in major demographics in key markets across the country. Particularly impressive was the show’s wide appeal in both male & female demographics and its ability to attract younger viewers to broadcast TV while maintaining and often growing older demographic lead-ins. Raw Travel also ranked #1 or #2 in key time-slots in several markets consistently.
“Our hunch was this show would work simply because it’s very different than what viewers can get on either cable or broadcast but it blew away our expectations. With 113 million U.S. passports in circulation and growing, travel has ceased to be a niche. It’s mainstream, wildly popular and growing, plus its way under-served,” says Executive Producer and Host, Robert G. Rose. “I think Raw Travel proves that good, unique 1st run, weekend programming can help broadcasters salvage sagging weekend numbers and give them a point of differentiation, especially as viewers continue to cut cable’s chord.” Rose continues.
For Raw Travel’s second season, the show has spread its wings and begun production in parts of Eastern Europe and North America with plans to travel to Southeast Asia and to return to Latin America, which proved popular with viewers in Season 1. The show’s “authentic” theme, along with the message that “almost anyone can afford this type of travel,” stands out from the usual high end, luxury “fantasy travel” or the glut of gimmicky, “reality” formats showcased on cable or primetime television.
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.