Categories
Caribbean North America

Finally… Puerto Rico!!

I’ve visited Puerto Rico before. I always stated that technically correct fact. But truth be told, I remembered little about my first and only trip so many years ago. I remember it was a long weekend. I remember I stayed in the newer part of San Juan, ventured into Old San Juan for the day, and the next day rented a car to drive to Ponce where it proceeded to rain. That’s it. That’s about all I remember. What a disservice.

Ever since Hurricane Maria I’ve been itching to get back. Something about witnessing people recovering from a devastatingly miserable experience from afar moves me to get closer. Then there was an earthquake, then Covid. After a long absence from travel (20 months), now seemed the time. So I scheduled back-to-back trips “abroad.” First to Croatia, then to Puerto Rico. In both instances, I was hardly alone.

US travelers abounded in Croatia. That was surprising to me. US travelers abounded in Puerto Rico. That did not surprise me. Puerto Rico is, after all, for better or for worse, a US territory and there is no need to test for a Covid infection before returning to the mainland. I’m not sure if that’s what drew so many US travelers to Puerto Rico during their traditional off-season (the summer), if it was just pent-up demand for travel or the fact that no passport is needed. My hunch is it is a combination of all of the above.

But I did get a distinct impression that many first-time “international” travelers were in town, at least in Old San Juan this time. They were likely taking advantage of the good deals to be had as Puerto Rico welcomed back travelers from the mainland US.

Palacio Provincial Hotel Courtyard

But, alas, those were just my first impressions during a second trip. This time, my second trip to Puerto Rico would be the second impression that meant the most. This time I’d be filming with a crew of locals, and I’d be staying in the heart of Old San Juan, at the beautifully recently restored “Palacio Provincial Hotel.”

I was told that this beautiful, historic, building in the heart of Old San Juan was originally built in the 1800s and that it was a former government building before being restored fairly recently.

It did not disappoint. I loved the hotel’s classic style and old-school atmosphere of Spanish style courtyards and high ceilings- while simultaneously basking in the modern, almost luxurious features like an infinity pool, hot tub, gym, uber-comfy bed, modern hot shower, super fast wifi, etc.

Typical Puerto Rican Cuisine at Restaurant El Jibarito

But my favorite thing about Palacio Provincial was location, location, location. I was within walking distance of so many sites, great bars, and restaurants. Indeed, this trip, I felt a part of Old San Juan.

Almost every morning, I’d head to the corner coffee and pastry kiosk at the park nearby and get a Cafe Negro (black coffee) con Mallorca sandwich pastry. Or I’d hit up the Restaurant El Jibarito nearby for an authentic, down-home Puerto Rican lunch.

Or visit the Poets Passage on open mic night. Here I’d be treated to traditional poetry slam from poets as far away as Minnesota; or some Brazilian Batucada fused with Puerto Rican Plena and African drumming from a surprise musical act Baturepike who simply rocked the place.

Thanks to my local pals and film crew from Discover Puerto Rico, I’d eat very well (it was Rocio from the Spoon Experience who introduced me to my new favorite sandwich, the Mallorca) while venturing outside of Old San Juan frequently.

Our visit to the nearby beach community of Loiza was memorable for a few reasons. Mainly thanks to Rafi from the famous foodie Vlog and IG account La Mafia who showed me the ropes of eating Alcapurrías and Bacalaítos (two types of cuisine I’d never even heard of before).

Food Kiosk in Loiza

Rafi instinctively knew which local food kiosks were best and did the thinking for me. I’ve never interviewed anyone on the show with such an obvious knowledge and love of their local cuisine. We both did the eating, and I didn’t need to eat dinner that evening. I can’t speak for Rafi’s dinner that evening but given the performance he put in at lunch, I do recall wondering how the guy maintains any semblance of svelte appearance.

We also visited gorgeous Bahia Beach Resort to see the work the resort is doing to save Sea Turtles, Manatees, and various bird species on the island.

The “Alma De Bahia Foundation,” which translates to “the Soul of Bahia,” is their non-profit arm focusing on local sustainability through conservation initiatives and environmental education.

The Foundation works very closely with the residents and guests at Bahia to give back to our community and the natural environment. Our guide, Marcela, is an inspiring mixture of environmental warrior / marine biology nerd. She knows her stuff.

Marcela with one of the local dog rescues

Marcela kindly offered us a bonus tour of the rescue shelter for dogs (watch the show to see how that ties into saving wildlife) and their farm, where they grow fruits and vegetables for the resort and surrounding community.

Speaking of farms, I must be getting old because I have this inexplicable desire to get back to my farm boy roots these days. Which I find ironic considering my city boy ways (yes, I know, I’m far from a “boy” anymore, but you get the point).

Anyhow, one of my favorite day trips outside of OSJ was a visit to the town of Maniti to tour Frutos Del Guacabo . There I finally milked a goat successfully, putting the “great Romanian goat milking scandal” from Season 2 in the rear view mirror. I hope!

Feeling out my future?

I also learned a new term, culinary agriculture, which is a fancy way of saying that you’ll get to taste some delicious results of their cutting-edge hydroponic and natural farming methods.

Efran showed us how it’s grown. Chef Adrian showed us how it’s cooked. And , you guessed it, I showed them how it’s eaten.

Other day trips were on our agenda, like our trip out to El Hippie Waterfall in Naguabo. Unfortunately, it had rained earlier and created a situation where I wouldn’t be able to get into the raging water. But it made an alternative beauty that showcased just a taste of the tremendous power of nature (though most Puerto Ricans likely don’t need reminding).

The raging El Hippie Waterfall

We ended the “official” shoot with a trip to Fajardo. After I finally got my mofongo fix at a late lunch, we night-kayaked to the Nestor Martinez Luminescent Bio Bay, one of three in Puerto Rico and five in the whole world (all in the Caribbean). Because of the temperature of the water, light pollution, and overall climate change, the luminescent critters took some work to see. But my favorite thing about the whole experience was the relaxing kayak trip back (going with the current on the way back) and hearing the sounds of the water and coqui frogs singing. I could have stayed out there all night, if they’d let me.

But alas, I had to fly back the next day and get to work editing, writing scripts, backing up, and in general, getting ready for Season Nine. We were far ahead pre-covid but now are behind. But I’m so happy to be traveling again, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to get a second opportunity to visit Puerto Rico.

Speaking of covid, I was very comfortable filming there. Most people I knew or worked with closely indicated they were vaccinated and the retail establishments, generally speaking, enforced mask policy. I was tracking the numbers, they were lower than where I live in NYC and far lower than parts of the unvaccinated USA. Puerto Ricans seem to understand tragedy, and more importantly, the resilience required to overcome tragedy. They did not seem eager to court more tragedy and seemed to understand the balance of living their lives, making a living, while doing everything possible to keep everyone, visitors and locals alike, as safe as possible. It worked for me.

BaturePike at Poet’s Passage in Old San Juan

Yes, I was only in Puerto Rico for five days, but thanks to so many, this second trip was far more memorable than the first. So when I say it feels like the first time, this is what I mean. Besides, if I forget any details, this time, for better or worse, we have it on video… well, most of it! And besides, it gives me a good reason to return.

See more photos of our adventure HERE.

Look for the first one of two episodes of Raw Travel’s trip to Puerto Rico to premiere in November 2021. Stay tuned to facebook, twitter, and RawTravel.tv/Episodes .

Categories
Africa

The Impact of Raw Travel on Endangered Rhinos

Care For Wild Africa 

People say I have a great “job”, and I do, but producing Raw Travel is also a ton of work and sacrifice. I’m 99% sure I could make more $ doing something else, but I figured out a while back that old cliche about $ and happiness is actually true.  The impact of the show and feedback from viewers is one big part of the reason we carry on. At times I wonder if the show is having an actual impact other than entertainment, but then I hear stories like this Toronto gentleman who saw Raw Travel last year (we’re not licensed in Canada so I assume he saw the Buffalo or Detroit feed).

After tuning into our story on Care For Wild Africa/ African Conservation Experience this gentleman booked a trip to volunteer for them in South Africa and has returned a changed man. He’s telling others about his transformation and about this critical issue as rhinos near extinction. Here is his story and I thought I’d share it.  P.S. You can see our segment on the CFWA again this summer in “Amazing Animals” July 1st-2nd, 2017.

A link to his story can be found HERE:

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Categories
Peru South America

Lovable Lima Premieres in the U.S.A.

“RAW TRAVEL – LOVABLE LIMA” PREMIERES  IN THE U.S.
– Nation’s Most Watched Authentic Travel Show Shines a Spotlight on Peru’s Surprising Capital City –
 
NEW YORK, NY: May 17th, 2017 – AIM Tell-A-Vision® Group (AIM TV) announced today that its syndicated television series Raw Travel® will premiere “Lovable Lima” this weekend, May 20-21, 2017.
 
To produce “Lovable Lima”, the producers worked with a mix of locals, travel experts and expats to shine a spotlight on the hidden and not-so-hidden charms of Peru’s largest city.
 
In addition to discovering the appeal and diversity of the different neighborhoods of Central Lima, Barranco, Miraflores and Callao, “Lovable Lima” explores the unique Asian influence on the South American country’s culture with a visit to historic Chinatown.
 
With a host of gastronomical influences and a plethora of homegrown, organic produce, Lima is also arguably the foodie capital of Latin America. Raw Travel explores this aspect of Limeño culture, with a visit to local markets and hidden gem restaurants to get a taste of the city’s heralded gastronomical delights.
 
“Lovable Lima” then gets a shot of adrenaline as Lima’s scenic cliffs, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, provide the perfect backdrop to paraglide over the city in one of the most unique adventure travel experiences available to urban explorers. Raw Travel also visits the Cemetery of Nueva Esperanza, the picturesque and surreal indigenous cemetery on the outskirts of Lima, that some claim is the second largest in the world.
 
Keeping with Raw Travel’s mission of showcasing ways in which travelers can give back through voluntourism, Raw Travel visits the French based organization “Niños Del Rio” (Children of the River), which works to get abandoned and runaway children off the streets of Lima and into a loving home.
 
“Travelers too often ignore Lima and the rest of Peru in a rush to more publicized areas such as Cusco or Machu Picchu. We want to show visitors what they’ve been missing, beginning with Lima, one of the most unique cities in all of South America” states Robert G. Rose, Executive Producer and Host of Raw Travel.
 
“Peru is a large, diverse and magnificent country. Stampeding to the same sites in a quest to check things off a bucket list is neither authentic nor responsible. We want to encourage visitors to diversify and explore Peru in a more sustainable and potentially more fulfilling manner” Rose continues.
 
The “Lovable Lima” Episode will be followed by a road trip down Peru’s southern coast which will kick off Season 5 of Raw Travel in late September and early October.
 
Visit www.RawTravel.tv for more info, www.RawTravel.tv/wheretowatch for local listings in 160 cities and http://rawtravel.tv/video/raw-travel-416-lovable-lima-trailer/ to for the “Lovable Lima” video trailer.
 
# # #
 

ABOUT RAW TRAVEL
Raw Travel is an authentic, adventure travel and lifestyle television series currently in its 4th season and airs in over 160 U.S. Cities (93% of the U.S.). It is broadcast in syndication on local affiliates (Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC, CW, My, etc.) as well as on a variety of international outlets such as National Geographic, Amazon, Fox, etc. in Asia, Europe, Africa and more as well as featured video entertainment on several airlines. Raw Travel showcases 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.RawTravel.tv/wheretowatch for a complete listing of cities, affiliates and time slots in the U.S.
ABOUT AIM TELL-A-VISION GROUP
AIM Tell-A-Vision Group (AIM TV) is an independent content, production and distribution company founded in 2000 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 for more information.
 
SPECIAL THANKS
The producers want to thank the local travel partners featured in “Lovable Lima” including “Vamos Expeditions”, “Eureka Travel”, “‘Viento-Sure Parapente” and “Aracari Travel” for their help.
Categories
Peru South America

Saving the Street Children of Lima, Peru

 

Lima Peru is one of my favorite international cities. Yes, it’s large and congested, but the atmosphere is relaxed, people are friendly, the food is amazing and there is loads of culture around every corner.

But of course, like most of Latin America, there is also crippling poverty. To me at least, poverty is especially heartbreaking when it impacts children.

However, in all my travels, even in brutally poor areas,  I’ve found that the youngest children do seem outwardly happy, even in what we in the developed world consider mind-numbing poverty.

They are born incredibly resilient and their needs are pretty simple. Something as simple as a bag on a string or a discarded roller blade, can serve as a distraction.

Rimac River Where Many Street Children Live

But as they get older, the temptations in poor areas are intense as the reality of their situation begins to dawn.

There are estimated 120 million children living on the streets around the world with almost half estimated to be living in South America.

Young boys (typically ages 5-17) in particular are drawn to gangs, violence and drugs. Many, for whatever reason, either run away or are abandoned by their parents and become street children, forced to try to get along with their peers on the harsh streets of Lima Peru. They are young, vulnerable to abuse and scared.

Many of Lima’s street children live along the Rimac River. In 1999 a young French student traveler got to know some of these children and decided to do something about their situation. He created the Ninos Del Rio (Children of the River) organization  in 2000.

Today, years later this Paris & Lima based non-profit association continues to works with street children, establishing trust, providing food, shelter and mental counseling and when the time is right, promoting their return to their own home or  reintegration into another home.

They also work with the children currently on the streets in the district of San Juan de Miraflores, and help provide these kids an afternoon or so of diversion, where the kids can be kids.

We were able to stop by and meet some of the kids at the shelter, local staff and (mostly) French volunteers during our final day filming in Lima. I’m used to seeing young children in various situations in my travels, but I was surprised at moved I was by meeting these adolescent, teen boys.

Despite their harsh situation and past, I could literally feel their need for love. It was a similar feeling I’d had when visiting the really young Restavek (Child Slaves) at Freedom House in Haiti.

Kids need food, shelter, medical care, structure, discipline…. yes, but mostly they need love. Without it, their future is bleak. With it, their lives can completely change to a future capable of anything.

Ninos del Rio is a non-profit so they rely on donations and volunteers.

If you’d like to volunteer or donate please visit HERE. (Their web site is in Spanish  but Google Translate can translate to English for you).

I’ve seen first hand the good work the folks at Ninos Del Rio are doing. I can tell you that I don’t think you’ll regret helping.

I know I don’t regret visiting, and I hope I can come back soon and spend more time with these brave kids and the big hearted staff and volunteers.

Look for our “Give Back” segment on Ninos Del Rio coming up in our Lovable Lima episode set to premiere in the USA in May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Peru South America

School Supplies in Pisco, Peru – DELIVERED

A little update from our DIY Voluntourism segment in Peru.

For those of you who so generously donated to our fundraiser for school supplies for the elementary school 1.5 hours outside of Pisco, Peru, yesterday was a big day when the supplies were delivered.

Most of the kids were off on summer vacation, but some came in anyway along with some very dedicated teachers to get their gifts. Each and every student will begin school next month with pens, pencils, paper and other basic school supplies thanks to you.

This special “Give Back” segment will be part of Raw Travel – “Peru’s Southern Coast” episode which is going to kick off our 5th Season (Yep, can’t believe it either) 9/30/17.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos and if you weren’t able to donate, don’t worry, your support and encouragement helps us keep doing what we’re doing, so feel good about yourself, you deserve it!

And besides, you’ll get another chance to make a difference, I promise.

Big Mil Gracias to Sascha Rossaint who took these photos and to his wife and her friends, who coordinated this effort. Giving Back is not as easy as it sounds sometimes, but I think the smiles on these faces are worth it don’t you?

Visit HERE for more photos and how you can help these kids.

Categories
Caribbean

Help Free Child Slaves in Haiti

Freedom House is featured d on Raw Travel 406 – Port Au Prince. They are a U.S. supported charity helping to free poverty stricken “restaveks” (child slaves).

A restavek is a child that has been given to another family as a servant in hopes to have their basic needs met. If you see the segment, you will see how incredible these children are now that they are surrounded by love. Freedom House is not a huge bureaucratic organization with a lot of waste.

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They are small and grassroots and just the kind of organization we like to shine the light on.

If you are so moved after seeing this weekend’s episode and would like to help Freedom House rescue more children, you can donate and support HERE.

A little goes a long way in Haiti, so no amount is too small.

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Categories
Press Public Relations

Raw Travel Featured on Good Day St. Louis

My heart is always pounding hard in my chest when I make an appearance on live TV. I don’t know why it’s so different when I know the cameras are recording my images live as opposed to airing weeks or months later, as is the case on Raw Travel TV.

That said, the friendly folks at Good Day St. Louis on our affiliate KMOV CBS 4 put me at ease and despite my joking about the drivers in St. Louis (they are a little aggressive and I’ve driven in many parts of the world!), the people in St. Louis have always been super friendly, hospitable and polite when I’ve visited.

Thanks for a wonderful time guys.

Here is a video of the interview if you want to see it and while I hate to disappoint, no, I did not pass out from fright… this time. Click HERE to view.

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Categories
North America

Pine Ridge Reservation – Tribal Tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Categories
North America

Giving Back: Adopt-A-Native-Elder

ADOPT-A-NATIVE-ELDER 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories
Asia

Manny Lost The Fight.. But Manila Wins My Heart

Slider_214_1The fight of the century featuring Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather was a disappointment to most. No surprise there. Anything that hyped, with that much money at stake is bound to be a let down.

Which is why I love to travel to under hyped destinations, even places that people would never think to visit. Manila, Philippines is one of those cities and if you go in with low expectations (as we did) you are bound to be rewarded with an unexpected experience that could have you raving about the place when the trip is over.

The Philippines are a group of over 7,100 islands with some of the most stunning landscapes and beaches in the world and this is why most people visit.

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My Side Job.. Driving a Jeepney

 

Manila is simply a landing point, a place to catch a flight, renew your visa perhaps or take care of business, but it’s definitely not on many traveler’s trail.

We were tight on time and we had a choice. Get to know Manila, a city with very little appeal, at least according to most online reviews, or a more typical tropical, beach vacation.

I grew up on a farm, but live in Manhattan and I’m kind of a city boy at heart so we chose the less traveled route of spending our precious time in the Philippines with a stay in Manila.

At first I regretted it. The traffic was overwhelming. The grittiness of the city and getting around and the hot, hot sun reflecting off concrete & steel combined with the normal sights and sounds of an overloaded capital city was intense. Manila, like many urban areas in developing nations, are falsely seen as a beacon of hope to impoverished citizens who moved in to try to work their way into a more comfortable existence.

But then, about day 2 or 3, as we toured sites like Intramuros, Makati, Chinatown and outlying areas, I began to fall in love with Manila and more importantly the good-natured and fantastically friendly Filipino people.

Halo Halo
Trying Halu Halo in Intramuros

It happened so slowly at first that I didn’t really notice, but Manila grew on me to the point that by the end, I didn’t want to leave. And this was, mind you, after 26 or so straight, grueling days of traveling and shooting (Manila was our last stop on our 4 country Southeast Asia tour).

We weren’t staying in luxurious accommodations.  We were in fact living as many regular Filipinos lived but with, of course, the knowledge that we’d be leaving soon. We had a choice to be there, many do not.

Like those in Tondo.  Tondo is a community of garbage pickers that essentially live in a garbage dump, doing what they can to get by and feed their families by sifting through garbage looking for food and salvageable items to sell or use. We visited with the Project Pearls organization and the entire crew agreed it was the highlight of our trip.

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Project Pearls in Tondo

You won’t see Tondo in many travel brochures and on most if any other travel shows most likely. It may or may not cost us the chance at sponsorship or support from tourism industry types but that’s a small price to pay for telling the truth and gaining a new perspective on the world and in one’s life.

Tondo and other places like it (there are other similar communities in Manila such as Smokey Mountain), need not be the thing that governments and tourism bureaus try to hide. Indeed with more travelers than ever choosing voluntourism and giving back over the banality and sterility of a resort or all inclusive destination, these areas can be a draw to a whole new category of travelers.

Helping Out in Tondo
Helping Out in Tondo

I know there are some folks (someone’s always unhappy) who may say we are exploiting the living conditions of these folks for our own benefit and maybe that’s partly true. But if this exploitation leads to helping them then I’m all for it. The people of Tondo need it and organizations like Project Pearls and volunteer travelers are stepping in where the government is either unable or unwilling to.

Nothing new under the sun there. Governments will always be poor substitutes for neighbor helping neighbor. Even if that neighbor happens to be 8,000 miles away.