Tag Archives: voluntourism

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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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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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.

 

 

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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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.

 

 

Raw Travel Premieres Season 2

“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, 2014AIM 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.

# # #

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.

Nicaragua.. Hey Watch Out For That Parade.. And That Pig!

Nicaragua was one of those countries I’d been dreaming of for some time. In fact, I bought the guidebook several years ago in what turned out to be a trip that never happened. The guidebook sat on my bookshelf for some time, like a big piece of pie that you knew you were going to eat… eventually.  Ok bad analogy I know because pies don’t sit on shelves for years at a time but you get the picture.

Every now and then, I’d pull the pie, excuse me, I mean guidebook off the shelf and thumb through it. As I read through it I’d imagine what it would be like to walk the streets of Managua and see the old church with the clock still stuck at the exact time of the horrible 1972 earthquake that leveled Managua and killed thousands. I’d also walk along the streets of Leon,  Granada and even visit the twin volcanic islands of Omotepe.

One of the Volcanoes of Omotepe
One of the Volcanoes of Omotepe

I read how Nicaragua was still very rural with pigs, cows, chickens and horses still roaming even the main highways. I read how baseball was more popular than soccer (futbol), one of the few happy byproducts of U.S. intervention over the years, this one from the early 20th century.

Baseball in the Cow Pasture
Baseball in the Cow Pasture

The guidebook pointed out that Nicaragua is becoming the next hotspot budget destination for travelers looking to explore Central America and as I was to finally find out, for good reason. Now in order to be a budget destination it stands that things need be cheap and in general, in Nicaragua they are.

Compared to nearby Belize, Nicaragua has just as much, if not more, natural beauty at a fraction of the price. Supposedly the people of Nicaragua are even more economically disadvantaged compared to Belize and other Latin American countries, but I have to be honest the standard of living in Nicaragua seemed better than Belize and on par with the rest of Latin America. However, please keep in mind I’m going by a grand total of 1 week in each country so I guess I’ll believe Wikipedia… for now.

A common site in Nicaragua
A common site in Nicaragua

When I finally arrived in Nicaragua it was largely as I expected… but in some ways better. We arrived, in the middle of the night, in the small tobacco town of Esteli. When I woke up the next morning to take the town in, I could already see why travelers flock to Nicaragua. It was simply lovely.

Our scheduled visit to the Rivadella & Recon Cigar tobacco shop was cool, but it was serendipitously interrupted by a stop at the Sonati Hostel. There we met Arnon Dottner, an Israeli ex-patriot and founder of Sonati. Sonati is a non-profit organization that is 100% self-sustainable and working to maintain the environment while helping Nica farmers and students.

One of the many challenges in a country like Nicaragua is convincing farmers, who may be barely scraping by, to farm in a manner that takes a more environmental, long-term focus into view. Like so many worthwhile organizations we met while on our journeys, Sonati works with farmers to show how sustainable agriculture techniques can actually increase their yield as well as their income while preserving or even improving the environment.

Sonati also works with young Nica students to teach them to appreciate & preserve the natural beauty around them. Sonati is largely sustained by its hostels (Leon and Esteli) by offering eco tours. Volunteers mostly run the hostels on a day-to-day basis, but hostel guests can also volunteer to help out in a variety of ways. Such as  at local farms, which is where we ran into the fine students & teachers from the Chessum Grammar School in the U.K.

 

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Volunteer Crew from U.K.’s Chessum Grammar School

These young British volunteers were doing what is called a home-stay, which means actually living on a family farm in rural Nicaragua. Yes, that means using an outhouse (I’m sure many, if not all of them, for the very first time), sleeping and eating like a local farm family and helping the surrounding community by planting trees, building solar lamps for houses, painting eco-themed murals, and in general helping to beautify the area.

Volunteers Planting Trees
Volunteers Planting Trees

It wasn’t all work and no play for the cheerful bunch from Chessum. While we were there, the whole community was gathered to eat, drink, relax and catch a baseball game. And we’re not talking a last minute pick-up game of rag tag baseball. This was a semi-professional league with uniforms, umpires and equipment… the whole nine yards.

I was enraptured in one of the games and briefly forgot I was on a farm, in a remote part of rural Nicaragua, when I noticed something slippery & squishy around my feet. This was a vaguely familiar feeling (I grew up on a farm in Tennessee) of what standing in fresh cow dung felt like. Ahhh the farm life. I kind of don’t miss it.

I was also jolted back to reality when a screaming foul ball came within inches of taking out our most expensive camera, which was perched like a target on a tripod directly behind home plate. Probably not so smart of us as the shoot was almost over before it got started! But on the flip side we captured some great footage.

Leon is full of Lion Statues
Leon is full of Lion Statues

As much as I liked Esteli, it simply can’t compare to the travel darlings of Leon and Granada. While they both rely heavily on tourism, these two cities are very different. While both have loads of history including historic buildings, churches, etc. throughout, Leon is as liberal as Granada is conservative. Leon (Lion in Spanish) is named after the ubiquitous lion statues and monuments all around. What came first the name or the statues, I’m not sure… but it is largely a college town and as such attracts a young, partying adventure/tourist crowd who are there to do things like hike, bike, volcano surf, and canoe.

Arnon from Sonati hooked us up on a volcano hiking and surfing tour that I will probably remember the rest of my life. The hike to the top of Cerro Negro Volcano takes a good 30-45 minutes and at the top the wind is so intense, it makes it hard to do much of anything but hunker down and hang on. The view is incredible from that height and my only regret was that we had all this expensive camera gear to deal with, and I was so concerned about it and the safety of the crew I didn’t really get to enjoy the view as much as I would have liked to. I was genuinely worried about crew getting hurt and the cameras being blown off the side of the volcano.

Maybe I should have been worried about the fact that we were climbing and surfing down a very active volcano (last major eruption just in 1999).

Exhibit A - Any idiot can volcano board on their butt.
Exhibit A – Any idiot can volcano board on their butt.

But the trip down is what is so amazing. Volcano boarding while sitting on your butt is pretty easy, and doesn’t require a ton of skill. Just some bravery. Some chose to try it standing up, which I didn’t even consider given the steepness of the terrain. Regardless of your technique it’s not a clean ride. You’re going to get lava rock in every crease and crevice imaginable and I definitely recommend wearing the protective “prison” jumpsuit. Some poor souls were there with nothing but shorts… ouch!

To dial down the adrenaline we headed to nearby Granada, which is a bit more laid back and romantic. We took a horse and carriage tour through the colonial downtown in order to get a typical tourists’ point of view. Salvador, our local driver & guide, reminded me that when another Tennessean came through Granada, he was executed. He was speaking of William Walker ,who briefly took control of the Presidency of Nicaragua in an attempt to unite Central America and make it a part of the Confederate States during the Civil War. That was a while back but just in any case, I kept my Tennessee origins under wraps for the rest of the trip.

Granada from above
Granada from above

Near Granada is the small town of Masaya, known for its craft market. In fact, most, if not all of the country’s crafts originate from Masaya. The craft market is pretty easy to spot because it’s housed in an early 19th century castle. You can also, usually, take in some excellent Nicaraguan folkloric dancing on weekend nights as we did with the lovely dancers from “Rostros de mi Pueblo” and “Son Latinos”.

Granada from Horse & Buggy
Granada by Horse & Buggy

But I think the real beauty of Nicaragua lies in its small, rural towns and villages. We were headed to the small town of Rivas when we happened upon a tiny village that was having a very big Celebration of Santa Ana. Colorfully costumed and masked participants paraded with an image of the Virgin of Santa Ana throughout the one street of the town. With dancing and music the entire way, it was kind of like a mini version of Mardi Gras or Carnival.

Small Santa Ana Celebrant
Small Santa Ana Celebrant

These types of celebrations go on at various times of the year and have been going on for generations. The only part that proved problematic was that the parade progressed at a glacial pace down the only road in town. It was about 2 miles from the main highway, and we were stuck behind it with no way around and another scheduled shoot to attend (and no minutes on our cell phone to give anyone a heads up as to our tardiness).

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Santa Ana Parade

I gently, but rather impatiently guided our stick shift rental car behind the parade, careful not to nudge grandma, the old guy on crutches or the kids who kept insisting to ride on our bumper. I was cursing myself for simply not thinking ahead and parking the car near the main highway in order to walk into town to get the 15 minutes of footage we needed. But alas this is what happens when you get caught up in the serendipitous opportunities that arise when travel and a shooting schedule collide.

My crew and I sighed. It’s a story we know oh too well… half a day spent to get maybe 30 or 45 seconds of footage that will make the final cut.

Approaching Omotepe by Ferry
Approaching Omotepe by Ferry

2 hours later when we finally reached the main road. It was off to Rivas where we’d eventually catch a 45-minute or so ferry to the islands of Omotepevia Lake Nicaragua. Omotepe is an indigenous word that roughly translated means “two volcanoes”. I wonder what the word is for “active” as these are also two very active volcanoes (the last activity was a fairly recent 1999).

Omotepe is lovely but isolated and bigger than it looks on a map. You can’t just walk or bike everywhere. We had heard that public transportation was spotty and rough so we took the rental car over with us on the ferry, which was relatively cheap. We were able to drive across most of the two islands and get a real sense of the lifestyles on each unique island.

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Managua is usually the first stop for tourists when visiting Nicaragua, but since we bussed in from Honduras (and it was raining the first time we passed through) it turned out to be our last stop before catching a bus onward south to Costa Rica. Other than the old city, which had been leveled by the 1972 earthquake, the guidebook was pretty sparse (and dated) with information on Managua.

Luckily, I have a good Nica-American buddy in Los Angeles with relatives living in Managua. My buddy Francisco hooked me up with his brother Hader who gave us an insider’s tour. You don’t need a guide to see the incredible amount of construction going on (some say the Sandinista government currently in power can’t afford it and will regret it in a few years when the financing comes due, but for now it’s exciting to see it take shape).

Hanging With Hadar in Managua
Hanging With Hader in Managua

It seems an ambitious attempt to completely renovate Managua’s infrastructure (or perhaps to spend tax money as quickly as possible), but Hader provided us with some of the unknown history of the old downtown. Most of it now functions as the government center.

I stood in awe, finally taking in the famous clock in the abandoned buildings from that fateful Christmas Eve in 1972. The devastating earthquake hurt more than buildings. It would displace tens of thousands and claim the lives of thousands of Nicas, including baseball star and humanitarian, Roberto Clemente who had rushed to deliver supplies. Clemente felt moved to do something because so much international aid was not getting through to the people who needed it most: most say it was due to a corrupt Nicaraguan government at the time. Sound familiar… Haiti anyone?

Managua gets short shrift in most guidebooks, but it shouldn’t. The city is undergoing a renovation that will, if seen through, potentially make it one of the more modern Central American capital cities. The lakefront area near Ciudad Viejo (Old City) with restaurants and bars looks like it would be a blast on a weekend night.

Friendly Locals of Nicaragua
Friendly Nicaraguan Locals

Nicaragua… rural landscapes, colonial buildings, city sophistication, baseball… friendly folks and farms with pigs, horses, ducks… plus, of course lots and lots of cow dung… I felt right at home!