Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day Four - Polvos Azules

Its fair to say that, as a Latin American filmmaker, I very much cherish the world of pirated movies in poor Spanish speaking neighbourhoods. An instant access to a world of cinema and television that would have never reached the DVD players of these folks is an art form that deserves its own merit. If it wasn't for these hard working vendors who hustle like no other, how could these people have access to this world of independent and foreign cinema? The truth is that they wouldn't. The day will come when I am randomly walking around in a market within the ruins of a Latin America city like La Paz, Quito or Buenos Aires and randomly spot a copy of one of my films and at that moment I'll know - I've made it.
Known amongst various international filmmaker circles, Lima has one of the most respected kiosks in Latin America of pirated independent and foreign cinema, located en el barrio de Polvos Azules. Cesar and his store/stand "Mundo Trasho" (Local 18 / Stand 17) has been providing pirated DVDs of the highest caliber to the citizens of Lima for years. During my six days in Lima I visited Cesar not once but twice for an afternoon of searching and flipping through hundreds of foreign and independent titles. Lets not forget that the trek from where I was staying to the beautifully textured neighbourhood of Polvos Azules can take up to forty five minutes in taxi, depending on the traffic.
It was as impressive as I've heard people speak about it. The titles he had in stock were shocking. One that stands out is, having had its Canadian theatrical release two months agao, an original DVD of Guy Madden's new film "Keyhole." Also a fully pimped out DVD box with menus of both Denis Cote's "Bestiaire" and "Curling," not to mention six titles of films that were actually playing the film festival where I was presenting El Huaso. Three of six titles were autographed by the actors and directors that have made the pilgrimage throughout the eleven days of the festival to Polvos Azules. How does he get all of these titles? His dead pan face reaction when I ask the question is enough to say that the provider's identity is a secret that will die with him. When I first heard about Cesar and "Muncho Trasho", I was at an outdoor screening in Montreal through Los Ășltimos Cristeros director Matias Meyes. One of the things he mentioned that was really common were filmmakers going there with their films and making a five for one trade for other titles. Now because one of my feature distributors may read this, I'm not going to mention how in the world that at during my second visit to this wonderful mecca that I found a copy of El Huaso with a picture of the film's poster, standing tall in the festival section. What I can say is that my heart fills with warmth with the idea of some kid walking up to the stand and asking Cesar "¿Tienes El Huaso?"

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day One - Coming Home

It's overwhelming arriving here, Chile and Peru in a single day. Not because of the 15 hours of flying or the two layovers totally almost 10 hours. It's not the nerves that consistently stay present because the very idea of bringing this film to Latin America has me sporadically tearing up with love, pain or confusion. I have this continent running deep inside me and arriving here only confirms it. Every time I step off a plane and touch Latin American soil, I'm confronted with my other half. A half that only perks up in small spurts when I'm not here. Eating an expensive but decent 'completo' at la Chilenta in Montreal after an hour osteopathic treatment and even hearing pockets of spanish being momentarily spoken in random public places gives me the fix that I need. The simple sounds and smells that waft, weaving in and out of my senses, I always smile and enjoy these moments, always hoping they never end. But they do.
Today I wait in a line at a Santiago subway station to get my first metro ticket. During this very long afternoon layover, I eventually arrive at my cousin's house in a wealthy part of the city. His lovely maid prepares us a plate of 'charquican' and I politely thank her after ever course. The homemade flan she made tastes like poetry. With every piece of conversation my smile grew and I felt warmer.  On our way to the airport  to catch my next flight, this time to Lima, the streets seemed empty. With plenty of time to watch some sunday night HBO and AMC television, I waited at my gate with my shoes off very content. After boarding we spent four hours in the air and almost two hours in a terrible line at Peruvian immigration because of their lack of organization. After completing a task of incredibly patience I was whisked away through a very large crowded airport into a very large crowded vehicle. Off to my hotel. spinning through the city, I realize how many horribly contrasting worlds exist not just in Lima but every Latin American capital city I've ever experienced. With no help from the door men because of my 'no money over here' apparel selection, I juggle my belongings across the lobby. After checking I strangely step into the partially gold plated 'ascensor' in a semi-glazed sleepy state. I catch in the corner of my eye a group of men and women. They ignore me while attempting to hide their roots under a blend of make-up and expensive suits. I arrive at my room and collapse onto my king size bed with exhaustion. This bed is a cloud. Staring at the ceiling, despite the incredible apathy and contrasting states of wealth, I realize how much I still love this continent in the same way that I continue to love my father. A man that was sick and too stubborn to get better. Too set in his ways to look at his errors… but he was glorious. Those he touched flowed deep. I was lucky enough to have a father that sacrificed himself for his family. But to such a degree that he was willing to take his own life. He fell on his sword and I wish he hadn't. But I do love the fight he had in him. I remember him in the same way that I recall my formative years growing up on a small street in Quillota, Chile. They all merge together now, as one vivid memory. I smile with thoughts of pots and pans at 8pm while my mother is trying to put me to sleep. Laying in bed at this hotel, moments race through my head at the last 24 hours. All that lingers are small evidential moments of how this continent is still recovering from its past, still too proud and ashamed to admit it. 

Even though he or it is partially resting, the past feels very present.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Day 8 - The Family

Last night I travelled again to upper Potosi so that I could officially meet the entire mining family, which will mostly likely be the characters to this documentary. With a whole chicken and two litres of beer in hand,  the initial met was very formal. Any preconceived ideas that I had on how an indigenous Bolivian family would behave with a new stranger was confirmed the minute I walked through the door. Before anyone would drink their beer, which was tasted after the chicken, everyone would pour a little onto the earth for prosperity and the Pachamama. We would then acknowledge everyone in the room, looking them in the eye and saying "cheers," with some other quit verbal token of appreciation as we drank from our glasses. I thought that was pretty normal, considering the fact that most westerns say "cheers" before they have a drink. But what was different in this case is I could not take another drink until someone initiated the "cheers" with another out pouring of appreciation for what we had at that moment; food, drinks and each other's company. In some cases everyone would directly thank me for bringing the food and beer. Giving thanks to every single person in the room for every sip of drink or food being served, was a custom that had me a bit nervous. I'm usually the kind of person to just dig in which intensified my nervousness because I wanted to make a good impression. This custom continued with conversation and some laughter for the next hour and half. During the dinner I was also invited to stay permanently by the family and members of the rooming house at their home throughout my stay. I, of course thanked them profusely and bowed my head in endless remarks of appreciation. I privately and politely declined to Wilson when the night was over. My decision to stay at the hostel is mostly based on my own sanity. Being in this city is challenging for me and having the comfort of a room with a heater and working internet, so I can follow and contact the world I mostly understand, seems almost essential.
At the end of this late supper, Wilson my contact and probably future fixer for the film, walked me towards a main road at about 10:45pm to catch a bus or cab. It was almost pitch black and we entered a part of his neighbourhood which although looked a bit run down, I didn't sense any danger. As we entered the principal dirt road, which seemed to have large piles of rocks instead of sidewalks, Wilson suddenly stopped and bent over to look at some large stones. I asked him quickly, "What are you doing?" Hunched over, carefully selecting his stones, he said "You never know." I exclaimed quietly and quite naively.  "What do you mean, you never know?! Are they for throwing?" Wilson didn't look up. "Well, you see those dogs over there? They're angry dogs. They have a lot of rage and you never know when they're going to act on that rage." I stayed silent. "Also... you never know what could happen." I just left that last bit of ambiguous information alone. We continued down the road with our hands full of defence. By the time we reached the main road, the dogs had stopped barking. As we settled on a flat side walk, cars would randomly pass us, at speeds which were clearly illegal. While waiting for a ride, we watched the cars race down these impossibly narrow roads. I was amazed that they these vehicles weren't scratching up against each other. Strangely enough, it was at this point that I started safe again. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day 7 - Mini-Bus

In a bus crammed with mostly Cholitas, I am lucky enough to have found a seat. On my way to meet a family that may potentially be the subjects to this documentary I'm here researching. My nerves are swimming with relief that the search may be over and the hard work begins. The miners have blocked the entire city from anyone getting in due to national protests, so the mini bus I'm riding in has to take an alternative route. The older Cholita next to me is watching me closely as I scribble away in my notebook. Even if I was writing in quechua or spanish she probably wouldn't be able to read my scratchy cryptic cursive. The door is wide open. As we hit the incredibly sharp turns, going up hill through these very narrow colonial streets, it feels as if the bus is about to collapse into the road. On a good day, the people are kind to me and this is one of those good days. The Cholita next to me exclaims with a mix of quechua and spanish to each person that squeezes onto the bus "sit here! on my my bag, on the ground. Sit here, it's okay!" I've received a few compliments on the only sweater I've brought on this trip and wear every day. "My mom made it!" I say proudly. People continue to cram onto the bus and push softly against one another in order to get through. A few moments later, a woman from the back exclaims, "I need to get off on the next block!" The entire bus bursts into sighs, murmurs and laughter because. The impossibility of this poor person exiting the with any kind of ease will be challenging. An elderly man and myself are the only ones with a handkerchief as we blow our noses on this cool Potosi morning. A small boy stares at me through the corner of his eye in disbelief as people continue to pile on and off the bus. If I was to guess, I'm sure he's thinking "why the hell didn't this gringo just take a taxi?" But I may be wrong.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Day 6 - Blockades

Blistering heat in the sun. Freezing cold in the shade. Bolivia's existence within these two polarizing realities of everyday life in the Altiplano, reflects how people push their way through a challenging reality. Blockades come up as fast as they are taken down. Each day, everything comes to a halt at 12:30pm. People stop what they're doing. Whether its civil war between local cops and military police shooting at each other for days in downtown La Paz, bringing a prisoner to justice or just building a house. People stop so they can eat. An essential part of Bolivian life, which most North American's see as a luxury, stopping everything in order to eat dinner here in Bolivia is not perceived as a privilege but a right.
It seems like the recent protests that have hit home in Montreal, Chile and in Bolivia, everyone is fighting for something similar but with highly contrasting economic realities. What they do share in common is a group of people trying to push back. Pushing back so that their ideals and rights are kept alive and not buried with them. Looking back on my early twenties, I was always first in line to join a major protest in Toronto. Today, I see myself on the outside with my head down trying to push in a different way. Going into the streets use to give me an integral sense of strength and unity, knowing that I wasn't alone enhanced my thirst to make a difference. Today, being alone gives me that same sense of strength and unity that I once felt chanting and screaming at Queen's Park. Being alone scares me and doing what I fear most pushes me to lean forward instead of falling backwards.
Although pushing too hard can be dangerous and damaging within these movements, this doesn't include everyone who is a full time activist. Throughout the years I've often read interviews, articles and have seen documentaries where the activist leader is loved and respected by their community but not in their home. The leader in these cases believes in "the cause" to such an extreme that they forget what is happening, literally, in their own back yard. They neglect their domestic life in order to fight for the bigger cause. I guess today I try to invert that same way of life and try to focus on myself and the people in my own back yard. So that I can be a better person. Could I do both? Probably not. The energy I expend in order to evolve often leaves me scared and exhausted, unable to put strength else where.

Day 5 - Dragon's Den

Watching television shows downloaded from the internet without commercials has become an obsession and quite often a vice of mine. It's probably one of the few things that can calm me down when I'm feeling emotional in any way. The idea of entering a story that doesn't just last 90 minutes, like most feature length films, but to enter a world that almost feels endless with their 12 to 26 episode, running in most cases, for 5 seasons. The need to be addicted to something is a realization that I've come accept and feel no shame.
The last time I was in Bolivia it was very important to me that I embraced every aspect of the culture by not bringing any music, movies or television shows from home. It was clear, looking back on it, that I wasn't being good to myself. When I arrived last year for the third time in Bolivia and first time in Potosi, I so desperately looked for signs of home so that I could soothe the wounds of being called "the devil" and often treated as an outcast by some of the locals. This time around I've brought an entire arsenal of television shows and movies on my hard drive to combat those moments of loneliness from a city that sometimes does not want me here.
Going to business school, while still a budding young faux-anarchist, at the age of 19 is an indicator that my taste for things tend to be very broad and sometimes contradictory. From cheesy romantic comedies to detective/lawyer shows to docudramas to short films by the Whitney Brothers. If its done well and I can connect with some element of innovation or drama, I'm hooked. The British and Canadian television series Dragon's Den is no exception. The objective of what seems to play out as a sort of "game of life," has entrepreneurs pitching their dreams and ideas to multi-million dollar equity investors. The entrepreneur presents their pitch and are immediately grilled by the "Dragons" about the product, evaluation of the company, finances and projected sales. Much like a stand up comic, there's a level of vulnerability that I appreciate and admire in these moments. For someone to put themselves and their ideas out there in front of a row people who's primary objective is to make a lot of money, seems like an act that should be respected. In Drangon's Den, where a great idea, solid business plan and flawless presentation is the highest form of currency, the film/documentary world's aggressive demand for a great story, eye catching premise and a strong director are essential elements in order to be heard by broadcasters or producers. I'm not naive to think that something like the Dragon's Den and the film/documentary world are practically the same but having witnessed dozens of pitches to broadcasters, producers and distributors by filmmakers from all over the world, their similarities are staggering.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Day 4 - New Home

I've finally found a home. A room to call my own. The room I'm staying is large, rustic and has a desk. Hardwood floors with a large bathroom. The higher ceilings are important, compared to other places I've stayed. Fewer places to smack my head against the hard concrete arches. Yes sir! Hostal Casona is my new home.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Day 3 - Security Blanket

Last night I arrived late into Potosi and the festival (Macha /Tinku) that I came early for was that very same day. I would have had to leave Toronto a day earlier in order to just make the bus that left in the very early morning at 5:00am. It was worth staying in Toronto one extra day based on what I accomplished. I was also happy to share breakfast with my sisters and parents just before departing. Getting in late and entering Potosi at 8:00pm today also mean't that I would have to grab whatever hostel was available. The overpriced, dark and lifeless room that chose me didn't bring me down but only because I know that I could escape it the very next day. A general sadness encompasses the Potosi air but it's really no different then some of the dark corners that I've experienced in rural or urban Quebec. It's that general winter melancholy but without the snow. My heart is filled with a lot of hard joy being in Potosi but mostly because, throughout the years, it has become a second home. The former miners that give tours and who are the main source of my contacts amongst the mining community are my security blanket. When things are hard and I feel down or shy, I hide behind them and they protect me. Although they don't know this, it's the optimism they breed that keeps me balanced in Potosi. They don't know it but I owe them a lot.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Day 2 - Toronto to Potosi: Part II

As I boarded my flight to Miami, I was very exhausted and knew that the seven hour flight would mostly consist of me sleeping. Slowly waking up with knots in my neck some six hours later, we were close approaching La Paz, Bolivia, my original stop for this leg of the trip. As the pilot came on the intercom and announced to the passengers that one of the breaks on the plane was not working, everyone stopped preparing their belongings. Passengers gasped and murmured amongst each other while the pilot informed us that we could not arrive safely in the high altitude city of La Paz without both break and we were therefore being re-directed to a city even closer to my destination, Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Knowing that I had just saved some time and money on this dangerous error on the part of American Airlines, I smiled in amazement and slowly went back to sleep. To be honest, in the past I was always sickened by the thought of spending any time in very wealthy city of Santa Cruz because of the chronic racism that has bleached the city's psyche. Harnessed by the long standing exploitation of their natural resources, such as natural gas, their long lineage of western European colonial rule is palpable the minute you step off the plane. To experience this in a country where 80% of the citizens are indigenous Bolivians, was to me, a brand of culture shock I assumed never existed. This unexpected stop had me quickly buying a direct plane ticket to Sucre, the last stop before my final destination. With another four hour layover, I needed to eat. After an expensive breakfast and SKYPE conversation with the love of my life, I was incredibly surprised at how WIFI has progressed in Bolivia since my trip last year. Disgusted by the sort of, "I'm rich you're not" attitude I've seen in large Latin American cities, I cringed and became saddened by every stuck up "white lady" who clearly had indigenous Bolivian blood in her, which I assumed was ashamed to acknowledge. It was confirmed further more by how some of these "white ladies" treated the indigenous Bolivian wait staff that worked at the airport restaurant. The last time I felt that level of contempt and racism in the air, was when I got gas at a Love's truck stop in rural Kentucky, 8 years ago. This attitude continued till just after my arrival in the 2200 meter above sea level city of Sucre.  Still tired, I arrived sleepy eyed in Sucre. As we got off the plane and onto the tarmac, on our walk towards the airport terminal, I noticed an enormous amount of people waiting on the roof of a large building adjacent to the airport. In the hot Bolivian sun I also spotted dozens of military police in full armour and fatigues, dressed to kill. I was immediately intimidated and decided to leave the scene in a cab to the Sucre bus terminal. As I approached the front entrance of the airport, I was swarmed by a school of taxi drivers asking me if I wanted a ride. I rejected all of them and walked towards the only taxi driver who didn't pester me. I asked how much to the bus terminal and he said 30 bolivianos. I knew it was too high but I wasn't in any state of mind to negotiate. He seemed pleasant and we spoke along the way. As we approached the bus terminal I asked about all the security at the airport. He causally told me that the crowd and the police were waiting for a man who killed 56 people and was being taken into custody. I asked for more questions and Alvaro began to tell that the man had been a contract killer for the rich and escaped from prison almost a year ago. Having just been captured in a small town about 100km away from Sucre, he was being taken back to prison. Currently, it was only 12:30pm, with plenty of time to catch the killers walk and make a three hour bus ride to Potosi before nightfall. I immediately asked Alvaro to go back to the airport. With my thirst for this story and Alvaro's foot on the gas leading the chase to get us back to the airport on time to catch this murder, I ultimately didn't really know why I was doing this. For some strange reason, it felt right. When we arrived, the rumour which was circulating around this very small airport was that the prisoner was on his way to a high security prison in La Paz or Santa Cruz and will be arriving in 15 minutes.  Alvaro agreed to wait for me and once I got to experience the arrival of this killer, we would be on our way to the Sucre bus terminal. One hour, two, three hours had passed and no killer. I realized that in Bolivia, no matter what is occurring; civil war, protests, bringing a mass murder into custody, Bolivians always stopped what they were doing and had lunch. On the internet, with yet again another impressive Bolivian WIFI experience, I heard screaming and running. By the sudden stampede of people going to the closest window they could find, I knew the killers plane had arrived. Positioning myself by the window of the only airport restaurant, I stood there with all the press photographers I befriended during the three hour wait. As they escorted him out of the plane we all just started shooting, taking pictures in rapid successions, with no idea of what would happen next. When the killer was out of sight, dozens of people, myself included, dangerously raced and screamed in fear and excitement down the stairs to the front door for a better look. With all the media gathered in one spot at the front door, begging for them to open it for a better picture, a government representative came to the glass and told us that only the press would be invited in to take pictures and footage of the prisoner. A rush of adrenaline poured through my body. I was surrounded by my new photographer friends and because of the gear I was carrying, I pretended to be part of the press core, making my way back inside luggage claim. All I could think of as we entered the close proximity of this serial killer was a phrase my uncle, who had married a Bolivian woman, always uttered, "anything is possible in Bolivia.

Head of Federal Police

SWAT Team Waits For Prisoner

Press Conference

Head of Federal Police Addresses Press

Prisoner Is Brought To The Press 

Prisoner Presented To The Press For Three Minutes

Prisoner Escorted Back Onto The Plane

Press Gets Last Glimpse Of Prisoner

Prisoner Boards The Plane

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day 1 - Toronto to Potosi: Part I

Having put behind me the incredible experience of presenting my first feature length film El Huaso at one of my favourite documentary festivals (Hot Docs), it was 12:30pm and my driver, kindly provided by the festival, had not arrived. As my father was just about to pick up his keys and take me to the airport himself, the phone rang with the assurance that my ride had arrived and was waiting for me downstairs. With my plane scheduled to take off at 2:45pm, I knew that doing anything but darting off to the airport was a huge risk. The problem was that I needed to make an essential pit stop at Trew Audio, in the opposite direction, for a microphone windscreen. While waiting for my ride, I called in advanced and asked the lovely people at Trew Audio to have the windscreen and all the paper work ready for me to pay and bolt. After running in and out of the shop in a panic with my windscreen, it was now 1:05pm and the very patient driver took me to the airport as fast as he possibly could.  I knew that with just the smallest speed bump, this could all go horribly wrong. On the highway finally en route to the airport, I decided to try and calm down. Assuming by his familiar head dress and neatly combed facial hair that the driver was Sikh, I asked him about a Sikh celebration that I saw taking place the other day on University Street in downtown Toronto. As he started to speak about the significance of this festival, his very soft and quiet voice relaxed me completely. With a 1:40pm arrival at the airport, almost traffic free, I thanked the driver profusely and ran directly to the American Airlines counter. Not seeing any line-ups, I immediately thought the worse, "they closed the check-in counter!" To my naive surprise, everything at American Airlines had now gone electronic. One woman stood there, helping twelve people, at twelve separate machines, efficiently receiving their boarding pass with just the scan of a passport. It worked perfectly and within less then five minutes, I entered customs with my boarding pass and three small carry-on bags in hand. While going through the humiliating process that is US customs, it was essential to breathe and embrace these humiliating formalities in order to arrive sanely at my Bolivian destination. With a 6:17pm  arrival in Miami and a four and half hour layover, I already had plans on how I was going to kill this time. Needing two extra 16G SD cards for my partial shot in Potosi, I jumped into a cab and went to the nearest photo shop I had researched. Having been in Miami many times during layovers to South America, I took a chance and greeted the cab driver in spanish. By his accent, I instantly knew his native land and was assured that a potentially interesting story may lay ahead. In actuality, I had no idea the magnitude of this Cuban man's struggle and how much he suffered in order to arrive and work legally in the United States. Once in the cab I realized that this photo shop could potentially be closed because of the flight's late arrival. "Eric" the cab driver was nice enough to call the photo shop but there was no answer. On a highway I've never experienced with the meter running, I asked the cab driver about the other photo shops I had on my list. He assured me that they were all at least 20 to 30 miles away. Disappointed, I gave up on the task of getting any SD cards and asked him to take me back to the airport. On our way, before we could turn around, I asked him if there were any places to eat in the area. As we exited the highway, he suggested Burger King or Taco Bell. Driving through an industrial neighbourhood, I could see my money pouring out of my pockets as I continued to stare at the meter. I suggested that he just drop me off at a decent restaurant in the area and just call it a day. He exclaimed to me in spanish "you don't want to get off here, it dangerous, too many dark people." I exclaimed back, "oyi oyi... tranquilo con eso, por favor." As we pounded through this industrial wasteland of Miami, I felt impotent and lost. Out of no where, the cabi remembered a Best Buy in the area. My ears perked up and I got excited. Hearing the panic and desperation in my voice, he said calmly in spanish "Listen, why don't we do this... you go into Best Buy and take your time. I'll give you half an hour, then we go back the airport and I'll only charge you $50.00." I knew right away that he was doing me a huge favour because the meter was already at $22.30. I accepted, relaxed and made our way to my new Mecca. Going through a small village of big box stores ranging from Target to a seafood wholesale company, we turned the corner and there sat my last chance, the glorious Best Buy. He parked and I ran into the store. Going right for the electronic section, I was in luck that the SD card I was looking for was on sale for $39.99. I quickly bought three and ran back to taxi. Hoping that my expedite purchase would grant me another stop at a small taco truck we saw on our way there, "Eric" was surprised at how quickly I bought the cards. He agreed to stop for some food and we continued to ride towards the airport. At this point I was relaxed and started to make conversation with him about politics and how he arrived in the US. Although clearly racist, he wasn't a Castro hater. I was mostly interested in his a-political stance on US-Cuban relations and how much he loved his motherland. "I love my country, I'm planning on going back there next month for a visit." I then asked "If you could, who would you vote in the next US election?" "I don't know politics... why would I vote for someone who wouldn't even dream of representing me. I have no voice regardless of my citizenship, therefore I have no vote." I then proceeded to the next obvious question, "how did you arrive here?" Any narrative he told me about how he immigrated into the US, I knew would be an incredible story but I was not ready for what he was about to so casually divulge.  Eight years ago, starting in Cuba, "Eric" flew with his wife to Bolivia with a counterfeit Bolivian visa, that was accompanied by a fake letter inviting him by the Bolivian government for some type of tourism training. The Cuban government allowed him to leave and stayed in Bolivia for six months, ironically enough working in the tourism industry. With his wife, he then made his way to Argentina for an almost five months extensive Latin American tour that was a front for his entry in the US. This journey took him to Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, finally ended up in Mexico. During this trip, he was arrested twice in Argentina and held at gun point by the Guatemalan police and only escaped by bribing his way out of all three accounts with money that was wired to him via Western Union by his family living in the US. Once in Mexico "Eric" took the bus to a northern Mexican town boarding Texas and crossed illegally by land. Almost shot, kidnapped and arrested with his wife still at his side, he finally made it to his family in Miami almost one year later. Accumulating a total debt of just over $30,000, which he now owes his family, "Eric" drives a cab for a living and has lined up meetings in 2013 with immigrant officials to bring his two daughters into the US legally. I very sincerely and enthusiastically congratulated him on his incredible feat of entering the US and asked him in spanish, "Was it all worth it?" Without even a beat, he answered "Yes, it was worth every penny."  All that kept going through my head was each leg of his trip and the other things he possibly left out. An immigration process that took him over a year of unpredictably dangerous travels, always running from something and finally owing more money that he has ever made in his life time living in Cuba. We sat in silence approaching the airport. My last thoughts before leaving "Eric" with a warm embrace a thought kept repeating in my head as I boarded my plane: Its incredible the lengths we're willing to go through, just to feel free.