A few months ago, I found myself in the midst of a unique opportunity while location scouting in Chile. It began on the plane trip from Miami to Santiago, where I struck up a conversation with a nice gentleman that was sitting near me. Of course, we exchanged the typical travel small talk – What do you do? What brings you to Chile? Where are you from? This of course brought me to the topic of being a freelance travel journalist, entertainment industry producer, and travel show host from Miami. The man was intrigued by my broad spectrum of careers, and subsequently offered me some eye-opening suggestions on places and things to do in his rich and vast country of Chile.
As he politely began to describe a hidden gem called Santa Cruz, I took his valuable knowledge to paper, so that I too could find this magical place. Santa Cruz, he said, is located in the wine region about two hours south of Santiago. Being that I had not figured out this part of my trip, and that Chile is known worldwide for having some of the best wines, I decided that Santa Cruz sounded like a perfect pin-drop for my adventure. To top it off, the gentleman kindly offered to put me in contact with a friend who might be interested in organizing a sponsored trip for a traveling journalist like myself. With the thought of an amazing new location swirling in my head, I gladly took the man’s business card and told him that I would stay in touch.
A few days later, I reached out to the gentleman via email and he quickly responded with more information on the wine region of the Coachella Valley, and of course his friend’s name and contact information, Carlos Cardoen. Before I made contact, I wanted to see if I can find some information about Carlos Cardoen, so I googled him. Immediately, I was blasted by stark headlines of articles from various publications that included in their titles “Arms Dealer”, “Sale of Bombs to Iraq”, “ Wanted by Interpol”, and “Indicted by the US”. There were even pictures of him shaking hands with the infamous Saddam Hussein. Further research uncovered that Mr. Cardoen designed and invented the cluster bomb. Talk about your mind being blown, no pun intended.
As a traveler I have this innate sense of adventure, but how could I visit a place or potentially meet a man that created weapons. Imagine if all of a sudden you found out that Disney World was built with drug money, would that taint your childhood experience? It has been years since his involvement in the sale and design of weapons. I honestly was not sure if I should contact him after absorbing all this information about his past. On top of that, I am an Iranian-American, and these weapons that Mr. Cardoen designed and sold to Saddam Hussein, were most likely used during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s.
My curiosity got the best me; I could not resist reaching out to him, as I had to find out more. I quickly logged into Skype, and dialed the number. What I did not expect was such an accommodating and gentle voice on the other end. He was actually really excited to hear from me. This man so far did not seem like someone who was wanted by Interpol or could have manufactured a firecracker, let alone the cluster bomb. As we began to speak more about all he has created in his hometown of Santa Cruz, he offered to sponsor a trip to visit his hotel and the region for a few days. I paused for a bit before I replied, as I had to take some time to process all this. My curiosity got the best of me, so I accepted the invitation. Unfortunately, he did express regret that he would not be in Santa Cruz during my stay, as he will be at his other home on the island of Chiloe, meeting with Oscar Wilde’s grandson, whose presence I cannot compete with. So I thanked him, and hopped on a bus to Santa Cruz. During this three-hour bus ride, I constantly wavered back and forth. Why would I travel to a place that most likely was built on money earned from causing so much death in the world? Then I started to rationalize. If it were not his weapons it probably would be someone else’s, right? And, he was not pulling the trigger?
As I pulled up to the Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza, I was immediately taken aback by the Spanish, almost Colonial-style exterior of the hotel. The interior décor was also just as remarkable. It was a flood of visual representations of Chile’s culture and traditions, rendered delicately into every piece of furniture, painting, architecture, and artwork. This same attention to detail was also infused throughout the hotel and it’s rich amenities such as a fully equipped spa, a welcoming pool amidst lush gardens, an outside bar under a traditional Rapa Nui hut, and a Las Vegas style casino. Something I had never seen in all of my travels was a museum on the same grounds of a hotel. From ancient arts and crafts, dinosaur fossils, printing presses, and 19th century rail equipment, to my absolute favorite— a life-size replica and exhibit dedicated to the thirty-three Chilean miners— the Colchagua Museum had it all. I spent hours upon hours marveling at all the exhibits. Mr. Cardoen, had put so much detail in every nook and cranny in making a complete tribute to his country of Chile.
A twenty-minute pleasant drive from the hotel, in the heart of the charming Lolol valley, is where I found Mr. Cardoen’s winery. Nestled at the bottom of the entrance houses over 50 vintage cars from the 1890’s through the 1980’s, depicting the automotive engineering evolution. On display included a fully functional Ford Model T with hand crank, a sexy speedy Ferrari 512, the luxury GT Porsche 928, a Chilean classic Citronetas and an actual DeLoeran, equipped with the “Flux Capacitor” that was used in the Back to the Future movies. How cool is that for all you movie fanatics?
Now on to wine! Vina Santa Cruz produces aromatic cabernets, citrusy sauvignon blancs, and a smooth rosé -Naturally, I tried them all. A cable car elevated me to the top of one of the many hills in the valley, to take in the awe-inspiring and picturesque views of the winery and the surrounding rolling hills. Also atop the hill, I was able to tour replicas of the dwellings that inhabited the indigenous Chilean nations of the Mapuche, Aymara, and Rapa Nui.
Finally, Mr. Cardoen asked me to accompany the restaurant and grounds manager for a traditional Chilean meal back at one of the several restaurants at the hotel. Until this point, I would have to say, that my stomach had not been satisfied with the Chilean cuisine. I was recommended before arriving to Chile to try a staple Chilean Creole Cuisine dish, called Pastel de Choclo. It can be more simply described as the Chilean version of shepherd’s pie, which is comprised of many delectable layers. The first layer encompasses the grinding up of a beef and onion filling that is perfectly sandwiched between a corn mixture. The next layer integrates slices of chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and olive raisins. A final layer of the corn mixture is sprinkled on top, and this mouth-watering creation is all baked together in a clay bowl for 30 minutes. When the sous chef came out to ask if I enjoyed the meal, I told her I loved it so much that I wanted to drop down on one knee and propose.
Later that night, I was trying to sort all of this madness in my head. If you had an opportunity to visit a place that was developed by a man that once did business with Saddam Hussein and allegedly called Fidel Castro a friend, would you take it? How about if this same man designed a weapon that has a killing range of a few American football fields, would you still want to meet him? I am left in a state of turmoil even though I have been back for a few months now. However, the experience and hospitality that Mr. Cardoen’s staff showed, and what I later uncovered about what he has done for the region and his hometown, made my stay in Santa Cruz definitely a lot more digestible. I can honestly say, I would highly recommend a visit.
October, November, and December has been a busy and exciting time for us at Free Road Entertainment, as we are partnering with more travel related products and services.
In October, Mehdy headed to Chile to scout locations to film a Small World webisode and potentially a new The Hostel Life episode. While in Chile, Mehdy was able to meet with a few five star resorts as Free Road Entertainment is now collaborating with the website Honeymoons.com. Honeymoons.com has asked Free Road Entertainment to be their media arm to assist in creating commercials and other video content for many of the honeymoon accommodations they list.
Free Road Entertainment has recently just pitched a new travel philanthropic series and the existing series Native Passage to Peacock Entertainment (NBC). Also, we are currently working with an up and coming chef on a new cooking realty series. The chef has already been featured on HSN and the Food Network. We will definitely keep you all informed on the development of all these shows and pitches.
Finally, Mehdy was recognized as one of the top 100 most influential travel media personas in the world because of The Hostel Life series and blog. As a result, he was invited to attend a summit at the White House along with the other travel media persons from around the world. The White House National Security Council used this platform and event to announce the creation of the Study Abroad Office by the Obama Administration. A few of the speakers that were featured at the summit were Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown, and Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University.
The Obama administration asked for these influential digital media persons to help encourage college and university students to better understand the benefits of becoming a global citizen and the financial programs that are out there to help offset much of the cost associated with study abroad. Turkish Airways and Hostelling International USA was a sponsor of the event, and to everyone’s surprise all attendees of the summit were awarded round trip business class trips to Istanbul sometime in May of next year.
All and all, it has been a great 2014 for Free Road Entertainment and we are looking forward to an even better 2015.
Happy Holidays from us at Free Road Entertainment!
The month of September ended with a huge bang, as we were able to finally present our 2 short films to the Miccosukee Indian community via a formal Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, commencing the re-opening of the museum. Hollywood star Adam Beach was in attendance, as he was the narrator for the short film “So We May Grow,” and acted as the guest host for the entire ceremony. “So We May Grow” was also accepted into the 8th annual LA Skins Film Festival in November. Free Road Entertainment is making plans to be in attendance.
Currently Free Road Entertainment is in talks with Adam Beach and his camp to create and produce a script for two featured films that will both take place in South Florida. More details about these two film projects we will be able to share with everyone in the near future. So please stay tuned, as this is exciting news!
Finally we have completed our 3rd installment of Mehdy’s Travel Tip Videos for Osprey Packs titled “Mehdy's Travel Tip # 3 - How Many and What Type of Shoes to Pack.”
Still working out the release dates for these travel tip videos with Osprey and we are slate to complete one more by the end of the week. So we promise, they are coming soon!
We Must Not Forget
Our relationship with the Miccosukee Tribe has grown stronger as we have just completed producing our second short film for the tribe called “We Must Not Forget”. The short film is inspired by words of tribal elder Virginia Poole, with the theme of reinforcing the role and importance of women in determining the tribe’s future and cultural relevance.
So We May Grow
The first film we produced, “So We May Grow,” along with the aforementioned film “We Must Not Forget”, will be premiered on September 22 at 2:00 PM at the Miccosukee Indian Village outside of Miami. Hollywood star Adam Beach, star of films like “Cowboys vs. Aliens”, “Smoke Signals” and “Code Talkers, and Grammy Award Winning artists Micki Free and Jean Beauvoir will be in attendance.
South African Airways
We are also in talks with South African Airways Tours to shoot a promotional trade video featuring several of their flight destinations. The production is scheduled to take place in mid-November, to be showcased at the upcoming New York Times Travel Show in early 2015. Destinations within South Africa that we would be featuring include Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Chobe River and KwaZulu-Natal.
Mehdy's Travel Tips
Finally we will be releasing our fist installment of Mehdy’s Travel Tips, sponsored by Osprey Packs, starting in September.
August has been a busy month for us, and it looks like it will continue this way for the remainder of the year!
We have currently aligned ourselves for two of our homegrown TV creations, “1 Serving Love” and “Native Passage with Mehdy Ghannad”, with the former and longtime ESPN and CBS executive Len DeLuca. Mr. Deluca has been able to get our show creations in front of the heads of networks such as HBO, Tennis Channel, and History Channel. He has been a huge advocate of our creations and has scheduled a few meetings on our behalf with the aforementioned executives.
Also we have continued to strengthen our relationship with Osprey Packs, as we were commissioned to create and produce several travel tip semi-animated videos that will be released later this summer or early fall.
Finally, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida have asked us to produce an additional short film that will focus on the Miccosukee women and their history and impact on the community. We are scheduled to begin production of this short film in mid-august, as we are currently finalizing the script. Freeroad Entertainment is excited to continue to work with the Miccosukee Tribe and as a result of this new relationship we are currently gaining traction with several other tribes to assist in making new museum productions or remaking existing.
This month finds us in Porto, Portugal to attend the 11th Festa. Over the course of the years, Freeroad Entertainment has built a strong relationship with Serralves as this is our fourth time being invited back in the past 5 years. Serralves has asked us to produce and create a commercial for their contemporary art festival that will be used for their social media outlets as well as promotion for next year’s 12th edition to be broadcasting across Portuguese networks. We put our contemporary hats on for this production and Serralves is extremely exciting and happy about our take on the vibe of the atmosphere that happens during the Festa.
Also, working with uLive.com, we are experimenting with a new format for our Small World with Mehdy Ghannad production called 8 hours. Within these 8 hours, we meet up with an ambassador of the city to showcase some of the highlights of what a city has to offer a traveler. We are excited about this new format, as it creates a more documentary like feel, which will also include the map of our route as well as the costs of the things that we do summarized at the end. So be on the lookout for this new production format to be released toward the end of July or beginning of August and tell us what you think.
Freeroad Entertainment has been commissioned by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida to remake their existing Museum Short Film. The short was filmed back in the 1980’s on 8mm, and their original thought was to re-mastering it. However, due to our relationship with Tina Osceola from the Native Passage, who has been leading the efforts on giving the museum a facelift and a redesign of the interior, she contacted our team to see if we can help.
The film illustrates the relationship that an Uncle has with his Nephew, as it is a Miccosukee Uncle’s responsibility to teach his Nephew the ways of the Miccosukee culture and values. The film was produced on the Miccosukee Village grounds outside of Miami, Florida.
The production was a huge success as we were able to work with the Native American Hollywood actor Adam Beach to do the narration and Grammy Award Winning artist Micki Free and his internationally known producer Jean Beauvoir to score the short. The Film will be shown to the Tribal Council in July and premier of the film is in the process of being scheduled for August in Miami and in Naples.
Ananda Media has contacted Freeroad Entertainment to represent one of our productions, The Hostel Life (soon to be called Small World with Mehdy Ghannad). They are eager and believe they can strum up interest to distribute our first season internationally.
Within a week of our contract, Ananda Media has already have found some interest from several stations in Spain, the Middle East, and in Asia. We are waiting with anticipation to see if we can continue to distribute and share this production in all parts of the world.
Also, Freeroad Entertainment has finalized an agreement with uLive.com, Scripps Networks’ online platform, to distribute the 3 to 5 min short travel videos, Small World with Mehdy Ghannad, for their summer release. With this new uLive.com deal, we have already been asked by the Portuguese Tourism Board, more specifically the Porto Tourism Board, to return and to film a day in Porto short highlighting a few of the must see’s and do’s in one of our favorite cities.
It has been a few weeks since the last post, but I assure you we are still making big moves! The past month and a half has been action packed from commercial shoots for our sponsors, more distribution deals in play with both online and TV, and finally new writers traveling around the world to provide you with up to date travel information.
We have just wrapped up two commercial shoots for our sponsors Osprey Packs and Rough Guides. Both of these commercial spots will soon be released via our social media channels, as well as on Venture Channel. Stay tuned, as we think these are some top notch and humorous (at times) commercials, shot the Red Camera, which was used for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, Spiderman, and all of the blockbusters out today. Both of these commercial spots were written, produced, and directed by myself and my friends at EGZ Productions, who have partnered with a few episodes of The Hostel Life as well as my other series Native Passage with Mehdy Ghannad. Special Thanks to my friend Marine Selenee, for helping to come up and write the concept for the Osprey Packs Commercial and Dyami Kerr for his audio expertise in remastering the audio and sound effects. Also a final shout out to our friend Ali Otoya who plays the beauty in the Osprey Pack Commercial, the charming and boutique Impala Hotel South Beach, and The Bookstore in the Grove for allowing us to film parts of the Rough Guides commercial in their awesome and relaxing establishment. We hope that you enjoy watching them as much as we enjoyed producing them.
Next up for The Hostel Life is a follow-up meeting with Scripps's new initiative ULive.com. ULive.com is owned and operated by the parent company of Travel Channel and the Food Network, and they are very interested in The Hostel Life and me! So cross your fingers and toes and let us see how this meeting turns out! If this opportunity comes to fruition, this will be an exciting addition to all our current deals in play. How many shows can say that they are offered on Network TV, Online Streaming, and On-Demand in multiple international markets?
It has been a week since our last confession, and like always there is much to divulge. First off, we have been tasked by Rough Guides and Osprey Packs to shoot commercials that will be aired on the Venture Channel and released on social media. I have been working diligently with the production crew facilitating all this and coming up with fun and entertaining ways to capture how amazing these products are. So be on the lookout over the next few months, as you will see my ugly mug in a few commercial spots.
I have received a lot of Facebook messages, phone calls, and emails asking us when we are planning to film another episode. Yes, it has been a while since our last shoot in Namibia, and believe me the crew and I are getting very itchy for another adventure as well. We had to scale back and turn down a few trips, as our primary focus was to lock down distribution deals for our current 7 episodes. Now that those distribution deals are finally in play, we are looking at scratching that itch in the next few months. SO BE READY!