MY FRIEND MANOLO. I am generally interested in sports, as in “Real Sports with Bryant Gunbel,” human stories, behind the scene stuff, not really the sport itself. And the sport I’m least interested in, is MMA, mixed martial arts, so I was totally unaware Aruba Vs the World was being organized on April 29th. Then a client asked me to take some pictures, and I went to a press event.
The fighters were guests of the RIU PALACE ANTILLAS, where General Manager Juan Blanco welcomed them to a Face-Off reception poolside on King’s birthday, which was basically a photo opportunity for two fighters to look at each other with murderous intentions. Juan who believes in supporting sport on the island, decided to sponsor some accommodations for the visiting dignitaries.
Much to my surprise the enterprising promoter of the event, Manolo Valdez, turned out to be my friend of many years who worked for my family business in the 90s, “when I was still illegal,” he jokes. It was that long ago. He is working today for La Cabana Beach Resort & Casino as bartender, and applies his passion for MMA when he manages his own RFC Aruba Entertainment, which promotes and supports MMA sports in general, and concerts.
Wow, you’ve come a long way, baby. I felt proud and privileged. I remember in the old days when cell phones were scarce Manolo used to borrow one from my friends, in order to call his mom in the Dominican Republic. I especially remember one Mother’s Day Brunch, when he worked at La Vista, Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino. He tapped the number on the borrowed cell and I witnessed him practically crawl into a phone line to kiss his mom many miles away, as he talked to her with great emotion, assuring her he was thriving.
We felt privileged to listen to his loving conversation as he talked to his mother, perhaps two decades ago. Yesterday he told me Mom was living on Aruba now, no doubt proud of his accomplishments.
While at the Riu I met Dutch fighter Michael Kuiper who told me he will become a gardener when he retires, and Houston Alexander, a super friendly, fierce competitor from Omaha, Nebraska. We took a selfie for his Instagram. The famous Gregory Millard, was a bit reserved and stand-offish, but the other visiting ring celebrities Andre Cassarino and Alexandre Lopes, were eager to pose for the camera. They were a bunch of fun guys, in spite of the murderous looks they gave each other at the Face Off, preparing for the first ever UFC level fights, in Aruba, in the octagon ring.
MORE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE. Roxana Estrada used to live in Aruba. She remembered being poor and hitch hiking to Twinkleboom Restaurant to pick up meat leftovers so she could feed the dogs in the dump. This was a long time ago, but she is still an angel of mercy for the local abandoned pups and her FB page, Aruba Flight Volunteers finds travelers willing to transport dogs to their forever homes in the US. She met Nataly Yermak at the vet. Nataly, of Russian origin, has a heart of gold. She harbors and protects puppies above and beyond the call of duty and her foundation New Life For Paws, believes in rescuing at all cost.
Roxana and Nataly now collaborate on rescues and adoptions. They were on hand for Operation Cunucu and Nataly got some of her American friends to fly over and volunteer on site, April 26-30 at Centro Dakota. They were there on day one till 9pm, and on day two I met them handling a litter of puppies and a desperate mom, vowing to find a loving homes for them all.
New Life for Paws: A nonprofit organization with the passion to rescue stray, neglected and abandoned dogs in Aruba. Check out their website http://www.newlifeforpaws.org/
Aruba Flight Volunteers: https://www.facebook.com/ArubaFlightVolunteers/
The organization is looking for flight volunteers to accompany their rescues from the island of Aruba to their new lives in the USA. 845 742 2869