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Photo of the Day: Mount McKinley No More, President Obama Makes Denali Official (again)

Even before we laid eyes on the mountain when our Trans-Americas Journey explored Alaska back in 2007 we were calling it Denali as the Athabascan native people have for generations. In 1886 a gold prospector christened the mountain Mount McKinley after President William McKinley and the US government recognized the name in 1917. The renaming sparked plenty of controversy and a serious push to reinstate the native name has been going on since 1975. In 1980 Mount McKinley Park became Denali National Park and Preserve but the mountain was still called McKinley. But no more. President Barack Obama has reinstated Denali as the official name of the iconic mountain, ditching Mount McKinley for good.

Any way you look at it, the tallest mountain in North America–which the USGS just re-surveyed and declared to be 20,310 feet (stripping 10 feet/3 meters off the previous height–is one gorgeous bump on the map.

Denali from the National Park

Denali

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Hurricane Katrina Flashback – New Orleans, Louisiana

When our Trans-Americas Journey started back in 2006, the very first destination on our so-called itinerary was New Orleans, Louisiana for the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival. In fact, days two through 28 of our journey were spent in and around New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged our beloved NOLA just eight months earlier and the city was far, far, far from recovered but the Jazz Fest must go on and, as live music lovers and lovers of the city, we had to be there to see the music and to see the city. As the world marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we flashback to the thoughts and images we gathered when we traveled to the city eight months after the storm.

Katrina that Bitch bumper sticker

First impressions of post Katrina New Orleans

After passing through still-vivid signs of hurricane destruction in Slidell, Louisiana, we drove across the Slidell Bridge where a sign warned us to reduce our speed to ease the strain on the temporary spans holding the whole thing up. Most of the other vehicles on the road were trucks full of tools and day laborers on their way to clean up a yard/house/life in post Katrina New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina destruction 9th Ward  New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina destruction in the 9th Ward as it was eight months after the storm.

Then we entered East New Orleans. We’d seen the news reports and read the papers and had even talked to New Orleans residents post Hurricane Katrina but nothing prepared us for the wasteland that greeted us as we approached the city on I-10 through East New Orleans. Destroyed houses, abandoned businesses and downed trees were everywhere but there was hardly a soul (or ridiculously white FEMA trailer) in sight.

Almost exactly eight months after the hurricane hit, the place looked not only little improved but as if it would never be improved—like it would sit and rot for years to come as a sort of fetid, sprawling memorial to the destructive powers of nature and political and social inertia.

New Orleans City Yacht Harbor Hurricane Katrina destruction

New Orleans City Yacht Harbor had yet to be cleaned up eight months after Hurricane Katrina.

September 11 comparisons

Comparisons are tricky, but we were reminded of how relieved and hopeful we felt when the World Trade Center site (two blocks from where we were living in Manhattan) was cleaned up in the weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The folks living in New Orleans hadn’t even gotten the moral boost of having the uprooted trees removed from their smashed rooftops. No wonder so many residents hadn’t returned. Who could get up day in and day out and live in this ghost town?

And if residents don’t return why should businesses come back? Within minutes we could feel the despair of this vicious cycle sinking into the city. We drove on in silence.

New Orleans Lakeview Katrina Destruction humor

Homeowner black humor in the Lakeview area of New Orleans where little had been done eight months after Hurricane Katrina.

Fleeting signs of normalcy

We were snapped out of our funk when we turned onto St. Charles Avenue and saw very little visible damage to the stately houses. The famous St. Charles Streetcar was not running and the road itself was a pot-holed mess, but it honestly probably would have been in disrepair even without the hurricane.

Hungry enough to eat the dashboard, we pulled up to Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar, our favorite spot for the quintessential New Orleans sandwich, only to discover a sign that said “Closed Today Only.” Reduced hours were a fact of life in post Katrina New Orleans as a way to cope with a lack of staff and a lack of customers.

That was all too much to process without the lunch we’d been dreaming about for weeks, so we quickly moved on to plan B: Cooter Brown’s where the menu made us crack up (try the Looter special, formerly the Cooter special but renamed post-Hurricane Katrina). The guy taking our order made us seriously consider a tattoo and the po-boys were so big we could hardly lift them…but we did, along with a couple or three Abita beers.

Frustration beyond the French Quarter

Tourism is obviously a major source of income in New Orleans and the heart of that industry is the French Quarter and events like the annual Jazz & Heritage Festival that we’d come to take part in. Eight months after Katrina hit it was clear that whatever funding was available for hurricane recovery had been poured into the French Quarter where we saw plenty of evidence that everyone was working hard and rebuilding to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Beyond the French Quarter, however, little had been done. Even in swanky areas like the nearby Lakeview district, home after fancy home sat washed off its foundation and car after car was wrapped around a tree awaiting some miraculous clean up that hadn’t yet come.

17th street canal Katrina frustration Lakeview new orleans

Post Katrina frustrations with insurance companies, local government and aid agencies were running high eight months after the storm.

The overall mood was frustration aimed at the institutions that displaced residents had turned to for help, including their insurance companies and their city government. It made the looming mayoral run-off election between incumbent Ray Nagin and rival Mitch Landreau even more relevant. Even the most destroyed and abandoned yards in this area were sporting an election sign declaring allegiance to one or the other.

After a few hours it began to feel like the whole world was one big disaster area, but the worst was yet to come.

A family returns to the Lower 9th Ward

We knew it was going to be bad in the hard hit 9th Ward but it was so much worse without the television screen separating us from reality. As we crossed over a bridge into the Lower 9th Ward area we got an aerial view that lets us see the clear wave of devastation fanning out from the breach in the levee.

Katrina destruction alongside levee breach 9th Ward New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina destruction along the levee breach in the 9th Ward where recovery has yet to happen.

The Lower 9th Ward is surrounded on three sides by water so when the Industrial Canal breached the area was devastated. Nearly 90% of structures within a 12 x 12 block area, roughly 60% of the entire area of the Lower 9th Ward, were obliterated by the storm. The few that remained had been transported blocks away from their original locations. None of them looked salvageable.

We watched from a distance as a family returned to what was left of their house (no more than a lop-sided, soggy shell) just a block or two from the breached levee. They picked their way up the stairs and into the lower level on some secret, internal mission. Maybe just “being home.” was the point of the visit.

Hurricane Kartina 9th Ward destruction New Orleans

A house in the 9th Ward sits undemolished and unreconstructed, eight months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

We were reminded of how good it felt when the National Guard and FBI allowed us to go into our apartment for the first time, three weeks after the terrorist attacks on 9-11 and we were able to do stuff that made us feel like we might, someday, be home for good. We emptied the fetid refrigerator, puttered around, watered the plants. This family, however, had no refrigerator or plants and would never be returning to this home.

Clean up crews had recently entered the neighborhood to finally start disposing of the debris after months of political wrangling. We talked to one contract worker from Colorado who was frustrated and disgusted by Mayor Ray Nagin and his inability to make or stick to decisions about how to proceed with the clean up. This worker had been in New Orleans for six months and figured more than half of that time had been spent waiting for the official governmental green light to go in and do what he was being paid to do.

9th Ward Hurricane Kartina destruction not on TV

A poignant sign in the 9th Ward of New Orleans.

Fats Domino’s house under water

Singer and pianist Fats Domino lives in the Lower 9th Ward and kept his home and business there long after his success would have allowed him to move elsewhere. We remembered news reports about his rescue during the hurricane and, on a long shot, we asked some men if they know where Fats’ house was and they directed us straight to it.

The Fats Domino compound is across the street from a Dollar Store and takes up about three lots. His simple white brick house with a huge “FD” insignia on it is connected to another home that’s been converted into the office headquarters of Fats Domino Publishing.

Discarded retro furniture in front of Fats Domino's hose 9th ward Katrina destruction

Discarded furniture outside the flooded 9th Ward home and office of singer and pianist Fats Domino.

Post Katrina, both buildings were abandoned but not destroyed since they’re located many, many blocks away from the levee breach. However, even this area was under water deep enough to require that Fats be evacuated and most buildings were still uninhabitable and the retro ’70s furniture on the curb out front indicated that the home had extensive water damage.

Hippies to the rescue in St. Bernard Parish

In neighboring St. Bernard Parish the scenes of destruction were much the same. Weirdly, many of the car washes were open for business even if banks, hospitals, grocery stores and schools were not. And they were doing a scorching business. It’s as if—and we totally understand this—people were desperate to keep some aspect (any aspect) of their lives under control and having your car washed had become something like therapy.

Also in St. Bernard, a group of volunteers had set up a mega aid station that was a cross between the Burning Man festival and the coolest Red Cross center you’ve ever seen. Run by a group called Emergency Communities, it was called Made with Love and the centerpiece was a huge geodesic dome tent in which 1,500 people a day were getting free meals.

Made with Love Cafe St Bernard Parish Katrina destruction

Volunteers at Made with Love met the basic needs of New Orleans residents left with nothing even eight months after Hurricane Katrina hit.

Other tents offered things like free clothes, free furniture, free groceries. FEMA had a table set up and the volunteer there was actually doing something: giving away free cell phones and service plans. Free internet access and phone books were also available and everything was cheered up by the addition of hand-made signs with happy slogans and smiling animals on them.

Made with Love was run by young volunteers with a visible hippie streak, which explained the recycling bins and vegetarian peanut oil in the fryers. By coincidence, we stopped by at lunch time (salad, broccoli—with or without cheese sauce—and sloppy Joes) and we found a whole cross-section of locals there: single moms, whole families, elderly couples, office workers. All in the same boat, so to speak.

Emergency Communities Made with Love Cafe St Bernard Parish Katrina destruction

Made with Love volunteers served more than 1,500 meals a day to residents of New Orleans who still needed help with basic needs eight long months after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.

The whole little cosmos was set up in the parking lot of a hurricane ravaged Off Track Betting business and it was obvious that the patrons were folks unused to taking and the volunteers were folks used to giving.  It all worked out just fine.

We stuffed some bills into the Made with Love donation box and headed out.

Cars destroyed by Hurricane Katrina New Orleans

Areas under elevated freeways in New Orleans became ghostly parking lots full of cars destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Still storming, 10 years later

It was pathetic, but after only a few days of exposure to the fresh aftermath of Hurricane Katrina we were slowly losing our battle with destruction fatigue. Cars full of mud left wrapped around trees were beginning to seem normal. Hearing people talk about “taking water” was getting mundane. It was time for a change of scenery and a few days of distance and perspective on what we’d seen in New Orleans.

We could not then (and still can’t now) imagine what it was like to call post Katrina New Orleans home. On our Trans-Americas Journey we’ve returned to New Orleans four times since our visit eight months after Katrina, the most recent time in 2014, and each time we’ve seen many areas of the city make a comeback. It is a shameful truth, however, that poorer, predominantly black areas, like the Lower 9th Ward, are still storming 10 years later and seem as if they’ll never come back.

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The Biggest Travel Bargain in the World Right Now: Colombia is 40% off!

Colombia has been a budget travel bargain for years with plentiful affordable guesthouses and hostels, lots of ways to eat well for less and reasonably priced internal transportation and tours. But Colombia may be the biggest travel bargain in the world right now because everything is basically 40% off for anyone with foreign currency, particularly US dollars to spend.

2 million Colombia Pesos COP

These two million Colombia pesos would have cost US$1,080 last year. Today they cost US$670.

Colombia is almost 40% cheaper right now

Twelve months ago the Colombian pesos was 1,850 per US dollar. Today? As we publish this post US$1 gets you 2,992 Colombian pesos and will most certainly surpass 3,000 any day now.  Even better? Prices within Colombia are not being jacked up to make up for the foreign currency conversion. This means that Colombia is almost 40% cheaper for travelers with US dollars than it was one year ago.

Colombia Peso v USD over past year

Here is the exchange rate for the Colombian peso (COP) versus the US dollar over the past 12 months. That steady upward curve means more bang for your US bucks. (via xe currency)

What does that mean for your travel budget? Well, that lovely pizza (25,000 COP) and glass of wine (14,000) at the excellent Julia Pizzeria in Bogota would have cost you US$19 one year ago. Today, just US$13. The legit new pastrami sandwich at La Fama Barbecue (27,000 COP) used to equate to US$13 but is just US$9 today. Go ahead and eat pure ingredients with a gourmet touch at newly-opened Hippie everyday if you want. Their already reasonable prices are downright cheap right now.

And the same goes for rates at any locally-owned boutique hotels, attractions, transportation and tours that are priced in pesos, not dollars.

No more excuses

We’ve spent more than 15 months in Colombia and have loved everything we’ve seen, done and eaten and now you can do it all for nearly 40% less than we did! Plus, we’re in the midst of rolling out nearly 40 posts about travel in Colombia right here on our Trans-Americas Journey travel blog so you’ll be getting all of the best insights and advice about travel in Colombia. In other words, there really are no more excuses for not visiting Colombia.

 

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The Alamo and San Antonio Missions, New UNESCO World Heritage Site

Everyone remembers The Alamo, but UNESCO wants us to remember far more than that. This year UNESCO bestowed World Heritage status on The Alamo and San Antonio Missions in Texas, honoring this collection of five missions, which were built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century, as “an example of the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures, illustrated by a variety of features, including the decorative elements of churches, which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous designs inspired by nature.”

The Alamo and San Antonio Missions

The Alamo is most famous as the site where Mexican fighters trounced the “Texican” army (yes, that was the real name), a defeat which created the rallying cry “remember The Alamo” and inspired others to battle the Mexicans and ultimately take huge tracts of land for the US. But The Alamo is also a mission which is located in the center of modern-day San Antonio. The San Antonio Missions are scattered around the surrounding area. Here’s a look at The Alamo and San Antonio Missions, the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in the US.

Alamo Mission - San Antonio Missions

The Alamo, aka the Alamo Mission.

Mission Espalda - San Antonio Missions

Mission Espalda, part of the San Antonio Missions group and newly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mission Concepcion - San Antonio Missions

Mission Concepcion, part of the San Antonio Missions group and newly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mission San Jose - San Antonio Missions

Mission San Jose, part of the San Antonio Missions group and newly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mission Espalda bells - San Antonio Missions

The bell tower at Mission Espalda.

Alamo Mission - San Antonio Missions

The Alamo Mission at night.

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Want to Own a Top Rated Amazon Lodge CHEAP?

The owners of Ecuador’s #1 rated specialty lodge near Tena in the Amazon are selling the place along with its great relationship with the locals, superb facilities, loyal guests and international tour company relationships. If you’ve ever wanted to own a top rated Amazon lodge CHEAP, now’s the time. Here’s why.

IMG_3162

#1 Tripadvisor rating

Anaconda Lodge has been ranked #1 out of 24 specialty lodges in Tena in Ecuador’s Amazon region almost since the day it opened in 2011. As we write this more than 100 guests, from the US, Turkey, Bolivia, the UK and more, have left comments like this:

If you are going into the Amazon Jungle, this place is a MUST! My daughter and I stayed for 3 nights and really enjoyed it. The food was fantastic! The jungle walks, river excursions, and interactions with the local people were informative and fun. We were there almost a year ago and still carry with us the feeling of being in the jungle.”

Anaconda Lodge Amazon Ecuador

But it’s more than just ratings

The Tripadvisor rating is not surprising since Anaconda Lodge was created with love and care and respect for the environment and its local indigenous employees and neighbors. It’s easily accessible even though it’s located on an island in the Napo River in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The food is terrific, the local staff and guides are charming and knowledgeable and the jungle is gorgeous. Meticulously built and maintained rooms (one is pictured below) are simple but stylish and have everything you need for a comfortable stay in the jungle.

How do we know all of this? We spent New Year’s Eve at Anaconda Lodge with its wonderful owners, Francisco and Silvia. The entire place is infused with their passion for giving visitors the chance to understand the flora, fauna and unique human cultures of their slice of the Amazon and the environmental and political challenges that currently threaten the region.

IMG_3167

How you can own a top rated Amazon lodge

Francisco and Silvia have done the hard work for you and the fruits of their labor–pristine facilities, a great relationship with the locals, solid relationships with international tour companies, a reputation for outstanding value for money and that #1 Tripadvisor rating–can be yours. The asking price for the place is a steal at US$650,000 and the owners can be contacted directly at [email protected].

Tell them the Trans-Americas Journey sent you!

 

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Get Our Favorite Sunscreen for FREE

We’ve used KINeSYS sunscreen since day one of our little road trip (that’s nearly eight years and counting) and except for a handful of times when we’ve neglected to apply it, this sunscreen has kept us sunburn free as we’ve traveled through and explored the (very sunny) Americas. Now you can get our favorite sunscreen for free in our latest tried and true travel product giveaway, just in time for winter escapes and daydreaming about summer.

We’re a tough crowd when it comes to sunscreen

The thing about sunscreen is that it only works if you use it and you’ll only use it if you want to use it. For us, that rules out goopy, oily, globby creams that sting our eyes or cake up on our skin or stay sticky all day long. Ick. It also rules out anything that’s got harmful stuff in it or dumps harmful stuff into the environment.

Kinesys sunscreens

 

When we discovered KINeSYS, the company with the funny name and the serious sunscreen, we were sold.

  • PABA free (PABA can cause allergic reactions and may increase cellular UV damage)
  • paraben free (some studies have shown that paraben can irritate skin, raise the risk of breast cancer, wreak havoc on estrogen levels and maybe even increase skin aging due to sun exposure)
  • oil free and totally non-greasy
  • preservative free
  • alcohol free
  • super water-and-sweat-resistant
  • fast-absorbing
  • super even coverage, even on hairy skin, thanks to the micro-mist pump spray
  • some are fragrance free so Eric doesn’t end up smelling like a Hawaiian Tropic girl
  • the non-aerosol pump spray doesn’t harm the environment with fluorocarbons or waste a lot of product in an aerosol mega mist or explode in your checked luggage
  • ergonomically designed bottles are easy to hold and allow you to use the bottle upside down in order to cover hard-to-reach areas like the backs of your knees
  • the gentle formula doesn’t sting Karen’s sensitive eyes
  • the company’s Earth Kind policies include bottles that are totally recyclable, no ingredients that accumulate in the body or the environment, vegetable-based ink used for printed materials and they get 100% of their electricity from wind power
  • their products are not tested on animals

We’ve relied on our KINeSYS sunscreen to keep us safe in the sun every single day but especially when we’re doing stuff like snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico, hiking through the jungle to El Mirador archaeological site in Guatemala, diving in Belize or exploring the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador where we’re returning in December, armed to the teeth with KINeSYS.

Asing Kinesys sunscreen ion the Galapagos Islands

During our first Galapagos trip we were the only people on the boat who actually liked their sunscreen (that’s Karen, above, re-applying in the Galapagos next to some new friends who were cooling off in a tidal pool). Not surprisingly, we were also among the few people on the boat who didn’t get sunburned during island hikes and snorkeling trips.

Enter to win our favorite sunscreen for FREE

We’re giving away 12 four-ounce bottles of KINeSYS fragrance-free SPF 30 sunscreen spray (a US$18.99 value each). To get yours, input your email in the entry form below so we can notify you if you win.

Start by liking the Trans-Americas Journey Facebook page and the KINeSYS Facebook page, then earn a separate entry for each of the following actions done through the entry form below:

  • Send out a pre-written Tweet about the giveaway
  • Follow the Trans-Americas Journey on Twitter
  • Follow KINeSYS on Twitter
  • Share and like this travel blog post

Some entries can be repeated once every day, so come back for more chances to win.

The contest ends on December 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm eastern time and winners will be chosen at random. Winners will be notified via email shortly after that. Entries of each winner will be confirmed before prizes are awarded.
NOTE: Anyone can enter, but bottles can ONLY be shipped to winners with addresses within the continental USA (sorry Alaska and Hawaii).

 

If the entry form is not loading properly you can also ENTER HERE.

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