Music, Mountains and Much More to Come

In April, after years of pain, failed attempts at non-surgical remedies and increasingly bad arthritis, Karen had hip replacement surgery in California. Prior to getting her artificial hip (pictured below), dancing and hiking were utterly out of the question. We are happy to report that Karen’s brand new hip, made of titanium, plastic and ceramic and implanted using the less invasive anterior method, has been a game changer. Here’s how music and mountains have played a major role in her new mobility with so much more to come.

Karen's artificial hip replacement surgery

Karen’s actual new right hip.

Letting the music take control

Four days after surgery Karen started physical therapy. A week after surgery Karen ditched her walker (though we liked the racy colors and the fact that it was called Drive). A few weeks after that she was ready to do some dancing.

Karen and her Drive walker

Karen coming home not even 26 hours after hip replacement surgery.

Just in time, the Tedeschi Trucks Band (aka, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks) and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings rolled into town to perform some live music at the Vina Robles Ampitheatre, an outdoor venue at a winery in Paso Robles, California. Live music from musicians we love AND wine AND a good hip? Hell yes.

Tedeschi Trucks Band with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

Left to right: Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Sharon Jones performing at the Vina Robles Ampitheatre.

This was not only an opportunity to break in the hip, so to speak, but a real return to something that we both love to do: dancing to live music. The Vina Robles Ampitheatre is located in beautiful Paso Robles wine country. It’s spacious and comfortable and the sound and sight lines were great (we later learned that a friend who’s now a head honcho at Knitting Factory Entertainment was involved in its design, so, duh).

Vina Robles Amphitheater Paso Robles California

Vina Robles Ampitheater in Paso Robles, California.

The wine from the Vina Robles winery was really good too and we recommend splurging on the VIP tickets when you go to the ampitheatre because they get you access to a small outdoor wine and beer garden and great prices ($10 off bottles of wine and $5 beers including local microbrews) in the hours leading up to the start of live music. The ribs they were selling ($15 per plate with a big array of sides) also looked awesome and they have terrific plastic carafes and plastic stemless wine glasses so you can pour any undrunk wine into the carafe and take it to your seat with you.

Heading to the mountains on her new hip

Within a few months of surgery Karen was taking walks of up to six miles (3.2 km) with Eric’s mom (though we suspect she slowed down for Karen). However, Karen hadn’t yet strayed off the pavement. We got the chance to go off-roading in, of all places, Bogota, Colombia.The busting capital city of the country is mostly an urban concrete jungle but it’s got a secret.

Quebrada la Vieja hike Bogota

Karen heading to the mountains with her new hip on the Quebrada la Vieja trail in Bogota, Colombia.

The trail head for the Quebrada la Vieja trail (free, open from 5:30 am to 10:00 am, no dogs allowed) is located in the midst of a swanky neighborhood of fancy apartment buildings on the edge of the city. It immediately plunges hikers into verdant, lush mountain terrain complete with a babbling brook, wooded hillsides and a challenging trail with steep inclines, water crossings, uneven terrain and, on weekends, a lot of other hikers. More than 1,000 people entered the area the Saturday morning we hiked there (TIP: the trail is MUCH less crowded on weekday mornings).

Bogota view Alto de la Virgin Quebrada la Vieja hike Bogota

A view of Bogota from the Quebrada la Vieja trail in the mountains above Colombia’s capital city.

We spent two hours round trip on the trail with our friend Chef Paula Silva who was taking a nature break before returning to work at her Hippie restaurant. It’s just shy of two miles (3.2 km) one way from the trail head up steep inclines that gain 1,000 feet (300 meters) and take hikers over rocks, creeks, mud and a fairytale pine forest before reaching the Alto de la Virgin monument to the Virgin Marry and a vista that offers sweeping views of Bogota below.

It was hard to believe we were surrounded by nature yet so close to so much concrete.

Quebrada la Vieja trail Bogota

Karen putting her new hip through its paces on the Quebrada la Vieja trail in Bogota, Colombia.

While no one would accuse Karen of breaking any land speed records, she did accomplish the ascents, descents and terrain with no walking stick and, most importantly, no limping and no pain.

That clearly called for a celebration, so we headed to Julia Pizzeria to try the best pizza in Bogota — cooked in a wood fired oven and everything.

Julia pizza Bogota

Post-hike celebration pizza at the totally legit Julia Pizzeria in Bogota.

As Karen continues to get stronger and more and more mobile (Machu Pichu here we come!), we want to send our thanks to Dr. Daniel Woods of Central Coast Orthopedic in San Luis Obispo, California for the care and expertise he employed before, during and after Karen’s hip replacement surgery along with his medical assistant, Jill, for her responsiveness and endless patience and helpfulness.


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Food Tour: Chicharrón, Intestines & Blood Sausage – Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is not a city known for gourmet cuisine. There are, however, plenty of traditional regional specialties to try when you travel to Medellin. Here’s what happened when we tried a beloved local dish called Bandeja Paisa for the first time…And it doesn’t stop there. The second largest city in Colombia is full of hole-in-the-wall or street corner eateries serving foods that are unique to the region. Medellin City Services offers a three hour food tour of Medellin that includes some of the best places to try chicharrón, cow intestines and blood sausage. It’s not a healthy tour, but it is a happy tour!

Camilo Medellin City Services Food Tour

From left to right: Camillo (owner of Medellin City Services), Karen, Gloria (of chicharrón fame) and David Lee (of

Is this the best chicharrón in Medellin?

La Gloria de La Gloria in the Envigado area of Medellin, has been turning out some of the best chicharrón (fried pig skin with hunks of fat and meat attached) in the city for nearly 30 years. The modest place is presided over by Gloria herself and she’s often got a bottle of aguardiente (local sugarcane and anise hooch) in her hands and she’s not afraid to share it.  When we introduced ourselves she took our hands and offered us a shot.

The place isn’t much to look at except for the glass display case which is full of gorgeous, succulent meat. The ribs are wonderfully tender and the chicharrón lives up to its fame: meaty, rich and not overly salty.

Chicharron Gloria de la Gloria in Envigado

The display case at La Gloria de la Gloria and its succulent contents including the famous chicharrón front and center.

Chunchurria is just a fancy word for cow intestines

Herman’s street cart is spotlessly clean and that’s important when you’re about to eat the small intestine of a cow, aka chunchurria (also called chunchullo). Taken from young bulls called novillos, the grilled small intestines, which are chopped, spiced and griddle fried then served in a styrofoam cup, are about how you’d imagine: pungent and slightly rubbery.

Chunchullo Chinchulin Chunchurria intestines Medellin

Herman, left, runs the cleanest street stand in Medellin where he fries up cow intestines.

Not all blood sausages are created equal

Blood sausage, called morcilla, are a staple throughout Colombia but they very greatly in quality. The worst morcilla is dry and squishy and overly gamey. The best examples are a rich mix of rice, blood and seasoning inside a snappy casing. That’s the type served at El Hijo de Estela, a popular, casual, open-air restaurant in the foothills above Medellin. Even if you don’t think you’re going to like blood sausage this is the place to give it a whirl and they serve lots of other well-made, meat-centric dishes and delicious patacones (fried plantain rounds).

Morcilla blood sausage El Hijo de Estela Medellin

Morcilla (blood sausage) and patacones (fried plantain patties) at El Hijo de Estela in Medellin, Colombia.

A buñuelo as big as your head

A buñuelo is a ball of dough and cheese that’s deep fried until it’s golden and crispy on the outside and pale and fluffy on the inside. It’s a ubiquitous snack in Colombia and best served fresh out of the fryer. They are invariably, impossibly perfectly round and usually the size of a bloated golf ball.

El Pergrino Bunuelo Sabaneta Medellin

El Pergrino in the Sabaneta neighborhood of Medellin serves buñuelos that are nearly as big as softballs.

However, at El Pergrino (above) in the Sabaneta area of the city they make ’em big. Really big. Like the size of a softball big (below). Perfect for sharing.


The softball-size buñuelos at El Pergrino in Medellin are perfect for sharing.

Food tour special offer: Say “The Trans-Americas Journey sent me” when booking and get this food tour of Medellin for US$75 instead of US$95.

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Where to Drink (GOOD) Craft Beer in Medellin – Medellin, Colombia

Thirsty traveler’s rejoice! The craft beer scene in Colombia is booming. For example, Colombia’s biggest microbrewery, Bogota Beer Company, got a lot bigger earlier this year when it was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev. However, there are still plenty of truly independent, up and coming craft breweries in Colombia, including four in Medellin that have small brew pubs and offer microbrewery beer tours and tastings. Here’s where to drink craft beer in Medellin, just four more reasons why we love Medellin.

Bogota Beer Company brewerytour

Colombia’s Bogota Beer Company was just bought by Anheuser-Busch InBEV.

Where to drink craft beer in Medellin

Cerveza Premium Apóstol

The folks behind Cerveza Premium Apóstol, which opened for business in 2009, are serious about beer. Very, very serious. The brewery produces 106,000 gallons of beer per year and their weekly brewery tour not only explains the basics of how beer is made but the guided tasting which follows each tour provides the basics of how to appreciate, drink and even pour your beer.

During the post tour tasting, each of Apóstol’s German style beers, which are made by a brew master who trained in the US, are introduced and explained including color, ingredients, flavors, optimal serving temperature and even which type of beer mug or glass will bring out each beer’s unique fragrances and flavors. You will leave feeling smarter about beer.

Do it: The three hour brewery tour and tasting at Apóstol is offered every Thursday starting at 6:30 pm on the dot (20,000 COP/about US$6.50 including the tour and the tasting, Spanish only, though English language tours are available for groups of 20 or more). Reservations highly recommended.

Apostle cerveceria brewery tour

Apóstol microbrewery in Medellin is VERY serious about beer.

3 Cordilleras

The 3 Cordilleras brewery is named after the three chains (cordilleras in Spanish) of the Andes which run through Colombia. The brewery started production in 2008 and currently makes five beers including an amber ale called Mulata, a wheat beer called Blanca, an IPA called Mestiza (Karen’s favorite), a dark beer called Negra and a Rose beer infused with fruit.

After touring the downstairs brewery, outfitted with equipment bought from a brewery in Portland, Oregon, guests go upstairs to a loft bar to drink some beer and listen to live music. It feels like a college party, only with better beer.

Do it: Brewery tours are offered every Thursday from 5:30 to 9:00 (20,000 COP/about US$6.50, including three beers or 15,000 COP/about US$5 for designated drivers who aren’t drinking). Reservations recommended.

3 Cordilleras brewery tour Medellin

Part of the brewery at 3 Cordilleras in Medellin, Colombia.

Cerveceria Libre

Three friends like drinking beer. In 2011 three friends decide to make some beer. In 2013 three friends open a brew bar called Cervecería Libre. The owners called their place Cervecería Libre because they believe people deserve freedom of choice and they deliver it. With 12 beers on tap and 19 beers in total, all of them Colombian microbrews, Cervecería Libre’s bar is the place to go for the best selection of Colombian craft beer.

Cervecería Libre itself makes and pours four beers including Libre IPA, Libre Passion (which is brewed with a passionfruit-like bomb of deliciousness called maracuya), a Stout and a brown ale called Libre Avellana. The place attracts a young crowd with reasonable prices of 5,000 to 6,000 COP per beer (about US$2) per beer, late hours and good music (Nirvana, Primus, etc.).

Do it: Basic brewery tours are available at Cerveceria Libre upon request. The Cervecería Libre beer bar is open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 pm to midnight, Friday from 5 pm to 2 am and Saturday from 6 pm to 2 am. Cash only.

Libre Cerveceria Medellin

The Cerveceria Libre brew pub in Medellin has 12 taps and nearly 20 different Colombian microbrews for sale.

Hellriegel Beer Company  

The newest brew pub in Medellin is Hellriegel Beer Company which is named after German/Venezuelan owner and beer maker Stefan Hellriegel, a self-taught brew master who produces five beers.

Hellreigel’s Silletera beer is an American pale ale named after the men and women who carry traditional loads of flowers during the city’s famous annual Flower Festival. His Carriel Irish red ale pays homage to an elaborate bag which is traditionally carried by Paisa men (locals proudly call themselves Paisas). Luna Nueva is a stout,Verdolaga is a naturally green ale which celebrates the colors of beloved local soccer team Atlético Nacional and Ponderosa is an Irish Red Ale.

Do it: Hellreigel does not offer a brewery tour but you can sign up for a day-long brewing course (US$89) and the brew pub is open daily.

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Photo Essay: All 23 Bronze Beauties in Plaza Botero Sculpture Park, Medellin, Colombia

Plaza Botero, in front of the excellent Museo de Antioquia in downtown Medellin, Colombia, is filled with 23 giant bronze sculptures donated by Colombian artist Fernando Botero who was born near Medellin. The museum is also full of art from his personal collection including many, many modern masters. Plaza Botero is a free outdoor museum enjoyed by residents and travelers who come to see the sculptures, some of which were in museums in New York, Paris and Madrid before coming “home” to Medellin. All of them were restored 2014 to renew their luster and protect these bronze beauties from the elements. Here’s a look at all 23 bronze sculptures in Plaza Botero.

Plaza Botero Medellin Museum of Antioquia

Plaza Botero in Medellin, Colombia is an outdoor museum and home to 23 giant bronze sculptures by artist and native son Fernando Botero.

Esfinge (Sphinx) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Esfinge (Sphinx)

Hombre a Caballo (Man on Horseback) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Hombre a Caballo (Man on Horseback)

Adán (Adam) &  Eva (Eve) - Plaza Botero, Medellin

Adán (Adam) and Eva (Eve)

Mujer (Woman) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mujer (Woman)

Mujer con Espejo  (Woman with Mirror) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mujer con Espejo (Woman with Mirror)

Soldado Romano (Roman Soldier) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Soldado Romano (Roman Soldier)

Gato (Cat) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Gato (Cat)

Perro (Dog) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Perro (Dog)

Hombre Caminante (Man Walking) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Hombre Caminante (Man Walking)

Pensamiento  (Thinking) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Pensamiento (Thinking)

Mano (Hand) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mano (Hand)

Mujer Vestida (Dressed Woman) & Hombre Vestido (Dressed Man) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mujer Vestida (Dressed Woman) & Hombre Vestido (Dressed Man)

Cabeza (Head) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Cabeza (Head)

Rapto de Europa (Rape of Euorpa) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Rapto de Europa (Rape of Euorpa, which refers to a Greek myth if you are concerned about this title)

Mujer Reclinada (Reclining Woman) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mujer Reclinada (Reclining Woman)

Venus Dormido (Sleeping Venus) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Venus Dormido (Sleeping Venus)

Mujer Sentada (Seated Woman) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mujer Sentada (Seated Woman)

Caballo (Horse) & Caballo con Bridas (Horse with Bridal) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Caballo (Horse) and Caballo con Bridas (Horse with Bridle)

Maternidad (Motherhood) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Maternidad (Motherhood)

Mujer con Fruta (Woman with Fruit) Plaza Botero, Medellin

Mujer con Fruta (Woman with Fruit)


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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 Confusing Legend of Pablo Escobar

Pablo Escobar, narco terrorist and head of the Medellin Cartel, was shot on a roof top in Medellin, Colombia in 1993 ending one of the most violent and profitable crime sprees in history. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the scale of the murder and mayhem the “King of Cocaine” unleashed, you still see Escobar’s face around Colombia. Take, for example, the sticker with his face on it along with the words “El Patron” that we spotted on a bus in Medellin (below).

El Patron Pablo Escobar sticker Medellin, Colombia

The enduring legend of Pablo Escobar is a confusing and complicated thing, as evidenced by the “El Patron” sticker with the narco terrorist’s face on it that we spotted on a public bus in Medellin.

To many Colombians, particularly residents of poor comunas whom Escobar helped by building schools, backing soccer teams, etc, the world’s most notorious drug lord is an enduring legend and even a hero to some.

Is Hollywood to blame?

Hollywood can’t get enough of Escobar either. Many movies have been made based on Escobar’s story and right now Tom Cruise is wrapping up filming in Medellin where he’s shooting scenes for the latest, a movie called “Mena“. Last year Benicio del Toro starred in Escobar: Paradise Lost. And the 10 part Netflix original series “Narcos” premieres tomorrow (August 28). Colombian media produces its share of Escobar entertainment too, including an excellent mega-series made by Colombia’s Caracol Television called “Patron del Mal.”

The legend of Pablo Escobar has even inspired a controversial form of narco tourism in Colombia, which we wrote about for

For travelers in Colombia, seeing Escobar’s face can be confusing — like spotting a bus in Chicago with an Al Capone sticker on it. But the Escobar issue is fresher and more complicated than Capone and remains confusing terrain for Colombians as well, many of whom are still trying to figure out where Escobar belongs in their history.  In the meantime, the Escobar legend continues.

Grave of Pablo Escobar Medellin

Pablo Escobar’s grave in Medellin is part of a controversial form of narco tourism in Colombia.


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