Is A Change Gonna Come?

It was the summer of ’65 and  my cousin, Marty from Watts came for a summer of partying, fun, dancing to “Function at the Junction”, “Land of a 1000 Dances”, doing the Philly Dog, wearing hip-hugging bell bottoms and just having a lot of fun.  This was a switch because normally, my mother would always allow my sister and I to go to L.A. for the summer where we would spend nights at Pacific Ocean Park, going miniature golfing, to Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland.  Anyway, this one hot August night we watched news accounts on tv in our east Oakland living room in utter disbelief as black folk and police were in combat and hundreds of buildings were being destroyed by fire. Her young brother Alsay (rip) was with us and itching to get back to Watts.   His mother said, “No, keep his behind up there”.    The Watts Riots lasted for six days and when the smoke cleared, 34 reported dead, 4,000 arrested. It was set off when violence erupted after a young African American motorist, Marquette Frye was pulled over by a white CHP officer.

Now, here we are in 2020 watching on the news a black man, George Floyd  being murdered by a white cop. Our white neighbors are horrified by the image and rightfully so but this has become commonplace for black people.  The Temptations sang, “It’s An Everyday Thing in the Ghetto”.  In 2015 the police killed over 100 unarmed black people.  This weekend all across Amerika peaceful  protests and marches have turned into riots, burning buildings, and looting as police and fed up folks face off.

When does It stop?  Will it ever in my lifetime?

Saigon…Tale of Two Cities

With well over a million air miles under my belt, this would be my first time flying Eva Airlines, part of the Star Alliance Family.  5 of us opted for Premium Economy which was an excellent choice.  Their Premium Economy  was actually better than some Business Class routes I’ve flown in the past. There were only 7 rows in our special, private cabin, the food was outstanding and the service top notch.  The drinkers loved the complimentary beverage service.  One said, “whenever we hit a little turbulence, I just pushed my call button for another shot of VSOP.” LOL.  They had a wide range of spirits from vodka, champagne, wines,  Baileys, Plum Liqueur, and including cocktails such as Mojitos for those that like to imbibe.  Even though I no longer for 4 years now, Prior to that, I actually stopped during flights about 15 years ago when I realized it heavily attributes to jet lag (something I no longer experience). With my schedule, I couldn’t handle that.  Bottom line, this was one of my best flown experiences. If I do Vietnam again, you can bet I will fly no other than EVA AIR.

We changed planes in Taipei, Taiwan — a lovely airport with tons of designer shops. Our layover was not long at all.   Upon  landing in Saigon, we had to go to the Landing Desk to get our Visas (the cheapest way—$25) before standing in the Immigration line. I swear the Landing Desk area looked like a county general hospital emergency room along with folks trying to get public assistance at the welfare office.   At any rate we all finally got our visas and I hurried out to ensure our guide was still there.  Soon we were on our way to our 5 Star HOTEL LE MERIDIEN SAIGON.  In a word…. It’s fabulous!   As the group was getting checked in with our guide, I had to hurry for my appointment with the tailor at CaoMinh.  Once I finally arrived at their tightly secured showroom, the customer Service was wonderful. They’ve been in business since 1948 so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with them. I had been in communication with them for 2 weeks so they were expecting me.   I can expect tailor made shirts in 2 days, if I’m lucky; maybe tomorrow.

We were picked up by our driver at 6:30 for dinner reservations at Hoa Tuc Saigon.  I’ve been there several times so I was really looking forward to it.  In 2013 Robbie Bell and I did the Saigon Cooking School there in the courtyard where we learned to prepare Pho noodle soup and several other dishes. Last year Cousin Darryl and Alisha fell in love with this place.     Hoa Tuc translates to “poppy flower”  the building is over 100 years old and back in the day it was an opium factory.  Hoa Tuc’s art-nouveau cuisine certainly satisfied this foodie as well as those dining with us tonight.

Even though the official name is HO CHI MINH CITY (HCMC) many locals and past residents still prefer SAIGON.  The ladies at the nail shops say, “We didnt like Ho Chi Minh, he wasn’t a nice man, we prefer Saigon”.  The city buses still show “Saigon”. the river our hotel overlooks is still Saigon River, and the airport code is still SGN. The communist North won the war and changed the name to Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the prime minister, a revolutionary leader. The name change wasn’t voluntary on the part of those living in the South. It was a statement of the North’s success and many Saigonese locals fled the country. Nowadays the two names are not used to make any kind of political statement but an alternate way of referring to the city

It’s been quite a full day and I should be asleep because in 5 hrs we will be leaving for a full day of touring and sightseeing.  Good day, good night….wherever you may be.


April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese tanks rumbled past the gates of the Presidential Palace signaling the fall of Saigon and ultimately the end of the Vietnam war, however some Vietnamese call it the American war.  That Palace has since been renamed  The Reunification Palace.  Today’s tour first stop was a visit to the Palace where the group learned a bit about that period in time. Contrary to the history books that state the last Americans were airlifted from the Embassy; it was the top of that little building that was the CIA HEADQUARTERS.    After which, a photo opportunity at Saigon’s government district where they saw the replica of Notre Dame which was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French. Across the street in that square is the French colonial-era post office.  Then later, There was a stop at the Phuong Nam Fine Art and Lacquerware Company.  This is where  one would purchase authentic lacquer  boxes and such.  If you aren’t looking for the real deal then you will find knock offs at the tons of souvenir shops in town.

The group took a break for lunch and our guide spoke of the best Pho (fa) noodle soup restaurant he would take them to.  The 3 floors were jam packed with locals and the Kattrax Group. Lol. It was already hot and yours truly wanted no parts of soup nor was it my plan to ride for  an hour plus afterwards to the CU CHI TUNNELS. I hit up an Uber and headed back to the comfort of our hotel, had  a nice Caesar salad and enjoyed my lovely view of the Saigon River from my room. Scores of motorbikes abound. This city has over 8 million living here with over 7 million registered motorbikes. Truly a sight to see. Some drivers with stilettos, and  some pregnant with a baby, no helmet but face masks riding with papasan. They are too tough for me.

Construction of the tunnels began in the late 1940s during the war with France. When the US military entered the picture to support South Vietnam, communist forces began expanding the network.  At its height, there were over 250km of tunnels, no more than 70 cm wide, 90 cm high, some running 30 ft deep.  This subterranean maze served as shelters, communication centers and supply lines.

The US had men, modern equipment, firepower and aerial bombing at their disposal. The North Vietnamese and Viet Công, most of them peasants, were outnumbered. During aerial attacks, to survive, whole villages moved underground—cramped, dark tunnels with kitchens, sleeping areas and hospitals.  Despite clever engineering with disguised ventilation and drainage, the conditions were almost unfathomable.  It was sweltering, hard to breathe and at risk for disease, flooding and snakes.

Only a portion of these tunnels are open to the public.  Steve of Sacramento was adventurous enough to take a partial trip down. Only he can tell that story.

Tomorrow after breakfast, we drive toward Ben Tre Province which is located on a branch of the MEKONG RIVER.  It promises to be an exciting tour day. Sometime in the afternoon, niece Yvonne McIntyre will join us, flying in from Jakarta, Indonesia where she is currently residing on assignment.  She is so full of unbelievable humor and I can’t wait for her to get here to hang with us the remainder of our time here.

Mekong Delta… Read All About It

Because Kat will not be trackin’ this way again.  The Mekong Delta was a name I heard a lot during the war and I guess curiosity got the best of this Kat. So here we are. The Mekong Delta is a vast maze of rivers, swamps and islands, home to floating markets, villages and surrounded by rice paddies where boats of all types  are the main means of transportation.

The Mekong River is the 12th longest river in the world. Today we just touched a portion of this brown and muddy river that is still wild and free. During the war, The Delta region saw savage fighting between the Viet Công guerillas and units of the U.S. Navy’s swift boats and hovercrafts. Our guide said, “Americans think they lost so much because of the casualties but we lost too; 5 million to your 500,000 and Agent Orange will continue to affect our plant and human life for the next 50 years”. Land mines are still exploding when people unknowingly land on them killing entire families.  Nevertheless, these humble people allow us into their country and treat us with the highest degree of dignity and respect. It’s such a beautiful country.

We had to drive 2 hrs from Saigon to a Province called BEN TRE, located on a branch of the river.    Upon arrival, we all paid a visit to a nearby “Happy Room” and then boarded our motorized Sampan. Then at a point we disembarked and began a very long walk in the hot blazin’ sun.  Yeah, I was complaining…”Are we there yet”? , now what?”  Chauncey and her mom had to bring up when we were in Egypt under similar circumstances out of my comfort zone and we had to walk through mud and poop (me in my Louis Vuitton sandals) to get in a cart pulled by a damn donkey to take us down the hill.   I honestly believe “Comfort” is my middle name.

Today it seemed like we walked for miles in the hot sun and heat as we visited a coconut candy factory where they also sold this snake wine that’s supposed to work wonders for men. Smh.  Then a stop at a mat making place.  At some point we got in a Tuk Tuk (different from the ones in Bangkok). The order of events are kind of foggy to me but finally lunch at a Riverside Homestay. Homestay….if you want to get away from it all and be on the under without creature comforts; this is the place. Lol.   On the menu was “elephant ear fish”.  It’s a delicacy here, deep fried with scales and fins and served on a rack.  The server rakes the fish off and prepares spring rolls with rice noodles and vegetables in rice paper.  I passed on all that spring roll business. I just raked off some of the sweet fish and nibbled on that, tasted some of the pumpkin soup, had a couple prawns and called it a day…. so ready to get the heck back to Saigon.  Little did we realize we had to first get in these tiny row boats to get us back to the motorized sampan to get us to the station to board our bus. Those tiny row boats were nothing nice. Most of us had some kind of challenging issues getting in and out but thank God we made it.

Finally back in Saigon, there was some talk about going to the “Night Market”.  Lol. Okay, no thank you! My tired behind headed straight to my room where I remained for the evening.  Mama Yvonne arrived from Indonesia, Yeah!!!!  Tomorrow we fly to DA NANG and make our way to Hoi An, the culinary capital of Vietnam and I cannot wait.

Where’s The Freakin Beach?

Our last day in the laid back town of Hoi An, Yvonne was determined to take auntie Kat to lunch, dinner or both.  My first inclination was to return to the restaurant Robbie Bell and I loved in 2013, Restaurant 328 but then thought to try something different.  My tailor in Saigon suggested “oh you must try Hoi An’s Cao Lau”. Well all the places we found that made that dish the best, all looked like local Street food places. We didn’t want to chance getting sick.  So Yvonne finds this AN BANG BEACH VILLAGE RESTAURANT.  She says, they have great reviews, rated #46 out of 714 restaurants here. Yvonne says, “ Yes Auntie, a nice lunch right at the beach”.  The first sign of “be careful” was the taxi driver needed the map on Yvonne’s phone to locate the damn place. Ok, so we are off. At a point, the  Driver had to get out his taxi and move a motorbike off the narrow road into someone’s yard and close their gate. Ok, we rollin again. We must have come the back way because there was not a sign in sight to indicate we were at a restaurant, just an arrow stating 10 meters.  I kept thinking, rated 46 out of 714?  But as we got out the taxi and proceeded down this dark outdoor passageway (and it’s daytime), I kept saying, “Yvonne you got us down here in the cut, I don’t know about this”. Yvonne:  Oh Auntie, it’s going to be fine”.  We are from Oaktown.  Me: Right, but I ain’t trying to see Oaktown over here”.

After walking the 10 meters, we enter this dimly lit place that looked nothing like the internet pictures.  In thought, mmm fake pictures, false advertising,etc. Yvonne still smiling and talking about “the adventure”.  The host was welcoming and seated us.  Okay fine, but then my ultra sensitive nose detected “another cat”  in the house, one with 4 legs not 2 but I didn’t see it.  There were 2 other tables that seemed to be enjoying themselves. The host immediately put on Bob Marleys “Legend” cd. I have to admit, that calmed me down a bit.  Yvonne still smiling and I’m trying like hell to show my appreciation but where is the beach we were suppose to dine adjacent to? The menu looked fantastic and we ordered a few things.  Yvonne started with the grilled scallops and she raved about them. I’m allergic so I can’t vouch. My fried spring rolls were good as was the deep fried whole snapper.  Then we shared the bbq prawns on a skewer of which the owner/server kindly removed the shells. Overall, the food was very good but where is the beach?  I won’t describe what I saw when I visited the ladies room. Still  Smdh

A German couple entered as we were leaving and told us the best way to get Uber was to go the opposite way out, said they love this place, they eat there every  night.  REALLY???????  Well, yeah they rent a room there.  Still Smdh about this adventure.  Oh no, the rain is beginning to fall as we made our way to a main road.  Uber showed 16 mins. FOR REAL????   Along came a green taxi, cancelled Uber and on our merry way to our safe, comfortable haven.

I was in for the evening, refused to go back out.  I needed to repack anyway.  Would you believe Yvonne decided to go to my original suggestion RESTAURANT 328. She and Lucille headed out later in the evening……bon appetit!

Heres another misadventure of Chauncey.   Chauncey was determined to get this leather jacket and boots custom made. Somehow she got turned around thinking she could take a shortcut back to the hotel. Her cell had died, no way to get Uber, finally got someone to call the hotel but all she could give was the intersection so the Hotel sent someone on on a bicycle looking for the only black woman with a long ponytail standing on the corner.  And yes, she made it safely back via bicycle and would pick up her lovely custom made leather goods the next day.

Today, we fly to Hanoi, an hour plus away  for more Kattrax adventures.


Spreading Goodwill All Over The World

Brazilian School Girls  at Cristo Redentor

Brazilian School Girls at Cristo Redentor

Lovely Tree House Lobby, Negril Jamaica

Lovely Tree House Lobby, Negril Jamaica

Apostolic Church Children in Soweto

Apostolic Church Children in Soweto

Gourmet lunch and  Wine Tasting at Mont Rochelle, South Africa

Gourmet lunch and Wine Tasting at Mont Rochelle, South Africa

Victor Verster Prison,  House Arrest for Mandela

Victor Verster Prison, House Arrest for Mandela

These past 3 decades that I’ve been in this travel game has afforded me the opportunity to take some of you with me to experience the rich cultures of foreign lands and to meet the people of those countries  up close and personal –  France, Italy, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Spain, Copenhagen, North Africa,  South Africa, South America, Egypt, Vietnam, Bangkok, Singapore ,Dubai,  Abu Dhabi, The Caribbean Islands and many other distant places.

My mission has been to connect people to people and  to expose those who have not travelled abroad to beautiful memories that will last forever. In doing so, we’ve earned a reputation,  “When Kat’s groups come, they put food on our tables”.  How heartwarming is it  when an African restaurant owner in Paris  who speaks no English, says, ”  Your groups not only make me have a good night but a good 3 weeks”. How touching is it to see a smile that lights up the City of Light on the face of an Indian doorman at our Paris hotel when he’s handed a tip envelope?  Then there is the French woman in the breakfast room who knows our group will always remember her  with a euro or 2 at breakfast when other folks do not and she is always so eager to serve us.  One of our African  maids at our Paris hotel who has been working at this same hotel for 15 years, divorced mother of 4,  speaks no English, it  takes her 1 hr ea way on the train to go to work, told her boss she had something for me, took her meager earnings and presented me with 2 lovely pashminas and a bottle of Chanel Allure.  How special is that?  I cannot forget our guides from Soweto, Rio, Cape Town, Bahia who always manage to show Kat’s groups what others never get to see because of their connections.  And of course, I cannot forget all our drivers, hotel staff, restaurant owners in Jamaica who love to see us coming and take such good care of us.

To all my past travelers these 3 decades and future travelers yet to come; a big thank you from the depths of my heart for taking this journey with me.  Paris 2015, Asia 2015, Montreux & North Sea Jazz Fests 2015 are now accepting reservations. We still have space for 2014 Jamaica, 2014 Italy and 2014 Dubai. There just may be another Greek Isles cruise for 2015 in the works  — Stay tuned!


This love affair started for me in 1984 when the Festival was held in THE HAGUE. For 18 years straight, the European jazz festival circuit was my summer vacation. We would hit Copenhagen, Switzerland, The French Riviera, Italy with pit stops in many other European cities. In the old days , always a stop in Paris for a taste of soul food and black Paris.

As with all things, time brings about a change. In 2006 the NSJF moved the operation to Rotterdam. Most of those that knew it in The Hague will agree it was much better there. Folks would come together from all over the United Stztes and meet up with ex-pat friends now living abroad but always showing up every July. It became an addictive ritual we all looked forward to.
We are a group of almost 50 and Friday we had a private bus take us to Amsterdam for Jennifer Tosch’s Black Amsterdam Heritage Tour followed by a wonderful Afro Dutch soul food lunch. Even my finickiest eating travelers enjoyed it.

Last night’s concerts were awesome. There is no conceivable way one could see all 40 acts but the highlights were Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga (what a duo). Gaga knows she’s tough! Mary J. Blige was as usual on point and had some in tears she was so good. Others enjoyed Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock and D’Angelo.

It was well after midnight and the party continued in the Hotel Lobby. Yes, mainly the Kattrax crew drinking, eating, laughing and making new friends.

Whether it’s in The Hague or Rotterdam folks make several back and forth trips to AMSTERDAM to hang out and to do what they do in that wild and crazy city. I was amazed at some of my seniors who made their way there and had the time of their lives doing their “thug thizzle”. Of course what happens in A’Dam stays in A’Dam.
Tonight the hot ones are DeeDee Bridgewater, Chaka Khan, John Legend, David Sanborn, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter. We’ve got Sunday night and then Monday we leave on our private luxury motor coach headed to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Stay tuned for Montreux updates.

The Group in Amsterdam

The Group in Amsterdam


Kattrax VIP, Toronda Miller of NYC

Kattrax VIP, Toronda Miller of NYC

Kattrax VIPs, Kellea Woods from the

Kattrax VIPs, Kellea Woods from the “SHOW ME” state and Toronda Miller

Some of the Group

Some of the Group

Kattrax VIPs Joey and Susie Smith of San Francisco

Kattrax VIPs Joey and Susie Smith of San Francisco

Who Is Bungaree?

Today I was on a mission. The Convict Museum aka The Hyde Park Barracks is about 5 very long blocks from my hotel. As I started my trek, It began  to rain, then the high winds attempted to turn my umbrella inside out…Oh hell no!!! But I was determined to get there so I kept it movin’.  It was here I met Bungaree or Boongaree (1775-1830).  His picture just happened to be there. He was never a prisoner. Bungaree was an Aboriginal man from the Broken Bay area who settled in Sydney in the 1790’s. He was a colorful character, intelligent, spoke English well, would mimic past governors, make fun of white folks who actually enjoyed the entertainment, acted as mediator between the British and various Aboriginal tribes.    He was the first person to be called an “Australian”, the first person in Australia to circumnavigate the country with explorer, Captain Matthew Flinders. Governor L. Macquarie took a strong liking to him, gave him the title of: Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe. He and his 2 wives; Cora Gooseberry and Matora would row their boat out to greet those dropping anchor at Sydney Cove.  He proudly wore military hand me downs given to him by the governor and other military men who admired his gangsta. He was the first Aboriginal to get his own piece of land and other important necessities gifted to him by Macquarie. Bungaree and his tribe were not about servitude but using their God given skills to manage. He was many good things but some Aboriginals say he was a sellout.  Well, I guess that is debatable but my hat goes off to Bungaree.

My time in the 3 floors of this museum was a most fascinating experience.  I had read where a visitor felt someone jump on his back and held on for dear life.  I must admit I was a bit  apprehensive but no ghosts jumped on my back, however at times it was spooky, especially in the dorms where they slept in rows of hammocks  and seeing pictures of floggings;  a person got 25 lashes for faking illness to avoid work.

The World Heritage listed Hyde Park Barracks a most significant site in the world. A crossroads for tens of thousands of people. It played a central role in the world’s largest and longest running system of convict transportation. 80,000 Convicts were sent to New South Wales between 1788-1849. At least 50,000 passed through Hyde Parks gates.  Who came?  Men, women, children who all played a part in building Sydney. They were pick pockets, pirates, con men, rebellious Jamaican slaves, highway robbers, bank robbers, rascals and a lot of petty thieves caught stealing because of hunger.  Sound familiar? In addition to those from Britain, they were also sent from South Africa, Portugal, Canada, Prince of Wales Island (now called Malaysia). Upon arrival they were interviewed to determine what skills they possessed and were assigned jobs accordingly.

I didn’t have time to wait for the “guided tour” to begin in another 40 mins so I took my audio device and thugged it out on my own.  I could start and stop the commentary as I chose. Yes,  I made the right decision.

A few of us would be joining Robbie for an experience at the Sydney Fish Market for lunch. I did not want to miss out as I knew this would be an economical eating trip and after spending $200 the last 2 evenings, I was ready to save a few dollars.  Time was running out, today was Sunday and the Market closed at 4:30.  Stay tuned for Fish Market photos.

Sydney Fish Market

This is one of the largest fish markets ever. Robbie was determined to get there even if the rest of us chickened out.  It’s located way over near the Darling Harbor in view of the Anzac Bridge, a side of Sydney we had not yet seen.  I  immediately loved the feel as our taxi driver whisked us to the market.

All I could think about was, damn…. wet stinky floors and I’m going to eat.  Well the place is HUGE, and upon arrival as the oyster lovers searched for their chosen spot to devour freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, I was drawn to the stands cooking up whole fried fish,  fried calamari, jumbo prawns, soft shell crabs, lobster anyway you want it, you name it.   I ended up getting a whole fried snapper and a side of fried jumbo prawns plus I  tasted some of Marcia’s seafood fried rice.  Yummy! My cost $33.     Would I go back??? Yes in a heart beat.

An Emotional Aboriginal Day


What a day this turned out to be. No matter how many times I visit a destination, I always walk away with a richer, more in-depth, completely different experience than the last.  This would be my last full day in Sydney and as much as I looked forward to moving on north to Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef; I hated to say goodbye to Sydney. The view from my room was nothing less than spectacular. Enough good cannot be said about the people; genuinely warm and most accommodating.

This was our day in the Blue Mountains and visit to the Waradah Cultural Center. Our group had a private session with 2 very knowledgeable Aboriginal young people who shared as they called it, “Their Story”.  Time will not permit me to go into detail but it was most fascinating. There are so many Aboriginal groups across this country and they respect each other and their respective “Stories”.  Everybody has their own story. They come from Mother Earth, will go back to Mother Earth and while here they do not take from the earth. They live by 3 principles: Love, Humility and Respect. Later several performed dances for us and explained the birth of the instrument, the Didgeridoo. Last month in Colombia one sister with Me announced, “When I get to Australia, I’m buying a didgeridoo” . True to her word she did as soon as we got here and shipped home that very expensive instrument.

At the tender age of 18, my boyfriend, an East Bay Dragon, then owner of one of the baddest choppers in the club; began my attraction to this beautiful piece of machinery. So when I saw this bad azz  chopper on display at the Cultural Center, I wanted to know more.  It turns out it was created by George “Snake Charmer” Farah. He is  a rags to riches story if there ever was one. This bike has artwork on it created by a famous Aboriginal artist. It represents all races of Australia coming together. On it there is a boomerang, a didgeridoo and depicts Aboriginal life.    George stayed in trouble growing up, got expelled from every school he went to, he was of European descent, didn’t fit in in his small hometown and had to fight daily, later did some years in prison for manufacturing drugs where he would dream about building bikes and began to sketch designs of bikes. Long story short: his first customized bike was called “The Blade” which represented the vicious knife attack he barely survived while in prison.  It won more awards than I have time to mention . Then “Wet and Wild” which had 2 meanings: how girls get wet and wild and most importantly the tears shed by mothers whose sons get locked up. His secret technique that shows the water droplets in the custom paint is truly something to see.   His brand slogan is: Dreams to Reality. Two thumbs up to the Snake Charmer.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Boiler House restaurant and yes, after that mist were ready for a nap.  We skipped the Botanical gardens here as most had already seen the one across from our hotel.  We stopped at a cool little spot with picnic tables where over a hundred years ago they had a jail for the convict workers building the highway.   Our driver brought out the bubbly, the orange juice and the champagne flutes for our farewell toast. This was an awesomely, amazing day!