COLOMBIA, WE HAVE ARRIVED!

Our flight from Miami was a cool 2.5 hrs to Cartagena on Avianca Airlines.  I was most impressed with their service and the nice aircraft.  I like the fact that they are part of Star Alliance and can build up my mileage plus account.

After landing we were met by our lovely guide, Sandra Gonzalez and in minutes we were at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara. When I say it’s beyond FABULOUS,  that’s definitely  an understatement. This is by far thee best hotel in Cartagena. No doubt it’s the place to stay. You know I only pick the best for my guests.  Our Cape Town hotel is where President Obama, Mary J., Michael Jackson have stayed and now here in Colombia is where the attractive actress, Sofia Vegara stays.

The group was set for a horse drawn carriage ride thru the old town before dinner.  4 carriages  lined up for us in front of the hotel and just like in Paris with the stretch limos, and in Sydney at the Opera Kitchen with those 3 tier gourmet platters lined up in the dining room;  all eyes were on us.  Dinner was great and the red and white wines flowed freely.  Surprisingly, our lovely hotel was less than a 2 minute walk from the restaurant

Tuesday  was a full day and it  was a most humbling experience.  Our private bus took us to Palenque (pah link Kay).  This is where the slaves ran off to hundreds of years ago and today it continues to thrive.  It’s about 1 hr drive from Cartagena  The people of Palenque have their own language and in  their own world.  It was a very educational, interactive afternoon.  We learned about all their natural health remedies that are planted all over the place for eye, skin and digestive ailments.  Upon our return to downtown Cartagena, we were treated to a wonderful 3 course meal.  We started with a delicious fish soup followed by roast beef, steamed rice/gravy, and the sweetest red plantain I have ever tasted.  By dessert, most of us were too stuffed to even consider..

Tonight it’s happening at the Social Club —- music, salsa and drinks.  I tell you, I don’t want to miss the experience but my body is tellin me to stay in and enjoy the comforts of my legendary room. We shall see who wins…..

 

Americans BANNED! Well, I’ll Just Be Damned

Greetings Travelers,

We are freakin banned from the EU…No Europe for now until Amerika gets her act together.  Those countries and others NOT in the Euro Zone have rolled up their welcome mat. Even China may be given entry permission provided they grant reciprocal rights to Europeans. Now ain’t that about a bi*ch?

Aren’t we glad we have traveled extensively, seen wonders of the world, all 7 continents; whether physically with me or through my blogs: The Greek Isles, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, The Isle of Capri, Croatia, Turkey, Ephesus, French Riviera, Barcelona, Paris, Morocco, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Perú, Machu Pichu, The Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, Antarctica, Australia, The Great Barrier Reef, Dubai, South Africa, North Africa, East Africa, West Africa, The Doors of No Return, The Serengeti,  and  Fiji (I can’t believe they are currently only welcoming  billionaires or those coming in by private jet or yachts going to a resort which  they have booked exclusively for their party).  Time and space won’t allow me to list every place God has blessed me to see nonetheless, for this blessing I am eternally grateful.

I know a lot of you are antsy and suffering from cabin fever. Personally, I’m fine staying inside as I pray for the USA to stop the spread of the virus so that we can all get back to business.  Some still think it’s not real.  I continue to hear about friends and their families that have been infected and sadly some that have died as a result.

On another note,   3rd world countries have paid attention and stopped the spread.  Jamaica, I’m so proud of you.   The Maldives ( that expensive azz, beautiful country in the Indian Ocean).  has opened their borders to ALL nationalities only requiring a PCR test and proof of International medical coverage.  My Sold Out tour is still in effect for December 2 – 8, 2020.     Our Negril Tree House adventure June 24,  2021 is holding firm with almost 50 and counting.  Australia March 2021 still has space,  Paris in April still sold out.   Mykonos and Morocco are still being finalized…..I need the price to be right.  Thank you to the Jazz/ Iceland and South Africa, Kenya Safari and Egypt travelers  that are ready for 2021 and still riding with me.   Below is a list of places we as Amerikans are welcome

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Aruba
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • The Dominican Republic
  • French Polynesia
  • Jamaica
  • Puerto Rico
  • The Maldives
  • Mexico
  • St Barths
  • St. Lucia
  • Saint Maarten
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Seychelles
  • Turks and Caicos
  • The U.S. Virgin Islands

Remember book REFUNDABLE flights and hotels in case of last minute changes to the rules.   Make sure you research the specific entry requirements.
The reposting of Kattrax blogs will continue tomorrow.  I’m glad you have enjoyed reminiscing with me.  It has been quite therapeutic for me.

Livin’ La Vida Loca

 

I landed safely in Miami, checked into the PULLMAN HOTEL, regrouped  and was picked up by my long time friend, Road Dawg, fellow foodie, Urrban Lifestyle Specialist and Real Estate Broker, the delightful Ms Robbie Bell.   I had no idea where we were going but I knew good food definitely would be in order.  Everything was a total surprise. First surprise was a stop at the lovely home of Ms Renee, beautiful sister of Gail Jackson, owner of Tree House Resort in Negril.  I had not seen her since Gail’s wedding in New Orleans.  This was truly a surprise. A lovely table spread was set up with tasty chicken salad, goat cheese Brie, crackers, and  Veuve Cliquot. Since I am now a tee toteler, Renee mixed up my new drink of choice– a cran-orange combo on the rocks.  We had a good time  laughing, chatting and catching up.  It was here that Robbie leaked the next surprise. She and I would be meeting  her son Michael for Mothers Day dinner in South Beach.  Fellow traveler, Dessie was to join us but somehow unfortunately we mis-connected.

After leaving Renee’s , I enjoyed the wild ride and cool sights of the city as we made our way to South Beach.  We passed one of the hottest clubs which is open 24/7, “E11even”.  It’s a multi-level, upscale nightclub, restaurant and strip club.  Double D and Tiffy I want a full report when you hit the town

This is the place to people watch which is definitely one of my favorite things to do. After parking  and walking to the restaurant, we passed  the police harassing 2 handsome brothas in a Lamborghini.  Smh, aww man, not today!

Dinner was at “A FISH CALLED AVALON” on Ocean Drive.  Seeing Mike was another surprise as I had not seen him in quite awhile.  He was joined by his younger brother, Alex –a Dolphin.  Of course, Robbie is on a first name basis with the highly acclaimed Chef Kal who prepared a special appetizer platter for the table– crab cakes,  caviar, oysters on the half in a ceviche marinade, tuna tartare wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber garnished with a dollop of wasabi.  I had the crab crusted grouper and a Caesar salad.  In a word everything was AWESOME, perfectly seasoned and presented. As mothers on this day, we were treated to their signature Key Lime Pie followed by their bread pudding soaked in Grand Marnier, both tasty treats. Afterwards cool, Chef Kal stopped by the table to chat it up with Robbie and Mike.  What  a meal and what an evening !

This, my friends, was the perfect kick off for our AFRO HERITAGE TOUR to South America stopping in Cartagena, Palenque, Bogota, and The salsa capital of the world—Cali. Our flight departs Miami Monday afternoon.   Stay tuned…..

 

The Dahomey Kingdom & Ouidah

Today was another very educational and emotionally charged day.  A one hour drive from our hotel in Cotonou  lies Ouidah (wee dah) the voodoo capital of the world.  Benin is the only country in the world that recognizes it as an official religion.  Ouidah is known  for its central role in the Slave trade during the 17th, 18th and 19th  centuries during which time nearly 1 million individuals boarded onto ships from the beach and were transported across the Atlantic.

Our first stop was the Temple of the Pythons, where a few of us held one. Yes, I know, kind of creepy.   We later learned about the Dahomey Amazons. The Dahomey Kingdom was located in Southern Benin  which is where Ouidah is now. The Dahomey Amazons — the only documented all-female official front line arms military unit in modern history. They fought off the French and kicked ass at every turn. One of their mottos was “If soldiers go to war they should conquer or die”.

We traveled the 4 kilometers by bus down the “Slave Road”. The very same road thousands of men and women walked shackled and chained in the night leaving behind their villages, their families and their freedom.  There is now a statue instead of the Tree of Oblivion where rituals took place to disorient, erase their memory and remove their spirit. The entire ordeal actually took place in 5 stages, finally ending at the beach where the monument now stands, “ La  Porte de Non Retour” – The Door of No Return. The concrete and bronze arch is a memorial to the enslaved Africans who were taken from the Slave Port of Ouidah to the Americas.

Again, it was a very full day, a couple hours rest and we were on our way to our farewell dinner and another opportunity to chat and chop it up with our fellow travelers   Tomorrow evening we will be on our way to the airport.  It’s been an awesome travel experience and I hope you enjoyed the ride. Next month will be our annual Stroll Through  Black Paris Tour.  I may not blog about it because you all should be tired of hearing about that one but Vietnam is in April and a definite one to blog about.

 

Togo to Benin

It was a 3 hour drive which included another border crossing. Again, I had to get off the bus and accompany our Guide to the Immigration Police to have all of our passports stamped. It’s a very lengthy process but again All was in order and we were on our way.     After checking in to our hotel, we had a nice buffet lunch and then we were en route to visit GANVIE (the village on the water) commonly known as the “Venice of West Africa “ where over 30,000 people live on stilts.  As we made our way,  we passed tons of motor bikes zipping in and out of traffic. There are over 250,000 moto taxi drivers or “Zem” in Benin.    It was about a 30 minute ride to get to the jetty where the group boarded 2 motorized canoes to take us 8 km to the village.  We passed women and children paddling their canoes as they went about their daily business of survival.  Ganvie is a 300 year old village that began as a place of refuge to be protected from warring tribes who would capture and sell to the slave traders.  We passed churches, a beauty shop, a couple of bars, a community center, a high school, and water stations where they go to fill their water buckets.  We made a stop at Auberge Carrefour Ganvie Chez M, a souvenir shop and our shoppers quickly went to work making their purchases. Ms “no shopper” ( that would be me) was a little envious after seeing some of the very unique items they picked up.

Upon our return to the hotel, I invited the group to my suite for sips and bites; a few bottles of red and white, and some music.  It turned out to be a beautiful time for bonding and professional sisters exchanging thoughts and ideas on work and family life.  KATTRAX is more than a tour business.  It’s a family and our travels become a reunion of sorts when folks can go back as far as 10 years recognizing and remembering when they traveled together to other parts of the world. I cannot tell you how much I love to hear some of the stories that date back to 1998 when my young travelers were turning it up in Paris.  Yvonne Smith McIntyre  was on hand to tell those stories.   Wow!  and now they are still traveling with me.

Today, we visit OUIDAH, the cradle of African Traditional Religion.  Stay tuned…..

 

The Journey Continues

It was a 4 hour bus ride for us traveling from Accra, Ghana to Lomé, Togo but nothing compared to the sometimes 700 miles our ancestors journeyed by foot. Those that know me well, know if it’s more than 2 hours drop me off at the nearest airport but in this case, I thugged it out.  We had two more countries to cross borders of which we had to have in our possession a Visa for each.  When we reached the border between Ghana and Togo, we all had to get off the bus and physically wait in line in the heat  to present our documents to the authorities.  After crossing, our Ghana guide, Elvis said goodbye, we kept our same driver, Francis and met our new French speaking Guide, Alex.  Now in Togo, I as the leader had to present myself with Alex inside the Togolese Immigration Office.  What a time consuming ordeal but thank God, we were all in compliance, no hassles, no hang ups.  School was out and tons of Togolese school children rushed over the border from Ghana.  They prefer to learn English in Ghana in order to further their school work.  Being here gave me an opportunity to use my 6 years of scooby-doo French.  I am currently studying Arabic and it seems so much easier. Perhaps it’s because in another life I’m told I was of Egyptian royalty, possibly a Queen in the 17th century.

It was getting late, so our schedule was thrown off.  We saw what we could see before checking in to our Hotel 2 Fevrier.  The purpose for the Lomé  stop to overnight was merely to break up the long bus ride.  Remember we still have to reach Benin, also French speaking and with the same currency used in Togo (CFA). Ghana used Cedi (GHS).  Before we crossed over, our designated money- changer, Innocent, (yes that’s his name) came on the bus and handled the business.  Yes, more love for the group.

The population of Togo is about 8 million and 50% practice voodoo. No, we would only be here a hot minute.  Our hotel is the only 5 star hotel in Lome’ and it is quite lovely. My suite was on the 26th floor equipped with a washer, dryer, stove, microwave, full size fridge, dishwasher…..all quite lovely but only for 1 night.

My party folks made their way to the top floor where there was live music and then a DJ doing his thing.  They partied. I understand they showed these folks what they were working with on the dance floor and were told these folks ain’t never seen nothin like it at this hotel.   I missed it.  I needed to relax and get my inspiration from somewhere to bring you this blog.   It’s now 6am and I’m just waking up with some inspiration to complete this blog.

After breakfast….on the road again headed to Ganvie, the village on the water, commonly referred to as the Venice of West Africa.

Say My Name, Say My Name

After breakfast we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us. We would be the honored guests at the Torgorme (tor gor may) Village for a naming ceremony.  Upon our arrival, there was dancing, drumming and singing,  It was quite a welcome.  The Chief began the ceremony with libations and prayer, giving thanks for our group safely  returning “home” to Africa and to their village. Each one in the group was called up and given their African name (based on the day of the week they were born), their local name and the meaning.  They were presented with a bracelet and a beautiful hand made pot with both names inscribed upon it.

They saved my turn for last.  The Village Chief and the Queen Mother personally presented mine.  Incidentally, this was the second time in 2 days where I was one on one interacting with a Chief and a Queen Mother.  I was honored beyond words. My African name is  Akosya (a female born on Sunday) and my last name, Sevram meaning “God bless me”.  There was more dancing and  drumming and we were  also given a demonstration by their best pottery maker on how the pots are made.

Before saying our goodbyes;   on behalf of the group, I thanked the Chief, Queen Mother and the villagers for their warm and most welcoming hospitality.  As we departed, we blessed the Village with donations.  Gail Kelly, a resident of Griffin, Georgia; saw a need and will make 100 of her pillowcase dresses for next year. I guess I will be the designated courier when I return.  Today at the village, Gail discovered that the University of Georgia is a sponsor of this Village. What a coincidence! This Village experience made us all feel so at home and one we won’t soon forget.

Our lunch reservation was a 45 minute drive from the village in Akosombo at the lovely  SENCHI HOTEL AND RESORT situated in one of the most beautiful locations in Ghana, on the banks of the famous VOLTA RIVER in the Eastern region.

Our guide, Elvis, made the return drive fun.  He made himself Chief Examiner and quizzed each of us on what our new names are and the meaning.  Mostly everyone did a great job. Here, yet another  guide (like all my guides)  wrapped around the groups fingers.  They talked him into stopping at the ACCRA MALL so they could pay a visit to the fabric store.  Picture me shaking my head.  Okay, so I gave in to that but then somebody wanted to stop off and purchase chocolates……REALLY???? FOR REAL??? FOR REAL FOR REAL???  No y’all, not tonight!  Try that tomorrow after we check out and begin our 3 hour drive to TOGO.  Some of the party people would be hitting one of Accra’s nightclubs tonight and I cannot wait to hear about it.

Tomorrow….the journey continues.

 

A Painful Tale of Two Castles

We knew this would be a very long day that would begin at 7am.  The drive alone from Accra to the Elmina Castle would be 3 1/2 hours.  After Elmina we would see Cape Coast Castle.   As we drove over the fairly decent highway, we saw the daily life of Ghanians happening  with school children going to school and men and women  setting up shop and selling their wares.  We drove through a congested place called Big Town with tons of people up and down the roads.

So that it’s clear to you, please understand that both of these horrible places used to hold, punish captives before boarding the slave ships have a “Door of No Return; essentially the very last place they would be before being shipped off to the Americas and the Caribbean.  Elmina was built by the Portuguese and Cape Coast was built by the Swedes and was later taken over by the British.  There is no way I can recreate the experience for you but I will try.  Remember, they were captives first before becoming slaves.  The pain our ancestors felt so long ago can still be felt today by you and I.  We were actually inside the dungeons for only minutes.  We were 22 deep and it was tight but some of these cramped areas would hold over a hundred chained and shackled together by 5. Imagine 3 or more months waiting for the ships to come from England, being subjected to everybody’s bodily wastes.  Over 30,000 were traded every year in Elmina until slave trading was abolished.  The more robust and seemingly fit would be traded. The weaker would be designated as domestics to clean the cells daily.  The captors would pit tribes against each other; thus “divide and conquer”  and another cliche’ of only the “ strong survive”.  #1 to survive the dungeons, and #2 to survive the lengthy, arduous journey to the Americas.

While all this human misery and abuse was going on, above the dungeons there was a church and the Europeans were having religious services.  I had to ask myself, “What God were these people serving”.  There was even a peep hole so they could look down into the dungeons. I won’t say there was a stench but there was definitely a distinct odor about the place.

Cape Coast Castle is about 15 minutes from Elmina.  Cape Coast is where President Obama and Michelle visited and there is a placque commemorating their visit.  There were 5 rooms that housed 1,000  male captives crammed together, urinating, defecating and sleeping in the same place. Those that died were thrown in the ocean. The female dungeons held 300 at a time. Some were sexually assaulted by the Europeans. If they became pregnant they were freed. If they were found to be pregnant while on the slave ship, they were thrown overboard.  Then there was the “Condemned Cell”. Men who attempted to escape or attack the Europeans were beaten and sent there and locked behind 2 doors without light, ventilation, food or water. They stayed there in chains and shackles and the bodies were left until the last man died then all thrown into the ocean.

The bright spot in today’s events was the Coconut Grove Beach Resort where we had lunch with a lovely ocean view to enjoy.  While there I was introduced to the Queen Mother of the Elmina area and a Chief who personally invited me to come back in July.  Unfortunately I had to decline the invitation but assured them both that I would return next year; possibly in March.

Tomorrow we go to Torgorme, a beautiful village on the lower course of the Volta River.  We will participate in a naming ceremony, where we will be given a traditional African name.

 

 

 

 

 

FORWARD EVER, BACKWARD NEVER

It’s been an incredible journey thus far and it’s only been day 2.  2019 is the “Year of Return” to Ghana as it marks 400 years of the slave trade. Actor Boris Kudjoe of Ghanaian descent stormed Ghana with 40 celebrities to enjoy the rich culture and heritage of this country. Tour Guide   Kat St Thomas, that would be me; stormed Ghana with 21 KATTRAX celebrities  to not only enjoy the rich culture but to learn as well as be reminded of those that fought to make this country what it is today,

My subject, “Forward Ever, Backward Never” was a quote of Ghana’s 1st Prime Minister and President, Kwame Nkrumah.  After clearing Immigration and Customs, we were met by our guide, Elvis.  Again, I’ve been so blessed to have such a knowledgeable guide who is clearly passionate about what he does.  Once settled on our very nice and spacious air conditioned bus; he immediately began to tell us of the horror our ancestors faced being captives, then eventually smeared with Shea butter and branded with a sizzling branding iron and how the only ones that knew water to shower off the urine, feces, menses were the women that faced being raped by their captors.    Yes, tears welled up in his eyes and we felt his pain.  It was quite sobering to hear such an account.  As we rode in silence to our hotel, we intently paid attention to the narrative.  We drove past a statue called the BIG SIX. They were 6 leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention; the leading political party in the British Colony of the Gold Coast. They were detained by the Colonial authorities in 1948 following  disturbances that led to the killing of 3  WW II veterans.  They are pictured on Ghana’s currency.

As we arrived at the hotel, drummers and dancers welcomed us and then we were taken to a meeting room and given a brief orientation.  We felt the love.  They even arranged for a banker to come to us to exchange our U.S. dollars for GHS Cedis.  Who gets that kind of treatment?   The hotel is 5 star and  WOW – with out words!

The next morning after breakfast was our city tour.  The first stop was the W.E.B. Dubois Center for Pan African Culture where Dr. Dubois (an academic and civil rights champion) spent two years working on a Pan African encyclopedia under the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah.  We had a guided tour through the center and saw the FBI file they had on him because he was suspected of having communist ties.  We  also stopped by the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and visited his resting place.

Quite a  full day, a short time to chill at the hotel and then reservations at one of the hottest clubs in town, +233 ( Ghana’s area code). It was an outdoor setting, the weather was perfect, and the jazz was on point. They feature some of the best musicians in Accra.  A sister, Sandra Houston, joined the band on stage. She is sensational, belting out jazz standards like “How High the Moon” and some Anita Baker tunes, “Been So Long” and “Good Enough”.  A dear friend from JOBURG, by way of Pittsburgh a Gemologist, Brenda Joyce, who was invited to South Africa years ago by Nelson Mandela to teach  cutting and polishing diamonds now a citizen of Ghana met us at the club.  She too, a vocalist in her own right, joined the band on stage. Brenda was instrumental in connecting our Gail Kelly with a rep from an orphanage to present 30 childrens dresses she made from pillow cases.  It’s been a fantastic time and I’m feeling and lovin’ the vibe.

Tomorrow will be an emotionally charged day as we make our way to the infamous Forts, Castles and Slave Dungeons of Ghana.

 

Winelands Tour – One For The Road

Our day began with a trip up to Table Mountain. Because of the high winds, it had been closed for 2 days so you can imagine how long the line was.  It was crazy!  Wine   Tasting and lunch was in Stellenbosch at TOKARA. This wine estate offers visitors a unique combination of award-winning wines, brandy and olive oils, a gallery of fine art and a restaurant featuring one of South Africa’s leading chefs.

As we wind down this tour, it couldn’t have been capped off in a better way. It was a most delightful afternoon.  The wine lovers seemed to enjoy the tastings as I saw several order forms floating around to have wines shipped home.

The chef and his team showed us what they were working with From starter to dessert. Each course was perfectly paired with one of their wines.  My taste buds still seem to remember my starter of tempura fish with sticky rice, avocado with a slight hint of wasabi.  My main was roasted pork belly —- yummy.  The dessert I chose was the yuzu parfait. Yuzu is a small fruit mainly cultivated in Japan.  What Chef did with it was amazing. As we departed, the chef and his team made an appearance and allowed us to thank them for an exceptional dining experience.

En route back to Cape Town, we stopped in Paarl at the prison where Nelson Mandela was under house arrest for 17 months, where he and Winnie walked the Long Walk to Freedom.  In past years our group has been invited twice inside Madiba House by correctional officer, Edgar, who worked there when Mandela was there.  Sadly, our friend passed away last year.  He was escorting an inmate to another facility.  The vehicle had a blow out and rolled over.  Edgar died a few days later.  Thank you Edgar for showing us what most never see.

This evening we fly home with wonderful, unforgettable memories.  Next year, we will return. The tour is about sold out, however We may  be able to add a few more rooms if there is more interest.

Thank you for joining us on this journey.