When Good Triumphs Over Evil

Today I finally get to know Medellin. I’m taking a walking tour of Comuna 13, notorious in Medellin’s recent history and the center of the Medellin Drug Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar.
RunnersI walk down to the meeting point at the Poblado Metro Station via Carrera 43A, a main boulevard here in Medellin. Opened in 1995, the Medellin Metro is the only metro system in Colombia. It’s Sunday, which means half of the boulevard is closed to motorized traffic so people can walk, run, bike, rollerblade or use any other Healthmeans of non-motorized transportation they wish to enjoy a healthy Sunday in Medellin. Hell, I see one woman running and juggling (obviously training for the new Olympic event similar to cross-country skiing and shooting). These Sunday closures are all about health and I see signs of that all around. Besides the runners, walkers, bikers, and rollerbladers, I encounter a couple of medical type people set up on the sidewalk taking people’s blood pressure, as well as a fitness trainer holding a class involving jump ropes.
Mass TransitArriving at the Poblado Metro Station just before 10:00 am, I easily find the meeting point for Comuna 13 Tours. Twenty-or-so people are gathered and within a few minutes, we have at least thirty. Our guide, Oscar, introduces himself and shows us the metro map indicating where we’ll be visiting during our four-hour-tour.
We enter the metro station and walk through the turn style, following Oscar’s direction. We’ll be taking public transportation on this tour, all of which is included in our COP70,000 fee Medellin Subway Car(US$23.47). This is a great introduction to the city’s public transportation system and will help when I‘m taking it on my own. Our train soon arrives and we all follow closely, fearing we’ll get separated from our group. The trains here are wide, much wider than any other city’s public transportation I’ve taken, and very clean.
While on board I meet two twenty-somethings from the U.S. They’re very nice but exhausted and a bit hungover from a long night of drinking and dancing. While they say it was a great night, perhaps today’s plan should have simply been a late breakfast of pancakes while wearing sunglasses. (Unfortunately for them, there’s no Denny’s here.)
Stopping at the San Antonio station, we switch trains and, 25-minutes later, exit at the San Javier station where Oscar gives us some information about the neighborhood, before taking us to eat some typical Colombian street food; empanadas and arenas de choclo con queso (flat corn cakes with fresh cheese). The French people in front of me order seconds before I order my first and are totally “me chiant” (pissing me off, in French, according to Google Translate).
From here, we board a private bus (remember I told you about these when we were in Cartagena?) and, as I board, an old man sitting in a seat by the door takes my water bottle from me. As it’s not my reusable bottle, but one supplied by Oscar, I don’t fight him and think, though strange, well, who am I to deny a thirsty person water? The bus is crowded and I’m standing when we not so much depart, as enter a race through the street of Medellin. The trip is mostly uphill and the bus, being a manual shift, with the driver apparently been trained on an automatic, we jolt, bounce, thump and bounce up the hill, while careening around corners, my hands gripping the above bars and feet swinging like an Olympic parallel bar champion. By the time we arrive at our destination, I feel as if I’ve just completed a gym boot camp (I need a drink). As we exit, the old man who stole my water hands it back to me. It turns out he knew what the ride would be like and that I’d need both hands to hold on.
Cable CarWe step out and head up the cable car. The cable cars were installed in the aughts (mid-2000’s) as an official part of the Metro, or mass transit system. Medellin is a city of hills and mountains and, before the cable cars were installed, it could take up to three hours and a variety of buses, to commute to work. Now it takes an average of 25 minutes. And while the original idea was simply another form of commuting, the cable cars have become a major tourist attraction.
ElevatorsNext, Oscar introduces us to the Escalator Project. This series of five escalators covere in distinct orange and glass coverings, opened in 2011 and was designed by Carlos Escobar (no relation Pablo). Prior to its installation, the citizens of Comuna 13 had to climb the equivalent of 28 stories when commuting from the city to their homes in this poor neighborhood. And these people had surely been through enough.
In the early 1990’s and into 2000 this neighborhood experienced 8,000-10,000 murders per year. Think about that for a moment; not a city, but a neighborhod. Comuna 13 was controlled by the infamous drug-kingpin Pablo Escobar. People here wouldn’t dare exit their homes after 5:00 pm and friends and family wouldn’t think about visiting. Guerrillas stationed themselves in houses high on the hill and fired bullets at anyone who might be outside. Many innocents were killed as targets on the streets and

House
Houses where guerillas stationed themselves to shoot at people below.

bystanders in their homes.  In addition, anyone who the guerrillas felt might be speaking up against them, or even family members of those, Escobar ordered killed at a cement wall which came to be known as the Wall of Execution.
 
Escobar was caught and imprisoned in 1991. The prison wasn’t so bad though as he built it himself. Oh, and he went home on the weekends to visit his family. In 1992, he “escaped” as extradition to the US was being negotiated. He had plastic surgery and, when he was hunted down and killed in 1993, many weren’t convinced it was actually him. (Side note: you can now go to the former prison as part of Pablo’s Paintball Tours to shoot paintballs at each other.)
MuralsFollowing Escobar’s apprehension, imprisonment, and ultimate death, things didn’t immediately change. Now that Escobar was dead, various drug cartels and gangs fought for control of Comuna 13. Finally, in 2002, the government led an operation to take back the barrio. The rebels were so heavily armed that a police car was destroyed by a grenade. Over the three days of the operation, 400 people were killed.Finally, the citizens of Comuna 13 felt as if they’d escaped from prison as things began to turn around with the help of Mayor Alonzo Salazar and his efforts to enact change. Comuna 13 is now full of life. Graffiti decorates walls throughout the barrio. This is not gang tagging, it’s art expressing the history and voices of this community. And though these murals are up for interpretation, some of the artists have spoken out explaining the meaning of their murals. Elephants can be found on some walls. Oscar explains that elephants have long memories and, while the people here have chosen to forgive in order to move on, they say they will never forget the horror which happened here. Some other paintings depict scenes from nature signifying that we take from Mother Nature but give nothing back.
Dog and Cat
Everyone gets along now.

Today, the streets are filled with the sounds of music, the smells of home-cooked meals, and the bustle of people working and children playing. On our arrival in Comuna 13, a woman walking up the street tells us, “Bienvenido a mi comunidad!” (Welcome to my community!) The people of Comuna 13 are very proud of the revitalization of their community.
At the top of the last escalator we come to a staircase, next to which is a three-lane slide. Fifteen years-ago parents would hardly allow their children to leave home. Now there’s a built-in slide for them to play on. I, of course, can’t resist playing and take a trip down the slide.
We enjoy some more street food – yummy churros (fried doe with a choice of sweet syrups) and paletas (fruit-filled popsicles made in a cup with a wooden stick in them) before heading back down the escalators, where we’re picked up by our bus, along with its crazy driver. I rush on to grab a seat this time and we’re taken to the Metro. After just over four hours, we’re back, almost to where we began.
Oh, and the two tired and hungover American girls? They disappeared somewhere during the tour. When traveling, it’s difficult to be both a night and a day person for very long.
This tour is a must-do in Medellin in order to know the city and appreciate what they’ve been through and why they seem so joyful. I am now in love with this city and considering staying longer than planned.
Note – While Comuna 13 Tours was nice enough to host me on this tour, this did not sway my opinion at all. And, at COP70,000 (about US$23.50), this four-hour tour which includes some local street food, is a bargain.

Cuban Culture – Music, Art and Tobacco

The following is a condensed commentary of the rest of the week in Cuba. Please don’t get the impression that you can do all of this in one day because, well, that’s just silly talk.

We spend our first full day in Havana exploring some of the streets with a local architect. Yup, many jobs, such as architects, pay so poorly that they take high-paying jobs in tourism. (Hmmm, perhaps I’m living in Architecturethe wrong country.) From Spanish-Moorish, to Baroque (which I tend to be), to Gallic, to Art Deco, Cuba’s architecture is as interesting as its people. Daniel, our guide, who bears a striking resemblance to Javier Bardem, is obviously passionate about the architecture, and his opinions, which makes for a great couple of hours. He shows a bit of disgust when pointing out one of the modern buildings which includes one large level of floor-to-ceiling windows. “With Havana’s sunny climate, this makes no sense,” he tells us. Oh, but even worse is the stairway he points out. It leads from street-level to the entrance of the building. The issue is, there are double glass doors at the building’s entrance, but the metal rail lining the stairway ends in the middle of the second door, rendering it useless. I wonder if this was a mistake or, perhaps, done purposely by the architects to express their dissatisfaction with the pay.

CarsAlso in Havana, we take advantage of a beautifully sunny day and enjoy a ride through the bustling city in gumball colored, antique cars. It feels a bit like Isadora Duncan meets of American Graffiti. Thankful I left my scarf back at the hotel, we stop at the house/studio of Jose Rodriguez Fuster. Fuster is known as the Picasso of the Caribbean, and his place is in an artists’ community which resembles all of the great Gaudi works spread throughout Barcelona, condensed in a one-block area. Between the cars in which we arrive and the brightly colored mosaics throughout, it’s as if Rainbow Bright vomited over the entire area.

MosaicYes, Cuba is full of art, music, and color and we see it all. While in Havana, we pay a visit to the Muraleando Community Project. In this formerly crime-ridden community, two artists began teaching workshops. When people had something Mosaicto do other than commit crimes, well, the crime rate dropped. Where once was graffiti, there are now beautiful murals. And where once the youth created a crime problem, they now create art. The community meets every few weeks to share new and creative ideas. Oh, and there’s music. I find it impossible to sit still when the fantastic singer, accompanied by a four-piece band, begins singing classic and modern Cuban songs, and my entire group is up dancing with me.

We’re lucky enough to enjoy a variety of Cuban music, including a wonderful classical music performance by a full orchestra at the Ermita de Montserrate, a former church, now a concert hall, located on top of a hill with beautiful views over the city of Matanzas. While in Matanzas, we also visit a school of music and art with students are chosen to attend due to a recognized ability in dance, singing or playing an instrument. Former students often go on to careers in the arts and we’re lucky enough to enjoy a performance by these up-and-coming artists. On the other end of the spectrum, we visit a senior center which provides us with, not only an insight into the Cuban social welfare system but some more music and dancing.Cuba - Tobacco drying

Perhaps my favorite day is one which brings us out of the city and into the tobacco fields. No, we don’t pick tobacco, but we do smoke a lot of it. We meet the ninety-year-old owner (“The same age as Fidel,” he says), see how the famous Cuban tobacco is grown as well as the drying and rolling process. I learn how to properly smoke a cigar (for god sakes, don’t inhale) and, even better, how to dip it in Cuban coffee and rum. Yes, we smoke our drinks. We then proceed to the organic farm where we enjoy a lunch of freshly picked. . . everything. . . while sitting on the porch overlooking the fields. This area, the Viñales Valley, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and shows the diversity between the busy Cuban cities, the small, traditional towns, and the escapes to nature.

Organic FarmAfter our day visiting Santa Clara, we’re scheduled to stay in Remedios, a town about forty-five minutes away, but with a slightly better selection of group accommodations. This is new to my company as, while they’d previously stayed in Santa Clara, the one hotel available for groups was, well, somewhere I might have stayed in Asia during my budget crunch. Still, being Cuba, the only thing you can count on is uncertainty. While Jorge, the guide, had tried to confirm which hotel we’ll be staying in, this proves more difficult than putting on your skinny jeans after you’ve been on a cruise and they’ve been washed. Finally, at 11:00am the morning of our stay, we received our hotel confirmation.

After a long day of touring, we arrive at the hotel in Remedios only to be told there’s no room at the inn (Jesus Christ!). We’re told to proceed to the hotel at the other end of the square. When we arrive at the Hotel Barcelona, they welcome us with Mojitos (the tradition continues) and collect everybody’s passports. While other hotels accepted my passport list, this one makes copies of everybody’s passports, which takes some time. As I’m traveling with such a great group of people, they don’t seem to mind the delay and sit on the sofas and barstools in the small lobby and bar enjoying some more cocktails during the wait. Finally, rooms are issued and the two porters work very hard to carry everyone’s bags to their rooms. (This hotel has four floors and no elevators.)

After freshening up, I meet the group in the hotel courtyard, just off the lobby, for dinner. Everyone received a welcome bottle of wine in Havana and most bring their bottles down to dinner with them. The band is playing (there’s always a band in Cuba), the wine and mojitos are flowing, cigars are burning, and we seem to be the only ones in the hotel. We enjoy a nice combo. Buffet & served dinner and, before you know it, most of my group, along with the hotel staff, are dancing a conga-line through the courtyard and into the lobby. By 1:00am there are empty wine bottles and half-smoked cigars scattered throughout. This was one of the more memorable nights of the trip in, what would become known as, “The Frat House.”

The next night we stay at the beautiful beach resort town of Varadero. Varadero is not a place where Cubans live. It’s strictly a resort town where Canadians and Europeans (and soon to be many Americans) vacation. Sure, I have a one-bedroom suite overlooking the ocean, yet I still miss the energy and traditional feel that was Remedios. And I’m not alone. This great group of people I’m traveling with express their preference for our “Frat House.” Still, this Varadero hotel is quite lovely and we enjoy a nice evening of drinks and dinner.

Revolutionaries

Hemingway
Papa’s Typewriter

We head back to Havana seeing more monuments to Che and the Revolutionaries (yes, definitely the name of my band should I ever form one) and have a few more Cuban experiences. We take a bit of time visiting Ernest Hemingway’s House. Hemingway lived in Cuba, on and off, from 1939 to 1960, and it’ where he did some of his finest writing, including The Old Man and the Sea. While you can’t actually enter the house, you can look through the wide doors and large windows to see life through “Papa’s” eyes. The air seems fresher in this house on a hilltop and this writer is inspired.

Hemingway's House

One of our final visits is to a community project for children and young people with Down Syndrome. There is, of course, music and dancing, always with my group joining in. But these are some amazing artists too. They’ve developed a specific style of art using carved printing plates. Their artwork has been featured at international showings and won awards. One of the artists is a former Olympic gold medal winner and we have an emotional surprise moment as he shakes hands with a gentleman in my group who is also a former Olympian. (Both are runners.)

DancersI’m honored to be one who experienced Cuba before, as most expect, it changes completely due to America opening the doors. Again, Cuba never closed its doors and the expected changes do not mean that Cuba will no longer be a Communist nation. It’s simply that, perhaps, America has decided to accept communism in other countries. Whatever the case, I hope Cuba doesn’t change everything. They must concentrate hard on retaining their rich culture and friendly, welcoming attitude.

I’ll be taking just a bit of time off to explore Canada with a new company and to sit in one of my favorite places, St. John’s, Newfoundland (aka, the first Drop Me Anywhere location. You can read about it here), to do some work on my book. I look forward to telling you a bit about where I’ve been staying for the last 3 weeks (another revisit) and explaining the challenges of getting even the simplest of things done while being location independent.

Street Walking and Fire Walking

Today is volunteering day! If you’re a regular Virtual Travel Buddy, you know that Drop Me Anywhere is also a philanthropic endeavor. Wherever I travel to, I find an organization or project with which to volunteer a day, or part of a day, and then I tell you about them. I let you know what they do, who they serve, and how you can help too!

Today I have the privilege to volunteer with Sjaki-Tari-Us, a school here in Bali which serves the mentally disabled. You can read more about the organization and my day of volunteering on www.Rebel-With-A-Cause.org.

I arrive at the school at 8:45am. Today is King’s Day, a Dutch national holiday and a special day here at Sjaki-Tari-Us as the school was founded by a couple from The Netherlands and all of the interns working there are Dutch (there are a lot of beautiful, skinny, blond young ladies and handsome blond young men here). Julian, the manager, invites me to head up to a classroom to observe a class of five and six year-olds with a variety of of disabilities helped by their oh-so-patient teacher and interns.

TeachingThey work on writing letters (of the alphabet, not to the editor) and singing songs before enjoying a snack. By late morning, it’s party time as today we celebrate King’s Day, the birthday of the king of The Netherlands. Although it’s not the actual Ring Tossbirthday of the King, they celebrate it on this day as the weather in Holland is normally pretty good this time of year so, why not? (It’s a bit like Christmas; don’t tell anyone but Santa might have been born on December 25, but Jesus was not.) To celebrate, everyone wears orange (except me because I’m a redhead and look horrible in orange) and the school is decorated in balloons and “Happy Birthday” flags.The kids have sack races, play ring toss, have their faces painted and enjoy other activities. A Dutch cake is served and the staff (and myself) participates in a tug of war (my team wins!).

Kid with HelmetBefore you know it, the party’s over and parents are slipping helmets onto the kids getting ready to drive home. Everyone here drives motorbikes and it’s not unusual to see a family of four riding down the street or a guy carrying a load of lumber on his head while navigating his way on two wheels.

Soon, it’s also time for me to leave; my mission this afternoon – go to the drug store to pick up some necessary items and maybe buy a shirt so I can get rid of a shirt that’s old and I’m tired of. I stop in the Guardian pharmacy and find some lavender body lotion. Lavender is a scent that I find very relaxing yet also have had trouble finding on these trips. It seems strange to get so excited over lavender body lotion but I find comfort in the scents I used at home. I ask about multi-vitamins and am shown the only one they carry which costs $20. Food and hotels are cheap here in Bali; pharmaceuticals are not. I ask what’s in them as the writing on the package is so tiny I’m convinced it was written by one of the guys who, for twenty-bucks, will write your name on a grain of rice. The lady starts reading some of the vitamins in it and, when I ask further questions like, “How much calcium?” I’m told, “Is very good.”

“Yes, but does it have Zinc?” I question further.

“Is very good.” I’m told.

We go through the same thing with Omega 3, and I just accept the allergy medicine they offer. Seventy five-dollars later, I leave with most of what I came fore (though I can’t find a damn hair-clip in this town to save my life).

I move on, to the shirt part of this adventure. I wander into a store where I see some T-shirts (not the My friends went to Bali and all I got was this lousy T-shirt kind), but the bad quality ones without the writing. I take a medium and a large into the fitting room, knowing that I’ll probably not fit into the medium as these are not American sizes and these Balinese women tend to be tiny. When I unsuccessfully try to navigate the medium over my head, I decide to make an attempt at the large. While I can at least, get it on (a bit like Barry White), it’s a bit tight around the boob area. Damnit, in Bali I wear an extra-large! I like this place just a little bit less than I did yesterday.

ArtNext I wander in to a large (by Balinese standards) art gallery which carries the works of many different artists. If I lived here, this is where I’d buy everything here to decorate my house. This Artmakes me long for my house, and gives me a small panic-attack remembering that I sold all of my furniture, clothes and my car to do this project. I drown my fears in ice cream as, just down the street, I find the gelato shop. You should Artknow that there are a few gelato shops here in Bali yet not one of them is true gelato, and they all taste as if it’s been melted and refrozen. Still, it’s cold and sweet (kinda like me. . .wait, what?). I order up one rose petal gelato (when will I have that again) and take a seat outside to enjoy it.

I return to my hotel, change my clothes and head out as I’m going to a Balinese dance show tonight. On the way out, I stop by the front desk to send off a couple items to the laundry (I do this with hesitation as I’m not at all sure I’ll get them back).

“Yes, miss,” the man says. “When you checked in yesterday we gave you a deluxe room but you only reserved a standard one.”

“I checked in two days-ago and I didn’t realize it as it’s much smaller than the room I was shown when I cam to look at the hotel last week. What makes it deluxe?”

“It’s the same room, but deluxe room costs 500,000 and standard costs 350,00 so you need to pay the difference.”

“Um, what? You put me in a deluxe room and I didn’t even know it until tonight and now you want more money from me?”

“Well yes. We don’t have a standard room when you come.”

“But I called and reserved it two days before.”

“Tomorrow you move to another room.”

“No, I will not move, and I will not pay you more money.” I say sternly.

“Okay,” he says. “I just have to ask. It’s ok.”

Aah, this is Bali and, sorry to say, it’s not at all unusual.

I head out to see the show Women Kecak “Ramayana Epic” which, earlier this afternoon, I bought a ticket to because, “You buy now and get a better seat.”

When I arrive, it’s open seating (so much for that promise) and find a seat. It’s in a covered lot with a cement floor and plastic chairs lining the edges. There’s a stage in the front with a Balinese set decorating it. Before long, 100 women enter from the wings and walk down the stairs while chanting. They sit on the floor and continue to chant for quite some time.

DancersVarious characters soon join them including two beautiful women in traditional costume, a little kid, a large wild-faced man (think crazy, drunk Uncle Charlie at the family Dancerwedding) and a monkey (not a real one but a well costumed human). I believe the story is similar to the one I told you about in “I See Dead People” but, at the end, there’s a

Dancer
Crazy Uncle Charlie

surprise. A bon-fire is lit in the middle of the floor (seriously, the fumes from the lighter fluid are overwhelming) and a man comes out wearing a hula-hoop with fringe and a horse’s head on the front. Very quickly, all hell breaks loose and the man is jumping straight into the fire. What the hell? The embers scatter and two men with brooms sweep them back into a pile. The man, once again, wades through the glowing embers. The assistants sweep them into a pile again and crazy guy stomps his feet in the glowing remnants again. This goes on for a good ten-minutes. A mushroom cloud of smoke has filled the place and the host walks onto the concrete and thanks everyone for coming.

Indonesia - Bali Dance FireThe show feels a bit like a town got together to put on a show, but it was worth the $6.50 for an hour-and-ten-minutes of entertainment. I head off to the Laughing Buddha where, as usual, a great band is playing and there’s always some fun people to meet.

Tomorrow – Rub me, Scrub me, Bathe Me in Flowers

Have you voted? VOTE HERE!

Limerick is a Drag (or A Walk in a Whole Different Park)

With no buses, planes or trains to catch this morning I take advantage of the time and sleep in. I sleep a little longer than planned (thank goodness for earplugs, a traveler’s friend) and forgo a leisurely breakfast in lieu of a visit to the Hunt Museum.

I pick up a coffee and panini (it’s become a staple of my Irish diet) and walk the ten-or-so blocks to the entrance of the museum. The Hunt Museum is small museum with 3 floors of artwork and antiquities. The gentleman in the gift shop is kind enough to point out the highlights and give me the best route to take.

“If you take the blue carpeted staircases up and the red carpeted staircases down, you’ll see the whole museum in under an hour,” he says. And he’s kind enough to mark on my map the locations of important works of art by Picasso and Monet. They keep these very valuable pieces, along with some others, in glass covered drawers that you pull out to view to keep them in an airtight and light-free location. Wine GobletI feel as if I’m looking through the drawers of lingerie at Victoria’s Secret and have come across a Picasso. While I appreciate the ingenuity in the preservation, I kind of feel that paintings were meant to be displayed vertically instead of like some nice, lacy bras. I view ancient jewelry, Bronze Age wine goblets and antique glassware. I find it amazing that these pieces have survived a thousand years yet I have to replace my iPad every two years.

Before you know it, I’ve taken the red staircase down to the basement which houses most of the religious artwork. I begin contemplating whether Mary would have changed her whole virginity story if she would have known how the tale would have snowballed.

Hunt Museum

After just about an hour, I head out for a quick cappuccino at an outdoor pub (I like that pubs are also coffee bars here) before walking over to People’s Park for my volunteer activity for this trip. While you voted to “drop me” in Phoenix Park, I haven’t yet made it to Dublin so I thought I’d add another park to the trip.

People’s Park is a beautiful green space in the city just near the bus/train station. Today I’m meeting Richard Lynch, founder and manager of ILoveLimerick.com. Rich is an actor and TV Presenter (a host in America) and started ILoveLimerick.com with the goal of educating, informing, training and facilitating the development of arts, enterprise and culture in Limerick city. Through ILoveLimerick.com Rich has been one of the leaders in developing the Limerick LGBT Pride Festival into a large, mainstream event.

Today, I’ll be part of Rich’s all volunteer crew filming a promotional video for Limerick Pride Week which takes place from August 24-31. With a crew of six, not including myself, Rich of the actors, we’ll be filming at different locations around the city. What are we filming? It’s a comedy sketch starring three well-known Limerick drag queens.

Drag Queen

After meeting the Rich and the crew in the park we wait for the “ladies” to arrive. The first to appear is Celine. As we spot her from across the park I notice that her walk is amazing. This “girl” could walk the runway in New York with the best of them. And her shoes. . . they’re fabulous! About twenty-minutes later Madonna and Sheila arrive. Madonna is a big, buxom blonde with all the attitude (and a little more of the lipstick) than the singer. And Sheila’s all about the accessories as she’s dressed to the nines with her green and white Irish flag dress, earrings, bracelets, multiple rings and carrying a spare pair of shoes. Sheila is a traditional Irish dancer and will be doing some dancing in every scene in this video.

Drag Queens

Rich introduces the ladies to everyone and we get down to business. The ladies rehearse while the cameraman sets up the shots. While the script is funny and the girls performance is quite camp, the funniest part is watching the various passers-by react to what they are seeing. Some people simply walk by with backward glances. Others whisper to each other, and still one man sits on a bench, eyes staring and mouth agape. The children are the most open.

“Hey, what’s going on?” they ask.

“We’re filming a promo video for I Love Limerick for Pride Week,” we answer.

“Can we be in it?”

“Aw, no, sorry. There’s a bunch of reasons you can’t and we’d need your parent’s permission.” They look bummed.

In between trying to (unsuccessfully) catch birds in a net, the kids continue to watch the filming with interest.

Before you know it, lines are said and Sheila, is doing an Irish jig down the sidewalk. Finished here, we pile into various cars and move on to our next location, a clothing alteration business who is sponsoring the video. There are five of us in the car I’m in representing five nationalities – there’s Orla from Ireland, her partner Dolf (the photographer) from The Netherlands, Hugo (Rich’s partner) from Latvia, Ethan (a local university student) from Germany and myself, the token American.

We stand outside the alterations store politely asking customers to wait just a few minutes while the video is being filmed. Soon enough the owners are outside with the “ladies” taking some promotional photos and we’re headed to the next location. Again, we draw a crowd.

We arrive at the Hunt Museum (twice in one day! I’m so very cultured). We film on the street outside, once again, stopping foot traffic (yes indeed, these ladies have faces that could stop traffic). Soon enough, Sheila has pranced down the street arms, dress and everything else waving and we’re moving on to our final location.

Limerick Drag

As we arrive at the Treaty Stone and park in the bus lane I have a strange sense of deja vu, only last time I was with my Irish dad and his daughter and son-in-law instead of three drag queens (but, you know, it’s really the same). After a little rehearsal (with bus drivers honking their approval), Madonna and Celine have performed their lines and Sheila is prancing down the street in all her glory. Orla has decided that three or more drag queens gathered together is called a cackle. With the cackle shoots over, we take photo’s with the whole group of performers and volunteers, shoot a video with all of us wishing everyone a “Happy Limerick Pride!” and, as they say in the business, it’s a wrap.

It’s 8:00 and Orla, Dolf and I have decided we’re hungry. Orla drives us to the an area known as Dooradoyle where this American has a lovely Chinese dinner in the suburbs of Limerick with her new Irish and Dutch friends. We talk politics, history and name origins and they kindly drive me back to my hotel. All in all a unique experience while visiting any country.

Rich and Carole
Rich and Carole

You can read about Limerick Pride and ILoveLimerick.com at https://rebelwithacausedotorg.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/celebrating-pride/

And remember to get your entries in for the Drop Me Anywhere Travel Limerick Contest by July 31!

Tomorrow – I’m off to Dublin!