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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.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Are you awake yet? Yeh, me neither. I didn’t sleep well for an unexpected reason. I was freezing. Luis got the air conditioning working in my room so well that, save for turning it off, I couldn’t figure out how to make it warmer. And when I turned it off, within five minutes I was dripping with sweat. Yup, just call me Goldilocks. Or perhaps, due to my Jewish heritage, you can call me Golda Lox.
Well, today’s plan for Golda Lox is to take a walking tour. As I’ve done in the past, I choose a free walking tour as I’ve had generally good luck with them. (You may remember that I took them in Ireland, Portland, and Mexico, which was only free because my friend Stewart took me on one.) These aren’t exactly free as a tip for what you think the tour was worth is expected. Still, because the guide is actually working for their pay, these tend to be very good.
Natalia at my bed and breakfast booked this for me through Free Tour Cartagena and I walk the fifteen-minutes to Santa Theresa Square where I meet my guide, Edgar and about twenty-five other tourists from different countries (though at least half of the group seem to be from The Netherlands).
We begin with Edgar having everyone introduce themselves and say where they’re from. This question gets more and more difficult for me with my most common answer being, “Everywhere.” This tends to either confuse or lead to more questions yet, when I say the U.S. – I don’t say America as some in other parts of North America take offense saying, “I’m American too. North American!” (whatever) – I’m then asked where. As each of us answer, Edgar names the capital of each country or state we’re from. Impressive.We begin walking to our first stop, the statue of India Catalina. An indigenous woman, she was abducted by the Spanish in the 1500’s and, after learning Spanish and converting to Catholicism, forced to become an interpreter for the native tribes. Her figure is now a symbol of Colombia and her statuette is awarded each year at the Colombian Film Festival. As Edgar explains, she’s basically a cross between the Oscar and Pocahontas.StatueWe continue on to various sites including the statue of Pedro Cabrera, a Jesuit priest who made many Priest Scultureenemies due to his stand against slavery, and to the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, also known as the San Pedro Church. An impressive structure, it’s made more impressive by the seven-or-so sculptures depicting the everyday lives of Colombians getting haircuts and playing games.
Chess PlayersWe then stop by the Customs House where we see a loud gathering of men with motorcycle helmets and police standing around. The men are motorcycle taxi drivers who have recently been prevented from working in certain neighborhoods as motorcycle thievery has been on the rise there. Motorcycles speed past people walking on the sidewalk and grab their bags off their shoulders before speeding away. The drivers argue that their work should have to suffer due to criminals who drive the same type of vehicles. The protest is peaceful and the drivers eventually disperse.

Slave Ship
Slave Ship model from Historical Museum

 
Another stop is the Plaza de los Coches, an important location of the slave trade. This is where slaves brought from Africa would be offloaded from the ships and sold often brought to other countries in the Americas.
Slave Sale
Slave sales as depicted in model at Historical Museum

 
I’ve learned some things about Colombia on this tour including that there was once one once one country named Grand Colombia which consisted of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, but I learned more about other countries and other participants. There were a lot of questions on this tour but less answers.
After the tour ends, I grab some lunch at a local healthy fast food restaurant before trying to increase my understanding of Cartagena and Colombia by visiting the Palace of the Inquisition and Historical Museum. As I enter, I witness another protest, this time a silent one in the form of signs. It seems the Museum is now offering a self-guided tour in the form of an app for your phone for which they supply headphones (or use your own). They’ve also written some (not all) of the commentary on signs. This means there’s no need for guides and the signs covering the sidewalk outside the museum are in Spanish and English and make clear the guides’ viewpoint. When I ask the museum staff about it, they explain that the guides were always paid directly by the tourists but never had a fixed price so it changed depending on what the guides felt they could get and taxes paid were questionable. I understand that I’m only hearing one side of the argument but, as the guides aren’t here to ask, I’ll go with that story.
The museum is not the best and not the worst historical museum I’ve visited. In fact, I finally start to understand more of the history of this place; from the indigenous tribes to the inquisition (those were some crazy times) to the slave trade, it’s all here.
As I find out more, I’m becoming fascinated by the inquisition and how so much of what’s happening today is relatable. No, we’re not torturing people with iron pieces which dig into one’s collarbone and chin if one moves. Or developing tools to tear off a woman’s breasts (I can’t even) –  at least in the U.S., but we are judging people based on their ethnicity, heritage, and religion.
I leave the museum finally feeling like I understand a bit more of Cartagena, and I head back to shower the layers of sunscreen, sweat, dirt, and more sweat off of me (feeling very attractive).
I stop to enjoy some street musicians in Simon Bolivar Square. A little girl stands in front, entranced by the musicians and I’m entranced by her.
Street MusiciansAfter a cool shower (the hotel says they have hot water and I experienced it for two-full-minutes last night. None today) I head out to one of the many squares to have dinner outside in the breezy night air. Though there are no available tables, the restaurant manager, eager to please, quickly takes care of that as I soon see him carrying a square, four-seater table outside and setting it beside other tables. A chair appears and voila, I now have a seat.
I order a Carne Asada (a delicious marinated flank steak) and some wine, when a street vendor approaches. He sells beaded necklaces and bracelets and, though I tell him I’m not interested, he sits on the ledge next to me and strings a variety of small, colorful stones onto a nylon wire. He then offers it to me for no charge which I politely decline as I understand that it’s expected that I’ll purchase one of his others. He insists, telling me it’s from his “Corazon.” After much declining and insisting, I gratefully accept it. Using my crappy Spanish, we speak about Colombia and just generally chit-chat. As a police officer strolls by – the police act as security guards for many public areas like the many squares – he tells me he’ll return shortly. True to his word, he comes back with a supply of very pretty necklaces and bracelets for sale which, true to my word, I decline.
BikerFull or beef and wine, I take the short walk, about five minutes, back to my hotel. On the way, I purchase two Cohiba cigars from a street vendor. I began to enjoy a good Cuban cigar during my first visit to Cuba and enjoy one every once in a while when I can find them. When I arrive at the hotel, I offer Luis, the night desk guy one to smoke with me. He explains that he doesn’t smoke, but we stand outside the door (no smoking anywhere on property) and chat while I smoke. After a while, he goes inside and a man rides up on his bicycle carrying a chair on his head. He places the chair on the sidewalk in front of the next door and asks, in Spanish, if I’m smoking a cigar.
“Yes,” I answer.
“It reminds me of my grandfather,” he says in Spanish.
He tells me that his grandfather used to smoke them and it smelling it gives him a good memory. I offer him my extra cigar and he declines. “My grandfather smoked them but if I picked on up, he would take off his belt and whip me. He didn’t want me to smoke.”
I soon extinguish what’s left of my cigar and head up to bed.
 
Tomorrow – The Bizarre Bazurto
 

These Streets Were Made For Walking

After two great days in Jaipur, I awake cautiously optimistic. The plan for today is to grab a tuk-tuk, go back to the area of the Amber Fort to visit the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, wander around Jaipur for thirty or forty minutes, and wait at the Ajmeri Gate (one of the eleven city gates) to meet Vineet, my walking tour guide. Shveta from Jaipur Friendly Villa has recommended and arranged the tour with Jaipur Walks. Jaipur Walks (E-mail – Jaipurwalks@yahoo.com) offers seven different themed walks including Cuisines of Jaipur, heritage walks, religious walks, and a Jaipur bazaar walk (which is much different from a bizarre Jaipur walk). As he’s already got a walk scheduled for 3:00pm with three people who have requested a combination walk concentrating on Arts and Crafts with a little cuisine thrown in, I’m invited to join that one.

I walk up to Queens Road and hail a tuk-tuk. I tell the driver I’d like to go to the Anokhi Museum, have him wait, and then be dropped at the Ajmeri gate. To be clear, I show him the piece of paper on which Shveta has written the name of the museum, as well as point it out on the map. I ask how much and he says a phrase I’ve heard before, “Pay what you like.” I always agree on a price before getting in because I don’t want a fight on my hands when I get out as, what I like and what he likes are probably two different things. I say “300 Rupees, good?” (Shveta has told me this would be a fair amount.)

“Yes, good,” he says.

I climb in and we drive. On the way, I check my Indian phone and notice that I have a message. It’s from Vineet at Jaipur Walks informing me that the tour time has been moved up and will now begin at 2:00pm. Still I have time to go see the museum and be on time for the 2:00 meet..

We drive through the gate to the Pink City and, after weaving slowly through traffic for a bit (this guy’s tuk-tuk could use a tune-up), we stop in front of a museum, where he points to the entrance, as well as where he’ll be parked. I step out, a bit confused as we’ve passed through only one city gate, and I know that we must also exit the Pink City on the other side to get to the museum. I begin walking up to the museum, surprised that it’s so large, as I’ve been told I only need about forty-five minutes here.

In front of me I see a sign saying National Museum. The tuk-tuk driver has taken me to Albert Hall, a fine museum, I hear, but not the museum I was looking for. I walk over to the tuk-tuk parking area and tell my driver it’s the wrong museum. The other drivers come over and hold a conference telling him where the museum is. I get back in and we head through very dense traffic, out the city gate and up the hill towards the fort. I have doubts that my sad tuk-tuk can make it up the hill as it slowly chugs along. The only time it speeds up to a normal tuk-tuk speed is when we go downhill every once in a while.

After another half-hour, we’re up at the fort and my driver begins asking people on the side of the road for directions. We travel for another ten-minutes, asking four people for directions, when we finally arrive. Unfortunately, this leaves me barely fifteen minutes to check out the museum. In it I find beautiful textile prints from different areas of India, each area with their own special patterns and colors. There’s a presentation room which shows a variety of slideshows and movies about the art of block printing. I hear some pounding coming from the top floor and head upstairs to check it out. Up there, I find three people watching an older man sitting on the floor carving intricate would blocks. These blocks will be dipped in natural and chemical coloring hundreds of times to create beautiful prints on dresses, scarves, robes and other materials.

I wish I had more time to stay and appreciate all this tiny museum has to offer but, due to situations beyond my control, I head out the door, jump back into my sad tuk-tuk, and head down into the city.

Another thirty-minutes later, I arrive at the Ajmeri Gate and unhappily pay my driver the agreed upon 300 Rupees.

“You have change?” I ask as I hand over a 500 Rupee bill.

“No, no change.” he says.

I tell him I have nothing smaller and he asks a fruit vendor next to us. The fruit vendor indicates that if I buy something from him, he’ll provide change. I tell the driver he must find change. He looks in his wallet and pulls out 180 Rupees. I take it while expressing my unhappiness with his ride and the fact that he now just made away with a 20 Rupee tip.

I weave my way through traffic to stand on a little patch of road not occupied by cars, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, bicycles, pedestrians, vendors or cows. I no sooner finish texting Vineet to ask exactly where at the gate I should meet him when he appears in front of me. Five-minutes later, it’s 2:00 and we’re looking for the other group. At 2:05, Vineet tells me to wait he walks around to look for them and I’m immediately surrounded by four people asking me for money. I say no and ignore them (if you take out any money, you’ll be surrounded by more). At 2:20, Vineet says he called the hotel the group was staying at and was told they’d left on time. Vineet doesn’t have their number as he’s been making the arrangements through their hotel. 2:30 comes and the people call him. They’re at the wrong gate. Vineet instructs their driver as to where we are and, fifteen minutes later they arrive.

I’ve already had a talk with myself about not allowing the bad tuk-tuk driver, the change in tour time, and the tardiness of the people who changed the tour time in the first place, ruin my attitude about the day. While I could have actually spent time exploring the Anokhi Museum, as we don’t actually begin the walking tour until 2:45, I know that this series of events could have happened anywhere (though I am a bit irritated that, when they finally did show up, the three didn’t apologize).

The party of three are Brits visiting India as part of a spiritual group. Jo, the only female has been to India a few times before, but never really explored outside of the Ashram. Patrick has been once before and Chris, like me, is new at this India thing.

Jaipur GuideWe begin walking, making our way to a street lined with some basic shops. We stop and Vineet points out the architecture of the buildings across the street. While standing there, a pigeon overhead decides to relieve itself on both Vineet’s shoulder and Patrick’s pants. Aah, India.

We continue on weaving our way along and across highly-trafficked streets. Jo is very nervous about walking through the traffic and Vineet graciously provides pointers on how to safely (I use the term loosely) walk the streets in India. You walk slowly as it’s sort of a mass cooperation thing. As long as everyone can anticipate your moves, they will slow down, stop, or weave around you. It’s when you make a sudden movement that you’re in trouble.(And I think they smell fear.)

Marble CutterWe head down streets where we see marble sculptures being carved and polished, molds made out of sand and molasses being made to create jewelry and metal products, and even the finest pickler in all of Jaipur displaying his pickles (sounds dirty; it isn’t). Along the way, Vineet buys us various types of local food to try. Jo is also nervous about this and declines the first few offerings. It’s funny that she’s the one with the most experience in India, yet she’s also the most cautious. Staying in the Ashram is a bit like staying in an all-inclusive resort; it’s nice, but you certainly don’t experience the local culture. Still, these folks are nice enough and, upon hearing that much of my time in India has been challenging, they tell me that I might want to think about heading up north as I’ll be warmly welcomed in the Ashram. It’s very kind.

Pickle Man
Jaipur Pickle Man

After seeing the jewelry-making area, we walk onto the main road where Vineet helps me secure a tuk-tuk. I’m tired today, and full from the food tasting so I make it an early night at my comfortable retreat at the guest house.

Tomorrow – Goa, Goa, Gone

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The Pied Piper of Portland

 

Have you read Beer and Bikes?” You might want to read that first.

I wake early, ready for a big day. I’m heading into downtown Portland to explore some of the more famous locations on my own and with some help from a guide. First stop, Powell’s City of Books. Yup, that’s right, I said “City of Books!” This is nirvana for readers. They take pride in carrying both new and used books, and displaying them on shelves together. Do you really care if a book was previously read? Will that make the story any less interesting? Here are some of the City’s numbers:

–    Powell’s is 3 stories with 68,000 square feet filled with books.

–    They buy 3,000 used books per day.

–    Approximately 3,000 people visit and buy something each day, and another 3,000 just come in and browse and drink coffee (yes, there’s a coffee shop; no, it’s not Starbucks).

–    They stock more than 122 major subject areas with 3,500 subsections – subject areas are in various rooms which are designated by color. The Red Room is my favorite as it includes travel writing. I spend some time in there dreaming about next year when, hopefully, “Drop Me Anywhere – a Travel Memoir With a Twist” will be housed there.

–    There are more than a million volumes lining the shelves.

Powell's Map

Any bookstore requiring a map to find your way around means you could spend an entire day there. I have an hour-and-a-half. I head straight to the Red Room and see books on the upper shelves which I want to look at. Being only 5 foot, 3 inches tall, anything shelved above 6 feet is out of my reach (I start wondering if this is what they mean by “higher education”). I ask for assistance and am brought a stool from the next aisle. I begin noticing small, step-ladders around the place. How cool! You can actually climb up to retrieve your books on your own without having to ask someone to take down each book you might wish to browse. This small thing is, for me, a big deal.

Pioneer CourthouseAfter my ninety minutes of browsing, I head out towards Pioneer Courthouse Square. I’m taking a walking tour which a friend has recommended and it meets across the street from this historic square in front of the Pioneer Courthouse at 11:00am. The tour is called “Secrets of Portlandia” and is unique in itself as, they take no reservations – you just show up – and there is no charge. eric from Secrets of PortlandiaThe guide and owner, Eric, works for tips. It’s easy to find him as he’s wearing a “Secrets of Portlandia” T-shirt and a head microphone and is surrounded by about ten people (he’s either a tour guide or a street preacher or, perhaps, a little of both). By the time we begin, Eric has 27 people following him down the street (we kind of look like that group walking for their Mother in Pilgrimage to Portlandia) and, in my head, I’ve nicknamed him “The Pied Piper of Portland.”

We begin by walking across the street and into Pioneer Square. This is known as “Portland’s living room” where all are welcome, although there’s no Barcalounger (actually, as you never know what you’ll find here on any given day, you may show up one day to find, not only a Barcalounger, but perhaps a guy sitting in it and watching TV and smoking a cigar). Eric explains that Pioneer was meant to be a gathering place for the people of Portland and the goal Brick from Pioneer Squarewas to keep it free to all who wished to come. The way they did this is to sell bricks which could be engraved with names. There are currently 72,430 named bricks placed permanently in the ground, and bricks are still for sale. In the summer you can come to Pioneer Square and enjoy Flicks on the Bricks, join in song with Sing Portland, enjoy the floral mosaics created at the Festival of Flowers or read to your heart’s delight at the Northwest Summer Book Festival. If you’re around during Halloween you can get your Zombie on at the Giant Zombie Dance Party where you’ll dance with other non-dead to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. You can also “Run Like Hell” in the charity costume 5K, 10K and 1/2 marathon of the same name.

Pioneer Square Weather Forecaster - it's a long explanation but it will tell you what the weather will be.
Pioneer Square Weather Forecaster – it’s a long explanation but it will tell you what the weather will be.

Throughout the tour Eric does a great job of explaining the history of Portland while keeping it fun. This is not just an historical tour, but a bit of a comedy show. Let’s call it Histortainment! The jokes, both good and bad keep coming while Eric informs us of strange Portland laws. These laws include:

–    People may not whistle underwater.

–    You cannot wear roller skates/blades in the restroom.

–    Riders of sleds may not attach themselves to passing cars (takes away all the fun).

–    It’s against the law for a wedding ceremony to be performed at a skating rink (seriously, what?)

–    Oregon law – you cannot pump your own gas. A gas station worker must do this (seriously, when I tried the attendant came out and said, “Caught ya”).

Portlandia Statue

We stop buy the impressive copper statue named Portlandia which was installed in 1985 and stands (well, actually squats) 34 feet, 10 inches high. We visit Mill Ends Park, which at two feet wide (452 sq. inches), holds the title of the smallest park in the world. The park, dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day in 1948, is the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland, according to its creator, Dick Fagan. Fagan also named Patrick O’Toole as head leprechaun and guard of the park. I suddenly have a craving for some Lucky Charms cereal.

Leprechaun Park
Mill Ends Park, otherwise known as Leprechaun Park.

The tour lasts just over two hours and ends in front of the famous Voodoo Doughnut where the catchphrase is “The magic is in the hole.” Eric tells us the history of the famous doughnut stand and about the early years when the doughnuts were supposedly made with questionable ingredients including Pepto Bismol filled and some other over the counter pharmaceuticals. Nowadays, they just serve doughnuts consisting of actual food ingredients, but that doesn’t narrow down your choices one bit. They have the classic Voodoo Doughnut, which is a raspberry jelly filled doughnut topped with chocolate frosting with a pretzel stake in it (order it, think of an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend perhaps, and go to town with that pretzel. You’ll enjoy watching the raspberry jelly leak out).

Voodoo Doughnut Menu

The tour ends and Eric steps over to the corner to answer any individual questions. This would be the time to put some money in his hat, which you should. Remember, there was no charge for this tour so you can judge the value. I would put the Secrets of Portlandia tour up against any prepaid tours offered in Portland. Eric has the knack of making me love this town. He is obviously proud of his city and embraces the weirdness without feeling the need to put-down other places. You should take this tour.

As I’m across the street, it would seem a shame not to pick-up a doughnut as I have a responsibility to you, the reader, to let you know if they live up to the hype. Yes, of course, that’s exactly why I went in to order. The line is short today and, after only a five-minute wait, I step up to the counter completely overwhelmed by the options. I see something on the menu that catches my attention.

“What’s the ‘Cock-N-Balls’?” I ask. The lady at the counter shows me the one in the display case.

“Wow! That’s huge!” I exclaim.

“Well, do you really want a small one?” she responds.

“Good point! I hear a lot of people ordering an ‘Old Dirty Bastard’. What’s that?”

“It’s a doughnut filled with peanut butter and topped with chocolate frosting, Oreo’s and more peanut butter.”

Sold! “I’ll take an ‘Old Dirty Bastard’ please (that’s the first and last time I’ll be using that phrase).”

Voodoo Doughnuts

I also stop at one of the famous Portland food carts and buy some sort of chicken and potato dish from a Thai food vendor. I take it and sit down in the park across the street. When I open it, there’s enough food to feed three or four people, as well as a small cup with something pickled (I suspect it’s pickled chicken feet). I enjoy lunch while listening to a homeless guy playing ukulele and a kazoo. Again, oh so very Portland.

Tomorrow – wandering around St. Johns and The Good, the Bad and the Thank You’s.