Top Ten Cuba

Cuba has been in the news these past few days following an announcement from the Trump White House that U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba will be rolled back to pre-Obama levels.  This saddens me, although I should clarify that Cuba was never fully open to Americans, anyway.  For one thing, American credit and debit cards still do not work in Cuba.  For another thing, travel requires a reciprocal visa and is supposed to fall into one of 12 categories (click here for more information, and check back often, as policies are subject to change).

This is all too bad.  Cuba is not our enemy, and nor is its leader, Raúl Castro, who took over for his more notorious brother roughly ten years ago.  But Raúl has promised to step down in 2018, so who knows what the future brings?

I love Cuba, and it takes at least two hands to count off the number of things I like about the country.  Below, after much nostalgic deliberation, is my Cuba top ten:

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Photo Locale of the Month – June 2017

Nashville has been in the news a lot lately.   The Nashville Predators, an NHL expansion team that debuted in 1998, are fighting for the Stanley Cup.  They won their last two games, and the the city’s nightlife-rich streets have been filled with even greater than the usual number of revelers.  Additionally, the 2017 Country Music Awards air this Sunday on CBS, and the CMA Awards are the city’s perennial Big Event.  If that isn’t enough, it was just last month that Governor Bill Haslam announced, from Nashville, that legislation recently passed naming Tennessee the first state to promise free community college tuition.

Nashville is one of the fastest-growing cities in the south, and last year it surpassed Memphis, three hours to the east, in population.  Downtown Nashville, its Cumberland Riverfront in particular, has much to offer.

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A Day Trip to Dolores Hidalgo

I recently blogged about my four-day trip to San Miguel de Allende, a small colonial city a few hours north of Mexico City.  San Miguel, which for decades has attracted older Americans and Canadians – many of them retirees – instantly shot towards the top of my list of favorite places in all of Mexico.

Many foreigners own vacation homes in San Miguel, so the city is not cheap, in comparison with other highland cities and towns in Mexico.  As such, many backpackers visit it as a day trip from either Querétaro or Guanajuato, larger cities that are just an hour away by bus.  I recommend staying longer, not just because San Miguel casts an enchanting spell, but also because the city itself makes a great base for day trips to various points of interest.

I spent several hours day tripping from San Miguel to Dolores Hidalgo, a Pueblo Mágico (magic town) and the one-time residence of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a not-so-humble priest who lived here when he kick-started the Mexican Revolution (one of several revolutions in Mexico’s turbulent history, but, alas, the ultimate one) against Spanish rule.  I suspect that most visitors hit up the Museo Casa de Hidalgo, the house-turned-history museum about Hidalgo’s life and times, and then leave.  But while a far cry from being the most exciting Mexican town, Dolores Hidalgo is a pleasant place and deserves a bit more exploration than just the museum.

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Photo Locale of the Month – May 2017

Of all my travels around the world, I don’t think I have ever been to any country with as much history and with so many jaw-dropping sights as China.  I was fortunate enough to visit the PRC three times, and to visit Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as well.  (I will leave it up to you, Loyal Reader, to decide whether or not those last three destinations are part of China or not.)

still haven’t made it to Tibet, home to the North Face of Mount Everest, and to the Potala Palace, which looks stunning in pictures.  One day.  I have, however, explored several sections of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China.

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Cuba: The Food

This is pargo.  Pargo – snapper, for the non-Spanish speakers reading this – is a common dish for both tourists and locals in Cuba.  I mention this distinction because during my travels through Cuba this past March, I learned that the diets for Cubanos and extranjeros are, with a few exceptions, worlds apart.

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Photo Locale of the Month – April 2017

It has been five years since I last visited Europe, and six years since my first, and thus far only, visit to Spain.  I visited with a friend in April, 2011, and flew into Barcelona for two days, which was not enough time by half.  The Catalonian capital was enchanting enough, and the unseasonably warm weather instilled us with high hopes for how the rest of the trip would go.

Alas, eight days of late-season rainfall swept in a few days later, dampening our spirits (no pun intended) to the point that we hightailed it out of Spain one week earlier than expected.  We finished the trip in Paris, which is a delight to visit in any climate and which was greeted by an early summer.  One city we did visit in Spain before the worst of the weather moved in was Granada, a mid-sized Andalucían borough with roughly 235,000 people.  As regards tourism, Granada has one mainstay, the massive, UNESCO-protected Alhambra.

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Cuba Photo Gallery: The Propaganda

It is no secret that Cuba, for many years a no-go destination for most Americans, is rife with propaganda.  Much of it is anti-American, or anti-Capitalist, and an equal amount of it is pro-Castro, or pro-revolution.  Throughout my travels to China, Russia, the Ukraine, and Syria, I have always found a certain kitschiness in images of Mother Russia, of the working man sowing fields “for the people,” of that great hammer-and-sickle, of the Fearless Leader.  Even Mexico has its share of anti-colonial propaganda, from urban graffiti to the murals of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Some of these images are impressive, artistically-speaking, while others make me laugh.  The key, I think, is to take them with a considerable grain of salt.

Here is a gallery of Cuban propaganda as photographed by yours truly.  They are in no way a reflection of my political beliefs; I don’t condone the violence that accompanied Cuba’s revolution.

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Cuba Photo Gallery: The People

I have not, historically speaking, been good at photographing people.  From time to time, I’d notice a person during my travels who had that photogenic something that I knew needed to be captured, and – after getting their permission – I would try my best to photograph them, being cognizant of their time and any cultural sensitivities.  I always made it a point to show them the picture afterwards, and frequently offered to email them a copy of the image.

The results were mixed, however.  That gap-toothed Asian woman along the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall?  I captured the smile but zoomed in too much.  The curious boy standing near the Istanbul tram that ran through Sultanahmet?  He posed, soldier-like, but I forgot to crouch down to his level, and his head appeared the size of a giant pumpkin.

I have gotten better, however.  I felt especially brave – and as curious as that young Turkish kid – while exploring Cuba, and snapped dozens upon dozens of pics of Cuban locals going about their business.  Fishing, singing, selling, relaxing.  The camera gods smiled upon me those three incredible weeks.  Here are some of my favorite shots, along with any relevant commentary:

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A Reunion of Amigos

Q: What do an entrepreneur, a human resources executive, a high school English teacher, a middle school history and science teacher, and a graduate student have in common?

A: They live in Mexico City, and they are my friends.

My long-awaited (for me, at least) return to “CDMX” was a resounding success.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, nor was I able to hit up every one of my former stomping grounds, but on the whole, I was able to stroll through some of my favorite neighborhoods and spend time with old friends – even if it was just for a quick drink.

Would you like to meet them?  (Apologies in advance to mis amigos for posting these pics – although I don’t think the content is anything too compromising.)

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A Few Paragraphs about Cuba

It has been less than one week since I journeyed from Havana to Mexico City, and it has been just two full days since I returned home to Tennessee from there.  I was gone for six weeks, and whenever I settle back in to my normal routine following a trip of similar length, it always feels as if everything “back home” has changed, even though it usually hasn’t.

I am in the early stages of reviewing and labeling the over 6,000 photos that I took during my travels.  That is going to take awhile, to put it mildly, but I did eyeball my pics, looking for a few images that were representative of each place I visited.  This was, suffice to say, not an easy task.  I have much to say about the “real” Cuba, and some strong opinions about “Cuba for tourists” vs. “Cuba for locals.”  These stories will manifest themselves in time, and will be interspersed with tales about my first trip back to Mexico since I left there in July, 2014.

But to whet your appetite and to find a starting point for my own storytelling, I thought I’d write just a few paragraphs about Cuba – one per city visited, let’s say – and post a few pictures as well.

Enjoy…and thanks for reading!

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