Return to Cuba

July 1, 2020

This Cuban experience has been so rich….there are so many things I could say.  But, the main thing I will say is that at the first opportunity – I am going back 🙂  For many existential (theoretical – yes) reasons, there is something about this place that speaks to me….

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Regardless to all the sources through history that have tried to restrict the development of this place; in Cuba, even the restrictiveness of development causes the depth to become more beautiful.  It seems everywhere you turn, you see this contrast between the new….and the older crumbling buildings that have this certain kind of character…

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In some ways, there are some people like this as well!! Not to be understood just from some political theory or from their appearance….there is a depth there…that makes the stillness speak….

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Being a student of history, how could we not find Cuba in our readings…in our imaginations…in our debates…and arguments….

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and remembering where some of these huge gatherings took place with those long speeches – agreement with the politics is not necessary to appreciate the grandness of the moment…

and with all that I’ve posted about, and all that I left out…what stands out the most is of course – the people…

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how every conversation lasts an extra 15 minutes because each person has to talk about their family…even in the middle of the night….you see families…together….

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I hope that you enjoy what follows. These experiences I write about are just a small few of the total.  None of which would be possible without the guidance of my friend ‘Abe’…who served as guide and teacher … and ultimately….friend!!

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Over the years, I have had some amazing trips….for multiple reasons…this one ranks right up there with the best…In fact, the first chance I get…I shall return…to ‘the malecon’….

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enjoy!!

m

 

 

 

 

Cuban Cigars

June 30, 2020

Now to be forthright, I am not really a cigar person.  However, I do know many that enjoy, I guess we can call it – the art.  So, this post is for you!!  🙂  Roaming through Western Cuba…out in the country side…

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The opportunity came to visit an actual Tobacco farm.  Beyond the product, it was quite interesting as this is a multi-generational farm – ownership/management goes back multiple generations.  In fact, this is what this family does – raise tobacco…primarily for cigar production…

Considering the prominent reputation of the Cuban Cigar as being the worlds best….again, i’m not a cigar lover so all I can do is listen to others….it is quite interesting to feel the humility within this environment.  All the same, it is quite nice to be here…to learn about the production of what so many people think is a wonderful thing 🙂

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For the next few hours, they provided a tour of the farm….explained the concept of choosing seeds….illustrated the challenges of growing tobacco….and, pulled apart the leaves to show which part is shipped off for the cigarette companies, and what is utilized to make the ‘cigar’….

For you ‘Cuban Cigar’ lovers, here are a few more shots of the cultivation areas you can dream about….

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And to one of the most important part of the process, the drying house…

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And, somewhat the Tobacco Farm version of the ‘Gaucho’…

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Throughout the process, this is the gentleman that provided much of the explanation…of course it being fascinating to have the image of ‘Che’ in the background 🙂

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And, again…while I am not an aficionado, I am always fascinated watching someone who has mastered their art….as he demonstrated the ‘hand roll technique’ ….

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This, of course is the summarized version!  I figure if you want all the specifics on tobacco production…you will look it up 🙂  This is just the summary of the experience to be shared….and course since this is Cuba….and they have provided the hospitality of their farm….it is only appropriate to….

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‘the oath’…..

🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Being far out in Western Cuba…provides an excellent opportunity to engage in some personal cultural enrichment…but, first….

Restaurante La Ceiba… 🙂

One thing I love…right along with street food…are the road side restaurants out in the provinces….talk about what is authentic 🙂  And, it isn’t even just out of hunger….it is as if the cultural experience requires to absorb the food as well…it is part of it….and so….

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This following experience is particularly interesting to me.  For while we have mentioned a few tidbits about the historical components of Cuba.  We have not mentioned the initial development of its early economy – sugar.  In its early days, Cuba was one of the worlds large producers of Sugar…which means…plantations…which means of course – SLAVES!!  These slaves worked the sugar plantations, but also in the mills and on the ranches.

Leaving Vinales, there is an area called “Palenque de los Cimarrones” – “Fortress/Place of the Runaway Slaves.  As it is said, those who know … know…those who don’t …. don’t….so, I will use less words here…and provide you more of an opportunity to look, feel, and consider….

Coming into the opening….

This is an area….where those maroons/slaves who ran away…sought refuge in these caves and mountains.  Outside, there is a certain light indeed….

But, how much consideration is made for those who must live in the dark….

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Now I’ll just post a series of shots…illuminated by light…but, shows the internal areas of this Palenque….

Reflecting on my own experience of touring the slave castles off the coast of Ghana contained in one of my previous posts…the obvious difference is these are the areas where the Maroons chose to live in order to be free…the slave castles are a different story….

It could be interesting to click on a few of these photos and see if you can feel what it would be like to live in here….during this time….to seek refuge….

So much to absorb…so much to consider…one of the reasons I keep this blog is obviously to share my experiences….but, on a more personal note….

This trip was taken several months ago….writing this blog allows me to relive it …. over and over… so that when the vicissitudes of life come along…I can have a tool to fight the urge to become small….and I can remember….the vastness of these experiences…in other words….I can build my own ‘Palenque’…..

Ahhhh……what waits for me ahead….down this road of life….

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One of those mornings reflective of how you went to bed – grateful!  With full realization of the where I am, the context, the history, all with the cultural exploration….

This isn’t just breakfast…it isn’t even just a feeling…it’s that place…that existential place that is part of your purpose….and it brings peace 🙂

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Today….heading west of Havana….out to an area that is called the Province of Pinar del Rio.  It will take several hours, but it is an excellent opportunity to see the country side.  And, several places that will leave quite an impression….Today, we head to Vinales.

The time it takes to get out to Vinales provides a lot of cerebral time.  Time to reflect…time to consider…what are we really doing.  It is easy to think of Cuba in terms of dance, the castros, the conflict with the US, cigars, the old cars…the food….but, as we head down this highway…I see this man….

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I wonder…what is his life like.  With all of our easiness in the U.S….our conveniences and expectations…our cars….I see this man on his horse…traveling the same road as the cars…and it makes me wonder how much do we really consider, empathize, or take the time to feel…the life of another….

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Is it just about us…ourselves….our own pedestrian understandings….all of that immediate gratification….and  lack of patience….how much of what we comprehend about others is comprised of the projection of our own sense of self versus actually taking the time to explore the nature of what we seek to know….if all we are doing is building a shrine for ourselves and for others to admire then it doesn’t really matter.

However, if what we seek is to really know….then….we may want to learn how to listen.  I know many of us think we listen…I know….but, the condition of the world…and the condition of our relationships…provides evidence that begs to differ….

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Well, this are is called Valle de Vinales and Sierra de Vinales…basically, the valley and the mountains of Vinales.  Pulling in the area, you will see…

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This is Western Cuba….and as often with sites such as this….the question is….can you actually get outside of yourself….and feel it….or are you just seeing it….

Although it is warm, there is a nice breeze coming by….carrying with it….so much history….and so much potential for the future….

I imagine it would be quite the time to stay here for a few evenings and sit with your soul….or as Maya Angelou says about the soul…to sit with your ‘longings’….it makes me ponder to myself…with these travels…with these experiences….as I look into the distance…. of my own longings….

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Not the whole part, but for the most part…. how you see the world is often times based upon the perspective you already bring to a situation.  Well of course…unless you base yourself in learning about yourself, your environment, and who or what you interact with…..

Like the story of the man traveling to Tibet to meditate for peace.

On his way up the mountain, he came across a Buddhist monk, and the monk asked him “where are going”?  The traveler said, up the mountain to find peace…and the monk replied…all you will find up there is what you already brought with you.

I’m saying all of that to say…. Because of the long history of socioeconomic and political differences, as well as even the variations of such within Cuba…. there are many sensitive subjects to learn about.  And, it was the most amazing experience to leave previous perspectives at the airport…and to accept being taught.  Of course, this requires a great degree of trust….as Cuba has a completely different system.  It is important to protect those who have given so much…thus, a great degree of what I learned will not be written about here…. you will have to go yourself…. but, in the meantime….

It is Cars and a few Restaurants!!!!  😊

All over Havana, you see these specialty cars…and they are REAL cars…  Very interesting stories on cost…obtaining parts…keeping them running….one thing that can be said about any item in Cuba….there is never a guarantee it will be there…..

And, this may be an economy frozen or suppressed in many ways based upon it’s relationship with the United States…none of these come cheap….

 

One of my favorites here….of course you see them around the city…but, always beautiful to see them lined up….downtown…or floating down the Malecon….. 🙂

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and just for a little variety….

The Restaurants.  Being a traveler, when I am in the United States I am always wondering if a restaurant is as authentic as advertised….and this is not a statement about Cuban food in the United States…I am certainly not qualified to discuss those points….However, here are a few authentic locations with a delicious palate and environment….

Starting right near the Malecon….

Restaurante Castas & Tal:

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The menu is not extensive, but it is rather close when walking the Malecon..good snacks….and a few entrees to choose from…

As mentioned, nice place for a quick snack…however, for a much fuller experience….go check out….

Restaurante: Dona Carmela:

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An absolutely beautiful place, with a strong local flavor, that also tends to have a band playing…and of course the entire time…they were playing variations of the Buena Vista Social Club…

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A thoroughly chilled environment, where you can spend hours listening to good music…conversation…..and….

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of course….enjoying good food…the Cuban Special…Whole Fried Fish…

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One of my absolute favorites though is…

Cafe Tilin

Quite the lovely outdoor/covered environment….especially on an evening with a nice breeze….

We were here earlier in the day in more of a private setting; however, as you can see, there is a lot of potential here for a good evening….

And, in this instance…it was wonderful to have my guy do the ordering…as they had many delicious Cuban variations of which I was not aware….

And, even in Cuba….always nice to find a little buddy…

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A little light hearted business, now off to Vinales 🙂

Some call it the land of Fidel…some of the Castro’s….let’s not forget the giant of a man Che Guevera….a music lover might immediately think of Ibrahim Ferrer and the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. or a dancer – the Cuban Interpretation of ‘Salsa’….but, that would seem to not acknowledge the immense history, even expressed in its contemporary, of another jewel sitting right off the coast of the United States….

Most of my posts tend to deal with destinations a bit distant; however, digging around much closer to home and in the same vein as an appropriate follow up to my last post on Haiti – Welcome to the Malecon!!  🙂

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If you decide to go to Cuba, I critically recommend you connect with a ‘Cubano’.  If all you want is the tourist experience, then…well….you won’t really see Cuba.  Connect with the right person, and get down into the richness of this environment.  Arriving on the Malecon and walking up the steps to the Bungalow,

Walking into the room, and feeling the surroundings….if you did not know the definition of the word ‘vintage’, that’s okay – because you can feel it now.  As you can see, the doors open right up to the Ocean….that fresh completely stimulating breeze comes through the doors from the ocean…and with the feeling of vintage….I know – this is my place.  Looking outside from the porch, directly on the Malecon….the combined contribution to the atmosphere of the historical fort, old, and new Havana feels appropriate…

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Heading out onto the street, you can immediately feel that this strip is also a major social hub…and not just for visitors and tourists…but, for cubanos as well!!

Continuing to stroll and connecting with the feeling,

So much could be said, but sometimes – we talk too much…when we should be feeling,

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I find a great degree of fulfillment and satisfaction to study a place thoroughly, and then go sit and absorb….looking for an understanding I can use in my own life…and always, a baby of life pops up 🙂

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After half a day of strolling, absorbing, reflecting, learning, and simultaneously being in my head and getting out of it….it’s getting later in the day…

Retiring to the view from my bungalow….

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I reflect on being grateful that my understanding is not singularly shaped by those things that have no depth.  Admittedly, focusing on so much depth all the time poses mental health challenges, not to mention the social ones.  Never-the-less, I am excited….I am about to embark on another journey…some of which will be mentioned here…but, like most things…the internal residue will resonate more powerfully as time goes along….

I am grateful!!  I am in Cuba…on the Malecon…. ❤

 

 

If you’ve flipped through this blog, you know that I have been around to at least a few places.  These last few years, I focused more on Argentina….and then have now begun to roam about a bit more.  It is always wonderful to experience a place, not just in tourist mode…but, to be in a position to engage in cultural absorption.

For many reasons, which comes as no surprise….being in Haiti reminds me of a few places in Africa.

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I was told by a Panamanian friend once, that they were the only ones in the word with this type of transportation….well, seems as though the Haitians have their own flavor as well….

Like many places…it has its clean…and it has its..well, not so clean….

But, there is this thing that people do…where they are clean on the outside, and focus on presentation…yet have hidden their trash on the inside….

Yet sometimes, we have to accept appearances as we know we all have our own trash on the inside as well….personally, I enjoyed walking by the trash heaps in down-town Port-Au-Prince just as much as I did being amazed in the depth and beauty of Jacmel….

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The central park area where many a person gathers….

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Maybe with that…we can find more acceptance with each other….maybe not…we all have our own path and eventually we will look back on our own lives and have to be accountable to ourselves for it….let’s hope that we are the only ones who will hold us accountable….

Port-Au-Prince is a place where you can see the children at night sitting on the side-walk doing their homework under the street lights….all understanding that this life isn’t going to come easy….that should be a sign to some of our own judgements soaked in privilege …..

As I mentioned, this post was less about me….and more of a recognition….that I had help in learning to see the world….and maybe through these experiences I share….we can see each other a bit more humanely….

For more specific information on the Haitian Crisis, check out:

https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/ETD-UT-2012-05-5187/PIERRE-PIERRE-DISSERTATION.pdf;sequence=1

Written by Dr. Anne Martine Pierre-Pierre

Grateful for the,

Pierre-Pierre Family

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Peace!!!!

 

Having traveled the way I have traveled, I realize that I am very fortunate.  Yet, like many people…sometimes I get stuck in my own head and forget the blessings….So in showing you a few of these visits…maybe I can remind myself….of how life does have its lar-gesse of soul touching experiences….

Haiti has its history and reputation obviously; but, like most things it is much bigger than that….this is Jacmel, Haiti…

For some really, familiar reason, Haiti is not generally considered the Caribbean!!!  Now, here is some evidence to the contrary 🙂  This was/is as blue and beautiful as it gets….fresh air coming off of the hills, mixing in with the ocean breeze…with very little population….

There are a few locations that are smaller resorts – but, not jam packed with people….provide a wonderful back drop for the contemplative….

And, even the natives are friendly 🙂  One thing I will add in…..Haiti has some excellent cuisine.  It is amazing how some of the poorest countries have some of the best food….not, only that….the company was absolutely excellent as well…. 🙂

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Haiti is what it is….no doubt, but, considering the history….and all the civilizations and countries that attempted to make it a sole source of labor and commodities in the global chain of production….these were some BAD ASS Mo’fo’s…sitting here…’with all due respect’….recommended reading….

To the Mountains….

Heading on to the next destination….there was a welcome party….and as I mentioned it is always wonderful to see the kids….or the adults in touch with their inner child….

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The little homies pointing at us, bet you they are bad as ever…. 🙂 and of course right around the corner….here we go…up the mountain….

That truck is loaded down…but, what was so intriguing for me is what was tied to the back….one of my favorite dishes….. reminded me soooooo of being in Liberia/West Africa.  When I saw it, I said to myself ‘Oh, the meat is sweat oh’!!  In my Liberian Accent 🙂 🙂

But, moving along through the mountains….just sharing pictures here…so you can see and get a good feel….feel it…..

 

 

 

Sometimes, it is better to not share the words so that we each can acquire and feel our own interpretation….I hope that you found something for yourself……

 

When I first began to travel as an adult, I would take ridiculous amounts of pictures.  Often times, these pictures reflected the disparate life conditions that people face.  As a general practice, I don’t do that anymore.  It, too often, reflects the viewpoint of an outsider looking in, providing commentary, and judgement of life dynamics we/they know absolutely nothing about….so often, we don’t even know we don’t know!!

Never-the-less, because the general absence of knowledge regarding Haiti…and the intense disparate treatment many of us of privilege create…either directly or indirectly….I am going to show you some of the ‘Bidonville’s’….

While this is someone’s home I can across downtown, it is only a start:

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The ‘bidonville’ for Haiti means – ‘thrown together’!!  A person/family basically finds whatever materials they can find…and throws them together to create a home.  Sometimes they are separate standing, but often times they are all built together – on top of each other – no basic utilities:

 

The pictures do not provide the complete justice needed to understand these circumstances, but if that is what you seek…then, you will know!!

 

But, let us not get this twisted….Haiti has immensity of ‘Bidonville’….but, like most places the socio-economic absence of equity can be intense.  Up in those hills, above the ‘Bidonville’, is what we call ‘Petionville’.  Generally, called a suburb of Port-Au-Prince, but also considered separate….

and a few more….

Again, it would be easy to turn this post into an expose on structural violence, and the disparate life dynamics faced by many.  But, I want to keep it more focused on the attempt to see something beautiful….

A walk around the shopping areas will give you clear indications of the SEPARATION.  However, it also provides intriguing access to a portion of Haitian culture, for this is where I actually purchased this amazing painting…

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Rolled up and packed in a warehouse…took hours to find something like this….for me, it is the Haitian version of the famous statue by Auguste Rodin: ‘The Thinker’…. and, I am constantly striving to demonstrate improved thinking and reflecting….although, I will admit….sometimes I am successful with that…and well….sometimes not….

 

Remembering Haiti

May 12, 2020

This experience happened a few years ago, but it is one I have been meaning to post for quite some time.  The thought was transformed to action by the recent passing of the dear family friend who created this opportunity.  The person was Canadian/Haitian, but also a student of Haiti – specifically, the U.S. Refugee Act and the Haitian Interdiction Agreement.  We could talk about the classes or immigrants with privilege.  We could talk about the political dynamics, the housing issues, or the intense poverty for a country right off the coast.

Most have no direct experience with Haiti.  Many travelers will bypass Haiti to frequent the resorts or hot-spots in the Dominican Republic.  Much can be said about the history of Haiti, the relationship with the DR, and US policy towards the Haitians; however, those who are interested in such can easily find those discussions.  This post is more about a tribute to my friend, and to show you a little bit of Haiti.  Although rife with poverty, the Island is full of riches as well…

Landing in Port-au-Prince making the first stop at the castle….

The feeling you get is the majestic nature of the palace, with the mountains as the background, and if you do not know the history of Toussaint L’Ouverture, then that is recommended reading.  The ‘General’, in a historical and contemporary sense, seems to have left the remains for blessings and cursings…..yet, riding around Haiti….there is a sense of curiosity that shows the chains of hope…

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Whenever, I travel somewhere….I always look for the children.  I wonder what their story is…. In fact, some adults have a well developed inner child.  Thus, I wonder about that story as well.  Many of these youngsters are constantly seen being children.  Although the outsider would see the suffering, many of them are so happy they do not even know they are suffering.  But, I wonder; however, can you see the suffering inside of other people??

Just, going through downtown Port-Au-Prince, it is really quite fascinating….practically any view might pop up….and it made me wonder constantly….what stream of life is this?

In the city, of course there is the dust….but, also the views of the mountains (although some have been made bare because of the over-production of charcoal, the rivers…their inhabitants…..and of course the sights ….

The business owners and occasional amazing view… but, personally…I love my guy here:

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🙂 🙂  well, we all have our things we are fascinated by 🙂  But, moving right along….The next post, goes into what we call the …. ‘bidonville’…..

Ciao!!