Want To Give A Rare And Precious Gift? How About A Trip To Cuba!

Do you want to give someone special a rare and precious gift this holiday?  What about a trip to Cuba, as it is, right now?   With all its blight, poverty and estrangement from the U.S., it is still on my list of “best trips” for the traveler, the historian, the photographer or the beach lover.

Havana is a city rich in culture, but lacking even a pretense of urban renewal.  So the question you may ask, is, why visit now?  Because change is inevitable, and when that change happens, this rare opportunity to see it as it is, with all its blemishes, will be lost forever.

The blight and poverty are real, but Cuba’s beauty will haunt you:

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And the beaches, on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean, stretch on and on and on.  Miles and miles of some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see, on the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean.

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My recommendation to any world travelers who read our blog: travel to Cuba now.  It is only miles from our shores.  The people are friendly, the climate is perfect, and despite occasional reminders that we are “the imperialists”, the Cuban people and the Cuban government seem to welcome us with open arms.

If you’ve run out of ideas for holiday gifts, what about a visit to the most exotic destination within a one hour flight from our shores?  Cuba!

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Goodbye Havana

Our trip to Cuba ended much as it began. We were overwhelmed by the beauty and the poverty of this tiny island nation.  But now, after months of preparations, days filled with visual images we will never forget, and photographs that will end up in posts far into the future, it was finally time for us to pack our bags for the journey home.

As we were preparing our bags Saturday night for an early morning departure, I watched the hustle and bustle of Havana.  Neither the city’s great beauty, nor its decay, were visible in this nighttime shot.  Left to admire is just the vibrancy of the city.

It was a memorable experience.  While our visit only touched the edges of this wonderful country, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience its rich culture, wonderful people and incredible beauty.

If you haven’t experienced Cuba, put it on your bucket list!

Finca Vigia: Hemingway’s Island in the Storm

Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third (and last) wife discovered this late 19th century house and grounds in 1939.  It became their home for more than twenty years.  The villa sits in San Francisco de Paula, on the outskirts of Havana.  The lands, vegetation and imposing walls created a tropical paradise and a tranquility conducive to the peace Hemingway must have craved to enable him the ability to craft his art.

The house and gardens reflect Hemingway’s life and personality. His hunting trophies are spread throughout the house.

Understanding as she did her husband’s propensity to drink heavily, Gellhorn apparently preferred that Hemingway have a panoramic view of Havana without being close enough to the city to be subject to its many temptations.  The protection from the city may also have some responsibility for the protection the Hemingway’s seemed to have had from the violence of the revolution.

It is at Finca Vigia that he wrote seven books, including The Old Man and the Sea, Islands in the Stream, and A Moveable Feast.  

Hemingway seems to have had a love affair with Cuba as he did with Key West, Florida.  While he is reputed to have continued his heavy drinking in Cuba as well as his romantic escapades, he must have been drawn to the Cuban people with a strength that remained unabated through the revolution.

In 1960, Washington made the decision to cut off relations with Castro’s government.  During that period, the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Philip Bonsall, apparently requested Hemingway to abandon his Cuban home as a demonstration of his patriotism to the U.S. Hemingway refused to do so.  When he did leave Cuba, he left his furniture, clothing, personal property, manuscripts and his library. Local guides suggest that the U.S. pressure on Hemingway to leave Cuba contributed to his death. I know of no support for this claim.  Nevertheless, it is, perhaps, because Hemingway anticipated returning to the island that he left his home virtually intact.

Visitors can observe the conditions in which Hemingway lived and worked through the last years of his career.  Evidence of his personality and his love of literature are everywhere. Over 9000 volumes remain in the residence.

Three buildings are situated on the property, the main residence, this separate children’s/guest quarters, and Hemingway’s office where most of his typing appears to have been done.
His ability to remain in the property despite the reality of the revolution around him suggests at least a cordial relationship with the Fidel Castro, with whom he was occasionally photographed.

He also left his beloved boat: Pilar.  It now sits adjacent to the swimming pool where Ava Gardner swam nude while visiting Hemingway’s home.

Hemingway donated the estate to the Cuban government.  The property has been restored through the combined efforts of the U.S. and Cuban governments, in one of the few cooperative endeavors in which the two countries have engaged.

Our travels continue.

Habana: Sunrise Over a Once Forbidden City

Habana, Cuba.  In the states we refer to the city by the name Havana.  But it is their country and it seems they should receive deference in how to spell it.  Long forbidden to U.S. citizens, it is a place like no other.  Just 90 miles from the United States, it is shrouded in mystery.

The sunrise over Habana Harbor on the second morning of our visit was as dramatic as the city.  The sun was an intense reddish-orange and the clouds were dark as night.[1]

As I watched, the sunlight produced a softer image of the city around us illuminating the sky and the Atlantic Ocean in muted shades of grays and blues.

Within just a few additional minutes, the colors and the texture of the city were in full view.  This photograph reveals the contrast of the beauty and the decay that have enveloped Havana since Fidel Castro’s revolution. A revolution that has resulted in changes that continue to dominate life in Cuba more than 60 years later.

I had anticipated our trip to Cuba would be an exciting and a constantly changing experience for me, and for all the members of our tour.  I was right.

Our journey had really just begun.

[1]  These photographs were taken with my Nikon D5100 camera using a Tamron telephoto lens.  They are not altered or enhanced.  Their beauty and their flaws are all my own.  To stabilize my camera for these slow shots, I leaned against the railing on my 17th floor hotel room and held tight.