November 3, 2015

Cuba Vacation All Inclusive Cuba

Written by Sophia Bass

If you’re a seafood lover, you will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of delicious seafood Cuba has to offer. Lobster, fish, shrimp, scallops….seafood was endless on the Caribbean island. I was in awe of the complexity of flavors and spices that were incorporated into each dish which has inspired me to cook Cuban food in my home. There was one dish in particular that continues to resonate with me even months after returning to the U.S.

After four nights in Havana, I decided to travel to Playa Larga which is located on the Southern part of Cuba. Playa Larga is close to a small town, known for fishing more than anything. A typical dinner for a local family consisted of pescado (fish) , camerones (shrimp), or chicken and pork with a side of rice and portion of vegetables.

The first night, my boyfriend and I stayed in a beautiful local beach casa and were told that the best meal was three houses down from ours. A man at our hotel said we could get lobster for $10 US dollars with everything included. It sounded like an incredible deal considering this would be a $30-$40 dollar dinner in the U.S.

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We walked over the restaurant at sunset and ordered the lobster, and the dish was more in quantity than I had imagined.  A lobster tail the size of four small tails, including squash, rice, a homemade vegetable and chicken soup, and large slices of avocado and salad.

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This dish was particularly important to me while in Cuba as it portrayed how the locals in Playa Larga are eating and sourcing their food. Just an hour before we ate, the family caught the lobster we were eating in the ocean right in front of their house. Using local avocados and vegetables for the side dishes, the meal could not have been more fresh. This was my most memorable meal in Cuba.

Written by Sophia Bass

My entire life, I was told that Old Havana was known as a music mecca where musicians of all regions of Cuba come to play traditional Cuban music, Spanish serenades, with influences of African and European sounds. When I arrived to Havana in July of 2017, everything I had imagined about Cuba became a reality. The smell of Cuban cigars in alleyways, the sounds of a guitar and a clave in synchronicity, and the smell of pork being cooked over a fire. I was in heaven.

Old Havana is a magical part of the city that still remains untouched by much of outside world. I was captivated by the architecture, old neo-classical Spanish style architecture, and the quaint European Cafe’s that offered Cafe Cubano, Cuba’s signature coffee drink.

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After sipping on delicious rich Cuban coffee, I stumbled across a live Cuban four piece band that played Buena Vista Social Club classics such as Chan Chan and Dos Gardenias. Rhythms were in sync and their voices harmonized beautifully together. I could not believe that this band played on the streets of Havana seven days a week, all day everyday, catering to tourists and locals.

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As a young Jazz musician growing up in the United States, I had learned about Old Havana’s music scene and how it had influenced musicians around the world. I was told it was like the “New Orleans” of the Caribbean, and it really does feel this way from cafes to street corners.

Cuba’s diverse make up of African, Spanish, European, and Caribbean culture has allowed music to flourish and impact generations of all kinds. Music seems to be an integral part of Cuban culture. At lunch, we would stumble upon guitarists and singers who would come right up to our table and serenade us at an outdoor restaurant. Dinner’s were always accompanied by music and many bands would even take requests from dinner guests. The Cuban people sing and play music with pride as they are proud of their Cuban heritage. My first impression of Old Havana was remarkable, and I will return again in the near future.

If you’re thinking about traveling to Cuba this winter or spring, check out our personalized trips on our website: www.solturatravel.com

 

 

 

Written by Sophia Bass

The Economist article provides insight into the lives of Cuba’s cigar-factory workers. Lectores have been reading at cigar factories since 1865, when Nicolas Azcarate, a leader of a movement for political reform, proposed that education should be instilled in the minds of factory workers. Cigar workers began listening to texts such as “The Count of Monte Cristo,” as they were stuck in the monotony of making cigars. These texts helped factory workers to take their minds off of tedious labor while also providing workers an education. Many believe that the influence of the texts on cigar workers contributed to Cuba’s independence from Spain.

Today, nearly 200 Lectores are still in Cuba. While Cuba’s merchandise exports fell by 33% in 2016, Cigars continue to be one of the leading export industries as they rose by 5% to $445m. UNESCO is considering to designate la lectura as a form of “cultural heritage” to help keep it going throughout Cuba.

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“This is the only job in Cuba that is democratically decided,” expresses an employee. The factory workers actually get to choose the lectores. They vote on which books will be read and the audience is always demanding.

Many lectores move beyond their role and go on to become counselors or community leaders. As Cuban cigar-factory workers have found contentment in novels for decades, they value their education and wish to keep this cultural practice alive.

For more information on this article, go to http://www.economist.com/topics/cuba

 

Written by Sophia Bass

In New York Times article, “Cuba Art Outshines Politics,” author, Abby Ellin paints a picture of Cuba’s current political and cultural state. As politics among Cuban and American relations continue to shift between the Obama Administration and Trump Era, Cuba has become a fascinating destination for art, music, and culture. This has become evident through Museums  around the United States and Havana.

In the last year, the Bronx Museum, El Museuo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and Cuban Museum of Natural history all featured visual Cuban artists. In addition, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis attributed to the rising interest in travel to Cuba during the Obama Administration.

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Iliana Cepero, professor of Latin American Art and Cuban Culture at New York University states, “Cuba was a cultural center in Latin America from the 50’s to 80’s.” As political tension between Cuban and American relations have been present, the Cuban people have been waiting for a shift in policy for decades. As more Americans have traveled to Cuba in recent years,  professors and artists are featuring Cuban art in museums, organizations, and universities to educate the American public on Cuban society and culture.

Art shows are featuring photography, paintings, and portraits of well known performers and political figures throughout Cuba. Professor Cepero wants the exhibitions to portray a realistic image of Cuba. She states, “On the one hand, Cuba is filled with entrepreneurship, music and warm, vibrant people. On the other hand, racism, prostitution and political unrest are rampant.” Cepero wants the public to understand the hardships of the Cuban people, while also finding interest in their art and music.

For more information on this article, check out New York Times article, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/arts/cuba-art-politics.html

 Written by Sophia Bass

Cuban cuisine has been influenced by Spanish, Aboriginal, African and Caribbean influences. Food sources mainly come from rivers, lakes, and the ocean which provide much of the culture’s protein sources. The landscape is known for rich agriculture, producing fruits, vegetables, and “casabe,” which is a grain used for bread-making.

During the Fidel Castro days, Cubans were cut off from the world and were deprived from outside food sources. A typical diet for a Cuban would often be beans, rice, and chicken or fish. Today, Cuba has access to a broader spectrum of ingredients. Modern chefs are looking towards native edibles, old traditions, and foreign influences to help re-shape Cuban cuisine.

Aboriginal influences continue to impact island dishes. Cassava, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins are just a few of the many food sources that are main staples on the island. As Cuban natives fished and hunted, everything that was found was consumed quickly because the hot climate caused food to spoil quickly.

When the Spanish arrived, they brought cattle, pigs, and chickens to the island, which became a main source of protein for Cubans. Slaveholders and colonists often feasted on pork, bananas, plantains, and okra, which came from African regions. The east of Spain brought rice to many areas of the Hispanic Caribbean. A commonly known rice dish called “congri” originally came from Haiti. There, red kidney beans are called “kongo” and rice “ri.” The name is originally Haitian Creole. Both Spanish and African influences heavily shaped the flavor of Cuban cuisine.

At the start of the 20th century, Spanish immigration heavily influenced Cuban cuisine. With mixtures of tomato sauce with spices such as oregano and cumin, Cuban cuisine adapted these flavors in their cooking and continue to use them in stews, soups, and main courses. If you travel to Cuba Today, you will experience the flavors of different regions in every dish.

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For more about the history of Cuban Cuisine…check out the article below!

Historical look at Cuba’s Cuisine

 

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios review

Written by Sophia Bass

Buena Vista Social Club has been the international face of Cuban music for decades. An ensemble of Cuban musicians established in 1996 to revive the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba, Buena Vista developed an eternal legacy. With songs like Dos Gardenias and Chan Chan, this Cuban band has inspired generations of musicians all over the world.

Documentary, Buena Vista Social Club: Adios, is being released in 2017, focusing on the Buena Vista Social Club’s phenomenon, a project that started out as an album recording tracks by aging Cuban musicians brought together by British impresario Nick Gold, produced by American musician Ry Cooder and directed by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez.

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios

Directed by Lucy Walker, this film focuses on biographical, political, and historical background of surviving band members while intertwining their interviews. Ruban Gonzalaez, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Omara Portunondo and many more are highlighted throughout the documentary.

Walker wants to portray the importance of Buena Vista Social Club’s legacy on musicians around the world. She emphasizes that these musicians voice Cuba’s social and political history.

If you want to watch the trailer to Buena Vista Social Club:Adios, click here!

Cuba’s Car Scene in 2017

Written by Sophia Bass

For decades, Cuba has been home to 1950’s American classic vintage cars. As Cuba has had restrictions on new car imports under the Castro regime, the Caribbean nation has preserved classic cars while incorporating them into their daily culture. In a country where the average Cuban makes $20 a month, a new car would not be a realistic goal for most Cubans. If you visit Cuba, you will notice a wide array of cars and colors throughout Havana, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, and all throughout the countryside. An estimated 60,000 pre-1959 American cars are still driving the Cuban streets. An easing of the U.S. embargo could have dramatic impacts on car-scene throughout Cuba.

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Journalist, Jonathon Harper, traveled to Cuba in recent years and noticed that the majority of cars in Cuba fit in about five categories. “Original American classics, non-originiae American classics, Russian cars and trucks, newer Chinese/Korean/Japanese vehicles, and European cars,” states Harper. As a tourist in Havana, you will see brightly colored Cadillacs, Chevys, Dodges, Buicks, and Fords that came out Detroit 50 years ago. Cubans take pride in their cars, and maintain quality care of their vehicles.

Despite recent political changes throughout Cuba, many believe that original American classics will remain part of Cuba’s automotive workforce. Cars have become such an integral part of Cuba’s identity that visitors want to see and experience Cuba’s vintage car scene.

To find out more about Cuba’s Car Scene in 2017, check out the article below

Cuba’s Car Scene in 2017

In Cuba, Sourcing Style

Written by Sophia Bass

Cuban culture is beginning to cultivate individualism after years of historical oppression. New York Times article, “In Cuba, Sourcing Style,” highlights individualism in a country that has been restrictive and regulated by communism for decades. Rose Cromwell, a photographer that has been traveling to Cuba for over 12 years, states that she senses Cuba is changing. She explains that in a country where clothing options are limited, cultivating a specific style can be challenging in Cuba. Relatives will bring back clothing from Mexico, Panama, or Miami and sell them from their homes.

Some individuals have been found to source clothing from Brazil, wearing colorful attire in Old Havana or at music festivals. Men have been found to wear funky jewelry, even if they don’t have a lot of money, they enjoy wearing jewelry that feels expressive. Men are also finding fashion in hair styles, mustaches, and eyebrows. “You definitely see a lot of self-care, and barbershops are ubiquitous in Cuba,” says Cromwell.

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As fashion trends and styles are becoming prominent throughout Cuba, artists and designers are also developing new designs and products. This rise in design and clothing making is significant as it portrays how Cubans are beginning to own small businesses. Musicians and producers are also developing small record businesses, inviting singers and rappers to record throughout Havana.

To discover more about Cuba’s shifting culture, check out New York Times article:

In Cuba, Sourcing Style

Unseen Wonders: 10 of Cuba’s best natural attractions

Written by Sophia Bass

Due to a rise in tourism in Cuba, travelers have been exploring Cuban countryside, taking hikes to waterfalls, snorkeling near remote beaches, and learning about Cuban ecology. Here’s a list of some of Cuba’s best natural attractions to visit for 2017-2018.

  1. Cayo Coco is a remote island destination. Locals call the sharp reef remnants “dog’s teeth,” and appropriate footwear is necessary for anyone who wants to hike beside the water. The island is known for bird watching, snorkel excursions, and canoe trips along mangroves.
  2. Zapata Biosphere Reserve contains one of the largest wetlands in the Caribbean. It boasts a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and is known for its citing of Cuban crocodiles.
  3. Guanahacabibes Peninsula Park lies within the Guanahacabibes Peninsula Biosphere, which was created in 1980. Known as one of the most remote places in Cuba, this park is home to deer, iguanas, and over 100 species of birds.
  4. Toppes de Collates is a protected area in the Escambray Mountains. Here, travelers can find caves, waterfalls, rivers, and wildlife.
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  5. Hanabanilla Lake was built as a reservoir during the reign of the Batista government before the communist revolution. The main attraction here is fishing and it is especially known for its largemouth Bass.
  6. Viñales is popularly known for its scenic beauty and tobacco farms. Tourists travel to this valley to see the picturesque rounded limestone rock formations called mogotes, which surround the banana and tobacco farms.
  7. Desembarco del Granma is another natural area that is known for its limestone formations. The cliffs and waterfalls here are in close proximity to the coast and offer scenic views.
  8. Las Terrazas is an eco-village in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve that got its start during a reforestation effort in the 1960s. At that time, the new trees were planted on terraced hillsides so that they would not be swept away by rain and erosion. In addition, this area has a vibrant arts scene that is definitely worth visiting!
  9. The Soroa Orchid Garden is a 7.5-acre attraction in Sierra del Rosario, the same reserve that houses Las Terrazas. The garden features 700 different species of orchid and a host of other ornamental plants. You can visit Las Terrazas and learn how to cultivate beautiful flowers!
  10. Bocanao is a 300 square pile plot of land located near Maestra Mountain and is home to over 1,000 animals species and 1,800 plant species. It is also home to 200 Dinosaur Concrete Statues!

For more information on outdoor excursions and destinations to explore in Cuba, check out the article below:

Unseen Wonders: 10 of Cuba’s best natural attractions

Soltura Cuba Tours continue unaffected despite Trump’s policy

To Soltura Cuba Travelers,

You may have heard the news regarding Trump’s policy on Cuba. We want to assure you of what the facts are as we know them on the ground. The announcement made by the State Department should have no effect on our trip. The US media has been confusing some of the facts. For example, one media source announced that Cuba was no longer issuing tourist visas to Americans, while the truth is that the US embassy is no longer issuing visas to Cubans who wish to visit the US. This is simply because there will not be enough embassy staff to process visas for Cubans.

We want to assure you that there is no negative sentiment here toward US citizens. In fact the entire security force of Cuba has been fully cooperating with the US in the investigation into the sonic incidents that damaged a few embassy workers. Several highly regarded US scientists have concluded that it would have been impossible to have intentionally done this. It was likely faulty covert listening devices. No US tourists have been harmed. There is zero change in the laws regarding US visits to Cuba. The union of US diplomats is protesting the withdrawal of embassy workers from the US embassy in Havana.

Additionally, Cuba has been rebuilding after Hurricane Irma very quickly. The long-term damage done to Havana appears to be minimal, and mostly limited to vegetation. 99% of the electricity in the country is back up. Trinidad and Viñales we’re unaffected by the hurricane. Cuba has been rapidly rebuilding its tourism infrastructure, and is ready to receive tourists in the upcoming tourist season.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, please contact me at ian.sergeant@gmail.com. We look forward to our ongoing trips throughout Cuba. 

Sincerely,

Ian Sergeant

State Department orders nonessential diplomats and families out of Cuba following mysterious attacks

The 10 Most Beautiful Spots in Cuba

For travelers interested in going to Cuba, here are 10 beautiful places you can’t miss when visiting this historic Caribbean Island.

  1. Old Havana, also known as Habana Vieja, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserving some of Cuba’s richest history. You will not be disappointed roaming Havana’s cobblestone streets, while being serenaded by street musicians of all kinds. For many, Havana is the highlight of Cuba.
  2. Baracoa, founded in 1511, is the oldest city in the Caribbean nation. With incredible views of the sea, this town is known for its breathtaking views and hike on Yunque, a mountain famous for its flat top at 589 meters high.baracoa
  3. Trinidad, a well preserved colonial town in Cuba is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for it’s impressive Spanish-colonial buildings, you can enjoy Playa Ancon, a beach on the southern coast, and enjoy a meal on the rooftop of a historic restaurant in the evening.
  4. Playa Paraiso, a paradise beach, is breathtaking. Located on Caya Largo del Sur, this is a great place to decompress and perfect for beach lounging.
  5. Cienfuegos is a city full of European style architecture. Often known as the Paris of Cuba, this town has French influences in its customs and style.
  6. Valle de Viñales sits in the Sirra de Los Organos mountain range. Explore limestone cliffs, traditional tobacco farms, and Cuban countryside in this beautiful UNESCO Site.
  7. Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is one of the most biologically diverse tropical island sites on the planet. Discover varied plants, specifies, and animal life at this UNESCO Site on the northern coast of eastern Cuba.
  8. Peninsula de Zapata is an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and home to around 150 species of birds, including rare bandicoots, waterhens, parrots, and much more.
  9. Caya Coco is a rural beach famous for appearing in Hemingway’s novels, Islands in the Stream and Old Man and the Sea. Enjoy stunning views of the ocean on the Jardines del Rey archipelago island.
  10. The Malecón is a 7 kilometer walk along the sea wall that offers popular views of the sea from Havana. It’s a great place to watch Cuban dancers or listen to musicians at night.

For more info on these beautiful locations in Cuba, check out article

The 10 Most Beautiful Spots In Cuba

 

Cuban graffiti artists bring social critique to Havana’s walls

Written by Sophia Bass

A younger generation of Cuban artists are beginning to express newer social conditions through graffiti art in Havana. These works of art are touching on the shifting social and political views that are straying away from Communism. Some would say that newer demonstrations of Cuban art are symbolizing growing independence and materialism on an island that has been isolated for decades.

Graffiti began emerging under President Raul Castro in the last few years. As the Caribbean nation has slowly relaxed some of it’s communist views and become more influenced by international culture, there has been a rise in Cuban street art. 

Cuban artist, Yulier Rodriquez states, “I want to create a social conscience with my work, an awareness about what we are turning into.” His alien like creatures with malnourished limbs and heads, touch on the state of the Cuban people. 

Although Cuba has began to transform in recent years, Rodriquez expresses concern that Cuban society is going towards a time of struggle, as many Cubans are forced to turn to illegal activities on the black market to survive. 

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Rodriquez has gained inspiration from Banksy and Jean-Michel Basquiat, both British and American street artists who create their art based on the social conditions of humanity. His recent work includes a character holding Donald Trump’s head, reflecting Cubans’ anger over the U.S. President’s attitude toward recent U.S.-Cuban relations.

As Cuba has always been known for it’s artistic expression, it will be fascinating to see how graffiti artists are received by the Cuban government during shifting social and political times. 

Cuban graffiti artists bring social critique to Havana’s walls

Cuba cleans up after Hurricane Irma

More news from Cuba yesterday:

Roger Martinez was able to access the news at his grandmother’s house. Electricity, water, and internet (essential for Cuban millennials) are all being restored neighborhood by neighborhood at a faster pace than was initially expected.

Some of the damages: A few deaths have been reported, mostly from fallen debris from buildings a century or older in a couple of the more densely populated areas of the city that hadn’t been evacuated. A few neighborhoods on the outskirts of Havana set low and close to the water were prone to frequent flooding anyway, and sections were completely destroyed.

Among the destroyed zones in the suburbs was Fuster’s decades old community project, Fusterlandia (this was a section of a Havana suburb with wild structures completely covered in mosaics in the style of Gaudi).

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The architect Fuster gave a live interview on TV. He said the only thing Irma didn’t tear down was a wall where a tiled mural of a Mambí General is exhibited (these were the guerrillas who fought fiercely against Spanish colonial overlords for more than a decade to win Cuba’s independence in the late 1800’s – it’s a major part of their national identity). He went on to say, “I don’t care about Irma nor the mother of tomatoes” (according to Roger, a local saying for ‘I don’t give a hoot about it’). “I will build this up place again. I’ll make it new – BETTER, and I will leave the remains as history. Fuck Irma; we are all stronger than you!” During the interview, Roger’s grandfather was yelling at the tv, cheering Fuster on, “Yeah, hell yeah! He is right!”

 

 

 

 

The Harvard Jazz Band Visits Cuba

Written by Sophia Bass 

In late August, the Harvard Jazz Band traveled through Cuba, as part of a musical tour of the island. Under the guidance of Director Yosvany Terry, a native Cuban, they toured the historic museum and home of Tata Güines, one of Cuba’s top percussionists, and viewed the National Folkloric Company of Cuba perform Afro-Cuban dance, percussion, and chanting.

The purpose of the trip was to appreciate the diverse fabric of Cuban music, while also examining it’s social and political importance. Marking the Harvard Band’s first tour in 25 years, the trip highlighted the vibrancy of Cuba’s complex music and rich history of preserving old traditions.

“How they learn to internationalize rhythm is just fundamentally different than in the United States,” said Ethan Kripke, a sophomore who plays drums. He expressed that the clave is fundamental to Cuban music, aiding percussion, singing, and dancing in Cuba.

Students explored the streets of Havana, where they heard performances of well known Cuban musicians, and saw the birthplaces of music and dance traditions of rumba in Matanzas. 

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“It was cool to be so welcomed and to just feel deeply entrenched in this Cuban tradition of danzon. Music is such a universal language, both in terms of the notion and the feelings you get from it, and in the camaraderie it creates among people of diverse cultures,” said the 21 year old student. Harvard Band members were impressed that the Cubans have internalized rhythms of Afro-Cuban Jazz that don’t come as easily to Americans. 

Visiting the home of Tata Güines was the highlight for the Harvard Jazz Band. Inspired by the village and community that Güines grew up in, students were humbled by watching local drummers play in the courtyard of the village. Students felt a sense of inspiration when they learned that Güines found a way out of poverty by becoming a successful percussionist. 

If you want to learn more about the Harvard Jazz Band’s experience in Cuba, check out Harvard Jazz Band Visits Cuba

Post-Hurricane Irma

Our thoughts are with our Cuban friends this week, after Hurricane Irma ravaged the northern coast of the country, and had a devastating effect on the entire country. As of this writing, the entire electrical infrastructure has been severely damaged, which means that Cubans are also without internet access. The Civil Defense System worked all night trying to keep people safe. He says they were heroic in their endeavors. Many trees are down, buildings completely destroyed, and 5th Avenue (where most of the embassies are) is completely under water. Much rebuilding will need to be done as the water subsides, and we will lend a hand in any way that we can – at the very least by continuing to bring our business to support the people of Cuba. 

We received word from our recently licensed attorney friend Amalia regarding Cojimar, Hemingway’s favorite place to fish and to get away from fame-chasers. Much of it was destroyed in the hurricane. Amalia lives next to Cojimar in Panamericana, a modern suburb of Havana, and some apartments do have limited electricity and internet access if their inhabitants work in essential government positions. Otherwise, the entire electrical infrastructure in Cuba is damaged. Interesting side note: Panamericana was built to house the athletes of the 1991 Pan American Games. Afterward, the apartments were given to the people who built it. It is surreal to visit such a modern neighborhood in historic Havana. Amalia also reports that the government is providing everyone with a nutritious soup and dessert at a deeply subsidized price.

Update from our architect friend Roger, reporting from his mother’s place of work in the Miramar Trade Center, where there is electricity and internet:

There have been waves of flooding continuing to hit Havana, but the water is finally low enough that neighbors are getting their furniture and other assets back from those who helped them protect their belongings in upper floor apartments. Women and children are carrying as much as they can.

Roger has no radio, because the batteries are dead. Most of the city has no electricity, nor access to internet.

Raul sent people to other provinces where the hurricane had hit in order to help restore the electrical infrastructure. Some of those workers are returning to Havana in order to get the capital city back to running order.

The top layers of asphalt streets were destroyed and displaced. In parts of Vedado you can see the original cobblestone. Linea Avenue is completely closed to traffic due to flooding. The tunnel under the Almendares River is completely submerged.

A large piece of living coral was ripped out of the sea and wedged in the side of a building. For now it is impossible to remove. In order to get some fresh air, there are people playing dominoes in Centro Havana on floating wreckage. Cubans are resilient. They are certainly devastated, but have not sunk into despair. The rebuilding has already begun.

Roger has a lot of photos on his FB page: https://www.facebook.com/roger.dominguezmartinez
He apologizes for the incorrect dates – his stepfather doesn’t know how to set the time and date on the camera.

Additionally, you can check out Radio Cuba for updated news: https://goo.gl/QtK7nG

Small-Scale Cuban Farms Meet the Global Market

Written by Sophia Bass 

Cuba’s coffee industry is reviving. Guantanamo province has historically been known for its coffee plantations and mountain ranges, producing some of the highest quality arabica beans in the world. While 90% of Cuba’s coffee comes from Eastern Cuba, 8% comesfrom the central provinces, and 2% from the Western province of Pinar del Rio. Due to deforestation, Cuban coffee no longer grows in the surrounding areas around Havana.502412134

In recent months, Cuba has partnered with international marketing companies and foreign investors to increase coffee exports. Cuban Mountain Coffee (CMC), is investing in the revival of Guantanamo’s coffee crop and wants to market the coffee beans on the international market. In addition, CMC is partnering with Nespresso to supply the company with green coffee beans. Nespresso, a division of Swiss Food in Nestle, instigated excitement across the United States when it began exporting the first Cuban coffee to the U.S. market in half a century. 

Over the next five years, CMC aims to invest $5.5 million in local production, including the purchase of equipment, plants, and nurseries. Technical agricultural support to 2,000 farmers will also be a part of this process. As Guantanamo province is known for its great farming conditions for cultivating specialty grade coffee, investors want to revitalize this region, helping both farmers and consumers. 

For more information on the growing coffee industry, check out Small-Scale Cuban Farms Meet the Global Market

10 Contemporary Cuban Artists You Should Know

Written by Sophia Bass 

Cuba’s culture has historically been known for its contemporary art that emerged out of the 1980’s. Today, many contemporary Cuban artists are traveling to international museums and art galleries, receiving praise for their work. With new relations in the United States, many believe that Cuban art will become widespread.

For decades, Cuban art has been marginalized due to political and societal reasons. This article presents 10 contemporary Cuban artists that play a critical role in portraying Cuba’s history and national identity.

Sculpting and installation artist, Armando Marino, is one of the most popular Cuban contemporary artists. He is known for portraying issues of gender, race, sex, human trafficking, and freedom in contemporary society. Marino has been exhibiting across the world in Europe, USA, and Africa since 1990.

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Cuban painter, Alicia Leal, is a highly influential Cuban artist, who began her career in the 1980’s with a young generation of artists. Leal’s works can be found all over Havana in public spaces. As Leal centers her art around being a woman, she utilizes symbolism to capture the imagery in her folk art pieces.

These two artists are critical figures in Cuba’s art history. To learn more about Cuban contemporary art, read this article below.

10 Contemporary Cuban Artists You Should Know

Cuba’s Food Scene is Exploding

Written by Sophia Bass 

Cuba has not been historically known for its food scene, but this has rapidly changed in the last decade. Havana’s food scene has become widespread and is attracting travelers from all regions of the world. With nearly 2,000 private restaurants in Havana, visitors in Cuba can enjoy a variety of cuisine from Italian to Vietnamese.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, private restauranbeautiful-pictures-of-havana-cuba-32ts started to arrive in 1993. As government regulations monitored the restaurant industry in the 1990’s, restaurants were going out of business due to strict enforcement and high taxes under Cuba’s communist regime. In 2010, the media stated that there were only 74 private restaurants in Havana.

When Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, took control of the government, there began a shift in the restaurant industry. He increased the amount of chairs from 12 to 50 in restaurants and issued new licenses. This started the transformation of Havana’s food scene. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba in during Obama’s presidency in 2015 additionally influenced the restaurant scene in Cuba. 

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Today, travelers who visit Cuba can enjoy a filet mignon, shrimp risotto, or a grilled seafood platter with lobster tail. Cubans who travel to Europe, Florida, and Mexico are bringing back foreign flavors and incorporating them into their cuisine.

If you want to experience the flavors of Havana, sign up for a curated trip at www.solturatravel.com

Private Restaurants in Cuba are Exploding

How Cuba is Lifting the Caribbean Region

Written by Sophia Bass

The recent boom in travelers visiting Cuba is aiding tourism throughout the Caribbean region. In the last year, Cuba’s wave of tourism rose by 13.9 percent to a record of just over 4 million. With a 4.2 percent increase as a whole for the Caribbean region, Cuban tourism officials are expecting a record high for tourism in 2017.

St. Lucia Prime Minister, Allen M. Chastanet stated, “Cuba opening up is a fantastic thing for the Caribbean. It only strengthens the brand of the Caribbean.” With nearly 2 million international visitors in the first few months of 2017, Jamaica also hit a record high, raising $1 billion in tourism. Because Cuba attracts visitors from Latin America, Europe, Canada, and the U.S., Cuba may inspire visitors to travel to other Caribbean islands.

Currently, the United States government allows U.S. travelers into 12 categories, such as support for the Cuban people, humanitarian missions, family visits, journalism, research, or people to people visits. If travel restrictions are lifted, the International Monetary Fund says it could result in 5.6 million U.S. arrivals in Cuba.

Former President Barack Obama lifted some travel restrictions with Cuba, but it is unclear what U.S. policy toward Cuba might be under President Donald Trump.beautiful-pictures-of-havana-cuba-5

The recent surge in U.S. travel to Cuba has increased revenue and allowed travel companies to hire American workers, which also has benefited Cuba’s private sector. In addition, U.S. hotel companies have also expressed interest in Cuba, but this is dependent on the U.S. policy going forward.

If the United States continues to allow tourist travel to Cuba, the Caribbean tourism industry will continue to grow despite changes in market shares. Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell states, “Cuba being the giant that it’s going to be now can help us if we integrate our efforts in the region much more than we have don’t at this point, by working together to improve transportation links to the region, and to join forces in marketing.”

For more information on Cuba’s growing tourism industry, check out the article below.

Will Cuba’s wave of tourism lift the Caribbean region?

Thoughts on Orlando tragedy from Cuba

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I do my best to stay on top of the news of the world when I am here in Cuba, but as you all know, it’s complicated here. Wider availability of wifi hotspots spread out over Cuba’s public spaces makes it much easier, and the price has gone down to $1 – $2 per hour of internet access. Still, I mostly focus my time on responding to important emails, checking out Cuba-specific news, and using Facebook to see what the folks back home are up to. When Sarah sent me the news of the shooting in the Orlando gay nightclub immediately after it happened, like any warm-blooded person, I cried. 

It was for the innocent lives lost, for the foolish bigot who committed the shooting, and for the many narrow-minded people in the world who believe that they are doing the right thing when they cause harm onto others. When it was discussed on the Cuban state news that night in the hotel lobby that I was using as an office, the shock and sadness on my Cuban friends’ faces was apparent, and they gave me their heart-felt condolences. 

Raul Castro later made a statement condemning the shooting, and in support for the victims. I had expected it to have a stronger presence in Cuba’s news outlets, perhaps in editorials championing Cuba’s own human rights records and lack of violence – they have institutionalized protection for the LGBT community, and are continually strengthening those rights and protections. The state healthcare system covers sex reassignment surgery (free of charge). Raul´s own daughter, Mariela Castro is an internationally known LGBT human rights activist, founder of Cuba´s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), and an executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health. However, other than the Cuban president’s statement, I didn´t hear any other Cuban voices on the subject. 

The United States, while it has passed many progressive laws protecting minority communities, has a global reputation for it´s gun obsession and it´s violence. I´m currently in a country that suffers nearly 20 times more deaths per year to lightening strikes than to gun violence. If a heated argument or the rare physical altercation breaks out here, neighbors immediately respond to mediate and to help make peace. 

It occurred to me recently that perhaps Cuba was maintaining a respectful silence on the subject. To politicize this situation would be tasteless and cold, while in contrast Cuba is overall the warmest and safest place in the world that I have ever visited. Cuba’s record of being a peaceful country with legislated protection for the LBGT community speaks for itself, and they know that it doesn’t need to be used opportunistically in the face of this tragedy. 

I hope that in the US and in other parts of the world, we can move toward unifying discussion as opposed to divisive political maneuvering by self-interested politicians. It is only through empathy and educated discourse that we can elevate our societal norms and perceptions, and create a climate in which this can never happen again.

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Obama Visits Cuba

Today was absolutely surreal, as the streets were nearly empty in the several hours before Obama’s arrival. Sundays in Havana are generally quiet, as Cubans, family-oriented as they are, go en masse to swimming pools or to the beaches in the outskirts of the city. Adding to that the fact that most Cubans didn’t bother going out into the city due to rumors that everything would be closed in anticipation of higher than normal security needs for Obama’s visit, Havana was like a ghost town.

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Progress in Cuba

 

A prominent change that I have been witnessing over the past few months in Cuba is that there are many more WiFi hotspots. Contrary to what you may have read by journalists who report from the comfort of their hotels, the internet is not free. Nor has it ever been $12/hr anywhere other than the most expensive hotels in Havana. It has, however, reduced dramatically in price lately. One hour of internet access now costs $2 per hour, or roughly two days worth of wages on the state salary. Fortunately for most Habaneros, there are opportunities to make money on the side, making tips in the tourist sector. The Cuban way is to make possible the impossible, and people have found a way to share the WiFi signal with multiple people from access with a single internet card.

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