Cuba Days 8 and 9

On our last full day in Havana it started to rain. The backup plan was to take us to an art gallery to see some Cuban art. It was interesting and some I liked. Some was very dark. But it was hard to appreciate without a little background and commentary on the history of Cuban art. I also couldn’t help but wonder how many of the works hanging on the walls had been confiscated from wealthy homes after the revolution.
splashWe were then taken to a seaside village which appeared very poor but where a retired surgeon and his wife had opened a restaurant called Julio, specializing in seafood. The house was set out over the water and on that day waves were crashing all around making one wonder how it had ever survived a hurricane. We were served a sumptuous lunch of seafood including, fish, clams, lobster, and shrimp. Appetizers includeYello_Windowd fried banana cups filled with tuna fish and calamari. As always the ubiquitous rice and beans. Desert was some sort of candied orange and cheese, not really to my taste. I left feeling quite stuffed. by the time lunch was over the rain had abated and I was able to get a few interesting shots around the village.

MosaicWe stopped on the way back at a neighborhood where an artist had covered the walls with mosaic and created sculptures not only at his own house but for many ofHeart his neighbors. It was apparentlymeant as a tribute to Gaudi. Unfortunately, a huge tour bus arrived just after us so we were not able to fully enjoy the art. This was the one place outside Havana that I saw a full fledged gift shop, albeit in someone’s front yard. Alas, still no t-shirt that spoke to me.

Angel4We then proceeded to an old cemetery that took up at least 16 city blocks. You might ask what the heck do you photograph at a cemetery? Like Valle Prehistorica this required a little creative openness and thought toward future processing. I started off with angels but then realized that about 90% of the monuments were angels and I could not possibly get them all and after all, how many angels do you need even for future creative elements. I then started in on windows and doors of the mausoleums and decorative iron fences.crosswbirds I also got some great textures for future digital artistry projects.

Unfortunately, as I was blithely approaching an interesting looking window, I walked into the territory of some stray dogs and was viciously attacked. I think the hat and raincoat and camera were just too intimidating for the dogs. I don’t think I was bitten but just scratched as the dog’s foot glanced off my leg, though for a time I was having visions of rabies shots. They did settle down right away when I told them to shoo. I iron_fencewiped off the blood with a kleenex then poured hand sanitizer over it. I later had Dr. Norm look at it and he washed it again with bottled water and more purell and kept checking it the rest of the trip. It seems to be healing up just fine.

We went back to the hotel for a short siesta then were picked up for our farewell dinner at a lovely restaurant, La Bonita, out in a Havana neighborhood. We had pork chopsbluewall2 which were delicious, not like the over lean pork we get in the U.S. There was a luscious cervice for a starter, rice and beans, of course, and flan with ice cream for dessert. And we had wine which is hard to come by and expensive in Cuba. There was a jazz trio plaundrywchairlaying and since we were the only table it seemed to be just for us. We all bought their CD, which, it turns out, is my only souvenir from Cuba, there not being much to buy in the first place and lacking quality in the second place and probably not made in Cuba in the third place.

The next morning I was all packed and had breakfast and it stopped raining for awhile so I went for a walk walkingthedogbehind the hotel. There I found some of the most abject poverty, not to mention filth, I have ever encountered. I also found some of the best street photography of the entire trip. Still, I soon proceeded back to the rich side of the hotel and photographed old cars for a while.

Three_womenAt 10:30 we were whisked off to the airport where we said goodbye to Leonel and were left on our own to negotiate the lines. First we went to the money changing line. They said, “Sorry, we have no American Dollars” then we were told Shiny_chevyto go over to another window and were taken one by one into a small room. They locked the door and  a man in a suit proceeded to exchange my CUCs for American dollars, one to one. They ran out of dollars before we were all through the line and some of our party had to exchange their CUCs for Euros to be exchanged for dollars when they got back home.

carsandarchesNext was the line for checking in for our flight. I had needed to go to the restroom when we arrived but could not find one so stood in the line for half an hour with my legs crossed. Finally, I got the counter and checked in and got rid of my suitcase and asked for the banos. Sure enough way past customs and down a narrow hall was the ladies room. I started to go into a stall and an airport worker yelled “Paper” reminding me that in Cuba you have to obtain your toilet paper before going into the stall.

Much relieved I proceeded through customs which was no big deal. ThenHood_ornament security which was not too bad though I tried to ask the woman if she wanted my computer out but she was intent on telling me to take my belt off until I finally lifted my shirt to show her I didn’t have a belt on. Then, of course, on the other side I was asked to take the laptop out so they could scan the bag without it. And then we proceeded to sit and wait for our flight which was only an hour late and that’s pretty good for Cuba time.

I have to say, I have never been so happy to return to American soil. Cuba was warm, Cubans were friendly, the colors were amazing, the photography was outstanding but all the time something was just a bit off. And I guess that’s why I travel, to get out of my comfort zone. But it is also, oh, so nice, to snuggle back into it when I get home.


Cuba Day 6 – Transfer to Havana

On Wednesday we arose at 5:00am. I was prepared to forego breakfast but Lionel said “No, it’s paid for, they have to give it to you whenever you want.” Fortunately, my housemate had a translator on her phone because I would not have known how to say 5:45 in Spanish. We left for the airport at 6:15 and were all checked in with luggage checked for our flight to Havana and through security by 7:15 though the flight did not leavInglaterrae until 8:35. But at least it was on time. We were in Havana with luggage in hand by 10:15 and picked up by our new driver Lasero, who did not speak English, but who drove a very similar van to David’s and he whisked us away to the Hotel Inglaterra on the border between Central Havana (dating to the 19th century) and Havana Viejo (old Havana, dating Opera_houseto the 16th century). Our hotel was just next door to the very ornate Opera House and just a block from the national capitol building which was having its dome restored.

Havana is to Santiago as Portland is to Eugene, Seattle is to Spokane, Dallas is to San Antonio, Dublin is to Galway (sorry east coast people, I can’t think of any good analogies). Both are big cities but Santiago was much more intimate and manageable. The buildings in Santiago are mostly two stories, in Havana more on the order of four or five. The streets are wider in Havana and the traffic much, much heavier.

We arrived at the hotel around eleven and of course our rooms were not ready so we checked our luggage and Lionel walked us to a very Americanized café for lunch three or four blocks away. Though we were told to focus on walking not photography, I could not resist this woman putting out her laundry. At the restaurant, which we later learned is funded by Cuban Americans, they even had a menu in English,
which was good because Lionel abandoned us to go visit his wife. I ordered a tuna sandwichWomanwlaundry because it was the only one on the menu that didn’t say it came with vegetables. Unfortunately, it did anyway. It also had three slices of bread with about a tablespoon of tuna salad between each slice. I peeled off the lettuce and made do with my tuna flavored bread. 

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel and checked into our rooms where we were presented with not only a complimentary bottle of water but one of Rum as well. I never opened mine and feared to try and schlep it back to the west coast unbroken. The hotel was, no doubt, very grand in its day but that day had long since passed. Some of our group had stayed there before and said there were improvements but not enough to justify the doubling in price from two years ago. However, my room was clean and the plumbing and electricity, including the air conditioner, all  worked to my satisfaction.

I caught up on some photo editing then when outside to Central Park and photographed old cars as they were zooming by. They also had parking areas at each end of GreenChevythe park filled with old cars now serving as taxis so I did some detail work there. While there are some newer cars from Russia and China, in Havana the old American
cars are the norm.

A few words about the old cars seems appropriate. Though they are running, none of them seems to be running well. Some have nice paint jobs but the interiors are not necessarily intact. The fumes from
these cars, many of them older than I am are atrocious. One of our group members said he saw a man pull up, grab a screwdriver to open Buickthe trunk where he had a 20 gallon jerry can with hoses running out of it. Ron pointed to it and asked “Is that your gas tank?” The man grinned and said “Si, welcome to Cuba.” Regardless of condition, the old cars are considered a national treasures. Still, I have a hunch many will find themselves on boats home if relations with the U.S. continue to normalize.

Blue_DoorAT 4:30pm we were picked up by the van and taken to Old Havana for a walking tour which ended up lasting for 2 ½ hours. I was exhausted with sore feet by the end and it was too dark for photographs. Lionel saidLightwiron “You are photographers, you need to walk around.” Well, yeah, but in the light of day please and with a rest break every hour or so. The architecture was beautiful and I would be happy to return some day to photograph more… in the light of day.

Blue_ArchWe ended up at a restaurant where we were directed up a narrow spiral staircase to a private room. I had Ropa Vieja, a sort of shredded meat dish, in this case lamb. It was served with the ubiquitous rice and beans and some very tasty appetizers. I especially liked the fried plantain basket with seasoned ground beef.

Cuba Day 4 – El Cobre

Day 4 started out with the same breakfast I have had for the past two days; an omelet with onion, cheese, lots of fruit, juice and tea. Then I packed up and moved to a new casa which turned out to be 2 ½ blocks from the old casa. The room was a little nicer and bigger, the stairs a little wider but just as steep. You may be wondering why we had to change casas. Well, originally, we were supposed to be moving on to Baracoa on this day but hurricane Matthew threw a wrench into those plans. So, the idea was we would stay at a hotel in Santiago the first three days then move to casas. Because the second set of casas had been prearranged and paid for before we lost the hotel rooms we had no choice but to move. I mentioned to someone at my first house that we had been meant to go to Baracoa and he said “Oh, Baracoa is so beautiful, you must go, the hotel is fine now.” But alas, it was out of my hands.

Once settled in our new casa we piled into the van (a 12 passenger Mercedes Benz if you really want to know) and hunted down the cigar factory we were to tour only to be told that no pictures were allowed. But we took the nickel tour anyway and learned how cigars are made. The nice thing about cigars is that they are pure tobacco with no additives, unlike cigarettes. The whole leaves are sorted then pressed together in a round press, then a tobacco leaf wrapper is added to make it look pretty. It seems to be a very labor intensive process, at least here.

BasilicaNext, we went to a town called El Cobre, the name of which has something to do with its history as a copper mining center. But its real claim to fame is a cathedral that is dedicated to the patron saint of Cuba and a popular site for pilgrims with and without religion. The full name of the chuSancturaryrch reflects its Spanish heritage: The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Caridad del Cobre. The church was not that impressive (austere says my
 guide book) thoug I did manage to eke out a few interesting images. The community was down a steep flight of steps that I didn’t want to have to Crosscome back up and it  seemed to consist of a lot of vendors intent on selling flowers and trinkets to tourists so I don’t know that the photography would have been very satisfying. And, as there was no place to eat lunch we soon headed back to Santiago.

This would be a good place to say a word about religion in Cuba. Because Candlesone cannot be a member of the communist party and be an active participant in religion there are not a lot of overt signs of religion as might be experienced in other former Spanish colonies. On the other hand I did not get the sense that religion was banned outright either. Churches remain as churches and there were certainly plenty of pilgrims at the Basilica. Papal visits have been allowed and I spotted a nun reading on the balcony of a building nearby. Our driver was the son of a Seventh Day Adventist minister and he owns his own van and tour company as well as a farm so having a religious background does not seem to be a deterrent to success in the new relaxed economy. I also understand from my reading that vestiges of African religious practices brought in with slavery are still alive and well in Cuba.

Lunch turned out to be more grilled chicken at Dona Martha Restaurante. Our Spanish speaking guides were not too helpful at explaining the menu choices so I sort of went with what I recognized, “grille” means grilled, this much I know and pollo of course is chicken. Lately all meals have been served with rice and sweet potatoes. So I am having no trouble sticking to my high protein, low carb diet.

Art_GalleryAfter lunch we were turned loose to explore the local neighborhood but the directions for the meeting point and time were not clear. We found an art gallery just around the corner. I’m always hesitant to photograph other peoples art and call it my own but I tried to transform this piece enough to at least make it a shared effort.

I knew I should stay with the group but they were moving so slowly I decided to head out on my own. How hard could three blocks further on be? Well, pretty hard when the cross street does not go through. Of course, when I got to the place I thought I was supposed to be at the time I thought we were supposed to meet there was no one there. I waited fifteen minutes then decided to head back to the restaurant and see if I could find anyone. I was about to panic (OK, cry)Shadow when I finally spied the van, everyone aboard except our guide who was out looking for me. I still don’t know where they met up or how long they were looking for me. Of course, I had money, I knew where I lived and taxis were abundant so I don’t think it would have been a complete disaster even if we hadn’t connected. On the upside, I got some of my most interesting images during this episode.

FishermanWe then headed back to the waterfront for sunset. A few nice silhouettes and color on the water pictures. Well, that might be an understatement. I kind of had a field day with the sunset. And finally, back to the casas for a rest before regathering at one of the casas for a “family dinner” which ended up costing more than any of our Pilingsrestaurant meals so far. Once again I had grilled chicken, not much choice this time, accompanied by rice and sweet potato fries. I went off the reservation and ate some of the salad because the guide and the doctor sitting next to me thought it might be OK. Lionel, our local guide, brought a bottle of rum which he said was the best you could get in Cuba. I enjoyed it but after two beers did not feel like indulging too much.

Cuba Day 3 – Cayo Grandma

Blue_wallI awoke this morning to gunfire, which I thought was odd as Lionel had assured us there were no guns in Cuba. Then I realized it was the 21 gun salute for Fidel Castro as his ashes were interred in a private ceremony just outside of Santiago, his home ciPink_doorty.

After breakfast on the rooftop terrace, I took the back way to Parque Cespedes and caught a few interesting shots in the neighborhood before meeting the group in front of the cathedral for a trip out of town about a half hour to the Punta Gordo Marina.

 There we boarded a catamaran for a short trip over to an island called Cayo Granma. Granma was the name of a boat in which Castro and his troops returned to Cuba from exile in Mexico to embark on the revolution against Batista.  The boat is on display in Havana and not only this island but an entire province have been named for it.

 The IslandFishermen, we were told, was badly damaged by hurricane Sandy and the houses were mostly small and Bananamanin bad repair (to put it mildly). People were out and about working in boats, doing laundry, and perhaps visiting neighbors. Children were riding around on bikes and trikes, dogs wandered everywhere, but there were no cars. One fellow jumpeLaundryd up and insisted on posing next to a banana tree. I offered him a tip which, of course, was what he was hoping for.

As I said to one of my colleagues, it was a target rich boyonbikeenvironment.We were told we could walk around the island in 25 minutes. For photographers, maybe more like an hour or two. I went around one way then started back the other way and saw many things I had missed from the other perspective.

ElCayoAt noon, we adjourned for lunch at a state owned restaurant. It was very high class and seemed to be catering to tour groups. We all had a seafood plate with lobster, fish, shrimp, and calamari. And two bottles of water, still no cerveza allowed.
manonbikeWe returned to the Parque and walked back to our casas for a siesta, regrouping after two hours to explore new parts of Santiago including the Plaza de la revolution which had been the site of a speech by Raul Castro the previous evening. My guide book describes the Plaza as “soulless” and I think that is an apt description. I found phobustrucktographing the passing cars, buses, trucks being used as buses, bicycles, and motorcyles much more interesting. We then adjourned to a waterfront park but the light was mostly gone so we vowed to return closer to sunset another
day. Then on to dinner at private restaurant outside of town where we had a big plate of barbequed chicken, rice and beans, flan and two cervezas for a mere $10 CUCs

Miami Beach

Just getting warmed up for my trip to Cuba. I had a one day layover in Miami and decided to check off another bucket list item with a trip to Miami Beach. After paying the cab fare downtown and back, the cost of the tour and my $40 lunch I am not sure it was worth it but at least now I can say I’ve been. I had hoped to get more closeups of Art Deco detail but it just wasn’t happening for me. The bus was going to fast, I got off and walked around for an hour but pooped out and didn’t find as many classic examples as I had expected. Just when I thought we were getting somewhere there was an accident on ocean avenue and the bus had to take a detour. I did get a couple worth sharing. Our tour guide pointed out that one of the signature looks of art deco is things in threes. Here are two examples.



Of course the pastel colors are also iconic at least in Miami Beach. And here is one hotel that has the classic look:


I was also excited that I haven’t even gotten to Cuba yet and got my first classic car from the 1950s. It looked a little better with an artistic treatment in Topaz simplify though. I also don’t think it’s going anywhere with that flat tire:


So, tomorrow on to the real deal. Not sure what to expect with the country still in mourning for Castro. His funeral is Sunday so maybe things will liven up after that. I’m told that Wi-Fi is unreliable at best so I don’t know how many post I will be able to do but I’ll at least write things up for posting after I’m back.

Last day in San Antonio

Our Mission_San_Joselast day in San Antonio focused on the Hispanic cultural influences. We started here at Mission San Jose, also known as the queen of the Missions. The San Antonio Missions are managed by the National Park Service though the churcheMission_San_Jose2s are still active Catholic parishes owned by the Church. The Missions were recently named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Unfortunately we did not have time to visit all the Missions, something else to come back for! After a brief stop at Mission Conception where a funeral kept us outside the main church, we proceeded to tour the west side of San Antonio which is traditionally the Hispanic side of town. The resiMuraldents have embraced their cultural roots in the form of Murals telling the story of their community.
This is just one example of the colorful artworks that can be found throughout the area.

Next we had lunch at a local icon, Mi Tierra which was MiTierracolorfully decorated and served up a tasty Chile Relleno. I am sad to report that Texas has not embraced Green Chile. So, while tasty, it did not satisfy my craving for New Mexican cuisine.

Me Tierra is located at La Mercado, a Mexican market which offers up south of the border creations in all sizes shapes and colors. Especially colors! I foundArmadillo a lovely shawl suitable for outdoor theater nights in Ashland for only $10. I’m wondering if I should have bought two or three?  Airport travel being what it is I had to leave the armadillo there.

We then moved on to the Texas Institute of Cultures. A leftover museum from the San Antonio World’s Fair that celebrates the many Towercultures that have come together to make Texas what it is today. The Tower of the Americas also remains on the Hemisfair grounds. It was deliberately made taller than the Seattle Space Needle because, as we all know, everything is bigger in Texas.

Our tour  concluded with dinner at the Plaza Club overlooking the city as the sun was setting. Our band of seasoned travelers is moving on to new adventures but we will all remember the Alamo, the Riverwalk, and the graciousness of our Texas hosts.

Texas Hill Country

Bluebonnets3I’m glad I have spent a fair amount of time in the Hill Country on previBluebonnets2ous trips because one day just doesn’t do it justice. But we had lovely weather, the bluebonnets were out in
all their glory and our focus on LBJ gave me a chance to see some things I had missed on my earlier trips.

The previous day we had a very interesting talk on LBJ and his domestic programs to set the stage for our trip tLBJ_Boyhoodo his beloved Hill Country. We stopped only briefly at his
boyhood home in Johnson City then proceeded to the “Western White House” which is on a lovely site overlooking the PLBJ_Ranchedernales River. The ranch house is really quite modest for all the dignitaries who spent time there but was undoubtedly a welcome retreat for all, especially the beleaguered President.

Of course, no trip to the Hill Country is complete without a stop in charming FrederFredericksburgicksburg which was settled by Germans and built out of the native limestone of the area. These days the shops mostly cater to tourists and we did our bit by over indulging in a hearty German lunch, which most of us slept off during the bus ride back to San Antone.Bluebonnets

San Antonio Day 2

So yesterday was not a great day for photography because of the flat white skies and occasional light showers. Our outdoor activity consisted of a walk through an historic neighborhood with lots of beautiful homes. Unfortunately, all I can show you are a few architectural details because the whole house pictures just did not turn out well due to the flat light and ugly sky in the background.

Guenther_FiestaThis first picture is from the Guenther House where we ate lunch. Typical of the solid limestone buildings built by the German settlers who flocked into Texas in the mid to late 1800s and one of many listed on the National Register of historical places as the plaque states. But note the San Antonio twist, as the citizens prepare for thArcheseir annual fiesta, homes and businesses are decked out with brightly colored ornaments to celebrate the occasion. I believe the flags on this next home with beautiful arched window served the same purpose.
FlagSteinbeck is often quoted as saying Texas is a state of mind and so it is. They are proud of their state, proud of their history, proud of their flag and proud to tell you how many generations their family has lived in Texas. They love it that much. I can only be proud to tell you I am a fifth generation Vagabond as my ancestors just couldn’t get enough of moving west, though somehow they Petalmanaged to miss Texas altogether.  Maybe that was the problem.

I may have lied just a little
about it not being a great day for photography. It
was a great day
for macro photography wha
t with no wind, no shadows and lots of raindropleavess. So here are a few of my favorites.
RoseI ended my free afternoon at a great modern vibe restaurant with a southwest twist called Acenar. Overlooking the riverwalk I dined on the patio. My entree was duck crepes made with serano peppers and for desert, pineapple flan. So much fun to try new tastes!

Next up Lyndon Johnson and the Texas Hill Country.

Red roof tiles, stairs and funky art.

nemesisToday has been fraught with frustration. Largely because of my nemesis on the left here. I am still puzzling over how it is possible that I could pick the one day in two months that the cruise ship comes into Santa Barbara to be my one day to explore the city. Curses, curses, curses.

Courthouse2Well, I did make it to the courthouse in spite of them but before I had finished capturing it’s amazing beauty my battery ran out. And I immediately realized I had forgotten to charge the spare. So, one caution about the M3 is that it is a real battery hog and you may need three to get through a day of serious shooting. The tile roof shot is taken from the clock tower which also offers great views of the town.

I waStaircases also impressed with this spiral staircase and the gallery was my first peek inside. Unfortunately the battery crapped out before I finished shooting the exterior.


So, because of the cruise ship I couldn’t get a shuttle going back to the waterfront where my hotel is. After waiting half an hour I finally jumped into a pedicab which cost me $5 to go 6 blocks. Then I had to Wait around for two hours for my battery to charge. Fortunately I had stopped for brunch after leaving the courthouse.

I finally set out with a fresh battery to explore Stern’s Wharf. A dismal tourist trap if every there was one and the Funk Zone which has Bicyclepossibilities but is losing its Funk to trendiness. I finally stopped into a wine tasting room for a little attitude adjustment. I did find a little funk, including this bicycle sign and its shadow.

StairsAnd somewhere on my walk I found these stairs that spoke to me of the essence of Santa Barbara. I can see now that one or two days is not enough time to get to know this city. Guess I will just have to come back again, and again, and again. Don’t think I would want to live here though. SLO town is more my speed.

Tomorrow I have to start making my way home and it looks like I need to get over the pass on Friday so I don’t know if I’ll have much time to photograph. Well, I do have to post an image for the 100 days project. And you can bet your boots that the M3 batteries are all charged up.

More Missions

Door_InezI had a busy day of touristing yesterday and was too tired to process any images so had to make up for lost time this morning. My first stop enroute from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara was the Santa Inez mission in Solvang. There I found the kind of detail I love in the old missions. Solvang itself is fascinating with a Scandinavian theme but I decided to save that for another day.

I arrived in Santa Barbara too early to check into my hotel so I just kept following the signs to the mission there and soon found myself in the right place. Santa Barbara is said to be the most SB_mission2beautiful of the missions and you can see that this may be true.

I’ve included a closeup of the detail of the architecture to show how intricate it is. They say the padres had only one book on architecture and it featured SB_mission3Roman columns and such. I don’t know if this is true but it does make some sense as this does not look very Spanish.

While looking for the mission I kept seeing signs to the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens and I still had time to kill so I headed up the hill for my next stop. I was pleased to see a few flowers blooming but overall I have to say I don’t think it was worth the $10.00 price of admission this time of year. Still, how often do you see California poppies blooming in February?Poppy

Today’s adventures will take me to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, said to be the most beautiful public building in the U.S. Then I will traverse State Street, the main drag of Santa Barbara and after some down time at the motel I will check out the Funk Zone. Should be another great day for photography!