Tag Archives: Cuba Experience

A Drive to Cuba’s Swamp Land Zapata

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues with A Drive to Cuba’s Swamp Land Zapata

cuba's swamp land zapata, Zapata, Insects, Julia Thomsen,Copyright © XplorMor Inc., Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Zapata National Forest, Cuba

How may I speak out? How does a blond white American girl know what’s right or wrong in this world? I am only able to judge based on my own life’s learning. From my time in Cuba, I see a wrong has been done but I cannot say what exactly or how it was done or how it might be fixed as I also see that people have roofs over their heads and food on the table for their children and accessible health care, and clothing. I also never see a beggar on the streets. At least not like the homeless we see in the USA with old torn dirty clothes and grocery carts full of stuff they’re keeping for that rainy day. There are no shopping carts in Cuba. Many people ask for donations from us visiting Americans who must have so much they can offer handouts to all. We even had a guy carrying a new pair of Levis jeans, saying that he only had two pairs of pants the ones he was wearing and the jeans he was carrying and he needed more. More? I’m the one who needs more in order to make the payments next month for all my modern conveniences. I have to believe that they just don’t know what visitor they are inviting in the door.

cuba's swamp land zapata, Zapata, Insects, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

When traveling, you make it work!

Our next driver arrives on time at 9am. His name is Diamond and he’s brought his girlfriend Claudia along for the ride. In fact she drives everywhere with him. Today’s destination is Playa Larga, a small town situated on the divide of Cienaga Occidental and Cienaga Oriental of the Zapata Peninsula, otherwise known as Cuba’s swamp land Zapata. This is where east meets west on this coveted island in the Caribbean. The first leg of our drive is on the desolate Autopista, Cuba’s main highway which bridges most of the island but was never completed. With three wide-open faded lanes running in each direction and edged with tall grasses, this is Frost’s road less traveled. Cars and fuel and holidays are luxuries for Cubans. Most have never even ventured to the places we are about to explore. And the old classic cars now used as taxis in Havana are rigged together in ways that may not make this drive or the speed limit.

 cuba's swamp land zapata, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc., [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Forgotten entrance to Zapata National Forest, Cuba

We pass through the Cienaga de Zapata National Park entrance gate that straddles the road. There’s no ranger on duty and signs are faded. There’s a billboard displaying a map of the park, but it’s been forgotten and details are no longer legible. Is this the land I read is on the tentative list of nominations for world heritage status? It needs the funding. After about 2 ½ hours since departing Havana, we arrive at our next casa particular, and are greeted with friendly smiles, fresh squeezed pineapple juice, seats on a balcony over-looking the sea and a lovely breeze. We’ve found tranquilidad until a swarm of mosquitos arrives and bites relentlessly. They are disappointingly undeterred by the bug spray and insecticide lotion and netted clothing I’m wearing. It’s unfortunate and I’ll itch from the dozens of bites accumulated over the next weeks but they are an insignificant price to pay for such uncommon opportunity.

cuba's swamp land zapata, Zapata, Insects, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Cuba’s National Bird, Cuban Trogon

In coordinating and planning our expedition I strove to outline as much detail as possible prior to our departure aiming to avoid trouble for our team enroute in this as of yet unopened country. I should not have presumed, and instead remembered much of the journey is not an end result but the actual means and experience of getting there. So a good portion of my well researched information will prove to be lacking in accuracy or missing some vital puzzle piece. Fortunately Cuban hospitality and serendipity repeatedly meet us along the way as we venture into Cuba’s swamp land Zapata and to remote areas of this enchanting island.

A drive to Cuba’s Swamp Land Zapata continues with… Our Day with Mario in Zapata National Park

Exploring Havana Cuba

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues with Exploring Havana Cuba

 exploring havana cuba, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

It’s hot and humid, and I’m sweating. My clothes are soaked, but I’m enjoying meandering through the streets of Havana, Cuba with its eclectic scenes of locals, salesmen of all kind, few tourists and wayward dogs and cats. This is not everyone’s vacation. As I’m about immersion, it suits me just fine. I want to sweat in the heat of Havana, drink the rum and eat the fried plantain chips.

After a long first day of exploration in this nation’s capital, culminating with local music and caipirinhas, we call it a night, retiring to our casa particular in the old town of a country just twelve minutes in a jet plane from America’s Keys. Thankfully there is air-conditioning in our rooms. The machine runs loud so I use my earplugs. We sleep well with vibrantly colorful dreams of past lives, current happenings and this Cuba we are all waiting to experience.

exploring havana cuba, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

Our second day takes us to the tiered stone stairs of Universidad de La Habana, or the University of Havana. We are on the Cuba Entomological Research Expedition, a research expedition to study insects on various parts of the island, and to initiate relations for a study abroad program between one of our American universities and the University of Havana. A friendly student becomes our campus guide, touring us through pillared stone buildings, lushly planted courtyards, classrooms of teachers instructing their students, and galleries holding scientific collections of birds, insects and other aboriginal objects. At the end of our tour he somewhat unexpectedly asks for payment. To buy a much-needed book of course.

exploring havana cuba, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

We make our way over to the building housing the biology department to meet with various professors in the entomology field. It’s grand in scale with large stone staircases inside and out. After some initial confusion from our language barrier, we are seated with an animated professor in an office filled with old books and specimens, and discussing Cuba’s national parks and the incredible fauna and flora housed within each. So much has yet to be identified and documented. There’s been no money for such luxuries. We hope to aid in remedying this divide through publications, future expeditions, exchanges of ideas and information, and study abroad programs with enthusiastic students. In the short time we have with the professor we learn much about Cuba’s natural world, and discover text books do exist with documentation of mammals, snails, sea life, birds and insects. Why were they not found by Google’s search engine? After discussing our expedition itinerary, the professor asks us a favor. Turns out there is a study of an endemic butterfly on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, and we’ll pass by the site of concern as we are driven to our hotel. Of course we’d be more than happy to take a count and photos.

exploring havana cuba, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

We continue to sit mesmerized by this professor who instantly shared all his knowledge and asked nothing in return except that we listen. He spoke of computer troubles and simple things like broken cables and no chalk or microscopes or desks for students, and the lack of new books in their library. There’s no money for such luxuries. Where has all the money gone? I saw renovated gated mansions in Miramar and Vedado, and there’s been the occasional Mercedes, BMW and Audi with tinted windows just as I saw during Perestroika and hyperinflation in Russia in 1993. We wish to spend all day with him but he’s headed to a conference in Santiago de Cuba and must bid us farewell. Yet he also wishes to speak with us more and discuss our exchange program so we solidify plans to meet upon our return to Havana in three weeks. We’ll have a day before flying back to the States. We must solidify the plans here as there’s no way to communicate. He doesn’t have a cell phone and we have no communication access, period.

 exploring havana cuba, Julia Thomsen, Copyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

How may I speak out? How does a blond white American girl know what’s right or wrong in this world? I am only able to judge based on my own life’s learning. From my time in Cuba, I see a wrong has been done but I cannot say what exactly or how it was done or how it might be fixed as I also see that people have roofs over their heads and food on the table for their children and accessible health care, and clothing. I also never see a beggar on the streets. At least not like the homeless we see in the USA with old torn dirty clothes and grocery carts full of stuff they’re keeping for that rainy day. There are no shopping carts in Cuba. Many people ask for donations from us visiting Americans who must have so much they can offer handouts to all. We even had a guy carrying a new pair of Levis jeans, saying that he only has two pairs of pants the ones he was wearing and the jeans he was carrying and he needed more. More? I’m the one who needs more to make the payments next month for all my modern conveniences. I have to believe that they just don’t know what visitor they are inviting in the door.

 Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

Exploring Havana Cuba continues with A Drive to Cuba’s Swamp Land Zapata

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience, 3rd Excerpt

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience (read from the start) continues…

Don’t count on street signs at every corner, nor every street to be listed on your map. If you are lost, anyone will be willing to help you find your way. Just make sure it’s to your destination, not some place or event this stranger wishes to lead you. And always ask how much it will cost to get you there. I had a young Cuban with dreadlocks, ripped jeans and a friendly smile try to convince me that the day was their national holiday and he could take me to the big party happening just a short distance away. Fortunately I was with my group and managed to shake him off with “we already have a reservation”. Later I found out from the host at our casa, there was no national holiday.

Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience, Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

Our group spent the first day sight-seeing in Old Havana, touring castles, forts, bookshops and plazas, sampling daiquiris at Hemmingway’s hangout El Floridita, and wondering about the dead chickens in plastic bags tossed onto the roots of The Tree of American Brotherhood. The tree was planted in 1927 supposedly with soil from the fifty United States to symbolize the friendship between our nations. This left me wondering more about our current relations, and how history and sentiment may change so easily at the whim of Time. Perhaps there were more reasons for the embargo and the slow-to-open doorway for American tourists than I realized.

 Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

 

Our first dining experience was a late lunch at Paladar Dona Eutimia, hidden off the Plaza de La Catedral. Its little dead-end street was not on our map. However, the exceptional meal and mojitos were worth the hunt and the wait (Reservations are definitely advisable now it’s on TripAdvisor’s radar and Facebook, and make sure you are seated at Dona Eutimia and not one of the three restaurants now blocking the way to its little gem of a corner). At home I researched places not only to stay and explore, but to dine on authentic Cuban cuisine. I wish for immersion, not McDonald’s or the Hard Rock Café, thankfully neither of which are yet to be found in Cuba. I’ve read some poor comments about Cuban paladares, restaurants operating out of old mansions and colonial homes. However my experience with the dozen or so we tried across the country was exceptional with fresh, locally-sourced meals that are the epitome of California’s farm-to-table menus. Our best meals in Havana were at Dona Eutemia, Paladar de Los Mercaderos for lunch with the balcony windows open, La Moneda de Cubana for dinner with a view of the 9pm nightly cannon fire shot across the Canal from Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (by the way La Bodega restaurant at the Castle should be missed), and Nao for a perfect last night’s meal of Cuban food with a modern, inventive twist.

 Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

 

Cuban food is tasty. It should be as all of Cuba is a farmers market. Men and women walk the streets and avenues each morning offering their homemade and homegrown foods for sale. A man walks past the front door of our casa hollering in an almost unrecognizable Spanish, “Tengo el pan recién horneado!” which translates to “I have your fresh-baked bread!” This seems such a simple idea but today in our America taste is often lost as a price to pay for getting a variety of produce on our grocery store shelves quickly. Who delivers their own goods to your front door in person anymore? I tried to explain this to the Cubans with which I conversed, but I’m not sure they understood since they’ve never had mass-marketed grocery stores and produce shipped from around the world, picked before it’s ripened to last the journey and maintain a longer shelf life to maximize sales opportunity and profit. This is one of those facets of a burgeoning new economy, of inviting the West to enter your home. It’s similar to offering a vampire access to your abode. Having the United States of America as an ally brings many positive aspects, perhaps even eternal life, but at what price? A soul most likely will be offered as sacrifice for the benefits of dancing with this devil and having shiny new computers and access to the World Wide Web while eating that very red wax-coated American-grown apple.

Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience, Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Historic District;Cuba Old Town;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Explore Cuba;Habana;Habana Vieja;Havana;Havana Vieja;Old Havana;Old Havana Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UNESCO;UNESCO World Heritage Site;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;World Heritage Site;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba]

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues with Exploring Havana Cuba