Tag Archives: Cultural 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event

For decades, the people of Kabala have celebrated New Years in a very unique way. To them, the New Year is a way of bringing together the different chiefdoms and tribes in the region to showcase their traditions and culture. This is often accompanied with magical displays of the arts, the wearing of traditional dresses (which are no longer used daily but are known to have some significance in the region), other stunning symbolic performances, and finally an outing to the top of the tallest mountain in the region.

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event XplorMor Inc

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event

The five day event takes place annually from December 28th to January 1st. Originally the festival only included inhabitants of Kabala and its surrounding territory, but today it has grown to a national event, and has been hosted by almost every ruling president in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leoneans from the Diaspora and tourists from around the world come to Sierra Leone to grace the occasion. From December 28th to the 31st, local tribesmen, paramount chiefs, magicians will all gather in an open field (mostly used as a football field) to showcase some of Sierra Leone’s oldest traditions and way of life. This often includes showcasing some of the cloths and garments worn by earlier and current paramount chiefs and local chiefs which have lasted for over 500 years. Some of these garments are believed to have magical powers which protect the wearer from evil spirits and enables them to disappear during an encounter with any evil force.

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event XplorMor Inc Copyright © XplorMor Inc [XplorMor;africa;african cultural heritage;african cultural photographs;african culture;african heritage;african tribal costume;african tribal gathering;african tribal photos;african world heritage;cultural photography;cultural photos;culture;culture photographs;explore sierra leone;explore the world;sierra leone;sierra leone culture;sierra leone tribal gathering;travel sierra leone;tribal costume;tribal gathering;tribal photos;world culture;world heritage;world photography;xplorer journal;xplormor team member] Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event

Each year on the 1st of January, both local and visiting participants will make the long journey to the top of the mountain for a whole day outing. The mountain top is a flat land about the size of a football field. From the mountain, there is a magnificent view of Kabala city and a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. Numerous other activities take place throughout the event, including dance, fashion, and magic performances.

     Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event XplorMor Inc Copyright © XplorMor Inc [XplorMor;africa;african cultural heritage;african cultural photographs;african culture;african heritage;african tribal costume;african tribal gathering;african tribal photos;african world heritage;cultural photography;cultural photos;culture;culture photographs;explore sierra leone;explore the world;sierra leone;sierra leone culture;sierra leone tribal gathering;travel sierra leone;tribal costume;tribal gathering;tribal photos;world culture;world heritage;world photography;xplorer journal;xplormor team member] Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event   Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event XplorMor Inc

If you would like to join in celebrating the next Kabala mountain event visit: www.visitsierraleone.org or www.vsltravel.com.

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event XplorMor Inc

Sierra Leone Kabala Mountain Event XplorMor Inc

We are thrilled to have Jaime Yaya Barry as a contributing author for XplorMor. He is currently based in Sierra Leone, reporting on the country’s cultural identity and happenings.