Tag Archives: Travel Tips

National Parks Fee Free Day This Monday!

National Parks Fee Free Day! On Monday, January 16, 2017, all 400+ U.S. National Parklands are providing free admission in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So if you have the day off, why not spend it in a National Park or at a National Monument or Historic Site? Find a park to visit at FindYourPark.com.

The National Parks are yours to enjoy and appreciate. A visit to one of these national treasures is the perfect way to celebrate the beauty and heritage of the United States. So this Monday, bring a friend and get out there to enjoy America’s National Parks… and share your photos!

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Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, California, USA

A bit of history…  On March 1, 1872, Congress passed an act that officially established Yellowstone National Park “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This event started a worldwide movement. And, today our planet houses more than 1200 national parks or equivalent preserves.

Furthering efforts to support and protect our park system, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act on August 25, 1916, creating the National Park Service, a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior. This “Organic Act” states that “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

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Hiking in Everglades National Park, California, USA

The U.S. National Park System now comprises more than 400 designated areas covering more than 84 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. These areas have been deemed to hold national significance, and therefore protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.

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Panum Crater Hike, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees now care for America’s national parks and “work with communities across the nation to help keep local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.” Learn more and get involved at www.nps.gov

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.

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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