Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reflecting on traveling

Returning from Cuba (where I only managed to post a few FB snippets, because of the limited internet access and small bandwidth feed), I've been spending a lot of time thinking about our trip.

I have LOTS of photos to sort through, so more to come.

I'm finding myself answering questions about traveling in Cuba, saying things like "it's interesting"  "there are lot of wonderful historic buildings" "it's still a developing country" "there's not food availability in any normal sense" " there weren't the vegetable gardens that I expected" "the people are great" "the music is wonderful" etc.

Lots of hedging, on my part, I'm thinking, as I digest a very interesting and diverse trip.

The portrait of Cuba in American travel articles, especially as travel for Americans has opened up, has focused on culture, historic cities, and natural beauty (not to mention the romance of a country closed to Americans for over 50 years... in addition to being governed by a socialist government for that same time frame.)

We're not supposed to visit beaches as Americans (as we're not supposed to be tourists), but the bit of snorkeling (hey, we're biologists) that we did was quite nice, in the vicinity of Playa Larga (aka the Bay of Pigs). We did visit some wonderful national parks and biosphere reserves, but the ones we visited were still heavily impacted by invasive plants and human disturbance.

The reality of traveling in Cuba was a bit different than I expected, and I'm still putting together the various pieces of my experience there. Frankly, it felt more like our trip to Guatemala last year or to Southern India some years ago in terms of what I'm thinking about.  But, there's also the wonderful vibrance of the historic cities (with restoration well along) of Havana, Trinidad, and Vinales, not to mention Santa Clara and Remedios.

And I had the best tuna I've ever eaten at a meal at a lovely and well-known paladare in Havana on Valentine's Day.  We also had lovely breakfasts at our casas, as well as other great meals, too.

But I guess what's poking me is the disparity between the folks who are benefiting from the tourism boom in Cuba (the reality across the Caribbean, so it's good for Cuba) and the folks who are still dependent on the socialist state that Cuba has been (the ration stores are very modest). And the control that the state still has (and profits from) internet access, cell phone access, hotels, casa and paladare taxes, regulated "taxis", which include the car/driver combos that we took from city to city, etc.

Cuba has a great future, if they can continue to expand their entrepreneurial economic opportunities for their citizens.  It's a wonderful place to visit, with remarkably restored city areas, thanks to both foreign help and Cuban government investment. With increased attention to improved air and water quality, as well as environmental protection, it can become a "I want to return" Caribbean island, not just one that's attractive because of a locked-away allure.

I truly hope that Cuba will continue to open up in the future -- we found the people we spoke with vibrant, positive, and hopeful.  And the mood in the cities and towns -- vibrant and hopeful, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Travel as pilgrimage

Traveling with a spirit of curiosity and interest in the people and places visited has always seemed to me to be the point. We haven't traveled to all of the places that we've been to for "vacation," although even the harder traveling destinations have been enjoyable, as well as illuminating, and the "hard" parts fade as the trip memories crystallize.

Traveling as pilgrimage is another way I approach different destinations, whether there's a personal connection or not.

But always I return with an invigorated sense of my place and purpose in the world. In Cuba, we'll be visiting natural area, gardens, organic farms, and centuries-old cities on this trip, as well as staying with people in their homes in most cases (in casa particulares.) No hotels on this trip. Probably most photos will wait as internet access is quite limited.

We've visited other communist countries before (Laos and Vietnam) in transitional times, and will be mindful of the impact that we, as travelers, have, especially in economic conditions where disparity of income is so high.

I'm interested, when traveling,  in what families are growing for themselves, the kinds of fresh foods that are available, the ecological conditions in the biological reserves and parks, abundance (or not) of recessed foods, and simply food security, too.

So travel is not a vacation for me, but more is a way to learn more and appreciate the diverse ways people live on our planet. I always return changed, I hope, for the better, with a renewed sense of purpose, wherever that takes me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Winter greens

Even though my spinach continues to be fabulous, I can't possibly do another post about spinach.

But, the unseasonably warm winter weather has seen nice growth in collards and kale, which are looking great. Chard and beet greens, although a bit affected, still look good and are delicious.

A harvest tonight of mixed greens was tasty!

collard plant in late January --looking good
Amazingly, even with short dips into the teens, kale, collards, leeks, etc. are doing fine.  The key was the dips have been short, I think - no prolonged extreme temperatures.
Rosemary with collards and kale
Rosemary and lavendars are still OK, although my thyme (on the left) looks wan.

red cabbage, kale, parsley, and chard
 I'm going to cover the spinach with remay while we're away, but I think everything else will be just fine.  It's lovely to have a winter vegetable garden for a change.

The last two winters had prolonged cold spells that took everything out -- and I didn't have the remay covers, either.

Signs of spring are starting, too. The Ozark witch hazel in front is in full flower -- lovely -- and post-pruning is a nice small size. Crocuses have popped up in the Mormon church house lawn, and dandelions have already gone to flower.  And the winter annuals are well-along in their growth, too!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Traveling

I'm mindful this evening of traveling, as we're heading off to Cuba, for an independent educational excursion later this week. Home and pet secured, check. Traveling details, check.

It'll be a contrast to the celebration of democracy that I experienced with my friend Meg at the Women's March in Washington last weekend, I'm sure.  I posted on FB some of my thoughts and images from that.  A remarkable experience.  My letters to my Senators will be sent tomorrow.

And a contrast, too, to our conversation with a lovely young women many years ago, on our first trip to South America, who declared herself a citizen of the world.

We're in such a challenging time in our country (the US), and I was going to write interesting, too; that's the hopeful part.

We'll be traveling quite a bit in the coming year.

It's the right time for us in our early-mid 60's.  Is it escape?  Or continuing to connect as Americans of good will and friendship?  I, for one, will continue to be active speaking out, standing up, and keeping our Congress folks aware that I'm out here. I vote, I have a voice, and we ALL matter.

Here's a favorite image of the Hoi An Full Moon festival, a memory that I cherish.

a luminary ready to float down the river

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Remembering our ginkgo in fall!

I was trying to repost my Bass Pond photo, but Google and Apple don't play well together.

So here's another memorable image-- our ginkgo in fall, last year.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

City lights

Our ravine forest view is increasingly one of sparkling night views.

A new hotel, more street lights, and distant lights combine to create it.

The day view is urban nature, partially restored to natural forest (my gardening companion spent hours yesterday and today moving around native plants (shrubs and trees) to places he'd thought they'd do better.

A woodland forest in the old "coal" road is taking shape, with sassafras, tulip poplar, striped maple, spice bush, and more.  He's moved around many other natives, too, trying to get them in the optimal spots. He's created lovely native vignettes - he wouldn't call himself a gardener,  even yet, but he's a great one.

We're thinking about taking out the Ozark witch hazel to give us a more balanced view to the created natural landscape beyond.   It's probably a good thing and will give me more space for the pocket meadow.

There are already signs of spring to come (dandelions, winter jasmine in flower, etc.) -- way early, but welcome.
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