2017
05.22

School children with Sergej and ET

SYNOPSIS:  About a fortress and a monastery — yeah, another one, but a good one.  About traditional Tibetan houses.

Thousands of temples and cultural institutions fell victim to the fervor of the Red Guard during the infamous Cultural Revolution, not just in Tibet but in all over China.  But some sites, miraculously, and for different reasons, were spared.  The Buddhist Grottos at Binglingsi were one example.  They were too remote.  The Fortress of Gyantse is another — it had been appropriated by the Chinese Government as an example of heroic resistance against the British invasion of Tibet, and so no longer was seen as a symbol of the evil past, but a symbol of Chinese superiority. 

Three Tibetans had flung themselves from the heights of the fortress to their death and were declared martyrs.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.21

Monks’ Debate

SYNOPSIS:  About a monastic kitchen, religious books, and a monastic debate. 

Two of the most important Gelugpa monasteries are just a stone’s-throw from Lhasa and can be reached in on a day’s trip:  Drepung and Sera Monastery.  They were on our program for today.

Drepung Monastery is perched up on a hill and follows in its structure the typical monastic layout with dormitories for the monks in residence, various temples dedicated to deities particularly worshipped at this monastery, and at least one if not more multi-pillered assembly halls.  Photography was, as usually, limited to the exterior of the buildings.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.20

ET and Sergej at Potala Palace

SYNOPSIS:  About the big two sights in town.  About my new travel partner.  About the pressures tour guides endure. 

First I had been given the impression that I would be traveling with a “group” from here on out.  I had pictured that to be 5-8 people from all over the world.  My first guide, Lobsang, told me that there would be only one more travel companion, a German woman.  Fine with me.  But when my new guide Tenzin came on board, he had been told there would be an American man traveling with me.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.19

Master’s Work Station

SYNOPSIS:  About two people at my guesthouse, and about a famous tangkha school in Lhasa.

My guesthouse is owned by Peggy, a Chinese woman and Tsirin, a Tibetan man, in partnership. She is the boss, I was told by Pansang, one of the busboys.  I guess there are tax advantages to a business when it is Chinese owned, as well as advantages in terms of ownership, when one of the partners is local.  Pansang is a “live-in” young man who does everything that is needed, from carrying luggage to washing dishes, or fixing the broken pipes at any time of the day.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.18

14th DL’s Western Toilet

SYNOPSIS:  Visit to the Summer Palace in Lhasa.  About the Dalai Lama’s toilet.  About keeping face?  About a Tibetan, a traditional dance performance, and about catching a taxi.  About the Potala photo spot and about a meditation cave. 

My new guide Tenzin is nice.  But there are a few things I would like to understand.   I knew that today, he could only spend 1/2 day with me.  From 10 AM to 2 PM, I had been told first.  Last night, that turned into 10-1.  I texted him to suggest that we could do 9-1 to make up for the lost hour; no response.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.17

THE PROFESSOR

SYNOPSIS:  Off the beaten path with professor Deishe.  But really, who is he?!

I had some time and what better way to spend it but strolling around Lhasa?  I ended up in the Barkhor Shopping Mall and Supermarket.  The modern building in which it was housed, was one of those out-of-style misfits in town, but I had to check it out.  This mall transported me into a cross-breed between Meijer’s and Whole Foods.  There seemed to be everything the heart could desire.  This was obviously a place for wealthy Chinese who fancied imported goods and did not look at the price tag:  imported beers, wines, clothes, foods, were displayed among few local goods.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.16

Gist plates with mantras and votive offerings

SYNOPSIS:  About walking the Lingkhor.  Why am I doing this Kora?

You can’t do this!, the host of my guesthouse, Penny, exclaimed.  It’s too much.  Granted, I had been quite sick two days ago, and yesterday, I only managed 3 hours of sightseeing.  But if I could not walk 12 km on even ground at 3300 m altitude, how would I manage 25 km on uneven terrain at 5600 meters in just a few days?  I had to do it.  It would be a good test.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.15

Barber cutting boy’s hair

SYNOPSIS:  About altitude sickness, and about some women in town; nuns and hairdressers. 

All was well after dinner with Ben, two nights ago.  I even got some blogging done.  I went to bed the usual time, around midnight, but by 8 AM I knew all was not well.  Just the thought of getting up made my stomach turn; I felt dizzy, lightheaded, and as if I had been put through the wringer.  After I had mustered all my strength to get up just once, it got worse.  For 24 hours I was in hell.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.14

Yak herd in the mountains

SYNOPSIS:  About traveling the world, about travels in Tibet, about “the agency”,  and about a disastrous excursion to Lake Namtso.

I was going to join a “tour” today to drive up North to visit the sacred Lake Namtso.   But only “scruffy Ben” from Denmark showed up.  I guess we are a group of two. 

Instead of Lobsang, the guide that had been promised to me for the whole trip, it was Tenzin who accompanied us.  What happened?  Information is never quite forthcoming around here.  And at this point, I am at the mercy of what is put in front of me by “the agency” as Great Tibet Tour is referred to by its employees.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.13

BARKHOR

Pilgrim family with their luggage

SYNOPSIS:   About the heart of Lhasa, the Barkhor.  About people, dresses, smells, worship practices.  There is nothing, nowhere quite like it anywhere else!

Jokhang Plaza took my breath away!  Not only because of the thick white and black clouds of juniper smoke that wafted all across the open space before Jokhang Temple, and made everyone choke, but also because because of the unbelievable site that unfolded in front of me. 

Hundreds of people moved as if directed by an invisible hand clockwise along the Barkhor, one of the three most sacred circumambulatory paths of Lhasa.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.12

My sleeper compartment

SYNOPSIS:  22 hours in transit.  About a special train, a special ride, and a special welcome.

By now the increased police presence at train stations is part of what I expect, and after seeing the militarization of Urumqi and Xinjiang province, Xining felt outright benign.  Every travel book on Tibet written in the West, warns that its possession will cause problems.  Luggage checks on trains and at airports are common.  If a book on Tibet is found, it will be confiscated. 

But policies change as fast around here as the urban landscapes.  For nothing had I wrapped my beloved German Tibet Guide by Karl-Heinz Everding in cloth, stuffed it in a small purse, and then hidden it under my baggy clothes.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.10

TAO TEMPLE

 

INCENSE BURNER

SYNOPSIS:  A few words about “Tibet”.  About a trip to the post office, the Tao Temple, some fortune tellers,  and nothing much else.

My time in China comes to an end.  I should clarify though:  I am not leaving China as far as the Chinese are concerned.  Tibet is China; at least since the invasion and annexation of 1953

We, the US, remained remarkably quiet when overnight, the Chinese invaded Tibet, destroyed about 5000 temples and drove the Dalai Lama into exile.  Actually, they probably would have arrested and perhaps tortured him, but he managed to flee with a few hundred followers, just in time to avoid that fate.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.09

KUMBUM

TRAVELING MONK WITH PHONE

SYNOPSIS:  About one of the two reasons why I came here:  the place commemorating the birth of Tsongkapa.  About butter sculptures, copper kettles, and uniquely fried noodles.

At the rate I am going to tick off important Gelugpa (Yellow Hats) sites, you would think I am a Buddhist on a pilgrimage.  But it just so happened that I had to choose a place from where to board the train to Lhasa; and Xining was on the way. 

26 km south-west of Xining, at Kumbum Monastery (known locally also as Ta’er), the birthplace of the founder of the Yellow Hats, Tsongkapa, is commemorated in a golden stupa.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.08

NO SHITTING!

SYNOPSIS:  About all the things that went wrong today.   And about a few people in between.  The “No Foreigner” policy.  Notice to the reader:  The four-letter s-word will be used in this blog.  Beware!

Shit happens.  But just in case you got any ideas based on the theme picture of today I want to make something clear up front:  I did not shit everywhere. Or should I make that:  I did not shit everywhere?  Well, you will find out.

I know that some of you enjoy the cultural entries, others the people stories, others the travel tips.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.07

SYNOPSIS:  About an excursion into the Grasslands, a visit at the Tseway Gompa Bön Monastery, and another Tibetan Buddhist monastery.  About a photographic treat,  a living Buddha, an ancient city, and a short hike into a gorgeous gorge. 

I did not see much of my driver since his face was mostly hidden behind a face mask, and he did not speak a word with me.  Only when he smoked a cigarette did that mask come off.  These masks are quite popular here.  I am not sure why.  You can buy them in all kinds of styles and fabrics to match your clothes.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.06

WOMEN ON THE KORA

SYNOPSIS:  Labrang monastery.  The Kora of Labrang.  Climbing a goat path and meeting two nuns.  About religious practices of Tibetan Buddhists.

They come by foot from the surrounding villages, they travel hundreds of kilometers to Labrang prostrating the entire way!  Old and young, men and women.  Labrang, is considered one of the six most holy places of the Gelugpa Sect, located in the Amdo region; that is outside the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region), or what we in the West usually consider to be Tibet.  It’s more Tibetan here, than in Lhasa, a local told me.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.05

The circular Walk with Sister Rocks

SYNOPSIS:  About stone forests, stone Buddhas and sublime settings. 

I am not religious, but I don’t know how many times I mumbled Oh my God!  to myself, today; in utter awe of what I saw.  Gansu Province is known for its natural beauty.  That’s why people come here.  And Binglingsi is one of the six most important Buddhist Grotto sites that have sprung up along the Silk Road in China.  It is known not only for carvings that go back to the 4th century, but also for its spectacular setting; and spectacular it was beyond all my expectations.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.04

MY LITTLE ENTOURAGE

SYNOPSIS:  About a visit to the well-worth provincial museum.   About trying to act like a local.  About a dust storm.

I have visited three provincial (and that is not in the sense of backwater but representing a particular province) museums by now.  Lanzhou wins the prize, hands down!  All of them were filled with priceless artifacts.  China has no shortage of archaeological remains; recorded history here goes back thousands of years, and plenty of prehistoric finds date millions of years back.

Urumqi’s museum had interesting items on display, notably those well-preserved mummies.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.03

KITES FLYING ACROSS THE YELLOW RIVER

SYNOPSIS:  About a Sunday in Lanzhou’s Park.  This is an essay with lots of photos, keep scrolling down.

At home I had jotted down a few things to do in this town.  Everything was centered on an area downtown, near the river:  the White Mountain Pagoda, an ancient bridge over the Yellow River, the Water Wheel park, and some famous sculptures.   I had even photographed a fraction of a downtown map which I discovered on my computer! 

Even though I am still clueless as to where I am, I have a few things to go by.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.02

Where am I?

SYNOPSIS:  About being lost in a big city.  About the magic of Nutella.  About writing Chinese.  About people and their reaction to me.  About the Yellow River and a long train ride from Xian to Lanzhou.

Never in recent history, and never on any of my travels had I felt so lost.  I sat on my bed in my beautiful studio apartment, and looked at rows and rows of high-apartment blocks out the window, and had no clue where I was. 

Picture this:  You arrive in a town in a foreign country.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
05.01

LITTLE PEOPLE

TOMB FIGURES ON DISPLAY

SYNOPSIS:  From overbearing crowds above ground to “little people” crowds below ground.   About Jin Di’s remote tomb.

There hasn’t been a major museum I visited in my life, that I left as hurriedly as this one!   Xian’s Provincial Museum is modern, famous, big, and filled with thousands of precious artifacts.  So I hear.  The ticket lines outside the museum were formidable. Entrance to the museum is free if you show your ID.  What that accomplishes is beyond me.  Why not just hand out free tickets?  Do they catch criminals that way?VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.30

3 GIRLS FROM SHANGHAI

SYNOPSIS:  About pagodas, an interesting bus ride, and about stumbling into the liveliest street life in Xian known as “Muslim Street”.

Why they are called Wild Goose Pagodas is beyond me, but there they are:  The Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Little Wild Goose Pagoda.  They are a must for every visitor of Xian, and are only two of the truly old treasures the city still boasts.  The easy way around in town is to take a taxi and that’s what I did.  It saves time and does not cost the world.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.29

FOR SALE

SYNOPSIS:  Pits and Mausoleum.  About changes in 15 and 45 years.  No terrorists in Shaanxi Province? 

There must be no terrorists in Shaanxi Province.  I guess, they all live in Xinjiang Province.  Security is back to post 9-11 levels as we know them in the US.  Even though I visited a UNESCO site, arguably the most famous sites of all in China — the Terracotta Army built by Chin Shih Huang Di — nowhere did I have to show my passport, and I only had to go through two bag checks, one at each of the related sites.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.28

BELL TOWER

SYNOPSIS:  About some unexpected hassles at the airport.  About Xian and my new, lovely AirBnB.

After a lovely breakfast made by Summer’s mother, Summer, my AirBnB hostess had indeed taken off to her new/old job 500 km away from home — J.B carried my luggage to the street and a taxi whisked me off to the airport.   Compared to Urumqi’s train station, security levels seemed “normal”; that is post 9-11 normal.  I guess, terrorists work the streets and the restaurants in Urumqi, not the airport (Don’t take me seriously here. To me this is all such utter nonsense and false sense of security, I can’t help but be sarcastic about it).VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.27

WINDMILLS

SYNOPSIS:  Transit Urumqi.  A train ride across the new Silk Road. Dinner with U-man.   

For two full days I had explored remnants of the old Silk Road.  They were impressive and they spoke volumes of the days when camels were crisscrossing the desert and spices, textiles, pomegranates, grapes, tea, bronze, gold and silver, horses, and ideas were traveling from Xian as far as Rome

As my high-speed train left the ultramodern, mega-sized Turfan train station — this time I managed to get to the station close to town and board one of the fast trains — I could not help but reflect on what seems to me the Silk Road of our times, a new Silk Road of sorts. 

On and off, the desert was filled with fields of windmills producing green energy.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.26

GAOCHANG

ET WITH TANDEM AT GAOCHANG

SYNOPSIS:  MORE EXPLORATION WITH THE UIGHUR-MAN FROM URUMQI.  A FEW TOMBS, A FEW MUMMIES,  AND A DANCE IN THE PARK.

There was still time to see yet another ancient adobe city. It is located much farther than Jiaohe;  46km southeast of Turfan.   Like Jiaohe, it was founded in the 2nd century BC as a Chinese city.  It is located in the plains.   No natural protection is available and so, contrary to Jiaohe, it was fully walled in.  Xuanzang, a famous Buddhist monk, visited here in 7th century teaching Buddhism.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.25

WOMAN WORKING ON A TYPICAL UIGHUR BENCH IN TUYUK

SYNOPSIS:  About Uighur culture and Karez constructions.  About exploring the area with my new Uighur friend.  About a traditional Uighur village.  And about an ancient cemetery.

Yesterday, when I sat down at one of the far-flung parts of the Jiaohe Plateau, a young man entered the scene.  We exchanged a few words about the site and it became apparent that he knew a lot about local history.  He had been at Jiaohe three times already and had come back again.  Before long I asked him if he wanted to join me on my next excursion.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.24

RARE SCULPTURAL REMAIN

SYNOPSIS:  About 1000 Buddha Painting Caves and 100 Mud-Stupa Cities in Uighur country.  About VPNs and social media in China. 

My taxi driver Achmed, a local Uighur with a stoic face and no knowledge of English, showed up at the agreed hour.  He would drive me to the local sites over the next two days; there is no other way to see them unless you dare to drive yourself.  Not me!  Under luckier circumstances, I would have shared the taxi with other tourists, but there seemed to be none around.  We bonded over the nice Uighur music he played.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.23

TWO UIGHUR MEN

SYNOPSIS:  About a train ride into the death kettle of China.  About a youth hostel, a self appointed taxi driver, grapes, and a stroll through “grape town”.

At my little guest house in the remote desert town of Turfan (also known as Turpan), I was greeted with — you could call it “Still life with Helmet”.  A police shield was leaning against the receptionist’s table, a steel helmet decorated the desk and a scanner such as the ones used at the airport, as well as a club to beat down on rioting crowds, waited nearby.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.22

TANK AT THE TRAIN STATION

SYNOPSIS:  A fortified province.  About security and “the situation” in Xinjiang.  About this trip, a museum visit,  a hot pot dinner, and a difficult decision for my host, Summer.

If I hadn’t known any better, I would have mistaken Xinjiang Province for a war zone, or a country under martial law.  Far from it.  This was only the Chinese government hard at work to ensure the safety of its people.

At Urumqi (pronounced:  You-room-chee) — the capital of the province, where my journey in China begins — the train station was barricaded as if they expected the return of the Mongol Army!VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.21

33 HOURS

ENTRANCE DOOR

SYNOPSIS:  From Pinckney to Urumqi.  About a few characters on the plane(s).

Three plane rides were ahead of me.  1.5 hours, 13.5 hours, 4.5 hours, and a few hours of layover along the way.  Between getting up and going to bed, there would be 33 hours in transit.  A wise saying by Lao Tzu always comes to mind:  A journey of 1000 miles has to begin with a single step.  So true.  No point in fretting over the hours yet to travel or the destination to be reached. What matters is to manage the next step in front of you and to observe the people around you.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.19

SCALE

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT PACKING FOR A MULTI-SEASON TRIP.  A FEW INSIGHTS INTO MY OCD NATURE.  ABOUT TSA PRE-APPROVAL,  ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTELLA, AND WHAT CONSTITUTES A LIQUID.

It was agony!  For three days I had been deciding, sorting, weighing, arranging, downsizing, rearranging and weighing again, all the travel pouches that were destined to accompany me on my next trip.  The pile of pouches just would not shrink, no matter how much I tried.  It wasn’t the length of the trip, it was the weather that caused the problem.  In China it was still cool and rainy, in Tibet there would be warm days, cool nights, and snow on some of the treks, and in Nepal the hot and dusty summer would give way to the monsoon shortly. 

Aside from all the necessities for each climate, I needed just the one or two fun and comfy outfits, right?VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.12

CELI’S GUEST POST

Celi’s Feet in the Cuban Sand

SYNOPSIS:  Celibeth’s reflections:  

Of all the places on earth to visit, abroad and here in my own country, I can honestly say that traveling to Cuba was never on my radar. A chance trip with my WCC Spanish teacher in 2001 introduced me to this place of so many different looking people, smells and sounds…everybody seemed to smoke cigarettes and the cars emitted diesel fumes that would make my friends back home insane. I had not yet travelled to New Orleans at that time, but when I was there years later the broken concrete sidewalks and the exposed electrical wires and cables sticking out of the sides of buildings, also the smells of food and cedar wood reminded me of Habana.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.11

Study

SYNOPSIS:  TYING LOOSE ENDS.  ABOUT GOOD CUBAN FASHION…  A TOUR OF THE HOTEL NACIONAL, VISITING A TOBACCO FACTORY, PAYING HOMAGE TO HEMINGWAY AND MAKING A QUICK STOP AT THE UNIVERSITY AND THE # 1 ICE CREAM PARLOR OF CUBA.    IT IS AN EXTRA LONG BLOG…  SORRY!   TRIP IS ALMOST OVER. 

It was the worst tour ever by the worst guide ever.  This tour had come so highly recommended by our German friends Wulf and Karin, we had made an extra effort to attend it.  Every day at 10 AM (except on Sundays), you can join a guided tour of the Hotel Nacional, one of the most famous hotels of the world.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.10

Performance

SYNOPSIS:  FAC – WHERE IN THE WORLD…?

Three strikes…  This was the third taxi ride, none of them cheap, that Celi and I took up to the FAC — the Fabrica de Arte Cubano at the far Western end of Vedado.  The first time was about a month ago, when we met Tomas, the curator from the Factoria de Arte in Old Havana, and got mixed up about these two.

The second one was last night when, after a nice dinner, we arrived at the FAC around 11 PM.  The line of people wrapped itself around two blocks.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.09

Halicarnassus Shrine

SYNOPSIS:  VEDADO.  ABOUT CELI LOST, COLON CEMETERY, CALLE 17 AND A WOMAN FROM COSTA RICA.

After more than 2 hours, Celi finally returned from “getting us some water”.  I had pictured her talking to some handsome Cubans, losing track of time.  And indeed she had been distracted; not by one but by a few hundred handsome Cubans participating in a triathlon along the Malecon, near our AirBnB.  And then she was lost.  For two hours she circled our casa no more than 1-3 blocks from it; so near and yet so far.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.08

The Professor

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT A DAY WITH THE PROFESSOR.  WHAT CUBANA AND VIAZUL HAVE IN COMMON.  MEETING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS.

The professor had spotted me three days ago near Fidel’s birth house in Santiago and approached me with the stale old question we are asked a dozen times every day: “Where are you from?”  There is no introduction to this, like a “hello” for example, or “how are you”?  It’s always:  Where are you from?  There is also no context for this question.  It’s not like you are talking to somebody.  You are just walking, minding your own business and there it comes, without fail.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.07

Fog on the Mountain

SYNOPSIS:  TRANSIT SANTIAGO.  VIAZUL ONCE MORE.  ABOUT GOOD OLD FRIENDS AND OUR RIDE ON THE BUS; SHARING SNACKS AND STORIES.

The day started with the usual noises.  The rooster had been cockedideldooing since midnight.  He was joined by dogs fighting, feral cats meowing, kids crying around 7 AM competing with some street vendors, and lots of banging by 8 AM.  Baracoa had been hit by Hurricane Mathew a few months ago.  Surprisingly little of this can be seen in our street — two streets removed from the ocean.  Still, roof tops are being fixed, some upper level houses had railings knocked over and some wooden structures had crumbled completely.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.06

Shell at the Beach

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT BEACHES, CHOCOLATE MAKING, AND MINSTRELS.

From town to town we had hoped that the beach would be within reach and we could relax here and there.  Celi envisioned entire days lounging at the beach; for me an hour of swimming and an hour before and after sounded good enough.  But nowhere so far has the beach been within easy reach.  Our only beach-day happened because we had a driver in Havana and passed Santa Maria, a famous beach on the way from our visit to an artist couple’s home in Guanabo.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.05

Museum Cave Exterior

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT THE FAMED ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM. MEETING ALEXANDRO.  A POLITICAL DISCUSSION AT THE MARCO POLO.

It was a low key day.  Once in a while you need that: hair, laundry, suitcase — they need a bit of extra time here and there.   I was not even sure if I would leave the casa at all today.  Celibeth had gone out to the local beach.  I was determined to catch up on the blog and other things.  But finally, in the early afternoon, I had some bees under my bonnet and looked for something to do: the Museo Arqueologico Cueva del Paraiso seemed a good choice.… VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.04

Sierra del Purial

SYNOPSIS:  TRANSIT BARACOA – HOW EVERYTHING WENT WRONG

The day started rough enough with us having to be up and out the door by 7 AM.  No breakfast, no juice — but we managed.  Hurry up and wait.  The Viazul Station in Santiago is big and clean and shares the terminal with the national buses.  All went smoothly, but the bus did not show up.  Finally, the word came: there was a flat tire.  Another 1/2 hour and we would be rolling.  1.5 hours late, we were rolling indeed.

We were hurried on to the bus, left the station and made one circle, dropping off a man, picking up a local lady — the bus drivers on these overland trips seem to like a mistress or two on board — whose horrible perfume permeated the entire bus and then, we made another strange circle onto a dirt road and waited… The reason for this final delay became apparent soon enough: One of the bumbling tourists had missed the bus and been hurried after us in a taxi.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.03

My Jeep

SYNOPSIS:  EXCURSION PARQUE NACIONAL GRAN PIEDRA AND EL COBRE.

A 1940 jeep pulled up this morning in front of our casa.  Weathered and rusty, it was a workhorse of a vehicle.  At maximum capacity, it could hold 10 people, two in the front, and four each on sideways benches in the back.  But it was just me and the driver, since Celi had to back out at the last minute, to make the excursion into the mountains.  Dencil, my driver, spoke not a lick of English.  And my Spanish sounds like this:  I take an English word (if that does not work, a German one), and pronounce it the Latin way, articulating every vowel and if it sounds good, I will add an ‘a’ or an ‘o’ at the end.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.02

Ferry Fare Collector

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT CASTLES AND CANNONS AND CON-MEN.  ABOUT FISH AND FERRIES AND FOREIGNERS.

Didn’t we learn a thing?  Not only did we get conned once today with our BiCi excursion (see Blog 18A); no, twice!  But wait.  Not all conning turns out to be bad.

It was hot, the ferry was late, and we were early.  We were happy to meet one of the locals at the dock who spoke a bit of English.  Celi and he hit it off.  He told us about the schedule — no sign, of course.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
04.01

Fidel’s Tomb Stone

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT CROOKS, SIGHTS AND CEMETERIES.  ABOUT A TRICYCLE EXCURSION THROUGH SANTIAGO. 

At least once in Cuba we had to fall for a scam.  And Santiago seems to have its fair share of crooks.  There is no end to the people who will approach you with sob stories.  And many of them are real, especially in comparison to the worlds most of us travelers live in.  There are quite a few beggars too, more than elsewhere. But the ones you need to watch out for are those who offer some services supposedly for free and for friendship’s sake, and then harass you for payment.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
03.31

Store Sign

SYNOPSIS:  RHYME AND RHYTHM AND EURIPIDES.  SANTIAGO DE CUBA.

Picture a sign for a shoemaker along one of the main roads of the historical center of Santiago and below the shoe, dangling like an afterthought, it says:  Looking for a girl friend (in English)!

This was too funny.  We just had to check it out.  Inside one of those dark and faded hallways of an old colonial home was the even darker workshop of shoemaker Euripides — no joke!  That is quite a fateful name for anyone, particularly a shoemaker working in a dark alley, I have to say.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
03.30

Nightfall over the Harbor

SYNOPSIS:  TRANSIT TO SANTIAGO DE CUBA.  ABOUT RULES, PHONE CARDS, ICE CREAM PARLORS, EATERIES AND A PLAZA THAT SHOULD BE MISSED.  A FEW LOSE ENDS FROM CAMAGUEY.

Picture a pompous-looking voluptuous lady in high heels and black laced stockings holding a fancy notebook, pretending to have some important business.  She was the one (not) greeting us at the door of the 1514 restaurant at the main boulevard in town.  This was a favorite restaurant for the locals and people who showed up seemed to have made a reservation.  We did not.  Even though the restaurant was nearly empty — it was very early for dinner — the pompous lady, without ever looking at us — made us wait in the parlor for 2-3 minutes before she graciously pointed to the door: we were allowed in.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
03.29

Mosaic at Entrance to Historical District

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT CUBAN ART.  ABOUT A COUPLE OF LOCAL ARTISTS.

I said it before, art is everywhere.  But art does not equal art.  From Havana to Trinidad (and I expect from here on out) we saw about one art gallery per street in the historical quarters, doubling and tripling up around the central plazas. Artists seem to be in cahoots about what to produce, which has the undesirable effect that the wandering tourist soon is in no mood any more to step into yet another gallery displaying the same stuff:  American oldies in quaint old streets, Che and/or Fidel, colonial architecture, Cuban scenery, surreal beasts and lots of naked ladies, with a few abstracts sprinkled in between, done in shrill, bright primary colors.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
03.28

Street Sign

SYNOPSIS:  EXPLORING MARKETS, CHURCHES AND PLAZAS

Today we experienced Cuban free enterprise … at its best? … or to the extent possible?  Hard to tell.  It was marked on the map as the Mercado Agropecuario  El Rio, or the Commercial Center.   On the ground it was a gated plot with several rows of small blue-green wooden stalls selling local produce.  At home we would probably call it the Farmer’s Market.   The market opens at 5 AM every day for two hours, and again in the afternoon. We got there in the early afternoon and overall it was a very low key operation.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
03.27

One of those Beauties

SYNOPSIS:  TRANSIT CAMAGUEY.  ANOTHER VIAZUL TRIP, ABOUT SOME PEOPLE, TRAVEL EXPENSES, ANOTHER AIR BNB.  TEA, AND A FEW OTHER THINGS.  TWO BLOCKS APART, TWO WORLDS APART –  A NIGHT STROLL.

1.5 thumbs up to the Viazul station in Trinidad!  It was the first one we encountered that was clean (except for some trash corners), not overcrowded, and had a system in place that indicated that somebody had put a thought to something as simple as: check people’s luggage as they arrive at the station rather than scramble with it when the bus is there and time is in short supply.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY

2017
03.26
Equipment

Equipment

SYNOPSIS:  ABOUT SUGAR, BEER AND A FEW CHARACTERS:  EXCURSION TO THE VALLE DE LOS INGENIOS; A BLOG DEDICATED TO MY BROTHER AND MY GRANDSONS.   

We headed in two directions today.  Celi is always up for a swim and some time at the beach and boarded the Cubatur bus which conveniently left one block from our casa, taking tourists to the Playa Ancon, a peninsular East of Trinidad, considered the best beach of the South Coast.  It is really the North that is famous for unsurpassed  beach resorts but Playa Ancon is as good as it gets around here.VIEW PHOTOS AND READ THE WHOLE STORY