Friday Photo #5, Havana, Cuba

FridayPhoto5

It seems incredible but ordinary Americans still can’t just hop on a plane and fly to Cuba. The rules have relaxed a little though, and nowadays with prior planning, a trip to Havana is possible. Click the photo to enlarge, and see this and 57 other photos from a 2012 trip in the Cuba Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. And here’s a story about the trip.

Wednesday HDRs – Trains

HDR processing seems to work well on things that take you places, so today here are six trains. The top two are from Havana, the middle two are Finnish trains, one from the town of Kouvola, the other a tourist train along Helsinki’s waterfront, the fifth train is from the platform in Spiez, Switzerland and at bottom, it’s a city tram in Milan, Italy.

All were tonemapped in Photomatix and finished in various versions of Photoshop with various iterations of Nik software. Click any to see a bigger version, and here are about 500 HDR photos from EarthPhotos.com.

One other thing, just a reminder: EarthPhotos.com may look and act a little strange over the next week or two as we move to a new format. Please be gentle as we work out the bugs.

CubaTrain

CubaTrain2

FinlandTrain

FinlandTrain2

SwissTrain

ItalyTrain

Cuba Right Now

havana

– From a trip to Havana in 2012

Havana, Cuba: We jump into a priceless, ‘50s vintage yellow convertible taxi and ask for a ride to ‘Old Havana.’ Where in Old Havana? We don’t know. We shrug, everybody smiles and we just go.

Ramon the Cabbie pulls to the curb, fumbles in the glove box, pulls out a preposterously big cigar, stuffs it in my mouth, gives me a light and puts his cowboy hat on my head. Everything is fabulous.

We’re out on the Malecón, Havana’s beloved corniche, the sea to the left, Havana on the right. There’s a couple of side-by-side soccer matches going on in front of a Communist-era grandstand. You can tell Communist design. Not a lot of traffic on the Malecón even though it’s midday.

Down toward the old center buildings fast shedding paint look to have been real showpieces in the past. The past is slipping away fast, though. Water came over the sea wall in one hurricane or another, flooded this part of the city for five long blocks inland, and nothing’s been done to fix it.

Ramon drops us beside the Plaza de Armas. It’s a gorgeous day with a breeze off the sea. People doze in the shade, kids play. There’s a game of checkers. A dog chews a bone.

The little park is a flea market of revolutionary history books, musty encyclopedias, Hemingway novels, and Tarzan comics, but the booksellers aren’t terribly mercantile. They read their books.

Cubans are proud of their collective literacy, a pet Castro project of the early revolution. Kids as young as 14 were sent into the countryside to raise Cuban literacy, from 23 percent at the time to nearly 100 percent today. Literacy and free medical care – those are the Castro legacies you’ll hear about again and again.

The whole afternoon we’re lost in old Havana. We do the slow walk up Obispo Street, the cobbled pedestrian thoroughfare into town. Hemingway’s old haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos, is in fine repair. There’s a shrine where they say he wrote The Old Man and the Sea beside a turtle pond. Each turtle is perched on its own rock.

Five old men sing and play over a big spread of sidewalk. A lady shakes a maraca and holds out a hat. Can’t tell if she works for them or she’s the boss, driving these doddering old guys to keep playing.

•••••

We hear a good, salacious rumor that famous Americans have been here lately for medical treatment. Who? Continue reading

Cuba? Maybe


MaleconHavana

When we signed up for a trip to Cuba back in March, we assumed the "people to people" regulations would hold at least until a possible change in presidential administration. Like everything in U.S./Cuban relations, it turns out to be more complicated than that.

Under criticism from Sen. Rubio and others, the State Department began to slow-walk tour companies' license renewal process, forcing many companies providing the tours to suspend Cuba travel. The company with which we traveled, Insight Cuba, (this is not an endorsement of Insight Cuba, which was confused and lukewarm with its customer support – but there are others) was forced to lay off all 22 of its employees for a time.

But now the program is apparently back on track. All this back and forth might be put down to election year politics, but it points out that if you're on the fence about Cuba travel, if you don't act while you can, you may not have the opportunity to travel to Cuba legally later.

(More photos here.)

Ten Places of Worship – Wednesday HDRs

Enjoy these HDRs of churches in Ethiopia, Italy, Lithuania, Panama, Cuba, Latvia and on St. Helena Island. Click any of them to make them much bigger. There are almost 400 more HDRs in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

The first two are from St. James Church, the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere, St. Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean:


ChurchHDR01

ChurchHDR02

These next two are from the Riga Cathedral, Riga, Latvia:


ChurchHDR03


ChurchHDR04

Here is the Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, Havana, Cuba:


ChurchHDR05

Continue reading

Two New Things to Read

One's on the web, the other's a book.

Enjoy Where is Cuba Going? by John Jeremiah Sullivan, in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It's long and meandering, in a good way. Sullivan is as flummoxed by the Florida Cuban community and the embargo as everybody else is, except the Florida Cuban community and anybody who has to navigate through them toward election.

Just one thing – he writes:

"Barack Obama was going to open things up, and he did tinker with the
rules regarding travel, but now they say that when you try to follow
these rules, you get caught up in all kinds of forms and tape."

Since his wife is Cuban, he can enter Havana under rules that are different from the ones we used on our visit a few months back, so he wouldn't have any experience with the new rules. For the record, there is a little more paperwork than, say, flying to Paris, akin to the kinds of things you have to file to visit, say, Belarus.But it's no big deal.

And staring down the epic Cuban Embargo had us anxious and alert re-entering Miami, but immigration couldn't have been more bored to see us. We might as well have brought along those Cuban cigars I left behind.

•••••

I've also just been reading, and recommend Chasing the Devil: A Journey Through Sub-Saharan Africa in the Footsteps of Graham Greene by Tim Butcher. Tim Butcher is a former British newspaper reporter and war correspondent now living in South Africa, who has that knack for travel in places you probably don't want to visit.

His previous book, Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World's Most Dangerous Country, in which he retraced Henry Morton Stanley's 1870 trek, was harrowing. In the new book Butcher sets out to cross Sierra Leone and Liberia. There's a particularly frightening section, and touching tribute, to two friends killed while reporting in Sierra Leone in 2000.

It's good stuff. Both Butcher books are worth a read.

Havana, Right Now

With travel to Cuba now open to Americans, here’s what you’ll find if you visit right now.

HavanaCuba

Havana, Cuba, March 2012: We jump into a priceless, ‘50s vintage yellow convertible taxi and ask for a ride to ‘Old Havana.’ Where in Old Havana? We don’t know. We shrug, everybody smiles and we just go.

Ramon the Cabbie pulls to the curb, fumbles in the glove box, pulls out a preposterously big cigar, stuffs it in my mouth, gives me a light and puts his cowboy hat on my head. Everything is fabulous.

We’re out on the Malecón, Havana’s beloved corniche, the sea to the left, Havana on the right. There’s a couple of side-by-side soccer matches going on in front of a Communist-era grandstand. You can tell Communist design. Not a lot of traffic on the Malecón even though it’s midday.

Down toward the old center buildings fast shedding paint look to have been real showpieces in the past. The past is slipping away fast, though. Water came over the sea wall in one hurricane or another, flooded this part of the city for five long blocks inland, and nothing’s been done to fix it.

Ramon drops us beside the Plaza de Armas. It’s a gorgeous day with a breeze off the sea. People doze in the shade, kids play. There’s a game of checkers. A dog chews a bone.

The little park is a flea market of revolutionary history books, musty encyclopedias, Hemingway novels, and Tarzan comics, but the booksellers aren’t terribly mercantile. They read their books.

Cubans are proud of their collective literacy, a pet Castro project of the early revolution. Kids as young as 14 were sent into the countryside to raise Cuban literacy, from 23 percent at the time to nearly 100 percent today. Literacy and free medical care – those are the Castro legacies you’ll hear about again and again. 

The whole afternoon we’re lost in old Havana. We do the slow walk up Obispo Street, the cobbled pedestrian thoroughfare into town. Hemingway’s old haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos, is in fine repair. There’s a shrine where they say he wrote The Old Man and the Sea beside a turtle pond. Each turtle is perched on its own rock.

Five old men sing and play over a big spread of sidewalk. A lady shakes a maraca and holds out a hat. Can’t tell if she works for them or she’s the boss, driving these doddering old guys to keep playing.

•••••

We hear a good, salacious rumor that famous Americans have been here lately for medical treatment. Who?

Continue reading