Cuba: A Country of Contrasts

I must admit, I had preconceived ideas about what Cuba may look like and how “oppressed” the people there must be under the communist regime. After all, I had read and heard all my life how destitute and hopeless the people of Cuba must be without our support and the sanctions our government had placed upon the country. What a misconception! While Americans’ travel to Cuba has been limited, citizens from other countries have been traveling there freely for many years thus creating a thriving and successful tourism economy. Likewise, most of the images and reports I have seen and read paint a picture of decay, despair, and doom. It is simply not true! There are many beautifully restored buildings. Many international hotel companies operate luxury hotels, there are wonderful museums, retail boutiques, and much more.

 

On the other hand, there is an equal or greater amount of dilapidated buildings and squalid living conditions for many. In reality, it is very similar to many other countries I have visited and unfortunately, like many cities in the USA. While many people there live in sub-standard conditions in comparison to here in the USA, I was pleasantly surprised how comfortable and content many Cubans seemed to be. I did not detect a sense of hopelessness or despair. Perhaps they don’t know what they’re missing; and perhaps, they feel like their needs are met and thus don’t require all the trappings of “American success”.

 

After spending almost a week in Cuba, I am reminded that happiness and contentment do not come from obtaining more stuff. More does not equal better. Hope, happiness, and contentment originates and resides “inside” and is not based on how much I have. Sometimes, I have to go out of my way to find my way! Ahhh, the wonders of travel…

 

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Travel: Savor the Experience

 

Why do I love to travel and experience new adventures? Why do I find myself looking at photos of faraway places with lust in my eyes and yearning in my heart? On the other hand, why are other members of my family content with staying near home? Why me?! Why not me?!

 

I remember as a child growing up in Alabama, our family had a globe. They were very popular in the 60’s and 70’s. Most families had them along with a set of Encyclopedias. The globe sat on a table in the den, the encyclopedias on the bookshelf nearby. I often read from the Encyclopedias but the globe, rotating on its axis, captured my attention more. It was just a little bigger than a basketball but, for me, it was “the world”.

 

I would spend hours spinning that globe while lightly touching my finger to the side. I would fantasize that one day I would visit the spot where the globe stopped. Never mind that it was often in the middle of the Indian Ocean! Spinning that globe taught me a great deal about our world. I learned national capitals, mountain ranges, and the locations of countries worldwide. But most of all, I cultivated an interest and desire to travel and experience places see far beyond Tallapoosa County.

 

We didn’t travel far as a family. We once drove to Pennsylvania to visit relatives but most vacations were spent in the Great Smoky Mountains or the Florida panhandle. We stayed at the same motel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee for many years in a row. It was comfortable, familiar, and safe; much the same for Florida too.

 

As early as the 7th grade in school, I vividly recall proclaiming that I was going to leave my small hometown and see the world. It was just as much the desire to run from home as it was running to new and exciting places.

 

I’ve been blessed to travel and experience many places in the world – Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, and most of the USA. I love planning the trip almost as much as the actual experience. I thoroughly enjoy learning about new places, a town’s hidden gems, local dining favorites – especially the best place for dessert.

 

I enjoy sitting in the local diner listening in on conversations of the local town folks. It’s important to me to know what their life is like, what they’re concerned with, talking about, excited about. That’s travel for me. It is so much more than seeing the sights and checking them off the list before moving on.

 

For me, travelling is an immersive experience to savor the sights, sounds, and flavor. It’s an occasion to explore, learn, and identify with the people. Traveling has not only enlarged my world but also my heart, allowed me to accept other cultures, and embrace other points of view.

 

There are far more places to see and experience. I’ll continue to chronicle and share images along the way. Perhaps one day, I’ll even post images from Seychelles…located in the middle of the Indian Ocean!

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Barcelona: A Perfect Blend of Gothic and Modern

 

I still remember the 1992 Summer Olympics from Barcelona. NBC Sports televised the events. It was the first time professional basketball players were allowed to compete. The USA “Dream Team” with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird easily won the gold medal. Badminton and Judo became official sports of the Olympics.

 

What I remember more than the Games were the panoramic views of the Catalan countryside, the amazing architecture of the Gothic Quarter, Gaudi’s unforgettable creations, and the unique modern architecture weaving seamlessly into the fabric of the historic city. NBC did a wonderful job of selling the city. I vowed then to visit in person one day.

 

In the early 2000’s, I experienced Barcelona for a few days. I wandered around the narrow streets of Gothic Quarter lingering at the churches and cathedrals, and photographing the hundreds year old buildings’ time-worn doors and windows.  Barcelona just oozes history and beauty from every alleyway and structure.

 

Maybe I should be ashamed to say, however, I was unaware of Antoni Gaudi before visiting Barcelona. I had seen images of his architectural work, but never attributed it to him. Gaudi integrated ceramics, glass, wrought iron and other substances into his works. His greatest work, the Sagrada Familia, was only recently completed after more than a hundred years under construction.

 

I’m a photographer, not an historian nor architectural expert either. But it seems to me that Gaudi bridged the gap between modern and Gothic architecture in Barcelona. His one-of-a-kind architectural creations paved the way for more striking modern, whimsical buildings and art installations. The result is a harmonious blend of modern and Gothic architectural styles that are a joy to view and experience.

 

Barcelona is one of those places I would love to return. Not only is it visually stimulating but the harmony of the old and new creates a peaceful and serene balance. It’s simply good for the soul.

 

 

 

 

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For the First Time…Again!

 

Anyone who knows me, knows I love the Southwest. Utah is my favorite state in the USA. In the southern part of the state, there are five national parks and numerous state parks showcasing the most magnificent geological formations in brilliant colors of red, orange, yellow, and white – all contrasted by the bluest sky you’ve ever seen.

 

I have photographed all the parks, scenic highways, peaks, valleys, and everything in between many times. I usually visit Utah every year or two. I never get tired of it. Every time I visit, I see familiar places that I’ve slept, ate, stopped by to look around and so on. I feel like I know it like the back of my hand. Yet I return again and again because it is such a special place.

 

On my most recent visit, I brought my brother along. It was his first time to see Utah in all its glory and beauty, other than Moab which he visited years ago. We started out in Vegas and traveled south to Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border. Along the way, we stopped at the world-famous slot canyons, Antelope Canyon. From there, we visited Canyon de Chelly in eastern Arizona before heading north to the national parks of Utah.

 

Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Zion NP, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were in our bulls eye. While we didn’t get to explore each park in depth, it was a good primer for his next travel expedition. The area is so vast and diverse, it is easy to spend an entire week in only one or two parks. I’ve had the honor and pleasure to explore each individually, and it’s worth every minute.

 

Each park is unique in color and type of rock formations – red rock in Canyonlands, orange in Bryce Canyon, all of the above in Zion! The region ranges rom 4,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation which creates different weather patterns and temperatures. While it’s hot in Arches, it is moderate to cool in Bryce Canyon. Not only is southern Utah a visual feast, it tickles every sense to maximum effect.

 

I feel like I am visiting the area for the first time although I’ve been here about 10 times. I am seeing the parks through my brother’s eyes. As I experienced the first time, he is mesmerized and overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the region. Just when he thought he saw something that couldn’t be topped, there was another amazing sight. And another, and another.

 

Every time he proclaims his amazement and disbelief in the otherworldly rock formations, the brilliant colors, the lovely weather, the good home-cooked food, I am reliving my first experience in the Southwest. I am as excited as he is! I suppose it is like parents taking their children to Disney World for the first time. They relive their first visit to the parks. I totally get it. The emotions are the same. It is pure unadulterated joy and contentment.

 

I am always eager to return again with a new pair of eyes. Anyone interested?! I would love see the Southwest for the first time…again! And again!

 

 

 

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The Samana Peninsula over Punta Cana…ANY DAY!

 

 

The Dominican Republic has so many unique and diverse beach areas to explore and enjoy. The country is big – more than double the size of Puerto Rico and Jamaica. There are countless areas with amazing sandy beaches, colorful people, and lovely vacation rentals. Most of the attention is focused on Punta Cana and La Romana. But for me, the Samana Peninsula is the top tropical paradise destination in the DR.

 

Located in the northeast, it is a mountainous region with spectacular waterfalls and amazing tropical forests and flora. The town of Samana and the villages of Las Terranas and Las Galeras are the vacation destinations. It’s one of those areas you have to WANT to visit. You don’t just stumble over it. That’s one of the things that makes it so attractive. The destination less travelled.

 

Small mom & pop motels and vacation villas dot the beaches with plenty of room in between them. Most of the area is undeveloped. There are only a couple of all-inclusive resorts tucked away in less populous areas. You won’t have to worry about stumbling over bodies on the beach.

 

Las Terranas and Las Galeras have no Hard Rock Cafes nor chain restaurants. The meal of choice is usually the fish caught earlier in the day and served up fresh in a little beachside restaurant with a few tables and meringue music filling the air.

 

The beaches are natural and untouched. Palm trees grow at the water’s edge and coconuts lay where they’ve fallen. Dirt roads outnumber paved ones. Scooters and 4-wheelers are the primary mode of transportation. You get the idea…

 

It’s not unusual to go all day without seeing another American too. As a matter of fact, we stick out like a sore thumb! The area is a favorite of the French and Italians. Many have migrated or have vacation homes in the area. As a result, there is a French speaking school, wonderful Italian restaurants and amazing French bakeries. It’s like visiting a foreign country within a foreign country!

 

When I lived in Santo Domingo, Las Terranas was my favorite get-away locale. I still look at my photos and fondly remember the wonderful times I spent there. The Samana Peninsula is the real Dominican Republic. It’s not spit-shined and polished like a Florida theme park. Hands down, I’d recommend it any day over Punta Cana.

 

 

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