Weekly Photo Challenge: Bridging Gaps in Nicaragua


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Bridge.

For seven years I have tried to bridge cultural gaps in Nicaragua. One of the most difficult gaps to connect is the lack of reading for pleasure in Nicaragua. So, three years ago I started a children’s library in my small La Paloma Elementary School.

One day, I delivered office supplies to our local police department, and in turn Juan Carlos asked what he could do for me. I had just the thing! “Juan Carlos, how would you like to come to my library and read to the preschool class?” I asked. He was thrilled! And so were the preschoolers. Bridging the gap of reading is fun!

El Castillo on the Rio San Juan River in Nicaragua is literally a horse town. No cars here!  Boats, horses, donkeys, canoes, and a few foot bridges tie the communities along the river. To market to market to buy a fat pig!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Life is Fleeting


The Weekly Photo Challenge is transient. 

Yesterday, I traveled to Managua on the mainland, and caught a glimpse of the clouds surrounding our island volcano. It was stunning, as if our sleeping beauty was hovering in air. It reminded me how fleeting our lives on this glorious planet are.
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Out of Nicaragua


“One does not travel by plane. One is merely sent, like a parcel.” ― Karen Blixen

We’ve been out of Nicaragua for three months. It is the longest time we have been away in the seven years that we have permanently lived here. Three countries, 16 airplanes, two trains, three ferries, two rental cars, too many buses to count, and one eye operation later…we are finally home!

My impressions of the countries we visited are dependent on many factors such as economic, political, climate, and most important…the people we met from all walks of life. In every country we visit we ask,”Could we live here?” The answer often surprises us. Yet, it helps us to form lasting impressions of the country.

Could we live in Cuba?

Foremost, we are grateful we had the opportunity to visit Cuba in March before Trump’s Cuba policy redefined “good” U.S. tourism. We are and always will be independent travelers. In most packaged tours and cruises, you see what the tour companies want you to see…predictable, expensive, and unsustainable tourism. Instead, we like to explore as detectives searching for clues about why people live as they do, what the real culture is like, and what makes a country tick.

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Lasting Impressions of Cuba


“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

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Cuba is More than Havana


“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
― John Muir

Walking through a small art gallery in Havana, I became mesmerized by this painting. Is this in Cuba? I have to go there! As we discovered, it was Viñales and we visited after we left Havana.

Ron and I both enjoy traveling through cities, but we are really country people at heart and prefer mountains and lakes to oceans and cities. We read that Viñales is the gateway to the Sierra de los Organos Mountains and the Viñales Valley. The valley’s steep limestone hills, called mogotes, draw many rock climbers. We hoped to report excellent climbing conditions to our son Cory, who is a rock climber.

The Viñales Valley offers Cuba’s best hiking, caving, rock climbing, horseback riding, and cycling. Just down a hill from our casa particular, we entered a magical world with trails leading in all directions. The rights to roam and climb are relaxed in this part of the world, so we were free to explore as we tramped under fences, through farmers’ tobacco fields, and climbed steep mogotes to view mystical vistas.

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Part II: Renting a Guagua or Waawaa We Go!


Life is similar to a bus ride, or in the case of Sandy’s Cuban family, a guagua ride. (pronounced waa waa)
The journey began when Sandy rented a guagua to take us to Havana for an evening of entertainment. You see, her extended family is so large and no one owns a car, so it was impossible to treat them to an evening of fun in Havana without renting a guagua.

Thirty dollars bought Sandy an evening with a guagua driver and enough room for the entire community to go to Havana to watch the cannon ceremony.

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The History of Airbnbs in Cuba


When President Obama’s administration opened the door to improve relationships with Cuba, Airbnb announced that it would offer accommodations to guests from around the world. Airbnb started by licensing U.S. travelers’ accommodations in April 2015, and last April 2016 the U.S. Department of Treasury granted special authorization to allow the company to advertise accommodations in Cuba to non-U.S. travelers. Today, Cuba is the fastest growing market in Airbnb history.

Since we are U.S. citizens it is difficult, if not impossible, to use our U.S. based credit and debit cards in Cuba. We knew we would have to exchange our dollars for Euros before we arrived in Cuba because U.S. dollars are not accepted and we would be charged a hefty 13% commission if we exchanged dollars for CUCs.

Overlooking Havana from our Airbnb balcony on the malacon.

Cuba is predominantly a cash society. Even though Cuba is one of the safest countries we have visited, mainly because the people are petrified of the government if any tourists are harmed, we didn’t like the idea of carrying around large wads of cash.

Therefore, Airbnb was a great option because we could pay online in full with our U.S. credit cards. We stayed in two Airbnbs, one in Havana and the other in Trinidad. Now, we’ve stayed in Airbnbs all over the world, and Cuba’s Airbnbs are a little different.

Reading some of the reviews, I noticed that some people were surprised when they rented an Airbnb in Cuba because the water was not reliable, toilet paper was scarce, the internet was advertised but not available in the house, and the owners lived in the house with the guests.

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Part I: A Day with a Cuban Family in the Barrio


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
― Plutarch

When Sandy took us to meet her large extended family in Marianao, Cuba, I had no idea what to expect. We had only been in Cuba for one day and I had no understanding of life in a communist country. My understanding of communism was that everyone in the Cuban society received equal benefits derived from their labor. I thought that it was a classless society where the government controlled everything and where wealth was redistributed so that all are of the same social and financial status.

NOT. SO. 

We arrived in Marianao surprising Sandy’s family because she had told them that she would visit the following Monday. The matriarch of the family, wrapped in her worn cotton dress, limped to the door and showered hugs and kisses on Sandy. Then, she showered us with hugs and kisses, too!

She is 97 years young and still going strong thanks to socialized medicine in Cuba. She lost a leg many years ago, but she received a plastic leg that enables her to walk. All medical care is free in Cuba…or so we thought. The matriarch’s daughter showed us a plastic bag filled with medicines for her and her mother. She said that she has to pay for them, and that medicine is dispensed on a sliding scale depending on the finances of the family. Since she is a teacher, she has to pay for the medicines.

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Margarita’s Ashes: A Cuban Burial Story


“Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens’ claws.” ~ Jim Morrison

Havana’s Colón Cemetery is the second-largest in the world taking up 56 hectares, as well as the final resting place of over two million souls. One of these souls is Margarita, Sandy’s Cuban mother-in-law.

Most tourists visit the cemetery for the historical significance and the funerary monuments, ornate sculptures, and mausoleums. We were privileged to visit the cemetery in search of Margarita’s ashes. Yet, the search led us to an unexpected discovery of how the poor are buried in Cuba.

The varied architectural styles of the graves are a fascinating reflection of the golden age of Cuba. Now, many of the graves are in a state of disrepair because the families fled before the revolution and abandoned the graves of their loved ones.

Those who can afford to decorate the graves of their loved ones embellish the crypts with fresh flowers and small tokens of remembrances. For those who can’t afford the upkeep of the graves, the story is quite different.

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