She was a 54-year-old light-skinned black woman, a technical engineer at the H. Upmann Tobacco Factory by day and, under the cover of darkness, a black market beautician prowling the poorly-lit alleys of Centro Habana, trimming beards and plucking eyebrows for those too elderly to do so for themselves, giving pedicures and cleaning pores for those too young and too vain to see past their own noses.
She hadn’t always been this snide. Once, she too had believed in beauty, revered it even. As a child, she had chosen her career because of it. This was back in the days of Batista, when she had noticed that all the beautiful people in La Poma, that bottleneck of chaos and corruption and color that has forever been Havana, were all professionals—doctors, architects, lawyers, engineers. When the Revolution triumphed, on the eve of her tenth birthday, she had been immediately caught up in its spell of social justice, its promise of education (the path to professionalism) for everyone…
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An excerpt of Es Cuba has been included in The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006.
On my first trip to Cuba, I fit everything I needed into my trusty old camping backpack. But on my second visit, to accommodate all the presents I had for my new friends, I bought a fancy, fashionable wheeled suitcase. Despite its supposedly comfort-enhancing pullout handle, I had calluses on both hands after wheeling it from the airport entrance to the check in terminal where the agent promptly informed me that, at 95 pounds, my suitcase was a whopping 50 pounds over the limit.
For the past several months, I had been stocking up on the things I wished I’d brought before, for others and for myself. My suitcase now contained multi-vitamins and ibuprofen, toilet paper, an assortment of power bars and dehydrated bean soups, twine for impromptu laundry lines, automatic laundry detergent for my friend Dinora, bed sheets for my friend Liudmila, and running shoes for my boyfriend Alfredo, who I had met on my first trip.
. . . keep reading The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006 – Other Types Of Wealth
In Isla de la Juventud, a small island off the south coast of Cuba, Alfredo and I decide to tell everyone we’re married. It is a game, a way of survival in a country where foreigners have more rights than Cubans. And on this Island of the Youth, home to Cuba’s foreign exchange students in the years following the revolution, something has gone dreadfully wrong. Not only can Cubans not enter a restaurant or club without a foreigner in tow to fork over the U.S. dollars but here they need to be married to that foreigner.
Alfredo and I are standing at the iron rod entrance gate to Cabaret El Patio and the bouncer, a tall man, thick like a wall, is asking for our marriage papers.
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Cabañas Tranquilas, on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, lies on a dirt road in an unnamed town between Dominicalito and Uvita. There are no telephones or electricity and the bus passes by only once a day. Literally “the hidden cabins,” Cabañas Tranquilas is as much about the landscape (both physical and mental) which obscures it as it is about the cabins themselves.
It is about mango trees depositing their overripe fruit in pockets of mud on the jungle floor, filling the air with the perfume of fermentation. It is about the steady downpour of a summer rainstorm mixing with and becoming indecipherable from the sound of the ocean. It is about the world at 5 a.m. when the sun first appears and the polished black surfaces that give night its sense of mystery are replaced with color and familiar textures, with edges. Cabañas Tranquilas is all this and the negation of it all. It is
the absence of scent and sound and sight that occurs during meditation, the way, when you focus on yourself so intently, location ceases to exist.
Cabañas Tranquilas is where I went searching for myself when I thought, by definition, being a wanderer meant you were lost.
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Guatemala has Rigoberta Menchú and, in the northern rainforests, rebel guerrillas. In Honduras, Maya ruins line the cobblestone footpaths of Copán. Nicaragua has the legacy of its Sandinista uprising and a clan of rebellious poets who live out the revolution’s ideals on the communal Solentiname Island. And Costa Rica? Costa Rica, the fashionable gringo gripe goes, well, Costa Rica is just the tropics. It is beautiful landscape but nothing more. It has no revolutionary heroes and no oppressive military. Unlike its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has no narrative of subjugation, no tragic struggle for independence, and thus (from the school of thought that misery + strife = art), Costa Rica has no culture. And even worse, I’ve heard many an expatriate lament, there are no indigenous people.
. . . keep reading The Unsavvy Traveler – Saving The Guaymi
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica’s highest peak, is a rock tower looming nearly 13,000 feet above a landscape of surreal contrasts. Dusty trails crisscross and dead end into clear blue lakes that appear like mirages in the middle of a desert. The seventeen miles of uphill terrain alternate between mosquito-infested jungle and fire-blackened forest. In the early morning, jackrabbits chase each other through parched brush, and at sunset the sky echoes with the cries of wild boars.
Mount Chirripo splits the country in two. If you reach the top before the afternoon fog rolls in, you can see the Pacific on one side and the Caribbean on the other. In the evening, the temperature drops below freezing and icicles decorate the roof of the plywood hikers cabin. But in the afternoon the sun is so intense that half an hour without protection can leave your skin bubbling.
. . . keep reading Two in the Wild – The Solo Journey, Revised
They enter my makeshift classroom
with office divider walls and
a lopsided table, not enough
fold-up chairs. They sit on
the floor and use old
National Geographics, my only
as miniature table tops.
They are Mexicans, Guatemalans,
anyone I’ve managed to pull away
from the free clothing room,
saying “Come learn English.
Puede aprender ingles. Today.”
They are mainly men in their twenties,
men my age who have
left their families
to search for jobs and the good life
some muchacho passing through
their town had told them about.
. . . keep reading Beside The Sleeping Maiden: Poets Of Marin – Looking For Home