Another Stupa Temple


 

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Ruwanwelisiya Dagoba, 2nd century B.C.

Anuradhapura.  Who knew it was even here?  I certainly didn’t until I started planning my trip to Sri Lanka a few months ago. But this calm, mystical, and lovely place is magical.  Joan and I often found ourselves talking about Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the incredible sites in Thailand as we wandered around some of the most amazing stupas (called dagobas in the local parlance) and other archeological sites many dating before the birth of Christ.

 

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But there were a couple of things that were delightfully different from Buddhist sites I’ve visited in the past.  First and foremost, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has not yet been discovered by western tourists allowing for the local population to continue to use the mesmerizing temples to still be used as active places of worship.  The difference this makes for a visitor is amazing.  A lack of crowds provides a sense of serenity that these temples are meant to evoke. This is difficult to find in the modern, jet-set world, and I am so happy to have discovered it.dsc01713

Not to jinx us, but Joan and I have incredible luck at being in places when something important is going on.  The photo above is a good example.  We happened to be Anuradhapura on one of the most important Buddhist holidays of the year.  Here you see followers carrying a bolt of cloth that will be wrapped around the dagoba, like a large ribbon or bow.  The structure is HUGE and it is difficult to describe how long this piece of cloth is. You can see the video here:  https://youtu.be/IwKCCopGp58

 

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Lunch break

Take your shoes off and walk around with me in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.  It surely must be one of the steps of reaching nirvana.

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Making (and) eating roti

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Dinesh sports a great example of the smiles you get from every Sri Lankan you encounter.

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Sri Lankan Roti

 

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Offerings made to Buddha

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Head to toe(s)

 

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My attempt at being artistic

 

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Buddhist monk

 

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An example of the faithful in Anuradhapura

 

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Offerings being made to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

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There happened to be a wedding in our hotel during our visit.  Here is the bride and groom.

 

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Jetavanarama Dagoba.  3rd century A.D.

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I don’t always wear socks with sandals. But when I do it’s because I have a sore foot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceylon, Ceylon


Sail on. Sail on.  The Commodores, May, 1979 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zg-ivWxy5KE

Negombo fish market

Negombo fish market

Well I found myself just about the farthest place from California I can get on this planet.  After a two hour drive, an overnight in an LAX hotel, a 16 hour flight, two hour layover in Qatar, and then a nearly four hour flight I’ve wound up in the the island nation of Sri Lanka. Upon arrival in Colombo (the capital) we zipped right through immigration and customs and was met by our driver/guide, Dinesh,  who has the most dazzling white smile I’ve ever seen.  He’ll be with us for the next couple of weeks.
By design, we spent the first day in recovery.  I, unfortunately, injured my foot two days before Joan and I left so I hobbled around for a bit with her around Negombo (a suburb near the Colombo airport). But finally jetlag, exhaustion, and a diminished tolerance for pain on my part sent us searching for a tuk tuk back to the hotel, some air conditioning, and foot elevation. The next morning we were both a little more refreshed and my foot improved greatly after a little much needed pampering. We’re now ready to set off on our Sri Lankan odyssey.
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Negombo fish market

Our first stop is going to  be Anuradhapura. (Say that three times quickly!)  I’ll give more background on the UNESCO World Heritage Site in a subsequent post. On the way to Anuradhapura, we stopped at Wilpattu National Park for a three-hour safari drive.  These are also exciting and Joan and I realized during the drive that this is the third country in which we’ve gone “on safari.” While it wasn’t on par with the scope of animals you’d see in Africa, it will still exhilarating to drive around the park in an open air vehicle and looking for the elusive leopard.

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Dinesh, our driver/guide. Sri Lanka

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Seeing an elephant in the wild never gets old. Wilpattu National Park

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Love the haircut. Did you do it yourself? Wilpattu National Park

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Wild chickens in Wilpattu National Park

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Lounging around in Wilpattu National Park

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Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

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Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

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Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

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Safari. Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

A Particular House


Everything in Cuba is owned and operated by the government. However there is one area where there has been some softening on this hardline stance:  Sleeping and eating. Over the past few years the government has started to allow private citizens to rent out rooms in their homes to tourists these are called a “casa particular.”  Likewise there are a smattering of private restaurants called “paladars.”  I imagine that both of these types of establishments are priced way beyond what the typical Cuban could afford, but we found them reasonable and certainly several notches above the bleak, Soviet style alternatives.

Our first stop was in Havana where we stayed with a woman named Marie.  She spoke very little English and certainly is trusting since she gave us keys to her home to come an go as we pleased. Of the four places we stayed, this one felt most like being a guest in someone’s home.

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Casa de Marie, Havana

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Casa de Marie, Havana

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Casa de Marie, Havana

The next stop was in Cienfuegos where we stayed with Jorge and Alicia.  Their casa particular was set up nearly like a motel, very different from Marie’s house in Havana. While it afforded more privacy, we didn’t find it “particularly” appealing.  It was here that we learned of Fidel Castro’s death.

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Casa de Jorge y Alicia, Cienfuegos

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Casa de Jorge y Alicia, Cienfuegos

Perhaps our favorite place to stay was in Trinidad with an energetic woman named Eloida.  Like at Marie’s we were actually staying in the house proper. It was here that we learned how convenient it is to have meals other than breakfast at the casa.

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Casa de Eloida, Trinidad

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Casa de Eloida, Trinidad

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Casa de Eloida, Trinidad

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Casa de Eloida, Trinidad

And finally we stay with a comedienne named Lachina in Varadero.

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Casa de Lachina, Varadero

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Casa de Lachina, Varadero

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Casa de Lachina, Varadero

Paladars

We ate at several of the private restaurants called paladars.  Perhaps the most memorable was La Guarida in Havana where we celebrated Amanda’s birthday. The entrance was most striking.  It was through a dilapidated, buy elegant, old building that was in the process of being refurbished.

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Entrance to La Guarida, Havana.

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La Guarida, Havana.

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La Guarida, Havana. Happy birthday Amanda!

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Paladar, Vinales.

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The kitchen at the paladar in Vinales. They cook with wood fires!

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A paladar in the country, Vinales.

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Eaten at a paladar in Trinidad

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A paladar in Trinidad

This will be my last post from Cuba. So, where to next?  My life is a trip!

Trinidad de Cuba


dsc01412As I look back on my trip to Cuba I have to say that the town of Trinidad has to perhaps be the most memorable locale of the entire trip.  Havana certainly has its allure; the buzz of 1950s traffic, miles and miles of dilapidated grand buildings still in use, prime examples of architecture from multiple centuries, etc. But it was the place called Trinidad de Cuba that captured my heart.

While the clock stopped in 1959 in the rest of Cuba, it stopped in Trinidad in 1850.  The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is widely considered the best preserved colonial town in all the Americas. The whole town is an outdoor museum. At times the original cobble stone streets can be coffin-quiet with the only sound being the clop clop of horses hooves or the sing-songy sound of old men selling bread or fruit from bicycles.

Trinidad is also known for the music that wafts from many doorways and “casas de musica.”  Alas because of Fidel Castro’s death the night before we went to Trinidad (and the resulting moratorium on music for nine days of the official morning period nationwide) we did not get to experience this aspect of Trinidad.  But it’s magical all the same.  Take a look.dsc01383 dsc01386 dsc01397 dsc01398 dsc01399 dsc01400 dsc01409 dsc01411 dsc01413 dsc01414 dsc01416 dsc01417 dsc01419 dsc01420 dsc01421 dsc01422 dsc01424 dsc01425 dsc01426 dsc01434 dsc01436 dsc01439 dsc01441 dsc01443 dsc01444 dsc01446 dsc01448 dsc01453 dsc01454 dsc01455 dsc01457 dsc01467

Yank Tanks


No blog about Cuba would be complete without a mention of the ancient American cars that are still on the road here.  They are all pre 1960 with a few Soviet Union cars from the 1970s thrown in.  These are not the possessions of classic car collectors, but rather the primary means of transportation for people who use, and reuse, EVERYTHING out of necessity.

They are a real part of Cuba.

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This is the car that picked us up at the airport in Havana. It was just serendipity that we saw it on the highway on the way to Vinales!

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No Es Facil


I saw so many of the wonderful US cars that are pre-1959. So many in fact that they will have their own blog post!

I saw so many of the wonderful US cars that are pre-1959. So many in fact that they will have their own blog post!

 No es facil.  It ain’t easy.  You quickly see the evidence of this when you step off the plane in Havana, Cuba.  Lines are long and unorganized for immigration.  Baggage claim is absolute chaos.  Since many goods are simply not available here, those Cubans who are allowed to travel abroad stock up for Armageddon.  I saw the strangest things coming off the luggage carousel:  A complete set of four tires, packages of toilet paper so big they belonged on a pallet rather than a luggage cart, and yes, I literally saw a kitchen sink along with a whole plethora of small kitchen appliances. It was truly a bazaar of goods.
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Havana

 

If God ever needed a mechanic, I’m convinced he would look in Cuba. It is really incredible the ingenuity these people must possess just to get by in day-to-day life.  The things that most of us take for granted simply are not available here.  I won’t really describe what I saw here as poverty. Everyone is well fed, has excellent health care, can go to university for free, and have their basic needs met. When luxury items are available they are priced way out of the range that the typical Cuban can afford.  While this can be extremely interesting from a foreigner’s point of view, I sense that it can feel rather bleak to the average Cuban.
The economic woes of Cuba are a relatively recent phenomenon. For those of you who are too young to remember it comes down to the trade embargo against Cuba in place since 1959. It seems the government of the United States was not too keen on the revolution led Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in that same year. And just a few years later when the US government placed nuclear missiles in Turkey aimed right at Moscow, the USSR became friendly with the socialist government of Cuba and placed their own missiles here. That didn’t go over too well in Washington D.C. either.
This has resulted in an entire country frozen in a moment of time.
You want a bottle of water, there’s one brand. A cola, it’s the same.  You want to use the Internet.  Good luck and be sure to pray to bandwidth gods and hope you’re near to one of the parks that are the only access points in the country.
People "lined up" at the few offices where Internet cards can be purchased for about $2.00/hour. The offices are never open but you can always find someone nearby willing to sell a card for $3 or $4/hour. Now just find a park where there is access.

People “lined up” at the few offices where Internet cards can be purchased for about $2.00/hour. The offices are never open but you can always find someone nearby willing to sell a card for $3 or $4/hour. Now just find a park where there is access.

 

 You won’t find homelessness here as everyone is provided for.  This was assured in 1959 when Fidel Castro and a ragtag bunch of revolutionaries changed Cuba forever.  Even though Fidel wasn’t technically in power while I was here, it was then that he chose to die.  This will have a profound effect on the country but the jury is still out on just what kind of effect it will have.  As an American it was difficult not to be embarrassed at how we as a nation have treated the Cuban people.  In Havana all the world’s embassies were flying at half staff in observance of Fidel’s passing.  Not the shiny new US embassy though.  It was full mast.
dsc01278President Obama gave the Cubans hope with his recent state visit here.  All over Cuba you see posters of him with the caption:  “Yes we came.”  However they are incredibly fearful of the President Elect and perhaps rightfully so. They’ve endured decades of hardship and were just beginning to have so hope of softer relations between them and the giant 90 miles off their northern coast.
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I’m glad I came when I did.  It is obvious that already increasing tourism from the US is fracturing Cuba’s delicate tourism infrastructure.  When leaving Havana yesterday I saw a Delta and JetBlue aircraft parked at gates.  I know that United and American Airlines are also adding flights. Cuba is a wonderful portrait of the human race struggling to get by in a modern world.  Or in their case a not so modern world.  I’ll try to dive deeper into this over a series of futures posts here.

Ciudad de Mexico!


Beautiful architecture

Beautiful architecture

This is my first time to Mexico City and I must admit that I find it really surprising. The first thing that surprises me is how cold it can be here. At over 7,000 feet above sea level don’t let the latitude fool you. The second thing that surprised me is how clean everything is. It is a very desirable and cosmopolitan city. It’s one of the largest in the world, and frankly, they’re not real fond of Donald Trump here.

dsc01034But this is just a stopover for us, as we’re on our way to Havana tomorrow morning.  We hear that finding an Internet connection is nigh on impossible there so I may not be able to post until we return to Mexico City in about two weeks.  But if it is possible, I will.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos from around this exciting and vibrant city.

A beautiful old post office.

A beautiful old post office.

A stunning post office.

A stunning post office.

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The most incredible bakery I've ever been in.

The most incredible bakery I’ve ever been in.

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Aztec cultural dance on the street.

Aztec cultural dance on the street.

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La Condesa neighborhood.

La Condesa neighborhood.