Havana to Tracy: Not so fast

Cuba, it seems, was not ready for me.

Definitely, I was not ready for Cuba.

It seems that getting a Cuban journalist’s visa is a great deal more complicated than I had been led to believe. My lack of attention to this particular detail led to a brusque reception by disbelieving bureaucrats, a long cold night in Jose Martí International Airport, and the first flight back to Cuba.

It was a costly, embarrassing and extremely painful lesson, but here’s what I learned. I’m sharing the story in the hopes that you will learn from my mistakes.

Countryside near Havana from the airplane window
Outskirts of Havana from the airplane window

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Lighting out for the South

Today I will follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, Che Guevara and Celia Cruz to the irrepressible rhythm of the Cuban son – emanating from Cuban human beings, not my CD collection or a cover band in downtown Houston. Far from the Bayou City, I’ll savor the sunset breezes on the Malecón, the famous boulevard that stretches the length of the city along the Bay of Havana. As many a tourist has done before me, I’ll sit at Hemingway’s favorite bar and have a mojito in his memory.

And while I will embrace the cultural magic of this legendary land, my journey goes beyond culture to something more essential, something universal and urgent.
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Xilitla’s Las Pozas on the most endangered list

The LA Times has just released its list of most endangered cultural sites in the Americas, and a rare treasure that’s been a longtime favorite is on the list.

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(Altug S. Icilensu photo)

Las Pozas, the amazing surrealist garden created by the eccentric English millionaire Edward James in the Mexican jungle near Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, is succumbing to decay and the custodians of the site don’t have the wherewithal to adequately maintain and restore it.

Las Pozas was my destination in a 2007 trip through the magical Huasteca Potosina, and I wrote about it in a piece for the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle, Jungle Wonderland. Here’s a video I created in 2007 together with my cameraman at the time, Altug Icilensu.

Jungle Wonderland

Surrealist garden evokes a strange visionary’s dream

For more videos from the Huasteca Potosina, see my multimedia page. And to learn more about Las Pozas and the effort to preserve it, visit Fondo Xilitla, which took charge of the site after my visit with the aim of raising money to protect and restore it.

Here’s the story:
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Turtle Rescue on the Eco Side of Baja

by Melissa Gaskill

A tent on the sand with a solar-powered light, solar shower hanging nearby, composting toilet behind a gnarled palo blanco tree. Travel doesn’t get much more eco than this.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Organized by Baja Expeditions, one of the oldest outfitters on the Mexican peninsula, and SEE Turtles, a non-profit promoting conservation tourism, this trip includes three days in the Gulf of California and three on Baja’s Pacific coast with a night in La Paz in between. We also take part in a local sea turtle monitoring project that, once a month, puts out nets to catch sea turtles, measuring, tagging and then releasing them. The data helps determine the success of efforts to help these endangered animals.

The first day, the group gathers in the hotel lobby for a quick van ride to Baja Expedition’s office for breakfast, wetsuits, masks and snorkels. Then we load onto a panga, one of the blue-and-white fiberglass boats common along both coasts of Baja. Our route crosses La Paz Bay to Isla Espiritu Santo, an uninhabited mountainous island. A line of white tents along a fingernail of matching sand overlook a gem-blue bay where pelicans, cormorants, and brown and blue-footed boobies crash into the water on a dawn-to-dusk pursuit of fish. Two cooks prepare our meals on a gas stove inside the kitchen tent, using fish straight from the nearby waters, peppers grown north of La Paz, hand-made tortillas, and other fresh, local ingredients.

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Last Organic Outpost’s Greenfest on video

In case you missed it, the best of Houston turned out on the farm for the Community Greenfest at the Last Organic Outpost’s Emile Street Community Farm.

Channel 39’s Going Green With Yolanda Green caught a great slice of celebratory life in a two-part video tour, now available on their website – and here. Enjoy!

 

 

The movie Chevron doesn’t want you to see

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Like most of his friends and neighbors in the Amazon village where he was born, Pablo Fajardo went to work for Texaco at an early age. But unlike most of his coworkers, he was unwilling to disregard the flagrant abuses of the land and people that he witnessed every day on the job.

He made up his mind to become a lawyer, and now he’s the lead attorney representing 30,000 Amazonian citizens in a class-action suit that is now entering its 15th year. It’s that battle that’s at the heart of Joe Berlinger’s stunning new documentary, “Crude.”

I’d already read the infuriating story of Chevron-Texaco’s contamination of millions of acres of Amazon rainforest, and one man’s battle to bring them to justice, in Vanity Fair’s May 2007 Green Edition. But Berlinger’s film brings this story to life in a way that written words cannot. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour calls the movie “an extraordinary merging of journalism and art.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The movie opened last night in Houston, the home base of Texaco, now Chevron, and I joined a the Emerging Green Builders group in watching the Houston premeire. Scenes of the movie were filmed at the Chevron building just 10 blocks from where we sat, as Fajardo and an indigenous family braced themselves to go inside and present their case.

“You have been in our territory for 28 years; now I ask just three minutes of your time,” the tribesman said to his adversaries.

Now I ask three minutes of your time to watch the trailer…. and then I think you’ll agree that this movie belongs on your must-see list.