Rainy Season in Viñales

Current Location: Viñales Valley, Pinar Del Rio, Cuba

Cuba is gorgeous all the time, but it isn’t always easy to explore. Considering how much it rained while we were in Vinales (it starts at 4pm and continues for 2-3 hours), we were overjoyed to find beauty in the downpour. Even when it rains, there’s a particular elegance to the provincial life there, the way the palm fronds thrash about in the wind. Check out this short video vignette of Vinales rainstorms.

PSA: From September 7-10, Hurricane Irma swept over much of Cuba. Even in a place that is no stranger to severe weather, many homes and businesses were destroyed and lives were lost. Reports indicate that more than 100,000 homes were affected. Construction materials were out of date and sparse even before the hurricane, and prices are out of reach for so many Cubans living in poverty. This post is in solidarity and support for the rebuilding efforts.

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Viñales Valley- Jewel of Pinar del Rio

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Current Location: Viñales Valley, Pinar Del Rio, Cuba

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We chose to head to the Viñales on a 3-day tour to escape the hustle and bustle of noisy Havana. The internet hails this lush green oasis as a must-see part of Cuba. Tobacco, coffee, sugarcane and numerous other crops are cultivated at the bottom of the valley and towering limestone cliffs (called mogotes) offer tourists numerous hiking and rock climbing options. Among these elevations are the oldest mountains existing in Cuba and some of the oldest in the Caribbean. There are also impressive geological formations and cave systems throughout the hill faces.

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Viñales is about a three hour drive from Havana, although naturally it took us about six in the ancient truck that was sent to fetch us for our tour. It kept breaking down on the highway and needed to be restarted by hot-wiring. Still, it beats the crowded sweat-soaked buses, or horse-drawn carriages that many locals still ride into the city to sell their crops.

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Though it is small, Viñales thrives on tourism. The town consists of rows of beautiful pastel colored casas—each distinctively named—-where visitors can rent out rooms. We were dropped off at a bright pink house (much to my delight) called Casa Musica. However, this pastoral place is not just houses. Just down the road is the seat of commerce, where numerous small businesses—-including a market, shops and restaurants—-make their home.

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Havana- The Pastel Polity

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Current Location: Havana, Cuba

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Maurice, our Airbnb host in Havana, picked us up in the airport just as the daily rainstorm was starting. We were trying to figure out how to overcome our language barrier (he spoke French, and minimal Spanish/English) and he gave us some advice that managed to carry us through our days in the city. The first Cuban Spanish phrase we learned was: “Taxi collectivo. El Capitolio. One CUC.” That bit of logistical knowledge and a tall glass of tamarindo juice were our welcome to the country.

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The aesthetics of Cuba are something to marvel at. It’s an amazing melange of near-ancient Spanish architecture from the early colonial efforts, and 1950’s and 60’s modernism. Take those influences, don’t repair them for a couple of decades (because proper maintenance is expensive) and then paint it all pastel. The cars are the same; beautiful colors, and everything is stripped down on the inside. All the things that are not essential are torn out–you might have to short-circuit some wires to roll the windows down or start things up. You can see classic American, Russian, or French cars going down the road at all hours–those are the taxis.

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But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

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Neon Canyon

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Location: Las Vegas, Nevada; Grand Canyon National Park and Payson, Arizona

We never thought Las Vegas would be our cup of tea. We’re not night owls, and we don’t gamble. We hardly live that Hunter S. Thompson lifestyle (anymore). Why on earth would we want to go to this pseudo-oasis in the desert?

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It seemed ostentatious and gaudy, like everything was dripping with excessive tasteless ornamentation. But when you get that French Revolution aesthetic underneath bright lights, the place looked fake. You can see the makeup on the Elvis impersonator, the grease on the used car salesman. The neon sign flickers and fades out.

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My cousin Tony was getting married, and we didn’t know what to expect for the nuptials. We heard we were supposed to dress casually and that the King would be involved somehow, but we weren’t sure how. They were married at the historic Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel and had a cocktail reception atop the Mandalay Bay Resort overlooking the city. It was one of the most fun and unique weddings we had ever been to.

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Down South

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Location: Tallahassee, Florida and Savannah, Georgia, U.S.A.

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This post will be bite-sized compared to what you are used to. In case you thought we had dropped off the map, we are so sorry! It has been a time of transition and figuring out our next steps.

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I finish up my Master’s degree in less than 2 months (I know, I can’t believe it either!) and we will be leaving the South to start our next big adventure in June. Our time here has been very bittersweet.

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After we decided to move, we realized we had barely explored the area that we’ve been living in. Since we haven’t had time for long-distance travel, we’ve been satiating the travel bug by taking a lot of weekend excursions to new places in North Carolina and surrounding states. Most notably: I went to Tallahassee to see my beautiful friend Jen get married and had a delightful day trip to Savannah with some girlfriends.

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Our First Chinese Wedding

Location: Jian’ou, Fujian Province, Chinaedit00

We visited China recently to attend the  wedding of one of our closest friends (formerly translator and life-saver). Davi and his blushing bride Cherry graciously invited us back to spend a week with their family and friends to celebrate with them. Naturally, we accepted their invitation!

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We packed our bags with our finest dress clothes and stuffed our suitcases with gifts for the happy couple. We weren’t sure precisely which day the wedding would be on, but we booked our trip for a few weeks. We quickly realized that we knew absolutely nothing about attending a Chinese wedding. We didn’t know if there was a ceremony, what activities to expect or what to wear. As a result, we ended up embarrassing ourselves quite frequently.

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Thus we bring you this post about one of the most fascinating weeks of our lives. Here are some things we learned and some things that happened to us. Perhaps they will help you out if you ever find yourself in the unlikely position we were in.

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Back to China

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Location: Jian’ou, Fujian Province, China

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China is a country where everything changes and nothing ever really changes. Where the old meets the new and the future mingles intimately with the past. It’s been more than 2 years since we left China, but the country welcomed us back with open arms.

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William Gibson once said something to the effect of: the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed. As a corollary to that, China is where the future is happening in real time. You can go there and watch a government and its people leapfrog over half a century of entrenched infrastructural decisions and come up with something that addresses their needs in a more innovative way.

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With a quick overnight stay in Fuzhou, we took the newly constructed fast train back to Jian’ou for the wedding of our dear friend and translator (more on the Chinese wedding experience in our next post). Now Davi is an English teacher himself with an apartment, car, and a beautiful new wife who we were meeting for the very first time.

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