Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Montego Bay, Jamaica--the island of All Right


Montego Bay,Jamaica ranks number eight among preferred vacation destinations for Americans.  No wonder: It’s the island of happy days—the island of All Right--inspired by a colorful native culture that comes alive in the tropical environment of the Caribbean.
The city of Montego Bay is the capital of the parish of St. James and the fourth most populous city in Jamaica. It is a popular tourist destination any time of year because it has duty-free shopping, a cruise line terminal, and several beaches to attract visitors—all with scenic mountains in the background.

Although we arrived at Montego Bay on a cruise ship, we choose our own slice of paradise by booking our own excursion through http://montegobayexcursions.biz  The Montego Bay Bengal Falls and White Water River Rafting Excursion allowed us to appreciate several natural attractions on the island.
The first part of our excursion took us on a scenic drive to Bengal Falls. Our guide then led our group on a short walk through the rain forest to the beautiful hidden falls. The cascading water pours over a natural path carved out by the river, so we traipsed over large rocks and boulders (with the strong helping hand of our guide) to several thundering cascades—and a wonderful back massage as we allowed the invigorating water to pour over us.  We also climbed and splashed around gentle pools and thoroughly enjoyed the refreshing interlude.

Our guide then led us to inflatable rafts at the edge of the river. Safety gear and instructions were given before we started the scenic journey downstream. With the captain steering the raft from the rear, guests navigated the craft on the Rio Bueno River through class one and two rapids--gentle and suitable for family groups. Actually, the current mostly carried us along, so paddling was minimal, which gave plenty of time to admire the jungle landscape and listen to the birds onshore.
At one point, in a calm area under almond trees, we stopped and took turns flying on the rope swing, dropping into the cool water. After the brief break we resumed our spots on the raft and let the currents carry us over a few more rapids. We passed under an old stone bridge as we made our way towards the Caribbean Sea.

The river eventually opened up to the sea, and we arrived at a private beach at the end of Bengal Bay. This lovely tropical setting, filled with blooming pink bougainvillea, was the perfect place to relax with a cool drink, listen to some reggae music, and shuffle our feet in the sand.
As the day ended we agreed that Jamaica was indeed the Island of All Right.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, January 23, 2015

Yellowstone's bright colored hot springs explained


Brilliantly colored hot springs in Yellowstone National Park
One of the key attractions of Yellowstone National Park (beyond geysers, canyons, and wildlife) is the brilliantly colored thermal springs.  You may have seen stunning images of bright turquoise, deep blue, and clear green rings in these steamy pools.

Amid all the geothermal wonders of the park, Grand Prismatic Spring and surrounding springs are among the most wondrous and beautiful. When fur trapper Osborne Russell wrote the earliest description of the park in 1839, he featured Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest single hot spring and the world’s third largest hot spring.

Reflections in the steamy hot springs at Yellowstone.
Steam suspended in the air above the enormous spring reflects the colors of the rainbow.
Scientists explain the brilliant hues as the result of a complicated interplay of underwater vents and spans of bacteria.

In the case of Morning Glory Pool, located at the end of a path by Old Faithful, scientists at Montana State University were able to simulate what the pool looked like between the 1880s (when temperatures were significantly higher and colors more vibrant) and 1940s when an accumulation of coins, trash, and rocks lowered the pool’s temperature, killed some of the bacteria mats, and shifted its appearance to orange-yellow-green hues.

We didn't expect to see such incredibly beautiful colors in the springs.
Yellowstone is home to over 10,000 hot springs and geysers and is the largest geyser field in the world. Some geysers erupt 300 times annually, while others, such as Steamboat Geyser, may not erupt for 50 years.  One of the best places to see these steam vents is Upper Geyser Basin, located between Old Faithful (which erupts every 92 minutes) and Biscuit Basin Road. Within a span less than half a mile wide are countless geothermal features including more than 150 geysers and hot springs.
Old Faithful erupting in
Yellowstone National Park

Other notable areas to see when visiting Yellowstone National Park include Lower Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pots, Roaring Mountain, Artist’s Paint Pots, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Norris Geyser Basin (Yellowstone’s hottest basin at 459 degrees F), Mud Volcano near the center of the caldera, and Mammoth HotSprings where about two tons of travertine limestone (calcium carbonate) are deposited in terraces every day.

Plan to spend several hours on boardwalks surrounding these steamy vents to appreciate this unique and amazing example of biologic interactions in nature. Don’t be deterred by a possible rotten egg odor which results when bacteria eat the sulfur and create sulfuric acid which then evaporates as smelly hydrogen sulfide gas. The colorful hot springs are a unique example of nature’s beauty you won’t want to miss.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Don't let the flu bug bite when traveling


Getting sick is never fun, but it’s especially annoying—or worse--on vacation. Traveling can be hazardous to your health, since eating and sleeping schedules are often different from your usual times. You’re likely to be exposed to new germs, and re-circulated air during flights can be dehydrating . All of these things can weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable to illness.
It’s especially important to be vigilant about healthy practices during the winter cold and flu season. If you’re traveling, keep these tips in mind.

Get plenty of rest prior to leaving, and sleep enroute, if possible. At your destination, try to get on schedule quickly and continue to get sufficient rest to allow recovery from the stresses of travel. Having a flu shot prior to leaving can lessen your chances of getting the flu.

Wash your hands regularly. It’s the single most important thing to do. Your hands touch so many items and surfaces that strangers have also touched, but keeping hands clean can help you avoid another person’s germs.
Clean surfaces with antibacterial wipes, including arm rests and seat trays on airplanes and other public transportation. If you’re feeling even mildly ill, help prevent the spread of germs by wiping down surfaces you touch.

Drink water. Skip sodas and alcoholic drinks that can further dehydrate your body, especially when flying. Bring an empty bottle through security and fill it up once you’re at the gate, so you’re not dependent on flight attendants’ serving times.
Bring basic first aid supplies. In addition to prescription medications you might require, include bandages, pain reliever, eye drops, nasal spray, anti-diarrhea pills, decongestants, antacid tablets, antibiotics, and motion sickness pills. A pack of tissues also comes in handy—and use one when you must cough or sneeze.  Then wash your hands.

Bring your own travel pillow and blanket on long flights. Despite being placed in plastic bags, the pillows and blankets on airplanes are not cleaned after every flight and could harbor germs from the previous user. Your own might also come in handy in hotels.
Ask to change seats when someone next to you is coughing or sneezing. If you’re particularly susceptible to germs, wearing a face mask might be an effective alternative. Check out the cool, comfortable, and fun masks at Tutem.

Move around. Whether traveling by car, train, bus, or plane, walk around when you can, or exercise at your seat if you’re stuck there awhile. Moving your body helps with circulation, and it can prevent deep vein thrombosis or blood clots in your legs. Besides, you’ll feel better.

Taking simple precautions to prevent illness is better than trying to recover later--Beverly Burmeier

Friday, January 16, 2015

Plan a grand vacation with the grandkids


It’s not too early to start planning summer vacations, especially if you’re a grandparent or parent who wants to include the kids. Multi-generational travel is more popular than ever with nearly 30 percent of traveling grandparents including a grandchild in this bonding experience. You can plan a trip on your own to a national park or favorite destination or choose a tour especially organized for different generations  
White water rafting in Costa Rica is a great adventure for older kids.
Many travel companies offer vacation packages geared to grandparents and grandchildren. This is a great way to go because other travelers are in the same demographic. All the details are planned with two generations in mind, and there are usually some specifically for the kids and others geared for adults as well as those that combine generations. Typically summer vacation packages are geared for children from age seven through teens, but check on specific activities to find tours that appeal to the interests of your family group.

Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat on African safari
is life-changing for all ages.
National Geographic Expeditions just released its 2015 Family Trips catalogue featuring 22 itineraries that span the globe and offer enriching, hands-on travel experiences that will inspire your family as they have for generations of explorers. Adventures are geared to children ages seven to 17 and cover destinations as varied as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks, Alaska, China, Ireland, Spain, Tanzania, Costa Rica, and Australia during the months of June, July, August, and December.
Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel)   (800-454-5768) offers educational vacations in the U.S. and abroad for adults 55 and over. Popular intergenerational trips include Costa Rica and Cuba for college-age children and an African Safari in the Serengeti designed for children ages 7-11.


Glaciers in Alaska will wow even the most tech-dependent kids.
Sierra Club (415-977-5522) offers a week-long outing for grandparents and grandkids in Tahoe National Forest, California for $695 per adult and $595 per child. Participants can help maintain the  forest while enjoying environmentally-geared activities.
Grandtravel (800-247-7651) offers Adventures by Disney tours with destinations to European countries, Alaska, and New Zealand. Some are geared especially to teens while others are suitable for younger children, too.

Generations Touring Company (888-415-9100) is a voluntour outfit that works like a travel agency dedicated to volunteering and humanitarian vacations. But they focus on projects that cater to the vacationer rather than the gung-ho volunteer--excursions are light on labor, but the mix is still a worthwhile bonding experience.
Feeding a dolphin at Sea World with one of my grandchildren.
Rafting America Families that crave outdoor adventure may choose a white water rafting excursion. Tours can accommodate youngsters from age five or get wild enough to challenge teens. In addition to the excitement of navigating a river on a raft, tours provide kid-friendly meals, river games (both on the river and off), teach kids the basics of whitewater commands, and share guide stories and whitewater lingo.

Cruise ships offer kid-friendly thrills like this ropes course--fun
for parents or grandparents, too.
Other options: Nature tour  company International Expeditions designates certain tour dates from their regular itineraries as family travel excursions. Or consider taking a cruise, where there’s a variety of activities to keep everyone happy. Disney, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Princess are known for programs appealing to all ages. www.cruisesforfamilies.com (877-386-9243)
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The benefits of travel


Have you ever thought about why you choose to travel?

Are you curious about other parts of our planet?  Desire to know more about other cultures? To see beautiful scenery and natural wonders? To have unusual or challenging adventures? To broaden your educational and life experiences? To meet new people?
 
Getting acquainted with Maasai women in northern Tanzania, Africa.

Each of us has our reasons—which can change from trip to trip--but the bottom line is that travel enriches our lives in many ways. Its effect is multi-dimensional and often inspirational, whether a trip covers a few days or months at a time.

Trying out native dress worn by
women in the Highlands of Peru.
Studies have shown that money spent on travel experiences makes us happier than money spent on material items.  Memories often last longer than material goods, and the feelings of fulfillment definitely do.

Travel affects our ability to get along with others. We become more social and flexible and learn to adapt to different situations and cultures.

Travelers learn how to solve problems, which boosts confidence. We gain a broader perspective of the world and other ways of life and that often leads us to appreciate our own circumstances more. 

Traveling gives us experiences to share with our companions. Breaking away from routine can also be relaxing and rejuvenating, both individually and for couples. Travel can also be a great bonding experience for family members of different generations.


Yoga on a redwood tree in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California
Travel allows us to be adventurous. It can provide opportunities to try new activities and to challenge yourself physically and mentally.  It might even set you on a new life course.

Observing beautiful scenes and landscapes creates a sense of awe about our natural world and encourages us to protect the environment and the remarkable places on our earth. We also marvel about man-made wonders and appreciate the ingenuity of mankind.
Gorgeous reflections of Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.
No matter why you travel, it’s almost sure to have a positive impact on your life. So stop dreaming and start planning your next trip.

Where do you want to go next?
 
Photos from our travels by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

 



Friday, January 9, 2015

Pack like a pro (and avoid baggage fees)


A large duffel bag may be all
you need for a short trip.
Most airlines now charge for a checked bag, so passengers these days now cram as much as possible into their wheeled carry-ons.  While JetBlue and Southwest still allow a free checked bag, a few airlines have begun charging for bags you bring onboard the plane. The most typical fee for a checked bag for U.S. airlines is $25 each way or $50 for a round-trip flight, but you can avoid that by traveling with carry-ons only.
These packing tips can help you fit up to a week’s worth of clothes and necessary items into the maximum-size carry-on, which is 22 x 14 x 9 inches (Even so, you might be required to gate check your bag on smaller planes).

Don't be this person!
Make a list of what you’ll need—then follow it. You can have a general list that covers any travel; then add specific items needed for the current trip.
Set aside the clothing items you plan to take—then put at least a third of those items back. Same with jewelry and personal care items. Do you really need three gold necklaces and four lipsticks? Most hotels supply shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion, so you can leave yours at home.

Choose a soft side bag with wheels.
A soft-side bag will stretch to accommodate over-stuffing, unlike hard-shell luggage. Wheels are necessary—no longer a luxury--as are strong zippers and reinforced corners. Stash travel documents or other items you might need on arrival in outside pockets.
Packing pros recommend rolling rather than folding clothes. Shirts, pants, and skirts take up less space and wrinkle less when rolled. Or purchase bags specially made for vacuum packing these items.
Rolled clothes take up less space and wrinkle less.


Stuff small items like socks and underwear (and chargers) into shoes or other odd-shaped items. After your main wardrobe is packed, slip these small items into the nooks and crannies.
When traveling to a cold destination, wear jacket, boots, and hat on the plane. These items take up too much space in a suitcase, and chances are you can stash them in an overhead bin if they’re too bulky at your seat. That coat might even make a good pillow when you want to sleep.

You’re allowed a personal item, so make sure it counts. A large shoulder, duffel, or tote bag can hold as much as a small carry-on, thus increasing your packable space. Just be sure it will fit under the seat or in the overhead bin of smaller planes for take-off and landing.
A neatly packed suitcase
Packing liquids can be a problem when you’re not checking a bag. You can’t take a jar of barbeque sauce to your friends or sneak in a bottle of wine purchased on your trip. The TSA limits liquids to 3.4 ounces or less per container, and all of these must fit into a quart-size plastic zip bag. That’s a tall order for women who typically have a variety of personal care items. Instead of packing liquid perfume, deodorant, sunscreen, insect repellent, make-up remover, etc., switch to solids and wipes. Many products now are designed in sizes and composition that meet the regulations of air travel.  

All photos from free sites.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How to Get Really Close to a Polar Bear

Sparring is a form of play-fighting for male polar bears.
Read my story "How to Get Really Close to a Polar Bear" in NowU, USA Today publication, about traveling to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada to see polar bears in their natural habitat.
http://www.nowu.com/article/travel/the-bounties-of-bear-country/20752879/

In addition to observing polar bear activities, we observed beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the frigid tundra climate.
Sunset over the tundra landscape on our first excursion into the wild.

Another bonus--we also saw the Northern Lights!
Spectacular green Northern Lights illuminate the cold, clear sky.
http://www.nowu.com/article/travel/the-bounties-of-bear-country/20752879/

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Driving through Peru highlands to Colca Canyon


Jarenta plant is 100 years old and as
hard as a rock
As we continue our day-long drive to Colca Canyon in southern Peru, we ascend higher than 18,000 feet—and the effects of lower oxygen levels are definitely taking effect. When I complain of a headache, our local guide Bernice checks my palms to see of my blood vessels are turning dark. Reassured that this will pass (it does as soon as we start our descent), she points out flora including the jarenta plant, an extremely hard, large green plant resembling a rock. This plant is about 100 years old, growing very slowly in the harsh climate of this high altitude.
We pass the “under rocks,” the oldest rocks in the Andes, as well as the caldera of a volcano. Eventually we start descending, driving on a series of “switchback” roads. There’s a fair amount of traffic as we approach Chivay, largest town in the province, on the upper Colca River at the bottom of the canyon.

The land is terraced in order to grow crops on the sloping hills.
In the 15th century, long before a group of Polish rafters descended to the river on the canyon floor in 1981 bringing it to the world’s attention, the Inca and pre-Inca cultures had developed the area agriculturally with an incredibly complex network of irrigation channels and terraces. These agricultural terraces cover the hillsides even today. Every three to four levels create different micro-climates with specific characteristics for growing crops.  The same terraces are still cultivated on this rugged terrain by the Incas just as their ancestors did.

The market in Chivay provides goods and services for local people.
We stop to walk through the Chivay market, a sort of supermarket or outdoor mall. Held once or twice a week, people come to buy everything from fresh produce to cooking oil, dish soap, brooms, clothes and shoes---even to get a haircut. The women are dressed in colorful skirts, blouses, and jackets—it looks ceremonial, but it’s what they wear every day.  We also take a peek in the church, since that’s the most important building in any of the Highland communities. Soon we’re on our way to beautiful, but remote, Colca Lodge, Spa & Hot Springs where we’ll spend two nights.  
Majestic Andean condors ride the thermals between the canyon walls.
The next morning we rise early and drive to Colca Canyon where we hope to see gigantic Andean condors soaring on the thermal air masses that develop between the 10,000-high canyon walls. Almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon’s grandeur comes from rock towers that go on for miles, thermal springs, and giant birds like the condors sailing overhead.

We hiked along the rim of the canyon.
Larry soothes his muscles in
one of the hot springs at
Colca Canyon Lodge and Spa.
With each excursion we appreciate the area’s charm and uniqueness even more: Alpacas, llamas and herds of wild vicuñas populate the terrain, while Incan ruins, quaint Franciscan churches and small indigenous towns perched on canyon rims reveal the history of Peru. We spy overnight hikers on a ledge on the opposite canyon wall but are grateful that we can return to our lodge after our own modest hike and a relaxing soak in the hot springs there.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, December 28, 2014

From Arequipa to Colca Canyon and the Highlands of Peru


Located in the southern part of Peru, Colca Canyon has become one of the country’s top adventure destinations. Day trips from Arequipa are the most popular way to see the canyons, and there are hundreds to choose from. Adventure and trekking tours are a big draw, but we’re headed to the Highlands of Peru to experience local culture, high-quality handicrafts, and spectacular .mountain and canyon scenery.
Tending to the llamas in a remote area of Peru
We head towards Chivay, 100 miles from Arequipa, and Colca Canyon beyond that. We stop at a small corral with alpacas and llamas sporting colored ribbons in their ears that identify them according to age. We give candy to the young boy who tends the animals with his mother. In this isolated region, some children travel two hours each way to attend school, and tourists are rarely seen.

The Trans Oceanic Road that we drive on part of the day was built more than 20 years ago and runs from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans. The landscape is mostly desert with only a few patches of green where onions and garlic are growing. Mountains in the background are composed of dirt and white volcanic ash that creates a haze drifting the air. Eventually we see more cacti and yellow grass that’s used to make roofs, sandals, rope, and bridges by the indigenous people.
The Trans Oceanic Highway travels through barren landscapes
and into the mountains of Peru.
Franklin, our driver, sets in for a long ride on this paved but desolate road with no place for comfort stops. Vicunas roam in the national park we pass through. These delicate tan and white animals, wild relatives of llamas and alpacas, have wool that is 25 times finer than human hair and much prized for weaving expensive garments. No wonder they are a protected species.
Vicunas graze in the shadow of majestic mountains.

As we approach higher elevations (now 12,300 feet) Beatrice, our guide, shows us how to roll up coca leaves and place them between teeth and cheek—where it stays for the next couple of hours. Sipping water makes our own coca tea, intended to counter effects of the high elevation (not a cure, by any means!).
Locals offer a variety of goods for sale at roadside stops.
In the distance we see several volcanoes that were visible from Arequipa: Misti, Chachani, and Pichupichu. Mountains, lakes, and prairie landscapes flit by during our long day’s journey into the Highlands. While the terrain seems rather unfriendly, the native people are intrigued by American visitors. Along the way we encounter local vendors with handmade goods for purchase spread out on tables—a modest means of supplementing their meager farming incomes. We stop for lunch and then continue our ascent into the mountains.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, December 26, 2014

Say "Yes" to a Yurt

Antelope Yurt is comfortable yet remote, perfect for a
couple's getaway, yet close enough to Park City, Utah
for dinner and shopping. Blue Sky Ranch provides many
outdoor activities for guests.
 
Read my story about staying in a yurt at Blue Sky Ranch in Utah, published in NowU

https://www.nowu.com/article/travel/say-yes-to-a-yurt-and-find-serenity/19351085/

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

FAQs if you're uncertain about cruising


Today's ships are beautiful, comfortable, and safe.
Q: I’m not a “water” person, so why would I want to sail to different islands?

A: Sure, ships sail on water, but they go to many different places, not just islands. Think about Alaska, Europe, Africa, or New Zealand—none of which is visited primarily for beaches and water activities. You can explore famous cities of the world, delve into ancient history, marvel at mountains and glaciers, see fall foliage, or search for wildlife on cruises. If you like sand between your toes, there are plenty of opportunities to sunbathe, kayak, or snorkel at the beach.
Mountains and a glacial lake where we kayaked on
an excursion from our Alaska cruise

Explore the Colosseum and wonders of ancient Rome.
Q: Isn’t a cruise expensive?
A: Doesn’t have to be. Start with the base price, which can be very reasonable these days (we’re entering the “shoulder” season which has even more bargains). If you like to go all-out, dining in specialty restaurants and drinking fruity cocktails by the pool, your final tab will reflect that. But you can have a great time without going overboard. The cost of a cruise is generally less than a holiday at a resort—with entertainment, activities, and meals included. As for any vacation package, do some research to find a cruise that suits your preferred type of getaway.

Try rock wall climbing, miniature golf, ping
pong, golf, and many other activities on
the ship. Trivia and music are popular
indoor offerings..
Q: Will I get bored, especially when the ship is at sea?
A: A cruise ship is a massive floating resort with a wide range of places to explore and activities to participate in on board. You can decide last-minute to attend a nature talk or take salsa lessons. Play cards, jog on the promenade deck, work-out in the gym, get a massage, or just relax at indoor solariums. Quiet time in your cabin or on your balcony is a welcome option, too.

Q: Isn't a cruise all about the food?
 
A: It’s really about choices. You can eat whatever and whenever you like. Cruise lines cater to guests who require special diets, so just ask for what you need, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the options available. Quality of the food has also improved considerably, with many ships offering flexible dining times and specialty restaurants in addition to standard dining. You decide whether to spruce up the wardrobe for a four-course dinner or find a quick buffet and dine in your sports clothes, Either way, enjoy the fact that someone else is cooking and cleaning up.
The food is delicious and well-presented.

Q: Don’t people get sick more on cruise ships?
Although a ship is a confined space where it’s easy for a virus to spread, most cruise lines take extra precautions to eliminate germs in public places. Hand sanitizer is available in dining venues as are constant reminders about cleanliness and washing your hands.
Relax by the pool, even if you don't put a toe in the water.
 Someships show movies by the pool at night.

As for motion sickness, today’s ships are very stable, so you probably won’t even realize you’re on a moving vessel in the middle of the ocean. If you do feel queasy, there are simple remedies that you can use prior to boarding and while on the cruise. And the ship’s doctors will help you through anything more significant. Over all, you’re no more likely to get sick on a ship than on shore.
 
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, December 19, 2014

What is the future of tourism in Cuba?


Mountainous landscape in Cuba; green, fertile valley is
prime land for agriculture
Almost two years ago, Larry and I participated in a people-to-people excursion to Cuba, one of the first that allowed U.S. citizens to visit the island country that has been off limits for more than half a century. We’re of a age to remember Cuba prior to Fidel Castro’s takeover in the 1960s and the horrors that people these have endured for many decades. So the opportunity to get an early, legal look at the previously-embargoed country was of great interest to me.
Americans currently may visit beaches on the southern shore
but not the finer resorts on the northern shore (since we're traveling
for cultural or educational purposes--not as tourists)
We traveled with International Expeditions, one of the U.S. companies licensed to bring Americans into Cuba. Itineraries had to pass Cuban discretion; and the Cuban government still determined which hotels we would stay at and where we were allowed to visit. We were not considered “tourists” and did not have the freedom to wander at our leisure; many areas were off-limits. Still it was an interesting and enlightening trip that I’m glad we took when we did.

Collecting and selling wild oranges
provides additional
income for poor Cuban farmers.
Now President Obama has announced that the U.S. is renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Travel is still limited, and we don’t know if restrictions will be lifted any time soon. Even though some of the educational and cultural visits have come under controversy (seems not all really accomplished the purpose under which they were licensed), it’s almost a given that the reins will continue to loosen. That goes for embargoed products, too.
The travel industry is now ramping up efforts to get permission to fly and sail to the island country. Travel companies expect a bonanza if Americans are allowed to travel as they wish, whether from curiosity or because Cuba has lovely beaches and mountains. Of course, at the present time, the infrastructure would have a hard time accommodating a large influx of tourists.
The tobacco industry is a mainstay of Cuban economy,
although cigars are still embargoed in the U.S.
How will increased tourism affect the average Cuban citizen? Will Cubans benefit with an improved standard of living, or will the government continue to control everything from salaries to what locals can buy and where and how they can travel?
Farm equipment is old and outdated like this tractor that is
still in use at a tobacco farm we visited. Russian parts keep
the tractor running--when those are available.
Since the U.S. is now negotiating with the Castro regime (Fidel, Raul, and their hand-picked successors), will the political repression ever end? Old-timers are not as enthusiastic about what the Obama administration is doing as are younger people who have no recollection of hardships the Cuban people have endured. Diplomacy can mean many things, but I don’t expect democracy to gain a foot-hold any time soon.

One of four main squares in Havana. Many of the buildings
are in severe disrepair, but new hotels are also
springing up. Increased tourism would require much more
than is currently available.
Visiting Cuba was eye-opening for me, a U.S. citizen. I can only hope that restoring diplomatic relations is the first step in actually rebuilding this historically important and naturally beautiful country. I can only hope this portends better times for everyone in Cuba, not just the privileged few.
Old and modern shops provide goods
for wealthier Cubans.
If you’re interested in getting in on historic changes, check out tours through the following organizations, which currently offer legal travel to Cuba:

Insight Cuba, 800-450-2822
National Geographic Expeditions, 888-966-8687

Common Ground Education and TravelServices, 412-203-1125
International Expeditions, 855-231-6866
Friendly Planet Travel, 888-555-5765

Cuba Education Tours 888-965-5647
Smithsonian Journeys, 855-330-1542
National Trust for Historic Preservation, 888-484-8785


Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier