Inside Cuba: A GeoEx Journey -- Organoponico

Organoponico Urban Organic Farm in Cuba by GeoEx

Urban organic farms, or organoponicos, are a classic example of Cuban ingenuity and resourcefulness. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba saw an end to a preferential trade relationship that had propped up the nation’s economy for decades. Overnight the country lost 80 percent of its imports and 80 percent of its exports, and its GDP dropped by over 34 percent. Thus began an economic crisis that Fidel Castro dubbed the “periodo especial,” and the organoponico movement was born. No longer able to rely on their government to provide for their everyday needs, Cubans turned to their rooftops and nearby empty lots and began growing the food they were no longer able to import. In 1995 the organoponico at Alamar (pictured), 15 miles east of Havana, started as a tiny garden tended by six novice farmers. Seventeen...

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Inside Cuba: A GeoEx Journey -- Market

GeoEx has been organizing and operating educational exchange programs to Cuba since November 2012. These programs have proven inspiring and illuminating for all participants, both visitors and hosts. This week we’re spotlighting Cuba with five photos -- and their background tales -- from a recent program led by GeoEx’s Cuba expert Adam Vaught. From the buying and selling of homes and cars to the stalls on the farmers’ markets, private enterprise is slowly taking root in formally socialist Cuba. Author Rafael Hernandez claims that in Cuba you have six different kinds of food markets, with the state-run subsidized market on one end of the spectrum and the black market on the other. “Capitalism has been here for years,” Hernandez says, “but it is only recently that the government has taken steps to institutionalize and encourage it. They know...

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Inside Cuba: A GeoEx Journey -- Flamenco

It is known that in dance-obsessed Cuba, salsa and ballet reign supreme. With that in mind, we were a bit surprised when our partners in Havana approached us about attending a private performance of the country’s leading flamenco company. Skepticism quickly subsided when the Compania Irene Rodriguez began their performance in the rundown Centro Andalucía, a short walk from our hotel. Feet pounded the wooden floor, arms cut through the air and dresses whipped across the stage. For a moment I felt as if we had been transported from Havana Vieja back to the southern Spanish region where the iconic dance was born. When the first number ended, the dancers left the stage, but Irene, the founder and director of the company, remained. With humble honesty, she spoke with our group about everything from the rising popularity of flamenco to her struggles to raise funds to afford...

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Embracing India

GeoEx Asia expert Sara Barbieri recently returned to India on a scouting trip, but this time she was joined by her 23-year-old niece. Together they traversed the length of the country, from Kerala in the far south to the Kashmir Valley in the far north. Sara shares impressions and photos, and reflects on seeing India through her niece's fresh eyes. It turned out that my niece, Samantha, had been dying to go to India. “It’s not a typical place like Europe,” she effused. “The culture is a world apart from ours.” Sam had never been to Asia, let alone on such a crazy, jam-packed itinerary. So off we went, my 23-year-old niece and I. Door to door, it was a 26-day journey/adventure/preposterous undertaking that I would do again in a heartbeat. We experienced such joy traveling in India. Sam embraced every experience, allowing herself to be enchanted and sharing her infectious smile—thereby enchanting those in her path. Her...

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Bowled Over by Japanese Cuisine

GeoEx Japan tours

I’d been in Japan for only a day when I started taking pictures of my food. I won’t lie: I felt awkward pointing my camera at my plates in restaurants, but I had no choice. I couldn’t believe the gorgeous presentations of even the simplest items, fueled by rich culinary traditions. I only wished that my photographs could capture the wonderful flavors that my taste buds were registering. Revelation struck the night of my first dinner in country. We sat at the bar of a charming, tucked-away eatery in the Gion district of Kyoto, chatting with the chef, nibbling on melt-in-your-mouth sushi, drinking deliciously foamy Kirin out of pottery cups, and grilling super-thin slices of beef on a mini ceramic stove. I pulled out my Canon to document the moment, realizing that I may have underestimated the culinary experiences we’d have on this 12-day cultural journey from Kyoto to Shikoku...

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for Salon.com and the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, as well as Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don is the author of "The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George" and of "Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing." He has also edited eleven anthologies, including A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and An Innocent Abroad. E-mail him at [email protected].

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