National Geographic Traveller UK publishes my blog post on the annual December pilgrimage to El Rincón outside of Havana:
Thomas Cook Travel Magazine publishes my article on Cuba’s gastro revolution: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/thomas-cook-travel-magazine/1367/may-2013/
Spanish hotel chain Sol Meliã has announced it’s ready to offer timeshare in Cuba. This will be the first timeshare opportunity available on the island when the Cuban government gives the go-ahead for this type of holiday accommodation.
Sol Meliã, which runs 25 hotels and resorts in Cuba, along with Cuban hotel partners, will open Meliã Marina Varadero in Punta Hicacos in Cuba’s prime vacation spot. The Meliã Marina Varadero’s Facebook page announces that the complex will offer timeshare.
Some 126 one- and two-bedroomed apartments will open as part of a larger Meliã Marina Varadero hotel property in summer 2013 but these apartments, contained within the hotel complex, are prepped for timeshare.
Sol Meliã’s Director of Communication in Cuba said the plan is “with time” to create timeshare via Sol Meliã’s timeshare model: http://clubmelia.com/resorts/
Of course, the crux is, “with time”. The government amended the law in 2010 on foreign ownership of property allowing for leases to be granted for 99 years. Barring a short-lived experiment in Havana with sales of condos to foreigners in the late 90s, this change in the law meant it would only be the second time in 54 years that non-permanent foreign residents could buy property in Cuba.
Nobody is holding their breath, though. None of the 10 or so golf and condo projects, heralded as the first opportunities for foreigners to purchase property in Cuba, have broken ground. In fact, there’s been no news updates on these projects for quite some time.
The Associated Press’ @Peter_Orsi evaluates the recovery of eastern Cuba six months after Hurricane Sandy: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cuba-work-remains-months-sandy-19043688
I was down in Parque Baconao earlier this year and witnessed the devastation. Much of the park’s attractions were wiped out – such as the Sculpture Park – and the Aquarium lost all of its marine life including seven sharks after the hydraulic system failed leaving all the tanks drained of water. The dolphins and sea-lions survived as they’d been taken to shelter.
The most shocking sight was that of the former Hotel Bucanero. Not only was it pummelled to oblivion but the road was also torn up – looking more like the result of an earthquake rather than a hurricane. The Cuban government has abandoned the area leaving locals to scavenge for metal in very precarious conditions.
The Independent publishes my article on exploring 1950s Havana:
American mobster Meyer Lansky had a dream. He wanted Havana to bloom as the Las Vegas of the Caribbean; he wagered millions on his money-making vision – even building his own pleasure palace on the city’s seaside highway, the Malecón.
The Hotel Riviera, clad in a sheen of shimmering turquoise mosaic, with its casino and coffin-shaped pool, was the last word in hotel luxury when Ginger Rogers sang her way through the opening night in 1957. Extraordinarily, the Riviera (Paseo y Malecón; 00 53 7 836 4051; www.gran-caribe.cu) remains virtually unchanged in the city’s upmarket Vedado district. You can still check into Lanksy’s rooms, numbers 1923-24.
These images show the destruction of Hurricane Sandy at Playa Siboney, east of Santiago de Cuba in eastern Cuba. The first set of photos were taken in summer 2010 and the last four were taken in February 2013, several months after Hurricane Sandy hit eastern Cuba. Casa particular owners were all up and running and optimistic.
It was a shock to return to Santiago earlier this year post Hurricane Sandy; the city has been denuded. The cathedral has lost its twin crosses and much of the roof is under renovation. Parque Céspedes looks extremely forlorn without its trees and its much sought after shade. Up the road, Plaza Marte has been shorn of nearly all of its trees and palms. Whole vistas of the mountains have opened up everywhere you walk in the city where previously plump, leafy trees had obscured the views. Inspectors were travelling house to house asking if people still needed repair materials, and new licks of tarmac had unfurled along whole roads in the historic centre. The human cost and the roofing disasters are still all in evidence. The absence of greenery is shocking and will take years to rejuvenate.
The Guardian publishes my picture story on Havana’s Art Deco heritage ahead of this week’s World Congress on Art Deco held in Havana for the first time:
Luis Andres Henao (@LuisAndresHenao) of AP wrote a piece last week on embalming President Hugo Chávez:
Like Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Chávez’ burial wish is about to be ignored.
Here’s an extract from my Footprint Vietnam guide on the embalming and display of President Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi:
The Vietnamese have made the mausoleum housing Ho Chi Minh’s body a holy place of pilgrimage and visitors march in file to see Ho’s embalmed corpse inside the mausoleum (Lang Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh). The embalming and eternal display of Ho Chi Minh’s body was contrary to Ho’s own wishes: he wanted to be cremated and his ashes placed in three urns to be positioned atop three unmarked hills in the north, centre and south of the country. He once wrote that “cremation is not only good from the point of view of hygiene, but it also saves farmland”. The embalming of Ho’s body was undertaken by the chief Soviet embalmer, Dr Sergei Debrov, who also pickled such Communist luminaries as Klenient Gottwald (President of Czechoslovakia), Georgi Dimitrov (Prime Minister of Bulgaria) and Forbes Burnham (President of Guyana). Debrov was flown to Hanoi from Moscow as Ho lay dying, bringing with him two transport planes packed with air conditioners (to keep the corpse cool) and other equipment. To escape US bombing, the team moved Ho to a cave, taking a full year to complete the embalming process. Russian scientists still check-up on their handiwork, servicing Ho’s body regularly. Their embalming methods and the fluids they use are still a closely guarded secret. In an interview, Debrov noted with pleasure the poor state of China’s Chairman Mao’s body, which was embalmed without Soviet help.
The mausoleum, built between 1973 and 1975, is a massive, square and forbidding structure and must be among the best constructed, maintained and air-conditioned buildings in Vietnam. Opened in 1975, it is modelled closely on Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. Ho lies with a guard at each corner of his bier and visitors march past in file to see his body.