Video Of The Day: Cuban Trapeze Artists, To The Sounds Of The Temper Trap

With the Olympics in full swing, it’s easy to focus on the athletes’ accomplishments – the scores, the times, the medal counts – instead of celebrating the journey that brought them to London in the first place. Though not specific to the Olympic Games, this music video from Australian rock band The Temper Trap chronicles a journey that is probably familiar to many Olympians, particularly those in parts of the world where athletic training is less of a big business than it is in the United States.

The video, recorded in Havana for the band’s latest single, “Trembling Hands,” follows a young Cuban trapeze artist as she prepares for an upcoming performance, capturing all of the struggles, the frustrations and the raw emotion that comes with pursuing a passion. The video relies on the talents of real aerobatic athletes and exposes a part of Cuban culture that isn’t often visible to the public, with the faded streets of Havana as a backdrop.

[via EcoSalon]

US Tourist Ordered To Pay $6500 For Cuba Trip From 14 Years Ago

cuba Think your past won’t come back to haunt you? A U.S. tourist has agreed to pay a $6,500 fine for taking an unauthorized trip to Cuba 14 years ago.

According to Reuters, Zachary Sanders, 38, had been living and teaching English in Mexico in 1998 when he decided to take a trip to Cuba. Sanders was 23 at the time, and had wanted to learn about how a socialist country worked in practice.

“I had no illusions,” said Sanders in an interview. “… I’m not like some diehard supporter of the (Cuban) government or anything like that.”

The United States has restricted U.S. travel to Cuba for a long time as part of a 50-year-old trade embargo aimed at penalizing Cuba’s communist government. When Sanders traveled, he did not obtain the mandatory U.S. Treasury license to visit Cuba. A custom’s official became suspicious when he noticed Sanders had come back into the country via the Bahamas, without declaring he had been in Cuba. The official also took a box of Cuban cigars from his luggage.

%Gallery-161509%The Dispute

Two years later, the U.S. Treasury asked Sanders to document his expenditures from Cuba; however, Sanders lost the receipts and missed the deadline to return the required form. After another two years, the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) reviewed his case during a Bush administration crackdown on Cuba travel. Sanders was fined $1,000.

Both sides appealed; however, in 2009, the Treasury Department raised the fine to $9,000 in an attempt to discourage people from ignoring OFAC forms. Sander’s lawyer, Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights, responded that Sanders had a constitutional right not to provide evidence that would incriminate him.

Sanders ended up suing OFAC, the Treasury Department and the Justice Department in federal court in 2009, appealing the fine as impulsive and autocratic. After losing, Sanders turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, where the case was settled on July 24 with the traveler agreeing to pay a fine of $6,500.

Can U.S. Citizens Travel To Cuba?

For U.S. citizens looking to travel to Cuba in 2012, it has become much easier. Certain restrictions on travel have been lifted by the Obama administration, and the Treasury Department has issued a new set of guidelines, making travel easier for religious and educational groups, people-to-people exchanges and journalists. Moreover, companies like Friendly Planet Travel and National Geographic Expeditions are licensed to bring travelers over to Cuba via a guided tour.

Take a virtual tour of the country’s capital, Havana, by checking out the gallery above.

[Above image via Elemaki; Gallery images via Big Stock]

Cuba’s Classic Cars: Catch Them While You Can

cuba classic cars

There are few places in the world where you can find modern Toyotas sharing the streets with Model T’s, and Cuba is one of them. The country’s abundance of classic cars may be the result of historic trade restrictions, but it’s also a key element of Cuba’s romantic, stuck-in-time ambience.

Why does Cuba boast so many classic cars? Until last October, Cuban residents were forbidden from buying and selling vehicles without the government’s permission. Only automobiles purchased before the 1959 Cuban Revolution could be freely traded, forcing car owners to use creativity and craftiness to make their existing vehicles last. By outfitting their old cars with replacement engines, fixtures, lining and paint, many have been able to significantly extend the lives of their vehicles, instead of sending them to the junkyard as we’re so quick to do in the Western world. In fact, most cars you’ll find on the street resemble a mash-up of different parts: a hubcap here, a dashboard there, topped off with a dash of house paint and often a Playboy bunny sticker.

%Gallery-159262%But last October, President Raul Castro (Fidel’s brother, for those unversed in Cuban history) announced that Cuban residents would now be able to buy and sell cars “without any prior authorization from any entity,” for the first time in 50 years. According to Reuters, the new law is one of many reforms intended to put a greater emphasis on private initiative, a notion that has largely taken a backseat under Communist rule.

While the new law is a definite step forward for Cuban society, it does mean that owners of classic cars will be less motivated to maintain their vehicles, now that they have the freedom to trade up for new ones. But during a recent trip, the new law hadn’t seemed to have made much of an impact – yet. The streets of central Havana were filled with propped-up hoods and self-taught mechanics, and on the Bay of Pigs was parked a perfectly preserved 1929 Ford Model T, at our service. “Original engine,” our driver boasted, beaming.

Still, change is in the air, and the chance to ogle beautifully preserved classic cars may not exist for much longer.

Cuba Eases Car Sales After 50-Year Ban

Havana In Seven Mojitos

havana mojitos

“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in La Floridita,” wrote Ernest Hemingway of his infamous drinking exploits in Havana. “Ernesto,” as the Cubans call him, was a big fan of the rum, lime and mint-based cocktail, as evidenced by the slew of drinking holes throughout Cuba where he was reported to have drunk himself silly.

Indeed, sipping mojitos is a big part of the tourist experience in Cuba. And in a country where a glass of high-quality Havana Club Reserva costs significantly less than a bottle of purified water, there’s no reason not to partake in abundance. Cuba’s capital of Havana is flush with drinking establishments to help facilitate the cultural experience. Here are seven.

La Bodeguita del Medio
For tourists following the “Hemingway” trail, La Bodeguita del Medio is the Holy Grail – an atmospheric wood-paneled watering hole lined with photos and scribbled endorsements from Hemingway, as well as famous patrons like Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende. The place is often crammed with tourists herded in by the busload, who snap photos and clap their hands to a live band. The mojitos, however, are overpriced (CUC$4) and taste watered down.

El Patio
Situated smack in the middle of Havana’s Plaza Cathedral, El Patio certainly beats the competition in terms of location. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) are lightly sweetened and stuffed full with mint leaves, and live music plays long into the night. Stake out a spot on the ground floor for priceless people watching.

%Gallery-158712%

Vinales

We were welcomed to Vinales with big smiles, handshakes and enthusiastic promises of music from Buena Vista Social Club. Our guard immediately went up; it was clear we were being solicited by a jinetero, a ubiquitous breed of Cuban hustler. Despite our protests, he called over the waitress and ordered us a round of mojitos, which were sugary sweet, with too much lime and too little mint. Sure enough, the bill confirmed our suspicions. At CUC$6 each, the mojitos were the most expensive we encountered in Havana, and it was clear our new friend had pocketed a portion of the “tip.”

Café Paris
Located on a busy corner in Old Havana, Café Paris is a popular spot for tourists seeking ceiling fans and a cool drink. Mojitos (CUC$3.50) were unmemorable, but the ambience provided the perfect midday respite from the Cuban heat.

Jazz Cafe
For a taste of Cuba’s most talented musicians, head to Jazz Cafe, a sleek 1950s diner-inspired spot above the Galerias del Paseo shopping mall in the neighborhood of Vedado. The CUC$10 cover includes the equivalent in food and drink, and the mojitos are a steal at CUC$2.50. Let the mind-blowing drum and saxophone solos distract you from the less-than-mind-blowing drinks, which were heavy on the sugar syrup.

Hotel Florida
The ground floor lounge at Hotel Florida is that rare nightlife spot that’s equally popular with locals and gringos. Compared to other music venues, entrance was cheap – CUC$5, including two drinks. The mojitos weren’t stellar, but they were strong – which really, was all we needed to wash away our inhibitions and hit the dance floor.

And the winner is … The Gallery Bar at Hotel Nacional
The mojito (CUC$4) at Havana’s most famous hotel bar strikes the sweet spot without being overpowering. The secret? Angostura bitters and a splash of dark rum. It’s no wonder that the bar’s former patrons include Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Nat King Cole. With the bar’s stash of high-grade Cuban cigars and dominos, you can easily while away an entire afternoon here – that is until it’s time to hit up the next bar.

Photo Of The Day: Summer In The City

Photo of the day - Children in Laos

It’s only April, but many of us have already switched to iced coffee and put away our sweaters. Now’s the time to start thinking about summer vacation, whether you plan to explore a national park or soak up the culture in a city like Havana. When you’re a kid, summer is all about playing outside and staying cool, preferably with lots of ice cream and water projectiles. Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user ahalvoresen is from Luang Prabang, Laos, where some local children are beating the heat with every water source available. Makes me nostalgic for pool parties and Super Soakers, before summer became a time to complain about high electricity bills and humidity. Enjoy it while it lasts, we’ll soon be back to complaining about the cold.

Share your summer travel plans with us by adding your favorite shots to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo of the Day.