• Havana Club

    During my travels to Cuba, I have enjoyed the Havana Club rum particularly in a mojito. During my first trip there I would have so many mojitos that I didn’t do very well on the photo tour portion. I literally had to go back the second time to get better photos. I now have a rule to only drink mojitos in Cuba. Many of my friends loved the aged versions of the dark rum.

    The mojito originated in Havana and has routinely been presented as a favorite drink of author Ernest Hemingway. It has also often been said that Hemingway made the bar called La Bodeguita de Medio famous when he became one of its regulars and wrote “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” on a wall of the bar. Traditionally, a mojito is a cocktail that consists of five ingredients: white rum, sugar (traditionally sugar cane juice), lime juice, soda water, and mint.

    As I was researching Havana Club rum this week, I came upon the family story, which I found very interesting below.

    The Arechabala Family started their rum-making business in 1878 in Cuba and first registered the original HAVANA CLUB trademark in 1934. It wasn’t long before HAVANA CLUB Rum became a beloved and iconic Cuban brand – becoming a favorite amongst locals as well as American and European tourists.

    Then everything changed. On January 1st, 1960, at gunpoint, the Cuban regime unrightfully seized the company’s assets without compensation. The Arechabala family lost everything and was forced to flee the homeland they loved, with a scant few of their remaining possessions – the precious HAVANA CLUB recipe being one of them. Meanwhile, the Cuban government started to sell their stolen version of HAVANA CLUB, and continues to do so to this day.

    It wasn’t until 1995, More than three decades after the revolution, Ramon Arechabala made a deal with Juan Prado of Bacardi to produce the original-recipe Havana Club in Puerto Rico. Bacardi acquired the HAVANA CLUB brand and began producing rum based on the original HAVANA CLUB recipe and selling it in the one country that didn’t recognize the Cuban government’s 1960 illegal expropriation, the United States. HAVANA CLUB Rum has managed to hold onto its rich Cuban culture.

    The family story has been adapted into “The Amparo Experience,” an immersive theater production written by Vanessa Garcia and staged by Victoria Collado last year showed Miami audiences the history of the family that created and distilled Havana Club Rum in Cuba.

  • Tropicana

    El Tropicana nightclub is a Havana iconic location. The club opened in 1939 and features over 50 dancers in the cabaret. Tropicana has two complete sets of stages, table areas and dance floors for their performances. Many people don’t know that the showgirls in Las Vegas actually drew their inspiration from this renowned club.

    The Tropicana is located in the Miramar neighborhood, the most glamorous section of Havana during the 1950s. During the 1940’s and 50’s the club was also a casino and it was at the center of the jet set lifestyle when it had heavy ties to the mob scene. Many people may only know if the club from the scene in Godfather II, but when you step inside you can just imagine those nights with Nat King Cole performing and Ernest Hemingway, Errol Flynn and other Hollywood royalty at the bar. As I was researching the club in more detail last night I found a great article in Vanity Fair with first hand accounts of life at the Tropicana. It is a such an interesting read.

    During my second trip to the island we decided to check out the club and the famous show. I was extremely excited because I love a great dance performance and this show delivered. Tropicana became one of the highlights of all my trips to Cuba. Upon arrival you see a beautifully maintained 1950’s car at the entry and women are given roses and men cigars. When you walk in you feel like you are stepping back into that time of glamour in the 1950’s.

    The singers and dancers performed for over two hours with number after number. Dances ranges from updated ballet routines high energy show girl performances with ladies balancing chandeliers on their headdresses in elaborate costume designs. At the end of the show it becomes time for audience participation to dance with the performers on stage. I sat on the aisle so I was so happy to be able to photograph the show and capture the live performance.

    This is activity can be a little expensive by Cuban standards but it is a must do if you make the trip to the island.

  • Trinidad Cuba

    On one of my trips to Cuba, we ventured outside of Havana and drove five hours along the coast to Trinidad. Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.It is one of the best-preserved cities in the Caribbean from the time when the sugar trade was the main industry in the region. It is probably the second most popular city to visit outside of Havana within the island nation. Now the downtown streets are lined with colorful buildings with 1850’s architecture with cars from the 1950’s dotted along the streets. 

    Trinidad has an older “city center” area around Plaza Mayor where most of the historic buildings and attractions are located. It’s a pedestrian walking area, no cars are allowed. Most tourists tend to stick around Plaza but I would encourage you to get off the beaten path and walk around the neighborhoods and meet the wonderfully friendly locals.

    Trinidad and the surrounding areas are still known for their tobacco and sugar cane production. The city was one of the most prosperous cities in Cuba due to enormous sugar production in the nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), which still has some working sugar mills/fields. The region once housed 50 sugar mills. During the 18th and 19th centuries this valley was the sugar producing capital of the world. 

    The city also offers several museum options to visit including The Museo de Arquitectura, which is located in an 18th century mansion formerly owned by Sanchez Iznaga. Palacio Brunet was once the home of the wealthy sugar baron Conde de Brunet, today it houses Museo Romantico, showcasing luxurious items belonging to the family. 

    If you want to visit a place that seems frozen in time you should definitely add Trinidad to your Cuban itinerary.

  • The Rolling Stones Havana

    After talking to Chef David Guas this week I was inspired to write about my last adventure to Cuba four years ago. I had been to Cuba two times before, but this trip turned out to be one of my favorite travel experiences ever and a true once in a lifetime experience. 

    It all started four years ago in March 2016. I had decided after a lot of thought to finally quit my full time engineering job and start my own consulting company as I approached a birthday milestone. As I finished up my last weeks of work I heard that there was going to be a free Rolling Stones concert in Havana. I love Cuba and The Rolling Stones so I wanted to be there.

    President Obama was visiting the country and many of the travel restrictions that had always made visiting Cuba difficult for Americans were being relaxed under a new agreement with the country. I had spoken to two music photographer friends (Erika Goldring and Gary Miller) who were considering traveling down for the concert and we decided to all go separately and meet in Havana.

    One week before the show I decided to do it. In the past I had visited the country legally with “people to people” or journalist visas but it usually takes a few weeks to get a visa. I had also only flown from the US to Havana. Many people do not know that there are daily flights from several US cities to Havana. This time around I had to work fast to obtain an expedited visa from a travel broker in Miami and I also quickly learned that there were no flights with seats available for my needed dates of travel leaving from the US.. I decided to fly through Mexico City where there are direct flights to Havana after I obtained my visa.

    My next challenge was finding a place to stay after I had a plane ticket and a visa. This proved to be the hardest challenge of all. I knew from past experience that there are very few hotels in Havana and they were all booked for the show. I had to search online and found out you could book AirBnB in the city. It was a fairly new process and most of the listings are done from the US with family members so you can pay with credit card legally. I tried many listings and was too late. I finally found a house and was confirmed. I was so nervous because this didn’t happen until two days before I was leaving and I had no idea really if it was going to be as advertised upon arrival.

    I left the US on Wednesday March 23 and flew to Mexico City. I decided not to venture out alone in the city so I booked the Hilton hotel for one night inside the airport. I was set to fly to Cuba the next morning on Thursday. The show was scheduled for Friday so I planned plenty of time in case something went wrong. My hotel was great and I started to finally feel like this trip was going to be ok.

    My flight was on time and I landed in Havana mid day on Thursday. I wanted to exchange money but the lines were super long at the airport exchange.  I knew I could exchange money at a hotel I had used during a previous trip so I went out to find a taxi. I found someone who spoke some English and his name was Georgio. I immediately had a good feeling about this guy. Most Cubans are amazing and kind people but Georgio turned out to be an absolute lifesaver for this entire trip. I asked him to take me to my AirBnB but asked if I could also pay him to take me to the money exchange at the hotel and he said yes. He was able to help me facilitate the money exchange and then he also took me to get a few supplies for the house. Most people know how much I love Diet Coke and in Cuba they don’t have Coke they have their own version of cola called TuKola so he took me to a store to stock up on it and water. As we were driving I asked him if he would be willing to drive me and my two friends around for the weekend and explained what we wanted to do for the concert. I offered to pay him and he happily agreed.  I also found out that my cell phone worked upon arrival, which I did not expect. Verizon happened to be one of the first companies to do business with the country. It was a huge win because we could now communicate with Georgio.

    Obviously we wanted to photograph this show but when we reached out to the PR team in the US we were told there was no way to manage press in Cuba. When we decided to go we had no idea whether we would be able to shoot or not but we had come to terms that even if we couldn’t take pictures it would be a once in a lifetime experience to enjoy. We had also reached out to a local photographer named Alain Gutiérrez and he had agreed to meet us for dinner to discuss how to shoot at the show.

    My friend Erika decided to come over and stay with me at my AirBnB because it was in a great central location only two blocks from F.A.C. the Cuban Arts Center. This also made me feel more secure not staying by myself. The house turned out to be exactly as pictured and the owners stayed a few blocks away with family. It was perfect. They even came every morning and prepared breakfast for us before we woke up. Georgio picked us up and we picked up Gary before joining Alain for dinner and doing a little sightseeing around the capital building.

    We determined after talking to Alain that people would probably not be sleeping outside the gates all night like they do in the US. After dinner and mojitos, we drove and scoped out the venue and then decided that we would go back to wait at the gate at 8 am. The concert was a free show put on by the band at the Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana sports complex. That evening we also found a meeting point to meet Georgio after the show about a mile outside the venue. We knew it would be very crowded so we wanted a place where the car could get to after the show.

    Georgio dropped us off at sports complex at 8 AM and we were able to sit right by the gate. We took water, snacks and all of our camera gear including step stools. I even had a backup step stool in case one broke. I honestly could not believe everything that fell in place for this to happen. Even the weather cooperated with an overcast day to make the wait manageable a hot day. The show was scheduled to start at 9 PM so we knew we had a long tough day ahead of waiting. We also noticed that there was no security at the site. It was definitely going to be a free for all unlike anything we had ever seen. We made friends with people from all over the world while waiting for this show.

    We learned that at 2 PM they were going to open 10 gates at one time. We knew at that point we were going to have to run to get a spot near the stage to shoot. We made a game plan of where we would meet based on stage direction if we got separated. When 2 PM came everyone stormed the area and we had to run as fast as we could carrying all the gear and supplies to get to our meeting spot. We wanted to be somewhat buried in the crowd in case they were looking for photographers. Turns out no one cared in the end. After we ran to our meeting place we found each other and had the perfect spot for shooting. We just needed to wait 7 more hours. At this point I started to believe it was actually going to happen.

    We made the best of the wait and a Rolling Stones documentary played on big screens before the show. I learned just how much the band has to prepare for the tour and how Mick stays in much better shape than I ever will be. The crowd was super calm and friendly considering that there was only 10 porta potties for 500,000 people. I learned many years ago working in Asia the art of dehydrating myself just enough not to have to use the restroom and not getting sick. I had also paid a store to let me use the restroom while we waited on the street so I was prepared for the long haul. I couldn’t believe how nice the crowd was. There was literally one drunk person in the crowd and he was removed.

    The band took the stage around 9 PM and played 18 songs for over 2 hours to the biggest outdoor crowd ever assembled in Havana. It was historic and we were able to photograph the whole show from our spot in the crowd. After the show we walked to the meeting point and the traffic and crowd was insane. I was so tired and worried that Georgio wouldn’t be able to get close to pick us up and all the phone circuits were busy because of the crowd. We only waited about 15 minutes at the station and Georgio came walking up to pick us up. It was so great and we were home by midnight. Gary was leaving early on Saturday to go back home and he was very nice and volunteered to take my memory card of images back to the US to send to my editor so the photos could run. Erika and I stayed until Monday sightseeing and attending a show at F.A.C. and then we returned back to the US. 

    This was a trip where everything had to fall into place for it to work out and it turned out to be a crazy ride where we got to be part of history as the Stones played their first time in Cuba. My photo ran in Rolling Stone a few weeks later which seemed like the perfect ending to the trip. The band recorded their trip and the live show and it turned into the documentary The Rolling Stones: Havana Moon.

  • Interview: Editor Nikki Vargas

    Nikki Vargas is the editor for Unearth Women, a multi-media travel company for women, run by women. This includes Unearth Magazine which is the first female travel magazine with global distribution in an international market.

    Unearth Women was founded in 2018 and at its foundation it is a network of adventure and exploration which also includes, travel journalism featuring the stories of women all over the globe.

    The Travel Addict got the chance to catch up with Vargas who talks about her role as editor of a travel magazine, her most memorable travels and how her culture and family influence her spirit for adventure. Check out the Travel Addict’s interview with Nikki Vargas below:

    What does the title of the magazine Unearth Women mean to you?

    The name Unearth Women is a nod to our mission to both unearth women’s stories that have been largely overlooked, as well as unearth women’s incredible contributions to industries and cities around-the-globe. 

    What is the most challenging and the most gratifying part of being an editor of a magazine?

    By far the most challenging part of both being an editor for a magazine and launching a media start-up is to create a print publication in the digital age. We live in a time where publications are vying for the reader’s attention, struggling to meet their bottom lines, and where instant access to information is valued over long-form print journalism.

    Regardless of these challenges, our team perseveres as we truly believe a publication like Unearth Women needs to exist and, what’s more, that a travel magazine that speaks to women is long overdue.

    As an editor, my job is to identify stories that not only represent the Unearth Women brand, but that also encourage people to want to go out and buy the issue. I am constantly on the lookout for incredible stories, women to profile, travel trends to address, and destinations to feature in the magazine.

    How do you decide on topics for story ideas for the magazine? 

    Each issue of Unearth Women centers around a unifying theme. Our first issue focused on resilience, our second issue focused on consent, our third issue focused on power, our fourth issue will be dedicated to inclusivity. These themes give each issue a focus and allow us to select stories and women to feature that ultimately tap into that theme.

    For example, in our first issue, we featured VICE correspondent Isobel Yeung for her resilience in reporting on women’s stories in places like Afghanistan and Syria. In our second issue, we explored the topic of consent and how countries like Thailand are defining it. In our upcoming issue—the Inclusivity issue—we feature Nomadness Travel Tribe founder, Evita Robinson, and her work to diversify the travel industry and champion travelers of color. 

    Why is it important for Unearth Women to be called a feminist magazine? What sets

    Unearth Women apart from other magazines targeted for women?

    Women makeup 70% of the travel consumer base and yet most travel media—particularly in print—is founded by men. We wanted Unearth Women to be the go-to travel magazine for female travelers and minorities who feel largely overlooked and unaddressed by the travel industry. Our next issue, for example, is entirely dedicated to diversity in the travel space and features stories from travelers of color, travelers with disabilities, trans travelers, senior travelers, and more. 

    Many travel magazines take on this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to travel content. We see the same travel guides, listicles, destination features all blanketed to travelers. What Unearth Women does is acknowledge that the travelers of today are all unique and have unique needs and travel concerns they want addressed in their content. This is ultimately what sets us apart: our push to address the travel industry as it is today and travelers as they actually are.

    What do you think the future of the editorial landscape looks like for women?

    It is very inspiring to see women creating print and digital platforms to lift each other’s voices. I think the editorial landscape will continue to evolve and diversify so that women have a stronger voice as do communities of people who have historically been marginalized. We are shifting from people telling other people’s stories to now people telling their own stories, and that is a very powerful thing. 

    As a Colombian woman, were there any other Latinas you were inspired by growing up (famous or familial)?

    My two grandmothers—Clarita and Amparo—have always inspired me. Amparo, who has unfortunately passed on, was the image of grace. She had impeccable manners and class that, from a young age, she always worked to instill in me. My grandmother, Clarita, is a firecracker. Loud, funny, unapologetically herself, and vivacious—Clarita has such a palpable thirst for life that I have always admired. 

    What is your favorite travel destination in Colombia?

    I absolutely adore Cartagena. This colorful seaside gem is what one imagines when they think of Colombia. The colors! The food! The music! Everything about Cartagena is enchanting to me and although my extended family is in Bogota, I always make a point to head to Cartagena when visiting the country. 

    What was the first trip (first place) you went to that sparked your love of travel?

    It was Cartagena! My family moved from Colombia when I was fairly young and had no interest in returning to Colombia. It wasn’t until my twenties, after college, that I gathered some friends and we planned a five-day trip to Cartagena. This was my first time traveling abroad on my own dime, without family. Up until then, travel felt like this unattainable luxury for me. That trip really showed me that not only travel could be affordable—a revelation for an entry-level, post-grad in NYC—but it also set me on this path to becoming a travel writer and editor. 

    Where would you like to go that you haven’t been to yet?

    So many places! Tanzania, Greece, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Egypt, Brazil—the list goes on! 

    What are your top essentials to pack when you travel? 

    I always bring compressions socks and Bayer for long haul international flights. No matter what trip, I always bring a journal and a pen with me as I’m bound to either derive inspiration or introspection from my travels. I always bring a book with me and, as of late, I always bring a copy of Unearth Women magazine in case I meet someone who may find it interesting! 

    What is one piece of travel advice you can offer to other women?

    Travel on your own terms. However, you like to travel, you go do that. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or judged. People have this tendency to project their idealized version of traveling onto others. We cut each other down for being ‘tourists versus travelers,’ for making someone feel like their style of travel is somehow inferior to our own, less authentic, less worldly. In the end, all that actually matters is if you’re traveling mindfully (which is to say you’re not leaving a wake of litter in your path and are being conscious of the destination and culture you’re visiting) and you’re enjoying your trip.

    Our thanks to Nikki Vargas for the interview and featured image above.

  • Botero

    Fernando Botero Angulo is a Colombian figurative artist and sculptor. Born in Medellín, his signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume, which can represent political criticism or humor, depending on the piece. He is considered one of the most recognized and quoted living artist from Latin America.

    I visited the city landmarks and photographed the famous Botero statues that line the city streets in Botero Plaza near Museo de Botero. This is a must see stop if you visit the city.

  • An Evening With Roberto Escobar

    Sometimes opportunities come up while traveling that are unexpected. This was the case while visiting the city of Medellin in Colombia. My friends and I were given the unique opportunity to spend an evening with Roberto Escobar at one of Pablo Escobar’s houses in the city. It was definitely a stand out evening in my travels that I will never forget.

    Roberto is Pablo Escobar’s brother and was the accountant in the Medellin Cartel. At one point he was wanted with his brother on the FBI Most Wanted List for a $10 Million reward. There are photos in the house of their FBI posters and he spoke about being in Washington DC in front of the White House the day the poster came out. He said they even visited the FBI museum.

    He told stories of his brother always in a positive light highlighting the Robin Hood effect he had on the city of Medellin building hospitals, schools and soccer clubs for the city. The family provided housing to all low-income families in the city and provided scholarships to college for hundreds of children.

    Escobar’s home is situated on a hillside in Medellin with views of the airport from the terrace so Pablo could see his shipments of cash arriving by plane from the US. The house is almost setup like a museum of Pablo Escobar’s history. It has cars that belonged to the drug lord and photographs of both of the brothers throughout their years in the cartel. The photos and stories highlight how outrageous the lifestyle was in the 1980’s at the height of their business.

    Roberto Escobar also spoke about being always paranoid during that time and showed safe rooms in the house equipped with oxygen tanks to hide out for long periods if needed. I even tried out the safe room behind the living room fireplace.

    This house is also the site of the attempted kidnapping of Roberto Escobar in 2006 and still has bullet holes in the walls.

    Escobar told stories of meeting politicians, world leaders and entertainers. He spoke about spending time with Frank Sinatra, Fidel Castro and a 3AM visit from Madonna. He was open to answering all of our questions during the evening. When I asked him who the most interesting person he had ever met was, he wouldn’t say because he said they were still alive and maybe wouldn’t like the association.

  • Art in District 13 – Medellin

    District 13 (Comuna 13), the notorious neighborhood in Medellin history, has transformed itself from a dangerous place where residents were afraid to leave their homes into a vibrant center for arts and hip hop dance in the city.

    The area is home to the enormous 384m orange-roofed outdoor escalator, connecting Comuna 13 (located high on the hillside) to the rest of Medellín. A journey that once took residents a strenuous 35-minute hike up the hill has now been transformed into a six-minute trip. The escalator, completed in 2011, is divided into six sections allowing people living on different levels of the hillside to access at different points. It has improved life in Comuna 13 where people now feel more connected to the rest of the city.

    Along the way through the escalator stops you can see vibrant street art that lines the city walls with colorful graphics from amazing graffiti artists in the city.

    Community centers and the Library Park have also opened to provide services to women and children in the area to further education and financial independence.

  • Medellin, Colombia

    After the parades of Carnival were finished, we flew to the city of Medellin. Once considered the most dangerous city in the world because of the notorious Medellin Cartel led by Pablo Escobar, this city is now the center of commerce in Colombia and safer than many cities in the US.

    It is beautiful in landscape in the middle of the Andes Mountains and a stark contrast to the beach city of Cartagena. During the trip to the city we visited District 13 or Comuna 13. This neighborhood has the most tumultuous history in the city with its history of violence surrounding guns, drugs and money. In the 1980’s the neighborhood was controlled by those loyal to drug lord Pablo Escobar.

    Today this area of the city is safe and a major tourist attraction to see graffiti street art projects lining the sidewalks of the neighborhood.

  • Relaxing on Islas del Rosario

    On Friday we took a speedboat to the Islas del Rosario for a relaxing beach day. The ride was about an hour through bright blue ocean waters to reach one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen. There are few things I enjoy more than being on the water on a perfect summer day listening to loud music and singing with friends.

    These islands have many places to stop off for a drink and a major party but we docked and spent the day at the fabulous Agua Azul Beach Resort, a private beach club. We were able to take in the sun and the sand while drinking some amazing pina coladas away from the crowds. I rented a jet ski for an hour to explore further and see the beautiful landscapes of the islands.