Guantanamo, Cuba.

December 18th, 2010
This had to happen one day.

After visiting Somalia and Afghanistan, the usual joke I get these days is something along the lines of “Gee Carl, one of these days you’re going to end up in Guantanamo”. Well smartarses, now I have. At least from the “good” side of the fence that is.
Other than that there isn’t much to say. Guantanamo is another nice but worn down Cuban town with a really gaudy 70’s style amphitheatre in its main square. Pretty up to date by Cuban standards.
For those wondering, no you can’t visit the US naval base. The Cubans don’t want you near it as much at the US don’t want you near them.

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Cuba, Roadside propaganda.

December 18th, 2010

As previously mentioned, Cuba’s roads are not overly endowed with signage or advertising. Instead there is a plentiful supply of communist propaganda. My favourite one in a sad sort of way (unfortunately didn’t get a photo) was an old and faded one that said “working for the revolution will bring us all riches” The sad part is of course the number of people who go past it each day, for years on end, in nothing more than a horse and cart still waiting for those riches to appear.
Second favourite has to be Raul Castro’s goofy face saying “In Guantanamo, Yes you can!” What Guantanamo can do is not clearly explained (update,Veronica, A regular reader clearly explains it).
Anyway, below is a selection of Cuba’s Roadside propaganda translated for the workers of this world. See if you’re convinced

Cubans will always be the crew of the Granma (That started the revolution) 54th anniversary of the Granma landing
[Che Guevara]
Your example of your ideas lives on
We want to be like Che, Fidel Castro
[Fidel Castro]
Here we have to throw stones without looking forward.
The flow of the people are your heroes.
We are champions in the battle of ideas.
Socialism, the Historical Tradition
[Fidel Castro]
Welcome to Guantanamo. The frontline trenches of anti-imperialism
[Raul Castro]
In Guantanamo, Yes you can!
Here the people defend the gains of the revolution.

Driving in Cuba.

December 18th, 2010
Peak hour on Cuba’s Main freeway.

Usually I don’t bother driving in the wacky countries I visit. Usually the thought of dodging land mines and IED’s puts me off. In Cuba’s case I thought I’d give it a go.
Driving in Cuba looks deceptively simple. The Transport crisis has led to a stunning lack of traffic. Indeed the main mode of transport here is still the horse and cart and hitch-hiking is a national sport. An idiot Australian who’s used to driving on the left can occasionally revert back with little risk of doing damage. I even went around a round-a-bout the wrong way once with no more damage than confused looks from onlookers.

Cuban road hazzard.

So once you work out which is the; “fast” lane, the slow lane, the horse/donkey/goat/cyclist lane it’s mostly easy going. After dark they all become the drunk lane anyway.
The main difficulty is navigation. Cuban roads are not overly endowed with directional signage or street signs or even advertising (instead there is a plethora of propaganda). Where signs do exist they are often completely wrong or only tell you that you’ve gone the wrong way after the fact, mocking you with Cuban superiority.

Analouge GPS navigation (AKA Girlfriend).

Maps are also amusingly vague. Roads that are on the map don’t exist in real life and vice versa. Roads that claim to be major roads on the map often turn out to be little more than dirt tracks. Alternatively, what was a minor road on the map was once a 3 lane each way divided highway with no traffic other than a bullock cart. Granted that highway did suddenly turn back into a dirt track with no warning.
Smartarses who say “get a GPS” soon find that they are illegal here not that you can get Cuban maps for them anyway. Also that smart phone we all have with Google maps loaded doesn’t work due to the lack of internet.
All in all, Driving in Cuba is an adventure I’d recommend to anyone with a good sense of direction (highly recommend a smart girlfriend as co-pilot) and a lot of patience.

way overused image.

After visiting Afghanistan , Pakistan,  and Somalia, the usual joke I get these days is something along the lines of “one of these days you’re going to end up in Guantanamo”.

Well hopefully the next few weeks of Rum drinking/Cigar chomping fun is as close as I’m ever going to get.
As per usual this whole thing gets played out right here. Well presuming I can find usable internet anywhere in Cuba.
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Open for the first time in decades.

Last time I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka was in the last stages of it’s 26 year civil war. If you somehow missed it, that war came to an end a few weeks ago. Since then Colombo has pretty much been in a constant state of party fueled by a sudden outbreak of nationalism. Whoever manufactures Sri Lankan flags is making out big time.

Hoped some of these would be taken down by now.

They’re stung over roads, stuck to trees, plastered on every car. Pretty much anywhere there is space a flag gets stuck on it. Beaches that were closed for decades for security reasons now have young couples strolling along them. Couples who have never seen this beach or a country without war. We’ll see how much this jubilation subsides as I travel into the more Tamil populated areas.

Sri Lanka……again

June 1st, 2009
A bit from last year.

When I visited Sri Lanka last year, it’s news was still pretty much war, war and more war.

A few months later and it seems The war is apparently over. Probably a first for any country I’ve been to.

Anyway, In the next few days I’ll be trekking back into this Island nation to see whats changed.

As per usual, this all gets played out right here. Sign up to the newsletter if you haven’t already or check back in the next week.

Comment as you see fit.

Back in one peice….again

November 9th, 2008
Proof of life.

Suprising to some, I’m now back in Sydney alive and well. My potplants not so much.
For all those that worry about me, now is the time to stop. My appologies to those that had “Carl gets killed” at 2:1 odds.
Assuming I dont get excedinlg lazy this shouldn’t be the end of it. Over the next few weeks I’ll hopefully be posting video from this trip as well as other stuff i never got around to while in the thick of it.

North-East Sri Lanka.

November 4th, 2008
Where’d everybody go?

There’s not to many places I’ve been in the last few years I’d say I’d be happy go back to. There’s a first for everything. Now quietly enjoying the North-easter beaches of Sri Lanka. Anywhere else in the world and the long white beaches would be festooned with postcard sellers, drunken tourists, loads of sunburned bodies and kids pushing tourist crap. A War in it’s 25th year tends to drive all that away. The 2006 Tsunami that washed away much of Sri Lanka’s east coast doesn’t help matters either.
So there’s really nothing to do but sit on an empty beach, drink beer and slowly slip into a coma.
Makes it worth the chicken bus and the countless police and military road blocks it takes to get here.

“303 brand” hashish, your guarantee of quality.

When I landed in the Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad it seemed almost mundane, at least by central Asian standards. Despite only having electricity part of the day, the place seems to to work under a functioning bureaucracy. It’s even clear what side of the road people drive on. Something I’m not really used to out of this part of the world.

Afghan refugees.

This changes drastically however as you go west to Peshawar and beyond. This is the North West Frontier province and the tribal belt with Afghanistan. Although it’s still Pakistan on the map, the government has no real control over the area. This is where it’s alleged Osama Bin Laden is hiding out. This is where the rule of law becomes more optional. It’s pretty much what you imagine the old wild west to be. Except without alcohol, Clint Eastwood and the horses are mostly replaced with donkeys. All the guns and drugs are still here.

Testing the local produce.

The frontier has a number of interesting cottage industries ranging from fireworks to cheap knock off’s of AK47 machine guns right up to Taliban fighters for export into Afghanistan. In turn the frontier imports vast quantities of Opium, hashish and Afghan refugees laboring away making bricks for $5 dollars a day..

Hidden away in town, a guy in a tiny workshop toils away with simple hand tools producing automatic firearms. Considering his main tools are metal files, a few drills and an bench vice, the firearms he makes are actually pretty good. While I was there he’d just completed a new AK47 machine gun as was working away on a Chinese hand gun. If anyone is interested in coming here and picking up an interesting souvenir, a copy of AK47 goes for about $300USD and takes about 10-15 days to produce. Hand guns are a steal at about $80USD.
Just get here before America bombs it.

A photo of an old woman holding a photo of herself taken by Photo Journalist Louis Quail.

I’m not a journalist but sometimes get accused of being one. Admittedly, it can be hard to believe a guy with two cameras and a laptop is in some war-torn country is there purely for the fun of it.
Strangely you don’t get many tourist here. It’s not surprising then a good proportion of my more recent travels are spent with journalists. Most evenings in Kabul for instance basically comprised a bunch of journos and myself around a table talking about what shootings or kidnappings took place that day; Speculation on possible motives or methods; was any of us close at the time or indeed did this happen right around the corner; Did any of us have our own brushes with Taliban, possible kidnappers, various dicey circumstances; could any of us be next.
It’s more or less a war torn version of a knitting club.

Security.

That said, it’s not all about blood in the streets. Despite what you see in the news, not everyone is in lock down quivering in their sandals. Even here, people do get on with their lives and I’m not the only one to take notice. People such as Photo journalist Louis Quail are covering the more human experience of the Afghanistan people.

a photo of myself being photographed.

Stories such as a Museum director who saw most of his collection looted under the Mujaheddin or destroyed under the Taliban. Now he is slowing putting the collection back together, often literally, out of the pieces of what was left as well as putting new pieces on display. Or the story of Qudsia Zohab, a young woman who grew up in Taliban times not allowed to work or get an education. Her days were spent either at home doing little or if she was out it was always under the burque. Now in her mid 20′s she now has an education and works in ethnography.

Even I don’t escape the camera being pointed at me. I guess a random traveler who considers Afghanistan safe enough for my brand of haphazard wandering is a story all of it’s own. Thus I stand in front of a heavily shelled out building having my photo taken, all while I point my camera right back.

Who is documenting who on what story quickly becomes unclear.