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Writer’s Voice–Journey to the Forbidden Isle #3, by Tony Martin

Cuba22

When it became possible for residents of this country to travel to Cuba, Talkeetna resident Tony Martin wasted no time getting there. He wanted to share his experience, and knowledge gained, with others. Here’s the third of his three-part story:


My name is Tony Martin. I recently had the opportunity to visit Cuba.
I wrote down my impressions in a short piece, which I have titled: “A
Journey to the Forbidden Isle.” Hopefully, this travelogue will provide an
insight into the history, politics, economics, and the people of an incredibly
diverse and complicated country. The opinions expressed are my own.
Part III:  Guantanamera and The Chocolate Man:
On the top floor of the Casa Grande Hotel, the view of the bay was
reminiscent of San Francisco with the surrounding narrow, hilly streets.
The evening light was serene with a wave cloud creating a grey mist over
the Sierra Maestra Mountains while leaving blue skies over the sea. At one
side of the square below was the oldest colonial house in the Americas,
that of Diego Velasquez , the first Governor of Cuba. (Text continues after photos).

 

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Santiago, also the name of the city, was the battle cry of the Spanish
Conquistadors who set out in search of Eldorado and the Golden Man.
Cortez to Mexico, Balboa to the Pacific, Pizzarro to Peru, de Soto to
Florida.
Next came the Pirates and Corsairs, like Henry Morgan, who leveled the
Fortress Moro that guarded the harbor. Then the French migration from
Hati. Below in the Plaza Cespedes, children were playing futbol and a
band was setting up to play in the park. Behind the hotel lay the San Juan
Hill. There were no memorials to Teddy Roosevelt, but there was a
commanding one to freedom fighter Antonio Maceo. A few blocks away
were the Moncado Baracks where Fidel began his revolution and across
the bay lay the rugged terrain where he fought his war with radio
broadcasts and guns. At one side of the square was the balcony where
Fidel gave his victory speech in 1959. Jose Marti, was buried in a beautiful
cemetery not too far away. My drink, a ‘havana especial’ was expertly
mixed. My thoughts were: 50 years of an embargo will not negate a Cuban
identity forged by 500 years of passionate history.
Guantanamera is probably the most often played song in Cuba. Heading
towards Baracoa at the eastern tip of the island, the people-bus stopped at
the village of Guantanamo at the head of the bay of the same name. At the
mouth, lay Gitmo, a US Naval Base and prison camp.The base occupies
about .004% of the land mass of Cuba. The lease is due to expire in
2034 . An objective was to see the 17 mile long fence surrounding the
installation, but our route provided no viewpoints as we skirted the dry hilly
terrain. Driving along the coastal part of the La Farola, the road along the
Caribbean, there came an awareness that there was no need to see an
archaic fence surrounding a plot of land that was no more in Cuba than
was Anchorage, Alaska. Without Soviet missiles, Cuba was not a threat,
but the danger of a nuclear holocaust still existed somewhere on this
planet. And the struggle for human rights against the forces of oppression
seems to be a never ending one.
Acutely, my eyes began focusing on what those on the other side of the
fence could not see. My thoughts were questioning premises that those
behind the fence don’t confront. What exactly does the USA represent?
What exactly are USA interests overseas? Why does this country have 900
bases worldwide? How are human rights advanced with torture and
drones? Why does Cuba export doctors around the world and the US
exports F-35s that don’t work?
The US citizens behind the fence do not feel the rhythm of Cuba, uno, dos,
tres, the beat is infectious, uno, dos, tres. They can’t dance the salsa, drink
Cuban rum, sip Cuban coffee, eat Cuban chocolate, smoke a Cuban cigar,
listen to the sounds of the streets , or appreciate the genuine warmth and
hospitality of the average Cuban. If the servicemen and women could
experience these things, they would need no orders to dismantle an old
fence. By definition, Gitmo is a detention camp for all behind the fence
In the main square of Baracoa the first city established in Cuba, there is a
small monument to Chief Hatuey, a Taino Indian and Cuba’s first national
hero. Hatuey fought the Spanish, was captured, and burned alive in 1512.
The countenance on the bust is fierce as Hatuey stares at a church, 100
feet away, which houses the only surviving cross of those which
Christopher Columbus brought with him from Europe. Symbolically, this
spot, the juxtaposition of church, square, and memorial, might as well mark
the place and manner in which the modern world was born 500 years ago.
Baracoa, has a natural charm , the feel of a tropical paradise. The people
are without affectations. On the roof of the home-stay, the view to the east
was the water and a straight shot to Europe. Other buildings rose around
like tiers in a stadium, so it was possible for neighbors to see and be seen.
One afternoon; on every rooftop, laundry was drying in the breeze. Across
the street, an old woman was sewing, a mother was rocking a baby, in the
street, men were playing chess, children were kicking a ball in the street,
vendors were selling their wares. The noise was like a playground:
children shouting, music blaring, dogs barking, roosters cock a doodle
doing. Andreas , the owner of the home-stay, was supervising some
young carpenters as he was planning a minor expansion He was beaming
with pride like a master on a sailing ship under full sail. The next day, on
the slopes of flat topped, El Yunque, our park guide, Manuel , with his wife
and two children, shared a cup of chocolate at their humble cottage. A
beautiful and well tended garden led to the door.
On a day tour, at a homestead, the owners demonstrated the process of
hand making chocolate to be edible and drinkable. Their crops were
systemically organized in a miniature ecosystem. Ricardo, our local guide,
extolled the virtues of chocolate, but not of rum, for the skin, for the
complexion, for the blood, for the internal organs, and as an aphrodisiac.
Near Boca de Yumuri, at a small fishing village, an old man expertly played
Spanish ballads and school kids in a simple schoolroom broke out into
laughter at my paper airplane. Community, family, and dignity are the
virtues of a society that doesn’t have too many things. Katrina, 20 years
old, an assistant guide, asked how a camera function on her cell phone
worked. She added: “The revolution was important, but it was fifty years
ago.” The words, under my breath, were ” the times, they are a changing.”
Back in Havana, after an airplane ride in sweaty Russian-made AN-26, our
city guide, Loren informed us, in unaccented English, that high speed
ferries were being authorized to travel to and from Miami and that there will
be a direct flight from New York to Havana later this summer.
Her expectations were high. My sense was that a new generation of young
people was fueling a tsunami. Cuba was not as regimented as expected,
not as militarized as expected, The committee for the defense of the
revolution (CDR) was not as strong, twittering was not yet practiced by the
masses. The moment is now. Capitalism will be meeting socialism, and no
doubt there will be an amalgamation, Cuban style, and two nation’s
governments will have to adjust.
My cab driver to the airport had small & equal sized flags, a Cuban and a
US, hanging from his mirror. Below was a small statue of the Virgin Mary.
In her hands was a glass filled with a dark liquid, probably a cuba
libre…uno, dos, tres…” the men are for the women, the women are for the
men, and the music is for everyone”. The song could have been: From
Cuba, with Love.
This concludes Part III of “Journey to the Forbidden Isle”. Once again, I’d
like to thank KTNA for providing this opportunity to share my story.

Journey to the forbidden Isle,
By Anthony Martin

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Tips for Healthy Living

A  live conversation about health and health news from the Sunshine Community Health Center: It’s hosted by Holly Stinson, with in-studio guest Keith Kehoe, physician’s assistant at the clinic. They discuss fire-related stress, thinking about your neighbors during emergencies, and swimmer’s itch.

Update on Parks Highway, Evacuation Zones

By:  Liz Ruskin – APRN

 

Managers of the Sockeye Fire near Willow plan to begin letting residents back into the evacuation area today.

At 10 this morning, the evacuation zone will be reduced to the fire perimeter line, controlled by nine security checkpoints. Homeowners who have lost homes will be let into the fire zone, starting at 11.

The evacuation is set to end entirely on Saturday but security checkpoints will remain in place through the weekend.

On the Parks Highway, traffic will be controlled between mileposts 71 and 78 until Monday. At least 26 homes were destroyed in the 7,000-acre blaze. Firefighters are still working in the area to put out hotspots.

Talkeetna man charged with theft from properties destroyed by Sockeye Fire

On Thursday, an unidentified Talkeetna man was charged with stealing copper wire and tubing from two properties in Willow.

Troopers patrolling the evacuation area for the Sockeye Fire received a report at about 3:30 p.m. reporting a theft of copper wire from a destroyed property near Mile 74 of the Parks Highway.

Just after 7:00 p.m. Troopers contacted a thirty-year-old Talkeetna resident who they charged with the Mile 74 theft as well as theft of copper wire and tubing from a destroyed property on Polis Circle in Willow. Troopers say the thefts happened between Wednesday and Thursday. The man has been charged with two counts of criminal trespassing and third-degree theft. The man’s name has not been released.

Downtown Talkeetna structure extinguished with help from as far as Houston

The Talkeetna Fire Department has been released from the Sockeye Fire for now, but their rest had to wait after a fire began much closer to home.

 

Last night, firefighters from Talkeetna, Willow, Caswell, and Houston responded to a structure fire in Downtown Talkeetna. The fire was burning in the attic area, and crews were able to suppress and extinguish the fire. All occupants made it safely out of the residence.

 

Eric Denkewalter, Acting Chief for the Talkeetna Fire Department, says the fire was largely contained to the attic, and that the main two floors did not burn.

 

Crews remained on scene after midnight to continue to clean up the scene and help retrieve residents’ belongings. Red Cross volunteers were also on scene to speak with the residents.

 

Acting Chief Denkewalter says he is very grateful for the coordination between the area fire departments.

Thursday Noon Sockeye Fire Update

On Thursday, the official estimate of the size of the Sockeye Fire was reduced to 7,066 acres, a reduction of almost 500 acres. According to the Incident Command Post, the new number is due to more accurate mapping, particularly in the area of Willow Creek.

 

Efforts continue to prevent the expansion of the fire by creating a defensible perimeter. Yesterday, Incident Command Tom Kurth said that the crews are trying to change from a defensive posture to actively attacking the interior of the fire zone.

 

The evacuation area remains in effect at this time from Mile 63 to Mile 78.5 of the Parks Highway. There is a possibility that the evacuation zone could decrease in size today, but that has not happened yet. KTNA will provide an update if and when it does.

 

The Parks Highway is currently open, with pilot cars leading traffic one direction at a time, so expect delays if you are traveling.

 

There will be face-to-face information sessions for owners of property inside the fire zone from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. today at the Houston Middle School. For those who cannot make it, the borough has provided a phone number to call for information: 861-8500.

 

More information, including the most recent maps, updates on the small Upper Valley fires, and other sources of information can be found at ktna.org and on KTNA’s Facebook Page.

 

Live on-air updates, if needed, will occur at the top of the hour. Any urgent news will be provided as soon as it is confirmed.

Thursday evening Susitna Valley fire update

READ THURSDAY AM ONLY

 

According to Celeste Prescott, Public Information Officer at the Sockeye Fire Incident Command Center, officials are considering making the evacuation zone fore the 7,555 acre wildfire smaller. She says the decision has not been finalized, and the current evacuation zone of Mile 63 to Mile 78.5 of the Parks Highway is still in effect.

 

Also, the Mat-Su Borough is compiling information from inside the Sockeye Fire zone and preparing to release more detailed information on structures lost and damaged. Property owners can call 861-8326 with their name, phone number, and address to receive information on their property once it’s available, according to Prescott.

 

Celeste Prescott says that the staff at the command post is “shocked and surprised” at the slow growth of the Sockeye Fire on Wednesday. She says part of that is attributable to luck, but most of it comes down to the hard work of the firefighters on the front lines.

 

While there is progress being made, high temperatures will mean continued fire danger. Celeste Prescott says that anyone who sees a new fire is encouraged to call it in to the Division of Forestry at 1-800-237-3633 or call 911. She says that a report that turns out to be nothing is preferable to missing a new fire in its early stages.

There is no change in the status of the Montana Creek fires. They are still considered “contained,” but are not completely out, yet. There is a fire in the Canyon Creek area of the Talkeetna Mountains that is being monitored. Retardant has been dropped around one cabin that was in the area, and it continues to be monitored from the air.

More information is expected late Thursday morning.

Susan Valley fire updates

As of Wednesday afternoon, the latest estimate on the Sockeye Fire is 7,555 acres, up forty-three acres from yesterday. More than 400 firefighters are working around-the-clock to fight the fire, which began early Sunday afternoon, and is currently considered the highest priority wildfire in the country.

 

Tom Kurth, Incident Commander for Sockeye, says that crews are trying to go from a defensive to an offensive posture, meaning they want to begin attacking hot spots and working on containment. He says the situation is still “precarious,” with hot, dry weather in the forecast in coming days.

 

The Sockeye fire is estimated to have destroyed as many as 100 structures, at least 25 of which are residences. Assessments are underway as conditions allow.

 

Two lightning-caused fires in the Upper Valley last night are now considered contained, but are not completely out, yet. The fires are labeled Montana Creek East and Montana Creek West, and lie to the east of neighborhoods off of Montana Creek road. Geographically, the fires are much closer to Goose Creek than Montana Creek. On Thursday afternoon Celeste Prescott, Public Information Officer at the incident command post, reported that one of the Montana fires had begun to smoke at one point on Wednesday, but that the ground crews were still in the area, and were able to keep it from flaring up again.

 

On Wednesday morning, an additional fire report came in at the foot of the Talkeetna Mountains near the North Fork of the Kashwitna River. After multiple flyovers, Celeste Prescott says air crews were unable to locate a new fire. They now believe that the report was the result of smoke from the Montana Creek fire being confused for a new ignition.

 

A community meeting is scheduled at Houston Middle School at 7:00 p.m. for community members affected by the Sockeye Fire.

 

KTNA will continue to provide updates on the fires in the Susitna Valley on air, on Facebook, and online at KTNA.org.

State announces burn, fireworks bans

On Wednesday evening, the State of Alaska announced that open fires and the sale and use of fireworks are now banned on all state, municipal, and private property inside the Mat-Su Borough, Municipality of Anchorage, and Kenai Peninsula. The fire ban applies to all wood and charcoal fires, even in established rings. Gas grills, backpacking or camp stoves using fuel or compressed canisters that can be regulated and shut off are still permitted.

The bans come as wildfires are being fought in the Willow area, along the Sterling Highway, in Cooper Landing, and in the Interior.