Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

Four Days After the Blizzard

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Well, technically in most places it wasn’t actually a blizzard. Denver and points East were  under a blizzard warning for the afternoon and evening of April 10, 2019. The wind speeds did not quite reach the technical criteria for a “blizzard”, but snow did fall and the wind did howl.

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April is perhaps the wildest, most unpredictable month. In cities throughout North America, scenes like this play out every year. Just as people are getting set up for Spring, a wild swing in temperatures, in this case from a high of 78F (26C) on Tuesday the 9th to an overnight low of 17F (-8C) after the snowstorm the next day, disorients everyone.

It can get violent too! While May is the month with the most tornadoes, April is the month with the most killer tornadoes.

With weather forecasts for specific place on a specific day generally unreliable more than about a week out, April is a hard month to set expectations for. In the mountains, this time of year is generally referred to as “mud season”, but it is not that uniform. By Sunday, four days after the snowstorm, despite the weather not being too particularly warm, places like the Buffalo Herd Overlook, at an elevation around 7600 ft. (2300m) were pretty dry. For some reason, the bison (they are often called “buffalo”, but technically are bison) roamed closer to I-70 than normal, with many motorists stopping to admire them.

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Four days after the “blizzard”, I found myself taking my new dog, Shasta, on her first hike since being adopted.

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Our group actually included a dog and a baby (9 months old), as they had previously taking a liking towards one another.

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I had previously hiked at Elk Meadows Park, almost five years ago, hiking to the top of Bergen Peak on a hazy day in July.

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That hike involved a climb of just over 2,000 feet  and a distance just over ten miles. For several reasons, today’s hike would be much shorter. Most obviously, babies are exhausting to cary and often do not have the attention span to tolerate hikes that would span around 5 hours.

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There is also the variable trail conditions.

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Sections that are both muddy and still partially covered with melting snow were quite common at elevations between 7500 and 8500 ft (2250-2600m). Heading to elevations closer to 9700 ft. (2950m), areas with deep snow would have made the hike far more challenging. Colorado had a snowy winter, particularly in late February and early March. Mid-April snowpacks exceed long-term averages throughout the state.

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The cold, snowy winter was great for Shasta to get acquainted with the new neighbors.

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But, it ended up being an abnormally sedentary period for me.

My favorite thing about Elk Meadows Park is definitely the signage. There is no getting lost here, as every trail junction is clearly labelled.

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The lower part of the park is a wide open valley. It can feel like a miniature version of areas like South Park and the San Luis Valley, relatively flat, treeless areas surrounded by mountains in all directions.

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Despite these panoramic views, the hike itself cannot really be thought of as earth shattering. When people romanticize about the Colorado outdoors, it is often about things like climbing to the top of 14ers, cycling over mountain passes, skiing, or whitewater rafting.

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However, it ended up being what I needed. There is something about being outdoors, in the presence of nature, in good company that feels human in a way that our world of cubicles, screens, stress and performance metrics doesn’t. It is so easy for all of us to get so carried away in our pursuits; trying to get a promotion, saving up or something, asserting our status, making deals and planning the future that we forget to enjoy what is right in front of us.

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Planet Earth is full of wonder, whether they be mountains, gentle streams, wildlife, waterfalls, or something simple like a group of friends having fun and dancing- showing their true humanity. The more we can stop to appreciate this, or be a part of it, the better off we all will be. After a not so great week related to my pursuits in life, I genuinely needed to just be in nature, regardless of the setting.

Like the April weather, our situations, fortunes and struggles can change at any time, and often can’t be predicted too far in advance. It has been shown that luck can be related to one’s attitude, more than just chance. However, regardless of what happens to us, our responses often matter more than the actual situation at hand. Sometimes, like the weather in April, as opposed to a detailed long-term plan, all we can do is do the best with what is right in front of us.

Frozen Dead Guy Days

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It is perhaps one of the strangest festivals one will ever encounter. In Early March, the town of Nederland, Colorado, situated slightly above 8,200 feet (2500m) in elevation, puts on a festival to celebrate an event or more accurately a series of events, that is bizarre, obscure and optimistic at the same time.

A man names Breto Mortol, who died in 1989, has a family who believes that one day it will be possible to return a well preserved body to life. When he died, his family had his body frozen to preserve it, and shipped from Norway to the United States, where it is preserved in a shed in Nederland, Colorado, awaiting the day when technological advances will start bringing people back from the dead.

The primary event at the festival is the coffin race.

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To commemorate the steps involved in preserving recently deceased bodies, teams of 7 race each other through a muddy obstacle course, with one person laying in the coffin and the other six carrying it. Each team is responsible for making their own coffin. They also dress up in unique costumes with a variety of different themes.

Overall, it is an event like almost nothing else ever encountered.

The festival features some other unique events like polar plunges and frozen T-shirt contests, as well as some more typical festival entertainment like live bands and beer tents. The entirety of the experience creates the kind of mix between the familiar and unfamiliar that make things interesting. After watching the coffin race, I had the desire to attend every unique quirky festival like this I could find.

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It wasn’t all pleasant though. As it is in the Rocky Mountains in the early part of March, it was both windy and muddy. For some people, depending on tolerance of conditions like these, as well as level of intoxication, weather like this does have the potential to tamper with the level of enjoyment of a festival.

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Nederland, Colorado is quite a quirky town. It is tucked away in the mountains, but only a 40 minute commute from Boulder. It is often the refuge of people who left Boulder because it was becoming too corporate and mainstream for them. It also attracts people who want to live in the mountains. This creates a quirky yet outdoorsy and individualistic vibe that is into alternative ideas and ways of living. It feels reminiscent of Vermont. From a sociological standpoint, it feels like the ideal setting for a festival celebrating a person who has been cryonically frozen for thirty years in hopes of being brought back to life in the future.

At times, life can be full of work, stress, and trying to protect our status. Sometimes we just need an excuse to party!

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I hang this National Day Calendar not because I believe every day someone declared, such as Open and Umbrella Indoors day needs to be celebrated. However, there are a lot of things in life that deserve to be celebrated but aren’t. We hardly ever take time to celebrate things like friendship, being heard, or some of the simple joys in life like our favorite foods or the people that impact our lives in subtle but important ways.

Uniqueness and optimism, the main tenants of the story behind Frozen Dead Guy Days are certainly worth celebrating. Not everyone’s dream is to one day resuscitate their deceased loved ones (and hope that someone will do the same for them when they die). Some of us may dream of a world where travel is easier, communication is better, or access to food is far easier. All of these dreams require both uniqueness and optimism. Most of the beneficial technological advances we currently enjoy are the result of a person or group of people exhibiting these traits in the past. It is for this reason I will gladly continue to celebrate optimism and the courage to be unique in whatever form it takes.

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Park City During Peak Ski Season

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North America has its fair share of iconic ski towns; places frequented by winter sport enthusiasts, particularly skiers and snowboarders at this time of year. On one level, the experience in most of these towns is quite similar. There are the hotels and condos, restaurants, sporting goods, all those T-shirt shops, and some form of nightlife to cater to the many young and active people that visit every year.

However, there are some major differences between these towns and the resorts around them that create different experiences. The town of Park City is perhaps most similar to Breckenridge, in that it is a town that was settled in the middle of the 19th Century as a mining town.

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This contrasts with towns like Vail, which were built up around the ski resort after it opened. Also, as is the case with places like Crested Butte and Whistler, the manner in which the town is laid out, the cultural vibes, and of course the resorts themselves make each place a unique experience.

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Visiting Park City February 9-13, skiing the 10th-12th, produced what is perhaps the most typical Park City ski vacation experience, as it is right in the peak of the ski season, but not a holiday or a special event.

This time period also produced a good variety of weather and snow conditions, with a snowstorm rolling in Sunday afternoon, but Monday and Tuesday’s weather being clear.

After this experience, I have concluded that the Park City experience is unique for the following five major reasons.

1. Accessibility

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For people traveling from other parts of the country, this is a major draw. The drive from Salt Lake City International Airport to Park City can typically be done in well under an hour. Getting to most other resorts in North America requires either a longer drive or flying into a smaller airport.

2. Utah Culture

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Saturday evening, my first night in town, I walked into Wasatch BrewPub, which is at the south (and high) end of Main Street. Arriving at a brewpub at 9:30 on a Saturday night is something that feels quite normal to me. Yet, upon arrival, I was informed that last call is in a half an hour.

All the tap beers on the menu were listed at 4.0% alcohol by volume, also reflecting Utah’s culture of caution when it comes to consuming alcohol. There are, however, ways around this.

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3. The Resorts

Several years back, Park City and the Canyons combined to form a mega-resort.

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Like Whistler-Blackcomb, the formerly separate resorts are connected by a gondola.

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Both sides of the mountain have some epic skiing, including aspen glades.

Skiing through the aspen trees is somewhat of a unique experience, as, due to climate and elevation, not all resorts have areas like this.

The Park City side of the mountain probably has the best bowl skiing.

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Skiing areas like this after a fresh snow is a unique, however exhausting, experience.

Deer Valley Resort, just a couple of miles outside of town, is the site of many events at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

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It’s the kind of place where skiers can pretty much do it all, from skiing really fast on a groomed trail.

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To going deep into the woods and encountering random cabins.

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One thing I love about the resorts in Utah is that some of their trails have a double blue, or advanced intermediate rating. In my opinion, the variety of types of trails at many ski resorts in Western North America warrants some being given a rating between blue (intermediate) and black (expert).

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There are, however, some potential annoyances for some visitors. Like many ski areas around the world, Park City has gotten into the cross-hairs of the arms race between competing multi-resort ski passes. Park City resort (which includes the Canyons) is on the Epic Pass, while Deer Valley is on the IKON Pass. Visitors who want to ski both resorts cannot do so on one pass, they must either purchase a one day pass at one of the resorts (as I did), or have both passes (I did meet someone on a ski lift ride that did purchase both the Epic and IKON passes).

Also, Deer Valley is one of only three resorts in the country that does not allow snowboarders.

4. Snow Conditions

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Different parts of the country have different snow conditions. Resorts closer to the East or West coast tend to have wetter snow than those in places like Colorado. Utah’s snow this February was kind of a mix between the two, as much of the snow in the area had come from the same series of storm systems that dumped heavy snow in California.

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These storms have tapped into tons of moisture from the Pacific Ocean, bringing snow to Utah that has some resemblance to the snow at resorts closer to the West Coast.

5. Parking

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Aside from the strange way things close earlier than expected, I love Park City’s Main Street. The lights hung across the street and not so gentle slope from one end of the street to the other produce an evening atmosphere that just feels positive and festive. However I have never seen a street with so little available parking also have so little through traffic. It felt strange to look for parking for so long but also be able to stand in the middle of the road so frequently! Luckily, Summit County Utah has free busses visitors can take all over the areas, most of them going to Park City’s Main Street.

A Phone Free Day Every Month

The last time you picked up your phone…

Did you intend to look at your phone at that specific time?

What prompted you to look at your phone?

How long did you end up looking at your phone?

Did you stick to the original purpose, or open up another app?

Did you get value out of the time you spent on your phone?

Did your decision to look at your phone cost you other opportunities?

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Having observed what many others have observed, regarding excessive smart phone use, and its potential link to poor mental health outcomes, I recently decided I needed to build a periodic mini digital detox into my life. One year ago, I decided to go without my phone the first Sunday of every month.

I figured that periodically going a day without my phone would help me become more mindful of how I use my phone, and reconnect me with how I would go about doing certain things in the pre-smart phone era. Maybe it would even give me some clues as to how smart phone use is actually impacting our society as a whole.

Since then, awareness of the impact smart phones are having on our lives has only increased. Apple added a feature to the iPhone that tracks and gives users the ability to limit their smart phone use.

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By the way, here is proof that I actually did shut my phone off for the day on Sunday.

Others have even resorted to creative ways to encourage less phone use. One hotel in Sweden began charging guests by how much time they spend on social media. Rooms at Hotel Bellora are being offered to guests for free if they can refrain from using their phones!

After experiencing twelve of these phone free First Sundays, I have concluded that…

1. It is not realistic, nor does it seem beneficial, for us to completely ditch smart phones.

There are some conveniences, such as using Google Maps to look at traffic, that are a significant benefit.

2. All smart phone use can’t be painted in one light.

Picking up a phone has different utility when used for different purposes. I am actually not too ashamed that I spend a significant amount of time on YouTube. Much of the content is either informational or provides entertainment value, which is value.

3.  The setting needs to also be considered.

What had originally prompted me to become concerned about smart phones is observing them having a negative impact on people’s experiences. Watching someone pull out their phone when I am trying to have a conversation with them frustrates me. I also see people miss out on what is going on around them because of their phones. However, what if someone is just sitting at home alone, or on the same bus they take to work every day, exhausted and just needing some entertainment?

4. Smart phone use needs to serve a purpose.

If we intended to look someone up on Wikipedia, reference traffic on Google Maps, or even entertain ourselves with videos or games, that is fine. This is why, even after this experience, I still don’t believe in blanket statements such as “less than two hours per day”. It is more appropriate to say we should pick up our phones for an intended purpose, and put them down when that intended purpose is done, whatever length of time that is.

5. It is hard to stop using our phones as a crutch.

I’m talking about those times when we are waiting in line, or when we arrive at a restaurant ten minutes before our friends. We can either face the fear of boredom and/or awkwardness or bury ourselves in our phones. After each First Sunday, I resolve to stop picking up my phone in these instances. I’m typically able to do so for about five days.

Every time we engage with our phones, we disengage with the world around us.

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We may be missing out o some important things; That person that would have started a conversation with us had we not looked needlessly occupied. Observing what is happening around us, in the natural world. Even the ability for us to engage our own thought processes. These are real costs that make it worthwhile for us to be more intentional with the use of our smart phones. Taking a day off from phone use once a month reminds me of the times I typically pull out my phone, and what I could be missing out on when I do.

 

That Event You Always Find Yourself At

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We all have that one event in our lives. Typically it is somewhere in the general vicinity of where we live, but not in the same town. Year after year, we find ourselves there, despite never actually making plans around that event. For me, that event is the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge Colorado.

I’ve been there while on weeklong ski trips with friends from the East Coast, staying at condos within walking distance of both the Riverwalk Center where the event is held and the ski lift.

I have been there on weekend trips, as was the case this year.

I have been there after day trips.

There have even been years where I was able to see the snow sculptures on multiple days, and while passing through town on the way home from destinations further away.

Of course, it helps that the event lasts ten days, right in the middle of the winter, in Breckenridge, one of the country’s most iconic skiing towns.

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It also helps that walking through the snow sculptures is not a huge time commitment. Even if one were to read every piece of information about each individual piece, the total time commitment would be well under an hour.

2019 was quite iconic. The event happened on an excellent weekend. Significant snow fell Thursday night, making for a fantastic weekend of skiing. Each portion of the day seemed to exude some form of picturesque natural scene, distinct from one another!

The sculptures themselves were amazing as well. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

2017 was also a great year, with a lot of animal related designs.

2016 was also a great year.

2015 was the year that abnormally warm weather (several days with highs close to 50 in town) caused some of the sculptures to become deformed.

This year, the trip that found me in front of the snow sculptures was a weekend trip to Frisco, ten miles north of Breckenridge, and along I-70.

I love to stay in Frisco from time to time. There are a lot of amenities, but it is less crowded than many other places in winter, as there is no ski resort there. However, it is within about ten miles of Breckenridge, as well as several other mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain and Keystone.

The places we go, the people we see, and the activities we take part in have two origins. One are those in which we actively seek; the trips and activities we plan and the people we plan them with. The others are the ones we somehow get drawn into. The places our friends, family and co-workers chose for group activities. The people that show up at the events we go to. Events like this one, that always end up being where we are at the time we are there.

Some would advocate that we do all things with purpose, actively choosing every single action in our lives. That is quite exhausting, and nearly impossible. Instead, we must accept that some of the places we find ourselves and people we find ourselves around will be based on circumstance, and sometimes that circumstance will occur in repetition.

However, the nature of these circumstantial encounters is a good indicator of how well we have aligned our lives with our values and desires. If these circumstances habitually find us in places we do not want to be and around people we do not care to be around, it is an indicator that something about our overall situation is not well aligned with our true selves and true desires.

I am thankful to find myself around these snow sculptures year after year. They are a result of the activity that I did actively chose, skiing, as well as being around people who are up for wandering around to events like these.

A Full Moon Hike to Jefferson Lake

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Hiking at night is something I had never really thought about doing. As is the case with the majority of the people who go hiking, my primary motivations are scenery, connection with nature, and exercise, most of which is far more compatible with daytime.

Most of my nighttime hiking experiences have been in cases where I remained on a trail until just after dark to watch a sunset…

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Backpacking….

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Or starting a hike early due to time constraints or goals, all of which involved reaching a specific place in daytime.

This particular nighttime hike was organized by a group called Mappy Hour. With the motto, “Live in the city, love the outdoors”, they bring together outdoor adventurers of all levels who live and work in cities. Sometimes the input of others helps expose us to activities we would not have otherwise done. Like a lot of people in Colorado, wintertime for me can end up being mostly just skiing. Going on this event exposed me to something different.

Jefferson Lake is outside of a tiny town called Jefferson, in Colorado’s South Park region.

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This hike started in late afternoon, before sunset. As we approached the trailhead, I was somewhat concerned that the high clouds would detract from the experience of a full moon hike.

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Jefferson Lake is accessible by road during the summertime. However, during the winter, the road is closed off right after entering the Pike National Forest, where the wide open ranch land of South Park’s high plains meets the densely packed trees associated with some of Colorado’s highest terrain.

In winter, the final four miles of the road to Jefferson Lake can be hiked or snowshoed, depending on conditions.

Most of this winter hike (3 out of 4 miles) is a very gradual climb, passing by campgrounds, as well as the Colorado Trail. It is a great trail for someone who is new to snowshoeing, however, conditions must be considered, as even in mid winter, there is no guarantee the road will be snowpacked for the entire four mile length.

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The road also passes by another wonder of nature I often fail to consider, a beaver dam. Apparently, we humans are not the only ones capable of using trees to create infrastructure.

The final mile before arriving at the lake is a bit steeper, but still not overly strenuous. However, for those not accustomed to hiking in snow, or snowshoes, it can be a bit exhausting.

We watched the moon rise over the mountains to the East.

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Gradually lighting the lake up, one segment at a time.

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By the time the moon had fully risen, the entire lake, as well as the entire forest surrounding it, was noticeably lighter.

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The amount if light the moon can provide is something that those of us who spend most of our lives in cities often fail to appreciate. However, on this evening, the difference between an evening with full moon light and one without would be on full display. The evening of January 20, 2019 was a lunar eclipse, which began to manifest a few hours after sundown.

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Lunar eclipses occur at a much slower pace than solar ones. This lunar eclipse began to show just before 8:30 P.M., but would not reach totality until 9:41 P.M. in Central Colorado. During the lunar eclipse, the sky grows far darker, the way it appears during a new moon, and the moon itself takes on a red color, whose true beauty can only be truly appreciated in person. This National Geographic photograph, taken by professionals with professional equipment, would come closest to giving it justice- way closer than any photo I could take!

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The event was nothing short of amazing, in a manner that cannot be properly expressed through words or even pictures. At the end of the hike, I felt content in a manner that is rarely achieved in day-to-day life, due to the combination of being in motion, observing spectacular scientific phenomenon, and being in a social setting.

Hiking at night in the middle of winter is something I have never done before. However when it comes my primary motivations for hiking, getting exercise, scenery and connection with nature, this activity met all three criteria. There are plenty of times in life when we focus too much on a specific solution, activity or procedure, rather than the overall motivation. This causes us to narrow our options too much. This event reminded me how important it is to stay focused on the overall motivation rather than one specific activity or solution. This goes for all areas i life, not just outdoor adventures and weekend activities. As long as we stay open-minded, pay attention, and keep our overall goals in mind, we can find some amazing experiences!

When I Went to Cuba

 

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Okay, so it wasn’t Cuba, it was actually an exhibit at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science.

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We travel to different cities, regions and countries to experience what we can’t experience at home. Sometimes, however, experiences from other places come to us. This is the case when a new restaurant, serving cuisine from the other side of the world opens, or when the stock show comes into town, parading livestock right through the middle of the city!

It is important for those of us that yearn to travel, share adventures, and learn about other cultures, but do not travel full time for a living, to take advantage of the times when experiences from other places come to us.

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It is human nature to be fascinated by what is not known. It is why children want to know what is in their parents secret closet, why many are fascinated by ghost stories and conspiracy theories, and why for our entire existence, humanity has speculated as to what exists beyond life and death.

Cuba is one of those places that, to Americans, is somewhat of a mystery. This exhibit brings that mystery to life.

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The main part of the exhibit is an area that is far more wide open than nearly all other museum exhibits. Cuban music, both traditional and modern are played, and performers jump on and off the stage. It is surrounded by some of the things that Cuba is perhaps best known for culturally; Cars built before the Cuban Embargo went into place in 1962, and outdoor produce markets.

Seeing the culture of a place in this format serves as a reminder that experiencing a place, whether it be a country, a region, or a city, is not just about going to landmarks. It is about the people, the day-to-day life, the music, the art, and traditions. It is hard for me not to feel as if traveling to a destination, and only experiencing the places listed in a travel guide causes many of us to miss out on what makes a place truly unique.

Of course, it is hard to write about Cuba without addressing Communism and relations between the United States and Cuba. As someone who believes that a free market economy is both the most efficient and most just manner in which to organize a society, it would be easy for me to simply dismiss and hate the recent history of Cuba. However, I am also a person who appreciates the complexity of every situation. What I dislike most about our present day political situation is seeing that which is complex and deeply philosophical reduced to catch phrases, jokes, and sometimes mean-spirited tribalism.

I had previously read about the complexity of the factors that lead to the Cuban revolution, and the fact that Fidel Castro did not declare himself communist until a couple of years after he took power. He may have only declared the nation communist to gain protection from the Soviet Union after realizing he would not have good relations with the United States.

Reflecting on this, as well as the U.S. interventions in Cuba prior to Castro’s revolution made me realize that there are two sides to every struggle and every revolution. There is the ideological side, which is often used to drum up support in cases like the Cold War. However, there is also a component of them that are just about power.

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The story of Cuba in the 20th Century is also a demonstration of the danger in tearing down what exists without a clear plan going forward. Many Cuban revolutionaries, and supporters of the revolution, ended up getting something far different than what they had envisioned. Reading about what happened to large segments of humanity in 1177 B.C., and then in 476 A.D., and even some modern day examples of revolts without an end game, the lesson is clear. Yes, we should be striving to make changes. But, it is often better to build on what already exists. If the system must be completely torn down, it is imperitive to have at least a framework for what replaces it.

The results of the Cuban revolution are also often judged differently by different people based on priorities. Cuba is far poorer than us, but in some ways more equitable.

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They have also managed to preserve nearly a quarter of their land for nature, and protect some species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

Additionally, the agricultural practices developed on the Island after the collapse of the Soviet Union caused them to lose access to many pesticides and chemicals significantly improved the health of their coral reefs.

Cuba has endured many changes. An 80-year old Cuban has seen Fulgencio Batista seize power, Castro’s revolution, the U.S. embargo, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the opening up on the Cuban economy over the past ten years. The exhibit ends with a series of statements made by randomly selected Cubans about the future of their country. Some express hope. Some express caution and resilience. There were even a couple that stated they do not want what we have, described as “excessive consumerism.”

The majority just learned how to just roll with the changes. After all, regardless of who does what in struggles for power, life goes on. The will always be music. There will always be culture. There will always be people with dreams.

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