By Lee Foster
Chris Baker, my good friend and colleague, motorcycled through the San Francisco region this past week and left us with a lot of insights about his favorite expert subject—Cuba.
The occasion for Chris’s visit was a talk about Cuba that the Bay Area Travel Writers (www.batw.org) arranged for Chris to give at the Book Passage store in Marin County. The event celebrated the new edition (6th edition) of Chris’s book Moon Cuba.
Chris arrived for a few days at my condo in Berkeley on his BMW motorcycle, riding up from his home in Palm Springs. Incredibly, on the day after his Cuba talk, Chris planned to ride 700 miles out to Salt Lake, and then up to Montana, for a BMW biker rally. Chris is a man on the move.
Chris’s visit gave us a chance to catch up on editorial efforts and on the drama of life passing.
In 2013 Chris and I co-wrote and co-photographed a major book on California for the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series, called Back Roads California. Chris is quite capable of doing a good book on just about any subject he chooses to focus upon.
Previously, Chris and I were faculty for about a decade in an enterprise for the Society of American Travel Writers, called The Institute for Travel and Guidebook Writing/Photography. We were attempting to affect the travel publishing industry in a manner beneficial to both journalists and the public.
When the day came for Chris’s performance at Book passage, the co-presidents of BATW, Laurie King and Suzie Rodriguez, gave me the honor of introducing Chris. The house was packed with Chris’s fans. This Book Passage venue is arguably the most vital scene for Authors meeting the Public in the San Francisco/Bay Area. Sam Barry of Book Passage had set things up well. The BATW managers-of-the-monthly-event, this time Laura Deutsch and MJ Pramik, had arranged that a few choice bottles of Chilean wine were opened in the half hour before Chris’s talk. This gave the event a pleasing south-of-the-border conceptual purity, unity, and spirit.
I introduced Chris as follows:
We welcome back to the Bay Area our good friend Chris Baker.
Chris was one of the founders of the Bay Area Travel Writers back in 1982.
Chris can do books on just about anything. In 2013 we co-wrote and co-photographed the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide book Back Roads California.
However, Chris is acknowledged as the reigning worldwide authority on Cuba—the subject of his talk today.
His Moon Cuba guidebook was just released in its sixth edition and is considered the Bible of travel books on Cuba.
National Geographic Expeditions, for whom he leads Cuba tours, describes Chris as “One of the world’s leading authorities on Cuban travel and culture.” Chris is a ‘National Geographic Resident Expert’ on Cuba. He also escorts motorcycle tours of Cuba.
Chris has visited Cuba more than 100 times during three decades, traveling the island country from end to end, and has met Fidel Castro and Cuba’s other political and cultural leaders.
His books about Cuba, besides Moon Cuba, include the National Geographic Traveler Cuba guidebook, and his literary travelog Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro’s Cuba.
His countless magazine articles on Cuba have appeared in Caribbean Travel & Life, Robb Report, and National Geographic Traveler. He appears frequently on radio and television talk shows speaking on Cuba, including for CNN, Fox News Channel, and NPR. He has been honored to speak on Cuba at the National Press Club, World Affairs Council, and National Geographic Live.
He is currently partnered with actor/director David Soul in the production of a cinematic feature documentary: Cuban Soul, about the restoration of Ernest Hemingway’s recently rediscovered 1955 Chrysler New Yorker.
Along the way Chris’ travel journalism has won numerous awards, including him being named the Society of American Travel Writers Lowell Thomas Awards Travel Journalist of the Year (in 2008).
Let us welcome Chris Baker.
Chris gave his usual terrific talk. You had to be there (or will have to be there next time) to enjoy his articulate, intelligent, and passionate presentation on Cuba, including its glories and failings, itemized without a lot of judgmental overlays or agendas.
A few of us went out for a drink afterwards with Chris and the Associate Publisher for Avalon/Moon, Donna Galassi. She and Publisher Bill Newlin guide one of the healthier still-standing travel book publishing operations flourishing today, partly because of the strategy of support for some productive “brand” authors, such as Baker “Cuba,” Rick Steves “Europe,” and Tom Stienstra “California Outdoors.” It’s not easy to sell travel books in today’s world.
As Chris Baker zoomed away on his motorcycle to his next event, it occurred to me that rapid political change was zooming towards him, making him the man of the moment. For 30 years Chris labored patiently to promote and support a hidden and forbidden place, Cuba. Now, suddenly, Cuba is emerging from its chrysalis form. Chris’s insights are in position in his book Moon Cuba to benefit a lot of travelers and Cubans.