Jan 31 Getting lost in Santiago de Cuba

Breakfast wasn’t quite as good as Pepe’s but That is hardly a criticism. Pepe is a top grade chef and presentation is a big thing to chef’s. The food was still very good, and lots of it. Bananas, pineapple, melons, rolls (HONEY TO DIE FOR) two boiled eggs, and amazingly good coffee.

The first thing that we did was get lost for some reason my normally fairly accurate internal compass was completely messed up I went the wrong way and we ended up on Marti. A busy thoroughfare for the locals but not for tourists. We immediately got swarmed by the bicycle taxis looking to help us out and get us back to tourist-land. We eventually got ourselves oriented and back on the right direction we headed down and found the theater company, nothing playing. A small church that was nice and a masonic lodge. It looked good but inside was gutted and empty. I took pictures through the little hole in the door. The tyler would be sitting outside the lodge, literally.

We found Parque de Cepeties fairly easily and did the tour of the immediate attractions. The oldest house in Cuba is turned into a museum. They wanted 2cuc per person and another 5 for the camera. We nixed the camera and walked around they have a lot of nice furnature but there is a lot of exhaust that has settled on the exhibits over the years and most of the really nice stuff has been blackened. The thing that was one of the neatest things to see would have been the globe from the 1600s but it was completely blackened. Not worth the 5 CUC and at 2 CUC it’s iffy.

The cathedral is undergoing a massive refit. The whole interior is full of scaffolding with you are able to wind yourself around and see some of the sites. There were 8 huge rolls of copper roofing sitting in the church. That would have been under lock and key at home. Each one of those is worth a small fortune.

From the square we went over to the terrace of the Grand Hotel and had a coffee and lunch a plate of fried banana chips and a fruit plate, two mojitos, and a Buchanero. The mojitos were good, they were not as sweet as most of the mohitos you get. Once we were at the square we able to get on the historic walking tour from the Lonely Planet. We did the leg west of the square. It took us to the balcony to overlook the bay and the Sierra Maestra mountains. It is an awesome view and it stitched to 126 megapixels.

We went down the hill and up to the Padre Pico steps steps carved into the rock to form a staircase. The guide says they were originally terra cotta but I think they have been replaced over they years and fortified by concrete. The Museum just up from the steps is the Museo de la Luca Clandestina about the revolution and July 26 movement. It was a barracks for Baptista’s police force. It is ironic that the small house next door was the house Castro grew up in. Familiarity and all.

From there we retraced our steps back to the Parque de Cepeties and then up to the shopping street and walked along the shops until we turned up toward the casa. We arrived at the casa and after walking around from 10 to 3 in the heat it was time for a snooze before supper. We went on trip advisor to find what were the restaurants to check out and two of them are within a small walk. We went to the number 5 place on the list Restaurante Aurora and it was very good. We had the barbecued chicken and the pork Aurora (which was a barbecued pork shoulder(we think)).

Not a really busy day but we are already behind on our pictures and our log and our first day in a new city takes a little getting organized.

Here is the link to our 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery, stay tuned it will be updated as our photos are added and I bring the web site up to date with our Cuba trip.

January 30, On our list of Good Days in Cuba, This wasn’t one of them.

We knew it probably wasn’t going to be considering we were starting out at 10:00 pm (Jan 29) for a 15 and a half hour bus ride. By the time we got to Santigo de Cuba at 13:30, with one quick bathroom break, and no coffee or any food since 5 pm the previous day we were ready to get to casa for a coffee, a clean up and dinner. But we did want to get the tickets for the trip out considering it was an hour walk from our casa to the Viazul bus terminal. Bonnie was 5th or 6th in line so considering it took the agent about 2-3 minutes to book our tickets in Varadero to come to Santiago de Cuba I was figuring 15-20 minutes and we would be gone with another job done. I went to tell the taxi driver we were here and Bonnie was in line for the tickets out but it should only be a few minutes. Except that it was taking 20-25 minutes PER PERSON. Yes after waiting 3 hours Bonnie was the second person and they had to shut down that line to do the check ins for the bus to Havana.

We got to the casa shortly after 5pm. I was talking to the girl that was in the line before Bonnie she was a girl from Belgium and she was spitting mad. I gave her the email address to complain too I don’t know if it will do any good but at least there will be two of us complaining bitterly. We are going to try to book our tickets at Baracoa for the rest of the trip. Our casa is a block or two away and if we can avoid Santiago de Cuba’s RUDE ticket agent that just doesn’t give a hoot. It will be worth it. We got to the Casa Colonial Nivia Melendez (top rated on trip advisor) and Beatriz was a breath of fresh air. While we brushed our teeth, she made us coffee. We were both feeling a little bit of a headache, not sure if it was dehydration or caffeine that was the source of the problem but we had a bottle of water and a good hit of good coffee and that did the trick. Before we left NB we had exchanged emails with Beatrix and ordered our supper, one order of her pork and one order of her chicken. Both were good but if I had to order it again the chicken is much less salty than the pork and Cuban cuisine would be much improved if the government confiscated all of the salt shakers. One thing that would be hard to improve would be the chocolate ice cream. The chocolate is made not far away and the ice cream is added to it a little closer. One bite and bonnie’s eyes lit up, more like the eyes rolled back into her head. It makes our chocolate ice cream taste like diluted mud. She offered me more but I have two goals this trip. One is to get more exercise (THAT ISNT A PROBLEM) and the other is not to gain too much weight. So one helping of chocolate ice cream will do. I am thinking hard about how to get it back in my carry on luggage. Canada customs would probably cease it and it is way to good to share with them.

Bonnie has crashed and it is before we got on the bus the night before. I looks like a very good idea, so here’s hoping for a better day tomorrow!

January 29 Walking around Varadero

Our bus was leaving at 21:45 so we had a day to walk around and do not much of anything. We checked out of Pepe’s and Elisa’s and they were kind enough to allow us to leave our bags in their apartment and come back and get them later. They had another guest coming in so we had to go but that was fine with us. They kept our bags and I felt that they were much safer with Pepe than they would be at the bus station. Last time we were looking for a leather backpack for me so we did a lot of shopping and then decided that no matter how good it looked leather really wasn’t practical on the boat so after all that shopping decided against it. This year we didn’t have any particular project so it was wasting a day in the nice weather waiting for a bus. There was a cold front coming through so the surf was huge and the red flags were up signifying no swimming. That was ok with us. Last thing I wanted to do was go swimming and get a bunch of salt water in my hair for the bus ride. We walked up as far as Parque Jasone and walked around the park. The cave doesn’t seem to be any more open than it ever has been. The bano attendant wanted 1 cuc for 2 people. I came out wanted my money back, they were gross. They used to be one of the better public bathrooms.

We had a coffee at a cafe and watched the people. For lunch we had a two coffees and split a hamburger with cheese. My pronunciation of Queso was so bad the waiter came out with “Cheese. I practice my english and you practice your spanish.” I knew I massacred it but at least I tried. Some days my tongue just doesn’t want to twist in spanish (2 coffees and a hamburger with cheese was $1.95).

We walked down to the Infotur office and on the fifth try we had the same luck as the first four, nada.

We walked down and sat on the beach watching the surf and the few brave swimmers. There were a few brave souls. But not many, most were working on their tans.

We left decided to have an early dinner at the Casa del Chef and then pick up the bags and wait at the bus terminal. The “Bread with taste” that was so tasty last time was the same crusty white bread as you see everywhere. It didn’t hold a candle to the stuff we had the first time. Bonnie and I had a “bread with taste, a soup of the day (this time it was vegetable), and a tropical beef(200g). Normally when we see the grams listed it is a sign to leave the restaurant. The government restaurants aren’t normally that good. But this one was listed in Trip Advisor as being very good. Our meal this time was at best, average. The beef was tough but it normally is. The tropical beef came with a salad. Bonnie and I did our usual split and ended up with a good meal for two by cutting the single serving of tropical beef in two Cost for a beer, a water, a bread with taste, veg soup, and the tropical beef entre was $11.50 plus tip.
We thought the Casa del Chef was good one day for lunch and average the next for dinner. Such is life.

Pepe gave us his new card with his new email address on it. It goes to his phone so that it is very good for him. I will put it on the web site when I get home. We say their booking sheet for Feb when we checked our return reservation and they are fairly well booked. Nice to see. We’ll call ahead further when we know we are coming to cuba again. Bonnie and I are wondering what we will do next year. We like cuba but aren’t sure about another year. We may do trip back and just hit our favorite spots.

January 28, 2015 A day to get on Cuban time

We always take a day for letting our bodies adjust to the climate and to go from winter hibernation mode to actually wanting to do something outside. Today is to get our tickets to Santiago de Cuba and ask Elisa to call the next casa, Walk the beach and relax. The school is closed for roof repairs and we missed watching the kids going to school and playing in the school yard.

We had a good breakfast and headed out to the bus station.

We got our tickets and walked along First Ave in search of a couple large bottles of water and shelter from the shower that was passing over. We went into the circular underground mall and walked around until the shower cleared. We walked down to the store a the end of our street and they had no large bottles left but they did have mineral water for 0.70 We found a cold natural water and took it to the checkout and they wanted $2 cuc for it. That was a bit too much so we put it back and went searching again. One of the little cafes had it for $0.80 cuc cold so we bought two of the 1.5 L bottles and headed back to the casa to drop the extra bottle and a little of the fluid we had previously drank. The bathrooms in Cuba often have an attendant that requires a tip before you can go in 0.10 cuc is a normal tip so the $0.40cuc change is a useful bit of cash for the bus trip.

We gave Elisa our trip plan and asked if she would call the next Casa and tell them we were set on the Viazul bus and we were coming. The casa owners are very happy to get the call so they don’t mind making the call for us.

We did a search for places to eat on tripadvisor before we left and it gave us a few places in Varadero we had never been to so we set out at lunch to find one of them. The first ended up being only open for dinner meals so we continued on. The Casa de Chef was a great little place for lunch. We ordered four appetizers (2 bread with taste, a soup, and a salad) The bread with taste was about the best bread we have had in cuba. Not the normal white bread at all. It was a different whole grain bread cooked with pork rind in it. VERY TASTY BREAD. Our lunch ended up being $7.50 cuc + a tip (the cost included a water for bonnie and a beer for me.) After lunch we went for a walk and when I started to take a couple pictures both cameras gave me memory card errors. NOT a good thing finding Memory cards may not be an easy task in Varadero. We went back to the casa and I started investigating the problems and I think I was able to get most of my pictures off the cards and reformatting them seems to have cured the problems. We’ll see. Last year I didn’t bring a computer with me and went home with 5 full memory sticks. Post processing convinced me to bring my netbook along for the ride, although I don’t like typing on this keyboard at all. The netbook is able to download my memory cards from the cameras so that if I have a couple of them go bad it isn’t that much of an issue and the netbook is tiny and easy to carry.

After an afternoon nap and a little bit of reading we were off to our restaurant la Vaca Rosada (The pink cow).

If it isn’t a gay bar/restaurant then my gaydar is really far off. The coasters we had were all reversible. On one side was the restaurant logo on the other was a cartoon. Almost all of them had a gay theme. Mine was the least gay of a bunch. “Teach a man to fish – and he will play with his fly all day.” I had to get that written down for Gord my fly fishing friend. We had the cheese balls, stuffed peppers in bechamel sauce, and chicken cordon blue. We arrived were the first ones in the restaurant. By the time the waiter said we were a bit early (about five minutes) there was a line all the way down to the street. All Canadians from the hotel across the street, two from ontario and the rest were from NB. Mostly Shediac or within 20 miles of it. With a mohito (OK not great) and a small bottle of water it was $24.50 plus tip. There were a few expensive things on the menu but most of it was very reasonable. The size of the Chicken cordon blue was more than enough for both of us. The quantity of food in Cuba always makes it a little hard.

We walked back to the casa and settled in for the night. We have to pack our stuff for the long bus ride. I’ve got some memorizing to do for lodge so that’s an idea as well.

January 27 2015 ESCAPE!

Made it out of Fredericton in the nick of time SNOWMAGGEDON was what the US was calling the storm. Our forecast was 20-30 cm (8 to 12 inches) with blowing winds. Everyone called asking if we knew about the storm and asking if we were going to get out. The weathernetwork.com weather forecast said that we should expect to get snow starting about 5 am; the Environment Canada forecast said it would start at 3am and the NOAA’s forecast for Houlton ME said it would start about 4EST or 5 local. We were scheduled to leave at 0530. It was supposed to start with accumulation of 2-3 cm per hour and build to 8-10 cm per hour. If it did start at 3am we would have a couple inches on the ground when the plane left but if it held off until the 5am time frame we could easily be gone before the storm really started. We crossed our fingers and watched to see if the forecast changed. It held consistent for the 24 hour, 18 hour and 12 hour forecast. I was considering changing the flight and leaving the night before just to get out of the range of people asking Bonnie if she knew there was a MAJOR BLIZZARD Going to hit on TUESDAY the day we were leaving. Believe me, we knew!

Paul picked us up at 0400 and there was no snow. He asked us if we wanted him to wait but it would have to be a miserable storm for us to go from no snow to airport closed in a couple hours. We did know the plane was the one that came in at 1am so it was sitting on the ground waiting for us.

We told him we would call if needed but to go back home and go to bed. At 420 when they opened the gate there was no snow coming down. I thought it might have started a couple times but the snow was blowing off the roof. We left Fredericton before the storm made it. We sent a text to my niece Nicole and asked her to call my mother to tell her we got out ok. This is a toss up, lots of times we don’t tell her were going on a trip until we are back, but she knew we were going, so she was in full panic mode with the storm. Nicole works with the school timetable and the storms had shut the school system down by the time we were waiting at the gate for our fight from Toronto to Varadero. There was a light snow in Toronto at the time, something we didn’t need to tell Nicole. By the time they called our flight the snow was gone and Toronto was starting to clear. We took off on time and got a free UPGRADE to the front of the plane nicer seats, more leg room and FOOD! I bought a lunch for the plane but didn’t bother eating it. It got claimed by the agricultural dept in Cuba. Bonnie was thinking we would have it for dinner.

We changed our money and went to the new Viazul office at the airport. There was a TRANSTUR bus leaving for Varadero for $10cuc/p rather than the $6/cuc for Viazul but they would drop us at Elisa and Pepe’s (or close as it turned out) and we wouldn’t have to wait for 3 hours. A deal at twice the price. Taxis are charging $40cuc. The official exchange rate is 1.2969 Cdn to 1 CUC ouch! (Later when we counted our money more carefully we discovered we got stung again at the exchange place. We were a little shy on the change we were supposed to get but that’s known to happen. Count your change especially carefully at the airport exchange office. )

We arrived at Elisa and Pepe’s it was great to see them again. They were in the process of a bit of painting. Their TV died and they bought a new set and since it was down it was time to paint. Joan was helping Pepe put up the mount for the TV. Julien was painting the wall behind the TV. She was only slightly less covered in paint than the wall. Joan, their son is graduating in Civil Engineering. Julien is graduating high school this year and she is going to med school in the fall. Elisa is turning 50 and Juan is getting married in May. BIG YEAR for Elisa and Pepe. Pepe has a new job as chef at one of the more informal restaurants. He was in great spirits and we were very happy to hear that he was willing to cook for us. We’re having his lobster ($8cuc) and shrimp ($7cuc) meals.

Both Bonnie and I are tired and not really interested in doing much. We got up at 3:36(2:36 Cuba time), got cleaned up, and then drained the water from the house so if we had a power failure we wouldn’t come home to frozen pipes. We turned the heat down a bit (the brick fireplace is a massive heatsink and I’m not sure turning the heat down a lot makes a lot of sense that is a lot of thermal mass to have to reheat when we come back. The house seems cold for days after turning up the heat and it is just the brick heating up. It also gives us a bit of a hedge if the heat goes off in the winter. The hot water tank costs almost as much to run as it does to heat the house. We did turn it off before we drained the pipes.

Pepe always treats us very well and Elisa gave bonnie a self embroidered place mat from her to bonnie and me. I loved the Cuban coffee and the HUGE Cuba libre.

It is nice to hear the street venders again. We have our birds eye view of the world again. Time to go and relax

Since Pepe was available we had him cook dinner for us. We eat earlier than most Cubans which I think suits Elisa and Pepe they can have us out of the way and still have an early night.

Juan and Aylin(his fiance) took us up to the roof to watch the sunset and we talked about Cuba for awhile. They are excited to see the Americans coming. Cuba has 2 million tourists a year and they are expecting 5 million from America alone once everything is in full gear. We have been up since 2 their time so we are ready to die. The recipes were completely different than last time and still very good. The shrimps had a slight peanut sauce. After Dinner Juan asked our opinion of his wedding invitations he was going to order. All three were good pictures but one stood out for us. He and Alyin kissing on the beach with the turquoise water in the background. For a young couple getting married that seemed to fit better than his others. He is anticipating great things from the opening of the American market to Cuba. I hope he is right. He is talking that there is 20000 rooms available in Varadero. They are expecting to get that number to grow to 45000 with the American influx.

Here is the link to our 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery, stay tuned it will be updated as our photos are added and I bring the web site up to date with our cuba trip.

We survived!

The post tropical storm Arthur stopped by for a visit. We had lots of warning. We were leading the FYC Summer Cruise and we got as far as Douglas Harbour and pulled the plug. Douglas Harbour is very well protected, much better than Fredericton. So we pulled the plug on the cruise and did our best to prepare the boat for the winds and headed home to take care of the house. We did lots of cleanup around the yard filled all the vehicles with gas and filled a couple of extra containers of gas for the generator if needed. ( If I knew how needed I would have filled up a few more. )

The storm was about what we expected for being this distance from the eye. We got over 100 mm of rain in a day. Our weather station gave us a 1 second sustained wind of 30 knots, not even gale force. The gusts were much higher. The peak recorded in Fredericton, just north of use was around 106km or 50 knots. A hurricane is sustained 1 second above 64 knots. We didn’t have close to hurricane force winds, we were very lucky.

We lost parts of four trees, three other trees completely. We had no damage from the winds and the house survived fine. We lost power for close to 40 hours. Our generator was very handy. For the last 30 hours we were running around with the generator running our neighbours fridges and freezers a couple hours at the time to keep them cold. We were keeping six houses including our own in power. Our internet phone was dead and our cell service was spotty at best.

We went down to Douglas Harbour to check the boat. Our boat did not move but another boat dragged into it and did some cosmetic damage to the hull. During a lull they were able to move their boat to another mooring. Our hard bimini split in half and did a lot of damage to itself. But the boat was in very good shape all in all. There were three boats that moved, one just went into the mud, another did a fair amount of damage to another boat and took a lot of cosmetic damage to itself.

The bimini pieces are now off the boat and in my shop. We should be able to start the process of reconstruction shortly, it’s going to be a lot of do a little bit of epoxy, wait for it to dry, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, It may take a couple weeks before I get to the painting stage. It’s hard to say. Our biggest problem is going to be replacing the heavy zipper for the enclosure.

Easter weekend

Just got back from our Easter weekend visiting with my mother and step-father, brother, and extended family. We were in Alma for most of the weekend and it was a nice visit. It was a nice weekend and we walked down to the “beach” a number of times. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world and as many times as I see them, they are still impressive.

Here are a couple of photos from almost low tide.

Nearly low tide

Nearly low tide

The boats are on dry land

Boats hard aground Easter 2014

We were on our way home about two hours later…, I had to stop and take a picture. There is still about 10 or 15 feet to the tide line on the beach.

Alma about 15 feet below high

The summary of our 2014 Cuba trip

I’ve put all of the posts in order so that it is easier to read and if you want to print a copy for easier reading, or taking to your mother so she can read it(the reason I did it). You can load the summary and just hit print.

Winter 2014 Our second trip to Cuba

You may notice a few “updates” to pages, most of them are fixing a couple of html items not real updates.

Now back to real life, a friend of mine died while he was teaching a CPS course so I’ve volunteered to help teach it. It has been bitterly cold for the last while so that is no fun. I’m trying to catch up to my treasurer duties with the Yacht club as well as organize a summer cruise. And oh yeah, I really wanted to start construction of the boat this summer.

Back to the boring retired life.

February 18th and 19th The trip home.

Pepe made our breakfast again, no eggs today either. We did have bread, apparently the bakery where most of the people get their bread had run out of flour so bread was in short supply. One of the other people we were talking to was complaining about not having bread.

We walked over to the Viazul bus terminal and waited, watched a lot of music videos on the big screen and watched people as they trickled in.

The Viazul bus drivers were standing around and chatting and we were 15 minutes late leaving the terminal. Instead of putting us in front of the resort buses we were in the long line behind the resort folk. It didn’t help that the line we were was slow, three people served in the time it took for one to get served on our side of the fence. Growl, Bonnie was getting more and more annoyed the whole time. Next time I might seriously consider taking a taxi, if Viazul keeps going down hill.

People were talking about a storm hitting the east coast and we were wondering if we were going to get out. The plane from Halifax arrived on-time so that a good sign, our plane arrived on-time, another good sign. We left and flew up the center of Florida. We watched and tracked where were were by watching for places we knew along the ICW. We saw the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral, I tried for a picture but nothing came out. We watched and the snow seemed a long way south this year. We were hoping that it might have something to do with flying over higher ground but it was a LONG way south.

The mountains over (I think) Pennsylvania were really neat and this was the closest I got to getting a decent picture.

We had a long wait in Toronto so we walked over to Terminal 1, checked in at Air Canada and went to a restaurant for supper. and I had a Beer and a fish and chips and it was $35. The most expensive dinner for two people we had had in the month, but airport prices are obscene. Bonnie nibbled off mine and it was plenty big for the two of us, Bonnie wasn’t hungry.

It was funny normally we don’t see anyone we know on the flight, we were surrounded by friends on the way home, Tom a guy I went to university with, was beside us; Denis and Jane Lovely, boating friends, in the seats behind us; and Jim York a Masonic brother, and his wife returning from Jamaica, were in front of us. We had a bouncy flight. It was nice catching up with Tom.

The landing was interesting, when we landed we were in snow and a fair lot of it. I hadn’t landed in that much snow since the old EPA bush pilot days. We were blasting down the runway and where the two runways intersect in Fredericton there was a clunk, bare pavement noise, and clunk and we were in snow again. Wrong runway guys, might not have been but it sure looked like it.

Paul was there to pick us up at almost 2 in the morning. He dropped us off at the house and we dropped the bags in the garage. We never take anything from any trip into the house, that includes the clothes we are wearing. Everything, including the carry-on bag goes from the garage, to the washing machine, to the outside clothes line to limit any critters that might have come home with us.

Before going to bed we turned up the heat a bit, Paul had already turned it up from our being away low setting, we turned on the water and drained all the air. After waiting to make sure the water stopped running and we didn’t have any leaks, we turned on the hot water tank and went to bed. Another successful trip.

I hope you enjoyed the blog of our trip. If you decide to look at the full gallery beware it is 530 pictures. Lots of great stuff to see, but I should have been more selective.

February 17, 2014 Varadero cigar shopping, La Campana, art galleries and back to pack

Pepe made breakfast this morning, No eggs, they couldn’t find any. We had a long talk with Elisa and Pepe about food, distance, and some of our travels. It was one of our longest and nicest talks we have every had. Pepe doesn’t want to buy cigars for us, it is too risky, most of the stuff on the street is of rather dubious quality and if we get bad cigars it comes back on him. I respect that. So after breakfast we are off to one of the official stores. Running out of eggs is rare for Cubans, eggs are cheap at about 1.5MN per egg, about 7 Canadian cents. They eat a lot of eggs, and chickens are almost everywhere.

We decided if we wanted Pepe to cook for us before we left it was going to be at La Campana, the restaurant in Parque Jasone where he works, so we planned for a late lunch.

While we were shopping for cigars Bonnie fell in love with the cigar themed leather art wall hangings in the cigar stores. They were really works of art. While we were down at that end of town we stopped into a few of our favorite art galleries. There is some amazing art in the galleries, unfortunately priced for the outside world so the stuff we like is rarely in our price range, but, we still enjoy looking.

We walked the beach for a little while before heading to La Campana, we let Pepe make whatever he wanted and it was very good, INCREDIBLY good, and things that aren’t on the menu in his casa. We waddled out of Parque Jasone and saw the girls from argentina heading to the bus station. It was nice to see them again.

Back to the casa to pack and get ready for the long trip home.
tn_529-the-view-from-elisa-and-pepes-jpgThe closest I’ve ever gotten to a picture of Elisa and her daughter Julian.

February 16, 2014 Varadero

We woke Elisa at 8:30. Pepe got a call late last night and had to go to his parents house to help them, their fridge had died. So Elisa was holding down the fort. She normally doesn’t do a lot of cooking, I think, Juan may have been recruited to help.

Elisa and Pepe had a family picnic with friends from Havana in the afternoon.

We did a LONG walk on the beach. The cold front coming was driving Man-o-war jelly fish ashore. We walked carefully around them, and came out in a resort near the Don Quixote statue. We didn’t realize we had walked that far. We shopped for cigars at the official stores on the way back. We met up with the girls from Camaguey in Varadero. They are leaving for Argentina the same day we are heading back to Canada, but they are heading out of Havana.

We stopped at Parque Jasone looking for a Mojito that A friend of ours recommended, “The Cave restaurant at Parque Jasone has the BEST Mojitos”, knowing Steve it would have been an exhaustive sample so we had to try it. But it was never open for the three days we were there. We did settle for the best Pina Colada ever!

We walked back to the BBQ restaurant, had chicken and Pork, both good. We figured we walked close to 150 blocks that day. No wonder we were tired.

February 15, 2014 Back to Varadero for a few days to relax and wind down.

Taxi to the bus station and back to Varadero. It took a different route to Varadero so we got to see new places along the way. Lots of cane, lots of food production. Bonnie saw a horse dead in it’s traces on the road. That would have been a tragedy for the owner, replacing a horse would be costly. It bothered Bonnie a lot, not because of the dead horse, but because of the tragedy for the owner, it reminded her of how lucky and how fortunate, we are.

We saw at least one masonic lodge and lots of agriculture.

We were able to Check in early at Elisa and Pepe’s about 11:30. We walked down to Parque Josone and into most of the little shops selling leather looking for a leather back pack. There were lots of them available, but very few that looked unique and looked like what I wanted. I eventually decided against getting one but we did see a lot of nice leather stuff while I was looking.

Pepe was working so we went to Lai Lai’s and had a spicy chicken and Canton fried rice. The Canton fried rice alone could have fed both of us. The spicy chicken (you have to ask for it VERY HOT), was a nice change from our month of Cuban food.

Great full moon and we took a couple pictures and went to bed.

February 14, 2014 People watching, impromptu street theatre, time to pack

We spent a lot of time in the park people watching. We were happy to see a bunch of impromptu street theatre. Stilt walkers, actors in costume, dancers. Lots of Cubans and lots of small children. We were surprised at how few tourists there were.

We seemed to have one extra day at every stop. We had dinner at the casa and packed up to go. We had a very good split pea soup, salad plate, shrimp and pork. Our biggest mistake in Santa Clara was not eating our meals at the casa. The food was much better and a bit cheaper as well. The Hostal Restaurant Florida Center that we ate at is listed in the guides as one of the better places to eat, but we liked the food at Riki’s better.

People are older and heavier here, more obese people in Santa Clara than any other Cuban place we have been, still way better than at home, but a noticeable change.

February 13, 2014 Iglesia del Carmen, Decorative Art Museum, more churches, and a chamber orchestra

We were off in search of Parque Turdury, beside Iglesia del Carmen. The church, Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen is the oldest church in Santa Clara, was closed. Beside the church is a monument to the 13 founding families and another to one of Che’s most valued soldiers, killed in the train battle. Across from the Church was the IOOF hall, looking quite freshly painted.

We were looking for the Museo de Ciudad (the municipal museum) and when we finally found it, it was closed, looking in a window it was also empty. So we came back to Parque Vidal and went to the Decorative Arts Museum. There was an amazing collection of stuff, Bonnie recognized a lot of the crystal and the ceramic, I didn’t, the names meant nothing to me, “It’s the next teer above Waterford Crystal.” Chandeliers, artwork, most of it is dating back at least 100 if not 200 years old,fantastic stuff and well worth the visit.

The flower venders were out and people were relaxing in the park, so the people watching was good.

We walked over to the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Buen Viaje and it was open! We went in and enjoyed looking around the church. There were beautiful sculptures in the naves, nice alters, and what really surprised us was they are in the process of building a new alter. All of the churches we have been in, in all of the countries we have been in, we have never seen any trying the build a new alter. They are formidable tasks, but here was one in mid construction.

We left the church and walked over to the theatre, they were having a free concert. We expected it to be in the theatre, but it was actually in the lobby. There was a bunch of students from one of the school at a sea programs visiting and they brought the numbers up so the staff had to bring out more seats and then more tourists arrived, and more locals and before long we went from being in the second row to being in the fifth or sixth row. It was quite full. We enjoyed the music and the musicians were as well. I was surprised there was no place to give a donation. I enjoyed it a lot, so did Bonnie, and we were quite prepared to make a donation for a service very well rendered.

From there we went to one of the government run restaurants, it is easy to tell a government run restaurant, all of the servings, drinks or food have a listing with the number of grams or millilitres. We had the fish and the Beef Parmesan. The food was ok, but not great, and the cheeses the same goopy cheese as we get at breakfast in all of the casas. They may call it Gouda, but it’s not very good Gouda.

February 12, 2014 The train museum, the Che with child statue, coffee, and the theatre.

When Che and a band of 18 men borrowed a bulldozer and with Molotov Cocktails derailed and defeated a heavily armed train with 350 soldiers on board, the Batista regime was toast. And so goes the story. The boxcar museum celebrates the place where the train was derailed, even the bulldozer (a Caterpillar D6) has it’s own pedestal. There was some kind of celebration going on while we were there. We watched for a while but when the podiums started to get set up for the speeches we left and headed toward the smaller Che statue just a short distance from the Boxcar museum. If you continue walking away from town you will walk right by it. It’s not very far from the Boxcar Museum, it is small, life size actually, and you could walk past it.

The smaller Che statue has a child on his shoulder, representing future generations. It also has many tiny sculptures within the statue, including the likeness of the 38 men killed with him in Boliva and buried in a mass grave. We spent quite a while looking at all of the statues within the statue, it would be interesting to know the story behind them all. The small Che statue is a must see. The figures that we noticed within the statue of Che carrying the child include: A child on a goat on his right shoulder; a person hiding with his arms wrapped around himself under his right arm; Sun shining on a drawing of him on horse with a spear and shield on his pocket; The 38 men emerging from his belt buckle; and infinity symbol with (I think) people on it, on his left front shirt pocket; Something in the hand of the child, after looking at a dozen photos of it I still have no idea what it is; The people in the hammock hung in his hair; The knife wound in his back; The portrait of a child suckling it’s mother with two smaller children in front of her; The girl looking out a window under his left arm;tn_478-girl-under-his-arm-jpg Mountain climbers climbing his left pants pocket; A group of people with a horse on a narrow path up his arm; A man on a bicycle on his pant leg; a “vitoria” with a few squiggles on his belt; and the cuban cigar in his hand.

We walked over to the tobacco store for a coffee, Bonnie wasn’t interested in a tour, we had a really good tour in Pinar del Rio. When to the Cafe Literario for another coffee and then to Hostal Restaurant Florida Center to book us in for dinner. From there, we went back to the square and toured the theatre, and the church, and people watched in the square until supper.

When we were home for siesta Riki wanted me to have a beer with him for his birthday. We talked for a while and he was depressed, he was 44. He told me how to do a cuban toast. “We have five senses:We hold the glass out to each other for the sense of touch; We hold the glass to the light to appreciate the color; We smell the liquid to appreciate the aroma; We touch our glasses together for the sound; and only then do we taste the liquid, and wish to each other’s health.”

February 11, 2014 Walking around Che city (Santa Clara)

The first day in Santa Clara we walked up to Parque Vital and then toward the Che Memorial. We walked by a wall of cartoon murals by the municipal bus station(“Los humoristas declaramos Guerra a la guerra”, “Comedians declare War on War” ) some of them were priceless and could have run anywhere in the world, some required a little thought, others were very blatant in their direction.

We walked out to the Viazul bus station and got reservations and tickets back to Varadero, so there will be less stress heading out if Santa Clara than there was heading into Santa Clara.

We walked back to the HUGE Che memorial. We went to the Mausoleum, there is a nice memorial behind the parking lot that most people miss.

Walked to casa for a siesta and then walked the pedestrian street called Indepencia. We went to Europa and had fun watching people. The locals were buying a bottle of rum and a can of pop at the bar and mixing their own, except for the students who would buy a pop at the bar and sneek away and come back with another bottle of rum. Seven students, three bottles of rum, and 4 small cans of pop. There was one poor little girl that looked at me and as both eyes slowly came to focus on me, I could see the glaze on her eyes. She was going to have a nasty hang over. One of the students disappeared to get bottle number four. So rather than wait for her to get sick it was time to move on. We walked up to the Pullman and had a pizza. The tomato sauce on the pizza was tomato soup concentrate. BAD PIZZA!

Walking home we took a bunch of night photos. Some of the came out really quite nice.

February 10, 2014 Off to Santa Clara

We had breakfast and watched the painters start back at the color change on La Soledad. We were off to the Viazul bus station to get tickets and travel to Santa Clara. We should have waited and got tickets when we arrived but we didn’t, and now we are paying for it. As more and more people arrive we get more and more stressed.

The bus was late arriving and late leaving. We met a woman from Montreal who comes to Cuba a lot, almost any serious festival anywhere in Cuba she is there. If we can’t get on the bus then the three of us were going to share a communal taxi to Santa Clara. Fortunately Viazul worked and everybody got on without a problem. As always the person with the mop controls the bus station. She shutdown the Viazul Bus loading area to clean.

Oasis, the restaurant we stopped at on the way to Camaguey was full so we went on. We stopped at a couple of stations for the 5 minute bathroom break. We stopped at El Vaquero El Rodeo Restaurante for lunch. Bonnie and I had an ice cream and a bathroom run. Drivers had a huge meal and were very late leaving. All of the passengers were milling around waiting for the drivers.

We went over and looked at the stadium. It has a setup for a real rodeo, gates for loading bulls and horses, stands with lots of seating.

The last casa didn’t say anything about having a taxi meet us so our Canadian friend and us were going to share a cab, we were just arranging it when a guy stuck a “Michael MacDonald” sign in our face, we followed him and we got to Casa Ricki no problem, 3 CUC. We paid up for 5 nights, breakfasts, and supper tonight. We had the shrimp, and it was very good.

February 9 2014 Sunday people watching, the ballet, and packing to go.

We got the casa to phone ahead and there was no problem except that she had to call back, she thought we were leaving at 1705 not arriving in Santa Clara at 1705 so she had to call back to straighten it out.

We were ready for a lazy day so we strolled down to Cafe Ciudad for a couple of coffees and did people watching. Sunday people watching in the Bahamas is wild. All the ladies dress up in their finest clothes and HATS, oh the hats are something to see. We were hoping for hats but were disappointed, Cuban women don’t do hats at all. They carry umbrellas to shade them from the heat and the sun.

We wanted to try for the church off of Parque Marti so we left and went that direction only to be disappointed again. We did a different route back toward Plaza de la Solidaridad and sat down to do more people watching. We watched for a while and then walked up Calle Republica. There were lots of Cubans out today as it was Sunday and people were out enjoying a beautiful day. Lots of locals in the streets and the restaurants. We went to the 5th floor of the Grand hotel for a coffee but the restaurant wasn’t open, so we took the stairs to the 6th (the roof) and took lots of pictures even one looking down on our casa.

Since we were in the mood for a coffee we strolled over to Cafe Ciudad for a cafe frio and although they vary a bit depending on who is making them they go from very good to very, very, good, and 0.50 each.

Back to the casa for a siesta then we walked over to the Plaza de la Trabajadores and watched people for a while. We watched a young woman go by with really fancy shoes with about a four inch heel, very stylish as they matched her dress. Later when we were over by the theater we saw her again going in the stage door for the dancers. I think I recognized her as a “Village girl” sat behind the sound guy on the floor and watched the ballet again. We went three times and the next time we go back to Camaguey our first stop will be at the theatre to see if anything is playing. If the same ballet were playing I would go watch it another three times. It was really something to see. If it wasn’t the ballet I’d would go to whatever was on.

The restaurant we had we had our eye on was closed, so we went back to Restaurante de la Carman and had Uruguay Beef (Breaded beef Cordon Blue) and Shrimp in Tomato Sauce. Both were excellent. Two Cuba Libras and a water, with tip for 15.50. We then had to go back to pack and sort out what we owe the casa, 5 beer and a coffee.

Cuba is a funny place, the restaurant was full of locals paying with CUCs. The food was top notch and compared favorably to any we have eaten anywhere. The napkin was one ply of a two ply kleenex cut in half.

February 8, 2014 Plaza de Carman, Art Galleries, Parque Jose Marti, and the Ballet.

We are sharing the casa with four young ladies from Argentina. They are in their early twenties and traveling on the cheap.

We were out early in search of Plaza des Carman and the church. We finally found the life sculptures that we were looking for, they are shown everywhere in advertising and we were on the hunt. The Plaza, the church, the courtyard life sculptures, and a few famous art galleries all concentrated in one space. We saw a piece we really loved at the Estudio-taller Martha Jimenez, really beautiful piece, it was the favorite of one of the attendants as well, “I know the price by heart, 9000 CUC.” Not in our price range!

We walked back to Cafe Ciudad and had the Cafe Frio. The cafe had become our go-to place for coffee, shade, and a clean washroom. The prices were great and the coffee had to be about the best we had in Cuba. 1 CUC for two very good coffees. We walked down to Plaza san Dios to see if the gallery was open, but it wasn’t. We passed the young women from the casa on the way out of the Plaza.

Two other galleries were open, one was a painter, and the other was wood sculptures in Cuban mahogany. One series was an “erotic” series. Someone thought it was a hand on a telephone and bought it, so the artist made a series of “telephones” with a hand on it. You talk into the balls and stick the head into your ear. Someone will eventually tell the guy he didn’t buy a phone!

We walked back over to Parque Marti and another church. The church was closed. Back to the casa for lunch, a beer, and a siesta.

We have covered most of the things to see in the guide books so we have at least an extra day. This is probably not a bad thing. Bonnie is recovering from her “winter cough” and it is taking some time.

We went to the ballet again. We sat in the balcony beside the artistic director. I videoed most of it except when the battery died. The sound was better on the main floor, the beginning scene is definitely better on the lower level.
Dinner at the Restaurante Casa de Carmen, surf and turf, salad and Brochetta, VERY good. 1 each and we shared, and we had plenty, with tip 20 CUC.

February 7, 2014 Walking around Camaguey, noticing a bunch of Masonic symbols.

Breakfast was good. The plan was to walk around, come back for a siesta and then dinner and the ballet. We walked around Parque Agramonte. The statue has a masonic masonic symbol on it.

We walked up to the top of the Catedral Metropolitana and did a panaorama from the top of the bell tower.

Camaguey is known as a maze, rarely are street corners rarely even close to square. There are lots of places to get lost. We walked around to the Plaza San Juan de Dios, the church had the stature of Cuba’s only person to become a saint in it. It was the church where he was a priest. There was a very obvious masonic symbol over an alter, not the official square and compass, but so obvious it could be nothing else. Bonnie looked at it and pointed it out. I would love to know the date of the placement. We bought a leather mask from an artist at his studio. Lots of really interesting stuff, 18 CUC. We came back to Parque Argamonte and had a cafe frio at Cafe Ciudad. Absolutely awesome and 0.50 CUC. I had 2 and Bonnie had 1, and it hit the spot. We walked looking for a painter’s workshop at Plaza de Dios and it was closed. Headed toward Parque Marti, didn’t go the right way, ended up in the cemetery and another church. We walked back to the casa and I caught up on the log.

We walked around to the Esperanza, for a Mojito, the best mojito became the worst mojito and the cost went from 1.50 CUC in the menu, not the 2 CUC the charged us the day before but to 3 CUC for the worst mojito we have ever had. We had dinner dinner at Isabella, spaghetti Veg and Ravioli. Tomato soup base again. Our two good places turned to trash.

We walked around looking for a 4G SDHC card for my camera. No luck. The church, La Soledad, at the square is being painted, the red and pink color scheme is being changed to yellow and mustard.

We went to the Ballet, 5 CUC each, Sylvester. Incredible company of 40+ dancers. Costumes were spectacular. We were on the floor and the opening was haunting. Lots of dancers all over the house and walking to the stage. Lots of pictures and movies being taken so I took a few. I hope they come out. Amazing dancing. We are going again!