February 24 The long wait home.

There used to be a bus that left Varadero and got into the airport at about noon. It was just before the main onslaught of people for the flight home. By the time we were through the lineup and into immigration the lineups were wall to wall. They killed that bus. The new bus leaves at 8am and gets to the airport at 8:30. All we get to do today is wait so we are off to the bus station before 7 when we get there the station is packed, there is a bus to Trinidad and a bus to Vinalies (that does the stop to the airport) I leave Bonnie to fight the line and take the luggage outside into the fresh air. The lobby is hot and smells of tourists. We get to the airport and it is fairly empty. So we do our money exchange buying was 1.30 and selling was 1.20. By the time we were out of the exchange the buses had started to arrive for all of the Sunwing charters. They are a big Cuba vacation seller in Canada. They have a flight from Saint John to Holguin later in the season. If you were planning on doing the east end of Cuba flying into Holguin is a much better idea than dealing with the Viazul crap and the long hauls to and from Varadero.

We have to wait most of the morning until the morning flights are all boarding before the first flight of the afternoon is set up for doing check ins. That would be us. We are able to point a large number of lost tourists the right direction to get to the money exchange. The check in gates open and we get our tickets taking heart in the fact that all of the flights for Toronto, Montreal, etc are all running on time.

We slip through the departure tax line 50 CUC lighter but that is one line that does run quickly. The next line is the immigration line (they take your visa and your picture). The next line is security. They are a little messed up the machine we went through isn’t beeping so we are stopped and they check the machine, it’s turned off. The process of getting the machine working takes a minute. It is sensitive enough to catch the zippers on my zip on legs of my traveling pants. Never had that happen before.

We made it through with our luggage intact and found a bunch of chairs next to a power outlet that actually works. I go in search of a coffee and ask how much before and balk, $3CUC is a bit too much for the same cup of coffee con leche we buy in down town Varadero for 0.55CUC. The duty free has a roll of cookies and a couple of snicker’s bar as a substitute for the coffee for the same money.

I’m working on the log and Bonnie has go at finding the ceramic piece again and a search for water. Water prices vary from $1.70 for a 1500ml bottle at the duty free and $2 for a 500ml bottle at the coffee shop. We buy a bottle from an ice cream shop on the main strip in Varadero for 0.80 CUC for the 1500ml size.

We watch for the plane from Moscow, Berlin, and Frankfurt and Toronto arrive. We have a plane and arrive in clear and cold skies in Toronto. Another four hour wait and we get on a flight to Fredericton, we arrive in Fredericton in a snowstorm. But not as bad as last year and Paul is there to pick us up. It is 0130 in the morning and we are tired, it has been nothing but a hurry up and wait day. We have had quite a few of those this trip.

When we left there was almost no snow, but snowmaggedon was about to arrive within an hour of us leaving Fredericton. Paul did a marvelous job of keeping our driveway clean. There was so much snow that our heat pump was almost buried, snow was about half way up the sides of the pump. We left our luggage in the garage to freeze. We like to freeze the luggage from our winter vacations for a few days before we take it inside the house to wash. We hope that will give it a chance to kill and critters that might have tagged along on the way home. This trip the lugguage will endure several nights of -20C before we get home to wash it. We always leave enough clothes at home to give us a couple clean changes of undies and we don’t need our summer clothes for a while anyway.

We got up, blew out the driveway and packed a smaller bag for the trip to mother and John’s to see how John was making out. He was acting and looking a lot better than he did before the heart attack so we took heart in that.

Here is the link to our 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery. There are 338 pictures in the 2015 Cuba trip Gallery lots more than are in the daily trip logs.

Hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

February 23 Beach day.

There is hardly a breeze at all. At 8am it is starting to get hot. Varadero will be quiet, all of the resort beaches will be packed tightly. Yesterday was cool but there were a lot of people on the beach, good sunburning weather. We are off to the bus station to get tickets (hopefully).

I’m sure Elisa and Pepe think we do nothing but sleep, We arrive from Canada starting our day at 2am their time, by the time suppertime rolls around we are ready for bed so if Pepe is cooking as soon as the door closes between our side and his we are heading to bed. It takes us a day to get used to the sun so we’re recovering from the trip and the sun the second day, so we are early to bed again. The next day we usually head out on the first bus out of town which can be early. They only see us recovering from the trip before heading out. When we get back, we have been in country for almost a month, and we’re about ready to head home, we’re tired, we’ve worked reasonably hard, for us, seeing the sites, walking the trails and the city streets, been bounced and shaken in buses, cabs, bicycle taxis, and coches. After a month we are ready to go home, eat our own food, sleep in our own bed, get up and down without a schedule and get our life back to normal. Elisa and Pepe’s is where we start our wind down. Elisa and Pepe’s is like our cuban home.

We had a long trip to get here and we slept over 12 hours the first night and then turned around and did it again last night. We were up and out on the patio watching the world go by when Pepe emerged onto his patio this morning. He looked a little worse for wear but breakfast would only be a minute, No rush from us, we were having a lazy day. It was a disappointment to see the school with no kids in it. But they are fixing up the grounds and there were people working on what looked like kitchen equipment from a block away. They had it out in the yard, cleaning and scraping it. Next time we come there it looks like it will be busy with kids again. That will be nice to see.

Surprisingly No bus tickets! (Come 40 minutes before!) Grrr. Viazul has a nasty letter coming. We did our tour of the really nice art galleries and there are a few paintings I would love, but at several hundred dollars a pop I’m not really interested. The other problem for us is wall space. A big piece of art is hard to find a place for in our house. We have the walls full, not crowded but full.

We saw a nice piece of ceramic kitsch in one of the casas and Bonnie said “That looks like our Cuba.” The piece was a facade of a couple houses, there was laundry hanging on the second floor, the third was looking a little less than rustic, the first was showy and dressed up nice, I think it even had a little casa sign on it. It was our style of Cuba, and we were on the prowl for it. It was probably one of the standard kitsch items from a few years ago if we found a backwater craft stall somewhere we might find one. We prowled and prowled but no luck. We did find a piece of Royal Palm carved by a local craftsman who uses Matanzasas as his model. At least that was the spiel and it was unique in all the stalls we have seen so far and we have seen a crap load of them during the search. We picked it up and would be pretty sure it would fit in our carry on. (It did diagonally!)

We have a little more space in our luggage this year, we didn’t pack nearly as hard as we did the last couple years. We figured laundry was easier than carting large bags around. Bonnie did most of her socks and underware in the room. Her T-shirts and shorts went with my laundry and were given to the casa owners for washing. The total cost for our laundry was $6CUC in Baracoa and $3CUC in Holguin. We aren’t bringing anything home that is clean other than a pair of underwear or two.

February 22 Cigars, and lunch at Al Capone’s

We had breakfast at Elisa and Pepe’s barely making it awake for our 8 am breakfast. We were slow to get going after than but were out to get “our” cigars for the trip home. Bonnie has got a bad habit, she got her full quota of 50 cigars, I’m only bringing home 26. Mind you I think one of mine may have more tobacco than five or ten of hers.

We’ve got a invitation to go to lunch with Elisa and Pepe and family to Al Capone’s (Casa de Al). It is a house (as well as a warehouse for booze) that Al Capone visited during prohibition. Pepe worked out a deal with the restaurant and it brought out a large serving dish of peas and rice, malanga, and a full pork roast that fed 12-15 of us and he had a full serving dish of left overs to bring home.

We walked from Calle 24 at Elisa and Pepe’s to the Cigar shop at Calle 64 back to Al’s that is before the Calles start (more than 64 blocks) and then along the beach to Elisa and Pepe’s at Calle 24 that’s over 100 blocks so I think we got our walking in the hot sun quota for the day. We were back before Elisa and Pepe.

When we told them we walked from the Cigar shop on 64 Pepe asked if I was trying to kill Bonnie. Elisa wasn’t too keen on us walking home either but we did a slow walk along the beach, we were surprised to see a couple of bare-breasted women, that’s pretty rare on this part of the beach at least.

We were so full from the lunch at Al’s that we didn’t bother going out to dinner.

February 21 Varadero again, Elisa and Pepe’s

We heard that John is home and looking forward to going to Alma for his game of 45s. We should be home in time for that.

We have been to Elisa and Pepe’s enough that it almost feels like home. It is the beginning and end of every trip. It is a great way to start and end every trip. We’re never sure how the middle is going to be but we know the beginning and end is always good. Pepe was even available to cook.

We were exhausted from the trip but needed to move just to get the kinks out of our backs so we walked up the street looking for a piece of ceramic art we saw in one of the casas. No success but we were good for a walk. By the time we got home is was almost time for supper so we cleaned up a bit and then crossed over to Elisa and Pepe’s side of the casa. We had the fish and pork and we were ready for bed.

Elisa, and Pepe told us about the river valley between Varadero and the south coast had a very cold night 1 degree above Celcius. If it was one degree in Cuba Florida must have been frozen solid. That had to be a nasty cold front.

We slept solid for over 12 hours.

February 20 A good bye to Holguin, We hoped, and a long wait to see if we could get on the bus.

Got a text from Nicole they are going to keep John a little longer to get his meds adjusted. Good news everything is going well.

We’ve got a day to put in as the bus leaves at 2345 tonight. We have just about covered all there is to see in Holguin. We walked around and did some people watching. The main park has been undergoing renovations they cut down four trees and disposed of the fill and one level of benches and cleaned it up today. They had a big Volvo front end loader and a couple dump trucks around. At home, the kids that were around would have been fascinated and watching the loader. The kids here ignored it completely.

We walked around the outside rings of the park and saw a couple monuments we hadn’t noticed before. One was to the mothers of Holguin. I’m not sure the artist liked mothers, she looks like she is about to devour the child. The other was a monument to the service of masons to Cuba.

We walked around to the square to people watch. There was a judo match on at the arena and there were lots of people cheering. We saw of people come out after the match that were dressed in the Cuban sports uniforms like you see at the Olympics or PanAm games. Cuba has done well in Judo at both. We people watched a little more and then went to lunch at 1910 and dinner at El Torre.

Our casa was very good and let us check out but leave our luggage at the casa until after dinner. We picked up our luggage and left a small tip to say thanks and were off to the bus station. It was after dark so we were by the taxi drivers before they saw us to ask if we wanted a taxi. We made it to the station and they wouldn’t sell us a ticket. We had to wait until the bus left Santiago de Cuba at 845pm before they would know how many seats they had. We waited. And waited, and waited. At 845 Bonnie went up to the booth and asked saying “No Casa tonight” the guy called the bus and they had at least two seats so he sold us tickets and gave us the boarding passes. We felt much better and closer to making the trip.

At midnight we were able to get on and get the last two seats together on the bus. We were almost at the back of the bus, but at least we were on. We had a lot of locals boarding on the bus with us and I was surprised that we got a seat together. The locals were not impressed with the bano at the bus station either.

We had a fitful night of sleep, bano runs, bouncing in uncomfortable bus seats. Mine seemed to also have a bad squeak that was worse with every hard bounce in the road.

February 19 The Plaza de Revolution, the stadium, art gallery and another good restaurant.

We got up and had breakfast. We are rapidly running out of stuff to see in Holguin, even with a day chewed out for bureaucracy. We walked over to the Plaza de Revolution where they have huge rallies every May 1st. We got lost on our way and a nice cuban guy named Ramon walked us over. He was trying to brush up on his English. He says he’ll need it when the Americans come. Everyone here is excited by the idea of the US dropping the embargo and letting their people visit.

There was a 1CUC charge to visit the Plaza and 5CUC charge for the camera. Unfortunately the museum was closed and there wasn’t anything to see but there was still a 5CUC charge for the camera. We walked around and there was very little to see. A couple of monuments but really other than a nice walk and a few nice sculptures along the way the Plaza de Revolution could be a pass and you really wouldn’t miss anything. We enjoyed the walk the most.

We walked back to the casa and had a bano break and plugged in the batteries for one of the cameras and headed off to the Viazul station to see if we could get tickets out of town. Just in case it turned out to be another multihour lineup we headed to the Delicias Cubanas one of the other restaurants on our Trip Advisor list. It was very good as well although the prices are a bit higher than the other ones. The food was comparable to El Torre just add a CUC to the price (if not a bit more). Still very good food.

We made our way to the Viazul and didn’t even have to wait in a line for them to tell us that they wouldn’t take a reservation. Viazul has really become my top reason not to come to cuba. I welcomed the idea of having a real reservation system but all it has done has turned the system into “Bugger off until the bus shows up and we see how many seats are available.” We are not happy with reservation agents and people in the terminals. The banos are the grossest in the country and you have to pay for them. There are now a lot of Cuban’s using the Viazul buses to travel and they think the banos are gross beyond words. There are more and more free banos and even the free ones are much cleaner than the bus station ones. The banos on the buses are usually locked as the drivers have no interest in having to clean them.

From there we walked downtown. Another cold front is hitting us. The temperature is cool enough that we came back to the casa in the afternoon to put on long pants.

On our way back to the casa we saw the entrance to the cemetery and did a quick walk around it had a few really beautiful monuments as well as a huge masonic crypt. There is almost no room to walk around the graves, they are packed very tight.

Bonnie had her siesta and I did a little work on the log and charged up the electronics. By the time the siesta was over it was time for an early dinner so we were off to the 1910 again. It has turned into our favorite by far. We have been sharing one salad, one main meal and one desert, tonight they split our main meal into halves without us asking. In the middle of the meal the lights out. We made a joke about having a candlelight dinner and a few minutes later a waitress shows up with her cell phone flash light turned on for us. They opened the windows and we were fine we didn’t need to waste her cell phone battery. They started up the generator and most of the restaurant had lights (except for the little section where we were) but before our desert came the power was back.

We paid the waiter and he apologized for the power but we just shrugged “It’s happened before.”

“In Cuba?” he asked

“Yes in Cuba, and Canada, and the US, and the Bahamas, and, and. It happens everywhere.” We got a good meal and the staff tried to cover as best as they could in a situation they had little control of.

I sent a note off to Nicole but no response back yet. So We’re guessing not much is going on. Hopefully we will be off to Varadero tomorrow night so we will be back where an emergency exit is at least possible. We could fly out of Holguin but it would probably cost us a pretty penny.

February 18 A long set of stairs, people watching, and two good restaurants.

La Loma de la Cruz is a long staircase 465 steps divided into nice bite sized (twenty five step) pieces between every landing. We walked to the bottom of the staircase and then started our way up. It took us a while but we made it up with out any issues other than there was next to no breeze and the day was hot already at 9am. We got to the top and there is a little three story structure there that has an artist in the bottom floor an empty room as the second floor and the rooftop terrace that allowed a rather spectacular view, and a really great way to waste a scad of disk space. The stitched panorama is 202 Mega pixels. Walking down was a lot easier on the lungs but harder on the knees. Our nice breezed that had picked up at the top of the hill was gone when we got to the bottom of the hill and it was just plain hot again.

Cuba is blessed with some very beautiful and interesting public street art. Everything from the prerevolution statues to the post revolution modern sculptures and installations to the very unofficial street graffiti. Bonnie and I consider the old churches we see as art galleries that concentrate on religious art. The walk to and from La Loma gave us a wide sampling of all.

We walked back down toward the parks and when we got to Parque Cepsedes the church was open and we were able to look around. It is a very interesting church and the stone work is incredible. The church also has bats in the belfry fairly large fruit bats by the look of them.

We left the church and headed down to the Art house where there is a nice cafe and a guard to keep the pesky beggers away. We had one guy that just wouldn’t let go and another that was just being annoying. There were two or three Transtur buses from the resorts on the north shore beach area. They have a limited time in Holguin during their excursion so the beggers have to be out in force at the right time. If you avoid it you hardly get anyone bothering you. Hit when the buses are in town and it can be rather intense. We were pestered until we disappeared into La Torre for lunch the place where we had the good meal the night before. The waitress smiled to see us and we had a very pleasant lunch.

When we got back we walked around pretty much ignored by the locals. We spent most of the afternoon touring the Provincial Museum (the building is very nice all by itself) It has lots of info on the indigenous people, the Revolution, music from the area and some very nice art. We went to another gallery but it was being fumigated and closed until later. We passed completely. We went down another park and sat in the shade and watched the locals come and go at the bus stop. It was a little early for dinner but we went back to the 1910 Restaurant and had an absolutely fantastic meal again. The Octopus wasn’t quite as what we had in Santigo de Cuba but it was still very good.

We hadn’t heard anything from Nicole so after we got back to the casa we sent her a text asking how things were going. A moment later we got the rundown. The meds are taking a little longer to get straightened out so he is staying put a little longer. Craig my nephew, Nicole’s cousin, took the great grandkids in so that that would have added a little excitement. John is doing ok and Mark is coming up this weekend to help out with mother. We should be home Wednesday morning at about 1am so we will be able to chip in then.

February 17th Nicole, a long line and a great restaurant.

We were sitting at the breakfast table beside the phone when it rang. The owner of the casa answered and handed the phone to me. It was Nicole. My stepfather John, 92 had had a heart attack, not serious but anything at 92 is serious enough. I told Nicole that we were planning on hitting the internet cafe in the morning and trying to turn on the roaming on our cell or hitting the Cubatel office and try to get a simm card for our cell phone. We bought an unlocked quadfrequency international phone when we were traveling, we have simm cards for it from the Bahamas, the US, and Canada. Cuba would not be a problem for the phone, if we could fight through the paperwork. Locking horns with Cuban bureaucracy is a loosing battle at the best of times. Either way by the end of the day we were aimed at having texting ability. We would send her a text when we knew what route we would have available.

We stopped at the internet place and slipped in. The person there understood English, great! His system that would let me buy an internet card was down. OK bank time. We hit the bank and were out with cash in my pocket within a few minutes, a record if ever there was one. We hit the account hard so we had lots of options if we needed an escape plan.

We had time before we could check at the Internet Cafe so we stopped in at an Art Gallery that we had walked by a couple of times. There were a lot of interesting art. There was one piece that stood out above all others. It was almost all shades of black of different styles and types of paint. It completely changed as you walked around it. With permission, we took lots of pictures as we walked, the camera does not do it justice. Ken would LOVE this one.

We walked back to the internet cafe and stuck my head in through the line he saw me and shook his head. We walked down to Caraterra Central and turned right toward the bus station past the Methodist Cathedral. We were at the bus station and looking around for the Centre de Negocious when we finally found someone that knew what we were looking for and pointed us in the right direction. If we had headed left not right we would have stubbed our toe on it. We joined the line and four and a half hours later got INSIDE the door. It took another 20 minutes but were able to get one of the fresh sales people just off her lunch break to help us. First we didn’t have much success. She had little English and we broke out the tablet. Google translate (OUR BABBLEFISH) was downloaded on it and We passed it back three or four times. She was having fun playing with it and we were getting somewhere. We walked out of the office with a working Cell phone and thank God we tried it before we left because we found out that we have to prefix all of our phone calls with 119 to get the international exchange followed by our country code and our phone number so our phone number is 119-1-506-474-2484 not our usual 1-506-474-2484 as we are used to. Before we left the office we had a message sent successfully to Nicole. Nicole was able to send us a note back and things were looking up.

We walked back to the casa and after 4.5 hours in the Cuban sun we were ready for a drink and a bano run. Considering that we had no lunch at all, an even earlier than normal supper was in our plans.

All in all things were working out ok. We hit the next restaurant on our TripAdvisor.com list and hit a gold mine. It is a little further away than the first one but we walked in and it was all dressed up and looking swanky. We thought we might have walked in on a wedding reception but it was just their normal dressed up fair. We found the music too loud so they moved us to a new table and the volume turned down a bit. It was fantastic. The food was amazing. New pictures for our chef friends Dan and Sean. We have been doing very well splitting all of our dishes and only ordering one appetizer, one main course, and one dessert. The chef that flamed our pork looked a little nervous that he only had one dish to prepare but the waitress nodded, it was right.

We had the onion soup, the pureed vegetables (bananas, potatoes, yucca, sweet potatoes, and squash), the pork strips flamed with white rum and perfumed with pineapple liqueur and the 1910 Delights ( a cake made of the top three desserts on the menu, Black Delights, a chocolate cream filling, Cheesecake, the bottom layer, and a three milks cake, a very tasty white cake), two expresso coffees, a small bottle of water, and an Mohijo for the princely sum of $14.10 CUC plus tip.

We walked back to the casa on the second floor and were serenaded by the first floor. We aren’t sure why or what they were singing but it was nice. We crashed early as we were both rather exhausted from our standing in line in the hot cuban sun.

February 16 Off to Holguin, and a phone call you never want to get but are happy to get just the same.

We were up and checked out of our casa, the bicycle taxi rode us out to the Viazul station and we were off. We were on standby for the run to Holguin and got the last two seats at the back of the bus. A few of the bumps Bonnie and I, as well as our third seat mate were actually airborne. It is only an hour run so we took it as part of the adventure.

We arrived in Holguin and were met by our casa owner. He walked us from the bus station to the casa. It wasn’t far away. We checked in had a coffee and were off for the day. We did a quick run around the parks had lunch at one of the restaurants La Torre we had a fruit plate and an italian salad. The Italian salad turned out to be fresh pasta (cold) mixed with a white sauce (I think freshly made mayo fruit flavored) with small chunks of ham, cheese, pineapple and spicy peppers served in a fruit cup. We liked it enough that the La Torre was back on our list for an evening meal. We went walking around the three main squares of Holguin and then headed back to the casa for a little siesta.

After a short siesta and bano break. We headed out of the casa. Our casa owner and wife are uni-lingual Spanish. His daughter has a very few words of English her boyfriend is from Montreal or a cuban living in Montreal. His English is flawless. The daughter caught us by running down the stairway after us. “Good news, No one died!” She said.

“OK, No one died, that is good news, Why are you telling me?” I thought to myself. The second shoe to drop was the mother handing us a scribbler with a phone number on it, “woman called, her number” the daughter said pointing to the number, “No one died.” It was my brother’s phone number in Halifax. Before I leave I make up the detailed trip plan for the trip and send it out to people that I know will call if something happens that I need to know about and I know are reliable enough to not hit the panic button. The list this trip included my niece Nicole, my brother Mark and his significant other Heather, my brother-in-law Ken, and my neighbor Paul. I figured that the woman calling from Halifax would be Heather. If it was serious enough for her to call it was time to call her back. “No one died” we figured was an accident of some form but that may have nothing to do with it. We headed down to the internet place down the street, an email would likely be waiting for us. In order for us to get access to the internet we had to get a international visitors version of the internet card it gives international visitors a little more access to the internet than the Cubans get, censorship is still quite a real thing here.

Unfortunately the system that would allow the person to sell us the visitor card was not working, check back in an hour. Ok we needed to get cash anyway so off to the bank. The communications were down there too so we went to La Torre and had supper and plotted and planned escape routes, and a thousand guesses as to what “no one died” really meant. We got out of supper and went back to the internet cafe just as they were closing. We asked if they could sell us a cubatel simm card and the girl at the door just shook her head “Centre de negocious, Caraterra central, manyana” OK center for business office on the Caraterra Central (where the bus station was) tomorrow. Back to the casa and the boyfriend is there. He was able to tell us that making a call out of the casa was not easy for a local. Most didn’t have access to the international operator. We were willing to try and reverse the charges but that didn’t seem possible either. We take heart in the fact that we didn’t get a call back that night. If they really needed us. I figured Heather or Nicole would get on the phone. Nicole has a little spanish so we were betting it would be nicole.

Off to our room for a fitful night of sleep.

February 15, Castro’s hideout.

We were up early, we had breakfast scheduled for 6:30, pick up by the taxi at 7. We set the alarm for 6 and opened our bedroom door at 6:25 to complete blackness, at this point we didn’t expect to have breakfast. But one thing we have noticed is that if you are walking anywhere near a trail a farmer will appear bearing bananas, tangerines, oranges, guava, mangos, and even the odd pineapple will show up. We could probably scavenge breakfast along the trail. About 6:40 our casa owner arrives in her nighty “Lo siento, una momento.” Her husband appears and frantic kitchen activity occurs, we go downstairs about 6:55 well fed and coffeed and headed to the mountains.

Castro landed his invasion force not far from here. Of the 81 that left Mexico, 12 survived the landing and the assault by Baptista Forces and were split up into groups during the landing, at one point Castro was a commander of three, himself, a soldier who had disposed of his weapon, and a guy who lost his shoes, the locals managed to find them all and hide them in the mountains. He spent about six months in the mountains growing support and about 2 years later rode into Havana as the new leader.

We were headed into the mountains to see where he had lived for those six months. The trip itself was uneventful. The road went from flat as a pancake to serious mountains as we approached Santo Domingo. The taxi driver asked if Raul was available but he was on the mountain. We got bunched up with another group and we ended up 8 in an MG four wheel drive van, I was able to get in the front seat and drove 5 km up (we gained 750 meters in height in 5000 meters in length an average grade of 15% with 45% gradients near the top at Alto del Naranjo ) given that there were 9 (8 plus the driver) of us in the MG I was fairly impressed. From there we have to walk another 3km into the hideout and 3km back. Rather than fill out all the paperwork for each of us the Ecotour operator just filled it out once and wrote 8 on it and handed it to a woman and said “Your the boss” problem was the woman had no English at all and had no clue that she had all of the vouchers for our taxi ride, entrance to the park, and our lunch afterward as part of her paperwork. She and her husband inherited 6 kids, two from Holland, two from Peru, and two from Canada. She was, I think German. The trip up the hill was really amazing the camera just could not get the angle of the road and do it justice. The parking lot at the top was very pretty and lots of panoramas got taken. The walk was near as hard as the two day hike that the Dutch kids had done previously. They did the two day hike into the mountains with Raul earlier in the week. It goes from the parking lot to the top of the highest mountain in Cuba and back. There is a three day version that takes you to the top of the mountain and out to the coast but it wasn’t clear that they were going to do that one. We were happy to hear at the end of our tour that our tour had better vista views than the other one. We had some incredible vistas to see.

Our guide, George was very good. He knew his history as well as Spanish and English with a little German as well. He was able to tell us a lot about the history of that part of the conflict and it was interesting to see and hear. The views are truly incredible.

I was able to get the front seat again going down hill and videoed the top 7 minutes of the down hill run from the parking lot. The camera doesn’t capture the true pitch of the hill but it does have lots of beautiful scenery, if you ever want to see it let me know. At over a gigabyte I don’t think it will make it to the web.

From there we were down at lunch. The restaurant that served up our lunch must be used to groups getting broken up because our lunch was consumed by the time our vouchers made it back down the hill. Our group got broken into two pieces and the vouchers were in the trailing group.

We met Raul taking to our taxi driver and he asked if he could get a lift 20km down the hill to his house. Our taxi driver was a friend and didn’t want to ask us but if we didn’t mind he would be happy. We were happy to give him a lift. We got a good chance to talk and he was named after Raul Castro and was borne the year of the Revolution, He and I were almost the same age. The sun ages you down here. We asked him about a big lake that we could see, It was a hydro electric damn. The house he grew up in is at the bottom of the lake. They were happy about that. His family was given the same sized parcel of land and with a better house and better land than they had before the damn. He gave us a bit of history as we drove but we were quite happy to relax in the ac of the car. A 6km up and down dirt paths through tropical rain forest is a long hike. We loved watching out the windows and seeing the scenery.

We were back to the casa and went out to the San Salvador de Bayamo Restaurant across from our casa One of the trip advisor places and it had all of 5 tables and the food was very very good. We were back to our casa and packed up ready to go to Holguin.

February 14, The Botanical Garden, Public art, and the tricycle rides.

The guide that our casa owner arranged to take us to the Botanical Gardens has a casa himself. He wanted to see his guest to the bus station so he asked if we could delay from 9 to 9:30, no problem for us. He took us out and they didn’t have any CUC receipts either so he paid our entrance for us. For 20 National Pecos he got three of us into the Botanical Garden (camera included as there is an extra charge for the camera). That’s about 90 cents with exchange. It turns out he had never been to the gardens before so he joined us on the tour. It was great considering he was a veterinarian with reasonably good English and the tour guide had next to no English. Roman did most of the translation for us. There were lots of birds around as well as lots of plants. Bees too, it turned out that one of the woodpeckers had been evicted by the bees. The bees took over his next and he had to make another. He was doing so as we were walking around, just a little lower down the tree than his first nest. There were lots of hummingbirds, mocking birds and other little birds to see.

The guide was really into “Green Medicine” and was able to tell us that this plant as a tea was good for this and that as a salve was good for that. There was a citronella plant that he showed us, as well as a cinnamon tree, he gave us fruit from the trees to taste one was a tropical apricot that tasted like a pear to us, the other was a Frozen Apple, a dark and very sweet fruit, there were also mangos and lots of other stuff. He pointed out one of the air plants “Boil this in a tea and drink every day for three weeks and no more diabetes” Roman blinked at that. He is a diabetic. I have his email and if it works I have a few more friends that might be interested in it.

We got Roman to stop at the Hotel Sierra Maestra to see if we could arrange a EcoTour to the Comandencia de la Plata. Unfortunately the EcoTour office was closed for the weekend so we were afraid we were going to be completely out of luck. But Roman to the rescue. He didn’t want to take his car there, the roads were too rough for his car, but he knew a guy that would go, “recommended by Lonely Planet”, sure enough the guy’s card had a lonely planet stamp on it. So Roman would talk to our casa owner and … eventually we would get to go if all birds we grabbed were birds not frogs.
Roman brought us back to his casa and showed us around and gave us a coffee and asked that we write about the trip to the botanical garden in his guest book. We wrote a very good review and he took us home. His casa is close to the end of the walking street General Garcia.
Roman talked to the lady of our casa who has almost no english and after lots of talk and a few phone calls it was all set up we would go on our trip to see where Castro had his base in the mountains during the first six months of the revolution. Here is the business card for his very nice casa. Villa La Nueva (Norma y Roman’s casa)

We had a bit of a siesta after our trip and then headed out to see if we could see inside any of the churches but didn’t get to see inside any of them. We walked to the end of the walking part of General Garcia and when the shopping area runs out so do most of the people on the street. This is good for those of us interested in the street art. There are faces, flowers, and even a Escher-esque mosaic in the street.

People were out on the streets enjoying the weekend. There were people with their kids one of the side streets on Parque Cespedes was informally closed off by the guy who operated the tricycle rides. He brought probably 20 or thirty different tricycles for kids to play with, Some were shaped like farm tractors, some were police cars, some were dress up with lots of streamers and things there were lots of kids that loved playing with one then another, then another. It was fun to watch.
On our way back down General Garcia we noticed that one of the houses had just been painted, or was in the process of being painted. The red doors were spray painted and the overspray of the paint covered a very noticeable section of the white walls. It was a reminder of the painting we saw so much of last year as the polish went on for the 500th anniversary celebrations. We enjoyed another pass of them and then headed out to see if we could get into another of our recommended restaurants but they were all full no tables until 9pm. Valentines day is a big thing here, any reason for a party will do. We went back to the The Palador el Polinesio and when we got there there were two other tables busy. The girl from the previous night sat us down and we ordered, by the time our table was ready the restaurant was packed. Ramon showed up with his casa guests and stopped by to say hello. We had another very good meal and when home to crash. We had an early departure to get to the tour in the mountains.

We had a 6:30 breakfast, departure at 7 all scheduled. Early to bed is never a problem for us. We are known across the island at the casas as the tourists that sleep a lot. We have siestas, and we go to bed early. The sun does wear us out.

February 13 No tickets, almost a museum, and a good restaurant

Our first job of the day while it is relatively cool is to head up to the bus station to get tickets out of town. We walked up the bus station and the Viazul office was not interested in giving us a reservation to Holguin. Viazul really is starting to suck. The system they had before seemed like they were running as far from a reservation system as you could get. They were printed by hand in a book and if you paid in advance they gave you this tissue paper thin piece of paper an inch by two inches that was best described as fragile at worst akin to the ultra thin Cuban toilet paper. Try writing on your toilet paper at home and see how far you get. The system they have now is a computerized based system that will print out real tickets and uses real paper (perforated paper on tractor feed dot matrix printer no less). They take your ticket and then generate an honest to God boarding pass similar to what you get on an airplane, seat assignments and everything. Mind you none of the seats on the bus are numbered and if they do happen to be numbered look nothing like the numbers used on the boarding pass. It’s still a grab a seat if you can and go. The system is bad enough that finding a ticket agent that is willing to sell you a ticket is rare. They would much rather have you wait until the last minute see if there is any room on the bus and go directly to the boarding pass. It works ok as long as your passengers don’t have reservations anywhere or have to worry about getting anywhere.

Bonnie and I have weird sayings that we use every now and then that makes sense to us and no one else has a clue what we mean without a very long explanation of it. We now have another one. Cuba is a place that defies description, or should we say a single description. There are lots of times when you look at something and think “Man that isn’t ever going to work.” it does. The Cuban people are living in a communist system and for the most part runs on private industry and commission sales. All the old American cars you see are, if you open the hood, or sometimes even just the passenger door, it really looks a lot like a Lada. One of the best restaurants we have ever been to in any country has five tables, that’s all it has room for and most of the tables are tight enough they can’t actually seat four, they’re set for three. It isn’t a new restaurant either, it’s been around a while. Some of the portion sizes on some of the meals even exceeds the huge portion sizes in Canada and the US. Bonnie and I are now at the point where we order one meal and split it. If the portion size is too small we will either order two desserts or another main course. We’ve never had to order another meal but have gone for two desserts. In a country where most of the food is laced with sugar, restaurants often don’t have any desserts available. A police force that obeys the same traffic rules as everybody else (when was the last time you saw a cop car in Canada or the US obey a stop sign if there isn’t any traffic). A communist state where the work ethic that is encouraging to see, if we had the same ethic we wouldn’t have nearly the economic issues we do. A country that has been living under a communist dictator for over 50 years, Fidel is criticized for some of the things (SOMEWHAT openly) he has done(mainly the pact with the soviet union but some say that he had little choice given the political situation he was in; censorship is another, access to the internet another, political suppression is another), other things he has done is truly appreciated (the free health care, the education system free through university level, free nursing home care for the elderly), but for the most part is held with some affection in the heart of most Cubans. I can go on and on about the contradictions that are a daily practice that you get to live with when you actually go off resort and into the homes of Cubans into the Casa Particulars as they are called. The constant contradictions that you live with here have generated our new expression. Just when you start to get a handle on something it changes before you can look at it. It was as if you reached out and grabbed a bird out of the air. It was flying by, it felt like it had feathers, but when you open you’re hand, you’re looking at a frog.

The failed attempt at a ticket discouraged us a bit. Next year if we come to Cuba we may do the online reservation system and bypass (for the most part) the frustrating Viazul ticket agents. We left there and headed toward the Parque Retablo de los Heroes. Bayamo was burned by it’s own citizens and one of the monuments that survived or was rebuilt from the ruins was an arch that covers the remains of one of their many heros, Francisco Vincente Aguilera They have a reverence for their national heros that is comparable only to the reverence Americans have for their national heros.

We walked from there to the Museo Nico Lopez, we could walk the grounds but couldn’t go into the museum. They didn’t have any receipts that they could issue for CUCs only for their Nationals. Since they couldn’t issue a receipt we couldn’t go in. The girls didn’t want to get in trouble for selling us any nationals. We could walk around all we wanted but not the museum part. Since it was most likely all in Spanish we probably wouldn’t have gotten that much out of it anyway. We did love the grounds. If you get a chance to visit it is well worth it, even if you don’t have any nationals. As we walked around there were two young women practicing their music, a flute and a clarinet. It made for a very pleasant visit.
From there we walked down to the Bayamo River and looked at the river and the little park that sometimes has a lot of farmer’s markets open and busy, unfortunately today is not one of those days. We walked back to the casa and arranged for a visit to the Botanical Gardens via our casa and had a bit of a siesta.

We wanted to give the TripAdvisor.com restaurant suggestions one more try in case their top rated restaurant just had a bad day. We were not willing to give them another try but did go for the next one on their list. The Palador el Polinesio (I’m not sure any of the menu items had anything to do in any way shape or form to Polynesia). Their first strike against them was not hard alcohol so no mojitos. Things were not looking good. The waitress spoke pretty good English wish was very nice, our Spanish is not getting that much of a workout. We are getting by with pointing to things on the menu. We know most of the big things like pork, chicken, seafood, fish, beef. We might not get the sauces right but we’re usually fairly easy to please. The Polinesio completely redeemed itself with the food, it didn’t rank with the best of Santiago de Cuba but it was very, very, good. Ok TripAdvisor.com you get another chance.

Bonnie has been noticing that the rooftops are the domain of most of the “owned” dogs. There seem to be lots of free running dogs as well but the ones that seem to have a home have the run of the rooftops. We had a cute little dog run down off the roof and appear at the second floor balcony to watch his friends playing on the street.

February 12 An early escape from Santigo de Cuba and arrival in Bayamo.

We had to leave our casa at 530 am so we were the only ones up leaving the casa. I opened the door at 520 and the taxi driver was waiting so we were early leaving. The trip to Bayamo is short so we arrived at the bus station at a reasonable time. We even had a little bit of success taking pictures out of the window of the bus.

Jose the casa owner was there to meet us. He pointed us to a bicycle taxi and said he would meet us at the casa. He passed us on his own bicycle a little while later. Bayamo is bicycle central. Everything is pretty flat and the bicycles are great to get around on. We were in a traffic jam at a light that had nothing but bicycles in it. We made it to the casa and Jose made us breakfast. Jose’s wife doesn’t do English but we have made out ok so far. We waited for the people to check out of our room while we were having breakfast and before long they had our room ready for us. We dropped our luggage and went out for a little walk.

We are basically two blocks up from Parque Cespedes the major square of the area. A while ago they took one of the streets off the square and turned it into the pedestrian shopping area for Bayamo. It is full of restaurants, shopping, and the odd museum and art gallery. The far end of the street has actually become very much the art area. The light standards/power poles have been wrapped in art. The distant end are all “Tolken Trees” as Bonnie puts it. The mid section are aimed much more at the artists they are wrapped in paint tubes, paint brushes, paint pouring out of a bottle. The art doesn’t stop at the light standards. There are many mosaics built into the floor one reminded me of an Escher sketch. There were flowers as mosaics, a beach scene and lots of stuff. The park benches were even artistic stone carvings with places to sit into. One seemed particularly shaped for my butt and was practically as suction fit.

We went to the wax museum and most of the people there are music related. People that didn’t mean a lot to me as Cuban music is not really my genre, they did have one name I did recognize, one was Benny More. The others I recognized were Jose Marti, Ernest Hemmingway, and the hometown hero Cespedes. Cespedes was the only one wearing a Masonic ring, although Marti was a well known Mason as well.

We walked down to Parque de Hino to see if the church was open. It is supposed to be something to see, it wasn’t open, but the Bodega was, We had a couple of mohitos and a mixed salad for 9.70 cuc either they have selective pricing or the price was exceptionally expensive. We on the back patio overlooking the Bayamo River. There was a guy cutting grass for the horses and we watched him while we waited. The view and the breeze was nice.

Walking along the riverfront later there was a small park where they had Tolken style park benches. We heard the bells chiming in the church and turned back on the chance that it was open, it wasn’t but we got a few good pictures There is a large bell that has a crack similar to the Liberty Bell in the United States, apparently liberty bells everywhere are broken.

Bayomo’s war hero is Cespetes he was born here and attacked his hometown to free it from the Spanish and when the battle started to go against him and the Spanish started to retake the town the townspeople burned the town rather than let the Spanish have it. There is very little of the pre-1860s town left, one of the buildings is Cespetes birthplace. There is a museum there and the museum is worth a visit. It is full of furniture dishes and memorabilia from the era, including a certificate given to him by his lodge for services rendered.
There are a huge number of German tourists visiting the area. We sat in the square and did a lot of people watching. There were five or six different guided tours go through the park and they were all German speaking guides giving the talk. There is still a lot of beautiful buildings around one of which is the hotel we went in for coffee and a bottle of water. Two coffee americanos(.60 each) and a bottle of water(1.50) was 2.70 The coffee is incredible here.

We went back to the casa and had a siesta ( I worked on the log and bonnie had a nap) before going out to dinner. We had four places to try from trip advisor. The number one place was the Barberan We went and had the pork in a red wine sauce that was so good at the place in Santiago de Cuba and a garlic herbed chicken dish. Both were nearly inedible. The red wine sauce tasted pretty good but the meat was terrible. The chicken was fat and greasy beyond belief. The rice was so bad that we left it on the plate. It tasted and had the texture of rice that was made the day before and left out on the cupboard to dry. We both rated it as the worst meal we have had in cuba ever. The Bodega was one of the others with it’s very expensive prices it was off the list as a possible return. Two of our top four checked off the first day, things are not looking good

February 11 Bus tickets! Another cuban hero, coffee, and good food again

Our first trip for the day was to get bus tickets. It took several hours last time so we weren’t looking forward to the job. We walked down from our casa and came across a Royal Bank of Canada building that was in the process of being completely gutted and restored. The old building had class. We walked out and found the bus station without even getting lost. We got in line and as lines go in Cuba. There can be twenty people standing around with no apparent pattern but everyone is in line. When you walk in you ask Ultimo? (Who is at the end of the line?) Someone will put up their hand and then you follow that person. You might be second in line and there are just another dozen hanging around talking or you could be twentieth in line you never really know, just follow the person who was previously Ultimo. It’s a bizarre system and most frustrating especially as some people will disappear and then reappear and be in the middle of the line again. It is really tough if your Ultimo leaves and doesn’t tell you who their ultimo was.

Across the square from the bus station is the revolution square the giant figure on the horse is Antonio Maseo at the base of the statue is a museum to him. He was a giant figure in war for cuban independence and was shot an unbelieveable number of times, 24 I seem to remember. They had a neat topographical map of Cuba and an English presentation and slide show on a computer that projected above the map and a slightly bigger than life sized picture of Maseo. A light would come on on the map to show where the battle was and if he got shot at that battle a light would come on to show where he was shot. One battle he was shot like four times and then three days later he was in another battle a good distance away and he would get shot again. I’m thinking the bullets must have had very little powder behind them, or the story might be being stretched just a little. One incredibly neat thing was that most of the “artifacts” at the museum were actually holograms of the actual article. The holograms were very impressive. The items had very good detail, one ring was so clear that you could see clearly the masonic crest on it.

We came out of the museum by coming out the top of the museum and down the staircase. We took a bicycle taxi $3cuc back to the Rumba Cafe and had two cappuccinos, one cafe cortadito and a pesto pasta with garlic and “aromatic” herbs to share as lunch for 8CUC. It was excellent if a little too much olive oil.

Our casa this trip is a lot more like a hotel than a casa so it misses a little of the feel, and is more expensive but the room is bigger and the eating area much fancier. It was covered in butterfly Jasmine, complete with lots of bees. The foyer was a nice mural (some of it 3D to hide the power wires etc) Bonnie was quite impressed with it. Most of the windows were actually not just painted but were raised above the level of the wall. It was nice.

After a little siesta we were out on the streets again and we were early enough to the Compay Gallow that we were able to get in. We had run into our waitress in town a couple hours earlier and she had remembered us from the previous week. She was surprised to see us again at the restaurant that night. She was a very good waitress,

Bonnie said she could easily work at any 5-star restaurant anywhere. I certainly liked her. The food was top notch again. We had one meal the same as last time and one new. The same dish was presented completely differently. But it was just as tasty. I had the Cowboy pork chops and I have to admit I wouldn’t have it again. It was good just far behind what our other three selections had been. We did have two desserts the Flan (again) and the Tomato. Bonnie wanted to try a tomato as a dessert just to see what they could do with them. It ended up being a candied tomato with the jelly from the canning process filling the martini glass level with the candied tomato. (Date squares would be sour compared to them, and I find date squares too sweet to eat usually. The second waitress arrived with a bottle of good rum and poured a spoon full of rum on top of it, to give it a bitter tang, the fancy curly yellow spiral sticking out of the top of the dessert was actually crackling (salty fried pig skin), sweet, bitter, salty, and fat all in the same dessert. It did weird things to the taste buds.

February 10, Bus trip to Santiago de Cuba

When we got up it was raining a little and threatening worse so we jumped at the first break in the rain to walk up to the bus station. We were several hours early but the timing sucked no matter what so we bit the bullet and waited. I took the opportunity to do a little work on the log and pictures until the battery died on the netbook. While we were there the German girls from our tour showed up and made reservations for getting out of town the next day. They came over and said thanks for taking pictures for them and to say goodbye. We waited and waited and waited and the bus showed up on time It made it over the mountain, this time without repairs. The same crew was on and one of them recognized me and said hi.

As always I take lots of pictures from the bus window and although very few actually turn out I do manage to get a few interesting ones. I did have a bit of success taking movies out the window.

It was interesting that the whole way back the bus drivers stopped at almost every fruit stand and bought fruit. They have to have a deal to supply a fruit stand in Santiago de Cuba. They bought far more than any one family (or five for that matter) could eat before it went bad.

They completely cleaned one lady who had buckets of mangoes to sell. Five buckets of mangoes for 4 CUC. Good deal! It was interesting to see all of the locals on the bus doing much of the same only in quantities for a family. Bananas, tangerines, mangoes, and other tropical fruits were popular.

We arrived in Santiago de Cuba and the casa we were staying at was a fair distance from the last one on the opposite side of Parque Cepesties. We arrived and Bonnie was disoriented this trip. I was finally able to get my bearings and found our favorite restaurant by the time we checked in and got oriented and got to the restaurant it was packed and with out a reservation we couldn’t get in. So we walked over to Primos Twice and had another good meal there, Bonnie was very tired from the trip and we were happy to get to the casa and get to bed.

February 9 Rain’s almost done, time for a tour.

We were up and had breakfast in time to go to the Cubatur office to catch a tour, on our way we walked by the Masonic Lodge in Baracoa, (Just down the street from the Cubatur office).

When we got to the Cubatur office we found out that they had canceled everything the previous day and we were at the top of the list to go on the tour today. Great! The guide was there and waiting to see how many on his list would show up and how many had left. There were 8 of us, Bonnie and me, two German girls, A German couple older than us, and a Spanish couple about our age. We were doing the Yumuri River tour. The last tour was more North and east of Baracoa and this was more south and east of Baracoa. Much flatter and much better roads for the most part. Our first surprise was the bus. The previous tour bus was a 15 passenger air conditioned van. The guide saw the bus and did a double take at the driver, who shrugged. This was a 1954 Chev that had the bed cut off and the standard cuban people hauler installed. The air conditioning was provided by rolling up the curtains. The bus was the standard black smoke belching diesel that doesn’t smell at all like the Yanmar Diesel on my boat, or any other diesel that I have been near. It was burning almost half the fuel and producing soot FOUL stink with the other half. My guess was it was a combo of diesel and fryer grease. It was truly rank. The other rather quaint feature was the started didn’t work. He tried ONCE, and then let the bus roll down the hill and when I symbolically popped the clutch he did too and the diesel sprang to life. From then on he made sure he parked on a hill so he could pop the clutch again and get it started. The young German girls got a great giggle out of me popping the clutch and the truck starting. You have to have a sense of humor in Cuba. I was watching the gauges through the window in the back of the cab. I think there were three of the 5 (not counting the speedometer that didn’t work) that moved. The only one that seemed to have a sensible reading was the amp meter, and most of the time it was charging the battery. It only started to read that it was draining was when the rpm got too low. The bench that we sat on was a piece of tropical hardwood about 5/8ths of an inch thick about 10 wide and probably 12 feet long. The two benches would have probably cost several hundred dollars alone in Canada. They were pretty.

The first stop on the trip was to a cocoa plantation. Come to find out they never plant just one crop they mix at least two, this plantation was cocoa and coffee.

The tour of the plantation was really interesting. The cocoa plants were in blossom, or perhaps they are continuously in blossom this time of year. There were lots of cases of both seed pods and blossoms on the same stock apparently only about 3% of the blossoms produce fruit, the rest are damaged by winds etc. The blossoms appear everywhere on the plant from trunk to the top (usually pruned to make it easier to harvest and for the sun to be able to penetrate the foliage better). There were fruit in almost all stages of development from blossom, to small seed pods the size of your little finger to the sized of two fists together and twice as long. There are two colors of cocoa red and green, they both mature to yellow and taste exactly the same (so they claim). We have pictures of both. This plantation plants coffee as well but there wasn’t much to see with regards to the coffee. No beans or blossoms on the coffee plants we saw.

Coffee and chocolate, two of my favorite things! We found out that once again the standard rules for farmers seem to apply here as well, the government takes 90% and the farmer can sell the remainder and keep it themselves. They did a explanation of how the farmers make their 100% chocolate balls (about the size of a snowball, or for those who don’t do snow a bit bigger than a baseball and smaller than a softball). The farmers don’t have the machinery that the chocolate plant that Che started has. They pull off the outer shell and put the beans in a sieve for 7 – 9 days for the white shell to drop it’s fluid as well as to have the cocoa beans to ferment. After that they pound them into a mush and put it back into the sieve for another 9ish days (depending on heat and humidity) during this time the Cocoa oil drips down and is collected. This is pure cocoa butter and is sold in nice fancy wood bowls to tourists for 5CUC each. The big plant sells this around the world for cosmetics etc. The 100% Chocolate balls are formed by hand with a small amount of something (I couldn’t hear) and put in the freezer to harden, once hardened it will stay hard even out of the freezer and keep for a year, “no problem”. One of the German girls asked how old the woman farmer (or farmer’s wife, not sure which) was. I had her pegged late 70s early 80s. “I’ll be 63 in April” she proudly said, Bonnie just turned 63 a few days before. Bonnie’s had a much easier life, and it shows.

One of the things that got pointed out was that all of the refuse gets tossed back under the trees for fertilizer. Cuba doesn’t have access to modern chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Everything grown in Cuba is organic, not by choice but by necessity.

We stopped at the set for a French remake of the Robinson Cruiso movie that starred a famous French actor that the German girls knew. We saw a few hummingbirds flying around and one stopped long enough for me to switch cameras a couple times so that I could get a photo, patience is a virtue.

We left there and when to the place where we could order lunch. We ordered a conch steak to share and did a little walk around on the dark sand beach. The surf from the previous day’s high winds were still pounding on the shore. There may still be higher winds offshore pushing them in. The dark sand was not that hot due to the clouds and the high surf. It looked like a nice place to come back to so we were happy. I made two mistakes one was not wearing a swimsuit and the other was not bringing my aquasocks. The swimsuit I wasn’t really upset about I wasn’t planning on going into the salt water and I figured that any fresh water swimming would be nixed with the two days of very high rainfall. The aqua socks for protecting my feet would have been a very good idea.

We are always amazed at the blossoms that are everywhere on everything from the smallest plant underfoot to the trees the size of a mature elm in full red blossom.

The blossoms on the tables weren’t real, they were all made out of plastic, (water bottles mostly) T hey were impressive art all by themselves.

We walked the beach a bit and then headed back on the bus to the unique palm tree that has two stocks growing off a single base, a genetic anomaly and the only example known.

From there it was to the German Pass. Before the revolution there was a large plantation on one side of the pass and Baracoa on the others. Workers that wanted to work had to pass through this rock fall in order to get to work and the German family that owned the area put up a toll booth, hence called the German Pass or German Tunnel. The view back toward Baracoa was spectacular.

From there we went over to the Yumuri River look off. The name came from the local aboriginal tribe the tinte ? They were enslaved by the Spanish and forced to work. They threw themselves off the lookoff screaming “Yumuri” translated as something like “Death is better than slavery.” We got a couple of spectacular pictures looking down the road at the sea. Across from the lookoff was a tree that was full of Polymitas they are a colorful land snail that has been pushed to near extinction by locals selling them to tourists and we were told not to buy them and if we were caught the Cuban government would fine us over $100 dollars. I’m pretty sure that if Canada Customs finds you importing products of an endangered species you would end up in jail, with a much heftier fine. The shells were very pretty and we enjoyed seeing them and taking lots of pictures. Apparently the only color not seen is blue.

From the lookoff we went down to the river and got according to the brochure “walk a boat” up the river. Ok what really happened was we walked onto the boat and the local guy rowed us up river to a small island. There were the 8 tourists, the guide, the guy rowing the boat and two old rather beaten life jackets. I’ve always said that if I drown there will be the obligatory “he was not wearing his life jacket” message attached as a warning to others. The water was very brown from the runoff and it was impossible to see more than a few millimeters into the water. It could have been 100 ft or 10 inches and it was impossible to tell. Except for when someone jumped into the water in front of our boat and swam across about 100feet and then stood up and walked the rest of the way across the river. I’m guessing that most of the time there is not a lot of water in the Yumuri.

Before we got on, Bonnie had me take a picture. The dock was two or three boards stretching out into the river. Bonnie looked at me and said take a picture for Mike Stanley and tell him to show the picture to the members of the yacht club complaining about our docks needing repair.

We walked around the island in the river and the guide showed us a couple of hummingbird nests. One had babies in it but mom showed up and sat on it and wouldn’t let anyone else look. The aqua socks would have been a good idea for the trip as the island was normally a sand bar and mostly dry the bulk of the island was dry but I got my feet wet a couple of places crossing the river. It was almost chocolate milk brown with sediment from the hills.

When the more intrepid water waders got back from looking at another nest the guy we had seen swimming across the river was back with several green coconuts for sale. He chopped a hole and stuck a bamboo straw through the hole and you could drink coconut water and when you were done he would chop the nut in half and dig out the meat for you to eat if you wanted. It has never been a favorite thing of mine but Bonnie loves it so we shared and she got the lion’s share. At 1 CUC each the coconut guy did ok.

We went back to the La Playita Restaurante and had lunch, the conch was good but didn’t hold a candle to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club Restaurant. We walked the beach and found a treasure trove of beach glass, lots of greens, and browns, but we also found a rare blue piece and even rarer yellow piece of glass Bonnie was also finding lots of sea beans of the sea heart, almonds, and even a few hamburgers.
We were walking back and forth along the beach and in one little outcropping of stone we were looking down at the beach sand for glass and when we looked up, we were presented with an amazing fossil find, fossilized wood, brain coral, fans shells of various types and lots of really interesting stuff.

We enjoyed our little trip to the dark sand beach and the Yumuri Canyon There was a private cab doing exactly the same tour and he was either just before or just after us the whole way. He followed us home until he got sick of the black exhaust and past us. I took a picture out the back of the truck a few times and later Bonnie looked at it later and said that it was an almost complete picture of Cuban transport. A bicycle taxi, a horse taxi, a old american car, a bicycle, and a motorcycle all enveloped in a black haze of diesel from the back of our bus.
We got to our casa from the tour and it was starting to sprinkle so we settled to let it go by. While we were waiting we got a picture of almost a perfect double rainbow. The clouds were pretty for the sunset and cleared out for a walk to a restaurant for dinner. We took the umbrella but didn’t need it.

We went to the Calalou as suggested by Karl our guide from the first trip. The food was very good and the service excellent. Bonnie had the fish and I had the Chicken Parmesan. I should have known better the cheese is always in bigger quantity than the chicken and it usually isn’t great cheese, or parmesan. As the cheesey chicken when it was pretty good but bonnie’s fish was better.

February 8, Rain Rain go away, We’ve had enough already.

We booked a tour for a river, a boat ride, a swim in a river and a beach visit. We had breakfast on our terrace but the rain was threatening. By the time it was time to go to meet at the Cubatur office there was enough rain the church was barely visible and we didn’t have any particular desire to walk through the rain to tell him we weren’t going to go. I’m sure he’d figure out why we weren’t going to show.

There was a young German couple joining us for breakfast. They are in cuba for two weeks and with the rain they figured they would rather spend it on the bus rather than in a casa. So they were going to pack up and go. We are “relaxed” travelers and if we have to sit a couple days all I have to do is think of -20 and blowing snow and the warm rain doesn’t seem bad at all.

A day to do a little memorizing for my office in lodge and, well, the day will pass with a little reading. When we were traveling on the boat we would see people beating themselves to death to make miles. We’ve always said the difference between a good passage day and getting beat up traveling in bad weather was a nap, a glass of wine, and good book. Wait a day it will pass. Now where is my glass of wine, oh well, a mojito will have to do.

February 07 Rain, rain, and then more RAIN

It rained during the night. Our room has louvered windows and is great as air flows all around and we up on the top floor so we don’t have to close things up for security. The fresh air turned into rain so I got up and closed on side of the building and went back to bed, a while later bonnie got up and closed the window in front of the bathroom and the we heard what I thought was one of the loud metal carts with large ball bearings for wheels running down the street. Except it wasn’t it was the rain hitting one of the metal roofs next door. It was raining very hard.

We decided to forgo any tours and stay close to home. We walked around town with me wearing the masonic logo hat that Gord bought for me before the trip. I had a few people look at it but nothing more than an odd glance. We walked up to the hotel overlooking the town and it is just about dead we saw three people that were guests. We got a few good panoramas and then noticed a lot of rain on the horizon so we headed back toward our casa.

We arrived and started to download and process the pictures from the rain forest trip. The rain came in buckets mostly horizontally with the winds. Not a great drying day for my laundry. The hired girls from the casa had it mostly done by the time we got home at least as far as the wash is concerned. They hung it up on the clothesline in the roof of the terrace outside our room and since the rain was barely being halted from horizontal by the doors, it wasn’t a great drying day. They looked at us and shrugged, Manuana (Tomorrow)

I spent most of the day doing pictures and writing the log. Our sport for the day was watching the cathedral come and go from our view. The mountains really never came back all day. Once the rain closed in the mountains were gone. We could usually see the spires of the cathedral but the clock on the clock tower would often lost in the driving rain.

At one point bonnie suggest that we have dinner in the casa in case this didn’t let up. It was a very good idea as it didn’t and my dry clothes are the ones I’m wearing. And the prospects of the clothes on the line being dry is slim to none. We had supper in her kitchen as the table in front of our room is rain soaked and moving the plates from downstairs to upstairs would have been dangerous in the high winds. They have a teenage daughter who made herself scarce as soon as we showed up. We have seen her a few times doing what teenagers seem to do everywhere. Lay on the couch and watch TV.

February 6, If you don’t like the way I drive, stay out of the ditch!

We asked the casa to move our breakfast to 0730 so we could have a little extra time to get to our tour to the rainforest that started at 8:30 It wasn’t a long walk to get to the tour company but if anything went awry it would give us a few minutes to adjust. Breakfast was lovely a large pot of coffee a large pot of hot chocolate (VERY VERY CHOCOLATE called chorote) and the usual fixings. Bonnie’s eyes lit up when she poured out the hot chocolate.

We walked down to the Cubatur office and had lots of time. So we looked around the church and the Revolution Square. Baracoa is just a little different and it seems fitting that Revolution Square in Baracoa is actually a triangle. Very geared toward tourism, Revolution Square is full of restaurants, tour companies, hotels, and churches. Every statue in the place seems to have been stamped with a Square and Compasses.

Everything in Baracoa is close, it’s a pretty small town. We got in a 15 passenger van and started out. We had a little girl from Turkey with us, she was 19 and doing a long vacation before returning to think about school. She needed a little taking care of. We had to stop at her casa to get her bikini, she didn’t know we were going to the beach and swimming at a waterfall. So we did. She lost track of her water bottle. And then something else and something else. We got underway and all was well, patience is a required skill in Cuba. We drove by a Masonic Lodge on the way to her casa.

We were driving into Humbult National Park, one of the largest rain forests in the caribbean if not the largest. There are 6000 farmers that still live in the 700 sq km park but they keep the trails and the place running so it’s a fair trade. The park starts 40km into the Cuban outback. At one point we passed an Ecotour jeep packed full of people that had to be beating their heads to death in the small back cabin. They were packed together pretty tight. We were tight but nothing like that. Note to self, Cubatur vans aren’t the best but I don’t think my head or back would have survived a Ecotour jeep ride. We caught up with a Gaviota tour bus same size as ours, we were driving up one ditch, they were driving up the other ditch, and the poor driver in the tourist car we were passing in the middle was looking rather bewildered. The roads were in much worse condition than the ditches.

The Dutch couple who are driving around Cuba described the color coded roads as yellow with red stripes are good roads. The yellow roads are, well, OK. The white roads are, well, there might have been a road there at one time but are now mostly potholes. We were on a white road.

We drove by the only Chocolate factory in cuba started by Che after the revolution. Tours are not available but the smell alone is worth the drive by. We had packed a lunch made from our large breakfast and had our bottle of water. The chocolate smell made the lunch sound rather sparse.

The guide we had was Karl, althought he was fine with Carlos if you wanted to call him that. He was one of the best guides we have ever had. His gift with language was impressive. He showed and told us lots about the flora and fauna of the island. Included were a number of orchids, the cocoa, philodendrons, lots of different kinds of palms, an American Kestral (the smallest falcon on the island), the Torrococo the national bird of Cuba, a very small (1cm as a full adult) and poisonous tree frog, called eleutherodactylus ibereria( a frog that is about one tenth the length of his name), and a 6 inch long millipede. He also guided us safely around a number of extremely slippery muddy sections as well as a few fords over the rivers. We made it to the waterfall where we were to have lunch and there was a farmer’s wife set up with a nut brittle (almonds, and cashews bound together with a chocolate sugary coconut glue that was 99% nuts (all local from the forest) as well as a sweet johnny cake with a guava preserve in it. 0.50CUC for each so I had to try it. I had my swimsuit on under my pants so I peeled off and headed up toward the waterfall. I should have brought my aquasocks the rocks were murdering my feet. But I did manage to get up to it with only my normal whiney wimpy feet noises. I had my camera with me so I got pictures for bonnie. It wasn’t a great waterfall but the water was refreshing as it was very hot in the rainforest.

There was a farmer that had his oxen team cart that “Just happened” to be going our way and would be happy to let us ride the four fords of the river that we had to make. We were happy to give him a small donation to the cause if we could keep the shoes dry for a while longer. They were plenty muddy but still dry. Dry feet are happy feet. We got back to the bus and made the trip back to the Playa Maguana, according to the guide (and our casa owner) the best beach in the area. We enjoyed walking the beach and bonnie got a few sea beans, always a treasured surprise. We got back to Baracoa in time for a nice shower and a bit of picture processing time.

We went to one of the places listed on TripAdvisor as having good food, it is just down the street so it was easy to get to and easy to get home. We had the fish (we think it was swordfish) they asked an extra 2CUC because it was extra special good fish and the octopus. We had the meal deal which included a soup course with bread and a tomato sauce that was like mix between catsup and salsa only it tasted REALLY GOOD (Called lechita), a vegetable rice, sweet fried plantain, Bonnie had the coconut flavored swordfish and I had the calalou flavored octopus. Both were incredible. The octopus was as good as any we had in Greece. We loved it. Bonnie had a rice pudding and I had a Coco roto Choclolate with a coconut fudge backing. The only thing MaryAnn would have liked was the portion size.

Feb 5 Fantastic bus trip from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa and we almost made it.

Wilberto shows up in the morning and we made it safely to the bus terminal. He didn’t say a word and neither did I. The casa owner made us a small breakfast it was very early and didn’t charge us for it. Bonnie figured it was a peace offering. It was only after we settled it the bus terminal that bonnie got around to asking why I didn’t want Wilberto. After I listed about 3-4 reasons not counting the rip off charge she may have understood the point.

We got on the bus and headed to Baracoa. The bus trip is through incredible scenery. Super mountains and rivers, seacoasts and mountain passes. I took over 200 photos out the window. I usually take lots of those on these bus trips. Very few, about 5-6, are worth keeping but every trip has one or two of the hundreds that turn up to be very good photos. We made it through the mountain pass and stopped at a farmer’s house “20 Minutes” called the driver. The sign in front of us said “Baracoa 27 km” and it had to be mostly down hill. When we got out there was a distinct smell, I thought it might have been brakes but it wasn’t quite right. The engine compartment came open and the boys started fishing out tools and belts. Not exactly sure what happened but after a bit more than 20 minutes we were back on the road again. The trip to Baracoa is worth the 15CUC just for the scenery. It is worth much more than that to be OUT OF Santiago do Cuba.

Santiago started with a 4 hour wait for bus tickets to get out and Wilberto and our last day was a LITTLE bit less than 4 hours in banks trying to get money basically 2 days out of 6 dealing with Cuban bureaucracy, and the cherry on top was the mess with the casa about Wilberto. About the only thing we didn’t see that we wanted was the Emilio Bacardi Museum. And that isn’t worth dealing with Santiago de Cuba again.

We arrived in Baracoa and there was a bicycle taxi waiting for us. The sign the guy was holding looked something like if you mashed spanish and english together and spelled it phonetically. I ask if he was from Casa Dourkis and he connected my spanish but nodded, and took us to our casa. It has a spectacular 360 degree view the Caribbean on one side and the mountains on the other. AWESOME.

After checking in we walked up to the bus station and they said to come back in the morning to get tickets. From there we walked to the main square and found an Infotur who seems to have a job that does nothing but point you to other places he pointed us to a Cubatur. We booked a tour for the next day. We walked back to the casa and sat on the terrace and drank water and I started working on the trip diary. Bonnie did a bit of reading. Another couple is staying in the casa. They are from holland and driving on their own, 1800 km so far. They are a week and a half into a three week trip. They have done about the same trip as we have in 3 years. They have an interesting view of the cubans as well.