2014 Our second trip to Cuba.
The Photo Gallery for our trip is over 530 photos so beware. It is a good story of our trip without words.
Fredericton to Varadero Jan 21, 2014
Paul picked us up at 0350 and took us to the airport, it was -20 C and the wind was cold. We had checked in and printed our boarding passes the day before so all we had to do was security. Security doesn’t open until 0415 so we sat around twiddling our thumbs for 20 minutes. The connection in Toronto was easier than we expected. We knew it was tight and we did have to transfer between Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 which made it seem even tighter, but it turned out to be easy. I’m not sure If we had luggage to transfer if it would have been possible or not. We had our standard one carry-on each and “Bonnie’s backpack”, a Wheeler backpack that has an incredible number of miles on it. The day before we left the Samsonite Luggage trolley arrived from Ebay. I wasn’t sure it was going to make it to us for the beginning of the trip. We were very happy it did. We didn’t use it that much in Cuba but the treks through the Toronto Airport made it worth the money by itself. It is a little worse for wear from the streets in Varadero. But I think it may have earned it’s keep in our luggage department. It was a long walk from the hinterland of Terminal 1 to the end of Terminal 3 but it was good to get a little exercise. I picked up a banana and a yogurt granola parfait and two coffee at the little place next to Starbucks. The line going into Starbucks was LONG! While two or three people were served in the line of 20-30 I was back out with “Seattle’s best” coffee and I think it is better than Starbucks personally. If I was smart, I would have gotten a little extra for lunch for the plane ride south. We had the banana and we arrived in Cuba a little hungry, but that was the last time we were hungry in Cuba.
We arrived at the airport on-time and according to the schedule for the Viazul bus to Varadero, we still had lots of time to change money. Since we didn’t need to wait for luggage we were second in line at the money conversion place. After we were done we noticed a lot of Transtur buses. I asked about a trip into Varadero and the driver wanted 10 CUC each, the Viazul bus is 6 CUC so we waited the 20 minutes. We learned later that the Taxi drivers now charge 36 CUC for the trip to Varadero.
We checked in and Pepe wasn’t working so we asked him to cook for us. Pork and Chicken, with soup and a salad and, and, and (A whole lot of food) I think it was 6 CUC each. Pepe is a very good chef and the best food we have ever had in all of the Casa’s or Restaurants in Cuba is at Pepe and Elisa’s Casa. If Pepe is not working, we ask if we can eat at the casa. The food is just that good. We have had Pepe’s Pork, Fish, Chicken, Shrimp, and Lobster and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any one of the dishes to anyone.
We were tired so we ready to crash shortly after dinner.
January 23, 2014 The Matanzas Hop-on Hop-off bus tour
We finished breakfast and headed down to First Ave to get to the Matanzas Bus tour stop. The bus was a bit late and we ended up talking to a retired guy that had been coming to Varadero for years. He comes several times a year. It was interesting to hear his comments on Cuba over the years. This year we met quite a few people who have been coming to Cuba for many years and treat it a lot like people treat Florida or Arizona. It’s an interesting idea.
The first stop was Cuevas de Bellamar. I love caves but we were keen on seeing Matanzas and wanted lots of time there. Next time we come I’ll try to get a cave tour. We spent the rest of the day walking around seeing closed buildings, churches closed, theatre closed, museums closed. Matanzas is still an old city and lots of neat stuff to see.
Pepe was home and not working so we had supper at the casa, lobster tails and shrimp. The best warm water lobster tails we have had anywhere in the Caribbean. The seafood palenta that came with it was spectacular as well. We packed and went to bed early an alarm set for 6.
I’ve created a photo gallery that contains a lot more photos than are included in this post so if you want to see more photos in the 2014 Cuba trip photo Album
If you are interested in contacting Elisa and Pepe for a possible stay here is their card. Internet is expensive for them and they don’t do it very often, once every couple weeks is not uncommon. Phone calls work well but they are international calls so 011 the numbers on this card
If you want to use the link for a booking service (which costs them money) Link on BnBVinalies
You can’t reserve by Trip advisor but here is their information Trip advisor link for Elisa and Pepe
January 24, 2014 Off to Cienfuegos
We had breakfast scheduled for 7 but we were ready early and so was Pepe so we were done eating by 7:10 We walked over to the bus station and it was a zoo. We were glad that we had our tickets already. It was a long bus ride to Cienfuegos. It was good to be on the sunny side of the Viazul bus. The AC was on high and people on the shady side were cold, we were ok. Bonnie picked the right side. From this point on we always tried to be on the sunny side of the bus whenever we traveled. They have good heavy curtains that can be drawn against the sun but it can also be opened to provide heat against the AC of the bus.
When we got to Cienfuegos and the bus station was a mess of confused people. We got our tickets and the time was different than the online schedule 1245 not 1330. The taxi took several guys to get working, one to add fuel, one to prime the carburetor, one to turn the key, and one to tell us everything was fine. I’m not sure what the car was actually burning but it smelled more like turpentine and paint thinner than gas.
We walked down toward the end of the point of Punta Gorda. There are lots of casas here and there are lots available. At the end is a large hotel catering to tourists, lots of bus tours end up there. We walked by as three large Transtur buses arrived and belched their passengers. The restaurant next door is a very fancy place with more decoration than any place we have ever seen.
The hotel opened a restaurant next door called the Finca del Mar, and didn’t provide dinner at the hotel, breakfasts yes, but dinner, no. The restaurant pulled two pranks on us that made sure we wouldn’t go back. The first was when we ordered water the waitress brought the expensive imported bottled water and cracked it before we could object. Ok that was bad enough, the second trick was when we ordered two appetizers to share and we got an order of bread to go with it we thought it was part of one of the appetizers, it wasn’t. The two bottles of water, and the three (two of which we ordered) appetizers we ordered cost more than most of the other meals we ate in Cuba. The food was good, just very expensive and the waitresses are dishonest. I would not recommend going to the Finca del Mar.
The trip to Cienfuegos was through big time farming country. Larger orange groves than we ever saw in Florida, lots of sugar cane, bananas, etc, even beef cattle like you would see in Texas. Very pretty countryside.
January 25, 2014 Cienfuegos
The night club next door kept us up for a while and then we were awoken again when the patrons left laughing and singing as they walked under the window of our room. Walked up to Jose Marti Park and toured the theatre. It was an impressive piece of work.
We ran into the cleaning crew of the local Masonic Lodge and got a few pictures and gave a small donation to the lodge. We went over to the Infotour desk and tried to get information on booking a trip out to the Botanical Garden and the fort, and came away with some numbers on cost but that was it.
We had soup for lunch at a very nice but small place off the pedestrian street. There was a hustler there trying to book us into using his friend’s cab. Turned out the cab driver was the husband of our waitress. The driver had very little english, but the prices were good so we booked him for the next day.
We went in search of the cemetery and it was rather funny at times. We were walking across town and it was a long walk. We saw lots of pretty poor housing and some very poor people but they all greeted us warmly. We had the map out trying to figure out how far we were when I looked over at a guy that was sitting nearby. He just smiled at me and pointed at the street across the way and made a shooing motion. It reminded me of Greece when the guy just pointed and said “Castle”, this guy didn’t say “Cemetery” but he knew what we were looking for. It was well worth the trip it has incredible statuary. There are lots of pictures in the gallery.
We were tired from not sleeping and walked down to the marina. They wanted 1 CUC to enter but I asked about the restaurant, they said it was free but they said it wasn’t open until six and it was just after 5. We went down to the Palacio de Ville and the waiter sat us down and gave us the menu pointing out that there was a $25 minimum. We looked a the menu and the prices were a little higher than we were used to but not bad, the two of us could easily, with drinks spend $25. We thought we better check and it was $25/person not $25/table. We just couldn’t eat that much food each, short of drinking a pile of mojitos we didn’t have a chance of eating $25 worth of food, so we left. There was a small restaurant just up from the hotel called El Chinito, so after sitting at the end of Calle 37 for a while we went there. We had fish and chicken, ok but not great food, 10 cuc each.
We went back to the casa and went to bed early but were awoken again with the music and again with the patrons leaving after the night club closed. There are about 40 pictures in the gallery for this day, lots of pictures of the theatre, buildings around Cienfuegos, and the Cemetery.
January 26, 2014 The Botanical Garden and the fort.
We had a vegetarian omelet for breakfast, a one egg omelet with a cabbage salad inside.
From there the taxi driver took us down the road to the ferry to take us to the little fort across the mouth of the Bay of Cienfuegos. The Fortress “Nuestra Senora de los Angeles de Jagua” was built in 1745. It repelled Sir Francis Drake, Jacques de Sores and other “dreaded sea wolves”. We took the little ferry across and as soon as we landed were hit with a barrage of casa owners, restaurateurs, and other “Hola amigo!” types. We shook them off and headed up to the Fortress. It was a quaint little fortress and it was undergoing a restoration and so far very well done. The view from the top level was spectacular. The entrance into the bay looked like the Oromocto River it was so narrow and snaky. Large freighters make the passage so it has to be deep. The current also seems to run pretty strong.
I was thinking about asking for a trip out to the Bird sanctuary for tomorrow but Bonnie said she wanted a day off. We could do the trip to the Bird sanctuary the day after. She was suffering from the middle of the night wakeups as well. We had a quiet afternoon with a little siesta and a walk around the local area. Had supper at the place just around the corner from the Casa on Calle 37, called Grill Punta Gorda. Two Mojitos, a water, and two main courses for 27 CUC. Food was good and plentyful.
There are another 30+ photos in the gallery for this day so take a peek.
January 27 2014 Cienfuegos lay day.
We walked to the park at the end of Punta Gorda. We had a mojito on the rooftop of Palacio de Valle and it was a good mojito but not the best we have had.
We went to the Hamburgers at the small hamburger joint across the street. A hamburger was 1.25 CUC, 1.50 with ham and cheese, 0.25 for a Cafe Americano. We took our hamburgers to the little cafe behind the joint, (they said it was ok) and watched the bay. It was like a mirror. Only thing is we have to tell them to cook it well done, it was almost raw. 0.70 for a 1.5 litre bottle of water. Excellent prices and the coffee is excellent. We walked back to the casa and sat on the porch until the sun moved us off and we went inside for a siesta.
We went to supper at the Cafe Paris Bar. Curry chicken was good, the pork was a bit tough. The pork had a cinnamon pineapple sauce and was very good. Veg and rice was good. Water and 2 mojitos and two suppers for 20 CUC.
There are about 20 pictures from this day in the gallery, just click here to see the gallery
January 28, 2014 Cienfuegos Marti Day celebrations and the day of doors.
No dance club on Monday night so this was the first good night sleep we have had in Cienfuegos. We were seriously talking of looking for another casa yesterday. We went up to Cubatour and asked about a trip to the Waterfalls and the Lagoon, 35 each to the falls, leave at 8 back at 4 lunch included. 70 was a bit much so no. She said a taxi to the Lagoon was 10 each way and 7 entrance.
Just off Parque Marti is the pedestrian street where the Cubans have most of the stores where they buy department store stuff, where the pedestrian street meets Parque Marti there is a right angle street where the artisans are set up. Most of the stuff is more unique that what we see in Varadero and looks like it actually might be made in Cuba. We walked the artist street leading down to the wharf and bought a sculpture of dolphins made from a cow’s horn
It was interesting to see a cruise ship docking at the wharf not far from the casa. I didn’t know there was a cruise ship that came to Cuba. It was the Louis Cristal, a cruise ship that goes around Cuba with a stop in Jamaica’s Montego Bay, you can embark at either Havana or Montego Bay it’s “your” choice. If you are interested check out yourcubacruise.com
Every once in a while something catches my eye and I’ll start noticing others, today it was doors. The way the light catches the worn surface of the door. I probably have 20 or more pictures of doors and windows.
We had lunch at the Cafe Paris and met the driver on the way out. We arranged for him to come to the casa at 8 and take us to the Lagoon for $15. We spent the day login to lots of craft places and art galleries, there was some very nice stuff, bought a small painting for 7 CUC at a Studio Toller (workshop studio). The “Jardines de la UNEAC” gallery space was a beautiful space and we really enjoyed the visit.
We talked for a while with a woman from Miami visiting family. We walked back to the casa as it was VERY hot in town. Bonnie is worrying about Camaguey and Santa Clara, as they are inland if the coastal area is this hot. We had a siesta and waited for the heat to die down before heading out for dinner.
Walked back along the stadium and took lots of pictures of the sculptures around the stadium.
January 29 2014, The Bird Sanctuary
We saw lots of birds, plants, big flocks of flamingos, and pelicans, etc. We spent a couple of hours and had a great row around the salena. The boat was a bit tippy and the oars were different, tied to the boat with a string that he kept wet to help friction. We went to lunch at the place behind the Hamburger joint and it was BAD. We went to the hamburger joint to get coffee. Americano for bonnie (0.25 Cuc) and Capelli for me (expresso with Coffee liquour) and it was really good, I had two. Bonnie and a sip and her eyes started to roll. Bought a large bottle of water 0.70 CUC and waled back to the casa, sat on the porch for the breeze and waited for the afternoon heat to pass.
Walked up to Trevijano Restaurante/Bar had the seafood special with Cuban rice. One of the best meals we have ever had in Cuba. We split one dish and with 2 mojitos it cost 18 CUC.
We had a great walk home, it was the temperature we get at home once or twice a year. The breese was beautifully warm, what a way to end the trip. Last few nights had not night club music so we slept well. We had to shower and pack as we were leaving the next day.
I would never stay at the same casa again on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night, on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, maybe, this casa was much more like a hotel than a casa. We definitely like a casa better.
January 30, 2014 Bus trip to Trinidad
We walked out toward Calle 37 and barely got 50 feet from the casa and was asked by a bicycle taxi if we wanted a ride to the Viazul bus station. He wanted more than we paid the car taxi, we declined, eventually he came down to the car taxi number and we agreed. There was no night club on our final night so we had a good sleep.
Here like all of the bus stations in Cuba, this one is run by the person with the mop. He had the security guards jumping, the passengers jumping, he was definitely in charge of the station.
The bus was a good trip we had enough people that we had a separate bus to Trinidad. I took a bunch of photos out the window and got a few nice ones along the way. It was a fairly cloudy day and we were expecting rain, but I can’t remember if we got any. The trip from Cienfuegos to Trinidad takes you along the edge of mountains and then to the coast and you skirt the coast to Trinidad. The Caribbean was gray with the clouds. Lots of bridges crossing rivers that were rather small now but sized for a much bigger river. I can imagine in the middle of a hurricane the rivers are raging.
We had the previous casa call this casa a couple days before we left and they said they would meet us at the bus station. We were met at the bus station by a bicycle taxi which took us to the casa. Nothing in Trinidad is a great distance. I was initially annoyed at the casa calling a taxi but when we bounced down the cobblestone streets and over to our casa, we were happy to have it. Our little luggage cart would not have been the way to go on the cobblestone. He gave us a bit of a tour as we worked our way to the casa. We arrived at a very nondescript pale green door, and were met by Lilly, the casa owner.
Bonnie was tired and not real focused as we walked 3 blocks to the park. We found a Cubacan and booked a Train trip to “Sugar Valley”. Round trip 10 CUC.Tomorrow is a walk around tour and the next day is the train. We will book the Viazul trip out tomorrow.
January 31 Trinidad, Plaza Major
Great and huge breakfast again, we kept the bananas for lunch. We were awakened by roosters all around us after a very nice sleep.
The guides say there is “an” impressive carved wood alter. We came out saying “an” impressive carved wood alter in EVERY nave of the church. Don’t miss the church, it is incredible. It was interesting that the Eyewitness guide and the Lonely Planet guide both mentioned “AN” impressive carved wood alter but mentioned different ones. One of the carved alters the “Senor de la Vera Cruz”(Lord of the True Cross) left Barcelona in 1731 destined for Vera Cruz Mexico. After the captain was forced back to port three times by high winds, in a fourth attempt to make it to Mexico he decided to leave the heavy chest containing the alter in Trinidad.
We walked to the train station and the train was just arriving. Back to the casa for a siesta and out to supper. We had Lilly arrange a taxi to go to the national park in the mountain for us. Out to supper at Trinidad 500.
I put lots of pictures into the 2014 Cuba trip Gallery and only a few of them are here. There are lots of interesting things that we see and take pictures of that aren’t mentioned in the blog.
February 1, 2014 The train to Valle de Los Ingenious
We came down slowly and checked out the still operational cane press. No one was around to operate it but it is still working. We went up to the restaurant and had a Mojito, not on the list. Lots of very nice lace crafters on the way up from the train station. We bought a bunch of fresh bananas and had a couple for lunch and then the train took us on to the hacienda where we were supposed to have lunch. We didn’t want lunch and I asked for a Bucanero but all they had was Crystal, not as good a beer. The train moved on while we were at lunch. If I had have known that I would have asked to stay on board.
There are lots of agricultural land being reclaimed, we saw two brick factories, farms, livestock, etc. Back to the casa for a siesta and a spanish lesson. We downloaded all of the spanish lessons and the text for the lessons onto Bonnie’s tablet for the trip and we do a spanish lesson during siesta if Bonnie or I aren’t sleeping. We had dinner at the casa, fish a little oily for Bonnie but still not as oily as some places. Food in the casa is very good, low salt, normally low oil, and huge portions, a veggie plate, fruit plate, water, a rice dish, a meat dish, and a dessert, prices are all very reasonable. If given the option we ask for Cuban rice really good stuff.
February 2nd 2014 Trip to the Sierra del Escambray National Park
Breakfast early to get the taxi to the mountain. Lilly organized it for us (35 CUC). We stopped at a lookout that we actually saw the day we were atop the bell tower. Bonnie had pointed out the road to the Escampray.
The taxi dropped us near the entrance to the hike. A LONG hike and very steep in places. We found it harder on the way in than on the way out. Lots of down on the way in, hard on the knees and legs. Uphill is harder but easier on the legs. Lots of huffing and puffing.
Waterfall is spectacular. The swimming pool is cold according to the german girls that arrived at the swimming pool as we were recovering from the trip in. We had a good hike out, the German girls caught up with us at a patch of sensitive plants and we showed them the sensitive plant (good excuse for a rest stop). It has a small pink blossom.
From there we went to the “Jardin de Variedades de Cafe”. Cuba has been growing coffee in the Escampray mountains since 1748 there are over 20 varieties of coffee trees in the little park that you can walk through. Some are labeled very well others, not so much. The taxi driver in his limited english with our limited spanish and a bit of pantomime explained the coffee production from picking to drinking. In front of the little coffee house is the old area for coffee production and they still use it on occasion, more for tourism value than the coffee which is really produced elsewhere.
And yes you can get a coffee made with the beans on site and yes it is incredibly good. The Expresso can make your eyes flutter!
We went back to the casa to relax and sit a bit. We had had enough walking for a while. We needed a little catch up on chores anyway, a little work on the log, read the guide books, do a little planning, play a few games on the tablet, do a Spanish lesson. Bonnie has a couple of museums that she wants to check into.
I didn’t bring the laptop on this trip I just took notes and lots of pictures. Next time I think I’ll take the laptop. I can process the pictures while we have downtime on the trip and label them while they are still fresh. It is a lot more work to do the log when you are home and trying to remember which church those pictures were taken in and where that picture was taken, and why I took it. Part of the reason this is taking so long. Getting one or two days posting a day is a chore. It will take me two weeks of effort to get our trip onto the web and process all the pictures. Time to stop whining and back to work.
Our next job was deciding where to have supper. We went to supper at Taberna Guanahuac. It was reasonably close and that was worth something. We had the shredded beef(ropa) and the chicken. Both were very good but the beef was the winner. Back early and we slept soundly!
February 3, 2014 Getting lost in Trinidad, a museum day.
It rained a couple times during the night and we woke up to close the window, then it stopped and it would get stuffy so we would open the window, then it would start to rain and we would repeat the cycle. The Casa has a nice sea breeze that cools it down nice at night. It gets a bit hot about 2-3 pm and then the sea breeze seems to kick in and cool the place off.
After breakfast we walked over to old town and managed to do almost two complete circles before we managed to find it. One of the great things about getting lost is you find things that you would never find any other way. Cuba is about as safe as it gets so we were in no real danger. We found a little shop that carried locally made musical instruments. We thought of Nicole, our niece who is extremely musical, as we walked around and didn’t find a thing that we thought we could get home that she would like. The “that we could thought we could get home” was the real problem lots of neat and innovative stuff. We taught her a couple words in english and she got us a couple in spanish.
Lily is willing to do laundry tomorrow, and we are running out of things to see. 5 days max in one location on the next trip.
We got money from the BFI (Banco de Financial International, another 1200 CUC (A lot to carry around, next time I might get a max of 500, banks to get cash are easier to find than I expected.) Back to the casa to load the money bell and let Bonnie have a siesta. She found it pretty warm.
February 4 2014 Final day in Trinidad, the Pottery place
We saw in the guide there was a hop-on hop-off bus for Trinidad and we had our eye out for it the whole time we were in Trinidad and never saw it, until the afternoon we were leaving, it isn’t a open top bus, just a regular bus that has a single stop in town, no sign telling you were it is. We were thinking about jumping on but weren’t sure if it was the last run or not so we passed. Too bad.
We sat in the park for a while and people watched, then went to the Iberstar and had a mojito, (3.75 and very good), and a cafe colida. Nice bar.
Went back to casa, did our packing and cleaning up, a spanish lesson, and read up on Camaguey. We had supper in the casa. Lobster for supper and it was extremely good. We settled the bill and got Lily to get us a bicycle taxi for the morning.
We had a great time at Casa Lily y Carlos, their card says Hostal Lily y Carlos of the 6 dinners we had in Trinidad, 3 were at Lily’s and they were the best dinners we had, they were also the least expensive. We would definitely go back to Lily’s if we were to go back to Trinidad, and I would recommend staying there to anyone. We really appreciated the casa feel compared to the hotel feel of the last casa.
February 5 Bus trip to Camaguey
We werer met by a guy with a sign that said “Megual MacDonalg”, close enough. Got punted to another driver and a guide, that made me nervous. Driver dropped us and the guide took us up the pedestrian street to the casa. We are in a central room, AC only, view at the window is a large heat exchanger and a flat roof. Outside the room is a nice patio area and on the roof is another area you can use. We liked sitting up there at night.
There was another couple at the casa, she is German, he’s from Arizona and living in Mexico. She did translation for us. The Casa owner has little English. This week is Camaguey’s 500th anniversary party. Lots of festivals etc. Supposed to be a very good dance troop here. Bonnie says the Ballet de Camaguey is a world class ballet company. The wife of the couple suggested Transtur over using Viazul as it costs the same and they pick you up. There is a large hotel across the street. We didn’t get the Viazul tickets and its a log way to the bus station. We will check on Transtur tomorrow. She was saying that the average government wage is about 20 CUC a month and people need about 100 CUC a month to live, so everyone is keen to work.
February 6, 2014 Camaguey Calle Republica, the Cuba apps, and the street celebrations
The breakfast was good, but not as good as Lily’s. We left after breakfast and did some walking around. We are right on Calle Maceo which is a pedestrian street where the big hotel and there is lots of shopping. Calle Maceo joins Calle Republica another pedestrian street where there is another full street of shops and restaurants.
We stopped at Esperanza, a little bar across from Restaurante Isabelle and had the best mojito ever! It had a touch of lime which really brought up the flavor, and 1.50 CUC according to the menu, except the waitress decided to ding us for 2 CUC. So that ticked us a bit, but considering it was the best mojito we have ever had for 2 and we have been paying 3 that wasn’t too bad. We stopped at El Globo, a supermarket, and bought a large 1.5 liter bottle of water for 0.70 CUC.
Before we left I downloaded a bunch of Cuba tourist apps for the tablet. All of them were absolutely useless. The funny thing as I was getting more and more frustrated at actually trying to use them, I noticed that one of the pictures in the app was showing where I was sitting from the roof of the hotel across the street. Cuba Free Travel Guide, Cuba Travel Guide by Triposo, Cuban and Havana Guide, none were worth the disk space. Any guide that requires either a data plan or wi-fi is useless in Cuba. If you are staying in one of the Government hotels with wi-fi, they might be of some value, until you step out of the hotel. We also found our spanish english translator to be useless as it required wifi. The spanish english dictionary was VERY useful. If you are planning on using an app in Cuba, download it, turn off the wifi and/or your data plan and try to use it. If it works at all, play with it. One of the apps had maps in it with no street names, so it was impossible to use it for traveling around.
We tried to find out how to use the Transtur bus but we couldn’t get any headway, back to Viazul.
Lots of great people watching at the square. The dancing at the square was good, the music was terrible, way too loud and miked very badly. You couldn’t hear the singers at all and the speakers sounded terrible. We enjoyed the flamenco and the young ballet dancers.
February 7, 2014 Walking around Camaguey, noticing a bunch of Masonic symbols.
We walked up to the top of the Catedral Metropolitana and did a panaorama from the top of the bell tower.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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 10, 2014 Off to Santa Clara
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.
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 11, 2014 Walking around Che city (Santa Clara)
Walking home we took a bunch of night photos. Some of the came out really quite nice.
February 12, 2014 The train museum, the Che with child statue, coffee, and the theatre.
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.
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 13, 2014 Iglesia del Carmen, Decorative Art Museum, more churches, and a chamber orchestra
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 14, 2014 People watching, impromptu street theatre, time to pack
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 15, 2014 Back to Varadero for a few days to relax and wind down.
We saw at least one masonic lodge and lots of agriculture.
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 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 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 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.
Back to the casa to pack and get ready for the long trip home.
The closest I’ve ever gotten to a picture of Elisa and her daughter Julian.
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.