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.

The bar at the tourist hotel was good for coffee and pictures. Very pretty and only 60 CUC a night, not bad. We met a guy from Estonia. He fended off the molesters and we took him to the hop-on hop-off bus stop and then to the Hotel for a drink. There were a bunch of fisherman on the bus on the way out. They came back without any of the fishing gear or the baseball bats that they came on the bus with. The driver dropped us back at 23rd rather than 13th where he picked us up.

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

Elisa and Pepe Casa Business card with email address.

Elisa and Pepe Casa Business card with email address.

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.

The hotel was the Hostal Bahia. It is a nice hotel but security was a bit different. It had a safe so we were not concerned. There was always someone around, we never came in or out of the place without running into one of the owners or house keepers/cooks. The window of the room opens onto the patio. There is a nice handle on the outside of the window to make it easier to open, there is no handle on the inside. There is a nail that you can put in to hold the window open, but no way to secure it closed. I’m actually quite sure, after looking at it, they mounted the window the wrong way around. We locked anything movable into the safe and didn’t worry about the rest. If someone stole our clothes that would be a pain but not terrible. But seriously, we dress much shabbier than the average Cuban. We immediately noticed an uptick in the fashionable ladies with their nice dresses and high heeled shoes.
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 Palacio de Valle is quite the place. On the way down the street we walked by the Club Cienfuegos a fancy yacht club and restaurant aimed at the bus tour crowd.

We also did a walk around the Parque de Esculturas, the park is full of sculptures it was really interesting and we enjoyed it a lot.

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. tn_052-sunset-from-the-casa-jpg

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.

The congress was in session and they had a ceremony at the Marti Memorial complete with a bunch of cadets to march around and look good, and they did.

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.

Veggie Omelet

Veggie Omelet


We had a vegetarian omelet for breakfast, a one egg omelet with a cabbage salad inside.

We were met at the Casa after breakfast by the taxi driver and his friend. Both Bonnie and I notice the driver slip his friend a commission. The taxi was an old Lada in OK shape The taxi driver spoke no english but we did ok. The Botanical Gardens were neat. We saw lots of flowers and almost stepped on a meter long snake coming out of the cactus garden. The body was black, the neck going grey and the head had a red tinge. The neck flattened a bit like a cobra hood. The books say there are no poisonous snakes in Cuba, wish we had read that before going to the Gardens. If you ever see a picture of and old car on a road bordered on both sides by Royal Palms, it was probably taken at the Gardens, we recognized the frame of it immediately.

There were large stands of bamboo where you could stand inside a ring of huge bamboo stalks. It was like standing inside a drum group tapping their drum sticks all around you. It was a interesting experience with the wind blowing the bamboo. There were lots of birds and butterflys. The trees were in blossom and we got several pictures of birds we had never seen before. The trip to the Botanical Gardens was well worth it. We have two cuba guides with us, Lonely Planet and Eyewitness, rarely do we carry both. The lonely planet is our go to guide. The Eyewitness guide does better on specific spots but not as good on the wide scope of things. We should have brought the Eyewitness guide for it’s map of the Gardens, but we didn’t. We did pretty good just wandering around and enjoying what we saw. There were huge thatch palms that had leaves bigger than Bonnie. There was a huge Banyan tree, lots of cactus in blossom. Great spot to visit and take some time.

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.

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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.

Another night of Night club and revelers. Bonnie was tired and so was I, we decided on a lay day. We watched the 1, 2, 4, and 8 person rowing teams and had an extra cup of coffee. This casa is much more like a hotel and has much more of a hotel feel than any casa we have ever stayed at. The extra coffee wasn’t treated as a refill but as two cups of coffee. My level of annoyance is rising with my lack of sleep due to the nightclub not far away.

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.
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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.

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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

Today is Marti Day, a celebration of Jose Marti. Every school makes a parade to the memorial and lays a bunch of flowers and leaves. We saw lots of students on the way to town, there was one group we watched at the memorial.

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.

We had spotted a thatched roof restaurant on the taxi rid and it wasn’t far from our casa. We had our “What are they doing here!” moment. No-one expected to see tourists here. The food was extremely cheap but not very good. The Pizza Mixto, the crust was good but the toppings were mostly meat, was a bit oily. Bonnie said that a Pizza Quesa would be like our garlic cheese fingers at home. She is probably right. We followed it with Spaghetti Sausage, overcooked spaghetti noodles in tomato soup with chopped up chicken hot dogs and cheese.

Walked back along the stadium and took lots of pictures of the sculptures around the stadium.
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January 29 2014, The Bird Sanctuary

We got up and went to the lagoon and saw lots of birds and plants. The guide’s english was pretty good. She was saying that sometimes they see the national bird, the Tocororo, but it is pretty rare. We actually got a picture of one when we were at the Botanical garden and didn’t know what it was.

tn_187-lagoon-of-bird-sanctuary-jpgWe 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.
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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.

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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.

She seemed like a very nice lady and her english was very good. We paid the bicycle taxi and stepped inside to be met by Lilly’s little baby girl and Lilly’s mother. The place instantly had the vibe of a casa, the kind of place we really like, so much better than the hotel atmosphere of the last casa. We talked for a while and we really liked Lilly. She was an anesthetist, her husband Carlos was a dermatologist and he was away working for the UN in Africa for 11 months. Doctors in Cuba are paid very poorly and “we all have second jobs to live.” Lilly’s second job is her casa.

We asked if she could make us dinner and then set out for a little walk back to the Plaza Carrillo, the little park area just a few blocks from where we are. Just before we got to the Plaza Carrillo we came upon a very well kept and very good looking Masonic lodge. Masons have a long history in Cuba and it doesn’t hurt that one for the most celebrated people in Cuba, Jose Marti, was a mason. It is not uncommon to see a square and compass on a door of someone’s home or lodges in the communities we pass through.

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.

Dinner was excellent and we noticed immediately it wasn’t as salty as the food that we were used to in Cuba, a nice change. The housing density in Cuba is intense and often there is no gap between your house and the next. Trinidad is packed tight. Trinidad is celebrating it’s 500th anniversary and space is tight. When I came out of the room I was looking at the wall of the house next door across the interior courtyard of our casa. It took me a minute to figure out what I was looking at. When they put water into the house they didn’t bring water into the house and then do all the plumbing inside the house. They mounted the fixtures on the inside of the wall and punched holes through the cinderblock wall and did the plumbing on the exterior of the house. I was looking at all of the plumbing (without the septic pipe) that you would need for the bathroom of a house mounted on the outside of the house.

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.

We walked up to the old city of Trinidad, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plaza Major, the center of the old town, is the focus of the tourists. We went up into the bell tower of the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, a monastery converted to the Museo de la Lucha contra Bandidos( Museum of the struggle against bandits).

The view from the top of the bell tower is spectacular. The panorama stitched together is 54000 pixels by 5200 and is 43 megabytes, It looks great on a big screen but not something for the gallery.

The rooms had displays on the revolution with a boat and a truck on display in the courtyard. Only the really good propaganda was translated to english and there wasn’t much of it. Bonnie’s spanish reading and language is much better than mine and I think she was able to read much more of it than me.

We came out of the Museum and sat in Plaza Major and notice that the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad, (Church of the Holy Trinity) was open. An open church is always a treat so we went to visit while it was open. You never know if it is open because of a bus tour, and will close immediately after or it will be open all day. Our rule is if the church is open now, go in now!

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 came out and had a mojito at the cafe beside the church, BAD mojito don’t do it. The best thing to say about the cafe is the shade. We walked from there to the local artisan market lots of cut-work lace, nice stuff and really very good prices. Bonnie didn’t want any, saying we didn’t need any of it. True enough.

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 had to be at the train for 9 am, both Bonnie and I thought it was a shorter walk from the casa to the train station that it was from the train station to the casa, could have something to do with the morning cool rather than the afternoon heat. We were ALMOST the first there, one other couple. Eventually we had a pretty good showing for the tourists although they did undo a car so we only had the engine, the bar car, and a passenger car. The Passenger car was wide enough for a bench with two seats, an aisle, and a bench for one. The train is a POSH experience, not meaning luxurious but Port Outboard Starboard Home, the original meaning. Those on the passenger liners traveling from India to England would prefer Port on the Outboard leg and Starboard on the home bound leg allowing their cabin to be in shade both ways. We would apply the same principle to the train. The shade was worth it.

We did a quick walk through the cut-work lace artisans to the tower and did a straight line to the top. We were able to take lots of pictures before anyone else arrived at the tower’s top floor. It was a LONG climb and I was huffing and puffing pretty hard by the time I got to the top. SPECTACULAR view! The tower was originally designed to allow the overseers to watch the slaves at work all over the plantation. BIG plantation. The 360 degree by 60 degree picture, 48 photos in all stitched together to be about a 154 Megapixel file, and 30 megabytes on disk. Well worth the climb!!

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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.

The train stopped at a small house along the way and we couldn’t figure out why until two farmers came out of the house and onto the train, they went to the bar car, got a bottle of rum and a couple of drinks and we were off again. Just delivering provisions to the locals!

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

We really enjoyed seeing the coffee plants, everything from little twigs coming out of the ground to trees the size of a large apple tree and even the size of a small elm. There were trees in blossom and full of red bunches of beans. Sometimes we suffer from not having enough Spanish and this place was definitely one. I would have loved to spend some extra time asking more questions about the coffee plants.

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.
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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.

We saw the Santa Anna Church, it is just a shell of a church now. There was a German bicycle tour bus there, it was interesting. The Transtur bus took out the seats on one side of the bus and stored the bikes there. Lots of Germans around. Even the cubans ask if we are German before asking if we are Canadian.

We saw the Architectural Museum, the Museum of the African Religion, the Municipal Museum . The Municipal and the Architectural Museums were worth the admission fee.

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.

Supper at San Jose’s very good food.

February 4 2014 Final day in Trinidad, the Pottery place

We had breakfast with a birthday cake and a present from Lily! Lily’s birthday cake had a different icing than we were used to, almost a cocoa icing but an awesome chocolate flavor. We loved it, and I can’t thank her enough. I got Bonnie a trip to Cuba for her birthday! Gave Lily a load of laundry to do for us as well as asked her to call the next casa. They had called the previous day looking for us, the first one to ever do so but Lily called and everything was ok. We expected the laundry bill to be 10-14 cuc if she charged what the previous casa had charged but it was 6 cuc so we were very happy.

We went to the pottery place not far from the casa and we knew we were close when we saw the Transtur bus. The pottery was being made at the place so there was no question about it’s origin. The kiln was there and there were people working on stuff made in the store. We really liked lots of stuff, it was very different than the stuff we can get around home. We ended up buying a piece of pottery, (now all we have to do is get it home!) It is an interesting piece. If you visit remind us and we will show it to you.

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 left Lily’s on a bicycle taxi and got to the Viazul bus station. The bus left late and the bathroom on the bus was not working (not an unusual occurrence), by the time we got to the first bathroom stop Bonnie and I were the first off the bus, Bonnie dug out two coins I got a quarter and Bonnie got a 5 centavo. The attendant gave Bonnie the 5 centavo back on the way out with a scowl, Bonnie found another coin for her and that made her smile. Late leavin the lunch stop and almost an hour late arriving in 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

There is very little English spoken at the casa, other than by the guests. The family lives in a very separate area from the guests so the casa doesn’t have the casa feel. This is more of a hotel than a casa.

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 were planning on walking around then back to the casa for a siesta then out to the theatre in the evening. We saw a few churches and squares. Lots of artwork everywhere. We walked the length of Republica up as far as the church beyond the train station. On our way back down Republica above the pedestrian section we stopped at the Municipal Museum. Lots of stuff and as the guide says, no theme. Archeology, antiques, stuffed birds and animals from all over the world, the list goes on. The building itself is interesting. Well worth our 2 CUC entrance fee.

We walked back down to the theatre and ran into a guy how claimed to work with a Cuban musical group called Deseada, or Deseado. The group was mentioned in a brochure we saw, it is a creole group. He told us about working with them and it was interesting. It sounded like the show at Maceo was going to be a really good show and we shouldn’t miss it. We decided to go the show on Maceo that night and then the ballet at the theatre the next night.

We talked about a lot of Cuban stuff. Last week the place was full of dust, scaffolding, and painters, this week it is pretty spiffy. All the painting had to be done for this week. They were in a rush and missed one side of the church tower. (We checked later, they had missed two sides.) It was almost like someone stood in the middle of the square and told the workers to paint everything you can see from here. They couldn’t see those two sides, so they didn’t paint them. No matter where we were there were places where there was a bit of trim missing paint, or the paint seemed to have run out so they stopped. The quote I remember from the brit was typical of a brit “they couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery”.

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.

We went to the Plaza de la Solidaridad after a pizza and focaccia bread at Restaurante Isabella, worst mojito ever!

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 10, 2014 Off to Santa Clara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 16, 2014 Varadero

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

February 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.

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