2015 Our Third Trip to Cuba
January 27 2015 ESCAPE!
Made it out of Fredericton in the nick of time SNOWMAGGEDON was what the US was calling the storm. Our forecast was 20-30 cm (8 to 12 inches) with blowing winds. Everyone called asking if we knew about the storm and asking if we were going to get out. The weathernetwork.com weather forecast said that we should expect to get snow starting about 5 am; the Environment Canada forecast said it would start at 3am and the NOAA’s forecast for Houlton ME said it would start about 4EST or 5 local. We were scheduled to leave at 0530. It was supposed to start with accumulation of 2-3 cm per hour and build to 8-10 cm per hour. If it did start at 3am we would have a couple inches on the ground when the plane left but if it held off until the 5am time frame we could easily be gone before the storm really started. We crossed our fingers and watched to see if the forecast changed. It held consistent for the 24 hour, 18 hour and 12 hour forecast. I was considering changing the flight and leaving the night before just to get out of the range of people asking Bonnie if she knew there was a MAJOR BLIZZARD Going to hit on TUESDAY the day we were leaving. Believe me, we knew!
Paul picked us up at 0400 and there was no snow. He asked us if we wanted him to wait but it would have to be a miserable storm for us to go from no snow to airport closed in a couple hours. We did know the plane was the one that came in at 1am so it was sitting on the ground waiting for us.
We told him we would call if needed but to go back home and go to bed. At 420 when they opened the gate there was no snow coming down. I thought it might have started a couple times but the snow was blowing off the roof. We left Fredericton before the storm made it. We sent a text to my niece Nicole and asked her to call my mother to tell her we got out ok. This is a toss up, lots of times we don’t tell her were going on a trip until we are back, but she knew we were going, so she was in full panic mode with the storm. Nicole works with the school timetable and the storms had shut the school system down by the time we were waiting at the gate for our fight from Toronto to Varadero. There was a light snow in Toronto at the time, something we didn’t need to tell Nicole. By the time they called our flight the snow was gone and Toronto was starting to clear. We took off on time and got a free UPGRADE to the front of the plane nicer seats, more leg room and FOOD! I bought a lunch for the plane but didn’t bother eating it. It got claimed by the agricultural dept in Cuba. Bonnie was thinking we would have it for dinner.
We changed our money and went to the new Viazul office at the airport. There was a TRANSTUR bus leaving for Varadero for $10cuc/p rather than the $6/cuc for Viazul but they would drop us at Elisa and Pepe’s (or close as it turned out) and we wouldn’t have to wait for 3 hours. A deal at twice the price. Taxis are charging $40cuc. The official exchange rate is 1.2969 Cdn to 1 CUC ouch! (Later when we counted our money more carefully we discovered we got stung again at the exchange place. We were a little shy on the change we were supposed to get but that’s known to happen. Count your change especially carefully at the airport exchange office. )
We arrived at Elisa and Pepe’s it was great to see them again. They were in the process of a bit of painting. Their TV died and they bought a new set and since it was down it was time to paint. Joan was helping Pepe put up the mount for the TV. Julien was painting the wall behind the TV. She was only slightly less covered in paint than the wall. Joan, their son is graduating in Civil Engineering. Julien is graduating high school this year and she is going to med school in the fall. Elisa is turning 50 and Juan is getting married in May. BIG YEAR for Elisa and Pepe. Pepe has a new job as chef at one of the more informal restaurants. He was in great spirits and we were very happy to hear that he was willing to cook for us. We’re having his lobster ($8cuc) and shrimp ($7cuc) meals.
Both Bonnie and I are tired and not really interested in doing much. We got up at 3:36(2:36 Cuba time), got cleaned up, and then drained the water from the house so if we had a power failure we wouldn’t come home to frozen pipes. We turned the heat down a bit (the brick fireplace is a massive heatsink and I’m not sure turning the heat down a lot makes a lot of sense that is a lot of thermal mass to have to reheat when we come back. The house seems cold for days after turning up the heat and it is just the brick heating up. It also gives us a bit of a hedge if the heat goes off in the winter. The hot water tank costs almost as much to run as it does to heat the house. We did turn it off before we drained the pipes.
Pepe always treats us very well and Elisa gave bonnie a self embroidered place mat from her to bonnie and me. I loved the Cuban coffee and the HUGE Cuba libre.
It is nice to hear the street venders again. We have our birds eye view of the world again. Time to go and relax
Since Pepe was available we had him cook dinner for us. We eat earlier than most Cubans which I think suits Elisa and Pepe they can have us out of the way and still have an early night.
Juan and Aylin(his fiance) took us up to the roof to watch the sunset and we talked about Cuba for awhile. They are excited to see the Americans coming. Cuba has 2 million tourists a year and they are expecting 5 million from America alone once everything is in full gear. We have been up since 2 their time so we are ready to die. The recipes were completely different than last time and still very good. The shrimps had a slight peanut sauce. After Dinner Juan asked our opinion of his wedding invitations he was going to order. All three were good pictures but one stood out for us. He and Alyin kissing on the beach with the turquoise water in the background. For a young couple getting married that seemed to fit better than his others. He is anticipating great things from the opening of the American market to Cuba. I hope he is right. He is talking that there is 20000 rooms available in Varadero. They are expecting to get that number to grow to 45000 with the American influx.
Here is the link to our 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery, stay tuned it will be updated as our photos are added and I bring the web site up to date with our cuba trip.
January 28, 2015 A day to get on Cuban time
We always take a day for letting our bodies adjust to the climate and to go from winter hibernation mode to actually wanting to do something outside. Today is to get our tickets to Santiago de Cuba and ask Elisa to call the next casa, Walk the beach and relax. The school is closed for roof repairs and we missed watching the kids going to school and playing in the school yard.
We had a good breakfast and headed out to the bus station.
We got our tickets and walked along First Ave in search of a couple large bottles of water and shelter from the shower that was passing over. We went into the circular underground mall and walked around until the shower cleared. We walked down to the store a the end of our street and they had no large bottles left but they did have mineral water for 0.70 We found a cold natural water and took it to the checkout and they wanted $2 cuc for it. That was a bit too much so we put it back and went searching again. One of the little cafes had it for $0.80 cuc cold so we bought two of the 1.5 L bottles and headed back to the casa to drop the extra bottle and a little of the fluid we had previously drank. The bathrooms in Cuba often have an attendant that requires a tip before you can go in 0.10 cuc is a normal tip so the $0.40cuc change is a useful bit of cash for the bus trip.
We gave Elisa our trip plan and asked if she would call the next Casa and tell them we were set on the Viazul bus and we were coming. The casa owners are very happy to get the call so they don’t mind making the call for us.
We did a search for places to eat on tripadvisor before we left and it gave us a few places in Varadero we had never been to so we set out at lunch to find one of them. The first ended up being only open for dinner meals so we continued on. The Casa de Chef was a great little place for lunch. We ordered four appetizers (2 bread with taste, a soup, and a salad) The bread with taste was about the best bread we have had in cuba. Not the normal white bread at all. It was a different whole grain bread cooked with pork rind in it. VERY TASTY BREAD. Our lunch ended up being $7.50 cuc + a tip (the cost included a water for bonnie and a beer for me.) After lunch we went for a walk and when I started to take a couple pictures both cameras gave me memory card errors. NOT a good thing finding Memory cards may not be an easy task in Varadero. We went back to the casa and I started investigating the problems and I think I was able to get most of my pictures off the cards and reformatting them seems to have cured the problems. We’ll see. Last year I didn’t bring a computer with me and went home with 5 full memory sticks. Post processing convinced me to bring my netbook along for the ride, although I don’t like typing on this keyboard at all. The netbook is able to download my memory cards from the cameras so that if I have a couple of them go bad it isn’t that much of an issue and the netbook is tiny and easy to carry.
After an afternoon nap and a little bit of reading we were off to our restaurant la Vaca Rosada (The pink cow).
We walked back to the casa and settled in for the night. We have to pack our stuff for the long bus ride. I’ve got some memorizing to do for lodge so that’s an idea as well.
January 29 Walking around Varadero
Our bus was leaving at 21:45 so we had a day to walk around and do not much of anything. We checked out of Pepe’s and Elisa’s and they were kind enough to allow us to leave our bags in their apartment and come back and get them later. They had another guest coming in so we had to go but that was fine with us. They kept our bags and I felt that they were much safer with Pepe than they would be at the bus station. Last time we were looking for a leather backpack for me so we did a lot of shopping and then decided that no matter how good it looked leather really wasn’t practical on the boat so after all that shopping decided against it. This year we didn’t have any particular project so it was wasting a day in the nice weather waiting for a bus. There was a cold front coming through so the surf was huge and the red flags were up signifying no swimming. That was ok with us. Last thing I wanted to do was go swimming and get a bunch of salt water in my hair for the bus ride. We walked up as far as Parque Jasone and walked around the park. The cave doesn’t seem to be any more open than it ever has been. The bano attendant wanted 1 cuc for 2 people. I came out wanted my money back, they were gross. They used to be one of the better public bathrooms.
We had a coffee at a cafe and watched the people. For lunch we had a two coffees and split a hamburger with cheese. My pronunciation of Queso was so bad the waiter came out with “Cheese. I practice my english and you practice your spanish.” I knew I massacred it but at least I tried. Some days my tongue just doesn’t want to twist in spanish (2 coffees and a hamburger with cheese was $1.95).
We walked down to the Infotur office and on the fifth try we had the same luck as the first four, nada.
We walked down and sat on the beach watching the surf and the few brave swimmers. There were a few brave souls. But not many, most were working on their tans.
We left decided to have an early dinner at the Casa del Chef and then pick up the bags and wait at the bus terminal. The “Bread with taste” that was so tasty last time was the same crusty white bread as you see everywhere. It didn’t hold a candle to the stuff we had the first time. Bonnie and I had a “bread with taste, a soup of the day (this time it was vegetable), and a tropical beef(200g). Normally when we see the grams listed it is a sign to leave the restaurant. The government restaurants aren’t normally that good. But this one was listed in Trip Advisor as being very good. Our meal this time was at best, average. The beef was tough but it normally is. The tropical beef came with a salad. Bonnie and I did our usual split and ended up with a good meal for two by cutting the single serving of tropical beef in two Cost for a beer, a water, a bread with taste, veg soup, and the tropical beef entre was $11.50 plus tip.
We thought the Casa del Chef was good one day for lunch and average the next for dinner. Such is life.
Pepe gave us his new card with his new email address on it. It goes to his phone so that it is very good for him. I will put it on the web site when I get home. We say their booking sheet for Feb when we checked our return reservation and they are fairly well booked. Nice to see. We’ll call ahead further when we know we are coming to cuba again. Bonnie and I are wondering what we will do next year. We like cuba but aren’t sure about another year. We may do trip back and just hit our favorite spots.
January 30, On our list of Good Days in Cuba, This wasn’t one of them.
We knew it probably wasn’t going to be considering we were starting out at 10:00 pm (Jan 29) for a 15 and a half hour bus ride. By the time we got to Santigo de Cuba at 13:30, with one quick bathroom break, and no coffee or any food since 5 pm the previous day we were ready to get to casa for a coffee, a clean up and dinner. But we did want to get the tickets for the trip out considering it was an hour walk from our casa to the Viazul bus terminal. Bonnie was 5th or 6th in line so considering it took the agent about 2-3 minutes to book our tickets in Varadero to come to Santiago de Cuba I was figuring 15-20 minutes and we would be gone with another job done. I went to tell the taxi driver we were here and Bonnie was in line for the tickets out but it should only be a few minutes. Except that it was taking 20-25 minutes PER PERSON. Yes after waiting 3 hours Bonnie was the second person and they had to shut down that line to do the check ins for the bus to Havana.
We got to the casa shortly after 5pm. I was talking to the girl that was in the line before Bonnie she was a girl from Belgium and she was spitting mad. I gave her the email address to complain too I don’t know if it will do any good but at least there will be two of us complaining bitterly. We are going to try to book our tickets at Baracoa for the rest of the trip. Our casa is a block or two away and if we can avoid Santiago de Cuba’s RUDE ticket agent that just doesn’t give a hoot. It will be worth it. We got to the Casa Colonial Nivia Melendez (top rated on trip advisor) and Beatriz was a breath of fresh air. While we brushed our teeth, she made us coffee. We were both feeling a little bit of a headache, not sure if it was dehydration or caffeine that was the source of the problem but we had a bottle of water and a good hit of good coffee and that did the trick. Before we left NB we had exchanged emails with Beatrix and ordered our supper, one order of her pork and one order of her chicken. Both were good but if I had to order it again the chicken is much less salty than the pork and Cuban cuisine would be much improved if the government confiscated all of the salt shakers. One thing that would be hard to improve would be the chocolate ice cream. The chocolate is made not far away and the ice cream is added to it a little closer. One bite and bonnie’s eyes lit up, more like the eyes rolled back into her head. It makes our chocolate ice cream taste like diluted mud. She offered me more but I have two goals this trip. One is to get more exercise (THAT ISNT A PROBLEM) and the other is not to gain too much weight. So one helping of chocolate ice cream will do. I am thinking hard about how to get it back in my carry on luggage. Canada customs would probably cease it and it is way to good to share with them.
Bonnie has crashed and it is before we got on the bus the night before. I looks like a very good idea, so here’s hoping for a better day tomorrow!
Jan 31 Getting lost in Santiago de Cuba
Breakfast wasn’t quite as good as Pepe’s but That is hardly a criticism. Pepe is a top grade chef and presentation is a big thing to chef’s. The food was still very good, and lots of it. Bananas, pineapple, melons, rolls (HONEY TO DIE FOR) two boiled eggs, and amazingly good coffee.
We found Parque de Cepeties fairly easily and did the tour of the immediate attractions. The oldest house in Cuba is turned into a museum. They wanted 2cuc per person and another 5 for the camera. We nixed the camera and walked around they have a lot of nice furnature but there is a lot of exhaust that has settled on the exhibits over the years and most of the really nice stuff has been blackened. The thing that was one of the neatest things to see would have been the globe from the 1600s but it was completely blackened. Not worth the 5 CUC and at 2 CUC it’s iffy.
The cathedral is undergoing a massive refit. The whole interior is full of scaffolding with you are able to wind yourself around and see some of the sites. There were 8 huge rolls of copper roofing sitting in the church. That would have been under lock and key at home. Each one of those is worth a small fortune.
From the square we went over to the terrace of the Grand Hotel and had a coffee and lunch a plate of fried banana chips and a fruit plate, two mojitos, and a Buchanero. The mojitos were good, they were not as sweet as most of the mohitos you get. Once we were at the square we able to get on the historic walking tour from the Lonely Planet. We did the leg west of the square. It took us to the balcony to overlook the bay and the Sierra Maestra mountains. It is an awesome view and it stitched to 126 megapixels.
We went down the hill and up to the Padre Pico steps steps carved into the rock to form a staircase. The guide says they were originally terra cotta but I think they have been replaced over they years and fortified by concrete. The Museum just up from the steps is the Museo de la Luca Clandestina about the revolution and July 26 movement. It was a barracks for Baptista’s police force. It is ironic that the small house next door was the house Castro grew up in. Familiarity and all.
From there we retraced our steps back to the Parque de Cepeties and then up to the shopping street and walked along the shops until we turned up toward the casa. We arrived at the casa and after walking around from 10 to 3 in the heat it was time for a snooze before supper. We went on trip advisor to find what were the restaurants to check out and two of them are within a small walk. We went to the number 5 place on the list Restaurante Aurora and it was very good. We had the barbecued chicken and the pork Aurora (which was a barbecued pork shoulder(we think)).
Not a really busy day but we are already behind on our pictures and our log and our first day in a new city takes a little getting organized.
Here is the link to our 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery, stay tuned it will be updated as our photos are added and I bring the web site up to date with our Cuba trip.
February 01, The east end of the historical walk
Our casa is on Trinidad also called General Portuondo, every street has two names, one listed on the buildings on the street, and one listed on the guides. Some of the guides use one set of names and the other one may use the other set of names. It’s a mixed bag and confusing at best, curse worthy at times. I’m beginning to like the location of our casa more and more. We walked out to the end of our street (UP A BIG HILL) and we were at the beginning of the Lonely Planet’s historical tour.
On our way we stopped at a church that was open. Being Sunday it is ripe pickings to see churches that are normally closed and you can’t get into. This one was open and in very good shape with quite a few people in it.
Up from the the church is a masonic lodge it was closed but looking in the crack of the door it was in good shape and active. We walked by a huge fountain. It wasn’t running but if it ever was it would be an impressive thing to see. We took lots of photos as it was on a high point and gave us a good view.
The historical tour starts at Cuartel Moncada. It was the location of the first battle of the revolution Fidel attacked the barracks, Raul attacked the Palacio de Justice and a third guy attacked the hospital. Raul took the Palacio de Justice, the other guy got the hospital but Fidel got his butt handed to him at the barracks and bid a hasty retreat in about 10 minutes. Raul saw things going to hell and got out, and the third guy got caught and executed for his troubles. Fidel was sent to prison and eventually released with the chant of “history will absolve me”. The barracks are now a very large school with one end that is still the museum. The Baptista Regime cemented the bullet holes over and when Fidel came to power they recreated them, without using bullets.
Inside the museum is a wardrobe full of bloody clothes of martyrs to the cause as well as lots of weapons. We didn’t have enough Spanish to get much out of it. There was one nice piece of art work. This was one of the few places that we have seen a exhibition of pictures of Fidel. Almost all of them as an old man. One of his last public appearances in 2012, he’s an old man now.
From the Cuartel Moncada we headed back along the Lonely Planet’s historical path. Along the way there are lots of street murals and interesting buildings. A few of the signs that we weren’t real happy to see were the temperature signs 36C yeah we knew it was hot but I didn’t think it was that hot. The breeze picked up and we saw a couple other signs later in the day that was 31 C and 29 C. It was officially hot at 36C. Bonnie doesn’t do well at 31 and I’m not so great at 36. Lots of guides saying the carnival in July is incredible to see. If January is 36 I can’t imagine what July would be like.
We made it back to Parque de Cespedes and the terrace of the Grand Hotel, the waitress took our order for Mohijos and never looked at us again. We did get her to get us a menu when we ordered the drinks but she never came back I had to walk by her to go to the bathroom but she wouldn’t meet my gaze at all. We left money to pay for the drinks and went to the Taverna El Baturro (I sight read this as Taverna Bacardi and bonnie sight read it as taverna bucanero (the local beer) ) We were the only white people in the place and the only tourist as well. They had a local beer we haven’t seen anywhere else. When I ordered it the waitress looked a little concerned. The two guys at the bar were watching my reaction to the first sip. Hatuey is a little less refined and a lot more malty than the tourist bucanero. It was good enough that I ordered another. We had a mixed salad and what turned out to be a grilled cheese sandwich pannini style two brews and a bottle of water for $8cuc.
We found the Emilio Bacardi (of the rum fame) museum and it was closed for the day so we moved it to the day after tomorrow. We got the casa to book a tour for us which should take most of tomorrow.
We walked up the street and found the restaurant we were planning to eat supper at. Turns out it is one block further up the street than our last night supper, It is number 2 on Trip advisors top restaurants. We turned onto our street and there was another Masonic Lodge (That’s three on the same street for those that are counting.) There were seven steps up from the street to the front door guarded by two brazen pillars that were well polished and cleaned.
Bonnie crashed and let me have time to work on the trip log, I’ll have to wake her soon or she won’t sleep. The temperature is dropping and we are starting to see others moving around. The square was about deserted at noon.
Trip Advisor nailed it again. We went to Primos Twice. We had a mixed salad a generous amount, two bottles of water, pork steak with fine herbs, grilled fish of the house, (both entrees came with rice and vegetables), two coffees and we split a flan for dessert, $13.50cuc plus tip. The food was very good and the service was excellent. Trip Advisor gets around, there were a group of 5 Japanese as well as us there that mentioned TripAdvisor. This was the first time we have used them for restaurants but considering how well we are doing it won’t be our last.
February 2, The planted, the plants, and the almost planted.
Click on any of these images to see the full size from the 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery There are more images in the gallery than are in these posts.
We bought a few examples of the art work created by the original curator he gave the Jardin to the government in 1974. There were lots of plants to be seen and appreciated.
From there we went back to the casa and cracked another LARGE bottle of water. We had nap under the fan and cooled off. We went to the number 2 place on Trip Advisor’s places to eat the Compay Gallo. Three of the top 5 places to eat are within a few blocks of our Casa. And they have all lived up to the reputation. The food at the casa has been very good as well so far I think the best food we have had in Cuba has been in Santiago de Cuba.
I’ve been having a few problems with my computers and tech. The little usb card reader I have is not always being recognized by my netbook and my netbook will decide it needs to do is diskcheck every now and then so I’m not sure what is going on. I brought my netbook to do the pictures and diary and because we almost ran out of disk space on the camera disks last time. (The little issue of dealing with 20ish Gig of photos when I got home may have had something to do with it too.) It was a cheap little portable card reader that I bought in a Walmart many years ago so it might be reaching it’s life. I have carried it in my case for many years and many miles so I may drop it in a drawer when I get home and use another for a while and see if it it what is causing the problems. Not sure how hard it would be to find technology stuff in Cuba. Last time we tried to find a 4G SDHC card when we were running low on space and we couldn’t find one. I’m not sure if it was a case of our bad spanish and not finding the right place to look or availability. I did a backup of the good pictures (450M) and the log and left the raw pictures (1.8G) on the disk hoping that it isn’t the netbook causing the issues. The netbook is also my nav computer on the boat so it spends months at a time on the boat in a less than ideal condition for technology too. Computers are like milk if you buy too much at the beginning it goes bad by the time you use it up. I must admit the 64bit machine at home handles the image stitching much better than the little netbook. It is doing surprisingly well though. Most of the time I’m doing word processing and spreadsheets so I don’t need a real heavy duty computer.
February 03, Rum, rum, more rum, and a chocolate soldier
One of the more useful apps is the Google Translate function. We can actually point it at a sign and the app will translate it for us. It doesn’t work great on plaques and things that are really busy but you can type in the text you want to translate and it works too. If you have an internet connection it can actually do speech recognition as well. Hopefully the need for the internet connection will go away and we would have almost a babble fish (something for the non douglas adams fans to look up).
February 4 A bank, a bank, and finally a frigging bank!
We took a bicycle taxi back to Parque Cespetes and we went looking for a bank Bonnie thought we were looking for the National Bank of Cuba on the square and I was looking for the Casaeca which didn’t help our confusion when we were pointing two different directions at the same time. We still had enough money to get back to Santigo de Cuba if we couldn’t get cash but it would severely curtail any tours in Baracoa if we couldn’t get cash. The first bank we did get to was the National Bank of Cuba after a 1 hour very confusing queuing system we got to the teller she had everything counted out and ready to go and the communications were down so no money. “Try the Casaeca” found it tried it, 25 minute wait, no communications. The guy in front of us suggested the commercial bank down the street. Two and a half hour wait in a queue that even the cubans were pissed about, WE GOT CASH! Walking around with the almost five years salary for a doctor in cuba in my pocket is not really what I like but we made it to the casa and got it into my money pouch. We will get rid of close to a year of that tonight at the casa when we settle our bill for 6 days. It ended up being a cheaper stay than we expected.
It’s bonnie’s birthday she got a trip to cuba for her birthday. We are eating dinner at the casa and then packing for an early departure to Baracoa
We asked that Beatrix book a driver to get us to the bus terminal. All I said was “No Wilberto” What does she do. She tells Wilberto that we didn’t want him and then asks why and then books him! I was livid. She got the hint that I was not happy but bonnie did her usual and sided with anyone I ruffle feathers with, and against me.
I’ve learned to bite my tongue.
Feb 5 Fantastic bus trip from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa and we almost made it.
Wilberto shows up in the morning and we made it safely to the bus terminal. He didn’t say a word and neither did I. The casa owner made us a small breakfast it was very early and didn’t charge us for it. Bonnie figured it was a peace offering. It was only after we settled it the bus terminal that bonnie got around to asking why I didn’t want Wilberto. After I listed about 3-4 reasons not counting the rip off charge she may have understood the point.
We got on the bus and headed to Baracoa. The bus trip is through incredible scenery. Super mountains and rivers, seacoasts and mountain passes. I took over 200 photos out the window. I usually take lots of those on these bus trips. Very few, about 5-6, are worth keeping but every trip has one or two of the hundreds that turn up to be very good photos. We made it through the mountain pass and stopped at a farmer’s house “20 Minutes” called the driver. The sign in front of us said “Baracoa 27 km” and it had to be mostly down hill. When we got out there was a distinct smell, I thought it might have been brakes but it wasn’t quite right. The engine compartment came open and the boys started fishing out tools and belts. Not exactly sure what happened but after a bit more than 20 minutes we were back on the road again. The trip to Baracoa is worth the 15CUC just for the scenery. It is worth much more than that to be OUT OF Santiago do Cuba.
Santiago started with a 4 hour wait for bus tickets to get out and Wilberto and our last day was a LITTLE bit less than 4 hours in banks trying to get money basically 2 days out of 6 dealing with Cuban bureaucracy, and the cherry on top was the mess with the casa about Wilberto. About the only thing we didn’t see that we wanted was the Emilio Bacardi Museum. And that isn’t worth dealing with Santiago de Cuba again.
We arrived in Baracoa and there was a bicycle taxi waiting for us. The sign the guy was holding looked something like if you mashed spanish and english together and spelled it phonetically. I ask if he was from Casa Dourkis and he connected my spanish but nodded, and took us to our casa. It has a spectacular 360 degree view the Caribbean on one side and the mountains on the other. AWESOME.
After checking in we walked up to the bus station and they said to come back in the morning to get tickets. From there we walked to the main square and found an Infotur who seems to have a job that does nothing but point you to other places he pointed us to a Cubatur. We booked a tour for the next day. We walked back to the casa and sat on the terrace and drank water and I started working on the trip diary. Bonnie did a bit of reading. Another couple is staying in the casa. They are from holland and driving on their own, 1800 km so far. They are a week and a half into a three week trip. They have done about the same trip as we have in 3 years. They have an interesting view of the cubans as well.
February 6, If you don’t like the way I drive, stay out of the ditch!
Everything in Baracoa is close, it’s a pretty small town. We got in a 15 passenger van and started out. We had a little girl from Turkey with us, she was 19 and doing a long vacation before returning to think about school. She needed a little taking care of. We had to stop at her casa to get her bikini, she didn’t know we were going to the beach and swimming at a waterfall. So we did. She lost track of her water bottle. And then something else and something else. We got underway and all was well, patience is a required skill in Cuba. We drove by a Masonic Lodge on the way to her casa.
The Dutch couple who are driving around Cuba described the color coded roads as yellow with red stripes are good roads. The yellow roads are, well, OK. The white roads are, well, there might have been a road there at one time but are now mostly potholes. We were on a white road.
We drove by the only Chocolate factory in cuba started by Che after the revolution. Tours are not available but the smell alone is worth the drive by. We had packed a lunch made from our large breakfast and had our bottle of water. The chocolate smell made the lunch sound rather sparse.
The guide we had was Karl, althought he was fine with Carlos if you wanted to call him that. He was one of the best guides we have ever had. His gift with language was impressive. He showed and told us lots about the flora and fauna of the island. Included were a number of orchids, the cocoa, philodendrons, lots of different kinds of palms, an American Kestral (the smallest falcon on the island), the Torrococo the national bird of Cuba, a very small (1cm as a full adult) and poisonous tree frog, called eleutherodactylus ibereria( a frog that is about one tenth the length of his name), and a 6 inch long millipede. He also guided us safely around a number of extremely slippery muddy sections as well as a few fords over the rivers. We made it to the waterfall where we were to have lunch and there was a farmer’s wife set up with a nut brittle (almonds, and cashews bound together with a chocolate sugary coconut glue that was 99% nuts (all local from the forest) as well as a sweet johnny cake with a guava preserve in it. 0.50CUC for each so I had to try it. I had my swimsuit on under my pants so I peeled off and headed up toward the waterfall. I should have brought my aquasocks the rocks were murdering my feet. But I did manage to get up to it with only my normal whiney wimpy feet noises. I had my camera with me so I got pictures for bonnie. It wasn’t a great waterfall but the water was refreshing as it was very hot in the rainforest.
There was a farmer that had his oxen team cart that “Just happened” to be going our way and would be happy to let us ride the four fords of the river that we had to make. We were happy to give him a small donation to the cause if we could keep the shoes dry for a while longer. They were plenty muddy but still dry. Dry feet are happy feet. We got back to the bus and made the trip back to the Playa Maguana, according to the guide (and our casa owner) the best beach in the area. We enjoyed walking the beach and bonnie got a few sea beans, always a treasured surprise. We got back to Baracoa in time for a nice shower and a bit of picture processing time.
February 07 Rain, rain, and then more RAIN
It rained during the night. Our room has louvered windows and is great as air flows all around and we up on the top floor so we don’t have to close things up for security. The fresh air turned into rain so I got up and closed on side of the building and went back to bed, a while later bonnie got up and closed the window in front of the bathroom and the we heard what I thought was one of the loud metal carts with large ball bearings for wheels running down the street. Except it wasn’t it was the rain hitting one of the metal roofs next door. It was raining very hard.
We decided to forgo any tours and stay close to home. We walked around town with me wearing the masonic logo hat that Gord bought for me before the trip. I had a few people look at it but nothing more than an odd glance. We walked up to the hotel overlooking the town and it is just about dead we saw three people that were guests. We got a few good panoramas and then noticed a lot of rain on the horizon so we headed back toward our casa.
I spent most of the day doing pictures and writing the log. Our sport for the day was watching the cathedral come and go from our view. The mountains really never came back all day. Once the rain closed in the mountains were gone. We could usually see the spires of the cathedral but the clock on the clock tower would often lost in the driving rain.
February 8, Rain Rain go away, We’ve had enough already.
There was a young German couple joining us for breakfast. They are in cuba for two weeks and with the rain they figured they would rather spend it on the bus rather than in a casa. So they were going to pack up and go. We are “relaxed” travelers and if we have to sit a couple days all I have to do is think of -20 and blowing snow and the warm rain doesn’t seem bad at all.
A day to do a little memorizing for my office in lodge and, well, the day will pass with a little reading. When we were traveling on the boat we would see people beating themselves to death to make miles. We’ve always said the difference between a good passage day and getting beat up traveling in bad weather was a nap, a glass of wine, and good book. Wait a day it will pass. Now where is my glass of wine, oh well, a mojito will have to do.
February 9 Rain’s almost done, time for a tour.
We were up and had breakfast in time to go to the Cubatur office to catch a tour, on our way we walked by the Masonic Lodge in Baracoa, (Just down the street from the Cubatur office).
One of the things that got pointed out was that all of the refuse gets tossed back under the trees for fertilizer. Cuba doesn’t have access to modern chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Everything grown in Cuba is organic, not by choice but by necessity.
We left there and when to the place where we could order lunch. We ordered a conch steak to share and did a little walk around on the dark sand beach. The surf from the previous day’s high winds were still pounding on the shore. There may still be higher winds offshore pushing them in. The dark sand was not that hot due to the clouds and the high surf. It looked like a nice place to come back to so we were happy. I made two mistakes one was not wearing a swimsuit and the other was not bringing my aquasocks. The swimsuit I wasn’t really upset about I wasn’t planning on going into the salt water and I figured that any fresh water swimming would be nixed with the two days of very high rainfall. The aqua socks for protecting my feet would have been a very good idea.
The blossoms on the tables weren’t real, they were all made out of plastic, (water bottles mostly) T hey were impressive art all by themselves.
Before we got on, Bonnie had me take a picture. The dock was two or three boards stretching out into the river. Bonnie looked at me and said take a picture for Mike Stanley and tell him to show the picture to the members of the yacht club complaining about our docks needing repair.
We walked around the island in the river and the guide showed us a couple of hummingbird nests. One had babies in it but mom showed up and sat on it and wouldn’t let anyone else look. The aqua socks would have been a good idea for the trip as the island was normally a sand bar and mostly dry the bulk of the island was dry but I got my feet wet a couple of places crossing the river. It was almost chocolate milk brown with sediment from the hills.
When the more intrepid water waders got back from looking at another nest the guy we had seen swimming across the river was back with several green coconuts for sale. He chopped a hole and stuck a bamboo straw through the hole and you could drink coconut water and when you were done he would chop the nut in half and dig out the meat for you to eat if you wanted. It has never been a favorite thing of mine but Bonnie loves it so we shared and she got the lion’s share. At 1 CUC each the coconut guy did ok.
We went back to the La Playita Restaurante and had lunch, the conch was good but didn’t hold a candle to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club Restaurant. We walked the beach and found a treasure trove of beach glass, lots of greens, and browns, but we also found a rare blue piece and even rarer yellow piece of glass Bonnie was also finding lots of sea beans of the sea heart, almonds, and even a few hamburgers.
We were walking back and forth along the beach and in one little outcropping of stone we were looking down at the beach sand for glass and when we looked up, we were presented with an amazing fossil find, fossilized wood, brain coral, fans shells of various types and lots of really interesting stuff.
We got to our casa from the tour and it was starting to sprinkle so we settled to let it go by. While we were waiting we got a picture of almost a perfect double rainbow. The clouds were pretty for the sunset and cleared out for a walk to a restaurant for dinner. We took the umbrella but didn’t need it.
February 10, Bus trip to Santiago de Cuba
It was interesting that the whole way back the bus drivers stopped at almost every fruit stand and bought fruit. They have to have a deal to supply a fruit stand in Santiago de Cuba. They bought far more than any one family (or five for that matter) could eat before it went bad.
We arrived in Santiago de Cuba and the casa we were staying at was a fair distance from the last one on the opposite side of Parque Cepesties. We arrived and Bonnie was disoriented this trip. I was finally able to get my bearings and found our favorite restaurant by the time we checked in and got oriented and got to the restaurant it was packed and with out a reservation we couldn’t get in. So we walked over to Primos Twice and had another good meal there, Bonnie was very tired from the trip and we were happy to get to the casa and get to bed.
February 11 Bus tickets! Another cuban hero, coffee, and good food again
Across the square from the bus station is the revolution square the giant figure on the horse is Antonio Maseo at the base of the statue is a museum to him. He was a giant figure in war for cuban independence and was shot an unbelieveable number of times, 24 I seem to remember. They had a neat topographical map of Cuba and an English presentation and slide show on a computer that projected above the map and a slightly bigger than life sized picture of Maseo. A light would come on on the map to show where the battle was and if he got shot at that battle a light would come on to show where he was shot. One battle he was shot like four times and then three days later he was in another battle a good distance away and he would get shot again. I’m thinking the bullets must have had very little powder behind them, or the story might be being stretched just a little. One incredibly neat thing was that most of the “artifacts” at the museum were actually holograms of the actual article. The holograms were very impressive. The items had very good detail, one ring was so clear that you could see clearly the masonic crest on it.
We came out of the museum by coming out the top of the museum and down the staircase. We took a bicycle taxi $3cuc back to the Rumba Cafe and had two cappuccinos, one cafe cortadito and a pesto pasta with garlic and “aromatic” herbs to share as lunch for 8CUC. It was excellent if a little too much olive oil.
Our casa this trip is a lot more like a hotel than a casa so it misses a little of the feel, and is more expensive but the room is bigger and the eating area much fancier. It was covered in butterfly Jasmine, complete with lots of bees. The foyer was a nice mural (some of it 3D to hide the power wires etc) Bonnie was quite impressed with it. Most of the windows were actually not just painted but were raised above the level of the wall. It was nice.
After a little siesta we were out on the streets again and we were early enough to the Compay Gallow that we were able to get in. We had run into our waitress in town a couple hours earlier and she had remembered us from the previous week. She was surprised to see us again at the restaurant that night. She was a very good waitress,
February 12 An early escape from Santigo de Cuba and arrival in Bayamo.
Walking along the riverfront later there was a small park where they had Tolken style park benches. We heard the bells chiming in the church and turned back on the chance that it was open, it wasn’t but we got a few good pictures There is a large bell that has a crack similar to the Liberty Bell in the United States, apparently liberty bells everywhere are broken.
Bayomo’s war hero is Cespetes he was born here and attacked his hometown to free it from the Spanish and when the battle started to go against him and the Spanish started to retake the town the townspeople burned the town rather than let the Spanish have it. There is very little of the pre-1860s town left, one of the buildings is Cespetes birthplace. There is a museum there and the museum is worth a visit. It is full of furniture dishes and memorabilia from the era, including a certificate given to him by his lodge for services rendered.
There are a huge number of German tourists visiting the area. We sat in the square and did a lot of people watching. There were five or six different guided tours go through the park and they were all German speaking guides giving the talk. There is still a lot of beautiful buildings around one of which is the hotel we went in for coffee and a bottle of water. Two coffee americanos(.60 each) and a bottle of water(1.50) was 2.70 The coffee is incredible here.
We went back to the casa and had a siesta ( I worked on the log and bonnie had a nap) before going out to dinner. We had four places to try from trip advisor. The number one place was the Barberan We went and had the pork in a red wine sauce that was so good at the place in Santiago de Cuba and a garlic herbed chicken dish. Both were nearly inedible. The red wine sauce tasted pretty good but the meat was terrible. The chicken was fat and greasy beyond belief. The rice was so bad that we left it on the plate. It tasted and had the texture of rice that was made the day before and left out on the cupboard to dry. We both rated it as the worst meal we have had in cuba ever. The Bodega was one of the others with it’s very expensive prices it was off the list as a possible return. Two of our top four checked off the first day, things are not looking good.
February 13 No tickets, almost a museum, and a good restaurant
From there we walked down to the Bayamo River and looked at the river and the little park that sometimes has a lot of farmer’s markets open and busy, unfortunately today is not one of those days. We walked back to the casa and arranged for a visit to the Botanical Gardens via our casa and had a bit of a siesta.
We wanted to give the TripAdvisor.com restaurant suggestions one more try in case their top rated restaurant just had a bad day. We were not willing to give them another try but did go for the next one on their list. The Palador el Polinesio (I’m not sure any of the menu items had anything to do in any way shape or form to Polynesia). Their first strike against them was not hard alcohol so no mojitos. Things were not looking good. The waitress spoke pretty good English wish was very nice, our Spanish is not getting that much of a workout. We are getting by with pointing to things on the menu. We know most of the big things like pork, chicken, seafood, fish, beef. We might not get the sauces right but we’re usually fairly easy to please. The Polinesio completely redeemed itself with the food, it didn’t rank with the best of Santiago de Cuba but it was very, very, good. Ok TripAdvisor.com you get another chance.
February 14, The Botanical Garden, Public art, and the tricycle rides.
We got Roman to stop at the Hotel Sierra Maestra to see if we could arrange a EcoTour to the Comandencia de la Plata. Unfortunately the EcoTour office was closed for the weekend so we were afraid we were going to be completely out of luck. But Roman to the rescue. He didn’t want to take his car there, the roads were too rough for his car, but he knew a guy that would go, “recommended by Lonely Planet”, sure enough the guy’s card had a lonely planet stamp on it. So Roman would talk to our casa owner and … eventually we would get to go if all birds we grabbed were birds not frogs.
Roman brought us back to his casa and showed us around and gave us a coffee and asked that we write about the trip to the botanical garden in his guest book. We wrote a very good review and he took us home. His casa is close to the end of the walking street General Garcia.
Roman talked to the lady of our casa who has almost no english and after lots of talk and a few phone calls it was all set up we would go on our trip to see where Castro had his base in the mountains during the first six months of the revolution. Here is the business card for his very nice casa. Villa La Nueva (Norma y Roman’s casa)
We had a bit of a siesta after our trip and then headed out to see if we could see inside any of the churches but didn’t get to see inside any of them. We walked to the end of the walking part of General Garcia and when the shopping area runs out so do most of the people on the street. This is good for those of us interested in the street art. There are faces, flowers, and even a Escher-esque mosaic in the street.
People were out on the streets enjoying the weekend. There were people with their kids one of the side streets on Parque Cespedes was informally closed off by the guy who operated the tricycle rides. He brought probably 20 or thirty different tricycles for kids to play with, Some were shaped like farm tractors, some were police cars, some were dress up with lots of streamers and things there were lots of kids that loved playing with one then another, then another. It was fun to watch.
On our way back down General Garcia we noticed that one of the houses had just been painted, or was in the process of being painted. The red doors were spray painted and the overspray of the paint covered a very noticeable section of the white walls. It was a reminder of the painting we saw so much of last year as the polish went on for the 500th anniversary celebrations. We enjoyed another pass of them and then headed out to see if we could get into another of our recommended restaurants but they were all full no tables until 9pm. Valentines day is a big thing here, any reason for a party will do. We went back to the The Palador el Polinesio and when we got there there were two other tables busy. The girl from the previous night sat us down and we ordered, by the time our table was ready the restaurant was packed. Ramon showed up with his casa guests and stopped by to say hello. We had another very good meal and when home to crash. We had an early departure to get to the tour in the mountains.
We had a 6:30 breakfast, departure at 7 all scheduled. Early to bed is never a problem for us. We are known across the island at the casas as the tourists that sleep a lot. We have siestas, and we go to bed early. The sun does wear us out.
February 15, Castro’s hideout.
We were up early, we had breakfast scheduled for 6:30, pick up by the taxi at 7. We set the alarm for 6 and opened our bedroom door at 6:25 to complete blackness, at this point we didn’t expect to have breakfast. But one thing we have noticed is that if you are walking anywhere near a trail a farmer will appear bearing bananas, tangerines, oranges, guava, mangos, and even the odd pineapple will show up. We could probably scavenge breakfast along the trail. About 6:40 our casa owner arrives in her nighty “Lo siento, una momento.” Her husband appears and frantic kitchen activity occurs, we go downstairs about 6:55 well fed and coffeed and headed to the mountains.
Castro landed his invasion force not far from here. Of the 81 that left Mexico, 12 survived the landing and the assault by Baptista Forces and were split up into groups during the landing, at one point Castro was a commander of three, himself, a soldier who had disposed of his weapon, and a guy who lost his shoes, the locals managed to find them all and hide them in the mountains. He spent about six months in the mountains growing support and about 2 years later rode into Havana as the new leader.
We were headed into the mountains to see where he had lived for those six months. The trip itself was uneventful. The road went from flat as a pancake to serious mountains as we approached Santo Domingo. The taxi driver asked if Raul was available but he was on the mountain. We got bunched up with another group and we ended up 8 in an MG four wheel drive van, I was able to get in the front seat and drove 5 km up (we gained 750 meters in height in 5000 meters in length an average grade of 15% with 45% gradients near the top at Alto del Naranjo ) given that there were 9 (8 plus the driver) of us in the MG I was fairly impressed. From there we have to walk another 3km into the hideout and 3km back.
I was able to get the front seat again going down hill and videoed the top 7 minutes of the down hill run from the parking lot. The camera doesn’t capture the true pitch of the hill but it does have lots of beautiful scenery, if you ever want to see it let me know. At over a gigabyte I don’t think it will make it to the web.
From there we were down at lunch. The restaurant that served up our lunch must be used to groups getting broken up because our lunch was consumed by the time our vouchers made it back down the hill. Our group got broken into two pieces and the vouchers were in the trailing group.
We met Raul taking to our taxi driver and he asked if he could get a lift 20km down the hill to his house. Our taxi driver was a friend and didn’t want to ask us but if we didn’t mind he would be happy. We were happy to give him a lift. We got a good chance to talk and he was named after Raul Castro and was borne the year of the Revolution, He and I were almost the same age. The sun ages you down here. We asked him about a big lake that we could see, It was a hydro electric damn. The house he grew up in is at the bottom of the lake. They were happy about that. His family was given the same sized parcel of land and with a better house and better land than they had before the damn. He gave us a bit of history as we drove but we were quite happy to relax in the ac of the car. A 6km up and down dirt paths through tropical rain forest is a long hike. We loved watching out the windows and seeing the scenery.
We were back to the casa and went out to the San Salvador de Bayamo Restaurant across from our casa One of the trip advisor places and it had all of 5 tables and the food was very very good. We were back to our casa and packed up ready to go to Holguin.
February 16 Off to Holguin, and a phone call you never want to get but are happy to get just the same.
Off to our room for a fitful night of sleep.
February 17th Nicole, a long line and a great restaurant.
We stopped at the internet place and slipped in. The person there understood English, great! His system that would let me buy an internet card was down. OK bank time. We hit the bank and were out with cash in my pocket within a few minutes, a record if ever there was one. We hit the account hard so we had lots of options if we needed an escape plan.
We had time before we could check at the Internet Cafe so we stopped in at an Art Gallery that we had walked by a couple of times. There were a lot of interesting art. There was one piece that stood out above all others. It was almost all shades of black of different styles and types of paint. It completely changed as you walked around it. With permission, we took lots of pictures as we walked, the camera does not do it justice. Ken would LOVE this one.
We had the onion soup, the pureed vegetables (bananas, potatoes, yucca, sweet potatoes, and squash), the pork strips flamed with white rum and perfumed with pineapple liqueur and the 1910 Delights ( a cake made of the top three desserts on the menu, Black Delights, a chocolate cream filling, Cheesecake, the bottom layer, and a three milks cake, a very tasty white cake), two expresso coffees, a small bottle of water, and an Mohijo for the princely sum of $14.10 CUC plus tip.
February 18 A long set of stairs, people watching, and two good restaurants.
Cuba is blessed with some very beautiful and interesting public street art. Everything from the prerevolution statues to the post revolution modern sculptures and installations to the very unofficial street graffiti. Bonnie and I consider the old churches we see as art galleries that concentrate on religious art. The walk to and from La Loma gave us a wide sampling of all.
We walked back down toward the parks and when we got to Parque Cepsedes the church was open and we were able to look around. It is a very interesting church and the stone work is incredible. The church also has bats in the belfry fairly large fruit bats by the look of them.
We left the church and headed down to the Art house where there is a nice cafe and a guard to keep the pesky beggers away. We had one guy that just wouldn’t let go and another that was just being annoying. There were two or three Transtur buses from the resorts on the north shore beach area. They have a limited time in Holguin during their excursion so the beggers have to be out in force at the right time. If you avoid it you hardly get anyone bothering you. Hit when the buses are in town and it can be rather intense. We were pestered until we disappeared into La Torre for lunch the place where we had the good meal the night before. The waitress smiled to see us and we had a very pleasant lunch.
When we got back we walked around pretty much ignored by the locals. We spent most of the afternoon touring the Provincial Museum (the building is very nice all by itself) It has lots of info on the indigenous people, the Revolution, music from the area and some very nice art. We went to another gallery but it was being fumigated and closed until later. We passed completely. We went down another park and sat in the shade and watched the locals come and go at the bus stop. It was a little early for dinner but we went back to the 1910 Restaurant and had an absolutely fantastic meal again. The Octopus wasn’t quite as what we had in Santigo de Cuba but it was still very good.
We hadn’t heard anything from Nicole so after we got back to the casa we sent her a text asking how things were going. A moment later we got the rundown. The meds are taking a little longer to get straightened out so he is staying put a little longer. Craig my nephew, Nicole’s cousin, took the great grandkids in so that that would have added a little excitement. John is doing ok and Mark is coming up this weekend to help out with mother. We should be home Wednesday morning at about 1am so we will be able to chip in then.
February 19 The Plaza de Revolution, the stadium, art gallery and another good restaurant.
We got up and had breakfast. We are rapidly running out of stuff to see in Holguin, even with a day chewed out for bureaucracy. We walked over to the Plaza de Revolution where they have huge rallies every May 1st. We got lost on our way and a nice cuban guy named Ramon walked us over. He was trying to brush up on his English. He says he’ll need it when the Americans come. Everyone here is excited by the idea of the US dropping the embargo and letting their people visit.
There was a 1CUC charge to visit the Plaza and 5CUC charge for the camera. Unfortunately the museum was closed and there wasn’t anything to see but there was still a 5CUC charge for the camera. We walked around and there was very little to see. A couple of monuments but really other than a nice walk and a few nice sculptures along the way the Plaza de Revolution could be a pass and you really wouldn’t miss anything. We enjoyed the walk the most.
On our way back to the casa we saw the entrance to the cemetery and did a quick walk around it had a few really beautiful monuments as well as a huge masonic crypt. There is almost no room to walk around the graves, they are packed very tight.
Bonnie had her siesta and I did a little work on the log and charged up the electronics. By the time the siesta was over it was time for an early dinner so we were off to the 1910 again. It has turned into our favorite by far. We have been sharing one salad, one main meal and one desert, tonight they split our main meal into halves without us asking. In the middle of the meal the lights out. We made a joke about having a candlelight dinner and a few minutes later a waitress shows up with her cell phone flash light turned on for us. They opened the windows and we were fine we didn’t need to waste her cell phone battery. They started up the generator and most of the restaurant had lights (except for the little section where we were) but before our desert came the power was back.
“In Cuba?” he asked
“Yes in Cuba, and Canada, and the US, and the Bahamas, and, and. It happens everywhere.” We got a good meal and the staff tried to cover as best as they could in a situation they had little control of.
I sent a note off to Nicole but no response back yet. So We’re guessing not much is going on. Hopefully we will be off to Varadero tomorrow night so we will be back where an emergency exit is at least possible. We could fly out of Holguin but it would probably cost us a pretty penny.
February 20 A good bye to Holguin, We hoped, and a long wait to see if we could get on the bus.
We’ve got a day to put in as the bus leaves at 2345 tonight. We have just about covered all there is to see in Holguin. We walked around and did some people watching. The main park has been undergoing renovations they cut down four trees and disposed of the fill and one level of benches and cleaned it up today. They had a big Volvo front end loader and a couple dump trucks around. At home, the kids that were around would have been fascinated and watching the loader. The kids here ignored it completely.
We walked around the outside rings of the park and saw a couple monuments we hadn’t noticed before. One was to the mothers of Holguin. I’m not sure the artist liked mothers, she looks like she is about to devour the child. The other was a monument to the service of masons to Cuba.
We walked around to the square to people watch. There was a judo match on at the arena and there were lots of people cheering. We saw of people come out after the match that were dressed in the Cuban sports uniforms like you see at the Olympics or PanAm games. Cuba has done well in Judo at both. We people watched a little more and then went to lunch at 1910 and dinner at El Torre.
Our casa was very good and let us check out but leave our luggage at the casa until after dinner. We picked up our luggage and left a small tip to say thanks and were off to the bus station. It was after dark so we were by the taxi drivers before they saw us to ask if we wanted a taxi. We made it to the station and they wouldn’t sell us a ticket. We had to wait until the bus left Santiago de Cuba at 845pm before they would know how many seats they had. We waited. And waited, and waited. At 845 Bonnie went up to the booth and asked saying “No Casa tonight” the guy called the bus and they had at least two seats so he sold us tickets and gave us the boarding passes. We felt much better and closer to making the trip.
At midnight we were able to get on and get the last two seats together on the bus. We were almost at the back of the bus, but at least we were on. We had a lot of locals boarding on the bus with us and I was surprised that we got a seat together. The locals were not impressed with the bano at the bus station either.
We had a fitful night of sleep, bano runs, bouncing in uncomfortable bus seats. Mine seemed to also have a bad squeak that was worse with every hard bounce in the road.
February 21 Varadero again, Elisa and Pepe’s
We have been to Elisa and Pepe’s enough that it almost feels like home. It is the beginning and end of every trip. It is a great way to start and end every trip. We’re never sure how the middle is going to be but we know the beginning and end is always good. Pepe was even available to cook.
We slept solid for over 12 hours.
February 22 Cigars, and lunch at Al Capone’s
We had breakfast at Elisa and Pepe’s barely making it awake for our 8 am breakfast. We were slow to get going after than but were out to get “our” cigars for the trip home. Bonnie has got a bad habit, she got her full quota of 50 cigars, I’m only bringing home 26. Mind you I think one of mine may have more tobacco than five or ten of hers.
We’ve got a invitation to go to lunch with Elisa and Pepe and family to Al Capone’s (Casa de Al). It is a house (as well as a warehouse for booze) that Al Capone visited during prohibition. Pepe worked out a deal with the restaurant and it brought out a large serving dish of peas and rice, malanga, and a full pork roast that fed 12-15 of us and he had a full serving dish of left overs to bring home.
When we told them we walked from the Cigar shop on 64 Pepe asked if I was trying to kill Bonnie. Elisa wasn’t too keen on us walking home either but we did a slow walk along the beach, we were surprised to see a couple of bare-breasted women, that’s pretty rare on this part of the beach at least.
We were so full from the lunch at Al’s that we didn’t bother going out to dinner.
February 23 Beach day.
There is hardly a breeze at all. At 8am it is starting to get hot. Varadero will be quiet, all of the resort beaches will be packed tightly. Yesterday was cool but there were a lot of people on the beach, good sunburning weather. We are off to the bus station to get tickets (hopefully).
I’m sure Elisa and Pepe think we do nothing but sleep, We arrive from Canada starting our day at 2am their time, by the time suppertime rolls around we are ready for bed so if Pepe is cooking as soon as the door closes between our side and his we are heading to bed. It takes us a day to get used to the sun so we’re recovering from the trip and the sun the second day, so we are early to bed again. The next day we usually head out on the first bus out of town which can be early. They only see us recovering from the trip before heading out. When we get back, we have been in country for almost a month, and we’re about ready to head home, we’re tired, we’ve worked reasonably hard, for us, seeing the sites, walking the trails and the city streets, been bounced and shaken in buses, cabs, bicycle taxis, and coches. After a month we are ready to go home, eat our own food, sleep in our own bed, get up and down without a schedule and get our life back to normal. Elisa and Pepe’s is where we start our wind down. Elisa and Pepe’s is like our cuban home.
Surprisingly No bus tickets! (Come 40 minutes before!) Grrr. Viazul has a nasty letter coming. We did our tour of the really nice art galleries and there are a few paintings I would love, but at several hundred dollars a pop I’m not really interested. The other problem for us is wall space. A big piece of art is hard to find a place for in our house. We have the walls full, not crowded but full.
February 24 The long wait home.
There used to be a bus that left Varadero and got into the airport at about noon. It was just before the main onslaught of people for the flight home. By the time we were through the lineup and into immigration the lineups were wall to wall. They killed that bus. The new bus leaves at 8am and gets to the airport at 8:30. All we get to do today is wait so we are off to the bus station before 7 when we get there the station is packed, there is a bus to Trinidad and a bus to Vinalies (that does the stop to the airport) I leave Bonnie to fight the line and take the luggage outside into the fresh air. The lobby is hot and smells of tourists. We get to the airport and it is fairly empty. So we do our money exchange buying was 1.30 and selling was 1.20. By the time we were out of the exchange the buses had started to arrive for all of the Sunwing charters. They are a big Cuba vacation seller in Canada. They have a flight from Saint John to Holguin later in the season. If you were planning on doing the east end of Cuba flying into Holguin is a much better idea than dealing with the Viazul crap and the long hauls to and from Varadero.
We have to wait most of the morning until the morning flights are all boarding before the first flight of the afternoon is set up for doing check ins. That would be us. We are able to point a large number of lost tourists the right direction to get to the money exchange. The check in gates open and we get our tickets taking heart in the fact that all of the flights for Toronto, Montreal, etc are all running on time.
We made it through with our luggage intact and found a bunch of chairs next to a power outlet that actually works. I go in search of a coffee and ask how much before and balk, $3CUC is a bit too much for the same cup of coffee con leche we buy in down town Varadero for 0.55CUC. The duty free has a roll of cookies and a couple of snicker’s bar as a substitute for the coffee for the same money.
I’m working on the log and Bonnie has go at finding the ceramic piece again and a search for water. Water prices vary from $1.70 for a 1500ml bottle at the duty free and $2 for a 500ml bottle at the coffee shop. We buy a bottle from an ice cream shop on the main strip in Varadero for 0.80 CUC for the 1500ml size.
We watch for the plane from Moscow, Berlin, and Frankfurt and Toronto arrive. We have a plane and arrive in clear and cold skies in Toronto. Another four hour wait and we get on a flight to Fredericton, we arrive in Fredericton in a snowstorm. But not as bad as last year and Paul is there to pick us up. It is 0130 in the morning and we are tired, it has been nothing but a hurry up and wait day. We have had quite a few of those this trip.
When we left there was almost no snow, but snowmaggedon was about to arrive within an hour of us leaving Fredericton. Paul did a marvelous job of keeping our driveway clean. There was so much snow that our heat pump was almost buried, snow was about half way up the sides of the pump. We left our luggage in the garage to freeze. We like to freeze the luggage from our winter vacations for a few days before we take it inside the house to wash. We hope that will give it a chance to kill and critters that might have tagged along on the way home. This trip the lugguage will endure several nights of -20C before we get home to wash it. We always leave enough clothes at home to give us a couple clean changes of undies and we don’t need our summer clothes for a while anyway.
We got up, blew out the driveway and packed a smaller bag for the trip to mother and John’s to see how John was making out. He was acting and looking a lot better than he did before the heart attack so we took heart in that.
Here is the link to our 2015 Cuba trip picture gallery. There are 338 pictures in the 2015 Cuba trip Gallery lots more than are in the daily trip logs.
Hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we did.