Written by MichaelJM on 27 Apr, 2007
Our first day and the hotel's courtesy bus dropped us in Plaza de Armas where we were orientating ourselves when Benjamin approached us. He was proudly standing next to his horse, Lindo, and was offering us an hour's guided tour around Havana in his carriage.…Read More
Our first day and the hotel's courtesy bus dropped us in Plaza de Armas where we were orientating ourselves when Benjamin approached us. He was proudly standing next to his horse, Lindo, and was offering us an hour's guided tour around Havana in his carriage. The cost was 20 convertible pesos (around £10) and we reckoned that was a great way to introduce us to the City and to focus our attention on the things that we "must see". He claimed that he would show us all the important sights and would explain, as best as his English would allow, the history and culture of HIS capital city, his home.
Having explained to us a little about the place where we were standing we climbed aboard and Benjamin lowered the carriage’s canopy, as he explained, "to give us a better view". A few gentle words to Lindo and we gently clattered off down the streets. A couple of times we had to stop for some "minor repairs" to the carriage’s wheel arch caused as the wheels crashed over Havana’s notorious potholes. "Well", explained Benjamin as he almost apologetically climbed back into the driving position, "it is an extremely old vehicle and it needs a lot of care."
Our first stop was in Plaza de San Francisco which is dominated by the impressive early 18th Century Church for Francis of Assisi. This now houses the Museum of Religious Art and has a superb tranquil garden crammed with art work, beautiful cloisters, and views from the bell tower across most of Old Havana. It’s a colourful square with brightly clad buildings and some fine architecture. Back in the carriage and we’re back on the main road passing the working port, the old structures of the harbour buildings and a 19th Century promenade that was reserved for the Cuban gentry of its day. Now, work is being carried out to restore this feature to its former glory. This is something that is evident throughout the town. Cuba clearly has its eye on increasing its tourism business and there are numerous public buildings that are being given a serious renovation, hopefully retaining their original charm.
Sometimes, it felt quite precarious as we trotted the streets of Havana, but vintage cars, seemingly the majority in Havana, gave us a respectful distance as they roared passed us. I’m not suggesting that they sped through town, only that they were incredibly noisy.
At one point, we detoured off the tourist trail and were in the heart of the Cuban quarter with the hustle and bustle of day-to-day Cuban life on display—small shops with limited product lines, roadside vegetable stalls, and a lot of folk in "serious" discussions with each other. This, Benjamin explained, was his home. People have described Cuba as being poverty-stricken. No outward signs of wealth here, but there was passion, happiness, and excitement in this residential zone. Everything is not always as it seems!
Written by Slug on 20 Dec, 2006
My father was a big radio dx fan. Equipped with a grey wartime valve radio, and a huge ariel in the back garden, he would wake during the early hours to listen to different stations across the world. After writing to let them know that…Read More
My father was a big radio dx fan. Equipped with a grey wartime valve radio, and a huge ariel in the back garden, he would wake during the early hours to listen to different stations across the world. After writing to let them know that he had found them, some stations would reply with a simple postcard. Others were far more generous. In the 70s, communist countries would send out a whole heap of propaganda freebies to radio fans in the west. For years, we had a whole series of calendars decorated with pictures of swarthy, grandly bearded revolutionary heroes dotted around the house courtesy of Cuban Radio. I blame my lifelong fascination with Cuba on those grainy black and white pictures of Che Guevara and his comrades. With such childhood memories, one of my must see Havana museums was the Museo de la Revolucion. I had to find out a little more about those distant folk heroes from my childhood. The Museo de la Revolucion The Museo de la Revolucion is towards the centre of town in the former palace of the president. Castro, like his predecessors, used the palace when he first assumed power. He moved into new digs in the mid 60s. Don’t make the mistake of one of our party, and assume that the museum is at the Plaza de la Revolucion. The Plaza, with its grand open spaces and huge images of Che, is further out of town. Once you are near the museum, you won’t miss the place. Although it is sadly crumbling, the building is a white wedding cake affair, with an interior designed by Tiffany’s of New York. Slap bang outside the front of the museum stands an abandoned tank used by Fidel during the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco. This mix of bizarre and the haphazard set the general tone for the layout of the museum. The area around the Museo de la Revolucion is a particularly tumble down region of Havana. There are a considerable number of half-collapsed buildings to gawp at. I was almost as fascinated with the outside view from the open windows of the upper floors of the museum as I was with the exhibits. Entrance to the Museo de la Revolucion is four convertible pesos ($4.50). I felt I almost got a “two for one” bargain with the entrance price, for as well as the museum exhibits, we also had the opportunity to wander round the almost deserted presidential rooms. The State Rooms Downstairs are a series of abandoned and gently rotting state ballrooms and offices. As the museum was so quiet when we visited, it felt rather eerie as we wandered around, although I loved looking at these abandoned and empty rooms. I could really appreciate the dramatic sense of light from the huge grand floor to ceiling windows (and the ceilings must have been about 20 feet high). The rooms were set off with their age spotted and warped mirrors, gaudy crystal chandeliers, and delicately painted ceilings. The yellow marble dining room particularly stood out as the marble walls gave out a sick-making, slight yellow glow. I’m sure eating here every day would have put me off my food. In the UK, these historic rooms would have demanded better care and attention, but for Cuba they simply form a symbol of the decadent and corrupt former regime. It seems as though they had been deliberately left to slowly rot. The only room that was fully furnished was the original president’s office, where the president of the day would spend most of his working life. The room was an ornate but very male dominated vision of leather inlaid writing desks and bound books. After so many years hiding in the mountains, I can only imagine how Fidel must have felt as he finally managed to enter the room and look around. Viva la revolution! The main part of the museum starts upstairs. While the exhibits are old fashioned, pedantically detailed, and stuffy, the Museo de la Revolucion comprehensively tells the tale of the revolution. Rather than simply focusing on the struggle of Fidel and his comrades, the exhibits stretch further back in time to the early struggle for independence against the Spanish (and then American) occupation of the 1800s and early 1900s. I suppose the government is keen to ensure that the people remember that this independence was long fought for. Of course, some still feel independence is still a little way off in Cuba. The museum tells the story well, by use of display cases containing original exhibits and written explanation in Spanish and English. More modern museum techniques, such as sound recordings and interactive displays, have passed the museum by. Despite the old-fashioned feel, by giving snippets of story about some of the young men who paid for Cuban independence with their lives, I felt engaged with the exhibition. It seems as though almost every scrap of evidence about the struggle is here; from bloodstained bullet holed shirts worn by revolutionaries, a mangled pair of wire-framed spectacles lost in the street fighting, to the shoes Fidel wore when he arrived in Cuba. Presented with such reverently produced information, I always feel that the communists simply replaced one kind of religion with another. To give the staterooms and the display full justice, and if you seriously want to learn about Cuban independence from a Cuban perspective, I would spend at least 2 hours in the museum. The level of detail in the museum, together with the old-fashioned method of display, means that the casual observer would soon get bored. We certainly found that we lingered longer in the exhibition than most of the other (few) visitors. One part I especially found memorable were a series of photographs showing all the Spanish and American backed former presidents and their adjoining captions. The museum curator liked the use of the words "traitor", "collaborator", "weak", and "spineless" rather a lot! Some of these guys lasted as president for 8 hours or less during these turbulent times. One of my major criticisms of the museum is that the exhibits don’t appear to have been updated since about 1990. The last part of the museum display boasts about some of the successes of the Castro regime (for example, in education and health care, and rather more surprising, given the state of Havana, in housing). In 1990, the Soviet Union’s financial support of Cuba ended. I would have been very interested to see how they would have described the severe economic recession immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and how they have made progress since. Another interesting aspect of the museum is with the negative spin placed upon America. The museum devotes a board to describe how the CIA introduced dengue fever to the island, along with sugar rot and pig disease. It seems that Cuba (in common with many nations) likes to score a little political capital by blaming all its ills on its enemies. The museum also contains some rather ill equipped (no toilet seats) and I have to say, dirty, toilets, and an unexciting and small shopping area. Overview Of course, one would hardly expect the Museo de la Revolucion to offer an impartial account of the years fighting for Cuban independence. Then it’s a rare British museum that tells the story of the world war from a German perspective! That said, although the museum offers a fanatical amount of detail in describing the struggle, they don’t actually use too much hero worship to tell the tale. The role of Fidel, in particular, seems quite understated. He is a modest dictator. For me, a large part of the attraction to Cuba lies with its complex history and revolution. The Museo de la Revolucion allows the visitor to get a better understanding of the long years of fighting, and gives an interesting overview of the conflict from a Cuban perspective. ________________________________First published at Epinions.com under my identity of cr01 - deleted and relocated to IgoUgo Dec 06 Close
Written by makmak on 06 Jun, 2000
The one great thing about Cuban Communism, as opposed to Chinese Communism (Cultural Revolution), is that the government has never supressed the arts. Cuban art and music is very colorful, and very pervasive in Cuban society. People are constantly dancing in…Read More
The one great thing about Cuban Communism, as opposed to Chinese Communism (Cultural Revolution), is that the government has never supressed the arts. Cuban art and music is very colorful, and very pervasive in Cuban society. People are constantly dancing in the streets, in public squares and in restaurants and clubs. The combination of Spanish and African influences have created rich blends of music like rumba, son and mambo. We went to a great CD shop on Obispo Street where the owner spent a long time with us, opening CDs and playing them for us. Now that the Buena Vista Social Club has revitalized Cuban music, 'Chan Chan' and other songs can be heard over and over again.
We travelled to Cuba via Toronto, which I would definitely advise against (especially if it is during the winter, since you will have to come up with a good story as to why you are tan)! Apparently there has been a lot of collaboration between the US and Canadian governments as of late (the guy driving over the border with explosives over New Year''s and Y2K issues, just to name two examples), and so they have been getting stricter about cooperating with US citizens going to Cuba. The only benefit for going through Canada is that it is easier to work with the tour operators, and they can also book you hotels if you need them. The downside is that they are fairly rigid and they only can book expensive 5-start hotels. Chartered flights are definitely cheaper, but unless you are actually on the package tour for which the flight is chartered for, it''s not worth the hassle and the uncertainty - they can change the flights at any time and you have no recourse.
If you are planning on going to Cuba illegally, it is better to go through Central or South America. Cubans are so used to having US citizens and are so eager for their cash that they will not stamp your passport. In addition, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit organization in New York, has a staff that is dedicated to assisting US citizens who have trouble traveling to Cuba, which they classify as 'Government Misconduct.' They have a publication outlining travel tips before you go to Cuba, and they also provide post-trip assistance if you are caught at customs on your way back. Unfortunately, they do not have a Web site yet.
Written by am331 on 19 Sep, 2005
It makes a world of difference that we visited Cuba as medical students. I think I noticed an inherent respect afforded to students of the "healing professions" here, in a country which takes it so seriously.
Cuba’s primary causes of death are similar to those of…Read More
It makes a world of difference that we visited Cuba as medical students. I think I noticed an inherent respect afforded to students of the "healing professions" here, in a country which takes it so seriously.
Cuba’s primary causes of death are similar to those of developed countries – heart disease, cancer, and stroke. This is amazing given that for the rest of Latin America and the developing world it is still infectious diseases! There are 23 medical schools in Cuba! Medicine is a popular profession and there is a doc in every neighborhood, not even one is unemployed! The doctor that I was able to visit on occasion lived in a modest house provided to her by the government, from which she took care of the 1000 patients who lived in her area. She told us that none of them had AIDS and it happened to be that there was no doctor in the neighboring town because they had gone on mission. Mission means that the doctor will spend about 2 years traveling to another country to offer medical services, but you can ask to opt out if you had small children at home. The doctor would also make house calls for any patients who could not come to her house for an appointment. This doctor is on call 24 hours a day! Doctors only make about $25 a month, which is the highest salary except for some people who work in the tourist industry. Some doctors even get other jobs to help with finances, like waitressing! Although it is difficult for anyone Cuban to leave the country, there are some ways, if you are invited by someone you can be on a waiting list for a few years and go, or you can enter a lottery to go. But doctors and some other health professionals are not allowed to go because in the '60s (right after the revolution) almost half the doctors in Cuba left.
"Natural and Traditional Medicine" as they call it has really flourished in this country, due to necessity, after the crisis time of the 90s. Since medications and resources (even things as simple as latex gloves must be washed and reused!) were becoming scarce, they sent doctors to China and other parts of the East to learn acupuncture, acupressure, floral and herbal treatments, among others. Now these modalities are also taught to Cuban medical students in their 5th and 6th year (theirs is a 6 year program) and is used extensively around the country, and it seems to be working well. We visited two centers which used Natural Medicine in their practice and it seemed to be quite successful. One was a pain clinic and we observed a woman with a back problem that caused her to walk hunched over go in for treatment with acupuncture and come out ten minutes later without pain and walking normally! We also observed acupressure treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
They have places called "Cases de Abuelos" (Grandparents houses) in every neighborhood. This is a place for older folks to go when their families are at work or school and they get free meals, medical care, exercise, games and they seem so happy. They get to meet other folks their age to hang out with, dance, talk, go on trips, they told us some even meet and get married! We heard from one 82 year old women about how much better things are for them after 1959 because of Fidel, they now have somewhere to go instead of deteriorating alone at home, they get food, and in general the society has more racial and gender equality.
Written by alex b on 04 Sep, 2002
There is a dangerous lack of basic medical supplies in Cuba. Hospitals find themselves overstaffed (the medical education in Cuba is top notch) as their are more doctors than medicine. Items that we take for granted, band aids, condoms, asprin, are not readily availible…Read More
There is a dangerous lack of basic medical supplies in Cuba. Hospitals find themselves overstaffed (the medical education in Cuba is top notch) as their are more doctors than medicine. Items that we take for granted, band aids, condoms, asprin, are not readily availible on the island.
Keep this in mind when packing for your trip. Giving out extra medical supplies is as valuable as giving out money. I found it best to do this discreetly. Approaching someone on the street and handing them a box of condoms may not be a great idea (just imagine yourself on the recieving end in your home). If you are staying in a hotel, when you check out, leave the supplies on your bed. The staff will much appreciate this, believe me. Or say to someone "I have some extra supplies that i don't want to lug back home in my suitcase. Do you know anyone who could use these?" This will make your deed seem less condescending.
Also, tip as often as possible. There's no need to go over board with the amount. Dollars go a long way in Cuba. It is a responsibity of every traveler to Cuba to give a little back. Remember, the very act of getting on an airplane and leaving your country is a priveledge most Cubans are denied. This is a very poor country with a great deal to offer the world. It will go a long way to show some appreciation and support for the people you will meet.
Written by moatway on 01 Apr, 2006
The Barcelo property was scoring high: Beach 5/5, rooms 4/5, cleanliness 5/5, grounds 3/5 (immaturity of the plantings), staff friendliness 4/5, staff efficiency 4/5. But what do we really hope for in an all-inclusive? Of course… gourmet food, at bargain-basement prices, served in an enjoyable…Read More
The Barcelo property was scoring high: Beach 5/5, rooms 4/5, cleanliness 5/5, grounds 3/5 (immaturity of the plantings), staff friendliness 4/5, staff efficiency 4/5. But what do we really hope for in an all-inclusive? Of course… gourmet food, at bargain-basement prices, served in an enjoyable setting.
To be brutally honest, it was the biggest shortcoming of the establishment, but it wasn’t all bad. It was FINE. There are a number of restaurants scattered over the property, but almost everyone will visit La Marina several times. It is the large, buffet restaurant in the main building and it has all the charm of a university dining hall; it was generally noisy and crowded with good to mediocre service. The range of selections for breakfast was excellent, for although it leans to the European side, it is possible to order omelets or fried eggs made-to-order and there is an abundance of fruit. The prosciutto, cheese and bread products were excellent and the diner has a choice of eating in either style… France or New York.
I began describing La Marina as "the zoo". If you were to arrive a bit late at either breakfast or dinner, you were met with lines of waiting vacationers and soiled table linens as well as a fair amount of frenetic activity as people scurried about. The evening experience was quite the same: some food could be prepared for you, but generally speaking, the selections available were more than adequate and the food quality was fair. In other words, there was always something to eat, although in my case, I found that the safest route on a couple of occasions was to retreat to the oven-fresh baguettes and to stuff them with German butter, Danish blue cheese and prosciutto. Washed down with an endless bottle of Spanish white, it wasn’t really that bad at all.
In the more mature area of the property, we found the grill, Bacunayagua. Open 24 hours, it serves brunch and lunch, and we found that it was ideal for the latter. Serving a variety of hot and cold foods, it was the one place where you could order a burger or chop right off the grill. It is bright and airy and is situated beside one of the pools, so it provides a nice ambiance in the middle of the day.
Also open for lunch is El Faro, the resort’s seafood restaurant, another airy room over which looms an ersatz lighthouse. It is possible to climb to the top of the latter and it provides a wonderful view of the whole resort and the pool below. The lunch menu at El Faro is the same as the dinner menu (It is one of the four a-la-carte restaurants in the evening.). I found that it was for the hard-core seafood lover. We tried the fish stew and the whitefish and found them good, but I’m glad that we didn’t choose this particular restaurant as one of our three a la carte choices.
Your resort package will probably allow you to escape the zoo and go to three a la carte restaurants. You should probably book on the day after your arrival as they book up fast and there is no attempt to book every table at every sitting. About a third of the tables in any of these are occupied at any given time and entrance isn’t possible without the reservation.
We started at La Duna, the Cuban restaurant on the far edge of the resort. Another open room with high ceiling, it is a pleasant environment. It is also open for breakfast and as it was so little used, it was a decidedly better place to start your day than La Marina… no lines, eggs and omelets to order and champagne and orange juice. Not difficult to get used to. The evening Creole menu includes shrimp casserole, grouper, snapper, roast pork, and fried beef, all apparently, with a Cuban flavour(Which tends to be bland.). We chose to start with a Cuban Caldosa soup and had the Fried Chicken de la Isle… a generous, although not particularly remarkable, meal.
The Spanish dining room is La Zarzuela and it’s in the resort’s main building. It’s relatively small with seating for perhaps 60 and features pale yellow walls hung with paintings of Catalan scenes. The ceiling is beamed and other Spanish influences abound. At some point, a trio, alternating between this room and the restaurant next door, will offer to entertain you at your table. If you request La Bamba, everyone, including the waitresses, will enjoy it immensely. At least, that was my observation. The menu is fairly extensive and interesting, and after starters and soup, my wife chose chicken stuffed with the fruits of land and sea and I went with an entrecote in a pepper sauce. The dishes were very good and the evening passed very pleasantly.
El Arlequino, the Italian dining room, is a large, attractive room with heavy gold table linens and Venetian scenes on the walls. The menu features a selection of hot and cold starters, soups, pastas and three fish dishes and another three meat dishes as well as dessert. We were told that we could pick three selections plus dessert. After the starters we tried the spaghetti carbonara and for main dishes we tried the lobster in casserole and the steak. The wine selection was, again, Spanish… there were no alternatives in any of the restaurants, just white or red. Again, it was a pleasant evening… not exceptional, but very nice.
Well, as I said, it was fine and that’s not all bad. We really weren’t tempted to over-eat and that’s a good thing. The fact is, at each of the restaurants, you will find something. At one point I noticed a French-Canadian family pulling the Nutella, peanut butter and strawberry jam out of a bag at breakfast. I really don’t think that’s necessary. My only observation about breakfast is that if you must have your high-fiber cereal in the morning, you’re going to have to bring it with you.
Written by ext212 on 01 Mar, 2004
We woke up the next morning to a Morón that was different from the one we've come to know the past two days. Stores were still closed, but there were more people walking, biking, riding the bus, or running after the train. Because of our…Read More
We woke up the next morning to a Morón that was different from the one we've come to know the past two days. Stores were still closed, but there were more people walking, biking, riding the bus, or running after the train. Because of our depleting dollar resources, we just opted to hang around lazily and wait for the time when we would have to drive back to Ciego de Avila and catch our midnight bus back to Havana. We still had to worry about buying an extra ticket.
Señora Noris' nephew accepted US$15 to drive us back to Ciego de Avila. Back in the Ciego de Avila bus station, the boy kept bothering the lady at the ticket counter every time a bus heading to Havana pulled up. We just wanted to make sure we got back by the next morning. She kept telling us that the earlier buses are full and that we would have to wait for the midnight bus. Three hours and a quick nap later, our bus pulled in. We waited nervously hoping the bus had enough empty seats. Luckily, the bus was only half full. It seemed that several people whom I never even saw in the waiting room got seats. The boy and I joined the other passengers to sleep during the long eight-hour drive back to Havana. You should have heard our sighs of relief!
A little before 8am, our bus pulled in the Havana bus station. We picked up our backpacks and grabbed the first cab to agree to our US$3 fare back to Señora Aleida's casa. Once we were let in, I continued to sleep until after lunch to make up for the sleepless and uncomfortable overnight ride.
We chose not to wire money to a temporary account in Cuba. And it is impossible for us to use our ATM cards. We were on a pretty good budget, but we just didn't expect how expensive transportation would be and how much we would spend on food. As tourists in Cuba, we were given tourist prices, even though stores and restaurants had no problem giving us Cuban pesos as change. We had to make a plan to make our last US$100 cover one final night at Señora Aleida's plus the airport tax of US$50 for the both of us.
We ate at a cafeteria-style place full of Cubans for lunch where we were charged US$7 for our two chicken meals with rice. Without enough left to eat out, we had to go to plan B and buy ingredients at the dollar store to cook that night.
We walked to the Catedral Episcopal and found a bronze statue of John Lennon sitting on a park bench before heading back to the casa.
For our last night, Señora Aleida joined us for dinner after we made spaghetti. She invited her other tenant, a Canadian, to eat and share our food, too. We had more than enough to go around, but the next day we refused breakfast and coffee because we weren't sure we would have enough to make it past the airport gates. Señora knew instantly what we were up to. She was gracious enough to mark down our bill and arrange for a cheaper fare to the airport. To say the least, we did not know how else to thank Señora for her generosity. We were grateful to have had her help on this trip. Vicente picked up our bags and we hugged Señora good-bye.
On the way to the airport, we heard our last story about Cuba: licensed and private cabs are the only ones allowed in the airport and cars like Vicente's would have been forbidden if only it wasn't registered to a certain Roberto Guevara who happens to be related to Che himself. Apparently, all relatives of the fallen Cuban hero were rewarded in one form or another after Fidel Castro came into power.
Señora Noris' daughter tried to help us rent a licensed cab that will take us to the beach. The only driver available was asking US$60 for the round trip. We immediately refused. There were also no mopeds available for rent. Our only way was to…Read More
Señora Noris' daughter tried to help us rent a licensed cab that will take us to the beach. The only driver available was asking US$60 for the round trip. We immediately refused. There were also no mopeds available for rent. Our only way was to hitch from the main rotunda on the way to the beach and hope that tourists with rented cars would stop to pick us up and take us to where they are mostly headed, Cayo Coco.
Señora Noris' husband (we never got his name because he didn't talk much) drove us in his sweet white car to the gasoline station where most cars stop on the way to the cayo. We asked a parked younger couple where they were headed and if they could give us a lift. But they just came from three days at the beach and were on their way to Trinidad. They were actually from New York City. We all had a laugh when we started asking each other how we were all planning to re-enter the United States.
After they drove off, we situated ourselves at the rotunda and put out our thumbs to every tourist-driven car that drove by. On the other side of the rotunda were Cubans looking for rides much as we've seen before along highways around the country. An empty cab sped past my hitchhiker's thumb, but stopped a few yards away to back up. His cab was licensed and we knew he could drive us to the beach. We set a price of US$20 for him to drive us past the checkpoint and to the public beach of Cayo Coco. His girlfriend was in the front seat accompanying him to run a paid errand to deliver packages to a certain hotel by the beach. He probably figured he could make a few extra dollars on the side that wouldn't have to be reported to the state. The beach was a long way for only US$20, but he grumpily agreed anyway.
The problem began at the checkpoint. We gave up our passports for inspection to the guards so that they could log tourists coming in and out of the cays. Everything was going well until the guard realized that the girl in the front seat was not with us and was Cuban. They wouldn't give up or bend the rules. So she had to step out of the car and wait for our cab to return after dropping us off at the beach. Understandably, she was angry at her boyfriend for picking us up in the first place. It wasn't going to be fun to wait two hours to be picked up again. We were faced by our own potential problem finding a ride later back to Morón.
Cayo Coco is exclusive, full of beautiful resorts and beach houses that rest on stilts in the middle of the water. We were told that a room's going rate was US$500 a night and that if we wanted to enter the beach, we would have to pay US$60 to join those patrons. Luckily, we were able to find a public patch of beach without being asked if we were checked in at any of the hotels. The beach was beautiful, but definitely full of tourists who were willing to pay more for the beach than we were. There were parasails above us, jet skis in the water, and old Europeans walking around topless -- it was the ultimate Cuban resort for those who are on holiday.
On our way back, we caught a ride aboard a shuttle bus that took us from one rotunda to another. We found ourselves at a gasoline station and negotiated another one-way trip back to Morón with a cab for US$25.
Back in Morón we were surprised to see that people were all celebrating New Year's Eve at home. There was no party at the plaza, no loud music in the streets, and no mass in any of the churches.
Señora Noris didn't even know where the church was! There were more people in the house now, their kids and grandchildren visiting for the night. We finally felt like we were connecting with the family. We joined them for dinner, insisting that we should eat dinner together. We had drinks with their children (no one was younger than 32 years old) and even played a few rounds of dominoes where they proudly defended Cuba from our winnings back in Trinidad.
Before the clock struck midnight, we walked to the plaza, sat in the park, and welcomed the new year quietly and peacefully. I think it was the tamest new year I've ever celebrated in my life.
The next morning Señor Armando, probably with a painful hangover, walked us to the bus station to catch our bus to Ciego de Avila. We arrived by noon and were solicited by taxi drivers as soon as we got off the bus. We wanted to…Read More
The next morning Señor Armando, probably with a painful hangover, walked us to the bus station to catch our bus to Ciego de Avila. We arrived by noon and were solicited by taxi drivers as soon as we got off the bus. We wanted to arrange our bus back to Havana for the night of January 1, 2004 and because it's a smaller town and we wanted to make sure that important business was taken care of as soon as possible. An Astro Bus clerk told us he could sell us Viazul Bus tickets, the preferred bus company for tourists. We followed him to his office even though the whole business seemed shady. We were only able to buy one ticket back to Havana. The only explanation we got was that seat availability on the bus coming back from Santiago de Cuba and heading to Havana could only be determined the moment the bus arrived at the station. There was only one ticket available, but we took it anyway. We decided that we would have to be back at this station a few hours before the scheduled bus to try and board the bus back to Havana together.
It was a bad start for a new town. We gave the address of Señora Noris' house to our cab driver and checked in an hour and a half later. Señora Noris' family was the least energetic of all the families we've stayed with. We weren't sure if it's because they were just less friendly at the first meeting or if Morón is really just a sleepy town compared to Trinidad. By the time we unpacked, we were all alone with Señora Noris' daughter.
We walked to the first dollar store we could find to buy pasta, sauce, and canned meat for spaghetti. We walked around the town and realized that we should have stayed in Trinidad. Morón really didn't have much to offer except for the convenience of being close to a different set of cays. Stores were mostly closed because it was the day before New Year's Eve. We felt like the only tourists walking around. What saved our afternoon was the lechon lady by the plaza who sold roasted pork sandwiches for less than US$1 each.
Through a mix up in communication, we found ourselves having to head back out to town for dinner. Señora Noris later explained that her daughter thought we just didn't want to eat in the house, so they didn't bother asking us if we were interested in eating there. She directed us to walk back to the town center where we would find Paradiso Palmeras, the one restaurant that's probably open after 9pm.
We did and felt like we found a gem. They had all kinds of food on the menu. We ended up ordering two soups, two meals, two beers and an ice cream all for US$7. There was an Italian family eating at the next table and a big German group close to us who all looked like they've been going to this one restaurant for the past few days. All the waiters knew them and served them like they were their best customers. Our waiter was originally from Barbados and talked to us about being in Cuba.
We were sure that Señora Noris is a nice enough lady. But I guess we had just been spoiled by the other families we had met so far. We needed some sort of icebreaker to soften up this family. And it only came during our last night's stay.
We started early in the morning and met the man the boy was talking to yesterday about horse riding trips. We walked to the other side of the town and met a few cowboys who were all on their own horses. Raphael became our designated…Read More
We started early in the morning and met the man the boy was talking to yesterday about horse riding trips. We walked to the other side of the town and met a few cowboys who were all on their own horses. Raphael became our designated tour guide. If I remember correctly, my horse's name was Vivian. We mounted our own horses and started the slow, easy ride through the Escambray Mountains. When we had reached a valley, I suddenly heard Raphael shaking his whip, which was enough to get our horses to gallop fast. Unprepared for the surprise to come next, suddenly I was bouncing up and down on my horse, shaky, and scared shitless that I might just fall and die. The boy caught up to me and told me to stand on my stirrups and keep my back straight. I got the hang of it after a while and was riding pretty well for a newbie. I learned how to pull the rope and make my horse go slower but Raphael, maybe to taunt me, kept threatening Vivian into galloping again. I had no clue that riding a horse was exhausting. I felt like I was the one running to the top of the mountains because my legs were aching and my thighs were burning.
We finally arrived at the base of the Parque Natural Topes de Collantes, a 110-square kilometer area of the mountains full of different species of flowers and animals like the tocororo, the national bird of Cuba because of its red, blue, and white colors.
We were to hike to the Salto Javira waterfalls, but I needed to rest because I can barely walk after the hour-long horse ride. When I recovered, we started our hike by following the trail for the next 30 minutes. The falls weren't as high as we expected, but there was a deep lagoon at the bottom that was very beautiful. People are allowed to swim, but the water was too cold for us to jump in. We hiked back using a different trail to meet up with Raphael and our horses. I was dreading the ride back home because there was just no way I could subject my legs and my ankles to the stirrups and the ropes. My stirrups were adjusted. I tried to adjust my socks so that my already-bruised skin wouldn't get any worse, but to no avail.
Back in town, Raphael asked for US$30 instead of the US$20 we were quoted. We complained and haggled a little, but eventually we ended up paying the extra dollars so that we could finally take our swollen saddle asses back home.
Señor Armando gave me some ointment to apply to my bruised ankles and legs. I could barely walk. He also got me an empty beer bottle to roll under my feet to help me massage them. I was just thankful I didn't get thrown off the horse.
It was still early in the afternoon. Even though I was hurting, I didn't want to stay indoors. We walked to the Colonial restaurant across from the cigar factory and ate lunch (US$17) while listening to a live son band.
We took a nap before heading out again at dusk. We watched a group of men play dominoes in the park and got excited for the anticipated match later tonight with Señor Armando and Señora Clara.
We went inside an old church that turned out to be the Museo Nacional de Lucha Contra Bandidos. Formerly a San Francisco de Asís convent, an exhibition of 1960s counter-revolutionary campaign materials is now installed. We got a chance to see the view of all of Trinidad by climbing up the old bell tower above the convent.
Our U.S.A. versus Cuba domino championship began at 9pm. Whenever the boy and I would converse in English about our tiles, Señor Armando would instruct us that no cheating was allowed. Meanwhile he would talk to his wife in faster-than-usual Spanish. We would all laugh at the strategies we tried to implement. We bought a bottle of rum for Señor. We played while drinking a concoction he calls canchachas. He kept taking one shot of rum after another. He must have had more than 14 shots. At midnight, we won the final and decisive domino game (yeaaa-h!). He seemed a little chagrined that his beginner domino students had put him to shame. He was so drunk that he gave us a dramatic speech thanking us for choosing to visit Cuba and his hometown of Trinidad. Señora Clara and I just started making fun of him and talked about how our men would snore like trains all night.