Monthly Archives: December 2015

Santiago de Cuba – day 2

30th December 2015

Exploring Santiago de Cuba today with a visit to the Museum of the Carnival and the oldest house for guided tours and a wander around the shops in the morning. Couldn’t help myself, I bought a Che cap and a few of us had ice-cream at the flashest place around! A boat ride to another government owned restaurant for lunch but much nicer and better food than the one yesterday. Then on to the old fortress and museum for a few hours with dinner at a private rooftop restaurant to top off the day. Lobster for lunch and prawns for dinner – not a bad combo for the day! We finished off with a couple of hours at the bar swapping stories.

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Santiago de Cuba

29th December 2015

I’d have loved a few more days in Baracoa. I found myself quite conflicted over the way things are, seems unemployment must be high as there were so many people just hanging around, living conditions aren’t the best for many and it’s quite third world in lots of ways. But, the people are just lovely, happy and friendly, so who am I to judge or feel sorry for them.

It’s a place I’d go back to anytime, although today the tour moves on to Santiago de Cuba. Had a pit-stop at a pretty lookout to “see” Guantanamo military base from afar then a stop in the town of Guantanamo to get our pass to be able to go on to Cainamera for lunch.

The resort we went to had been featured in a documentary I saw before coming to Cuba, however it seemed rather more desolate now. The swimming pool was partially filled with green water, there wasn’t a guest to be seen and every door was firmly closed apart from where we were ushered. Such a shame as it was in a lovely spot and seemed like it might have been quite a pick at one time. There was a cute entrance over a little bridge, an interesting little museum like room, a great lookout and lovely dining room, but that’s where the upside ended.

This would have to go down as the absolute worst meal I have ever been served – I’m no foodie and don’t complain or send meals back – ever – but this just has to take the cake, so to speak. It was actually hilarious, and reminded me again how very fortunate and probably spoilt I am (also everyone else in the tour group).



There was, as is normal in the state run places, a choice between fish or chicken. I chose the chicken and took one look and one bite and just couldn’t stomach any more. I did eat the salad which was the usual and fresh. But, my goodness, they must have boiled the poor old chook for hours to make it taste like that. The worst thing was, none of us ate the meat and were looking forward to sweets but worse was to come!!! I’ve never seen anything like it before – a saucer with what turned out to be apricot syrup with a piece of plastic cheese floating on top. Honestly, our faces were unbelievable, I checked, because I couldn’t believe my eyes. And the saddest thing was our tour guide and bus driver absolutely devoured theirs……… It actually made me feel like an absolute heel – I still didn’t eat it but I did say a silent apology for not being grateful.

There was a great place for further views of far off the Guantanamo military base, we were not supposed to take photos, but honestly, none of us had a camera with enough zoom to pick anything out at all.

On the way out we spotted the poolside bar and an ice-cream fridge. Being the hungry poor souls we were we started peering hopefully inside! Alas, it had chains around it and we were told it wasn’t working – and there were little tubs of ice-cream inside – the weirdest thing ever. Really, the whole place was very strange, a deserted resort, open just for lunch!!!

The drive to Santiago de Cuba seemed to take forever and when we arrived it was straight to the Santa Ifigena Cemetery where Jose Marti Perez and many other Cuban heroes are buried. Had an interesting tour and watched the changing of the guard at Marti’s shrine.

Then on to Revolution Square and it’s massive statue to honor another hero, Antonio Maceo Grajales. Near his statue are also 23 huge machetes rising from the ground representing March 23 1878, the date the war for independence started again after a short truce.

The hotel we stayed at, Hotel Melia Santiago, wouldn’t be out of place in any western city, just like thousands of others all over the world, multi-story, modern with pool and restaurants on the ground floor. Tanya, Jennie and I had dinner at a pizza place, later I met up with our guide, Vlad,  Jennie, Wendy – we were the only 3 interested in going to Casa de la La Trova to enjoy the music and dancing. Don’t think Vlad was impressed at having to take the driver and bus for just three but them’s the breaks apparently!

What a missed opportunity this was, not only for those who didn’t come along, but also for us who did, we didn’t stay anywhere near long enough. Wendy made the decision we’d only stay a couple of hours – neither Jennie or I had any idea of how long we wanted to stay, and oh, I’m kicking myself. What a wonderful place, the music was fantastic, dancing divine, and people watching to die for. Jennie and I absolutely loved it, not so sure about Wendy, she seemed to be in bit of a mood again. Another situation where solo travel would have been preferable……………

Apparently Trova music and dancing is native to Santiago de Cuba, I fell in love with Cuban music and dance on my first day in Baracoa and La Trova just drove me deeper with every minute I sat entranced. So wish I could move like the Cubans. Must say I was especially taken with a couple of the males showing their moves on the dance floor. There was an older gent dancing with with a tourist (in my opinion) who was just exquisite – and I only got blurry photos of him, such a travesty. Even allowing for my obvious infatuation this was a fantastic place that shouldn’t be missed.

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Around Baracoa

28th December 2015

First up this morning was a visit to the Baracoa Museum – so interesting and so very different to most of our museums at home. Set almost on the waterfront and surrounded by stone walls with old cannon pointing out to sea it was originally part of the town fortifications, it’s in a stunning location and full of Cuban and more specifically Baracoan history. I was chuffed to find an opportunity to take the first of many Che Guevara related pics.

We headed out of town to the Tey River for a boat ride and the highlight seemed to be the guy rowing had 6 fingers and toes on each hand and foot! He was an absolute hoot, lots of stories and oh so happy to pose for us. I felt sorry for him rowing the 5 of us along in the boiling sun but it didn’t seem to worry him, I’m guessing our tips make up for that.

Our lunch spot on the banks was just gorgeous, open sided buildings surrounded by the trees on a river bank, what more could you ask for. Oh, maybe a drink made in a coconut or grapefruit!!! I’ve not seen a bartender lop the top from a coconut with a machete before, but this one was very well practiced. He then emptied some of the coconut water, added white rum and juice and a straw made from thin bamboo and voila, I was set – could become very addictive. Buffet lunch with pork, rice and what I’m discovering is the normal salad of cucumber, tomato and cabbage along with the musicians all made for a nice although touristy outing.

Back in Baracoa most of the group went back to the hotel but I stayed down with a few others for a wander. We talked our way into a ride round to a lovely beach in one of the taxis, a wagon with plank seats on each side pulled by a donkey and then back to the malecon. We joined the locals around a beer truck and bought a bottle to taste – one of the guys lent us his bottle, a plastic soft drink bottle cut down! Wendy also joined in the dancing with much egging on by us and the locals. What an absolutely wonderful experience, everywhere you go there is music playing and people just being together talking, laughing, singing and dancing.

After lots more wandering we found a lovely place on the malecon with enough adirondack chairs out the front for all of us where we had a few drinks, chatted and watched the world go by. We met a German guy there with a beautiful big dog who splits his time between Munich and Baracoa – I don’t think you’d get 2 more different places in the world.

It was getting on by the time we made our way back up the hill where I sat in the garden and attempted a sketch before going to dinner. This was another private home with rooftop restaurant. This one was much slicker than last nights place, it was lovely, the food (lobster again) and service was great but I much preferred the more laid back quality of the first night. Tonight also reminded me of one of the joys of solo travel – not feeling stressed because of other people’s issues impacting the whole group. Things between one of the couples were tense to say the least!!!

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Seeing Cuba at last – Baracoa

We didn’t have any stragglers on our 4:30 am start, the wake-up calls must have worked. As we were leaving so early the hotel provided us with a breakfast to go – a ham and cheese sandwich and poppa. Jenny accidentally sat on hers in the bus and caused huge hilarity and some really bad jokes. I think we were all laughing way too hard to stop from crying!

This time we went to the domestic terminal and, oh boy, was that a different story to the international one. All sorts of sights here and some badly smelling toilets too. Once again we were there about 3 hours early and this flight was also delayed, so maybe that’s normal over here. I’m not usually a whinger when I travel, I expect and accept that things are going to be different – but, really, I had the worst cup of coffee ever. Lesson learned – attempted cappuccino made with long life milk is never a good idea for me at 5 in the morning, lol.

Once we got going it was only about an hour to Baracoa, I was beginning to think we were in a sea plane when going in to land, the airstrip begins and ends in the ocean with both the approach and take-off over the sea, beautiful scenery but a tad daunting at first. It’s a really pretty airfield, surrounded by ocean, little rises and trees.

After a bit of a drive around the town then a half hour or so walk it was straight out to a cocoa farm a short way out of town. Baracoa is the biggest producer of cocoa and chocolate in Cuba and on the way we passed the chocolate factory opened in 1963 by Che Guevara, sadly, the factory is closed these days.

The cocoa farm tour was interesting, had a taste of cocoa fruit, saw the processes and scribbled this recipe for making chocolate – 3 teaspoons cocoa powder, 2 glass water, 1 glass milk. The very first of our group lunches was at the farm, lots of rice, black beans, plantains and chicken. Three local musicians serenaded us, they were fabulous and a few of the braver souls in our group joined them. Then the CDs came out for sale as well, loved the music but didn’t buy one – I’m pretty sure there’ll be other opportunities.

Hahaha, we got to walk off our lunch with a climb up a darn big hill to our hotel! The room’s very old and worn but the air con worked so I didn’t mind, had a little nanna nap before heading back down to the town for dinner. Seems there’s quite a common practice of opening a restaurant on the roof of your home, this one was fabulous. The owners were so happy and friendly, the seafood was amazing – whole lobster; dinner was 20 CUC (equivalent to about 20 euros) with 2 drinks included. The musicians this time were a couple of guys who kept making eyes at all the females – funny as…. again we had a ball – except for the uphill climb home, lol.

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