Tag Archives: Cuba

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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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

27-12-15
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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So this is what they mean by “Mexican time” or “Cuban time”

26-12-15
Had brekky, did a sketch from my room and wrote some notes before pickup at 12:30 for the airport; we’ve increased numbers by another 2, a couple, Chris and Min, from Melbourne have joined us also. We were at the airport by 12:45 even though our flight wasn’t due to leave until after 4.Thank goodness there were a few of us because we had no idea where to go or what to do; a guy in uniform came up and asked us which airline we were flying with, told him Cuba Air and he told us which number check-in desk to go to but we would have to buy the Cuban entry visa for US$25 before we checked in and he could do it for us then. Jenny, Tanya and I all gave him our money and got our visas but Min & Chris and Wendy and John didn’t trust him so didn’t get theirs. This guy then took us to the check-in counters and started doing the same thing with everyone in the line. The 2 couples had to wait then for him to do theirs and he said to them, do you trust me now, bahaha!

We still had almost 3 hours to kill, so had lunch at an American place called Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, all themed on the Forest Gump movie. According to most of the others my chicken salad was the pick of the food!  Boring as batshit sitting around waiting after that, the flight was delayed and even after we boarded there were more delays and we didn’t leave until 6 pm. After all that it only took 50 mins to get to Havana.

I sat next to a couple from Seattle going on a tour but only allowed to stay 7 days and mostly around Havana. They told me one way Americans get around the ban is to organize it through a Canadian travel company as a cultural visit. When we got there it took about 20 minutes for any bags to start coming out, and, I kid you not, 2 hours for 10 of us to finally get all our luggage. Sometimes the same 6 items would go round a huge loop 6 times or more before any new items were added. Also, seems there’s quite an amount of goods coming in on normal flights, if there was one tyre come out there must have been 15! All this time there were more airport staff than you could poke a stick at wandering around having hugs, cheek kisses and good old chats! It was a real eye opener too, they were all very young, the girls uniform skirts were tight minis and most work black fishnet stockings, the guys uniforms were reminiscent of the old safari suits of the 80’s. During the wait I was talking to a couple from Tingalpa or Taragindi (can’t remember which) on holidays with their two boys. They’d been to LA, Las Vegas and Cancun, are having 3 weeks in Cuba and another week in Hawaii on the way home – 6 weeks in all – pretty cool!

Most of us had wanted to change money at the airport, however, the guide, Vladimir, told us we’d be better off doing it at the hotel and the rate would be the same. Another 40 mins to our hotel, The Telegrafo, in the middle of Havana, checked in, changed money and met back in the lobby 10 minutes later to walk to dinner – at 10 pm. Dinner was fantastic, assorted seafood, the mojitos were nice and minty and everything was all new, different and interesting. Back to the hotel at midnight for a 3:40 am wake up call to be in the lobby by 4:30 to catch plane to Baracoa! Never thought I’d get sick of flying but I’m getting close at the moment, this will be the 5th flight in a few of days!

It’s sort of annoying to have spent the whole day doing absolutely nothing until late at night when we saw a little of Havana old town and had dinner. But, I guess, that’s the joys of travel, isn’t it and tomorrow we’ll get to start our holiday properly.

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