A Travellerspoint blog

January 2015

Cuba - Fria

semi-overcast 24 °C

Everything flourishes under the Caribbean skies in the verdant valley of Viñales in western Cuba, and we feel like extras in a romantic movie set in the tropics in the 1800s…
The farmer of the land surrounding our comfortable abode harnesses his oxen to plough the land. His trees are laden with bananas, papayas, guavas, mangos and avocados, and piglets and chickens grub in the fields of corn. Vultures swirl overhead in search of a snack at dawn and the mother hen keeps an eye on her flock. The fighting cockerels have other concerns as they loudly crow their prowess. Sunday is fight day – some will be stew on Monday.

This angelic corner of heaven has been spruced up a notch in the past year. Almost every house has been given a makeover since our last visit and every other one is cashing in on the B&B market. But with the ever increasing crush of tourists there is a danger that this particular lily will become overly gilded…
The same is true of eateries. A dozen or more establishments have opened up shop in recent months and with so much competition a good meal still only costs $10 ($15 for the whole lobster). It is interesting to note that one enterprising restaurateur has seized on James’ fictional detective, David Bliss, as the name for his establishment. How could we resist eating there?
‘Build it and they will come,’ according to the maxim and it certainly seems true in Viñales where a fleet of tourist–laden air-conditioned buses turn up daily from Havana. But air-conditioning is for foreign cissies: the locals rely on their open-topped buses…
Cuba is a land of stark contrast between the rich and the poor, but everyone shares in its vibrant, noisome and colourful culture. Exotic flowers like bougainvillea, hibiscus, frangipane and orchids grow like weeds and everywhere is the tobacco - green and lush – bursting with life while promising death…
These shade grown plants, south of the tobacco capital of Pinar del Rio, are recognised as the source of the finest cigars in the world.
This is the dedicated plantation owner, Hector Diaz, who delighted in escorting us around his award-winning estate…

However, we have been clipped by a Polar vortex and midday temperatures have barely hit the mid-twenties – Celsius for the past couple of days. It is enough to make the locals dig out their winter woollies. With such bone-chilling temperatures it’s not surprising that the pristine aquamarine sea and mangrove-fringed beaches of Cayo Jutias were almost deserted…
Who would bathe in this tepid water except for us brave Canadian polar bear types?

Posted by Hawkson 11:23 Archived in Cuba Comments (7)

Cuba Libre


semi-overcast 26 °C

We had not intended blogging from Cuba because of limited internet access, but a new day has dawned. Uncle Sam has finally abandoned his spiteful attempt to demoralize and destroy his downtrodden neighbour and has torn down one of the last vestiges of the Iron Curtain. Who knows what tomorrow will bring to this tropical isle with its palm-fringed sun-drenched beaches and its exuberant and generous peoples.
We can’t let this momentous day pass without taking a snapshot of Cuban life that will permit future visitors to judge the consequences of communist Cuba being unshackled by its capitalist neighbour. So this is Havana today:
It is a city of broken pavements with legions of ruined, but architecturally elegant, buildings; a city where beautifully restored five star hotels rub shoulders with crumbling hovels; a city of manicured tree-lined boulevards and garbage strewn back alleys; a city where stylish fashionistas stroll amongst gangs of dishevelled labourers and assorted idlers; a bustling city that is full of music and life day and night. This is the cupola of the Capitole, a previously hated symbol of American imperialism which is now being restored for the Cuban Congress…
Havana’s store’s shelves may be full but the range and quality of goods is limited. For example: this week one large supermarket had two aisles jammed with thousands of bags of flour, but no tea, no coffee and no baking powder. Another had a stack of tea, but no flour, no coffee and no baking powder. And so it goes – the only item that is universally stocked is Cuban rum and, it appears, no one has baking powder. However we are aware that there is a thriving black market, and imagine our surprise when James made pancakes for us and Lourdes, our Cuban hostess, and she magically produced a bottle of finest Canadian maple syrup! Who knows what will happen when, (and if), WalMart and Future Shop hang out their shingles here. Hotels and tour companies are already being swamped with enquiries and American cruise ships are on the horizon…

Two million pre-revolution American gas-guzzlers prowl the streets as taxis and a shared ride of any distance costs just 40 cents. Forty cents was also the amount we paid for a major concert by popular Cuban singer Haydee Milanese and her very famous father, Pablo, in the National Theatre of Cuba. Many prices are quoted in Cuban Nacional Pesos and there are 25 Pesos to 1 Cuban dollar (equivalent to a US dollar) which is also called Pesos. So “One Pesos por favor” can mean 4 cents or 1 dollar depending on where you are and what you are buying. Consequently, many uninformed tourists pay twenty-five times as much as asked for goods and services (and the Cubans are too polite to point out the mistake). The average Cuban survives comfortably on $40 US a month, but that’s not difficult when fresh eggs are 4 cents apiece..

Despite the years of hardship and deprivations; despite the number of families torn apart by those who have fled to seek a softer life in Miami, (and the countless thousands who drowned in the attempt), the Cuban spirit has not been broken. They are a happy, noisy, fun-loving, sophisticated and big-hearted bunch and we feel privileged to be here on the day that their wall came down.
Today is also momentous for us because in the next few hours someone will be the five hundred thousandth reader of our blog. This could be you dear blog follower wherever you are. While we know that our blog has been read more than 499,000 times we will only know if you are the half a millionth reader if you tell us. So, click on the “Comment” button below and tell us when America imposed its five decade long blockade on Cuba and we will send you a valuable prize if you are the ‘one’.
Good luck. Hasta luego nuestros amigos from Havana, Cuba, Libre, on January 17th 2015.

Posted by Hawkson 07:56 Archived in Cuba Comments (10)

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