A Travellerspoint blog


Cuban Friends

sunny 28 °C

Daily life for Cubans is a challenge, yet they are among the most generous and warmhearted people in the world. Here we are enjoying dinner with our friends Lourdes, Marisol and Rita at a restaurant in Havana...
And this is Sheila with Heather, a childhood friend from England, in front of Revolution Place and the images of Che Guevara and Jose Marti – two of Cuba’s most admired figures...
We met up with Heather at the end of her tour of Mexico and Cuba. Touring is easy and relatively inexpensive for foreigners in Cuba and it is easy to overlook the difficulties and privations suffered by the locals. Shopping for even basic foods like flour, butter, cheese, coffee and tea, can be a frustrating, time consuming, and sometimes a fruitless exercise. However, there is a thriving black market, (known here as ‘the black bag’ (bolsa negra)). For instance: there were no eggs in the stores but we saw dozens of people carrying trays of eggs like this...
We then discovered that each tray cost just $1.30 (about a pound) off the back of a truck. Anyone with a few dollars could buy hundreds of eggs and make a tidy profit by selling them individually for a few cents to friends and neighbours.
In the face of 60 years of American blockade, and numerous attempts by Washington to destroy their economy and morale, the Cubans have become incredibly ingenious at keeping old machinery running. We were in Vinales at the time of the annual carnival and were surprised to see American fairground rides from the 1930s still going strong...
Even the portable toilets looked like leftovers from World War II...
Thousands of battered yank tanks from the 1950s, with more than a million miles on the clock, ferry locals around Havana for 50 cents a time, while a ride in one of the superbly restored cars from the same period is reserved for tourists with deeper pockets...
The streets of Cuba are filled with old cars that would be on the scrap heap almost anywhere else in the world, but here they are incredibly valuable. Imagine having to pay nearly $20,000 US (14,000 UK Pounds) for a 1980 Lada. Yet, despite the inconveniences and shortages the Cubans know how to enjoy themselves. These are our Vinales friends, Osvedy, Leyani and their two sons, treating us to a pizza lunch...
After a couple of months of daily sightseeing and travelling throughout South America our ten days in Cuba were spent simply relaxing with friends and practising our Spanish. We are now home. The temperature has plummeted by more than 20 degrees and spring doesn’t seem in a hurry to arrive – a good time to reflect on our summer in the Southern Hemisphere. .

Posted by Hawkson 15:33 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

Cuba - Viva

Still life in Cuba

semi-overcast 26 °C

Photogenic images that require little explanation beyond a title are a peso a dozen in Cuba’s enigmatic capital. Here are a just a few…
Environmentally conscious taxi driver…

Heavy goods vehicle…

Local Coffee…

A shade too much…

Caribbean colours…

“My other house is a hacienda!”

“My other car is a Lamborghini !”

The little shop on the corner…

The cities of Cuba are not always pretty, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And there are surely few sights more universally adored than that of a deserted mangrove-fringed beach where the azure sky melds seamlessly into a cerulean sea under a tropical sun…
Cayo Jutias - Island Blue.

The Americans are coming and, somewhat bizarrely, a tourist from Chicago explained that he had rushed to Cuba to beat the expected onslaught of his fellow countrymen. He is not the only American hoping to see authentic Cuba before it is blighted by Mr. McDonald and his ilk. However, there are many hurdles to normalization with the States and hopefully it will be many years before there is a Starbucks on every corner.
We will be back before that happens. But now, with our bags packed, we are heading south to summer in the Andes.

Posted by Hawkson 07:10 Archived in Cuba Comments (9)

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)

When You Come to Cuba…

An invitation by ode

sunny 31 °C


When you come to Cuba – as you ought:
And wonder at grandeur that speaks of past wealth
Look past the rough to seek the smooth
Find beauty in all, buildings both great and small
And search for the riches still to be found,

When you visit the Cubans – as you must:
You will find peace and harmony in their homes
Generosity and love in their hearts
Joy in their music
And sweet succour in their food…

When you come to Cuba – as you could:
Abjure the glitz and gluttony of inclusive resorts
Forswear the fancy tourist bars
Decry the hamburgers and fries
Eat, drink and live with the locals and you will find their joy.

When you walk through the countryside – as you surely can:
Pay heed to the sugar, the coffee, and the tobacco man
And thank nature, man’s labour and above all the sun
For this luxuriant tropical land…

When you come to Havana – as you should:
Find tranquility in its leafy bowers
Seek coolness under the shady boulevard trees
And richness in its kaleidoscope of colours, scents and sounds…

When you rest at Ambos Mundos – as well you might:
Visit Hemingway’s digs and remember with glee
If you can hear the bell toll
It tolls not for thee…

Ernest Hemingway lived at the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana for seven years in the thirties and wrote three books including parts of his classic "For Whom the Bell Tolls.". James Hawkins stayed in the adjoining room for one night in 2014 and wrote this blog!!!!

Our world is full of exotic and interesting places that we plan to revisit one day, but rarely do we stumble across a jewel with which we so enamoured that we plan our return before we have left – Cuba is such a gem.

Hasta luego Cuba – we will see you again soon.

Posted by Hawkson 16:38 Archived in Cuba Comments (4)

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