Cuba

AfroCuban music Manequitos de Matanzas

Just heard it and loved it. If you like afrocuban music I bet you will too. Enjoy.

A bit of information on the band from http://www.afrocubaweb.com:

The group got its start in 1952 in a bar in Barrio Marina in Matanzas, Cuba, when a group of youths began following the rhythms of a song by Arsenio Rodríguez that was then playing, using dishes and bottles, as is the style in “kitchen rumbas.”

Popular tracks:  “El guaguancó de Matanzas” (Siboney,88), “Los Muñequitos de Matanzas” (Ace,90), “Rumba caliente” (Qbadisc,92), “Oyelos de nuevo” (Artex,93), “Real Rumba” (Corasón,94), “Vacunao” (Qbadisc,95) o “Po Iban Eshu” (Qbadisc,96).

Los Muñequitos de Matanzas are part of the living legend of African music in Cuba, and they remain very close to their Abakuá (Efik/Efo) roots. Abakua (Abakuá)  is an Afro-Cuban men’s initiatory fraternity, or secret society, which originated from fraternal associations in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Known generally as Ekpe, Ngbe, or Ugbe among the multi-lingual groups in the region, these closed groups all used the leopard as a symbol of masculine prowess in war and political authority in their various communities.

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Cuba essentials prices and basic information

Valid in October/November 2012, note tourist season starts in November and some prices are going up then

Exchange rate:

1 EUR – 1.2444 CUC

1 CUC  – 24 CUP

Prices:

Food:

  • Coffee (small strong with milk out of window) 1 CUP
  • Bananas 2 CUP for bunch
  • Juice 2 CUP
  • Pizza (very popular) 2 – 5 CUP (Michal says 5 – 10)
  • Rolls (Pan de…) with ham, eggs or sausages sold from a window 1- 2 CUP
  • Waffle cakes in the street 3 CUP
  • Sugar cane juice (in a village) 12 CUP
  • Donut small cup 2 CUP, big one 5 CUP
  • Beer (Bucanero or Cristal) 1 – 1.5 CUC
  • Rum 250 ml 1.5 – 4 CUC
  • Breakfast in Casa Particular 3 – 4 CUC, dinner there 6 – 8 CUC
  • Dinner in a restaurant 5 – 10 CUC
  • Chocolate cake Varadero 3.85 CUC
  • Pan de Tortilla & Pan de Jamon Varadero 5 CUP each
  • Spaghetti in Santa Clara 4 CUC
  • 2 coconuts with rum and 1 plain together 5 CUC (beach Trinidad)
  • Fish in the hotel beach bar in Trinidad 6 CUC
  • Fish (the best we had) in small house based take away 50 CUP

Transport:

  • Taxi airport – Havana 25 CUC
  • Taxi from China town to Old town in Havana 3 CUC
  • Taxi Havana – Vinales 12 CUC per person, 60 CUC per 5 passanger car
  • Taxi Vinales – Playa Mulata 40 CUC
  • Taxi Playa Mulata – Havana – Varadero 60 CUC + 40 CUC
  • Taxi Remedios – Cayo las Brujas official taxi 50 – 60 CUC, unofficial 35 CUC
  • Taxi Remedios – Caibarien 5 CUC
  • Taxi Remedios – Santa Klara 20 CUC

  • Horse cart from Che Monument to city center 1 CUC for 3 passangers
  • Taxi from Trinidad to the beach 1 CUC each (5 CUC)
  • Taxi Trinidad – Havana airport 25 CUC per person (120 CUC)
  • Taxi from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 in Havana airport 20 CUC!!!!!! better don’t be there for the last moment and bare in mind Conviasa departs from domestic flights terminal even though it is bound to Carracas. We bargained to 10 CUC, still…
  • VIAZUL on different routes:
  • Havana – Vinales 12 CUC (3,5 h)

  • Vinales – Trinidad 40 CUC (8 h)

  • Trinidad – S. Klara 12 CUC (3 h)

  • S. Klara – Varadero 11 CUC ( 3 h)

  • Havana – Santiago 60 CUC

  • Varadero – Trinidad 20 CUC

Accommodation:

  • Price of a room in Havana 20 CUC
  • Room in Vinales 6 CUC per person (15 CUC per room)

Other:

  • Havana tour in old American car (1 Hour) 30 CUC
  • Casa de la Musica in Havana 20 CUC
  • Entrance to a club in Vinales 2 CUC, toilet paper in this club 1 CUC, mojito 2.5 CUC
  • Bike rental in Vinales 1 CUC for the first hour, 2 CUC for 2 hours and after that 0.75 CUC per hour
  • Entrance to the caves in Vinales (1st) 3 CUC, (2nd) 5 CUC
  • Casa de la Musica Varadero 10 CUC
  • Organised tour from Varadero to The Bay of Pigs or Havana 40 CUC per person
  • Straw hat and leather shoes in Havana 15 CUC
  • Left luggage in Santa Clara 2 CUC per bag
  • Entrance to Art Museum in Santa Clara 2 CUC (additional photo charge 5 CUC)
  • Entrance to The Cave (club) in Trinidad 3 CUC
  • Body balm in Trinidad 3.5 CUC (in a shop you have to leave your bag in the locker and then at the exit security goes through your shopping, don’t loose your recipt!)

Beach near Trinidad yet another face of Cuba

I be honest this post is not going to be long. I write it only because of a sense of obligation. I just want to show the fans of beach what the beach in Trinidad looks like. Because it is located in the southern part of the island you can find there amazing shells and parts of coral reef from Caribbean Sea.

The water was perfectly flat. Not a single cloud on the sky.

Beach TrinidadThe colours of the water – amazing.

water trinidad

Fancy hotels, sunbeds, palm trees, beach bars, salesmen, shells, crabs… I went for a walk with Marysia and we found some shells which we took home with us. I had a coconut with rum which was the highlight of the morning. I think you will enjoy the pictures below. The next post will enclose all the prices I wrote down and maybe some useful information. I know I was looking for things like that while planning my budget.

Horse riding in Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills), Cuba

valle de los ingenios

We went on this excursion as a result of miscommunication. Marysia and Maria wanted to go horse riding. This is how it started. I didn’t care much. Adam didn’t want to go. And Michal from being indifferent came to a point of excitment. So this is how it happened. Marysia asked me if I want to go and I said “Yes, if Adam is coming” (knowing he is afraid of horses and doesn’t want to go), so she went on to him saying that I’m coming and if so he wants to come as well. He said “ok”. I guess this is because earlier we said that we will enojy the trip more if he comes. In a meantime we found out Maria is afraid of horses and she wants to go in a cart. This was easily arranged. And so Maria and Adam went in a cart and three of us on horseback. Destination: waterfall near Topes de Collantes.horses Trinidad

Valley of the Sugar Mills is a series of three interconnected valleys: San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer. As the name suggests they were a centre for sugar production. I don’t know if you know, but Cuba became the world’s foremost sugar producer in XIX th century.  Most of the sugar mills are in ruins, intact structures endure at some sites, including Guachinango, where the plantation house remains, and the plantation of Manaca Iznaga, where the owner’s house, a tower and some barracones (the original slave quarters) still stand.

Horses CubaThis reminds me of Sugar Barons I read about in one of the books I read before coming to Cuba. They were the “Rockefellers” of Cuba. I found an interesting article with shocking facts, more as a trivia than anything else. Here are some of them, if you want to read it all click here.

  • One Cuban sugar baron tiled the floors of his Havana palace with Italian marble bedded down in sand imported from the Nile
  • Tomás Terry, the most successful sugar planter of Cuba’s colonial years, left $25 million on his death in 1886
  • Julio Lobo was known as the King of Sugar, not just of Havana but of the World, with an estimated personal fortune of $200 million, about $5 billion in today’s dollars
  • At age 21, just out of college, Lobo brokered the most lucrative sugar deal at that point — worth $6 million — with the British firm Tate and Lyle
  • In 1957, over fourteen thousand new cars manufactured in the United States were sold in Cuba and some 200 000 cars were registered on the island (1958 national vehicle census (reported in the magazine El Automóvil de Cuba). BTW some ifty thousand of those same vehicles were still in use in 2010, although not a single spare part was shipped to Cuba from the United States between October 1960 and late 2010.
  • In the decadent jet-set heaven of 1950s Havana, the only place to be was Tropicana, a pleasure dome where the shows (and showgirls) were dazzling, the gambling was high-stakes, and the revelers included Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Rita Hayworth, and J.F.K.
  • In 1956, the Tropicana nightclub premiered its first promotional flight from Miami to Havana on Cubana de Aviación—it was billed as the “Cabaret in the Sky.” The front seats of the plane had been taken out so the musicians could all fit in with their instruments – piano!!! bongo, drumms, trumpet. The passengers started off with pink daiquiris, and then, as soon as the plane took off, Rolando and Ana Gloria bounded out and started the show. They came out singing and dancing, prancing down the aisles, pulling the Americans up from their seats to dance and sing with them. Can you imagine???!!! That’s how they brought Nat King Cole to Havana that March, the first of three times he performed at Tropicana. ( our taxi driver in Havana told us Tropicana is now a place for old people. I still wish I have seen it! More on tropicana here)

Back to our trip. Two Italian girls (first time on a horse) came with us. They spoke very good German as they lived near Austria’s border. At the beginning the guide had to prod the horses that didn’t want to keep up. I noticed mine and Marysia’s were always the first to lead. TrinidadEither one or another. It took me some time to get used to be in a saddle again. I tried rising trot and saddle seat (or basic position). The later is used in gallop mainly as far as I remember. Let me just say I I haven’t had such bruises on inner tights in my life! Anyway on the way to the waterfall the cart went separatley as part of the road was impassable for vehicle. We stopped on the way and had some refreshments (cerveza for me) where they offered us dinner on our way back, but we decided against it.

Rainforest CubaAfter trotting along muddy roads, crossing streams and field gates we entered the rainforest. The path was marked out by sharp edged stones. I got worried something might happen to our horses but we got through fine and dismounted them in previously prepared place. Trekking was now ahead of us. we passed the stand with manualy roasted and grounded coffee and headed for the waterfall. The path was narrow and sometimes barely visable. I felt a bit like those first explorers as the nature around seemed untouched by human presence. No litter, no bins, no benches, no concrete. Just water, stones, trees, lianas, plants, sun and fresh air with this distinctive smell.

And there it was. Waterfall.

Waterfall CubaThere was naturally formed pond and cave where we could swim and enjoy refreshing water. More and more people were coming so it became less and less magical. I remember us girls could see it as a scenery for a perfect romance. Let me enjoy this notion.

Trinidad waterfallOn the way back our horses regained the will to live, or rather, seen in the imagination the end of slavery and we managed to gallop. This felt really good. Like I broke off the leash. It was worth all the bruises and John Wayne’s walk for the next week. At least for me that is. Adam and Maria complained about their cart. It was uncomfortable, they thought they gonna fall over more than once and they had to get off from time to time because the cart would be too heavy otherwise.

You know how they say the journey is more important than the destination. What I love abot my travel is that I’m almost always on the way. To see more, to experience new. New thoughts, new faces, new feelings, or the same ones just transformed by the change inside me. Every travel changes me as I try to leave my convictions behind and absorb. As today is the New Year’s Eve I wish you all:

Experiencing the diversity of the World and overcoming the fear of what is different and unknown, as this truly is, in my opinion, what makes life worthwhile. Happy New Year!

Salsa Cubana, dancing Trinidad, Cuba

viva Cuba

We were walking down one of the cooblestone streets of old town when we heard the laud voice of a rock guitar. We were heading back to our Casa to meet the rest of our group so we hesitated for a moment, but then thinking ‘you only live once’ we followed the music.


If I was to give one advice on how to have the best time in Cuba it would be ‘follow the music’ which might sound simple, but not necessarily is.

Casa de la Musica Trinidad

Up to now music we came across in Cuba had either little to do with salsa cubana or had commercial, tourist flavour. We almost gave up after missing the salsa show on our first night in Trinidad. That night we followed promise of a stranger and ended up in club called The Cave. And this is what happened. We were all dressed up and ready for dancing when we arrived in Plaza Major where Casa de la Musica in Trinidad is. We had to climb terraced, cobblestone stairs full of people and tables, just to find out the salsa show was over and all we could do is pay to get into a club with popular music. Disappointed we tried to enquiry if there is any place where we could dance salsa. This is when somebody told us about The Cave.

ayala-cave-discoWe didn’t know what to expect or how to get there. It was already after dark and we were heading for a deserted and unknown (to us) part of the town. We asked again and again for directions and as they were given in Spanish I didn’t understand a thing, so jst followed the rest. When we thought we were lost we asked for directions one more time and this time a Cuban decided to walk with us. It was getting more and more scary. We were heading outside the center of old town, there were no people on the streets and less and less street light. At some point we heard male voices from behind and thought we were trapped. Or maybe it was just me.The Cave Trinidad

Suddenly our guide stopped and pointed towards the top of a muddy mountain. We could see a lamp post and some people underneath it. Well, I guess it felt safer than going back. The man who brought us there turned around and walked away. He came all this way just to make sure we don’t get lost. I felt bad about being so untrusty. The thing is I never used to be like that but this year (2012) was a hard one and I got hurt one time too many. I never wanted that to happen. I believe in people, it’s a councious choice, you can choose what yo want to believe in. So now I try to get rid of limp distrust and be back myself.

AyalaSo we did climb the hill and found ourselves in front of a hole in the rock type of entrance. It looked promissing but no music was to be heard. We decided to pay 3 CUC each just to see it inside. The Club is called Ayala, located about 100 feet underground in massive nature cavern, is one of the most unique clubs I’ve been to anywhere. The music was laud, coctails strong (you get one in the price of ticket) and the dance floor full. Worth having a look and you might as well as love it if you hit the right time.Art gallery Trinidad

Let’s go back to the rock guitar. I think we were just on the corner of Calle Francisco Gomez Toro, we turned into it and went half of it’s lenght. There were three lads and two girls (one in my age the other around seven/eight). They were artists sitting in front of their gallery, drinking vodka made from bananas and celebrating the birthday of one of them. 30th. They invited us to sit down and join them. We didn’t speak Spanish, they spoke English a little bit, the willingness to communicate and laugh  on both sides made us feel comfortable and open to non verbal communication. Or maybe it was the bananas. Adam exchanged cigarettes (modern age calument). Lucky Strike for Holywood and some local brand without the filter. We still don’t know if what they were saying meant that LS are better or shit. We listened to Nirvana and Iron Maiden. I didn’t want to leave but loyalty and guilt made us stand up and go to pick up our friends, so they could join the party and have some fun.

IMG_3524We came back with the rum, which Cuban told us is crap. Well we drunk it anyway. Maria was with us and alcohol was in our veins so suddenly conversation became very easy. More people joined and among them a couple that danced salsa. I asked them to give us a show, reluctantly they agreed. We couldn’t find a way to play the music and had to sort out a separate recorder but finally music was on and we were on our feet. First we watched them dance and then Marysia, Maria and I took some lessons. I had a great time. My dream came true. I think I need to make list of all the dreams that come true just so I keep track. Just a joke.

Our merry company:

And it really wasn’t only me:

Afterwards somebody said to go to Casa de la Musica to watch the salsa performance. And so we did. We saw band playing and people dancing. Phenomenal couple in blue. Maria and I wanted to dance but no men seemed to be eager. We left them behind and took the dancing floor by force. This is because there were so many people it was hard to find space. After a while we saw our Cuban friends looking down at us with disapprovement. No, no, no, no… and now we danced in couples. Great night!

Some more pictures, next post will be about horse riding, trekking the jungle like the first explorers and swimming underneath the waterfall.

Trinidad, Cuba – the city feel

Trinidad Cuba

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad, Cuba. My main point of reference while navigating the old city of Trinidad. After one day I already felt familiar with the citiy’s layout. The Plaza is the historic centre of the town and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

Trinidad CubaI was walking the streets early in the morning when all tourists are sleeping, during the busiest times after the children were coming back from school and adults from work, early evenings when the youth occupied benches of the squares  and late in the night when everyone was either in night club or bed.

Trinidad CubaThe colonial houses of Trinidad have red terracotta tiled roofs supported out beyond the walls by wooden beams. The walls are pastel-coloured with wood and plasterwork details picked out in different colours to the brickwork. The large main door typically has a smaller entrance door cut into it. Majority of the houses has windows from floor to ceiling, opened to let the draft in. Through those you could observe the amazing insides of Cuban houses. The everyday life. Medical practice, children’s after school lectures, home businesses. I have even seen a birthday party with children and their parents singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in English.

Trinidad CubaThe old town is separated from the rest of the city by gates guarded by police. Only locals transporting tourists can enter it by car. Any pedestrian can do it though. The cobblestone streets are narrow so walking is a more efficient way of transportation. When we entered old town in a taxi our first night we had no problems. We encountered them though wen after 20 minutes we wanted to leave. The policeman was very suspicious. We were leavingin only because they had no available spaces in our Casa and we were recommended another one outside the old town.

Trinidad Cuba

The last day of our stay we could see how the city changed in preparation for tourist season. Empty streets were now full of market stalls with traders recommending their goods. Music bands played popular Cuban music while crowds roamed packed streets. I’m glad it’s not the only sight I’ve seen in Trinidad. Buzz, crowds and music sweeping the streets have their charm but so does peace.

Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad

In Trinidad I found the Cuba I was looking for. With people playing domino on the streets, listening to music in front of their houses and dancing salsa in the streets.

Trinidad Cuba

Among the local customs noteworthy canary cages, suspended by the residents at the entrance to the warm colors painted houses, to ensure good luck and prosperity. Trinidad is famous in Cuba with producing lace. My friend brought back two tablecloths.

It was the first place where we saw salsa and African dance performances. I even got a dancing lesson from a couple of Cubans. It will be the subject of my next post. For now I just wanted to give you a sense how the city looks like, so enjoy the pictres.

Santa Clara, Cuba – the city of Che

santa clara

In Varadero we decided to split. Michal and Marysia were to stay enjoying the beach and the three of us to go on to Santa Clara. We were supposed to meet the same evening in Trinidad. And this is what happened.Varadero sunrise

The three of us got up early morning. Somebody told us we need to be an hour before departure at the station to get tickets. As we hurried through out the empty streets I noticed the beautiful colors of the dawn. We got to the station 40 minutes too early and so I still got some time to get us a breakfast 3 x Pan de Tortilla and 1 Pan de Jamon, 5 CUP each. The ticket to Santa Clara was 11 CUC. We got luggage tickets. I have to say this surprised me as I didn’t expect they would take such precautions.

Before I went to Cuba I read a book about it written by a well know Polish voyager/traveller. During her visit she was looking for the truth about Che. Che GuevaraWas he an idealist or simple murderer? As we all know the truth is never that simple. I guess you have better chance of finding the truth about a person when you meet him than from reading thousands of books, personal letters, watching photographs or videos. There is no harm in trying but certainty is unreachable. I myself was more interested in Hemmingway than Che, but for Maria the second was a real romantic hero. Her favourite song is Hasta Siempre, Comandante by Cuban composer Carlos Puebla. All our stay the meaning of the song was a mistery to us. Now finally I found the translation of lyrics. Enjoy:

We learned to love you
from the historical heights
where the sun of your bravery
laid siege to death

Chorus:Here lies the clear,
the dear transparency
of your beloved presence,
Commander Che Guevara

Your glorious and strong hand
over History it shoots
when all of Santa Clara
awakens to see you

[Chorus]

You come burning the breeze
with springtime suns
to plant the flag
with the light of your smile

[Chorus]

Your revolutionary love
leads you to new undertaking
where yearned is the firmness
of your liberating arm

[Chorus]

We will carry on
as we followed you then
and with Fidel we say to you:
“Farewell, Commander!”

Varadero bus timetableWhen we arrived in Santa Clara there were crowds of locals and taxi drivers. As we wanted to get to Santa Clara the day before we did, we enquired in Varadero about accommodation. We were told the owner of the Casa wouldn’t be able to host us as late in the night as the last bus arrives. This is why we took the first morning bus the next morning and decided not to stay overnight.Vaizul

It seems the woman still thought we would come as she waited on us in the station. Hounded by taxi drivers from which we could not get free we tried to enquire about buses to Trinidad. There was one taxi driver in particular, quite old and determined. He didn’t speak English and kept saying he will show us four mseums. He followed us everywhere. To the office of Viazul (where we found out there are no more buses to Trinidad), to the left luggage (where we left our backpacks), to the place where we ordered pizza and hugo natural and finnally when we sat down on the steps of the bank to look at the map. I don’t know how it happened that he left us alone but his silent presence was annoying. We grew impatient as we were worried how we are going to get to Trinidad.

Pizza Santa ClaraAnyway just one more thing. There were buses for locals that went to Trinidad they just wouldn’t let us on the bus. I read about it before comming to Cuba. The driver if caught “smuggling” torists would get in trouble. We tried anyhow. First time it was “NO”, second time it was “You look like Cuban Maria you could go, but the other two no way”. I still think if you speak directly to the driver it can be done.Monument and Mausoleum of Ernesto Che Guevara

We decided to walk to the Monument and Mausoleum of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. And it is not far so you don’t have to hire a taxi. It really looks impressive from outside. Mausoleum houses the remains of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and 29 of his fellow combatants killed in 1967. Guevara was laid to rest with full military honors on 17 October 1997 after his exhumed remains were discovered in Bolivia and broghut to Cuba.

Che GuevaraThe most distinctive is a bronze 22 foot statue of Che looming over the whole complex. The adjacent decorative wall depicts Che in the Sierra Maestra consulting with Fidel, beside Camilo Cienfuegos, and in the mountains on horseback. Another section shows Che as Minister of Industry performing his usual voluntary work. Lastly literacy tutors, children in schools, and young pioneers are depicted issuing the daily salute that all Cuban children recite each morning “We will be like Che.”The museum is dedicated to his life, work and fight. You can see there his pictures, notbooks, letters, official documents, pistols, guns, doctor uniform and many other personal belongings or belongings of his fellow combatants.Che Guevara wall

You might wonder why Santa Clara is the city of Che. This is because Guevara’s troops took the city during the final battle of the Cuban revolution called Battle of Santa Clara. Interesting fact: 500,000 Santa Clara residents contributed more than 400,000 hours of volunteer work to the construction of the monument.

Santa Clara tractorOn the way from the monument to the city center we stopped  horse cart (1 CUC for all 3 of us) but I still think you can easily walk if you have time and will. We visited the art museum (2 CUC additional fee for photographs and recording). In the price of ticket you get a guide tour of Cuban/Spanish house. I think it could have been more interesting. I asked some questions but the nswers were not encouraging. It holds objects from XVII to XX century. The oldest object being chest for clothes and a cabinet with a secret drawer, that saw pirates times. As you can imagine cabinet creator paid with his life for its performance. I wish the guide told us some pirate stories.troop wagon santa clara

We also saw The Armored Train Park-Museum (Parque del Tren blindado). I didn’t go in but Maria and Adam visited all railway wagons. If you don’t know Che used tractors to raise the rails of the railway and derailed train which transported troops.

After sightseeing we decided to get something to eat. On the way one Cuban started chatting to us and wouldn’t leave us alone. He followed us to a disturbing restaurant with no windows, then took a table next to ours in a restaurant where we had terrible spagetti and followed us throughout the streets on our way back to the bus station. We had to take a taxi to Trinidad and the driver told us that even he that he doesn’t have a licence is worth for him to pay the ticket for the price of our journey.

Now, the best part of my stay in Cuba is to follow. Trinidad! I just can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Varadero – sea, beach and Bucanero

Sailing Varadero

What can you write about when writing about beach? White sand. The amazing colours of the water? It’s temperature so different to Polish or Irish sea? The feeling that you get while floating on gentle waves with not a care in the World? It’s all truly fantastic and worthwhile, but not that entertaining when you read about it. I’ll concentrate on episodes from our stay in Varadero mostly from outside the beach, but keep in mind, it still is Varadero’s main attraction.varadero

One of my dreams came true on the Haloween night. We had a bone fire on the beach. Funny enough we didn’t plan it at all. It kind of just happened. It wasn’t as I imagined, no guitar or singing, it was more like ‘we need to watch our back’ type of thing.  I hope next time will be more relaxed.

We also saw some mysterious black shapes approaching the sea. It looked like people carrying boats over their heads. Adam suggested they were trying to get to Florida, but after a while we saw light signals coming from one of the houses next to the beach, so I guess they went fishing. The following morning my suspicions were confirmed, I met a guy called Paul in the beach and he told me his brother does night fishing so they can serve fresh fish in their restaurant.Bucanero

Paul (Pablo Alejandro Rivera) is a doctor who worked for fifteen years in his profession before opening a private tourist business. He and his family have a restaurant La Puerta del Sol (Calle 42 y Playa) as well as travel agency. He speaks four languages. His family has two houses. One in Varadero, where the restaurant is located, and another one in the Bay of Pigs. For generations his family was in fishing business and he was the first one to go to college. He told me where the name of Bay of Pigs ( Bahía de Cochinos) comes from. He said it was the wild pigs that pirates saw (and ate) running around the bay that gave the name. But Wikipedia has a different opinion: “In Caribbean Spanish, cochinos may also mean the Orangeside triggerfish (Sufflamen verres), that inhabits coral reefs in Bahía de Cochinos, not swine (Sus scrofa).” The bay is famous bacause of the Bay of Pigs Invasion (La Batalla de Girón) – unsuccessful military invasion of Cuba undertaken by a counter-revolutionary militia trained and funded by the United States. The invasion was launched from Guatemala and defeated by the Cuban army, under the command of Fidel Castro, within three days.Cuba Varadero

Paul also told me to get to know Cuba you need to speak to people living here. I guess it’s true for every country. I wish I could speak Spanish. People in Cuba are very talkative and I know I would learn so much more about it if I could ask questions and understand answers.

By the way you wouldn’t believe how many people que to use public phones in Cuba! We saw long ques everywhere.

One day n the beach Michal retrieved dead langusta from the sea. Probably it died while the fishermen gathered their catch, as it was bisected. It looked amazing, colorful and a bit scary. No wonder they use creatures living in the sea as an inspiration for aliens.langosta

All hotels in Cuba are state owned. Paul told me that castro nationalized only houses that were not privatley owned. This means when you had your own house it wasn’t taken away from you, but if you bought one and were still paying the mortage back to the bank it became state owned.

One evening we went to The Beatles Bar Restaurant (Avenida 1ra. e/ Calle 59 y 60, Varadero, Cuba). There was a band playing covers of rock hits with particular emphasis on hits Bon Jovi.

IMG_3350

They all looked like proper rockmen with a guest “star” who jumped onto the speaker to the dismay of staff and the delight of guests (he is a leader of Sound Blast you can watch him here).  Audience was various from teenagers – most probably friends of band members, typical tourist families to drunk seniors. Most loyal and having the most fun guests turned out to be a group of seniors demanding Carlos Santana all the time (who they never got by the way). Three of us took part in the raffle. We bought the right to draw a piece of paper with a number inside. When 10.30 pm struck the numers drawn were: 48… 49… 24… 50… 50! Adam had 50! He won a bottle of Special Havana Club Rum (0,7l)!

I just thought of it. This was a night of music:

1. We went to Paul’s restaurant and we listened to live music:

2. Michal didn’t like it so we went to a different place – Barracuda Grill (between Calle 58 & 59) and listened to:

3. We went to The Beatles and we listened to:

Ok now get ready to have a look at the best meal during our whole stay in Cuba:

Fish varadero

And now have look at where we got it:

Los Tres Cerditos Cafeteria

And now listen how much we paid: 50 CUP not CUC, I repeat CUP (moneda nacional)!!!!! The place is called Los Tres Cerditos (three pigs) Cafeteria. Make sure you get there! When I was waiting for the food the owner first went in the direction of a shop but came back empty handed. Then he went to his neighbours house and brought back two fresh rainbow coloured fish. I think this fish was then served to me and my friends. I generally don’t like fish. So if I say it was the best meal we had the fish has to be truly extraordinary.

Now have a look at the “best” restaurant in Varadero (at the corner od Avenida 1ar. and Calle 58):

b

Now listen to what we listened:

And now let me tell you that the waiter smashed a huge cockroach just in front of our table, the food was so so and the tiramisu half frozen. The remark of our French neighbours by the next table ‘if I wanted tiramisu I would go to supermarket’ started to make sense.

Enjoy the slide show and see you on the way to Santa Clara next!

Varadero – Playa Azul, Cuba’s blue beach

Varadero

At the beginning I just wanted to say I read recently the November issue of National Geographic. The main feature is “Cuba on the edge of change”. The article was written before Papal  visit so there were even more changes introduced since then. I’m mentioning this article for two reasons. One is that in Cuba you can really feel and see the edge. I had this dominant feeling that in short time there will be no Cuba as we imagine it or know it today. It will be commercialised (even more so) and trapped in consumerism as most of the World is. This above all brought questions like “will it make Cubans happier?”, “Is it worth it?”, “What is the best way for transformation?”. There might be a discussion which example would be best to follow. East European? China’s?

Second reason to mention the articles is:

What is the definition of freedom? What do human beings need? What do they owe to each other? What do they want, beyond what they need?

Cuba’s New Now by Cynthia Gorney, National Geographic, November 2012

This is exactly what I was wondering while in Cuba. Freedom would be for me the right of choice. The only thing is I know the hurray optimism that reigned in Poland an the beginning of 90’s. People imagining capitalism as a paradise on Earth and then the social disappointment with first wave of of bankruptcies at the end of 90’s. Now our eyes open up to the costs and shadows of capitalism and global captial. The mature democratic societies find it a challenge to balance it what will it be for Cuba? Are we really a good example to follow? Who of us can honestly say: I’m happy, I have enough time to do what I want, I’m enjoying inner peace and I like the way my life goes.

Ok now enough of these difficult/easy (delete as appropriate) questions. Let’s go to the beach!

Taxi to Varadero…”Let’s go to the beach!” one of us said. “Yes! Let’s go to Varadero! At least we know the beach is there”. And so we did. We organised a taxi and left Playa La Mulata behind (cost of the taxi 40 CUC). Did anything interesting happen on the way? Well yes we saw an alive crab hanging on a string in front of a house we passed by. This was a live advert for anyone who felt like buying a crab. We got the yummiest ice cream in a small town on the way.

We had to change taxis at the outskirts of Havana. From the amount of taxis and people you can tell it’s a transition point. SpagettiWe used this break to eat something. Cold spagetti for some, delicious looking but tasteless cakes for others and a brilliant pina colada milk shake for me!

I took a picture of this poster/sign that caught my attention a couple of times before – an eye and a dagger pierced tongue underneath. I just found out it’s Cuban Santería charm meaning “ward off the evil eye and gossipy enemies”. The eye and tongue together can also prescribe respect in the house: “you may look, but don’t wag your tomgue”. Santeria charmSanteria is often referred to as a Cuban mystery religion, the word santería literally means “the worship of saints.” A blend of Catholicism and Nigerian paganism that evolved centuries ago, when Yoruba slaves were taken from Nigeria to Cuba, santería consists of a panoply of saints, or orishas, which are a combination of Catholic saints and Yoruba gods and goddesses. Many of these orishas resemble mythological gods.Cuban taxi

I be honest with you we didn’t see much in Varadero beside the beach. There is Hicacos Point Natural Park there with 250 m long Cave of Ambrosio, Mangón Lake (31 species of birds and 24 species of reptiles) and the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull) Salt Works (one of the first salt works to be constructed by the Spanish in the New World). I wanted to go and see it one day but somehow didn’t. Our casa in varaderoThe address of our casa is: Marta Torres, Calle 53 nº 5306 between 1st and 2nd Ave, the first building on the left behind small shopping center when you come from the seaside. It’s not a shopping center you imagine. It consists of a couple of small ground level huts, glass windows from floor to roof located in a lovely square with palms, lawns and benches. I just have to say we acctually saw 3 different places before deciding where we want to stay. Marysia and Adam got really nice room in the first floor and the three of us slept in a damp and dark one in the ground floor. I have to say we stayed there the longest and it was the most uncomfortable bed I slept in, in Cuba. I had a double bed while Maria and Michal had singles but there was only one right position to sleep in and it was the one I never choose. Straight on your back that is. My ass seemed to fall into hole and get stuck in it. But well I guess we spend more time outside our casa than in it. We paid 25 CUC for each room.casa nostra cubana

We left our things and went to get something to eat. Our choice was Casa Nostra Cubana Restaurant were we had paella. We shared and it was quite nice. The biggest impression made the coctails we ordered. Strong. The waiter told us he lived in Brazil for a while and this is where he learned how to make it the proper way. Worth recommending. And then we went to the beach. Marysia first. she said she knew straight away she will undress and jump into the water. I didn’t know that but soon enough guys and I joined her. The water was wonderful. Warm and salty. Huge waves covered us again and again. With every hit I tended to loose my panties but who cares!

This post is now getting long so I just say one more thing. This evening Maria finally felt better and wated to go to Casa de la Musica. The entrance was 10 CUC. I don’t know how this happened but we never checked what was on. And… it was a stand up comedy night. Do I have to tell you that 4 of us didn’t understand a thing and the 5th one who did haven’t even laugh once. What is stuck in my memory is the comediant dressed up as Crazy Frog. In Bridget Joens type of panties with small penis hanging sadly between his legs. He started to jump around waving it in all direction to the sounds of Crazy Frog. How sad is that? I just tell you everybody else in the audience laughed so maybe it was funny. Afterwards there was a disco but nothing we had expected see for yourselves:

After coming back home four of us decided to go to the beach and have a beer. And so we did. We went to petrol station to get some beer first (the nicest sales assistant in whole Cuba) and on the way back Marysia found a coconut. She claims it was in somebody’s garden. I claim this was public space.

Sitting in the beach drinking and gazing at the stars brought a lot of good memories and we sang and laughed hard. Michal stayed in Casa de la Musica and as he later told us had a good time.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened but only three of us ended up trying to open a coconut hitting it at a stone. I still have a mark on my wrist where I cut myself. No, not out of the desperation, probably as a ricochet. This task wasn’t easy but we succeed! Team work! We drunk the milk (or water more like it) and ate most of the inside. Well done!

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Playa La Mulata – lost in the middle of nowhere in Cuba

playa la mulataWe had to decide where to go next. Most of us was very impatient to get to the beach so we were considering two options. First: South – staying in either La Bajada or Maria La Gorda (which means fat Maria) or North – a place recommended by our hosts Playa La Mulata with an option to go to Cayo Levisa, which was supposed to be paradise on Earth. We almost agreed on going South when our host stated categorically ‘Why do you want to go South? There is nothing there!’. So most of us reconsidered and we agreed to go North.

We contacted the same driver who brought us to Vinales and agreed he will pick us up and drive to Playa Mulata for 40 CUC. We waited and waited… and waited… and he was on the way the whole time. Three or four hours after the set time he arrived saying he had a problem with the wheel and it’s going to cost us 50 CUC to get where we wanted. For this money we could have gone with any driver without wasting half of the day on waiting. So we refused and found another driver, a friend of course.

He delivered us somewhere. Somwhere meaning we have no idea where exactly. On the way we stopped to glance at a beautiful blue water and white sand somwhere on the horizon. To be honest I couldn’t see more than a glimpse of colour but it was a grey day anyway. We were tired, some of us recovering from sickness and all we wanted was to lie down on a nice beach and enjoy the sun and the water.

Rice on the road

Rice on the road

The road we took was only as broad as to allow two cars to pass each other. People used it to dry the rice and remove it from the chaff. We also saw some of them doing it on the cabins roofs. You could see they use more or less professional rakes. Rice is not native to the Americas but was introduced to Latin America and the Caribbean by European colonizers. A very popular dish in Cuba being rice with black beans.

Anyway the driver took left and we found ourselves following a ground road which looked like one of those roads between allotments. Finally he stopped and we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. The house was quite spacious and when I look at the pictures I’m thinking it doesn’t look that bad. I just compile two images for comparison:

Playa la MulataVaradero

And what do you think?

Which one would you be expecting in Cuba?

Which one can you call A BEACH?

So we ended up living in two rooms 15 CUC each in the middle of nowhere, whith no shower or hot water. We asked if there was any shop around? No. Restaurant? No. Bus stop? No.

We didn’t give up easily. A young boy led the way between the houses towards the beach and the only place where we could get something to eat besides our casa. Yes we did refuse having dinner at home. In then end Maria ordered dinner there and we shared her food but this is still to come. Now we are going on a hunt. Food hunt. And we got to…

… something we all recognised as abandoned socialistic staff holiday resort, known well to all Polish from before 1989. Everything was closed. What caught my attention was a couple of vulture-like birds circling above the buildings. Well the beach was a lawn and a couple of stones. It didn’t look like you could go into the water at all.vulture like birds

After a while we found somebody to open a shop for us. We could buy there only water and beer. Then the same person invited us to the restaurant. There was only one dish in the menu pork with rice with black beans. Very cheap I have to admit. The most popular entrance to the restaurant was a window. Maria used it as well as the cook and a local woman who was there probably to help. When our food was served we saw another three people coming in and ordering food.

dinner mulataI smelled the food. It stank. I tried the rice it was dry as a bone. We left everything almost like we got it. Only Michal took three bites of his pork. And then had to wash it down the drain with high alcohol spirit.

There were nice moments as well like when we finally sat down outside the casa drinking and chatting. Watching stars and laughing. Up to this point we didn’t really have time to just relax and enjoy each other company. maybe this is a reason why at the beginning the relations were bit tense. Michal told me later that he even thought to say ‘Goodbye’ to us all and go his own way. I was just thinking how I never wrote about the confilcts or the way to resolve them. Anyway just so you don’t think it’s all roses all of the time. We did really good as for a group of 5 people knowing each other more or less.mulata restaurant

This night I slept in a bed with mosquito net. I always wanted to do it (more princess style than explorer). Maybe I imagined it little more romantic but I’m not complaining. I will start complaining now. We had no bedclothes. We slept under towels and one more cloth which I don’t remember what it was. I got cold and even though I curled up I couldn’t warm up. But I’m still happy I did it as the cold was unconvinient but not pervading.

It was in the morning when we found out there is no shower. The lady of the house pored water into a metal bucket and put it on gas hob to heat it up. I was shocked. Well why not. So we used the bucket and a small pot to take shower. It was like camping! Sense of humor is a must when you go travelling. and listen to what happened to one of the girls. She was using the toilet in the morning when suddenly ahe felt a fiery kiss in the ass! Yes you guessed right! It was the prince charming himself! frogWe had a laugh that now not the princess kisses the frog but the frog kisses the princess in the ass. Finally the time of the liberated woman has come!

The guys told us they saw it in the night before they went to sleep in the shower. It was probably looking for a pond and found the toilet. Good one.

From my notes:

  • we had an amazing avocado there. It fell from the tree and or Lady of the house said we can have it for free. Delicious!
  • the breakfast cost 3 CUC we got a dry bread toasted in shape of triangles with nothing inside. It was already cold when we sat down to eat. Bananas, one omlette each, two types of juice and little coffee.
  • the inside doors were missing due to the hurracaine
  • our owner was an economist but she didn’t work and her daughter had epilepsy
  • our driver told Michal he should eat something made of langusta (an aphrodisiac) since he has only one girlfriend

And so we decided to leave and go to the most tourist and expensive place in Cuba – Varadero. See you there!

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