Cuba – Carteras

Instead of advertising, the billboards all had nationalist sayings on them. Everything from eschewing the US blockade to pride in sports, and of course, lots of Che.

This one is about the US blockade:

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This one is about Cuban sports:

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This one is about socialism:

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This one says “Ideas make us a nation of fighters”:

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This one _____

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This one is about the CDR:

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“Socialism or Death”

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Che:

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About the blockade:

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At the Che Memorial

At the Che Memorial

The People:

At the Che Memorial

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Saving money, it’s in your hands:

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How beautiful is Cuba:

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The revolution is invincible:

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Cuba – the flight out

We had to leave at 5:30 AM to check in to our 9 AM flight. Barbara was very sweet and woke up to send us off. We gave her 20 CUC as a tip and I gave her a $1 US bill. She put it on her altar and gave us big hugs goodbye.

When we arrived at the airport, it wasn’t even open yet! Note for next time, find out when the airport opens…regardless of when the flight leaves.

We got through immigration with zero questions. They stamped our passports with an entry stamp (which they back-dated…is that legal?) and an exit. Security was a simple metal detector, but you had to take your shoes off.

When the duty free shop opened, everyone rushed in to buy their rum. We bought 3 bottles, each was about $5. We also bought a few more cigars with the last of our CUCs, they were the exact same price as in the hotel in Havana. Note: if you go to Cuba, just buy your rum and cigars at the duty free.

We arrived in Miami and were pretty much waved through customs. They asked if we had bought anything and we just pointed at our duty free bag. Of course we had more and had receipts and it was within the limit, but this seemed like the easiest answer.

I took some notes about some things to bring on a trip like this next time:

  • a sports bra
  • a fleece for each of us
  • acidophilus
  • a smaller backpack
  • anti-itch cream
  • download more music!
  • candied ginger
  • more Clif bars
  • emergen-c or something to change the taste of plain water

Also, everyone boiled their water in their homes and offered it to us. We weren’t sure if it was okay at first. Once we started drinking it, it turned out to be fine. So maybe next time I’d use my water bottle more.

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Cuba – Day 9

With the tour over, this was our day to explore Havana. We already had our bearings, so it was much easier to get around.

We went to find the coffee place we had heard about to bring some back and ran into Jim and Allen. We went with them to a hotel where you can buy coffee and cigars and get receipts for customs, as well as we could change a little more money since we were short for tips and such. This would be a great time to talk about how much money is needed for a trip of this length. Read more here. 

We bought a box of 10 Montecristo cigars and a kilo of coffee (total $45).

We then took an old American car cab to the place I had been excited about, an English-language bookstore called Cuba Libro.  Unfortunately, the owner was rude to us, even though I said I had tried to contact her to bring whatever she would need from the US. I think she felt like too many Americans coming to Cuba would be a bad thing, which means she thought we were part of the problem.

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I refused to let this sully my last day, so we went on to Parque John Lennon, a park which had a statue of John Lennon in it.

At Parque John Lennon, Havana

Then we walked to the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, one of the few places where there weren’t many tourists and we didn’t have to pay to go in. The old white statues and aboveground graves went on for miles in either direction.

Colon Cemetery, Havana

Colon Cemetery, Havana

Even though there’s not much shade and it’s quite warm, you can linger and explore. The scale is hard to imagine, but look at the size of this one, I’m the speck in front:

Colon Cemetery, Havana

We then checked for restaurants in the area on an iphone app I had. One nearby that was recommended was Cafe Lala (which has now changed names to Karma). Decent food, lovely setting, and nice non-alcoholic frozen drinks to cool down.

In front of the cemetery is a taxi stand, so we grabbed an ancient Russian car taxi (I managed to talk the price down! My Spanish is getting better 🙂 and went to Callejon de Hammel, a painted alley.

Despite the constant “where you from?” from guys looking to separate us from our money, the alley was actually spectacular and there was only one other tourist there.

These are real bathtubs:

Callejon de Hammel

Chickens add to the ambiance:

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After all this walking, we were ready to put our feet up and pack for the early morning flight. We walked back and asked Barbara for dinner (which ended up being $5 each once we paid her for everything).

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Cuba – Day 8

Dave’s birthday!!!

We drove pretty much all day and arrived back in Havana around 4PM. There was some sort of miscommunication about where we were staying (because we were going to stay an extra night after the tour was over) and Rafael walked us to Barbara’s, but she already had someone staying there. She called the agency and gave them a piece of her mind. In the end, she gave us her bedroom and she stayed in her daughter’s room.

For dinner, we ate at her house, knowing that the food is just as good as we would get at a restaurant. After dinner, we went to the cannon blast ceremony at the old fort (totally missable). Then we went for drinks with Jim/Allen and Tina/Deepak.

Lighting the cannons

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Cuba – Day 7

As I mentioned in  my last post, Trinidad is a beautiful, old town that was the highlight for me of the trip. Cobblestone streets, homes painted bright or pastel colors, friendly people, artisans, musicians, and even some things to buy.

We left the group for the day and wandered around Trinidad. We found a wifi park, walked to the Plaza Mayor, bought some shirts, bought some art (which was rolled into a cardboard tube for us), and generally had a relaxing morning.

At 3PM we met the group for salsa lessons. They were very basic, but fun. Here’s a photo of Jim and Allen dancing:

Jim and Allen dancing

After lessons, we got on the bus to go to a sunset picnic on the beach. We picked up a 4 piece band and some food and drove about 30 minutes out to a secluded area with a tiny beach.

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At one point, Tony begged Dave to play something on the guitar, so he grabbed it and played some covers. We had a sweet “picnic” with spaghetti, beans/rice, squash, and some very strong drinks called Canchanchara – rum, honey, and soda water.

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Cuba – Day 6

After breakfast (the usual: eggs, fruit, bread, coffee, juice), we walked along a pretty shopping street (though not much interesting to buy as a tourist) which ends at the old plaza. Since it was pouring rain, I didn’t get a photo, but here’s one from the internet:

On our way out of town, we stopped at a place called the Palacio Del Valle, an old mansion turned restaurant. It was still raining, but I got a couple nice photos from inside:

Palacio de Valle

From here, it was only a 1.5 hour drive to Trinidad, a town I was much more excited to go to. When we arrived, we went immediately to a paladar where we had a big group lunch (same food as always) and I was finally able to get a photo of our whole group!

Our group!

Once again, we stayed in a house with Tina and Deepak, but this time the entire house was all ours! The host lived across the street and rented this house out. It was very well appointed, with a kitchenette, living room, dining room, 2 full bathrooms, and wine, beer, and water we could buy.

We had heard that power outages could be common, but we had yet to experience one. As Dave and I were getting ready for bed, the storm knocked out the power and you could hear the whole neighborhood go “Awwww.”

I think Trinidad was my favorite town on the whole trip. This is where we finally found artisans – we met a musician and a drag performer at the house Allen and Jim were staying in, and saw actual real art (and we even bought some)! And at dinner, we saw live music. Also, the town is really picturesque without being touristy. Some of my favorite photos came from here.

Trinidad

Trinidad

Street lady, Trinidad

Horse drawn cart in Trinidad

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Cuba – Day 5

We woke up at 6, ate breakfast at 7, and were on the road by 8. It was going to be a long drive to the Bay of Pigs, somewhere around 6 hours.

We left some gifts on the dresser for our host. However, this is probably a good time to talk about “gifts.” See this other blog post about it.

On the way to the Bay of Pigs, we stopped at another paladar. This time the options were ham and cheese sandwiches (bocadillos) and/or beans and rice. This was about the time I started thanking my past self for having packed Clif bars.

I sat up front for a lot of the drive and saw more empty, lonely highways. When you get closer to towns, there are more carteras, so I was able to get photos of tons of them. But generally, it was probably a better idea to just nap.

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When we arrived at Playa Giron, there was a museum about the Bay of Pigs, which I opted to skip. Dave went in and took a few photos, but it was mostly about how they won against the American Imperialists.

There was a small beach walking distance from the museum, but we were only given about 30 minutes to swim or sun. Then it was back on the bus to go to Cienfuegos, another 2 hours away. Here’s the beach:

Playa Giron

When we arrived at Cienfuegos, it was dark and almost dinnertime. We checked into our Casa Particular, Casa de Dona Amalia, another one where we shared with Tina and Deepak (with our own rooms and bathrooms). The house was a beautiful, colonial home with 20 foot ceilings. This was our room:

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We had dinner at a famous restaurant, Paladar Ache, with our whole group and then had a nice walk along the Malecon. We were very lucky that everyone in our group got along really well and we were all able to mingle with each other easily. With only 12 people the group could easily have not flowed as well.

Dave and I headed back after about 15 minutes of walking and went to our Casa. I wanted to have a look on the roof, so we climbed the circular staircase and looked out over the water and the town. You could hear all the sounds of a city: music, talk, laughing, cars. But there was some music that sounded good – it was both live and well put-together. I convinced Dave that we should go find it. 🙂

We wandered down a side street until we found a gate with a security guard. I walked right past him and he beckoned me back saying that we had to pay and pointed at a little guard house. There was a sign saying 25 CUP for nacionales and 3 CUC for touristas (tourists pay 3X what locals pay). We paid and went in and it was a big restaurant/bar with a big live band and tons of people dancing and drinking and singing along. We started dancing and soon blended in. We didn’t stay all that long, but I’m really glad we went and were able to see a real night out on the town.

Now that I’ve been to Cienfuegos, I can say that it’s skippable.

We came back and went to sleep. I got up in the middle of the night and saw the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen…and I grew up in Florida. This thing could have been a housepet. Needless to say, I was glad that I had been in the habit of zipping up my bags before bed each night.

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