Thursday, March 20, 2014

Favourite Images from Cuba

In no particular order...
We went on a bird watching tour with a passionate young park naturalist who was excited that we saw over 40 species.  I was most taken with the flamingos.  This was in the Cienaga de Zapata (the Zapata Swamp) near the Bay of Pigs.
Idolka on the left, and Maite on the right, two friends who jointly operate two wonderful casa particulars in Moron across the street from each other.  This is where we stayed for the first three nights and it was a fabulous introduction to Cuba. 
Idolo del Agua in the Sendero Arqueologico Naturel el Guafe trail in Parque Nacional Desembarco del Granma.  Carved from stalagmites by per-Columbian Indians.
A lunch of fruit and chocolate in a farmer's home near Baracoa.  We learned how cacao is processed into chocolate in the countryside.
We hired a guide, Jose Angel Delfino Perez, for two days exploring the area around Baracoa.   He really knew his history, natural and social.
A physician making house calls in the mountains of Sierra Maestra near Hotel El Salton.
Cueva de los Portales in the mountains west of Havana, where Che Guevara set up the headquarters of the Western Army during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  We were treated to a personal tour by the attendant who is a high school history teacher and has a Master's in Cuban Revolutionary History.  Well worth the trip!
Lloyd's favourite Cuban dessert:  flan, aka creme caramel.  He is well on the way to perfecting his own version.
The Banco Metropolitano used to be a Bank of Nova Scotia!  In the background you can see some Cuban legs wearing lacy fish net stockings--all the rage.  I was tempted...
Lloyd with his foot on a sign post in Vedado, Havana.  This is why it was initially so difficult to find our way in Havana...we were looking up for street signs when we should have been looking down!
Papa Hemingway and his look-a-like.
Pelicans preening on the beach at Varadero, not paying any attention to us.

Sunset at Varadero, our last night.

Memorable Encounters in Cuba

Coffee with Maria

We stayed at a mountain resort, Hotel El Salton, on the eastern slopes of Sierra Maestra north west of Santiago de Cuba for 3 nights.  This is a close as we got to staying in an "all-inclusive" -- the room rate included breakfast and dinner.  On one of the days we walked to the nearby village of File, about 3 km away.  The main plaza was a good place to sit and watch the village life...

We noticed coffee beans drying...
...on the roof of a house
And back up the hill towards the hotel, we were hailed by a campesina (woman of the countryside) who introduced herself as Maria, and offered to make us coffee.  We had noticed coffee beans drying in her yard too.
She pulverized three handfuls of roasted beans in her pilon (a type of mortar and pestle).

She set up her coffee maker, a wooden frame to hold the filter and pot--the filter is a piece of cloth in a wire frame.

Communicating with gestures and rapid Spanish!

Lloyd drinking coffee!  Sweet and strong.
As we left her yard, two others had walked down from the hotel--a coach driver and tour guide.  They were obviously old acquaintances of Maria's--they probably dropped in for her coffee each time they were at the hotel.

Buying Art in Sancti Spiritus

On the south side of the main square, Parque Serafin Sanchez, in the shade of a columnated building, are a variety of artisans selling their works--jewelry made from seed beeds, knitting and crochet (nothing too striking), and wood crafts.  The real jewel in this group is a minaturist named Wuense Garcia.  We stopped to take a closer look and ended up buying one of his small rock paintings.

He works in oils.

He has made his own brushes by adapting a multi-ink ball point pen to hold single hairs.
Wuense realised that we were enthusiastic about his work, and he managed to communicate to us that he had a retrospective show on at a gallery around the corner.  We went to the show, and spent some time looking at his many delicate paintings.  We liked one in particular but the staff weren't able to tell us the price.  Back we went to the plaza, and with my very poor Spanish I was able to tell him this.  We agreed to meet him later in the day at 4:20 to go to the gallery.

At the gallery in front of one of his regular-sized paintings.  Lloyd is holding the painting that we bought.
 When we arrived back at the gallery with Wuense, the staff greeted us like old friends with the Cuban right cheek to right cheek air kiss!  And then back on the street, he introduced us to "mi esposa, Maria" (my wife Maria) who promptly greeted me in the Cuban manner too.  It was quite delightful.

The miniature painting plus the rock painting.
This little boy is delighted with the sculpture of a painter just outside the gallery.

Knitting my way through Cuba

One of the most important decisions I make before travelling is what knitting project to take?  It has to be portable and intricate enough to sustain my interest, ideally for the whole time I am away.  I settled on a double knit scarf, and chose two yarns from my stash:  a white handspun silk/Samoyed dog yarn given to me 10 years ago and a hand-dyed similar weight wool that I'd tried to use in another project.  I cast on 60 stitches (30 with each one, using a tubular cast-on) and decided that I would randomly knit dots rather than trying to follow a particular pattern.  I was very happy with this choice--on hot days I could let the scarf dangle off to the side instead of pooling in my lap.  Double-knitting means alternately knitting and purling with each yarn so as to create a double sided fabric, and so it's slow--just what I needed for a holiday project.
At Playa Mangalito near Baracoa, enjoying a "loco coconut", coconut water and rum drink.

East of Trinidad, we stopped for coffee and a paddle at the beach at Villa Yaguanabo.

On the mirador--the upper terrace--of our Casa Particular, Hostal Colonial, in Cienfuegos, at sunset.

At Playa Rancho Luna, near Cienfuegos, enjoying a Cafe Cubano (sugar only, no milk) served on the beach.

On the upper terrace of our casa, Hostal Enrique, in Playa Larga, enjoying a glass of wine.

On the water taxi to Cayo Levisa near Vinales, west of Havana.

At Cayo Levisa--a windy day!

After a swim.
On the back patio of our casa in Varadero.  Finished!  Six weeks of good knitting.

At Casa Marta Margarita in Varadero.
We found the Canada-Sweden gold medal hockey final in a sports bar at the Habana Libre Hotel--7 AM Sunday Feb 23.  We were joined by 2 other Canadians and 1 Swede.
One funny note from this knitting project--the scarf attracted a lot of interest from dogs!  It would be the Samoyed yarn.  One little dachshund at Hostal Paraiso in Sancti Spiritus spent a long time sniffing around my ankles... 

On the Road and Off the Beaten Track in Cuba

We were in Cuba for 6 weeks earlier this year, and I was unable to post to my blog so this is catch-up time!  We rented a car for the first 5 weeks, driving almost 4000 km, and had many an adventure on Cuban roads--from picking up hitchhikers to navigating without benefit of road signs.  On January 15, we flew into Cayo Coco which is roughly at the mid-point of the north coast, staying the first three days in Moron.  We then drove south-east to Baracoa, and then north-west to Vinales in Pinar del Rio province.  Our final 9 days were spent car-less in Havana and Varadero.  We left Cuba from Varadero (near Matanzas) on February 26.  This map from the Lonely Planet website will help orient you:

 Map of Cuba

It's fitting that I use this particular map because we depended on the Lonely Planet guide book to find our accommodations and for background information on the major centres.  In fact we were part of a large Lonely Planet family--we met so many other travelers using the same book in a variety of languages.

This was our car, a Chinese-made "Geely" which reminded us of a Toyota Yaris sedan but lighter.  In this image, it's parked inside the gate of our Casa Particular, Maite House, in Moron.
The major roads in Cuba are in good shape for the most part.  Amazingly they lack directional signs in certain areas--it wasn't unusual to come to an unmarked intersection particularly in rural areas and smaller towns and not know which way to turn.  As time went on, I became much more comfortable asking for directions in my rudimentary Spanish.  In a few cases, we were lucky enough to have hitchhikers in the back seat who directed us to turn left or right...Izquierda!  Derecha!"  Confusingly, "derecho" means straight ahead...

One of the worst roads was along the south coast to Santiago de Cuba.  On our Michelin map, this was marked as a main road.  We knew it had been damaged by hurricanes but were not prepared for exactly how awful it was (in spite of having asked locals before heading out):
South road

The original road bed is to the right--the detour is on the left.

A blocked tunnel--the detour went right, along the high tide.  The beach rock was very smooth with deep ruts from truck traffic.  This was like driving on snow and ice.  I kept my eyes peeled for oncoming traffic and Lloyd focused on the road immediately ahead.  Fortunately there was no other traffic!

A broken bridge. 
I later read in the Lonely Planet that this road should not be attempted unless in a 4WD!  Yes!  Lloyd said this was as much technical driving as he'd want to do.   From then on, I made sure to read all the pertinent sections of the guidebook before deciding on a route.

Other road scenes...
Jose Marti Street in Moron--the main thoroughfare.

In the city of Bayamo

In the city of Camaguey

On the road to Trinidad

A Truck-bus--common in rural areas.
Public transportation is dismal in many parts of Cuba.  Hitchhiking is often the only way to get around.  We knew before heading out along the south road that there was no public transport, and so we decided that we would pick up people along the way.  At one point we had 6 people in the back seat--3 adults and 3 kids--as a result of stopping for what we thought would be just one woman and toddler (the others came out of the bushes!)

Tourists travel in more luxurious coaches, either in the scheduled "Viazul" bus service for tourists only or in tour groups, large and small...
Tourist coach navigating the narrow streets of Santiago de Cuba

Tourist coach on La Farola, the road to Baracoa.  This was a beautiful cement road, built in the early 60s, 55 km in length, snaking up and over the mountains.  
We had a ride in an ox cart at the end of a day of hiking in Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt near Baracoa:

and two rides in old American cars in Havana:
This car was not a legal taxi so technically we shouldn't have been allowed in it--we only realized this when the driver reached into his glove box and pulled out a taxi sign to put in the window as we passed a police check point.  Whew!  We weren't stopped.

This '53 Chevy used to belong to his father, and was a legal taxi.