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Cuba – Cienfuegos

8 Oct

So, where to spend the last couple of days?  Well, Cienfuegos is on the way back to Havana, and unlike Spiritus Sancti, I don’t have to get a bus at 8am.  So, Cienfuegos it is then.  Home of Benny Moré, built on one of the finest bays in the world, and home to Cuba’s unfinished nuclear reactor, abandoned when the Soviet cash ran out.

I found out that the casa particulares are run like the Mafia… I booked for Villa Raquel.. But found I was booked into the Villa Ana Maria.  Next door.  And very lovely it was too.  They spoke no English whatsoever.  I speak enough Spanish to order beer and an omelette.

Cienfuegos has a French heart, and some beautiful buildings – an incredibly long promenade that runs down the end of the town and onto the Punta Gorda promontory.  It felt, I have to say, the most civilised and westernised town I had been to in Cuba.

Benny

Bus Service

A brief visit – enough time for a son concert and dancing near the beach, to wander down to the beach and watch a young lady fishing from the promenade, and to see the sun go down.

Then, well, back on the bus.  Five hours to Havana, then overnight in the airport before the flight to Cancun.  Then another overnight in the airport before the flight to Chicago and then the return to the UK.

Sorry – I LIKE sunsets!

Although what, I ask, can I possibly have done that merits being punished by Alvin and the Chipmunks, dubbed in Spanish?

Cuba was the first country on this trip where I didn’t speak the language (Hawai’i doesn’t count – it’s American!) and wasn’t on a tour – and apart from three Australian girls I shared the bus with back from Trinidad, I was on my own… and I did just fine.

Oh – and that stretch Lada?  Found it.

And, of course, then night one of travel – the delights of an overnight stay in Havana airport and a few hours of snatched sleep (after getting grilled by security, who wanted to know exactly how much I had paid for my trip to the airport… presumably so they could collect their percentage?)

Cuba – Havana

25 Sep

So, Cuba.  A strange, confusing country.  I’m in Havana at present, a mixture of beauftiful colonial buildings in various states of restoration and decay.  The neglect of the communist revolution has not helped Cuba’s infrastructure – little internet, poor telephones, disastrous roads.  There’s a dual currency – bread can be bought for a few pence (24 Monetado Nationale pesos to the dollar) and yet restaurants charge in Convertibles (around 1 CUC to the dollar) – but both are called pesos.  Confused?  I was.

I had to check my bag at the local supermarket before wandering in for a few basic items (and to replace my headphones) – blundering around I didn’t realise that you need to pay for dairy in the dairy section, and so on.  And they check your shopping on the way out too, just in case you’ve stolen anything….

I’m in a fabulous little ‘hotel’ by the way – the government has created ‘casa particulares’ which allow individuals to let out rooms in their homes.  Now, for the average UK home that might sound a bit invasive… but not these houses.  Miriam and her family have two huge rooms available, a lounge area with a piano, and (luxury of luxuries) – air conditioning.  The price for this luxury – around £14 per day.  It’s not perhaps in the best area – but it’s about 5 minutes from the sea front, 5 seconds from the all night bakery, and even less from interesting action on the streets.

Thursday

The first day wandering round Centro Havana was interesting… if not particularly scenic!  But I did find the wonderful promenade, the Mercado… I did find the protest against the US blockade… I did find wonderful hotels and promenades.  They have amazing little egg shaped taxis.. And old 1950s Fords and Chryslers, Thunderbirds and Roadsters… all the cars America forgot are doing duty here as taxis.  And there are LOTS of Ladas (including, apparently, at least one stretch Lada, which I am waiting to spot)

Friday

The second day walking round Havana Vieja (Old Havana) yielded more beauty and elegance – some lovely squares, beautiful buildings..  I stopped for the best chocolate milk I have ever had at the Museo de Chocolate (well, I had to) and the best beer I have had in a long time at Havana’s only brewery (the local Cristal and Bucanero aren’t bad, but this was GREAT).  Even the local cola tastes good – perhaps it’s the Cuban sugar.

I took the very dodgy ferry across the river to the old fort – saw Castro’s house, took some scenic shots of the town, got overcharged for the ferry but ended up the subject of a flirtatious encounter by the (very cute) ferry security guard.

I stopped off to listen to some salsa (and have a mojito) in a bar in the main drag – failed to get served in a paladare (cheap restaurant) and finally collapsed back to my hotel.  And if anyone else tries to get me to buy cheap cuban cigars, attempts to hook me up with a chica – I may just snap.  Although being the recipient of piropos (wolfwhistles and kissing sounds) is kinda flattering…

Tomorrow – another attempt to get some salsa lessons (the last attempt being foiled by the Museo Ron Havana (Cuban rum museum) having stopped running them two years ago.  Must get the Lonely Planet updated.

Saturday

Did a little more wandering round Havana Vieja today… and not much more to report.  I did manage to buy peso pizza (around 20p) from a ‘hole in the wall’ shop though.  And take more photos of cars.  And end up in a Spanish Club eating probably the best burger I’ve ever had.  At this point, I was about to make a note in my diary about it not raining – when I realised that… it was.

Sunday

Time for the final piece of tourist Havana – Viedado.  Walked up the Malecon and then into town, discovering all sorts of wonderful buildings and strange memorials.  Found the park (very scruffy) and the Parque Lennon memorial (apparently, sometimes a security guard materialises to put his glasses on).

Ice cream is a bit of a national obsession – the Coppelia chain serves 3,000 people a day, and has 4 queues.  Wild!

Walked back along the Malecon and realised I had three light shows going on at once.. The sunset over the sea, the sunset over the city (not sure how that works – two at once?) and the lightning over the lighthouse.  Very beautiful… nice one, boss!

Monday

I extended my stay, partly because I wanted to go to the beach, and partly because I wanted to be in Havana for the 51st celebration of independence (what, two independence day celebrations in one month… I certainly seem to be hitting the festive atmosphere!)

The squares are decorated in a low key way – Cuban flags stuck to the walls, a little bit of bunting here and there – but people are lighting bonfires in the streets and cooking… so it might hot up later!

And the beach was beautiful, even if my back is slightly sunburnt (no, it’s not canyon dirt this time) and even if it did rain.  Again.  (I’ve never seen tourists react quite as quickly as when the two in the bar with me realised it was raining on their pizza – I blinked my eyes and they were half way across the bar.

And finally, I retired to Museo de Chocolate for another wonderful chocolate milk (you’re going to have to trust me on this one – or book a flight to Cuba) and a chance to start work on my next book.  Exciting stuff!

Cuba – first impressions

25 Sep

Old American cars from the 50s and 60s that should have dies ages ago.  Ladas and strange tuk tuk taxis

 Institutionalised hitchhiking

 Beautiful crumbling buildings that should be abandoned – but aren’t

 Everyone in the street watching TV, playing football, chatting

 More rainstorms and thunder

 Walks on the beach – lovers, families and fishermen

 And yet a warmth and a vibrant energy….

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