A Travellerspoint blog

May 2017

2017 MAY - CUBA - TRINIDAD

WE HEAD FURTHER SOUTH TO OUR LAST DESTINATION, TRINIDAD.

sunny

DAY 105 SUNDAY 21ST MAY

CIENFUEGOS TO TRINIDAD

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Our last breakfast on the back patio, it was a little windy today and the water was choppy. Still a great way to start the day and we finished packing our bags after breakfast.
A blue car arrived just before 11am and there again was the initial panic that we had in Havana worried that the luggage would not fit in the boot. Again, after a little manipulation and lots of pushing and shoving the driver did manage to get the 5 big bags in the back. Hugs farewell to our hosts and we piled into the big blue Chevvy (see am getting better at car identification) with the remainder of our luggage jammed between our legs.
Our drive to Trinidad today was only 80km and took just under 1.5 hours and costs 50cuc for the 5 of us. We were on back roads today, not the main highway, with the second half of the journey hugging the coast which gave us periodically glimpses of the sea and a few beaches along the way. Entering Trinidad, we were immediately taken back to Antigua in Guatemala, with the coloured houses and cobbled streets. But here is a little rougher and not as well restored as Antigua, but still a nice feel immediately.
Our Hostel de Tayaba is probably the oldest casa we have stayed in. We have a couple of small rooms in the back of a big old house full of old niknaks @ 35cuc per night. Our host Iris was there to meet us with her 2-month-old baby. She spoke good English and took our passports to register us and then explained a few tours that were available. The meals on offer at this casa are the most expensive we have been offered so we decided to look around to see what the food outside was like. L, D & I did however say we would take the 5 cuc breakfast in the morning as it is always the same and pretty good value.
It was another hot sunny day and as we exited the casa for a look around it was suggested we find a place to have a cold beer. Unfortunately, the places closest to our casa only sold Crystal beer, which we decided is yuk so we continued to walk until we found a place that sold the much-preferred Presidente beer (from Guatemala). It was a nice bar and we had not asked the price of the beers so got a little shock when we went to pay the bill and found they were 2.50 each! Most expensive we have paid in Cuba. But, it was very hot, the beer was cold and we did desperately want a drink so we justified the price but vowed never to go there again!
A little refreshed we continued our walk around the town. This is a touristy place, so lots of shops and stalls selling tourist junk and good stuff. And we discovered there were lots of restaurants offering meals cheaper than our casa so we will probably be eating out rather than in. We looked at a couple of places to have lunch then came to the Plaza Major Restaurant that was offering an all you can eat buffet. We had not seen this anywhere in Cuba so decided to go inside and have a look. The food looked ok, and the price was only 10.50 cuc per person. The sight of roast pork, potatoes and ice cream was enough to win us all over, and then we were advised the price included a beer and yes, they had Presidente!
For the next hour or so we all pretty much sat stuffing ourselves with pork, potatoes, chicken and ice cream – it was almost like heaven.
After our huge middle of the day meal we needed to rest. It was still so hot and we managed the short walk back to our rooms and all passed out for a few hours. Not used to eating so much in the middle of the day.
Around 6.30pm we stirred again, the blue sky had turned to a dark cloudy threatening rain colour. We headed out in search of a supermarket to get some rum supplies (mixer). On the way, we found a bar (hole in the wall) offering cocktails for 1 cuc each. Pina coladas all round for us girls. Must admit the drinks were very light on the rum, but the icy mixer part was yummy. From what I could see when I watched the barman it was a mixture of condensed milk and pineapple juice, lots of ice and water, and a quick wave of the rum bottle over the top. Like I said not real strong on the rum, but nice enough that we had a second one on the way back.
We found the supermarket but it was closed and the one next to it did not sell cola, so will try tomorrow. We saw a guy selling pulled pork rolls on the street for 1 cuc, which we will keep in mind for another day, as we had some pork that Lyn stole from the lunch buffet to have for a dinner picnic. We just needed to find the guy with the white sack selling bread rolls door to door. Luckily enough we managed to run into him on our way back to the square and we purchased 2 rolls from him for 25c each. Dinner sorted.
Our plans to have a picnic on the church steps was kyboshed when the temperature dropped and the sky turned black. Best to head back to our casa and have our picnic there so we can dash inside when it starts to rain. We made it to about 5 minutes before finishing when the rain started. It wasn’t very hard and we managed to scramble under the roof overhang to finish dinner. So no going out to party for us tonight, not in the rain.
Our shower was cold, it does have a heater attached but did not seem to work. Been a while since we had a cold shower, but it was not too bad as the air was still pretty hot.
Hope the weather clears for tomorrow as the plan is to go to the beach.

DAY 106 MONDAY 22ND MAY

TRINIDAD – PLAYA ANCON

Woke up to a brilliant blue sky so looks like our plans to go to the beach will be safe. L, D & I had breakfast on the terrace at the casa. Same, same breakfast is getting a bit monotonous now! Although the fruit is still delicious, the strong coffee I can almost live without. Stale bread and deep fried eggs are all that is still on offer and frankly I’m only eating it because there is nothing else on offer. The fresh juice is still ok, today was tamarind, a flavour we have not yet been offered, and it was quite nice.
Shawn has decided to give the beach a miss and stay behind and read his book, so it’s just us ladies off to the seaside. We walk down to the main street outside the old quarter of Trinidad and its only seconds before we are asked for a taxi. Yes, please. Wait here I get my taxi. No worries. We were advised by our casa host that the fare is 2cuc per person each way to the beach and the driver does not request any more.
Playa Ancon is only 12km away so it’s a short drive and thank goodness as we are squashed into a modern car – by modern I mean a Russian born Lada sedan.
At least the beach is not disappointing, with white sand and clear waters. Must admit it’s not as pristine as the first one we went to near Vinales but this is still nice. After we commandeer a palm leaf shelter to stash out belongings, L, D & I head straight to the water while Toni lazed in the shade watching out stuff, preferring not to enter the water.
The sea temperature is warm enough to get straight in, yet cool enough to be refreshing. There was a slight ripple as we lol in the salty water. After little while Dolly claims one of the sunbeds that dot the beach, there does not seem to be anyone collecting money for the use of these and there are many that are not being used. Lyn, Toni & I take a long walk up the beach, beyond the flash Hotel Ancon where the sand stays white but the weed in the water grows thicker. A local on the beach tries to sell Lyn a giant shell, which he quickly snatches off her and hides in the sand when it looks like someone official is coming up the beach. He is also hiding a bag of lobsters that he has caught. I’m not sure if this surrounding area is a marine park where perhaps he was not supposed to be taking anything from the water, but he sure looks cagey. He is gone by the time we return to this part of the beach – yep definitely dodgy.
Playa Ancon is a huge sand spit peninsula and beyond the flash hotels there seems to be nothing so we just walk for another 20 minutes and then turn back and walk back to where Dolly is waiting for us laid out on the sunbed like the queen of Sheba!
Another swim to cool off after our walk, Toni again passes on going in the water. Then Lyn & I procure a couple of beds too, as no one has come to Dolly requesting payment. It’s hot and I can only lay in the sun for 15 minutes before again needing a swim.
It’s just after 2pm now and we don’t want to push our luck with trying to get a taxi to return to Trinidad, there is one waiting so we decide to hear back into town. Again, a short ride back and the few hours on the beach have totally exhausted us. L, D & I stop at a café for a sandwich and some chips and Toni returns to take Shawn for some lunch. After we had eaten we return to our room for a shower and then we all crash – this short excursion and the heat has taken it out of us. At about 4ish we met in the courtyard of our casa and had a few farewell drinks. Dolly & I managed to polish of ½ bottle of rum – well done!
It’s our last night together with the Lemons so we agreed to meet up for dinner. They head off back to Havana tomorrow morning for their early flight to Mexico and home the next day. The bar across the road was the plan, Lemons had been there for lunch and recommended it, but so had the latest Lonely Bastard (you could tell by the book carrying tourists waiting outside) and the place was packed. We then just about did a lap of the town looking for a dinner alternative. The place we settled for still had a 15-minute wait but the salad bar that came with the meals which were 7-8 cuc seemed like a bargain. It was the ice cream that sealed the deal, only for there to be none left by the time we finished our meal. While in line I got chatting with a couple from Namibia (white) – interesting first Namibians I have met outside of Namibia. They were impressed that I’d been to their country. And, stood chatting with two English sisters who I invited to share our table for dinner. Dolly was in heaven as usual when meeting fellow countrymen/women and it was nice for them to have others to chat with. The food was good, but I was disappointed when the ice cream ran dry. Only 2 containers per seating was the response when I complained. Ah well, this is Cuba, you soon learn to live with food restrictions.
It was after 10pm when we returned to our room, a late night for us.

DAY 107 TUESDAY 23RD MAY

TRINIDAD

Anther perfect blue sky dawned, we were up early to see the Lemons off in their collective taxi. I don’t envy them in that little car all the way to Havana, but it must be done and they will be fine.
We hugged and then waved them goodbye as the little car took them down the cobbled stone road – and then there was 3 again!
We had no plans for today, so had a leisurely breakfast before heading out in the heat to explore some more of Trinidad. I am surprised we lasted out on the streets as long as we did as it was very hot out there again today. As luck would have it we stumbled across the Cadeca money change place, which we needed but were not really looking for. We purchased from the Lemons their extra Canadian currency as we have used up all of ours and still have a couple of days in Cuba where we obviously need cash. We had a street ice cream on the way and when Lyn suggested we stop at the bar across from our casa for a cold beer that the Lemons had recommended our radar zoned in on the right direction and we were soon waiting in line for a table. Yes, this place is always crowded with everyone having to wait for a table, and yes it was worth the wait. The beer was cold and served in cold pottery cups and the meals were reasonably priced. Dolly & I had a pizza and Lyn had a vegie salad with pork which she managed to scoff down before I had a chance to take a photo. With a couple of beers each this come to just over 21 cuc which is good.
After lunch, we retired to our casa across the road and we all crashed. It’s just too hot to go outside so an afternoon nap was just what was needed obviously as we all had a little sleep.
We had a date to meet with Jac & Trish across the road for dinner at 7pm, so there was still time this afternoon for Dolly and I to polish of ½ a bottle of rum to get the ball rolling. Lyn had a beer.
I went and stood in line at about 6.30 and it was around 7 when we were seated, the English ladies did not show until 7.30 but that was ok, we had a table big enough for them. The food at was good, I had a serrano ham tapa for 5 cuc which was a bargain. Dolly went for a soup, and Lyn did a repeat on the pork vegie salad. We all had a cold beer served in the pottery cups. There was a guitarist and singer to entertain us and just after our food was served the 2 ladies showed up. They got a little lost finding the place again. They ordered food which came quick and we had another beer, outstaying everyone else at the surrounding tables.
After dinner we went for a little walk into the centre just to get a bit of exercise after eating then meandered back to our room. It was about 11pm when we hit the sack with was very late for us.

DAY 108 WEDNESDAY 24TH MAY

TRINIDAD

It was a lazy day today. Plan was to go to the beach again, but after the downpour of rain I heard last night and the cloudy sky that we woke up to we decided against it.
When travelling for so long it’s nice to have a luxury of having a very lazy day, doing nothing and not feeling guilty.
We trundled up the steps to the terrace around 11am to have breakfast, which did not seem to be a problem.
We forced ourselves to go out to find some cola to drink with the remaining rum later and sus out the transport for our next destination.
Returning to our casa we had lunch of left over pizza from lunch yesterday and we finished off the last half of the bottle of rum.
Our last night in Trinidad and we were back at Taberna La Botija across the road for dinner. Jac and Trish met us there for their last dinner in Trinidad also. This place has served us the best food (maybe it’s the best because it has been different from the usual food on offer in Cuba) we have had all trip. Although I will go so far as to say the best food as the serrano ham dish was magnificent (mainly because it contained serrano ham which I thought I would have to wait until we got to Spain to enjoy).
We had a pleasant evening, bidding the English ladies goodbye and promising (threatening) to visit them next time we were in their neighbourhood. Jac lives in Aspen, Colorado, USA and Trish lives in Sidcup, Kent, England.
Before heading back to our room I walked down the road to see Iris our host and ordered a car for tomorrow, to take us to Santa Clara our last stop in Cuba.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 08:20 Archived in Cuba Comments (1)

2017 MAY - CUBA - CIENFUEGOS

WE LEAVE PARADISE FOR ANOTHER WATERFRONT VENUE.

rain

DAY 101 WEDNESDAY 17TH MAY

PLAYA LARGA TO CIENFUEGOS

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Breakfast – will be missed, the food, the view, and the lovely host Osmara. We all had breakfast together enjoying our last morning in Playa Larga. Our transfer car arrived just before 9am – a bright yellow station wagon of some descript, with an extra row of seating in the back, back. Enough room for us and all our luggage to travel to Cienfuegos in comfort.
It was a short highway drive, passing a lot of sugar cane fields. As always, the highway was deserted and we made the trip in just on one & a half hours. Our casa is in Punta Gorda, which is a thin spit peninsular just 3 km out of Cienfuegos town centre. There was a little mix up at our arrival at Hostal Sunset as they only expected 4 of us, so we had to wait for another bed to be put in the triple room. The hosts here are wonderful too, serving us the most delicious coffee and fresh mango juice on the back patio as we waited for the rooms to be ready. Rooms here are 35cuc per night.
We are on the thin part of the peninsular, with the water lapping the back patio and water in the front on the other side of the road. Double water frontage – very nice. It was very hot so we all decided to have a bit of a time out and go for a walk with it cooled off a bit.
At about 4 L, D & I headed out to have a bit of a look around our local neighbourhood. There are a lot of Grand old mansions here that are now converted to hotels and casas, lots of French influence here in the buildings. Some also look rather art deco – retro. The buildings here really do match the old American cars that are parked in front of them.
In our travels, we found a water side bar that was selling beer for 1.50cuc, good price for us so stopped to have a cold one. Dolly was feeling a little off, she has somehow thrown her back so she headed back to the room for a rest. Lyn & I continued and ran into the Lemons who had found a supermarket for home beer supplies. We grabbed a six pack and some cola to mix with our rum and walked home the long way, arriving back at the casa just a little before our 7pm dinner was ready.
This was another very good meal. Borchetta for starter, then vegie soup, mains, fruit and ice cream. Toni & I had the lobster, which was the best I had eaten so far, Lyn had turkey (which she thinks was chicken), Shawn & Dolly had chicken (although Dolly had ordered beef). Meals are just 12cuc here so very good value. We ate outside on the back patio and managed to dodge the rain even though the sky was fairly dark. There was a nice breeze there also.
Tomorrow we shall explore some more.

DAY 102 THURSDAY 18TH MAY

Cienfuegos

L, D & I had breakfast at the casa on the back patio. There was a little bit of a breeze but the day looked like it would be another good one. Breakfast was the same as we got at the other casas: fruit (to die for), coffee and they had black tea, toast and eggs. Fresh fruit juice, today was mango, yum and a little sweet crepe to finish off. Again, a great deal for just 5cuc each. So nice not having to go looking for our meal first up.
We need to go into town to change money, so we decided today we would do that and have a look around the centre, maybe do a little shopping then catch the ferry to Castillo de Jagua, which is a small village across the lake with a fort/castle. We walked a couple of blocks to the main road and waited for the local bus to take us into the centre. Taxi and bici taxi drivers stopped to hassle us to take a ride but we were determined to take the local bus, which was going to cost us just 5 cents each, and we still pay more than double what the locals do. We did not have to wait too long for a bus to collect us and 30 minutes later when we reached the centre, which was just 4 km away, we were glad we were at the beginning of the line and had a seat as the bus was full to overflowing by the time we wanted to get off. Today is all about getting up close and personal with the Cuban people.
We found the pedestrian shopping street and discovered this had the most shops we had seen anywhere in Cuba to date. There were still a few scantily stocked supermarkets, but other shops seemed to have a good amount of stock. We saw souvenir shops, lots of shoe shops, clothing stores and electrical goods outlets. We browsed a few of the shops dodging a light shower of rain which did not really amount to much. Heading in the general direction of the ferry, another pedestrian street had market kiosks lined down it where we managed to make a couple of purchases.
At the local ferry, we thought we were getting in early having arrived 25 minutes before the departure time of 1pm, but the locals knew better already occupying all the seats on the ferry long before we arrived. Toni & Dolly managed to wangle a pozzie on the steps, but the rest of us had to stand with the crowd for the 20 minutes before departure and the 1 hour boat ride to Castillo de Jagua. This really was up close and personal with the locals. There were a couple of other stops on the way which helped with a thinning out of the crowd.
At 2pm we arrived at our destination and was met by a restaurant tout who tried to coax us into her establishment for a refreshment. First, we look at the castle then we come for a drink we advised her. The castle/fort was just a 3-minute walk up hill from where we got off the ferry and it took all of 3 minutes to have a look around it. There was a 5cuc entrance fee for the museum which we decided not to take up, instead heading back down the hill in search of a cool drink. Our tout was waving us in the right direction and we took up seats in a nice place overlooking the water where we were able to watch a cruise ship navigate its way out of the bay.
The beer was cold and only 1.50cuc – it was Mexican SOL. After eyeing the food that was being served and eaten at the table next to us we ordered food as well. Dolly ordered a banana sandwich much to the waitress’s disbelief and the rest of us shared a seafood paella, which was divine. With another beer, we managed to gobble down the food just in time to walk down to the ferry dock to wait for the soon due 3pm ferry back to town.
A small boat was picking up the family that was sitting next to us in the restaurant and due to a little misunderstanding about our destination we found ourselves aboard and being taken just 100m across the water. When it was worked out where we actually wanted to go the boat owner said it was not possible so they took us back to the next village where the ferry was due to stop. It was a funny little trip, where in the 12 minutes we were all in the little boat we managed to do a round of swigging out of a rum bottle. Like I said, up close and personal with the locals.
The ferry ride back to town seemed to go much quicker, perhaps due to the fact we all had seats this time as there was only a small number of passengers on the return journey.
Back on dry land we walked the few blocks to Jose Marti square and while Toni & Shawn returned to the market for some more money spending, L, D & I headed for the nearest café to have a cold beer. We had to hang around for a few moments for a table to vacate and pounced as soon as one became available. Halfway through our first beer 2 ladies stood looking just as we had for a spare table and I invited them to join us as there were a few spare chairs. Funnily enough they were Australians! We enjoyed an hour or so chatting and comparing travel experiences.
Time to head back to the casa as we had ordered dinner for 7pm and it was now after 6. We stood at the bus stop for ages and the bus did not come. Our new friends, who were staying just a few doors down from us decided to take a taxi which was only 2cuc, they took Dolly in the car with them. The rest of us started to walk in the direction of home and then of course the bus came, so Toni just about threw herself in front of it to make it stop at a non-bus stop spot. I paid the drive 25c for the 4 of us!
Dinner on the back patio, it was not as windy as yesterday, so most enjoyable. I had the chicken, Dolly had a very well done & thin steak, Lyn & the Lemons going for the lobster. Nice meal finished off with fruit and ice cream.
Showered and just about ready for bed, our new friends from us the road came down and we had a beer with them out the front of the casa.
Another great day in Cuba!

DAY 103 FRIDAY 19TH MAY

Cienfuegos

L, D & I had breakfast again on the outside patio. It was very overcast this morning, not much sun around at all. We had planned on a trip to the beach but after Eduardo, our host, confirming it was going to rain today we decided to have a rest day instead.
By early mid-morning / early afternoon it was starting to clear and a bit of sun was starting to show through so it was then there was a change of plans and a taxi was organized to take us to the fauna reserve to go see the flamingos. An old yellow car showed up to take us but it had bucket seats in the front so was not able to take 5 passengers. There was a mistake made when ordering it, but not to worry, just one phone call and 5 minutes later we had a blue car big enough for all of us. The agreed price was 20 cuc to take 5 of us there and back, so 4 cuc each.
The reserve was only about a 15-minute drive away and we arrived around midday. There was 10 cuc entry fee, which seemed a bit steep in the scheme of things, but that what they asked for. A short 5-minute walk with a guide who pointed out a tree that grew maracas (or at least the fruit used to make them) and we saw a mocking bird flitter around too quick to photograph. Lots of termite nests all over the trees which she told us are a pest and kill a lot of the trees but because they are in the nature reserve they are not allowed to get rid of the termites, so they just keep replanting trees where the ravenous ants have killed them. Seemed a little silly to me, but she said everything is protected in the park including the termites. We were told about the land crabs and sea crabs that are apparently here in abundance and both species grow to a good eating size and can be eaten, unlike the last lot of crabs we saw at Playa Larga which were toxic. Interesting to note we only saw very small crabs here today, I guess even in a protected area the large ones magically disappear into someone’s crab dinner. The guide assured us they were very tasty so I have no doubt she protects the big crabs around here, protects them all the way to the dinner plate. Lol.
The short nature walk brought us to the lagoon where we were then transferred into little fibreglass dinghy’s. L, D & I in one, the Lemons in another and a French couple in a third. Each of us had a poor sucker who had to paddle us the 1 km across the lake to see the flock of pink flamingos. The lagoon was not very deep, with the oar sometimes churning up the dirty bottom it was that shallow.
The lovely flamingos where a sight to behold, probably a flock of about 30ish. We could not get too close as they would just fly away, but close enough to take zoomed in photos. And I did get a good video of them taking off and flying past us when our boat rower, Walter, moved a little closer. Money’s worth right there!
One the way back to the dock, Walter went in close to the mangroves and got out to find us a couple of oysters which were growing in/on the mangroves. He had told us earlier that he earned 10 cuc per month doing this job of rowing tourists out on the lake. 10 cuc per month is equivalent to US$10 per month!! Guess he lives off tips and this was a great way to remind punters to tip. Whether it was a hint or not, we were happy to give him a 5 cuc tip when he returned us safely to the shore. Any poor bastard who had to row us 3 lard arses around for an hour deserves to get have a month’s wage in tips we reckon.
The short walk back to the taxi was hindered by a downpour of rain. We all donned our IKEA rain capes, Lyn and I a similar colour to the flamingos we had just seen and the Lemons a boring shade of black. Dolly had decided against bringing a rain coat as I think she likes to be reminded of London every now and then and get caught in a rain shower. Ah yes, and Toni was limping back as she’d had a thong blowout!
We waited a few minutes under the shelter for the worst of the rain to fall and then piled back in the taxi. The beach we planned on visiting was only just a couple of km’s up the road so we asked the driver to take us there for a quick look. Even with the crappy weather the beach did not look so fantastic. The sea was a little rough due to the wind, but there was no inviting white sand like in the pictures so we were glad we did not miss out on much due to the bad weather. The taxi dropped us back at our casa where we had a little rest before heading out again about 4pm.
The Lemons were AWOL having headed back into town for more shopping? We were going to just go for a beer at a local bar, but ended up getting on the bus into town because the bus was there. The closer we got to the centre the heavier the rain got, so by the time our stop came up it was pissing down. To shelter from the rain, we headed into the nearest restaurant thinking we may as well eat and get out of the rain. The beer was cold but the food was rough. Dolly ordered chicken and was served a dinosaur sized drumstick and thigh which had been deep fried to within an inch of existence. Lyn and I ordered pork and I’m not sure what the hell we were given but I was tempted to check the waiter’s shoes for missing soles. This meat did not resemble anything, I broke a fork trying to cut it and a serrated knife did nothing after 8 minutes of sawing! I called the waiter and sent my back and he brought me another piece of cremated chicken with was at least possible to eat. Somehow Lyn managed to cut her ‘meat’ but I think she may still be trying to chew it into something that she can swallow. Like I said the beer was cold!
After we had eaten at least the rain had eased so we walked a couple of blocks down to the ice cream shop. This was another overpriced disappointment and the guy at the door looked at me with astonishment when I said it was not good on my way out. If we all survive todays meal without any repercussions we will be lucky.
It was after 6pm by now and although the sky was dark it was still daylight so we decided to walk the 3km home to try and get our bodies to start to digest the ‘food?’ we had just eaten.
Back in the comfort of our room at the casa we decided to have dinner in tomorrow night to avoid any duplication of this evenings little error.
We spend a little while playing UNO, the Lemons made an appearance, meaning they were found, and the sun set in a very overcast sky. Not sure what the weather forecast for tomorrow is but it is not looking too good.

DAY 104 SATURDAY 20TH MAY

Cienfuegos

Another nice breakfast, mango juice is divine. We tried for soft boiled eggs but they came out hard but never mind.
We had a fairly lazy day today. The Lemons headed out early but we lingered around and we were heading out into the heat when they came walking back to escape the heat. All the rain from yesterday was rained out and the sky today was blue with a couple of non-threatening fluffy white clouds overhead. And the temp was up somewhat.
We walked the couple of blocks to the bus stop just as the bus was arriving, so that was good timing. Paid our 5c each and stayed on the bus to the end of the line, just to see where it would go. It ended at a suburban estate the other side of town, where there were streets and streets of high rise government housing. The bus driver looked a little confused that we had stayed on the bus, however with sign language we managed to convey that we just wanted to have a look, he smiled and made a gesture that we need to pay again if we wanted to ride the bus back into town. I think we managed to scrape together another 15c and we stayed seated and enjoyed the 10 minutes back into the centre.
The walking street was deserted, due to the midday temperature I think. We shop hopped, browsing anything that had aircon. Stopped for a cold beer 2 cuc and a ham & cheese roll 2 cuc in a little arcade for lunch. It really was too hot to be out and about and we had just about seen everything in town anyway. Dolly purchased a new nighty in a sparsely stocked haberdashery store for a cool 5 cuc. We walked down the street with the market stalls and even the kiosk owners seemed to be happier to stay sitting in the shade rather than hassle us to buy anything. I did manage to find a Cuba hat for my flatmate at a price I was happy to pay. Have been looking since Havana, guess the shop owner here just couldn’t be bothered.
Down near the water at the end of the market street there was a bar where we had another cold beer 2cuc, must keep hydrated in this heat, then we decided to return to our casa where we could have a swim in the bay to cool off a little. Unlike yesterday, it was too hot to walk the 3km home so we started negotiations with any form of taxi that was on offer. The bici taxis can only carry 2 persons so that was out as there was 3 of us and to pay 2 is too much. The horse and cart guys wanted 2 cuc each, ha, not bloody likely sunshine. Some old guy in a beat up old red American car put his hand up and when I offered 2 cuc for the 3 of us he was keen. So, we climbed into his heap (big red Buick, I think it was) and he drove us to our casa. Happy to do so for 2cuc.
Within minutes of returning we had changed into our togs and were in the bay at the back of the casa. The water was lovely and warm, yet still refreshing. The Lemons joined us in the water as they had not yet cooled off from their earlier walk.
We all had dinner together at the casa tonight, our last night in Cienfuegos. It has been another great couple of days in another great place in Cuba. Tomorrow we move on to Trinidad, just 80km away.
After dinner, we all enjoyed a beer (me a Cuba Libre aka rum & coke) out the front enjoying the somewhat cloudy but colourful sunset.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 21:26 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

2017 MAY - CUBA - PLAYA LARGA

WE MOVE ON TO THE BEACH FOR A PARADISE STOPOFF.

sunny

DAY 98 SUNDAY 14TH MAY

Vinales to Playa Larga

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Quick breakfast this morning before the car picked us up at 9am at our usual breakfast place. It’s Mothers Day today so most of the passing traffic were carrying flowers to no doubt take to their mothers. During the drive today we saw quite a few cakes in transit also. These pastel coloured masterpieces being carried on just a square cake base with no lids or boxes to hide them or shield them from the traffic dust, fumes and crud. God only knows what the icing was made of because it sure as hell did not melt in the 35-degree heat so although they may have looked fabulous I am not so sure I would want to get anywhere near one.
So, having stressed we needed a big car, and we did get a big car. A big pink car, which looked very similar to a hearse with 2 rows of seats put in the back. We are pretty sure it was a hearse as it was only 2 door besides the hatch back. The Lemons stored their luggage in the back, back which meant ours had to go onto the roof. It looked quite overcast and we hoped it would stay that way and not rain.
Underway just after 9am, we have a long way to travel today. From Vinales we have to go back to the outskirts of Havana then head south east to Playa Larga on the Bay of Pigs. All was going well, less than an hour into the drive and our driver falls asleep at the wheel and side swipes into a cement guide rail. Well the sound of metal body of the car scraping against the cement sure as hell woke him up and scared the hell out of all of us passengers.
We pulled to the side of the road to inspect the damage. Front guard dent, torn and scratched. And the scratches continued all the way down the side of the car to the rear bumper bar. Shit! Lucky no one was hurt, but the driver was visibly shaken – this was going to cost a packet to fix. We later found out the car belonged to his brother, so at least it was family. I think it would have been worse for him if the car belonged to someone else.
The rest of the drive was non-eventful, thank goodness. Travelling on the highway was not very exciting, it was a very straight road for almost all the second half of the trip after we skirted Havana. At around 1.30pm, after only 2 pit (piss) stops, we hit a town aptly named Australia, so had to stop for a photo under the town name. The Lonely Bastard advises a sugar mill was built here in 1904 which was named Central Australia. But we are none the wiser about the association with Australia. Would Australia have funded a sugar mill in Cuba in 1904? Another question for Mr Google when we return to his realm.
Just after 2pm we arrived at our Casa La Varadero, which as promised on its website when I booked back in Australia (the country not the town we just visited) our rooms were just meters away from the sea. The Bay of Pigs to be exact. We received a very warm welcome from Tony the owner, who advised his wife Osmara was visiting her mother for mother’s day and would be back tomorrow. He showed us our rooms (very nice) explained everything and told us about tours available for the area.
Once settled Lyn, Dolly & I went in search of a cold beer, as we do when we arrive in a new place. Only a few blocks before we found an outdoor bar, with drinkers and very, very loud music. We had just one beer and deciding the music was too loud we continued with our walk around the small village. There is just a couple of streets which seem to be filled with casa’s offering accommodation. We walked the block and then the 200 meters of beach brought us back to our room.
I went for a swim while the others had a rest. The water in the afternoon is murky looking, but it’s not murky. Tony told us the afternoon current has the water from the nearby red mangrove swamp washing up on the shores of the bay. So it’s the tannin from the mangroves that makes it look murky, but actually once I was in it was very clean. And not at all salty!
We all had dinner at the casa, which was probably the biggest meal we have been served in Cuba. Bread, butter and chicken soup as starter, then mains which was served with rice, okra, sweet potato and a huge plate of salad. Dolly received a huge slab of pork, Shawn had a nice-looking fish fillet & Lyn, Toni & I all had lobster which consisted of one tail that was fried and another that was cut up and cooked in a creole sauce. It was delish! Finished off with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream with a sweet topping. Good value for just 12 cuc each and 15 cuc for the lobster meals.
To just top off the meal Tony gave Lyn, Dolly & I a huge shot of rum to have with the pineapple juice we had purchased. Real nice host, this guy is full of information without being too pushy. We have booked tours with him for the two days we are here.
This place is lovely, great pick if I must say so myself.
Shower was hot and the air con cold, what more could we ask for?
Why is it called the Bay of Pigs you ask? We asked the same of Toni & he advised: back when Cuba was under Spanish rule there was a guy named Zapata who purchased a lot of land around this area. The peninsular is now named after him, but anyway, back then there were a lot of wild pigs in this area and Zapata hunted them to sell the meat to be sent back to Spain. Of course the only transport was by ship back in this day which took approx. 3 months, and he discovered a way to transport the pork without it going bad. The pig was cooked and the all the pork fat was kept and then both were put into sealed barrels, where the pork would last up to 4 -5 months. Tony said there are still people in Cuba today who do not have electricity and use this method to store meat. He said if we were lucky enough to come across anyone who had any of this pork please bring it back to him as it is to die for! Apparently, this bay is, or was, very deep so the ships could sail right up into the bay to be loaded with their cargo and supplies for their journey back to Spain.
We have not seen any pigs, and Tony said it is unlikely that we will unless it’s served up on a plate.

DAY 99 MONDAY 15TH MAY

PLAYA LARGA.

Lyn, Dolly & I had breakfast at the casa, and what a breakfast it was. Big plate of assorted fresh fruit, French toast, real fruit juice, yummy fresh bread and butter and eggs cooked in your choice. Ah and a pot of coffee. Really spoilt here for 5cuc each, all that an amazing view as we ate on the patio overlooking the bay. Wow, this place is hard to take.
Today we are all doing a snorkelling tour which costs just 15cuc each or 10cuc if you have your own equipment. The beautiful blue sky promised and delivered a fantastic sunny day and a calm sea was perfect for snorkelling. Tony walked us to the bus pickup point and we were collected in a big yellow school bus. It made just a couple of other pickups before heading down the road south along the bay shore. First stop was at the dive shop where everyone could select their snorkelling gear and where we had to pay for the tour. We all had our own equipment except for Dolly who was fitted with a snorkel and mask, flipper and life jacket, so that she would feel confident in the water. Lyn & I also grabbed flippers as it’s much easier to move around when snorkelling with flippers.
Then it was just a short drive to our first snorkelling spot called Punto Perdiz. There were divers in our group as well and we were advised we would have approximate 1 – 1.5 hours here depending on when the divers came back. The water was crystal clear and as soon as I descended the ladder and stood in waist deep water there were fish all around. Out a bit further there was coral head and more fish to be seen. It was great! Even novice Dolly with lifejacket, snorkel and mask could see lots while staying within standing depth for her. Highlight for me was seeing a huge shoal of fish swimming and feeding off the tree like coral growing below. There was literally 100’s of dark blue fish that had iridescent purple fins surrounding their dinner plate size bodies. When they tilted slightly the sun would catch them and they then looked to be a brilliant light blue colour. Wow, they just amazing! As far as I was concerned I had my money’s worth just there.
It was close to 2 hours before we moved on to the 2nd stop. This was Cueva de los Peces – a flooded tectonic fault, or cenote, about 70m deep. This water hole was obviously fed from the sea as the water was salty and not crystal clear like other ‘cenotes’ I have seen in Mexico. It was still nice for a cooling off swim and we also had a dip in the bay side where our divers had gone for their 2nd dive. It was later in the afternoon now and the bay was a lot more choppy and rough, there was no way we could have snorkelled here with any success without getting a lung full of sea water. Lyn & I were happy just to have a dip before we were all loaded back into the yellow bus and returned to Playa Larga.
L, D & I have a quick scout around town in search of a bottle of rum and some bread rolls for lunch. Managed to find both, rum at the bar where we had a noisy beer yesterday and we could talk a shop into giving us 3 rolls although he explained to us in sign language they were a ration shop and perhaps needed coupons to purchase. We must have looked hungry enough and I think the store keep was impressed that we had purchased a bottle of rum. So, lunch was a bread roll with some left-over pork from Dolly’s huge dinner last night. Yummy.
Rest of the afternoon everyone seemingly exhausted from our water sports had lazy afternoon.
It rained in the afternoon also, got pretty heavy just before 6pm and we had to have our dinner inside instead of on the patio. Still a great view out of the windows, we enjoyed a Cuban specialty that we had not yet had a chance to eat. Ropa XXXXX is essentially pulled beef cooked in a pressure cooker with tomatoes, onions and garlic. The smell we had to endure for a few hours before dinner really got the tastebuds working. And the meal was lovely, served with the usual rice & salad. There was enough left over for us to keep for lunch tomorrow.
There’s nothing to do after dinner so we all just retire to our rooms to read and sleep. We have to be sure to be inside with the windows and doors shut by about 7.15pm when the sun starts to set as this is when the mozzies come out for their daily feed and they are ferociously hungry!

DAY 100 TUESDAY 16TH MAY

PLAYA LARGA.

Breakfast was early today at 7am as we are going on an early tour of the National Park, 25cuc each. L, D & I again enjoyed the same breakfast meal as yesterday, with a different juice, and the same amazing view.
We were collected at 8am by our guide and driver and headed back down the same south road towards Playa Giron. We made a short pit stop along the road to watch the crabs crossing the road. Crabs crossing the road you say?? Yep, hundreds of crabs crossing the road from the bush going to the sea to lay or fertilize eggs. We are lucky enough to be here for the migration, which is a total fluke as I had no idea, but a nice fluke. Unfortunately, conservation is not so big for these poor creatures as we saw literally hundreds squashed on the road, the ones not quick enough or just unlucky to be caught under the tyre of a vehicle that is using this road. There are still thousands and thousands that make it, but it was a little devastating to see the ones that did not. Our driver was carefully weaving his was as best he could, but we are not sure if this was for our benefit or not as we showed great concern. Had he had more nonchalant passengers would he just have ploughed through them as the traffic that passed us did?
Anyway, it was still an amazing sight to see, I had only ever heard of this kind of crab migration on Christmas Island, which is on my bucket list, so this was a real treat. We were able to stop and take photos and experience a few short moments of the whole process and I was wrapped. As we continued driving we could see into the bush on one side of the road and the grass or gravel leading to the water on the other side of the road, just heaving with these small black and orange bodies of assorted sizes going about natures plan. It was so cool, except for the stench of the poor crustaceans that had been flattened – they were rank. I asked our guide if these crabs were edible and he said no they were toxic, so not even the scavenger birds were around to pick up an easy meal.
Before our tour had even begun I felt like I had my money’s worth already. It took us about an hour all up to get to our starting point for the walk, perhaps it would have been faster if we had not been avoiding carnage on the road. We entered the bush with Mario our guide pointing out assorted trees and he spotted a tocororos (Cuba’s national bird). This was a good find.
We continued in the bush, which was all petrified coral underfoot as it used to be under water long ago, until we came to a cave. We followed Mario down a ladder into a small cave which housed fruit bats. It was dark inside and we only really saw anything when he shone a torch light on a subject. I asked Lyn to just step down a little to a place where I knew bats were hanging overhead so I could take a photo with her in it and the bats above. It was not until we returned and I was looking at the photos did I notice that just when I took the photo there was a bat flying right next to her head – awesome shot!
All through the bush we saw the same orange and black crabs from the migration. They live in the bush here, eating leaves, plants and even each other if the fancy takes them. They only head to the water once a year for the breeding season. We also saw another species of crab in the bus, grey and a lot bigger and Mario advised these one’s were good to eat. So why we did grab them there and then I dunno, guess it being a National Park and UNESCO listed may have something to do with it. And the fact these guys had big claws.
There was a chance we might see a boa (snake) but unfortunately it was not in the usual cave it hides in, so no snake today. ☹ Onward to some freshwater cenotes, where we did see a Cuban crocodile and some turtles. Next waterhole Lyn & I had a swim in after being assured it was not joined to the one where the crocodile lived. Although, only small, the day has not yet come where I want to share a watery space with a croc of any size. There was only fish and a large crab in our swimming hole, and turtles up the far end. It was a nice place to cool off, very humid walking through the bush.
Mario pointed out a few more birds, including a tiny hummingbird, which we know from experience is impossible to photograph. Another tocororos made an appearance which Mario was impressed with, and soon our 2 hours was up so we made our way back to the road, and our car arrived seconds after our guide made a mobile phone call.
The drive back to Playa Larga was not as murderous as the drive out as the crabs had thinned out considerably. They are obviously most active in the morning when it’s a little cooler. We did see some tiny, tiny crabs making their way across the road towards the bush, new born no doubt, no bigger than ants. Let’s hope these guys have a long unsquashed life, Mario advised they can live up to 10 years if they out live the gauntlet of crossing the road each year. Many do as we saw lots in the bush which Mario identified as grandfathers.
A swim on our return was warranted, the bay was still calm and the water was still clear outside our door. In the afternoons, the wind seems to pick up and create a bit of a chop and the water from the nearby swamp pours into the bay giving the shoreline water the tint of strong tea. It’s not dirty just the tannin from the mangroves.
After our lunch of rolls donated by our host and the left over pulled beef – a feast – L, D & I went for a stroll up the beach and back. The Lemons had a nanna nap. When we walked to the far end of the beach, we saw where the swamp water was spewing out into the bay. The swamp water was much cooler than the sea water and the colour a lot stronger than in our part of the beach.
Back for another swim and a few rums before dinner.
Our stay here has been so nice and relaxing, even though we have done tours both days, we have had the afternoons so enjoy our surroundings. The food supplied by our hosts has been the most plentiful and tasty of anywhere so far in Cuba, this place was a great choice.
Alas tomorrow it is time to move on to our next destination, Cienfuegos.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 15:14 Archived in Cuba Tagged playa larga Comments (0)

2107 MAY CUBA, VINALES

WE HEAD TO THE HILLS FOR A CHANGE OF SCENERY.

sunny

DAY 95 THURSDAY 11TH MAY

Havana to Vinales

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We had breakfast at the hotel this morning just for the convenience and the other place had turned to crap anyway. 5cuc for breakfast at the hotel was a pretty good deal for a bowl of fruit, bread, butter and eggs. And a huge jug of fresh fruit juice, today it was mango. So far all the fruit we have been served has been delicious, only fruit in season in Cuba is available as they don’t import any fruit from other countries.
A few last-minute purchases before we waited for our private car to arrive. Not only was there concern about getting all our bags into the boot of the car, there was also concerns about getting the bags down the stairwell where a souvenir shop was set up on the steps and both walls.
We started the move around 11.30. The young girl who cooked our breakfast helped me get the bags down the stairs so there was no drama. The Lemons were already waiting on the street so we could make the second trip for our carry bags. We were waiting and I had a silent prayer that Maykell did not forget us or was just a no show. Shame on me as he arrived a little after 12 noon as promised full of apologies for his lateness due to traffic. The boot of the old blue and white Ford looked big, but the combined mass of our 5 bags looked bigger. 15 minutes later after several rearrangements our bags were squashed into the boot and we loaded ourselves into it with day bags stashed between our legs. Lucky these old cars have lots of leg room in the back. 3 in the back seat was a little cramped but not too bad.
We bid farewell to Havana at 12.30. It was nice city and we have enjoyed our stay here, but it was time to explore further afield in Cuba. Our destination today was Vinales, about 185 km south west of Havana. We drove on the highway for most of the trip and it was a surprisingly good road. 3 lanes with hardly any traffic at all. The speedo in the Ford did not work, but we cruised along at a pretty good speed all the way without any hiccups. I had heard that these old cars can sometimes be a bad choice for long distances, but we had no problems at all and when in Rome, I mean Cuba.
There was not a great deal to see along the way, a few cows here and there, and we saw some goats by the side of the road. The landscape was quite green. Our driver spoke no English so it was a pretty quiet journey. Just after 2pm we stopped about 50km shy of Vinales for a toilet / stretch your legs stop. There was a shop where we purchased some potato chips, the first we had seen in this country. Actually, the shop at this stop at this stop was better stocked than the supermarkets we had seen in Havana, go figure. Back on the road the driver put on some Cuban music to either get us in the mood or keep himself awake.
It must have been around 3.30pm when we got closer to town, as the traffic was heavier coming towards us. After asking directions a few times we found casa particular El Moro where we will be spending the next 3 nights, 20 cuc per room. Unloaded the Ford, paid and thanked the driver and were shown our rooms. The owner lady does not speak any English and seems a little abrupt in requesting our passports and advising we were to have no visitors in the room, but I think it was a language thing. Her son was there also, he spoke English and gave us a little run down on the tours that were available for the area. They all seemed very expensive so we said we would think about it. Then they started to really push us to have breakfast and dinner at the Casa. Well this is the wrong approach for us as we more inclined to find our own food when the host is so pushy. And besides the prices they quoted for dinner were much more than what I had seen on chalk board menus on the way in. We declined and went out to explore a little.
It was late afternoon and the first thing we needed was to find a place to have a cold beer at a reasonable price. This need was fulfilled by El Colonial – a bar in the middle of town right opposite the central park. They had outside seating so we could watch what was going on in the street and the beers (Presidente) were 1.50cuc, just in our price range. We sat for a while and even had 2 beers trying to decide what we might do here in Vinales.
After our drinks, it was decided a hire car for the day might be our best bet, but this will have to be sourced tomorrow as it was now too late in the day. Now it was time for dinner and a restaurant just up the street was offering specials for 3.50cuc (plus 10% tip or tax) – it was the usual chicken or pork with rice & salad/vegies. So, we sat and ate an early dinner.
Nothing happening here at night, we retired early back to our casa.
We saw some horse and carts travelling along the road once we got off the main highway, and in town here we have seen quite a few ox and cart that are obviously still in use for farming or whatever. This is the tobacco growing area of Cuba so we hope to be able to visit a farm while we are out here.
More tomorrow.

DAY 96 FRIDAY 12TH MAY

Vinales.

Breakfast we took up the road at a new restaurant that we passed last night. The owner seemed really nice and the breakfast advertised on the board was cheap at 2.50cuc & 3.00cuc so we decided to try it out.
Lyn had what they called a normal breakfast which consisted of toast (bread roll cut in half and toasted) slabs of butter & slabs of jam for 2.50cuc, Dolly & I went for the traditional which was the same with 1 scrambled egg and a bowl of fruit (pineapple & pawpaw) for 3.00cuc. We were all given a glass of fresh mango juice and I had coffee with milk while the other 2 had tea with the bags they brought along. They don’t seem to drink black tea here in Cuba, if they happen to have tea at all it is some kind of fruit tea. Anyway, it was a good breakfast and we were able to have it outside and watch the world go by.
We were a little late with meeting up with Toni & Shawn but they had been productive in our absence. They had organized our taxi to our next destination in a few days’ time, and bartered for a price for a tour around Vinales for today. Nice having someone else around to organize things, thanks Toni. I have been having to do all the organizing for the last few months, so it’s nice to be able to take a back seat and leave it up to someone else. Not so good for Toni as she is the only one who steps up, but it is nice for me! So again, thanks Toni.
It turns out a hire car was not possible as they are only allowed to have max 4 passengers, including driver, and there were no hire cars available in Vinales anyway. Today we had a choice of 2 yellow taxis for 25cuc each or one old American car for 40cuc which could squeeze in all 5 of us. When in Cuba opt for the old car, and today we had just that. It was an old bomb of a car but it was big and comfortable and took us to all the places we wanted to go with Yoan, our driver who spoke no English, waiting patiently at each stop for us.
First stop was at the lookout at the Los Jasmines hotel, which offered a great view over the Vinales Valley. It was beautiful and very similar landscape to what we had seen in Northern Vietnam. Here the limestone castes are called mogotes.
Next stop Mural de la Prehistoria (entry 3cuc). On the cliff at the foot of the 617m high Sierra de Vinales, the highest portion of the Sierra de los Organos, this 120m long painting on the side of Mogote Dos Hermanas was designed in 1961 by Leovigildo Gonzalez Morillo. It took 15 people five years to complete it. The huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and humans on the cliff symbolize the theory of evolution and are either impressively psychedelic or monumentally horrific, depending on your point of view.
This place was a little laughable, but anyway. They were selling 3cuc pina coladas where you pour your own rum, so this redeemed the place somewhat and by the time we had left Dolly, Lyn & myself were impressed with the place, while the Lemons who did not indulge in the pour your own rum cocktail still thought it was shit! Lol.
Next stop, Cueva del Indo (entry 5cuc) was a shameless tourist trap. An ancient indigenous dwelling, it was rediscovered in 1920 and motor boats now ply the underground river through the electrically lit cave. I thought this place was ok, it was cool that we could walk through and ride the river inside one of the mogotes.
Next stop was a walk through El Palenque de los Cimarrones (entry 3cuc) , which apparently was a cave where slaves used to hide out in. The displays were crap, but again it was cool just to be able to walk through the middle of one of the mogotes. Out the other side and there was a small tobacco farm where we could walk through a drying hut.
There was a restaurant / bar at the mouth of the cave and the guy had told us about a cocktail that we could try for just 2cuc. It was basically just fruit juice but again with pour your own rum, with the rum bottle placed on the table for us to refill our glass after every sip. I know that rum is cheap in this country but this is ridiculous! Dolly, Lyn & I just had to indulge again at these help yourself prices, when in Rome umm Cuba. We also ordered some fries and some little meatballs which were very tasty – lunch sorted. Lemons opted for a beer and fries.
Last stop was at a family tobacco farm. The young guy took us into the drying shed and explained the process from planting the seeds to picking the leaves. Again, such details are not all remembered but one interesting point I do remember is that he said, 90% of their tobacco leaf crop is purchased by the government at a very low price set by the government. They only get to keep 10% for themselves to sell privately. This goes for all tobacco growers, no choice.
Here we did get to have a puff on a cigar that had the end dipped in honey. I’m not sure if this is common practice or if they just do it for the tourists, but we did all get to have a puff on a real Cuban cigar! They were also selling their cigars for 14 = 45cuc or 20 = 60cuc. These cigars come wrapped in palm leaf so they stay fresh and do not go hard and brittle. He said if they are kept in this wrapper and put in the fridge they can be kept for up to 4 years. Unfortunately, we would never be able to take these into Australia because of the wrapping and I guess the cigar itself being hand rolled. But really, I was not interested in buying any as I don’t really want to smoke another one and don’t even know anyone who smokes cigars. However, having a puff on a Cuban cigar in Cuba is all part of the experience.
It was about 3.30 when Yoan dropped us off at our casa, it had been a good day and we had now seen the sights around Vinales at fraction of the cost of taking a tour. Best part was it was at our own pace, and without having to travel in a coach with load of other tourists.
We did meet this lovely American guy, and his wife, who had sailed down from Florida in a hired yacht. He mentioned they were planning to come to Australia one day to do some sailing so I gave him my email address to contact us in case they ever make it down under. Funnily enough, they live close to friends we are visiting in the States this trip so you never know we may visit them if we get an invite.
A few beers in our local in Vinales, El Colonial, we tried to wash the taste of the stogie out of our mouths. Didn’t really work but the beer was cold so enjoyed anyway.
Little relax back in the casa then out again for dinner back at our breakfast restaurant.
Dinner was nothing special but it was cheap so not too much to complain about.

DAY 97 SATURDAY 13TH MAY

Vinales.

We returned to the same breakfast restaurant for our 3cuc start to the day.
Today we have hired a car again that is going to take us to the beach. Toni was up early this morning and managed to flag down the driver we had yesterday. Although he was not able to take us today, he found a friend with a car big enough for the 5 of us to travel in. She negotiated a fixed rate of 70 cuc for the return journey and waiting time. It would cost us more than that if we all took the bus and then would have to work with its timings, this is a much better option.
The driver was waiting for us at 9am and soon we were off. Cayo Jutias was not that far away – 60km – but due to the condition of the road it took an hour and half for our talented driver to weave and try to dodge as many potholes as possible. Even with his avoidance skills it was still a rough and bumpy ride.
We drove though some lovely green country side and a couple of small villages with the usual coloured painted houses. Finally, we made it to the coast and we could see water. We drove along a causeway for a couple of km’s which was flanked with what looked like dead mangroves.
In the late 1990’s the island was linked to the mainland by a massive causeway that offers a dramatic view of the province’s mountains in profile. 9km from the main highway is a metal lighthouse, the Faro de Cayo Jutias, erected by the USA in 1902.
Soon the road come to a dead end and we were rewarded with a view of amazing turquoise looking water, gently lapping on pure white sand. Paradise! It was beautiful and the uncomfortable road trip was instantly forgotten. We all got in the water for a cooling swim, the water was crystal clear and the white sand underfoot felt very compacted. There were a few people here on the beach, but I would not say it was crowded at all. Not too many spoiling our serenity. After lolling and floating in the water, Lyn, Dolly and I went for a little walk along the beach to build up an appetite. The Lemons chose to laze under a palm tree on the beach. Yep it was heaven.
We walked about 100 meters up the beach. Saw a guy who had quite a catch from spearfishing, multi-coloured fish, not bad size, but he was not sharing. Lol. Guess these were for his family or he was going to sell them to a restaurant perhaps. We walked back again and grabbed a beer which we sipped in the clear water, then headed to the restaurant for lunch. Fish lunch (with rice) was only 4.80cuc which Lyn & I had, while Dolly had chicken & rice for just 2.80cuc. Great prices for a beach side restaurant – washed down with 2cuc Presidente beers!
Lyn & I had a quick last minute swim before it was time to get back in the green car and navigate the road back to Vinales. The trip back seemed to be faster, although it did take the same time 1.5 hours. Great excursion to the beach, so glad we decided to make the effort.
Back in Vinales after we had all showered off the salt and sand, it was time for a beer at El Colonial. As we were walking up the street it started to rain lightly. We got a bit more of a shower while we sat drinking but it did not really mean it.
The Lemons went off in search of dinner and after we had finished our beer we headed back to the restaurant with the 3.50cuc meals that we ate at the first night. We ordered pork ribs, which was actually a pork chop but it’s all good, it was cheap and it was pork so we were happy. Served with the usual rice and salad.
Back to the room to pack our bags again as we are on the move again tomorrow.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 22:01 Archived in Cuba Tagged vinales Comments (1)

2017 MAY - CUBA - HAVANA

WE TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AS WE ENJOY THE CITY OF HAVANA.

sunny

DAY 90 MAY 6TH 2017

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CUBA – COUNTRY # 7 I will add photos later, refer my FB page for photos now.

Saturday - Havana

An easy morning spent packing the last of our stuff into our bags, this job does not get any easier as the trip goes on, but we managed to get everything in.
Our Airbnb host has called us an UBER to take us to the airport, this is much cheaper than a taxi and they come to the door. Otherwise I would have to go out onto the street and try to flag one. Our car showed at around 10.40am, this is early but we need to purchase a tourist card for Cuba at the airport and we’re not sure exactly how long this will take.
The trip to the airport on a Saturday morning was quick, less than one hour and the UBER costs AUD$13. We headed straight to the Interjet counter to see where we could get the tourist card. They sold them right there and 250 pesos each later we had entry into Cuba. It was still too early to check in we so we hung around until the check-in counters opened. After depositing our bags, we went through a security check, but there was no immigration check. We presumed that the airline did this when we checked in, but no exit stamp out of Mexico.
More waiting at the gate until about 1pm when we went off to buy a drink to have with our sandwiches we had brought with us. Gate change had us walking the 100 m from gate 28 to 21, and then a little later we boarded the flight at about 3.30 which was already 25 minutes late as we were supposed to depart at 3.05. We did not actually depart until about 4.30pm.
The flight was less than 2 hours and from what I could see most of it was over the Caribbean Sea. Due to our late departure, we were obviously late to arrive. Immigration was no problem, and they stamped my new passport without a second glance. We waited to collect our luggage and then had to return to fill in a customs form which we were not given on the flight.
We were expecting to find a little man on the outside holding a little board with my name on it but he was not to be seen. I had pre-booked an airport transfer, but maybe because our flight was late he gave up and left, or did not show at all, we will never know. Lyn & I went outside to change bit of money, the left over Mexican pesos so we would have local cash to pay the driver. We hung around for a little while, Dolly made friends with one of the other transfer drivers holding someone else’s name and he even gave our guy a call, after the sour girl at the information counter refused to. After the phone call, we were told our driver would be here in 5 mins, 30 minutes later I went outside to engage a taxi to take us to our hotel. It was the same price and we were sick of waiting around, it was now 8.30pm and just gone dark.
Sadly, we did not see much on our drive into Havana as it was dark, and the taxi driver who spoke good English, advised he was in fact a trained Vet but earned more money being a taxi driver, said there was not much point pointing things out as we could not see them anyway.
Our hotel is in Obispo street which is a pedestrian street and the taxi stopped as close as possible in our block. We only had to walk about 50 meters. The fare was 30CUC and I only had 20’s and the driver tried to pull the I don’t have any change trick. Wait I said I will go to the hotel and get change, as a 10CUC tip is the equivalent to a US$10 tip – I don’t think so.
Small shop situated up the stairwell of the hotel (yes, the stairwell) was happy to give change so I paid the driver and a guy at the hotel carried each one of our bags up the narrow, souvenir stacked stairway. Room #2 is bigger than our usual room, with 1 single bed and 1 double bed & ensuite. It has no window to the outside, but this is typical of the style of building.
We dropped our stuff and went out to find something to eat. Obispo was crowded with people walking and milling around. We wondered if this was due to it being Saturday night or if it’s always like this. There was lots of music around the place. We stopped at a bar / restaurant that had meals for 10CUC where we could sit outside and watch the walking traffic go by. The waiter was a big black dude that warmed to us after a bit and had a bit of a joke. When we asked for beer he informed us that he only had one bottle – a bar with only one bottle of beer? Was this normal? Too early to find out, he put on a big smile when we said ok we will have the one bottle of beer for Lyn and Dolly & I will have rum & cokes. The meals were simple and huge. I had pork and the others went for chicken. All were served with a fresh cut crunchy salad & rice. If this is the indication of the simple food of Cuba I will be happy.
We ate and had our drink, gave the waiter a 2CUC tip which he made a big deal about (sarcastically!), and then continued up the pedestrian street to look around. It was after 10 now and still loads of people about. From this short walk, we agreed we are in a good location. We already have seen heaps of the old cars that Cuba is famous for and lots of clapped out LADA’s – even a stretch Lada which had 3 doors each side. The buildings look amazing too!
Back in our room we had HOT showers before going to bed. There is a TV in the room and I managed to find a channel with an English movie on it. The movie was bad but I had to watch it just cause.
I think we will all sleep well tonight, it’s been a big day today.
First impressions of Cuba – fabulous!
Tomorrow the Lemons arrive.

DAY 91 MAY 7TH 2017

Sunday - Havana

Our room is like a cave, with only artificial light, no natural light to wake us up. I was up the first (to pee) and had to wake the other as we had ordered breakfast for 8.30am.
We had breakfast at the hotel – easier, and it was huge. Fruit, rolls & scrambled eggs or omelette. I had short black coffee which after the initially shock of the strength of it was good. The ladies asked for hot water for their self-catered tea bags and there was a jug of mango & pineapple juice – real juice nothing added. All this for 5cuc each! Great way to start the day without having to go out looking for something to eat first up.
After breakfast, we hung around for a bit and then went out to explore Havana some more. We walked in the opposite direction to last night and after a few blocks we were at the water front. The sky here is a beautiful shade of blue, something we did not see in Mexico City. Due to the smog there, it’s been a long time since anyone has seen blue sky. And it had been awhile since we had seen the sky this colour. And it’s hot!
We strolled along the Malecon (the boulevard along the water) taking photos of the watery vistas and the many old American cars driving past and slowing down asking if we wanted a taxi. I read that back in the day the Russians purchased original new cars in America took them to the USSR and then duplicated the parts, built complete copies of the cars, then sent them to Cuba! Apparently now most of these old cars are now held together with a mish mash of parts from whatever make and model is available and whatever fits and works. Most are diesel. Some of the cars look to be in perfect condition with perfect paint jobs and everything shiny and new and some look their age and are a little, well let’s say worn! Lots have an unhealthy rattle, that even I as non-mechanical person can tell is wrong, but that does not seem to concern the owner or anyone else. Whatever the state, they are way cool, and I am no way a car enthusiast, yet still cannot resist taking photos of them all. Probably by the end of our 5 days stay here in Havana I would have photographed every single one!
And the architecture is just amazing. Again, I read that since it was UNESCO World Heritage listed, Cuba is now receiving money to restore a lot more of the buildings. This is being done in the order of most important buildings first. Which of course is not any of the residential buildings, and there is something like 91% of suburban Cubans living in condemned buildings! Just unreal as I sure most of these will fall down before it comes to their turn to be restored. Anyway, the buildings we have seen, restored, falling down or somewhere in-between they are also pretty amazing.
As we walk around Havana we agree it has a nice feel to it, relaxed, poor, happy, musical, friendly – all mixed together.
We bumped into a couple of Kiwis that were on our flight yesterday as we were walking along the waterfront. They were loving the feel of the city too. Funny how in such a big place you run into a familiar face.
We returned to our hotel around 12.30pm, purchasing a beer for 1.50cuc at a hole in the wall which we drank in the lounge room of our hotel. We needed to change money and the line-up was the same as it had been this morning when we left so we decided we would just have to join it and wait our turn. It was just a few doors down from the hotel and we probably waited a total of 40 minutes before it was our turn to enter the office and change our Canadian dollars for local currency.
Just as we returned to our room to stash our cash, Toni & Shawn Lemon showed up at the hotel. Luckily their airport transfer was waiting for them at the airport, but it was just a normal car, not an American car as requested. The driver also was full of apologies for not showing up for our pick up yesterday claiming broken down car, but it was no point saying sorry now, we made it to the hotel and that was all done.
I went across the road and grabbed 5 x 1cuc beers and we sat around for about an hour chatting and catching up with the Lemons while their room was being cleaned. Then we all headed out for a little walk and had a drink in the roof top bar at the Inglaterra Hotel. Nice view from up there and drinks were not too badly priced 2.50cuc for local beer and 3cuc for rum and pineapple juice, which was the closest thing to a pina colada they could produce. Must say they are not at all skimpy with the rum shot in these drinks.
Strolled back to the hotel so some could have a little arvo nap and then it was back out for dinner at 7pm at a restaurant I had booked on the way out earlier. Just about every restaurant we have seen are all offering the same menu. Chicken, pork, fish or lobster. All served with beans & rice, vegetables (which is actually salad), bread (which is always stale) and fried plantain of some description. The only thing that differs from restaurant to restaurant is the price and if they are offering a free drink with the meal or not. So, the restaurant I booked the meals were 10cuc which is pretty good for a lobster tail cooked in rum sauce. It was not a massive lobster tail, but still I thought good value for the price. This meal was sort of a belated birthday celebration. I tried a mojito to drink with the meal, but am not impressed with it. Prefer good old cuba libre (rum & coke) or even with the pineapple juice was better.
After dinner, we grabbed a cheap 1cuc ice cream which was just soft serve and not fantastic, but was sweet and cold so worked as a dessert. Had a little stroll down the street to walk off the ice cream. Shawn was chased after by a lady? who wanted to plat his beard, and then we returned to the hotel.
Found another English-speaking movie to watch on TV, it was about the life of football player Pele, so not too bad.
And that was the end of another day!

DAY 92 MAY 8TH 2017

Monday - Havana

We all had an inhouse breakfast at about 9am. After a lazy morning, we headed out in search of milk. This turned into the mission of the day that was never fulfilled. Milk is just not available. In the meagre supermarkets, we found no fresh or even powdered milk. We asked the young girls at the hotel where we might found it and they told a few different ‘supermarkets’ to try, but we exhausted them and a few others. Milk seems to be just not available.
The supermarkets are just small shops that have maybe one or two shelves of items that are served to the customer over a glass counter. There is no load up your trolley while cruising down a multiple of aisles. Makes you appreciate how lucky we are at home in Australia where we can walk into a thousand plus assorted products supermarket and purchase just about anything we want. Here the minimal shelves carry a limited number of items and then maybe only 10 or 12 of each item. It’s just hard to imagine people live like this. That is why the restaurants around our hotel all have the same menu, it’s because the can only serve what is available for them to buy. We are so lucky.
Our quest for milk will no doubt continue tomorrow during our wanderings around Havana. By the time we leave this amazing city I’m am pretty sure we would have stepped foot in just about every ‘supermarket’ or store selling any sort of products and asked the question, leche??
Now everyone knows that Havana is full of the old American cars, so of course we had to have a ride in one of them. This is a big money spinner for the owners of these cars, as they have learnt this is a popular treat for tourists. And of course, the lucky ones with convertibles are the most popular. Anyone can get in an old car as there are a lot that work as regular taxi’s, but the convertibles are the ones that the tourists want to go for a jaunt in. I had investigated this on the internet back at home and had found out that a two hour ride costs about US$120, well thank god I did not pre-book this online as the prices the touts on the street were offering was much better. Yesterday we were quoted 10cuc per person and they were willing to take all 5 of us in one car. Today we decided to pick a car we thought was big enough for us all and see if we could get it any cheaper. We found a big red one that all 5 of us could fit in, sorry but I have no idea the make or anything like that, and the tout offered it at 40cuc for the standard 1 hour tour. Well if they are going to start at that price, I need to get it for less and the tout was happy to take the 35cuc offer I made.
We drove around the standard city tour circuit for just over an hour with a few minutes stop at some monuments and at Lennon park. Complete with a bronze statue of John Lennon sitting on a park bench waiting for stupid tourists to take their photo with him. I don’t even like John Lennon but sat obediently for a photo anyway. I did however cause a mild disturbance when I tried to sit on the statues lap for a more entertaining photo. Our driver and park guards ran over scalding me!
Back in the car, we drove on. It was a fun ride and we managed to take some photos and drove around a bit of Havana that we would probably never get to on our walks. And at just 7cuc each it was a bargain and we may just have to pick a different colour car to have another ride it on another day.
Today in our travels we have also been asking around regards to our transport to our next destination in Cuba. The public bus sounds like it could be too difficult with luggage and all, and for just a couple of extra dollars each we can get a shuttle or a private car to carry us and our luggage in more comfort to the next stop.
Our quest to find milk took us to streets we had not yet walked where we discovered cheaper eating places and a restaurant that promised bacon and eggs for breakfast. We made a date for this place tomorrow morning, but must keep in mind we are in Cuba and not to expect a full English breakfast, this is hard for some of my fellow travellers to remember.
We bought a couple of cheap souvenirs today and I got a straw hat for 3cuc that is great to keep the hot Cuban sun off my head. There are some great aprons here that I am shopping around for additions to my collection.
We stopped and had a street beer today to cool off a bit. Seems to be ok to walk around with beer in hand, we are not the only ones doing it.
We purchased a bottle of Havana Club white rum which we polished off before, during and after dinner. Shawn not a lover of rum at all said it tasted like petrol, but I thought it was ok. Unfortunately, coca cola is not available here so we had to drink it with the local cola which is a bit ordinary, however the pineapple juice that was served with our in-house dinner mixed very well with the rum. 700ml bottle white rum 3.85cuc, 1.5l cola 1.50cuc, chicken dinner 12cuc.
After dinner, we played a few games of UNO.
Still enjoying Havana, took over 200 photos again today! No English movies on telly tonight.

DAY 93 TUESDAY 9TH MAY

Tuesday - Havana

Yesterday in our travels we found a restaurant that was advertising eggs and bacon for 3cuc! Mmmm bacon, this was enough for us to trek the few blocks back to this place for the pork treat. How happy were we when the owner/chef offered poached eggs? Dolly even pushed her luck by asking for tomatoes which came as a couple of half slices on the plate next to 2 poached eggs and a couple of rashes of streaky bacon. What a treat, and it was a cheap breakfast except for the 2.50cuc luke warm coffee, although it did come with hot milk. Good start to the day, except on the way Dolly went arse over tit tripping up on the uneven pavement. She has lost a bit of bark off her leg, arm and hand and has managed to twist her shoulder, other than that all good.
Lonely Bastard quote: Visitors from the well-ordered countries of Europe should be subconsciously aware of crumbling sidewalks, manholes with no covers, over-enthusiastic drivers, veering cyclists, carelessly lobbed front door keys and badly-pitched baseballs.
Bellies full we headed to the waterfront, which was just a block away, to find a car to take us to the fort on the other side of the port. Toni had received broken Spanglish instructions from a guy at the restaurant on how to get there by local bus, but since the old convertible was so cheap yesterday we decided to try for another ride in one of those to take us in the underwater tunnel to the other side. Soon enough a tout pounced on us and asked if we wanted to do a city tour. We advised we had done a city tour yesterday and wanted to go to the fort. OK he said, same, one hour 50cuc. Nup, I said, too much, ok what did you pay yesterday he asked? 30cuc I lied (we paid 35cuc) but he said ok and agreed on the 30cuc for a one hour tour.
This time our ride was a pink convertible (sorry no idea what make or model) and it was a little squishier in the back than the car we had yesterday, but it was ok. We all piled in and were moments later driving through the tunnel under the water and came out the other side under the fort. Our first stop was at the park where the giant Jesus statue is overlooking the city of Havana. It was crowded with lots more tour cars and plenty of buses that were transporting the passengers from the huge cruise ship that was in port. Toni spoke to one of the passengers and was advised they were on a 4-day cruise from Miami to Cuba return. Just like a bit of a taster cruise I guess.
We took photos of the giant Jesus and took in the view of the city across the harbour, recognizing some of the buildings we have walked or driven past in Havana. It was a beautiful sunny day and the blue sky was a perfect backdrop for all our photos today. Back in the pink convertible and we drove the short distance to the fort where we could get out of the vehicle again and have a walk around.
Again, wonderful vistas overlooking the city of Havana. Havana is an amazing place, with the old cars everywhere, the amazing architecture both restored and crumbling. I am surprised how much I like it here, not that I thought I would not like it, I just like it more than I thought I would. LOL
From the fort, we saw a guy fishing whilst floating in a rubber tyre ring, like out in the ocean. And another bloke was snorkelling, maybe looking for lobsters that are on every menu in town? Our hour was almost up so back in the car to be driven back through the tunnel over to the city side again. Not a bad deal for 6cuc each. A ride in a convertible is a must do when visiting Cuba.
By now it was time for a beer to hydrate us, so we started to walk back to our hotel and the shop across the road that sells 1cuc beers. On the walk back, we stopped at the bakery and bought some bread rolls to have for lunch with the butter we bought yesterday and our stash of vegemite. The quest for milk is still alive and unfulfilled at this stage.
A cold drink or two and a semi stale roll satisfied the lunch agenda. The Lemons retired to their room to have a sleep and us 3 went out exploring a different direction, in streets we had not yet walked down. We were rewarded by hidden squares and magnificent buildings and the everyday life of the Havana people. Everyone is friendly and always happy to give a smile and a hello. Sure, they try to steer you to their restaurant and we are constantly offered the services of a taxi, but all in all the Cubans have been very hospitable and I think they have it a lot rougher than we do. The fact that almost everyone is selling stuff literally out their front doors just to make a bit of money or they are paying the fee to the government to have makeshift restaurants in their dining rooms where anyone can come and eat for a cheap price for some income. We were walking along the street and there was an old woman sitting with a cardboard box in front of her with about 6 items on it. I paused to have a quick look and lo and behold she was selling bags of powdered milk. We purchased a bag for 2cuc which was probably double or more than she would charge a local, but how happy were we that we finally found milk!?!
Couple of blocks up we came to the Hotel Raquel, which looked amazing from the outside so we climbed the stairs hoping we could get a look inside. The uniformed door man walked towards us and I thought he was going to advise us it was for guests only. Instead he said, welcome, come in, we have a roof top terrace on the 4th floor you should go up and look at the view and have a cocktail. Which such a warm welcome how could we resist? Well we couldn’t, and next thing we were in the ancient elevator (like the ones you see in old movies) and were pressing the #4 button praying to god the old cables would hold long enough to get us to the top floor for a cocktail.
The view was not spectacular, and the cocktails were expensive at 4cuc, but we had one anyway after the waiter promised they would be very good mojitos or we don’t have to pay for them. Lucky for him they were good and we did pay, after enjoying the rooftop atmosphere for over an hour.
Finally, we rode the elevator back down to the 1st floor (we couldn’t get it to go to the ground floor) and took the stairs down the last flight. A beautiful hotel, way out of our price range, but nice we could still come in an enjoy a little piece of it. We have decided we are going to allow ourselves these little indulgences while in Cuba, because we will probably never come here again.
We continued to walk and came across an undercover market that an English couple who we chatted with on the rooftop had told us about. This place was all the souvenir shops under one roof. We could tell by the line-up of coaches outside this was the place the cruise liners brought their passengers to shop. Walking through here was a bit of a hassle as all the stall holders compete for a sale on anyone passing by. I managed to barter 3 aprons for 10cuc which I was happy with as the best offer I’d had outside was 2 for 10cuc, so we each got one for just over 3cuc each.
Time to start walking back as it was close to 5pm now, and we had agreed on a 6ish dinner. We made it back to the hotel to discover the Lemons had not yet ventured out. We all had a quick rum (except Shawn – can’t seem to convert him) then walked to a place for dinner that we had sussed out yesterday. It was a pizza restaurant and we all had pizza except for Lyn (not a lover of pizza) who had a pork dish. They were ok, nothing special but good for the price. Dinner over, it was time to find the ice cream shop we had indulged in yesterday. We had a vague idea of its location and walked in the general direction. We come to a cross roads and a guy came up to me and said what you looking for? I replied ice cream, he looked at me with puzzled expression. Helados – I said, he understood now, and pointed ah one block down and around the corner. Rumour has it, Cuban love their ice cream!
One scoop in a cone for 1cuc – delicious.
We drank some more rum as we played UNO back at the hotel and then it was time to end another awesome day in Havana!

DAY 94 WEDNESDAY 10TH MAY

Wednesday - Havana

We returned to the same breakfast restaurant as yesterday and it was a bit of a disappointment today. The bacon was cold and the poached eggs, well they were a mess. And we were charged an extra 1cuc for a few more pieces of bread which we weren’t yesterday.
After breakfast, we have another little walk along the waterfront. Again, it was a beautiful sunny day, with a bit of a stiff breeze that was strong enough that we had to carry our straw hats as they kept blowing off. I also had to hold my dress down to avoid any embarrassment.
We returned to the hotel early and Lyn & Dolly went and had a nap while I sat and watched the world go by from our hotel balcony.
It was after five before the Lemons and I headed up to Central Park to find the guy we had spoken to the other day about a private car to our next destination. Of course, he had already gone home, I had taken a photo of him and other touts advised us he left at 5pm. Who would have thought tour touts kept office hours? We just found another guy who after a bit of haggling agreed to get us a car for the same price of 100cuc the first guy had offered us. However, this car is an old American car, a Ford he claims. Just hope it’s big enough for all 5 of us and our luggage. I have serious doubts, but we had little choice but to take his offer. We have arranged to meet at 12 noon tomorrow and if we don’t all fit in, it will be a mad scramble to find alternate transport.
We had happy hour on our balcony before heading out for dinner. Another spot we had found while walking around on a previous day. Menu looked cheap and ok, but of course there was only 2 things listed that were available, shrimps or pork. We all opted for pork and it was an excellent meal for the price of only 3.55cuc each, pork, white rice & salad. The sun set as we finished our meal (we couldn’t see it from our restaurant) and it was dark by the time we had walked back to the Helad-Oro ice cream shop. Our third visit!
We enjoyed a few more drinks as we sat around the dining table at the hotel playing UNO. It seems a little quieter outside tonight.
Tomorrow we move to a new location just 185 km to the south west to a town called Vinales.

Interesting to note over the years I have travelled to many countries (I think the count is over 60!) and this is the first country in the world where I have been where they DO NOT sell coco-cola!

Posted by Cindy Bruin 19:39 Archived in Cuba Tagged cuba havana Comments (1)

2017 MAY - MEXICO

BUSY, STRESSFUL TIME VISITING EMBASSIES in MEXICO CITY

sunny

DAY 85 MONDAY 1ST MAY

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We flew from Guatemala City to Mexico City on a very early flight that departed at 7am. We had to get up at 3.30am to have a little breakfast before the free shuttle to the airport, provided by the hostel.

At the airport tried to stay calm going through the check in, which was all ok with my emergency British passport. It was not until we hit the immigration desk and I was directed to a special counter where some old dude did not speak English but I gathered from his ravings that I needed to pay a fine because I did not have that entry stamp. I tried to explain to him that the computer system was down and I was not able to get a stamp but he did not understand. Luckily for me another younger guy came along who brushed the old guy aside and took me back to the original immigration desk and told her to stamp me out! Phew!

It was a short flight from Guatemala to Mexico City with Interjet who has the bragging rights to the most leg room in their planes. I will vouch for this as I have flown with many assorted airlines and this one definitely had the most leg room I have ever experienced. Didn't see much during the flight but I did catch a photo of a couple of smoking volcanos just before we landed. Coming into land you could see just how big Mexico City is, and the pollution hanging over the top of it's 22 million residents.

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Taxi from the airport to our AIRBNB.

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Today is a public holiday, so could not do anything to get my paperwork started. We found a local supermarket and got some supplies in, and got the washing machine started as we intend to wash everything we own while we are here.

Public holiday in Mexico for Labour Day.

DAY 86 TUESDAY 2ND MAY

Up early and straight to the Australian Embassy for opening time at 8.30am. Completed forms, paid AUD$174.10 and was out of there within an hour. Advised to come back tomorrow morning at 10 am to collect new emergency passport. Phew, that was easy.

As it was close by we decided to go for a walk through the park. Chapultepec, more commonly called the "Bosque de Chapultepec" (Chapultepec Forest) in Mexico City, is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring in total just over 686 hectares (1,695 acres).

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We had the afternoon free so decided to go find the USA Embassy to see if I could get the ball rolling for tomorrow. The Embassy directed us to the Visa Office a few blocks away. There I was advised I needed to fill in an application online, so we found internet café at an Office Depot store. 12 page form filled in, and lodged, then we returned to Visa Office to be told I needed to print out a confirmation letter. Back to Office Depot and print off the confirmation letter. All good, then I had to pay AUD$212.94 visa/admin fee to get the ball rolling. Wow, that was more than I paid for the replacement passport. No pay, no action.

I was advised to come back tomorrow at 12.10pm with my new passport.

I had done as much as I could today, so would continue with it all tomorrow.

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DAY 87 WEDNESDAY 3RD MAY

First up to the Australian Embassy and at exactly 10am I was handed my new emergency passport. Big sigh of relief, this was a good start.
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At my 12.10pm appointment at the US visa office I was advised my form was wrong and I had to go and resubmit a completely new one. Because I had chosen the incorrect lodgement office, it would not be able to be processed here unless I submitted a new form. So back to the Office Depot where I was greeting by very narky staff who were already fed up with yesterdays non Spanish request for internet time and print outs. So I just pushed in like the locals were doing and shoved the money in their faces and proceeded. New form completed, confirmation printed out, I returned to the visa office. They checked my confirmation online and all was good.

Sent to another desk where they took my fingerprints and a digital photo, and advised I had an appointment at the Embassy tomorrow at 8.30am, where the consulate would make the decision to give me a visa or not. And hopefully decide to give it to me the same day as Friday is another public holiday here for Cinco de Mayo.

Lyn & Dolly had been waiting for me in a little eat place across the street. There was a girl in there that helped them out yesterday by letting them use the loo and giving them water while I was tooing and froing with the money purse to the internet café. They wanted to return there to pay her back and we decided to have a sandwich there for lunch.

Nothing more I could do today, so we headed for the Historic Quarter to have a look around. Unfortunately this visit was dominated by the fact I had to find a place to get 5 x 5 visa photos to take to the Embassy tomorrow. Eventually I found a place, but by then we had lost interest in any sight seeing and we caught a taxi back to the apartment.

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DAY 88 THURSDAY 4TH MAY

Showed up to USA Embassy for my 8.30am interview with consulate, me and 400 Mexicans. Took about an hour to get to the window, where 10 minutes later was advised all good, can collect passport with visa at 3pm today. 5x5 passport photo was not needed because of digital photo taken yesterday, Visa people should get their information organised. OMG, the relief I felt was enormous. This meant I would not have to stay longer in Mexico City waiting for the visa, I would be able to fly out to Cuba with Lyn & Dolly on Saturday.

Back at the Embassy at 3pm I collected my new passport containing the USA entry visa. Woo Hoo

We just relaxed for the rest of the day.

DAY 89 FRIDAY 5TH MAY

We have not seen much of Mexico City, as our time has been spent in Embassies and visa offices, so we caught a taxi back into the centre today to have a little look around.

It's a public holiday today Cinco de Mayo and it was pretty busy all around the Zocalo. We walked down the main pedestrian street and it was easy to imagine we were in Europe. Mexico is obviously far more European influenced than any of the other Central American counties we have been too.

We found a nice roof top bar to stop and raise a cold glass of beer in celebration of the success we had the last 3 days. Not bad a new passport and a US visa in 3 days!

We had a walk around and couldn't even find any souvenirs to spend our money on. After walking a few blocks, having a hamburger and chips for lunch we headed home.

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Although it has been good to us, I want to forget Mexico City and the reason we had to come here. I think tonight our thoughts are on our next destination - Cuba.

There is a very good chance we will not have access to the internet while we are in Cuba, so you may not hear from me until we reach Miami on the 27th May.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 06:23 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

2017 APRIL - GUATEMALA

UNFORTUNATELY, A COUNTRY I WILL ALWAYS WANT TO FORGET!

sunny

DAY 80 WEDNESDAY 26TH APRIL

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We broke a new record today as we were out on the street on the way to the bus stop at 7.35am, yes am! We have a long way to travel today so wanted to get an early start. It took just 10 minutes with dragging our luggage to reach the bus that was just about to depart. We had sussed out the streets that were bitumen and not cobblestones to make it a bit easier to wheel our luggage.

First chicken bus Juayua to Sonsonate.

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Great timing and a little help from a local old guy and we were soon on our way on the next chicken bus Sonsonate to the border town of La Hachadura. We had to walk across the border and lucky Dolly had one US$ coin left that needed to be spent so she paid a rickshaw to take her to the El Salvador immigration window and then over the bridge into Guatemala territory. Sadly I could not take a photo as this is not allowed at border crossings.

After crossing the bridge Lyn & I finally caught up to her, but we still had to walk a good 1km or so to the Guatemala immigration window.

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After the Guatemala immigration stamp was given we were soon approached by bus touts to get us on our way. We had no local currency so had to change with the money sharks at the border. I changed just US$20 which the bus tout told us would be enough to get us by bus to Antigua where I had a hotel booked for tonight.

We sat around in the bus waiting for it's departure, it was bloody hot but we were glad there was a bus here waiting and it was an easy transition.
Luckily the bus did not wait to be full before departure and we were soon on our way. Next thing the bus conductor come and asks for 150 quetzals, 3 x 50. Border to Escuintla where we needed to change to another bus. Shit this was different to the price the bus tout had told me and I only had 145 quetzals to give him. He seemed ok with that, but it meant we would have to get some more money at the next bus change.

So we arrive in Escuintla around 2pm, I find an ATM - get mugged by 3 blokes who steal all the money I just withdrew from the ATM, my ATM card, my credit card and worst of all my passport. They gave me a few good kicks to the ribs and a nice bump on my head to go with it. Luckily this was all witnessed by a crowd of about 20 locals who all just stood around, watched and did nothing. Back at the bus stop a little kid told Lyn that he had seen it all and one of the blokes had a gun. I did not see a gun.

We could do nothing here so we boarded the next bus to Antigua. Lucky I had a fist full of money from change I received while purchasing some bottles of water. This was enough for the bus fare.

At the hotel in Antigua the receptionist spoke no English so I google translated to her that I had been robbed and I need someone who speaks English to take me to the police. Jose, a tourist assistant, showed up and was amazing. He let me use his phone to contact the banks to cancel my cards and took us to the police station to file a report. Really this was all we could do. Apparently Escuintla is the most dangerous town in Guatemala, but no one had told us, we did this crossing route on the advice of the guy at the last hostel.

Anyway the crunch came when I was told there was no Australian Embassy in Guatemala for me to get a new passpost, the closest is in Mexico City, Mexico. Which means I have to go to the British Embassy in Guatemala City to get an emergency passport that will let me travel to Mexico City and then go to the Australia Embassy and get a new passport.

I'm feeling sad, sore and stupid.

DAY 81 THURSDAY 27TH APRIL

Slept about 8 minutes in total last night. Great, the British Embassy is closed today, so can do nothing!

Tried to have a normal day in Antigua but it's not happening. Such a shame because I think this is the most beautiful town we have visited in Central America, but I can't get my head around anything. I have a deep hatred for Guatemala, when I shouldn't as the whole country is not responsible for the 3 arseholes that attacked me.

Also this is a pain in the bum for my travel companions Lyn & Dolly. Not sure what we are going to do yet, only thing for certain is I need to get the emergency travel documents from the British Embassy here and get to Mexico City asap. I have spoken to them there and they said a replacement passport will take up to 3 weeks to process as they are only produced in Australia and would need to be sent over. Fuck!

I'm feeling pretty low as you can imagine.

We moved to a cheaper hostel this morning. Were walking around the block from our hotel to take a look at a place we saw online when we were approached by Marco (tout) who took us to Hostel Imperial. Triple room, much bigger than the one we had last night, ensuite and a lot cheaper. Not sure how long we are going to be here.

After we transferred our luggage over to our new digs, we did a little walk around the town and found 'The Londoner' bar. Sign on the wall offering pie and mash and gravy won us over instantly, especially Dolly who had the biggest food smile on her face that I had seen all trip.

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I have arranged, via Marco, to hire a taxi for tomorrow to take us into Guatemala City to the British Embassy and wait around to take us back. Today I had new passport photos taken, and printed out the application form to fill in and take.
Our original itinerary has us flying from Guatemala City to Cuba via Mexico City on May the 6th so I am hoping I can change the date of the first leg of this flight to use to get to Mexico City.

Will see what happens tomorrow.

DAY 82 FRIDAY 28TH APRIL

The British Embassy opens at 7.30am and although the City is less than 30km from Antigua we are advised to leave at 4.30am due to traffic. If we got caught in the morning rush hour traffic that starts at 5am heading into the city it would take us 3-4 hours! So we left at 4.30 and arrived at the Embassy at 5.15, so then we waited. 7.28am we entered the building and rode the elevator up to the 7th floor. Luckily the Australian Embassy in Mexico City had already contacted the British Embassy so they knew my story, also Jose the Tourist Assistant had phoned them to make an appointment for me also.

So forms filled out and flight booked for Monday 1st, 4 hours later I had my emergency passport in hand. Turns out I could not change the flight I already had and needed to have a flight booked before they would issue the emergency passport as it is valid for only one day.

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Next up I had to go to the immigration department as I needed to get another entry stamp so that I would be able to exit Guatemala. So fucking ridiculous. The taxi driver was so good, he had been waiting since 5.15am and it was now after 11. I then told him I needed to go across town to this office for the stamp, he agreed without any hesitation. I said I would pay him more which was only fair.

As expected 45 minutes later at the immigration office it was packed. No idea where to go I stood in a line for only 10 minutes before directed to the correct floor where I stood in line for another 30 minutes before getting to the counter to be advised they only do these stamps before 12 noon, come back on Tuesday 2nd as Monday is a holiday. Long story short, I advised I had to get a stamp today as flight out on Monday, was advised bad luck, just have to buy another flight and another passport valid for another day. After me yelling to her 'this fucking passport just cost me 100 gpb' she then had the gall to tell me that their computer system was down anyway and they could not see the details of my entry into the country so goodbye. I was there almost 3 hours.

In the taxi on the way back to Antigua I phoned Jose again and he said don't worry about it, just go to airport for flight on Monday and fight it out there. I seem to be constantly in tears. So, I am off alone to Mexico City on Monday to try and get new passport and I need to apply for a visa for entry into the USA. I need to do this at the USA Embassy in Mexico City also. This is all going to take time and I will catch up the Lyn and Dolly somewhere in Cuba as they will just fly as scheduled.

Back in Antigua I paid of the taxi driver and thanked him profusely, he had aided above and beyond, acting as translator for me at the immigration office also.

Trying to salvage the day, we headed back to The Londoner pub for the advertised fish and chips, which turned out to be pretty ordinary. Lyn ended up heading home early as she is getting the flu.

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Dolly & I had another stroll around town, this place really is beautiful. The buildings that have been renovated and turned into expensive shops cafes and hotels are just amazing. We walked through several of them with no worries, the managers happy for us to have a wonder around. Even the shops, cafes & restaurants are all lovely. And the town is clean. There are still a lot of street vendors but they seem very mild and not so pushing and in your face. Yes under different circumstances I would say this was one of my favourite places.

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DAY 83 SATURDAY 29TH APRIL

==HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME==

No one feels like celebrating, least of all me.

Dolly & I went out for a walk around town in the morning, had my birthday breakfast on the front steps of someone's house, but my mid morning she needed to stay close to a toilet (if you know what I mean). Lyn is sick with flu and spent the day in bed.

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I went out again for a stroll after dark to take a few photos and to find some food. Ended up with pizza.

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Did get some great pressies, gecko from Lyn and a pinnie from Dolly. Best present of all was that they both said they would fly to Mexico City with me on Monday 1st May!

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DAY 84 SUNDAY 30TH APRIL

Time to pack up bags again ready for this afternoons shuttle to our hostel by the airport. Our flight to Mexico is at 6.45 am tomorrow morning so it makes more sense to stay close to the airport for such an early flight.

Last minute shopping at the market. I needed a new pair of sunglasses as realized I lost mine in the shuffle a few days ago.

Our shuttle collected us as 3pm but did not leave Antigua until 4 after doing laps of the town picking up other passengers. At least we were first on and got good seats.

So there you go, the last 5 days have been pretty shitty for me and co. Hopefully everything will go to plan swiftly in Mexico City without any hassles.

Wish us luck!

Posted by Cindy Bruin 20:44 Archived in Guatemala Comments (7)

2017 APRIL - EL SALVADOR - RUTA DE LAS FLORES LAST DAY

CANOPY TOUR BEFORE WE DEPART FOR GUATEMALA

sunny 26 °C

DAY 79 TUESDAY 25TH APRIL

ANZAC DAY - LEST WE FORGET.

Up earlish, had breakfast and then Lyn & I headed to the bus stop. We caught a chicken bus US$0.50 each to the village of Apaneca to do a spot of zip lining. We were early, by just under an hour but as we were the only ones booked to go in this time slot they took our money US$35 each, geared us up and loaded us into the back of a small truck, which had seats.

We drove up a nearby mountain for about 20 minutes. The dirt road way rough and steep and I was glad we did not have to walk up as the truck was struggling also. First photo was taken from a view point overlooking the village and surrounding cloud forest, then we had to climb close to 100 dirt steps to reach the first zip line. Not necessarily pros just yet, but as we have now done this a few times in various countries we sort of know what to expect and are not completely overtaken by fear.

The first 3 lines were a sort of practice run and I guess it shows the guides how experienced the rider is or how they react. I say guides because they numbered 8 plus the truck driver = 9! Before the start we were given a short safety talk that was translated to us by one of the guides that spoke very good English.

Zip lining is always great fun and although the platforms were not super high up in the trees, we did cross over a very high valley 3 times which was very high and gave us fantastic views.

We caught a couple of drops of rain but not enough to made any difference. Back at the office they showed us the photos one of our guides had taken as we had opted to purchase these instead of taking my camera and having to worry about it. For just US$10 we got 16 photos that they sent to my facebook page and we also received a dvd with the photos on. Fun time.

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Lyn & I walked back to the main street to wait for the bus and had to shelter under a shop awning as it had started to rain again a little heavier this time. 10 minutes and it was all over again and the road did not even look wet. Eventually a chicken bus came round and we flagged it down and were charged US$0.40c each for the return journey. Sometimes I think the driver or conductor is just too lazy to give us change, and we do not know the correct price of the fares. However they are very cheap even at the inflated gringo price.

Back at the hostel where Dolly was waiting for our return, we had a cup of tea/coffee then headed out to find some lunch. There were a lot of places closed so we had great difficulty in finding anywhere to eat. Settled for a pupusa stand and had 2 for US$1. Dolly not so impressed with our choice.

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Back at the hostel again and we had arranged for a guide to come and escort us to the local waterfalls. We had been advised that it was not particularly safe to go alone and there was a notice up in the hostel about some tourists who had gone alone and been robbed. Not sure if this was a tactic to hire a guide but at US$2 each it did not seem worth the chance. And we did not really know exactly the way anyway. So we set off from the hostel at about 3.30pm with the worlds shortest guide who did not speak a word of English and the 2 hostel dogs in tow.

It was supposed to be just a short distance but after about 25 minutes of walking and the track started to get very steep as it descended into a deep valley and Dolly decided she was not going to go any further in fear that she would not be able to back in back up the track. Our guide was not happy about leaving her on her own but had little choice but to continue on with Lyn & I. Unknown to us the guide had telephoned on his mobile to his brother who was nearby to come directly and look after Dolly. Of course none of this could be relayed to us due to the language barrier. Dolly informed us later that she got a hell of a fright when this bloke turned up carrying a machete and started to loiter around her after explaining himself in Spanish which of course she did not understand. He obviously got the vibe and stood watching her from a distance. It was not until we returned with the guide and he said it was his brother William that we understood what he had done.

Anyway Lyn & I continued on to the waterfalls and braved the very cold water for a cooling off dip. Yes it was fresh, but not unbearably so. It was a bit of a hike back up the hill, followed by the walk back into town. We were back at the hostel about 5.30pm, so about 2 hours later. We ended up giving the guide US$10 for his trouble and patience and for the fact that he had called his brother to watch out for Dolly.

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So it was a full day today, and we decided to go out for dinner as it was our last night in El Salvador as well. We went to one of the poshest restaurants in town and had a really nice meal. Probably the most flash restaurant we have been to all trip, and the bill for our 3 meals and beers came to just US$26.

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Tomorrow we have another chicken bus day as we depart El Salvador and move on into Guatemala.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 14:05 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

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