A Travellerspoint blog

June 2017

2017 MAY - USA NEW ORLEANS

AN EASY WEEK IN THE BIG EASY.

rain

==I HAVE SOME FREE TIME ON MY HANDS SO DOING A QUICK CATCHUP==.

DAY 115 WEDNESDAY 31ST MAY

Today we departed Miami and did the short flight to New Orleans. Although this is just a 2 hour flight it still seemed to take the whole day to travel the distance.

We had to drag our luggage a couple of blocks from the hotel to the airport bus stop and waited about 30 minutes for a bus to come. Although it takes a little longer its the cheapest way to get to the airport at less than US$2 each.

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We had a feed of KFC at the Miami airport which was enough to feed us a few more meals during the following days (servings are huge in the USA) and then it was just waiting time for our flight.

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The New Orleans airport shuttle bus took us to the beginning of the French Quarter where we thought we would be able to get another bus closer to where our hostel was. It was a hot day and by the time we walked a few blocks with our luggage trying to work out where to get the next bus, I suggested we just get a taxi and be done with it. It was not far so surely could not cost very much. It cost US$15 for a 3 minute ride and although we complained about the cost - it was actually worth it, being dropped right outside the door of Madame Isabella House Hostel. This is going to be our home for the next week. And quite an expensive home it is at US$156 per night for a triple private room. But hey, this is New Orleans and we are one block from the French Quarter. I had investigated extensively back at home and this was our best/cheapest option. Free breakfast included, and as we learned throughout the week there were a few other freebee's too that eased the price a little.

We were shown to our room which was rather small with one double bed and one single bed and the room had its own ensuite. It was Lyn's turn for the single bed so Dolly and I had to share the double bed and unfortunately it turned out to be the worst bed I have slept in all trip. Just crap!

Our first bonus was delivered to us straight away when we were advised there was free dinner at the hostel tonight - just because. This we welcomed as no one felt like going outside in search of food after a full days travel. The jambalaya (which consists of meat and vegetables mixed with rice) was hot & yummy and tasted even better cause it was a free meal.

Tomorrow we will go out and explore.

DAY 116 THURSDAY 1ST JUNE

After our free breakfast of cereal, toast, tea & coffee we headed out into a sunny day to take a walk around the French Quarter.
This is our hostel:
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The Esplande was the street that we had to cross to enter the French Quarter. New Orleans was full of these magnificent huge trees covered in Spanish Moss, just beautiful.

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New Orleans is of course a tourist town which is evident by all the touristy souvenir shops.
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I remembered a movie I had seen a little while ago that made mention of a famous café in New Orleans which served a famous French pastry, so the main objective today was to find this place. And find it we did, as did 100's of others. Café Du Monde.

History
The Original Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. The Cafe is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It closes only on Christmas Day and on the day an occasional Hurricane passes too close to New Orleans.
The Original Cafe Du Monde is a traditional coffee shop. Its menu consists of dark roasted Coffee and Chicory, Beignets, White and Chocolate Milk, and fresh squeezed Orange Juice. The coffee is served Black or Au Lait. Au Lait means that it is mixed half and half with hot milk. Beignets are square French -style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar. In 1988 Iced Coffee was introduced to the cafe. Soft drinks also made their debut that year.

Of course we had to try the famous Beignets - which were heavenly - and are very similar to a Dutch treat Olie Bollen (Oily Balls) that we were already familiar with.

Beignets
Beignets were also brought to Louisiana by the Acadians. These were fried fritters, sometimes filled with fruit. Today, the beignet is a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar. They are served in orders of three.

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Having enjoyed our delicious indulgence we found a supermarket to purchase supplies for dinner back at the hostel.

Weather is beautiful here is New Orleans. You may all be surprised these blogs are not full of colourful drink photos from the streets of New Orleans. To tell the truth we are still in shock by the prices of bar/pub drinks and cannot bring ourselves to pay the price as such.

DAY 117 FRIDAY 2ND JUNE

Today we did a free (tips only) walking tour. These walking tours are great and we have done them in many places, this one was no exception, it was lead by a lovely lady who was born and bred in New Orleans and was very knowledgeable. During the 2-3 hour walk she gave us many facts and figures regarding history etc which of course is very interesting at the time but is never retained.

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By pure coincidence, (yeah right!) after the walking tour we managed to find ourselves outside the Café Du Monde, so when in Rome/New Orleans ...

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DAY 118 SATURDAY 3RD JUNE

Rained all day, so we had a total chill out day in the hostel doing absolutely nothing.

DAY 119 SUNDAY 4TH JUNE

Sun came out again today so we headed out to ride the cable cars. We purchased a day pass that would let us hop on and off as we liked.

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We walked down by the Mississippi River, just as a paddle boat cruised past. We had intentions of going for a cruise sometime this week, but just ran out of time.

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In the park down by the river there was an Oyster Festival and we arrived just in time to watch the World Oyster Eating Competition. The tiny lady who won it ate 33 dozen oysters in allowed 5 minutes. OMG! that was incredible.

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We rode another cable car that took us to a shopping centre where low and behold there was another Café Du Monde.

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Fountain at Plaza de Espana.
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DAY 120 MONDAY 5TH JUNE

We decided to hire a car for a couple of days so we could get around outside of New Orleans. The intention was to visit the Plantation Houses but we never actually made it to any of them due to bad weather and running out of time.

Today we (Lyn drove) went to Avery Island to the Tabasco Sauce factory.

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Unfortunately, it poured down with rain for almost all of the drive out there. Not just a spatter, but heavy drenching rain. Luckily when we finally arrived at the Tabasco place the rain had eased a little so we could walk around the complex with our rain gear, but we were not able to tour the gardens or the rest of the island which is a wildlife/bird reserve.

Tabasco sauce is a brand of hot sauce made exclusively from tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt. It is produced by McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana. Although the name comes from the Mexican state of Tabasco, the sauce is an American product produced by McIlhenny Company.

There was a walk through museum telling the history of the famous sauce, which by the way is still owned and operated by the original family. Also this is the only place in the world where it is produced and bottled.

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Very stylish in our Ikea rain gear. We then did a self guided tour that explained the growing of the chillies and the mixing processes etc. We got to peek inside one of the hold sheds where there were 100's of barrels stacked to the rafters. The recipe requires the mixture to sit and age for 3 years in these barrels.

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Barrels of Tabasco aging for 3 years before bottling.

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Another magnificent tree.

At the end there was a tasting room where we were able to taste all of the sauces they produce. There was also chillie dish (with minced meat) that we were able to taste test and it was so yummy we headed over to the restaurant to buy a bowl to have for our late lunch. But, alas, we were too late and the kitchen was closed so we missed out. At the tasting we were also able to try chilly ice cream and chilly soda. Honestly, these guys will add there product to anything so there is a product to please everyone.

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Lifetime supply of sauces.
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There was even a free gift at the end - a jar of chilly green beans - which we donated to Benny a guy working at the hostel.

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DAY 121 TUESDAY 6TH JUNE

We had the hire car for another day but the weather was crap so we decided not to go to the Plantation houses in the shit weather, instead just a drive down the peninsula to kill time. Fuel is so cheap here in the USA that it doesn't matter if you just drive around. Just as well as that is what ended up happening, I think we probably went the longest way around to get to where we intended to go. But like I said it didn't matter and the weather was pretty shitty so we would have just spent another day sitting in the hostel.

During the drive we happened across a Goodwill shop (op shop/charity shop) and we were able to pick up a few items that we wanted to get for our trip to Iceland later in our travels. ie Warmer clothing.

We also stopped at a supermarket to buy some picnic lunch supplies. I found some crawfish (aka yabbies/redclaw) for us to try. These were just US$2 for a small tray which was way cheaper than the restaurants in New Orleans were offering them for.
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Lunch stop ended up just on the side of the road as we could not find any picnic / rest stop places.

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With still hours of daylight and lots of fuel left we decided to take a drive over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, sometimes only the Causeway, is a causeway composed of two parallel bridges crossing Lake Pontchartrain in southern Louisiana, United States. The longer of the two bridges is 23.83 miles (38.35 km) long. The southern terminus of the Causeway is in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. The northern terminus is at Mandeville, Louisiana.

Since 1969, it was listed by Guinness World Records as the longest bridge over water in the world; in 2011 in response to the opening of the allegedly longer Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in China, Guinness created two categories for bridges over water: continuous and aggregate lengths over water. Lake Pontchartrain Causeway then became the longest bridge over water (continuous)[3] while Jiaozhou Bay Bridge the longest bridge over water (aggregate).

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Funny part was the causeway is a toll road from the North to the South only and as we had travelled from the South to the North we did not have to pay a toll. However, when we wanted to go back we realized between the 3 of us we did not have enough cash for the US$5 toll to return on the causeway. We had to drive back to New Orleans by the road around the lake.

Over the 2 days that we had the hire car we covered 612miles = 985 km for US$26.08 total for fuel.

We must have broken some record somewhere as being the only tourists ever to have visited New Orleans for a full week and never bought a drink in any of the bars!

Posted by Cindy Bruin 12:30 Archived in USA Tagged new orleans tabasco Comments (2)

2017 MAY & JUNE - U.S.A. MIAMI

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THE USA WOULD BE A SUCH CULTURE SHOCK!

sunny

I have been a little slack with the blogs since we arrived in the USA, due to many reasons which I'm sure you are not really interested in.
I am going to try and do a bit of a catch up now that I have some free time while spending time with Dolly's rellies and our travelling has slowed down a little.

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DAY 112 SUNDAY 28TH MAY

WOW, how much of a culture shock was it arriving in Miami after being in the quite conservative Central America & Cuba. We are in Miami for Memorial long weekend and the freaks have come out to play. The sights on the streets of South Beach are boggling to say the very least. It doesn't matter what size you are, as it seems totally acceptable to walk the streets in your string bikini anytime day or night. And when I say size doesn't matter, I mean it. If you are a size 26 (XXXXXXXXL) and are happy to wear a size 12 bikini then you will blend in quite well with the pedestrian traffic. Although, I must say we only witnessed females in this state of undress. The men by their sides were fully clothed, except they all do like to wear their jeans with the belt sitting just under their arse cheeks, revealing full view of their designer underwear - not a good look. But hey good on them, and they strutted around the place like they were beauty queens, if you have the guts why not! Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of these sights as we were too gob smacked.

Not only were the fashions a culture shock for us, but after travelling through CM, the prices of food and drink in the US seem to be over the top. We were used to paying US$1-1.50 maybe up to US$2 for a beer and now the price of a beer was like US$6-7 & 8! Cocktails ran from US$15 to $60, yes, I'm serious US$60 for one drink. Considering the price of alcohol is pretty cheap here in the US there was just no rhyme or reason why the price of cocktails is sooo over the top. But this is Miami!

So, our hotel was much nicer than I expected. We had 3 single beds so that was a bit of treat also. Again the price is a shock of the room compared to what we have been paying the last 4 months is a little hard to get used to, but it will get easier the longer we stay in the US and get used to the prices here.

We have just 3 days / 4 nights here in Miami and I have pre-booked some day tours to do while we are here.

Today we did a 90 minute open top bus tour and 90 minute boat tour. Although these were only actually 3 hours in total, it took the whole day to do them. We were collected at the hotel at 9.45am and it was after 4pm when we finally walked back in the front door of the hotel.

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Due to road closures in South Beach because of the long weekend the bus tour was changed slightly and we were driven through Winwood - a suburb where graffiti is legal and most of the building walls are covered with beautiful pictures.

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We had a stop in Little Havana which because we had just come from Cuba knew it was nothing like the real Havana. We did learn however that 75% of residents in Miami are Cuban, and going by the neighbour hoods we drove through the Cubans that live here are the rich ones who managed to get out of their home country.

Lunch stop before we continued on the second half of the tour, which was a boat tour of the rich and famous. I tell you there is a LOT of money in Miami!

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The weather was beautiful, hot and sunny.

Just after dark we went for a short walk to South Beach, and obviously the crowds had gone home.

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DAY 113 MONDAY 29TH MAY

Happy Birthday O!

Today our tour was a bus ride down the Florida Keys where we spent a very hot day in Key West. We were collected at 7.45am and returned after 8.50pm so it was a full and exhausting day, even though most of it was spent sitting in a coach.

I was all excited about tasting a key lime pie, but when we saw them in a bakery and were advised the price was US$36 I quickly lost my appetite for the overpriced dessert.

It was very hot as we walked around, but the town beach still did not look good enough to entice us in. After photos at the most southern point where if we looked hard enough we would be able to see Cuba which was just 90 miles across the water.

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DAY 114 TUESDAY 30TH MAY

Our tour today was a trip to a gator park and a short ride on an airboat through the everglades. It was a bit disappointing as the boat was much larger than I imaged and the ride was only about 20 minutes. However, we did see an alligator in the wild and the boat pilot was a bit of a hoon and did spin the airboat out sideways a couple of times.

After the short everglades experience there was a short gator show with a very enthusiastic ranger, who was very paranoid about anyone coming within 3 feet of the fenced off gators.

For a couple of extra dollars we got to hold a baby gator, with it's mouth taped up. It was not a snake but still a bit cool.

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Later in the day we went for a walk along the famous Ocean Drive, which is lined with overpriced restaurants and bars, which are in Art Deco Style buildings. This street reminded me of Napier in New Zealand which is also full of art deco buildings, but I must say Napier is not so tacky as Ocean Drive.
Along here the drinks were way over our price range so we just walked the length of the street, saw a few 'beautiful people' and a couple of fancy cars and then headed back to our hotel stopping at Subway for dinner. Anyone who knows me well enough would know I would usually boycott Subway at all costs, but it seems this is the only place we can afford to eat at in South Beach, so a crappy sandwich is a crappy sandwich.

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So that was our few days in Miami. Weather was hot and sunny. Tomorrow we fly to New Orleans.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 16:43 Archived in USA Tagged new orleans miami Comments (1)

2017 MAY - CUBA - SANTA CLARA

OUR LAST PIT STOP BEFORE DEPARTING CUBA

sunny

DAY 109 THURSDAY 25TH MAY

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TRINIDAD TO SANTA CLARA

This morning we decided not to have breakfast at the casa, instead we wanted to have brunch at the Taverna across the road. The food there has been so good we wanted one last splurge. We waited until about 10.30 to head out only to be told that they were closed! What the??? Supposed to be 24 hours, but some guy was giving the tables a good cleaning so unfortunately, we could not have our planned brunch. Still hungry we went looking for somewhere else to have breakfast. Of course, we could find nothing open but were lucky enough to spot a guy on the street selling ham rolls. He had a leg of pork that he was cutting ham straight off the bone. 1 cuc each was our price, although I know for a fact the locals only pay a fraction of this price, but that’s how it is. It was still good value for us at 1cuc.

We ate them while slowly walking back to the casa. A taxi was due to pick us up at 12 so we wanted to be ready in time for that. We were actually ready ahead of schedule for a change and when the car showed at just before 12 we were set to go. Iris had come up to say goodbye and to collect our payment for the last 4 nights & breaky.

It’s only about 88km from Trinidad to Santa Clara (60 cuc private car) and I had read this is the nicest drive anywhere in Cuba. The sky was overcast when as we left Trinidad and we drove through just a sprinkling of rain on the way. The roads were through the hills which were green and lush looking, yes this was the nicest scenery we had driven through so far.

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The driver was kind enough to stop just a little way outside Trinidad so I could get out and take a photo of the slave tower, before we continued on our way.

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Almost instantly as we entered Santa Clara Provence the lush green rolling hills turned into, brown dry barren hills. It was uncanny the instant change in landscape.

Santa Clara looks like no other town in Cuba that we have been to. Hardly any tourists here, it’s a University town. Main reason for us being here is that we are flying out of the Santa Clara airport in few days, so no other plans really.

Our Hostal Vista Park (35cuc per night) is right on the central park, so a good location and we have 3 separate beds! It’s very hot here, not a skerrick of a sea breeze being so far inland. Perhaps that is why the landscape looked so dry and barren. After checking we stayed indoors and relaxed in our room until about 5.30 pm when it was a little cooler and we went out for stroll around. Like I said not much to see here, and we noticed everything is quoted in CUP (which is the local currency, which we don’t have) this is much different to the other towns we have visited.

Earlier on when I went up to the roof top to check out the view, I spied a hotel next door with a big inground pool. We might be paying a visit to this hotel tomorrow to see how much they charge to use the pool, we have a whole 2 days to kill.

We ate dinner in the casa, for 10 cuc each. I had pork and L & D both had chicken. The soup we had here is by far the best tasting soup we have had all trip! As usual there was too much food served to us, but we managed to force down the 3 scoops of ice cream they served us to finish the meal.

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DAY 110 FRIDAY 26TH MAY

SANTA CLARA

We had breakfast at the casa and quite frankly I am so over fruit & eggs and crappy coffee! But there is even less choice in this town than we have had in others. Not any tourists here, suppose it’s because there is not much to see or do here.

And it’s hot, very hot. We spent most of the day sitting in our air con room just biding time really. Only reason we are in Santa Clara is because our flight it out of here, could have easily just done one night or even just come from somewhere else as out flight is not until 6.24pm tomorrow night. But I guess this gives us some relaxing time before we hit Miami where we have a full 4-day itinerary already booked.

We did venture out of our room late afternoon when it was a little cooler. We walked to the only sight of note in Santa Clara the Che memorial. It was about 2km up a busy road, but we needed to give our legs a stretch and breath in some unfiltered air.

The monument is a giant statue of the man himself Che Guevara, and I’m afraid to say the artist commissioned to make the statue, did not, in my opinion do a very good job. A statue of a man with one of the most famous faces in the world would be a big challenge I guess, but this looks more like a statue of one of the characters in the Plant of the Apes. You know the old blonde one; Julius I think his name was. But, yes, just my opinion, but take a look at the photos below and decide for yourself.

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Just a block from the memorial was a local roadside bar, so we rewarded ourselves with a cold beer before walking the 2km back to our aircon room.

Dinner again at the casa, food was good but again a change is needed.

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DAY 111 SATURDAY 27TH MAY

SANTA CLARA TO MIAMI

Our last day in Cuba! Our last breakfast in the casa was of course the same, same fruit and eggs and crappy coffee.

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Kids in the square were having rides in the back of carts being towed by goats.

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Our flight is not until 6.24pm but when we asked the casa host to phone and check the time he advised us check-in was at 2pm at the airport. No idea if the flight time has changed or if we have to check in 4 hours in advance, either way waiting at the airport or waiting here at the casa makes no difference to us.

We went to the ATM for the last time to withdraw enough Cuban cash to pay the casa and for a taxi to the airport. We have just 10 cuc left to buy a drink or something at the airport.

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Our host booked the taxi and advised it was an old American car – grande! And yes a big old bomb turned up and drove us the 30 minutes to the airport. Quite an apt way to exit Cuba!

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We arrived at the airport very early and had to wait an hour before we could check in, turns out the flight time had not changed. Finally we were able to get rid of our luggage, get a stamp out of Cuba from immigration who checked our visa for the USA and we went to the departure lounge to wait our flight.

We had 10 cuc left over which was not enough for a drink for the 3 of us at the airport so we decided to blow the money on 3 hip flask size bottles of rum which was more than double the price of what we could have paid for them in a shop outside the airport, but here they were a 'special' duty free price. Don't understand how the duty free price is more than the shop price, but there it is.

It was still hot as hell as when we walked across the tarmac to board the plane. Thanks Cuba, we had an awesome time!

===END OF LATIN AMERICA===

Firstly, I want to say I am looking forward to travelling in a country where the first language is English. Not that language or lack of local language is usually a problem for us when travelling, but after so many months it will be nice to just be able to ask for something without having to do some kind of mime or sign language to describe what we want.

I must admit I have enjoyed the last 3 weeks in Cuba, much more that the 3 months we travelled in Central America. Not that our experience in Central America was bad (except for a few unfortunate events) but it just did not have the ‘WOW’ factor that I thought it might. No way do I regret any of our travel through Latin America, but I’m also not quick to add it to my list of places to return to.

Besides a few extraordinary places that stood out ie starfish beach in Bocas, seeing a sloth on the side of the road & our jungle experience in Nicaragua, I’d say the whole adventure lacked something.

Food was for the most boring and monotonous, although we never went hungry. And I have to admit we enjoyed many a beer and rum along the way. Scenery was fabulous in some places and nothing in a lot of others. Beaches were mostly crap, but the rest of the world has a lot to live up to as we spoilt by Australian beaches. One thing, beside the arseholes who mugged me, the people in all these countries overall where really lovely and generous with their patience. Most going out of their way to help and assist us when most of the time they had no idea what we were saying or wanted. Who comes to Latin America with absolutely no Spanish at all? Sure, we were probably ripped off on heaps of occasions, but such is life. I detest the 2-tiered payment system, where there is one price for locals and triple the price for tourists but what can we do? Live with it or not come, or learn the local language enough to be able to pay the local prices.

Cuba has been a lot of fun. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting here, but it sure as hell makes you realize how lucky we are at home. Next time I walk into a simple supermarket with selves packed to the rafters I hope I take a second to remember what the people here in Cuba don’t have. And the fact we have such a variety of food and everything on hand, a real eye opener.

I am so glad we did Cuba after Central America and not before as I would have been even more disappointed in the other countries.

So that is the end of this phase of our travels. Fingers crossed I have no problems getting into the USA with my temporary passport and very expensive US visa.

ADIOS CUBA, YANKYLAND HERE WE COME!

Posted by Cindy Bruin 22:37 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

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