Christmas in Cuba.

(Hit the title link above to see the whole story) Well we did it.   Christmas in Cuba.  Jan and I went December 23 – January 2.   Our eldest, Catherine – met us in Toronto on the flights.  

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   We spent the first few nights in a part of Havana called Vedado, a 10 minute cab ride from the Old Havana area.  We stayed at a Casa Particulares, a home that was legally a B and B.  It was a very sparse but clean and comfy home.  Estelle was a great hostess and provided a yummy breakfast.  She knew some English.   Her home was built in the 40’s.   We had Xmas morning here.  It was a pleasant end of town.  We strolled a lot and did restaurants,  all the usual stuff.  We really enjoyed the locals.  They loved to practice their English on us and eventually got around to asking us if we had any extra pesos.  It was common for this to happen.

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Vinales - Home Sweet Home

We then took a bus to the small town of Vinales, about three hours away.  Internet?  Yeah right.   Well, in one building they had it but it took too long so didn’t bother with it much.  Our hostess Gloria was a sweetheart.  I smoked a cigar on her roof while she made us supper. We ate lobster every night and she did a fantastic job with hearty, tasty meals!  Oh – we weren’t supposed to tell anyone it was lobster.  It was illegal for her to offer lobster.  She told us if anyone asked  – “chicken”!

When turned on, this doo hickey heated the shower water. We actually saw sparks!

She had a real enterprise happening with room for a few families.  We loved meeting a  family from France and enjoyed great conversation over meals.  The shower water was heated with a scary looking electrical device you flipped on while standing in the water.  Bedding was sparse but we sufficed.

We got hitched up with a local who took us for a day trip walk.  Little did we know it was 6 km’s to the caves, then 6 k’s back!   A tiring but cool day.   We hiked through tobacco farms and enjoyed some sugar cane rum and a freshly made cigar.

A local farmer rolled and showed us how to properly smoke a cigar. Then sold us a few.

The tobacco farmers had  a crank device they put sugar cane through to get the liquid out,  mixed some rum in  then offered us some in metal cups.  All this in a little shed in the field near some small mountains.   After we drank and enjoyed we realized they just put the cups down for the next gang of folks who wandered by, and let them sip from the same cups, too!   No running water here!

The shed where we enjoyed rum and sugar cane.

We hiked for a full day – 5 hours. After a few days here we hopped on the bus again and this time stayed in Old Havana.  We didn’t have lodging so we splurged and stayed by the town centre square.  A very chaotic, loud area.  We loved it.  The hotel was called “Ingleterra” and featured tall, tall ceilings, every room was dark.  Electricity must be expensive.

In the Central Park across from Ingleterra Hotel

We loved Havana,  our room over-looked the central square.  It was a block from the Capital buildings where a cabbie said “Look”, and there was Raul, Fidel’s brother.  He was in a motorcade so we think we saw him in a black shiny car.   We did some supper meals at “Paladares”.  These are legal restaurants privately run, usually in an old house.  Only three or four tables, by law!  It was fun.   We poked around Old Havana and shopped a bit for some local painted art, and a few bits of clothing.  It seems in most restaurants a band of 3 or 4 musicians play.   Great music.   We usually gave them a few pesos when they came to the table.

After a year in Brazil Catherine speaks excellent Portuguese, which is very similar to Spanish.   It was invaluable to have Catherine speak the local language.  It also made for two damned proud parents to see their daughter speak a different language.

One evening two guys approached us as we walked through a residential area.  It was dark and quiet.  These 2 fellows spoke pretty good English.  They asked us what we were doing, where we were going, etc.   They invited us to an Afro Cuban music event.   We spoke for a while, then went for Xmas supper at a great restaurant after saying good-bye to these inquisitive locals.  After supper we headed for the Afro Cuban night.  It was sold out – but we found our pals and went for drinks nearby.  Here we listened about their life in Cuba.  Very interesting to say the least.  We bought them a cocktail and shared a few stories about our respective home countries, and listened to their desires for a bit more freedom.  When we had to go they didn’t mind asking if I could buy another drink for them.  Quite common for this to happen.  “Can you buy us a drink or would you give us a few pesos?”   This time I said no and away we went.

Colorful, cool cars. Old Havana

After Old Havana  we hopped on the bus again for Varedero.  Our last stay was an all-inclusive.  The hotel was a let down but the beach and weather made up for it.   Two of three nights we went out for supper for a nice change and “real” wine.

We bought a painting in this shop. Young people ran it.

We read once if you go to Cuba and stay at Varedero,  you may as well just go to Mexico.  Varedero was nothing like the rest of Cuba.   Much more sanitary and orderly.  English spoken  everywhere.   The beach, though was fantastic and the water was clear and warm.  The food was fair at best.  The room was – well – low-budget.  Oh well.   We met up with a gal named Jane from Denmark who was on her own.  We enjoyed chatting with her about life there and her work with CARE in Denmark.   After Catie left (a day before us) we invited her for supper with us in a nearby restaurant Jan and I found.   We had Pizza (impossible to get at the hotel, or Havana for that matter) and GREAT wine.  Jane almost passed out when she tasted the first good wine since she left Denmark.   A nice evening.  Once again it is the people you meet while traveling that makes it memorable.

The weather was everything from quite cold (see photo on roof smoking our cigar) to quite hot at the beach.

A great pool at the all inclusive. Sunny and hot.

So after 10 or 11 nights we flew home via Toronto and Calgary.  As always you wonder when you leave “Would we do this country again?”.  We almost always say “no” only because there are so many places to visit!  Cuba is fascinating, though.  Annoying things like being unable to use credit cards,  wondering if you should pack toilet paper (yes, always) and wondering what you’ll find on the plate at supper time can be over-looked when you realize what a unique place this is.

We loved being with daughter Catherine,  meeting with the locals,  and experiencing a completely different culture and society.  We won’t forget our Christmas in Cuba.

Notes :

  • In some towns we found ATM machines and used them.  Not sure on fees or the exchange rates.
  • Americans couldn’t use their monies, nor ATM’s,  so many carried Canadian cash.    One said he brought $2000 CDN with him.
  • We bumped into a few Americans for sure.
  • We never drank the tap water.
  • I just bought a Blackberry Torch that works on WIFI.  A lifesaver!   A few hotels had WIFI where I bought an $8 air card and got my emails.  Ahhh..
  • I loved having the Kindle with me.  Cuba is one place though where the cell company doesn’t allow you to download books or newspapers.   Assuming that beforehand I had plenty to read before we left.   Kindle allows you to download via the computer rather than cell waves – in cases where the cell signal doesn’t exist.  I found internet at a hotel in Havana but couldn’t figure it out between the Spanish computer and possible Cuban blocks.  In Varedaro I tried again and was succesful and downloaded a weeks of newspapers including that mornings’ Edmonton Journal and National Post.  Love reading newspapers while travelling.   Love my Kindle.

Hectic, loud Havana

Not unusual to see beast of burden. Tobacco farm on our hike.

Our hotel cafe in Old Havana. Stone, sparse, dark. Very cool.

Smoking a cigar on the roof of our host's home.

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