#5 Cuba, Dec. 14, 2013

DSC09440Before leaving Havana on Saturday, I visited the Plaza Vieja, a reconstructed plaza, which was originally laid out in 1559.  Baroque Art sits side by side with more modern stuff—DSC09446really fun to see.

Back to Casa Kelly, where Kelly had contacted and booked a casa particular in Vinales for me.  She also called a taxi for me, but I think the price went up on that—oh well, she needs her cut, too!

 I got to the bus early, as I was warned to do, and the bus left right on time at 2:00.  It was a 3½ hour ride and afforded some views of farming.  The bus was air-conditioned and DSC09465pleasant.  When I arrived Vinales, there was nobody holding a card with my name, and when I asked for the person by name, she was known to other people, who said she wasn’t there, meeting the bus.  There were a couple dozen people waving signs and pictures of their casas particulares, so I DSC09581engaged one and off we went.  It was a little farther away from ‘centro’ than I understood her to say, but it was fine.

 After I got settled I went back to the Plaza (where the bus had stopped) and had a couple of beers and some exquisite banana chips, which were fried by a vendor right there.

 The next morning I took the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ bus around the Vinales area.  I really didn’t hop off, but it was fun to see the big limestone outcrops (mogotes) for which this area is famous, and is even designated a DSC09487DSC09524UNESCO Heritage Site.

I see that in the rural areas, there aren’t a lot of cars, but people use a horse and cart DSC09522for transportation.  They also use riding horses, bicycles, motorbikes and walking.  I enjoyed seeing the farms—tobacco and sugar cane, along with cattle and goats.

I was very much looking forward to the 120 meter-long mural designed by Leovigildo Gonzales Murillo, a follower of Diego Rivera, that was painted in 1961.  It took 18 people four years to complete the painting and now has 25 volunteer farmers who keep it clean.  It denotes the time from the Jurasic period all the way to the present.  Well,—-I think it was oversold.  Not everything pans out the way you would like it!DSC09490

 On the way back into town I stopped at the Botanical Gardens, which was a pleasant interlude.  And then I took my ease on the patio of my Casa Particular. DSC09553

DSC09582Well, on Monday morning, I took a stroll in Vinales.  First an encounter with a sewing factory; next I popped into the Vinales library.   The weather was perfect, as long as I walked on the shady side of the street.  DSC09584There were various vendors selling garlic, DSC09593repairing locks and selling keys, and also repairing cell phones, although one doesn’t see/hear many cell phones in Cuba.  They exist, but I think most people can’t DSC09599afford them.  Lots of people were eating pizza—very cheap.

I did DSC09592peruse the local museum, which didn’t have much to show, but needs support anyway.

 My usual cocktail hour included the guava juice saved from breakfast with a dose of dark rum, which I sipped as I sat on the patio of my casa.  Following, I had some seafood pasta at the same restaurant where I had eaten the day before.

DSC09583Remember “LSMFT”?  “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco!”  Yes, there is lots of smoking here and clearly tobacco is one of their big crops; cigars are one of their big industries.  Seeing Lucky Strike cigarettes kind of goes with the old cars on the streets!  By the way, in the window it says they cost $2.40 a pack, which, I think, is much cheaper than in the USA. Speaking of money, there are two currencies—the CUC, which is equal to one American dollar, and the other, the CUP, which is only used by the locals, which has much less value.  Pretty much anything that tourists buy is traded with CUC.  DSC09601

That evening, once again, I sat around the plaza in one of the many outdoor cafes, listening to music.

On Tuesday I got the Viazul bus to Trinidad.  We went via Havana, and by the time we got to Trinidad, TEN hours had elapsed.  It was supposed to be only 8½!  Still, it was a pleasant trip.  We stopped for coffee once and for lunch, which for me was a gargantuan ham and cheese sandwich and a beer.  It’s interesting how many signs DSC09622promoting the Revolution that one sees along the highways.  It happened in 1959, but apparently it is felt that it constantly needs reenforcement!  The one on this highway featured Camillo Cienfuegos, who was killed in a plane crash after the revolution.

 In Trinidad I was met by the Casa Particular person that my last one had engaged, and I DSC09638got settled in a nice room.  I was given a city map by the hostess, and used it to find the internet, only four blocks away.  I had a nightcap of some fruit juice, given me by my hostess, which I laced with some dark rum that I had in my pack.  So all was well!

 In the morning I had breakfast with six young Europeans, who were studying in DSC09651Merida and were in Cuba for a holiday.  While we were eating our breakfast there was a loud “boom!” on the tin roof covering our open air dining area.  It was a mango falling from the tree above!  They call them “La Bomba” here—I can see why!  After breakfast we all lined up with our host and DSC09652hostess for a picture in ‘our casa particular.’  The next day at breakfast I was treated to an airplane spraying for mosquitoes while I ate.  Another ‘bomba!’  I could taste the spray and the airplane fuel.  I hope it wasn’t DDT!

 After breakfast I set out to change money at a bank.  I walked a long ways, using my map, but once I arrived there was no bank there!  A man told me the bank was in another direction and I had to ask twice more to DSC09643find it, about eight blocks from where it showed on the map.  (How often do bank locations change?)  A guard opened the door a crack, and asked what I wanted.  I told him I wanted to come in.  (this was all in Spanish)  He asked, “Why?” and I answered that I wanted to change money.  “Not today, go to a cadeca” (a money-changing place) was his pronouncement as he closed the door.  I had to ask three times where the cadeca was and then had to wait outside in the hot sun as people were let in one by one to change money.  When it was my turn, once DSC09646again the teller tried to short me a few dollars, but I kept counting until I had the right amount (I think!).  (I discovered the next day that I had received a coin of the CUP worth 12 cents, that I thought was worth a dollar, so I got nicked for 88 cents!) In the meantime, the walk around town was pleasant as the town really is pretty.  Yes, this is a socialistic state, which probably badly needs more laize fare entrepreneurship.  The ‘Casa’ ladies certainly get the idea, and are entrepreneurs of the highest magnitude!

I had looked for two Lonely Planet-recommended restaurants, but could find neither.  When I got back to my Casa, I asked my hostess if it would be possible to have dinner in the casa about two or three o’clock.  All of the casas prepare two or three meals a day, which they would like their guests to buy.  I hadn’t bought any except breakfast, up to this point, but I didn’t see any appealing restaurants close by my casa.  She said she would fix me a meal of traditional Cubano food.  This, she did, (black bean soup, pork cutlet, rice, fried bananas, tomato salad, fruit, dessert and coffee!) and I enjoyed it very much.

 DSC09655Another day I went ‘Museuming.’  First was the Museo Historico Municipal, which was the former house of Justo Cantero, who got rich off the slave trade.  The rooms in the museum had lots of European rich things—it was a BIG and pretty house.  The dining room table had an exquisite setting, which I admired.  I told the museum lady (in DSC09665Spanish) that I thought I would eat here today at this table, and she said that she’d be glad to take my order!  (Una broma pequena—little joke.)

DSC09667Next museum was the Museo Nacional de la Lucha DSC09679Contra Bandidos that was housed in a former San Francisco de Asis convent.  Only the tower was original; the museum contained much info (once again!) about Fidel’s Revolution.

 Many museum workers or other people ask me what country I’m from.  DSC09683When I reply that I’m from the USA, they often exhibit surprise and pleasure.  Then they often follow that up with saying they have family members or friends that live in Miami, or Houston, or West Virginia.  I’m a little surprised at the pleasant reception that I receive.  A lady selling eggs was especially nice to me when I asked to take her photo.

 Another good meal at my casa included veggie salad with okra, greens, cukes and tomatoes, fruit, chicken, black beans and rice, yucca, banana chips, mashed potatoes, dessert and coffee.  I don’t think I’m losing any weight!

The most fun thing I’ve done in Cuba so far was the ‘sugar train’ to the Valle de los Ingenios (sugar cane country) where haciendas made mucho money for folks in the 1800s.  The train had a diesel engine, a bar car and a passenger car.  We spent most of a DSC09764day traveling on the train and stopping at a couple of haciendas. Boy, talk about living out DSC09696DSC09699in the middle of nowhere!

I’ll be going to Santa Clara next—

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