Varadero – Playa Azul, Cuba’s blue beach


At the beginning I just wanted to say I read recently the November issue of National Geographic. The main feature is “Cuba on the edge of change”. The article was written before Papal  visit so there were even more changes introduced since then. I’m mentioning this article for two reasons. One is that in Cuba you can really feel and see the edge. I had this dominant feeling that in short time there will be no Cuba as we imagine it or know it today. It will be commercialised (even more so) and trapped in consumerism as most of the World is. This above all brought questions like “will it make Cubans happier?”, “Is it worth it?”, “What is the best way for transformation?”. There might be a discussion which example would be best to follow. East European? China’s?

Second reason to mention the articles is:

What is the definition of freedom? What do human beings need? What do they owe to each other? What do they want, beyond what they need?

Cuba’s New Now by Cynthia Gorney, National Geographic, November 2012

This is exactly what I was wondering while in Cuba. Freedom would be for me the right of choice. The only thing is I know the hurray optimism that reigned in Poland an the beginning of 90’s. People imagining capitalism as a paradise on Earth and then the social disappointment with first wave of of bankruptcies at the end of 90’s. Now our eyes open up to the costs and shadows of capitalism and global captial. The mature democratic societies find it a challenge to balance it what will it be for Cuba? Are we really a good example to follow? Who of us can honestly say: I’m happy, I have enough time to do what I want, I’m enjoying inner peace and I like the way my life goes.

Ok now enough of these difficult/easy (delete as appropriate) questions. Let’s go to the beach!

Taxi to Varadero…”Let’s go to the beach!” one of us said. “Yes! Let’s go to Varadero! At least we know the beach is there”. And so we did. We organised a taxi and left Playa La Mulata behind (cost of the taxi 40 CUC). Did anything interesting happen on the way? Well yes we saw an alive crab hanging on a string in front of a house we passed by. This was a live advert for anyone who felt like buying a crab. We got the yummiest ice cream in a small town on the way.

We had to change taxis at the outskirts of Havana. From the amount of taxis and people you can tell it’s a transition point. SpagettiWe used this break to eat something. Cold spagetti for some, delicious looking but tasteless cakes for others and a brilliant pina colada milk shake for me!

I took a picture of this poster/sign that caught my attention a couple of times before – an eye and a dagger pierced tongue underneath. I just found out it’s Cuban Santería charm meaning “ward off the evil eye and gossipy enemies”. The eye and tongue together can also prescribe respect in the house: “you may look, but don’t wag your tomgue”. Santeria charmSanteria is often referred to as a Cuban mystery religion, the word santería literally means “the worship of saints.” A blend of Catholicism and Nigerian paganism that evolved centuries ago, when Yoruba slaves were taken from Nigeria to Cuba, santería consists of a panoply of saints, or orishas, which are a combination of Catholic saints and Yoruba gods and goddesses. Many of these orishas resemble mythological gods.Cuban taxi

I be honest with you we didn’t see much in Varadero beside the beach. There is Hicacos Point Natural Park there with 250 m long Cave of Ambrosio, Mangón Lake (31 species of birds and 24 species of reptiles) and the ruins of the La Calavera (The Skull) Salt Works (one of the first salt works to be constructed by the Spanish in the New World). I wanted to go and see it one day but somehow didn’t. Our casa in varaderoThe address of our casa is: Marta Torres, Calle 53 nº 5306 between 1st and 2nd Ave, the first building on the left behind small shopping center when you come from the seaside. It’s not a shopping center you imagine. It consists of a couple of small ground level huts, glass windows from floor to roof located in a lovely square with palms, lawns and benches. I just have to say we acctually saw 3 different places before deciding where we want to stay. Marysia and Adam got really nice room in the first floor and the three of us slept in a damp and dark one in the ground floor. I have to say we stayed there the longest and it was the most uncomfortable bed I slept in, in Cuba. I had a double bed while Maria and Michal had singles but there was only one right position to sleep in and it was the one I never choose. Straight on your back that is. My ass seemed to fall into hole and get stuck in it. But well I guess we spend more time outside our casa than in it. We paid 25 CUC for each nostra cubana

We left our things and went to get something to eat. Our choice was Casa Nostra Cubana Restaurant were we had paella. We shared and it was quite nice. The biggest impression made the coctails we ordered. Strong. The waiter told us he lived in Brazil for a while and this is where he learned how to make it the proper way. Worth recommending. And then we went to the beach. Marysia first. she said she knew straight away she will undress and jump into the water. I didn’t know that but soon enough guys and I joined her. The water was wonderful. Warm and salty. Huge waves covered us again and again. With every hit I tended to loose my panties but who cares!

This post is now getting long so I just say one more thing. This evening Maria finally felt better and wated to go to Casa de la Musica. The entrance was 10 CUC. I don’t know how this happened but we never checked what was on. And… it was a stand up comedy night. Do I have to tell you that 4 of us didn’t understand a thing and the 5th one who did haven’t even laugh once. What is stuck in my memory is the comediant dressed up as Crazy Frog. In Bridget Jones type of panties with small penis hanging sadly between his legs. He started to jump around waving it in all direction to the sounds of Crazy Frog. How sad is that? I just tell you everybody else in the audience laughed so maybe it was funny. Afterwards there was a disco but nothing we had expected see for yourselves:

After coming back home four of us decided to go to the beach and have a beer. And so we did. We went to petrol station to get some beer first (the nicest sales assistant in whole Cuba) and on the way back Marysia found a coconut. She claims it was in somebody’s garden. I claim this was public space.

Sitting in the beach drinking and gazing at the stars brought a lot of good memories and we sang and laughed hard. Michal stayed in Casa de la Musica and as he later told us had a good time.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened but only three of us ended up trying to open a coconut hitting it at a stone. I still have a mark on my wrist where I cut myself. No, not out of the desperation, probably as a ricochet. This task wasn’t easy but we succeed! Team work! We drunk the milk (or water more like it) and ate most of the inside. Well done!

Crab Cuba

Crab seller Cuba

Cuba cars

Cuba cars

Cuba cars

Cuba cars

Cuba street food

Cuba street food

Cuba street food

Cuba street food

Cuba street food

Cuba native

Cuba taxi car

Cuba taxi car

Cuba Varadero

Cuba Varadero

Cuba Varadero

Cuba Varadero

Cuba Varadero


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Playa La Mulata – lost in the middle of nowhere in Cuba

playa la mulataWe had to decide where to go next. Most of us was very impatient to get to the beach so we were considering two options. First: South – staying in either La Bajada or Maria La Gorda (which means fat Maria) or North – a place recommended by our hosts Playa La Mulata with an option to go to Cayo Levisa, which was supposed to be paradise on Earth. We almost agreed on going South when our host stated categorically ‘Why do you want to go South? There is nothing there!’. So most of us reconsidered and we agreed to go North.

We contacted the same driver who brought us to Vinales and agreed he will pick us up and drive to Playa Mulata for 40 CUC. We waited and waited… and waited… and he was on the way the whole time. Three or four hours after the set time he arrived saying he had a problem with the wheel and it’s going to cost us 50 CUC to get where we wanted. For this money we could have gone with any driver without wasting half of the day on waiting. So we refused and found another driver, a friend of course.

He delivered us somewhere. Somewhere meaning we have no idea where exactly. On the way we stopped to glance at a beautiful blue water and white sand somewhere on the horizon. To be honest I couldn’t see more than a glimpse of colour but it was a grey day anyway. We were tired, some of us recovering from sickness and all we wanted was to lie down on a nice beach and enjoy the sun and the water.

Rice on the road
Rice on the road

The road we took was only as broad as to allow two cars to pass each other. People used it to dry the rice and remove it from the chaff. We also saw some of them doing it on the cabins roofs. You could see they use more or less professional rakes. Rice is not native to the Americas but was introduced to Latin America and the Caribbean by European colonizers. A very popular dish in Cuba being rice with black beans.

Anyway the driver took left and we found ourselves following a ground road which looked like one of those roads between allotments. Finally he stopped and we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. The house was quite spacious and when I look at the pictures I’m thinking it doesn’t look that bad. I just compile two images for comparison:

Playa la MulataVaradero

And what do you think?

Which one would you be expecting in Cuba?

Which one can you call A BEACH?

So we ended up living in two rooms 15 CUC each in the middle of nowhere, whith no shower or hot water. We asked if there was any shop around? No. Restaurant? No. Bus stop? No.

We didn’t give up easily. A young boy led the way between the houses towards the beach and the only place where we could get something to eat besides our casa. Yes we did refuse having dinner at home. In then end Maria ordered dinner there and we shared her food but this is still to come. Now we are going on a hunt. Food hunt. And we got to…

… something we all recognised as abandoned socialistic staff holiday resort, known well to all Polish from before 1989. Everything was closed. What caught my attention was a couple of vulture-like birds circling above the buildings. Well the beach was a lawn and a couple of stones. It didn’t look like you could go into the water at all.vulture like birds

After a while we found somebody to open a shop for us. We could buy there only water and beer. Then the same person invited us to the restaurant. There was only one dish in the menu pork with rice with black beans. Very cheap I have to admit. The most popular entrance to the restaurant was a window. Maria used it as well as the cook and a local woman who was there probably to help. When our food was served we saw another three people coming in and ordering food.

dinner mulataI smelled the food. It stank. I tried the rice it was dry as a bone. We left everything almost like we got it. Only Michal took three bites of his pork. And then had to wash it down the drain with high alcohol spirit.

There were nice moments as well like when we finally sat down outside the casa drinking and chatting. Watching stars and laughing. Up to this point we didn’t really have time to just relax and enjoy each other company. maybe this is a reason why at the beginning the relations were bit tense. Michal told me later that he even thought to say ‘Goodbye’ to us all and go his own way. I was just thinking how I never wrote about the confilcts or the way to resolve them. Anyway just so you don’t think it’s all roses all of the time. We did really good as for a group of 5 people knowing each other more or less.mulata restaurant

This night I slept in a bed with mosquito net. I always wanted to do it (more princess style than explorer). Maybe I imagined it little more romantic but I’m not complaining. I will start complaining now. We had no bedclothes. We slept under towels and one more cloth which I don’t remember what it was. I got cold and even though I curled up I couldn’t warm up. But I’m still happy I did it as the cold was unconvinient but not pervading.

It was in the morning when we found out there is no shower. The lady of the house pored water into a metal bucket and put it on gas hob to heat it up. I was shocked. Well why not. So we used the bucket and a small pot to take shower. It was like camping! Sense of humor is a must when you go travelling. and listen to what happened to one of the girls. She was using the toilet in the morning when suddenly ahe felt a fiery kiss in the ass! Yes you guessed right! It was the prince charming himself! frogWe had a laugh that now not the princess kisses the frog but the frog kisses the princess in the ass. Finally the time of the liberated woman has come!

The guys told us they saw it in the night before they went to sleep in the shower. It was probably looking for a pond and found the toilet. Good one.

From my notes:

  • we had an amazing avocado there. It fell from the tree and or Lady of the house said we can have it for free. Delicious!
  • the breakfast cost 3 CUC we got a dry bread toasted in shape of triangles with nothing inside. It was already cold when we sat down to eat. Bananas, one omlette each, two types of juice and little coffee.
  • the inside doors were missing due to the hurracaine
  • our owner was an economist but she didn’t work and her daughter had epilepsy
  • our driver told Michal he should eat something made of langusta (an aphrodisiac) since he has only one girlfriend

And so we decided to leave and go to the most tourist and expensive place in Cuba – Varadero. See you there!

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba

Playa Mulata Cuba


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Caves, Salsa & Cuban Jeronimo further adventures in Vinales

caves vinales

As I mentioned in my previous post we went on a cycling trip around Vinales. Our goal was to see the landscapes and visit two caves on the way. The bicycle rental was quite easy even though the contract in small print covers the whole A4 page. Bicycle rental VinalesPrices: 1 CUC for the first hour, 2 CUC for 2 hours and after that 0.75 CUC per hour. The owner of the business advised us to take off the saddle when we leave the bicycles in front of the caves. I didn’t have a feeling someone would steal the bicycles anyway, but in front of the first cave we decided to go in couples so that remaining two people can watch over the bikes. The landscapes were stunning. The road curved going up and down the hill. We didn’t cycle far but I enjoyed every bit of it. You will laugh but this was the first time I rode bicycle without holding the handlebar. The image that popped into my mind was the last scenes from City of Angels staring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. Tunning with the wind, the air, the road. Fantastic.cycling in Vinales

The caves craved in limestone used to be the homes of native people before the arrival of Spanish explorers. The first one we visited was located next to Palenque de los Cimarrones and was once a refuge for runaway African slaves. We entered it with Marysia and I tried to make some shots without using my flash light. As you can imagine I stayed behind. Also I tend to get lost in photography loosing the real experience of places. It’s hard to keep your balance. But anyway suddenly I El Palenque de los Cimarrones heard Marysia screaming and I saw her running and then falling on a rock to sit down. This was disturbing. Only then I heard the drums. Only a little worried I hurried to the exit of the cave. I was surprised by the drums again and a man setting himself on fire. This performance meant to demonstrate the music and rituals of the runaway slaves. At the end of the path, you come to a re-creation of one of the nomadic homes – series of interconnected ranchos (thatched huts), each decorated with a painting representing a different orishá, or Afro-Cuban deity. A restaurant that receives good reviews is located in them. Afro-Cuban ranchoAnd don’t worry the soup pictured on one of the huts is not in a menu… you are perfectly safe… well unless… you missbehave.

In the price of the ticket a ride in a horse carriage is included. Although I understood we will get a free drink…  You’ll get a fascinating tour: Pinapples on the right, bananas on the right, black beans on the left…


The fact is we talked to the barman a while before we went in. When he found out we were Polish he told us of his girlfriend Monika, who already visited him four times this year. He said for him he is the most beautiful girl in the World. couple dancing in the caveWe were in great moods so we joked and chatted away. Then the barman told us to wait as he had a surprise for us. and guess what, he put a Polish music on so we could sing along. This were songs by Wilki, Brathanki and many more. He had it still on when we came back. We had some more time to chat as it was guys turn to go sightseeing. This is when we found out that from 13th January 2013 Cubans will be allowed to leave the country for 24 months at a time, with an option to extend their stay abroad, by applying for an extension at the nearest Cuban embassy. This means Cubans will be able to leave the island without a permit for first time in 51 years. I found information that the state-run newspaper Granma, reported that this change in regulations is part of a broader effort to “update” the island’s migration policy and “adjust it to prevailing conditions.”
It turned out that we got a free drink in the end. Something absolutley amazing. I’m going to try to find it now as we didn’t see it in coctail menu anywhere else in Cuba. Horse carriageIt should include honey, rum, juice and fresh fruit. It’s not Canchanchara. I should have written it down. We did write down recommendations where to go to the beach and we forgot the most important thing! Now this is something to bare in mind. In one of the pictures you can see a couple dancing, this was so cute.

When the guys came back we headed to the next cave called Cueva del Indio. It’s a system of caves (45 km) mostly underwater, making it the longest one in Cuba and Latin America. Only 1 km is open to public. I think the entrance fee is 5 CUC. Cueva del IndioThe entrance is covered by lush flora, waterfalls of ivy, bloody red flowers and monumental palm tree columns. The stairs down look mysterious and inviting, promising adventure is about to begin. You walk in through carved steps and follow a concrete path at end of which a boat is waiting. But before you board it you can explore a small niche that is dark and mysterious. The boat takes you further down the cave and then turns around to let you out just outside a small waterfall and a restaurant. It was rediscovered in 1920. As I already said the caves where a shelter for runaway slaves. In Cueva del Indio bones of Guanajatabey Amerindians were discovered hence the name. Inside Cueva del Indio VinalesAlso some relics and pictograms were found confirming their presence there. I saw magnificent and colorful rocks there which made me think of rainbows and, don’t laugh, meringue cakes. The guide pointed out to shapes reminding pigs and pigglets. I suppose all is down to your imagination and your mind playing its tricks on you. I read it somewhere that our minds associate shapeless objects with known objects in the need to prevent us from harm. The unknown being ultimate danger. I enclose the movie I recorded in the cave, if you get impatient just forward it to second half.

Salsa VinalesNow… let’s talk salsa. One evening we went out to this Cafeteria in the main street of Viniales. At the beginning there was four of us, Maria being sick at home. Then Adam felt sick and went home and in the end Marysia left us too. In the meantime we were drinking mojito and watching a salsa performance. The dancers after showing off asked the members of public to join them. It was quite difficult with our table as no one wanted to go. Besides me of course but I was asked the last. Nevertheless this was my dream comming true so I didn’t complain. To be honest I didn’t do too well. I can put the blame on my platform shoes or on the fact it reminded me of children dancing in the kindergarten, but honestly it felt uncomfortable. Both me and my partner managed to survive it somehow. salsa bandI sat down happy and thinking I will do better next time. I didn’t have to wait too long… a pirate in bandana took my hand and swiftly pulled onto the dance floor. We danced twice and in the meantime my dancing partner made sure Michal was not my boyfriend. Third dance went much better and ended with a fiery kiss on my cleavage. This left me giggling and amused. Earlier during the day we heard there was another club just up the road and Michal convinced me to check it out. Can you blame me I was a bit reluctant?

I said my goodbyes and off we went. We ended up in a restaurant next to Centro Cultural Polo Montañez. I have a picture of the entrance but not its name. We had to pay the entrance fee of 2 CUC and even Michal did not manage to persuade them to take Peso instead. We bought drinks (mojito 2.50 CUC, toilet paper 1 CUC) and watched the dancers. Some characters I tell you! An older black woman with short bleached hair asked every possible guy to go dancing with her. She danced with so much passion! There was a macho there as well dancing with two sexy girls at the same time and blond girl with a reggae type of guy. At some point three couples joined and started to dance together. Women opposite to men. Nice. I promise you it gets frustrating watching people dance and being stuck outside the dance floor. I got lucky. My pirate found me and took me dancing. Hahahhahaa and this was nothing like the civil dance before. Sensual, joyful and free. His hips and hands became more and more bold as I felt his tongue following the path from the décolleté of my dress up to my neck. Let’s just say what happens in Cuba stays in Cuba.Vinales
After some time I met the dancer from the pictures you can see above. He was dressed in ordinary clothes and tought me a bit of African style salsa. For me this was it for that night but my salsa education had a follow up the following evening.

Marysia stayed at home, so it was again four of us who headed to enjoy salsa night. This time instead of dancing we were exposed to popular music in Cuba, a singer, a band making me think of latino Westlife, duo singing latino hip-hop and finally fire performance. In course of the evening there was a power blackout. The light and music were gone but everyone seemed to wait patiently until power was turned back on. I guess the fire performance was too much for Adam as he went back home. Pharmacy in VinalesI asked Maria to teach me salsa and so we went on the side to practice. This is when she met handsome Cuban and I had to dance with smelling Bob Marley type of guy. It didn’t go very well for me. But during the evening I was dancing with two more partners one of them called Hector. He spoke English at least well enough to try to convince me I’m beautiful, can dance, move like a Cuban girl and that the other guy is stupid. I told him that of course I know I’m beautiful, that in fact I can’t dance but am not worried about it and that ‘moving’ gives me a great pleasure. Either he understood my sense of humour or he didn’t care and laught in the right moments hahhahaa more like all the time really.

So anyway we got this far and there is only one more person to write about. Yes! Jeronimo! We went for a walk with Marysia and we ended up half burried in mud, wounded (Marysia scratched her leg on a stone) but happy. This is because we left victorious in a duel with two bulls and one cow, patted a horse and met a handsome, half naked Jeronimo on a horse. To say he was well built is an understatement. But he left Marysia stunned with her jaw opened and wanting to go horse riding with him. No dirty thoughts now! He is an owner of a stable and organises horse rides to the caves 🙂 with this pleasant thought I leave you until the next time. Enjoy the slide show!


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Vinales (Viñales) the heart of Cuba tobacco region

Cuba Vinales

In the morning we headed for breakfast and coffee and then to exchange some more money. I know in some guides and in Internet you can find information saying it’s difficult to exchange money outside Havana. This is no longer true. In all tourist destinations we found banks that would exchange money. We ended up once in the middle of nowhere (I’ll tell you the story later on) and there was nothing there and so no bank either but this is jst because we went off the beaten trail.

Blue taxiMaria at this point felt bad and decided to wait at home. This is crucial to further story. I tried the most delicious lemon cake in the shape of triangle. It had layers of waffle and cream and surprise, surprise was not all that sweet. Very fresh, melting in your mouth and paid for in Peso. We took a taxi to bus station to take a bus. Of course as could be expected in front of bus station we were beset by the taxi gang and almost convinced that for the same price they will take us straight to the front door so we do not have to worry about looking for our Casa… We did want to see what the bus is like so headed straight to the Viazul ticket office. We would have to wait for the bus and the price was the same as taxi per person. Blue taxi driverStill distrustful we decided to check out the car first. And there is was our vehicle – big, old, blue American car – we couldn’t wish for anything more!

What was special about this particular trip? Well, first of all we went to get petrol for our car. The driver said we all should stay away and he will take Michal with him so he can oversee that he is not stealing anything from our luggage. He asked us to pay the third of the amount owned so he can pay for the petrol. Very weird. In the end we all stayed in the car while the driver went to some house, which by the way looked more like a farm than gas station, and brought petrol with him. You know what it means. This is when we found out that the infusion of the tank is in the trunk just below our luggage. So watch out as your things might smell of petrol if the driver is not careful enough.Maria the Taxi driver

Second thing was that there was a strong smell of the petrol in the car which made Marysia sick, also we couldn’t close the windows and the wind  started to be annoying after 2 hours of driving. When I tried to lie down suddenly I was thrown up in the air… just a bridge… and it happens at every bridge. I was looking long time at the highway we were using trying to find the difference between Cuba and Europe. The biggest difference is… traffic! So little traffic and so much space in Europe you only get in the middle of the night in less popular routes. Second difference is that in Cuba highways are also for Car & the fridgecarts drawn by horses, oxen and donkeys as well as hitchhikers and random farmers turning at any point on the green belt between the carriageways. We were overtaken by a car with a fridge in his trunk. Whoever remembers Poland before 1989 is not going to be surprised. I have to say I’ve seen much more overloaded vehicles, but never traveling at such a speed.

The driver told Maria on the way that he has a wife and two grilfriends and they all know about each other. He also suggested that if she’d like she could become his girlfriend as well. Following the conversation I hear that a man should have one woman for the day and one woman for the night. I was wondering a loud what would be the difference between them. Adam suggested ‘one of them is not working during the day obviously’. Hahahhaa  I don’t know what you thought but I was thinking more in a mother/housewife versus sex godess way. Draw your conclusions.

Vinales CafeteriaOn the way we stopped in Cafeteria serving sugar cane juice. We watched how it’s made. It tastes nice, much batter than fresh coconut for me, but not exceptionally nice. You can see on the pictures traditional machine used to produce it. Later on in Vinales we saw the oldest one dating back to was it XVIIIth century?Guarapera Cafeteria

When we arrived in Vinales or driver insisted in showing us his house first before he deliveries us to our destination. After long persuation we reluctantly agreed. So we turned into a short street where the buses from Havana park and there on his corner was his house. So much for the huge advantage to be delivered to the doors of your casa instead of bus station. We went in had a look and even though it was very, very nice and had a terrace on the roof we decided to go to place recommended by Sara. We all got back to the car and the driver took us to the end of the street then turned around and stopped two houses before his own. Very awkward. The house was further down the street. To be honest we chose it mainly because Maria was afraid of wooing of the handsome driver.

Cuerpo de Guardabosques VinalesViñales is a small town and municipality in the north-central Pinar del Río Province dominated by low mountain ranges of the Cordillera de Guaniguanico such as Sierra de los Órganos. In 1999, the Viñales Valley was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural landscape. The characteristic feature is spectrum of rocks/hills rising like islands from the bottom of the valley called mogotes. What to see? Museo Municipal, Casa de Caridad Botanical Gardens, Museo Paleontológico, Palenque (a Maroon village) and the caves (Cueva del Indio, Cueva de José Miguel, Cueva de Santo Tomás) in Valle de Viñales National Park, which were refuges for runaway slaves. I read in one of my books that walking in the street we will be offered by a local to visit his tobacco farm and then be able to see how the cigars are made, but this did not happen. I can’t say I regret.Swinging chairs Vinales

We paid 6 CUC per night each, booked in (the host needs to fill out a book with or details and get our signatures) and went for a meal in the town. I will write now a bit of our house and then the next post will be about sightseeing the caves. In Vinales Maria got really sick and did not go cycling with us. Most of us put the blame on food in Havana, but this was not true as Maria’s sisters and mother were suffering from the same sickness back in Spain (we found out about it when we came back). One night it got so bad we woke up our host and asked her to call in a doctor. He was in fact her brother and came to see Maria within 10 minutes. Front of our casaExamined her carefully, asked different questions and finally told her to drink physiological salt with water and prescribed an antibiotic. She was not to eat any sugar only dry bread and natural juice from pears ora apples. It all ended well. The doctor didn’t want to take any money but I think he could use what we gave him to help others. I know gys gave him some things we brought to give away as well.Casa Vinales

We stayed in Vinales for two nights and every time at 4 am a rooster would start crowing near our windows and then another one and another one until it was dawn. Then a pig wold join in to ultimately deprive us of sleep. Marysia tried to reason with the chickens but they must understand only Spanish because I hate to think they were naughty.

dinner vinalesWe decided to order lunch at our Casa. It was like a feast. Each one of us could choose between chicken, langosta, shrimps and pork. We got plain rice, black beans, vegetables, fried bananas and fruits and juice with it. We could not eat it all.

In the garden of our Casa there was coffee growing. We only found out because the friendly doctor helped out his sister with getting rid of outer shells. Well first it’s called a coffee cherry. You need to remove the pulp (shell) leaving the seed or bean and then dry it. We saw the doctor half naked hitting with a huge wooden cudgel (pestle) something placed in a wooden mortar. coffeeFirst we were shy to take any pictures but the the doctor showed us both what he was doing and where in the garden the coffee was growing. Nice of him.

At this point I made some notes in my diary about the quiet life people live. We would perceive our host as quite poor judging by the quality of the things around us and apparent makeshift. At the same time she was better off than Cubans who have no income from tourist and I don’t think that better quality things are necessary to achieve happiness. Maybe just the opposite. They are a distraction from living your life, make you want to be in the future or think of time in the future when you will possess something that promises happiness but rarely delivers it. It seems that those people have everything they need, but I couldn’t talk to them so this is just my presumption rather than observation. Ok, this is it for now. Next post is going to be about the dancing and caves. See you then.


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Havana confrontation with reality (La Habana)

El Capitolio National Capitol Building

We all met in Madrid. I arrived in the morning and went sightseeing, Michal arrived later on and around lunch time we met in Sol to go to Museo de Jamon (a must do in Spain!) Maria joined us there. Then we split to meet again the next day. In the meantime Maria picked up Adam and Marysia from the airport and the 2 hour ‘where are you now so we can meet’ search began. We ended up meeting in subway station close to apartment where we stayed for the night. Maria’s sister let us sleep at her place. Madrid airportOn the way to the airport in the morning (it was still dark so it felt more like an evening) we were stopped by the police. Because of our luggage one of the tires seemed flat and we were advised to inflate it later on. No ticket just a warning. In the airport we headed to the check – in and even though there were some people queing nothing was happening. For a while we just waited but then tried to get some information. Firstly from the fellow passangers and then from the check-in staff. The flight on 23rd after 1 hour of flight was returned to the airport and so all passangers were transferred to different filghts and our plane was at this point fully booked. At this point we didn’t know anything about hurricane but the news came soon enough. I heard before that Conviasa could have 2-3 days delay in flights so was set on being patient. French couple fellow passangersAs always in such situations you feel you don’t have enough information and look for news even when there is non. After a while everyone was asked to move towards Conviasa office. This only meant that we were polishing a different part of airport floor. We were supposed to fly to Caracas and then to Havana. Michal was the first and only one to get a ticket to Caracas for a flight leaving in two hours or so. We all felt bad worrying that each of us will get on a separate flight. We started to think how we will meet in Havana and I was worrying if they will speak English in Caracas and then if we can survive hurricane in Cuba. Air EuropeIn the end Michal’s ticket was taken back and we all got on the same direct flight to Havana. Even better! We were all glad and moved quickly towards AirEuropa check-in. The flight passed quickly and the food was quite nice. We got some excellent Spanish wine and fell asleep easily. Or at least some of us. We got to Havana airport tired but excited. And had to wait something like 30 minutes to go through passport control. We were getting bored but to be honest with you we were one of the lasts in the ques. In the airport there was a bit of confusion where to find our luggage belt. Finnally we got all our backpacks and went towards customs. Adam was stopped and for a couple of minutes we didn’t understand where he should go or where he should wait. In the end they didn’t search through his luggage just asked several questions and let him go. Havana airportAdam thinks it was because he was running around from one side to another trying to find out which belt was the right one. Maybe. We went through customs to the main hall and had to que to the currency exchange. Queying something to get used to in socialism. The exchange rate was: EUR 1.2444 and CUC to CUP 24. We took a taxi for 5 people and paid 25 CUC to get to our Casa particular. This was a new american mini bus something we didn’t expect. Malacon HavanaHavana did not look all that beautiful in the night.

We stayed at Sarita Rooms, Belascolain 360 ap.4, San Jose y San Rafael, Havana. I have to say it was one of the best decisions during this trip to stay at Sara’s place. She is very, very nice and helped us a lot through out the journey. All places recommended by her were worth it. In Cuba everyone knows somebody that can help you, but sometimes the help is not what you expect. We found out we could trust Sara. So if you are going to Havana consider it. The taxi driver didn’t have any problems in finding the address and the next day we didn’t have any trouble in walking through China Town to the main sights.La Habana market When I imagined Havana I imagined colorful facades of the houses, people sitting in the streets listening to music or chatting or playing domino. Sunny, relaxed full of chat and laughter life. At least after work. When we arrived Havana was grey. Grey was the dominant color of the city. All other colors seemed to be overshadowed by it. When we got up we decided to go for a walk. Malecon was closed bacause of the enormous waves flooding the sidewalk and roadway. At times the wind was so strong we were just able to resist the wind not making a step forward. Overall the morning confronted me with a sight I didn’t expect. We had breakfast in the streets, we walked around and bought fruta bomba as well as bananas and coffee in peso nationale but also they closed one window just in front of or nose.Streets of HavanaWe had also jugo natural, which might be natural but at the same time it’s so sweet that they have to pt additional suger into it. Eating terribly sweet things seems to be the feature of hot climate countries. In one of the window shops (the shop is located in a living room of a house and the goods are sold through the window) Marysia almost found a husband to be. Maybe two year old boy in his mother arms smiling to her while his mother  was pointing in her direction saying ‘bonita’. Charming. We walked past Chinatown (Barrio Chino) to get to Capitolio Nacional. In IXXth century hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were brought in by Spanish settlers to work as slaves with people from Africa. Chinatown HavanaThe Chinatown district has two paifangs, a large one located on Calle Dragones, with well defined written welcoming sign in Chinese and Spanish. The first night we arrived in Havana we acctually went to Chineese restaurant. The service was good, our waiter had a good sense of humour but the food was… well it wasn’t good. I didn’t like mine at all, but I think the others complained less. Nothing like the food in Asia anyway or in Europe. HabanaIn front of the Capitol a women came across me and showed me to take a picture of her. I knew straight away it was all abot the money, but I didn’t mind. I guess this is one of the typical shots brought back from Cuba. Everything for tourists! After negotiations we rented out a red & white taxi to drive us around Havana for an hour or so. It felt great. We listened to Cuban music and covered most of the sights. It’s difficult to take pictures but in the most important place we stopped and had some time to explore. This place is of course Plaza de la Revolucion (“Revolution Square”). Havana taxiIt’s 31st largest city square in the world. The square is dominated by the Jose Marti Memorial, which features a 109 m tall tower. Opposite the memorial on the far side of the square is the famous Che Guevara image with his well known slogan of “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always) – the Ministry of the Interior. There is also an image of Fidel Castro which somehow reminded us of Bin Laden.

Fidel CastroWhen we came back one guy, who wasn’t around earlier, came over to us and asked us to pay him 40 CUC for the drive. We said we agreed with the driver we will pay him 30 CUC and there is no way we are going to pay more. As usual in situations like this there is a lot of hussle to avoid paying more. You can’t give up, jst need to be patient. One of us, I think Michal put the agreed amount to the hand of the driver. The strange guy took it from him gave it back and said he will call the police. We agreed. Let’s call the police. But the police never arrived, the driver took the money and we were off to sightsee some more. On foot this time.Havana To be honest I feel that the pictures don’t give Havana justice. Next day when it was sunny the city looked mch better, so be patient some color are on the way. I’m gonna skip writing about sights in this post. I think I just write about things that happened and then maybe write another post about sights. HemmingwayWe visited Floridita, La Cuna del Daiquiri in Obispo 557 esquina a Monserrate, Habana Vieja, La Habana. Most of you might know that Hemmingway loved Cuba. He used to say “Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquirí en El Floridita” (My Daiquiri at El Floridita, my Mojito at La Bodeguita.’) The story goes: Ernest Hemingway needed a bathroom. He stopped into Havana’s El Floridita bar, not far from the hotel where he lived during much of the 1930s. On his way out, he noticed the bartender setting up Daiquiris. Never one to walk past a drink, Hemingway took a sip. Not bad, he said, but he preferred them with no sugar and double the rum. The bartender made one as specified, and then named the drink after him.Floridita Anyway it’s not how they serve it now. If there was no sugar I don’t think we would have liked it. The best part of the experience for me was that Hemmingway is smiling and that there is a band playing salsa for the guests entertainment. The bar is filled with tourists but if you surrender to the alcohol and music while returning your gaze to Ernests eyes from time to time the World doesn’t seem to be such a bad place in the end. view from Castillo de la Real FuerzaThe others went inside Castillo de la Real Fuerza while I decided to go down to the waterside to enjoy view and wind. I wasn’t sitting there long when Ariel a black, one-leg guy joined me. He told me a couple of important things. One was that to really know Cuba you need to speak to Cubans. I guess this is true for anywhere you go. You don’t even start to have an idea of a place if you don’t speak to it’s inhabitants. He also told me that in Europe we are so concerned about things we stopped talking to each other openly about what we want. His example was. ‘If I want this boat I will say I want a boat like this. And you Europeans will start talking about how nice the water is’. I guess he has a concert

When I met the guys we headed towards Palacio de los Capitanes Generales where there was a life opera concert. We decided to stay and listen. Beautiful music, great voices and amazing environment made it something we won’t easily forget. We went back to our Casa with our minds set on going out to Casa de La Musica in the evening. The entry is 20 CUC per person that night. Too much for us having in mind we just started our holidays. Later we found out it was so expensive because the best band in town was playing. I just wonder what kind of music they were playing. Judging on our future experiences nothing we would have liked. We took a taxi (3 CUC) and ended up in Cafe Paris where I had the best mojito in the whole trip.

HavanaI forgot to say that on or way back from Habana Vieja we came across a local who didn’t want to leave us alone and followed us for good 15 minutes. I heard about things like this happening but honestly it only happened twice dring the whole of our stay in Cuba.

The same day we also met an interesting couple. First we saw them in a gallery dancing or rather learning how to dance tango, then again in front of a cheap food window. She was Chineese and came to Cuba to study Spanish but her passion is tango. My advice at this point is: don’t go out the same time as we do in Europe. In Cuba everything happens earlier. Around 9 or 10pm there are only clubs with techno, disco opened and you won’t enjoy salsa.

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Cuba – the Caribbean island in the shape of a lizard – Introduction

Beach in Varadero

I’m just back from Cuba. A two week holiday full of adventures. All my plans for the sightseeing changed when sitting in Madrid airport we got to know there was a hurricane. This meant we can’t visit Santiago de Cuba. The fact is we could have go but I don’t think the rest of the group fancied demanding conditions during their only holiday. I know some people who wouldn’t miss this chance. There was also the idea in my hand that people affected by hurricane would see us tourists as ‘paparazzi’ who don’t care just chase a sensation. We couldn’t do much to help but we could be a bother.


So now let me introduce you to our party of five, how we decided to go together and what was our trip route. This will be it for today but there is plenty more to come.

One day I heard from my friend Michal (the one I’ve been in Thailand with) that he and Adam (another person from Thailand trip) want to go to India on holidays. My plans were to go to Peru and see Machu Picchu. My long time dream. I didn’t want to change my plans. In fact I wanted to travel alone and Peru seemed ideal because of the infrastructure. This was at the beginning of 2012 and I still hoped to learn enough Spanish to be albe to communicate easily. Enough said: life is inpredictible and due to many circumstances I ended up going with Michal and Adam to Cuba. Tickets were half the price than the ones to Peru. Than when we already had tickets Michal invited his Spanish friend Maria to join us. He told me it was her big dream to go to Cuba. She likes Che a lot and so decided to join us. In a two days or so another friend joined – Marysia. Adam’s housemate and the group was set.

So there we are three girls, two guys. One native Spanish speaker, one Spanish beginner and us three who knew a handful of Spanish words. All with different expectations, budgets, personality. Tricky.

map of CubaI usually plan my trips carefully. What I mean I like to know what is where to see, read the forums what to avoid and what to expect but then go where the trip takes me. This time I also made a draft of the plan trip and then recognised I want this trip to be different for me. No leadership just going with the flow and will of others. Very surprising for everyone as well as for me but I don’t regret it. It felt good. I don’t even have a sense I was doing something i didn’t want to do. But I guess next trip will be back to normal me.

This year I’m trying to learn a lesson how to live without the constant need of control. I’m trying to get rid of the fear of living the life I want. Fear of judgement, fear of confrontation and many other fears. I hope I will learn it before the year is over and this is where this attitude of ‘letting go’ comes from. It worked on the trip. I didn’t feel responsible for the direction of our trip, I didn’t feel responsible of ensuring there are no conflicts in or group and I didn’t feel responsible for everyone having a good time (I usually do feel pressured). It made me feel at some point ‘sinful’ but well I got over it.

And jst one last thing. Before we went on this trip I read a book Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos EireIt’s a weird book, memoirs of a young boy growing up in Cuba. Full of fears and hatred towards lizards. At times I was looking for Hawana from this book and I didn’t find it. Also I haven’t seen any lizards in capital of Cuba.

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