Varadero – Playa Azul, Cuba’s blue beach

Varadero

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 commercialized (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?

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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.

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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 misbehave.

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: Pineapples on the right, bananas on the right, black beans on the left…

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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.

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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. Finally 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.

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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.

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