Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Cuba Travel- continued

Cienfuegos was our next stop and another interesting town with beautifully maintained old buildings and streets around the main square. Looking at the many buildings in Cuba both those in good condition and the ones left to deteriorate it is noticeable the amount of wealth that must have been invested in Cuba over the centuries. This would have been through the slave trade, sugar plantations and later became an American ‘playground’ with casinos and ultimately corruption.

Unfortunately I still was not up to par as we walked around. We ended having ‘another big lunch’ at what seemed to have been a luxurious yacht club. It was a buffet lunch but it was only going to be steamed rice for me. A building near to our lunch stop was once a palace built in the Moorish style of Southern Spain, it is now a hotel and restaurant.
Spanish influenced hotel

We stayed at Hotel Ranchos Luna another resort which was about 17km out of town and not only don’t we get value for money at a resort it is in an inconvenient location.

In morning I took my tablets for my diarrohea and hoped I would be feeling better. We then went to a print workshop set up for students and artists which was very informative. Then off again for ‘another big lunch’ of which I ate nothing though it looked very tasty and was a really lovely little restaurant.

We were then going on a boat trip around the harbour but I was gradually going downhill to the point where I just couldn’t even face sitting in a boat doing nothing. I got Relando to take me back to the hotel where I slept for the rest of the afternoon.

Yvonne dropped by at 6.00pm and re-assured me I hadn’t missed much, but it hadn’t been much of a productive day for me. This was the first time in all my travels that I had such an upset stomach.

We happily left the resort, which was supposedly 5 star but I wouldn’t have given it 2 stars as it was awful.

Off to Santa Clara to the Memorial to Che Guevera and his 29 fellow combatants killed in Bolivia in 1967. Their remains were recovered and brought here 30 years ago. Che is really big in Cuba, his picture is everywhere more so than Fidel’s. He is the socialist ‘saint’ martyred for the cause.
Part of the memorial to Che Guevera

Near the memorial and mausoleum there is a museum using old goods train carriages. It is an exhibition of Che’s operation of destroying the goods train and railway of the Baptista Government.

From Santa Clara we went to the 500 year picturesque town of Remedios. The buildings around the main square were recently renovated for that anniversary.

We stayed at The Barcelona Hotel which is very attractive. We were like kids in a lolly shop as our rooms were not only spacious but nicely decorated with Mucha prints on the wall. The bathroom was also roomy with all the accoutrements one would expect in a mildly upmarket hotel. We were excited to stay somewhere decent after the 2 nights at the horrendous resort, like something out of Soviet Russia.

Our second last day we left at 8.00 am on our long trek back to Havana. We arrived around lunch time on the old fort and lighthouse side of the river. We were seated on a terrace with a great view of the river and the city. It was ‘another big lunch’. After I had made that comment just about every day, Yvonne my companion dubbed me ‘Not another big lunch Frances.’ That said it was a tasty offering of pumpkin soup, lobster and chicken but the dessert spoilt the finish by over the top artificially flavoured strawberry ice-cream.

We then went to visit Cuban artist Ileana Mulet, neither of us was looking forward to it as we felt we were really ‘professional or serious enough artists. However she turned out to be such a delightful person and we had an interesting conversation with Enrique translating.
Yvonne & me with Ileana centre
Her paintings were fascinating as she used a variety of media, though mainly oil and acrylic.

We were then dropped off at our hotel ‘The President’ which is situated along The Presidents’ Boulevard where the statues of former presidents are spaced along the median strip. Being unaware of the time difference between Havana and the provinces we ended up an hour ahead of ourselves for dinner, we wondered why the dining room was empty.

Our last day was a free day. We took the ‘Hop on Hop off’ bus in which was a waste of time as went mainly hotel to hotel, commentary was hard to understand and was not worth the money. One learns from experience. We enjoyed wandering around bought some gifts for people, though souvenir wise there really isn’t much that is tasteful or interesting if you want something other than cigars, rum Che Guevera and Castro memorabilia. We had a voucher for lunch (another big lunch) at the famous Havana Club.

That night we were having our final dinner with our wonderful driver and guide both were delightful company and very chivalrous young men.

Relando picked me up at 4.00am punctual and with a smile the next morning for me to catch my flight home. 
Enrique & Relando

Cuba is a fabulous place and one I would definitely like to revisit.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Cuba travel - March 2016

We started our tour of Cuba, Rita introduced us to our guide Enrique and driver Relando. As there was just two of us we had a normal sedan to continue our trp.

We were now off to Vinales Valley en-route we visited ‘Patio de Peregrin’ a community project that trains the youth in the arts as well as growing organic produce. It was an extensive organization which helped the local community.

We also stopped on our way to Vinales at the famous mural painted on the side of a cliff, ‘Mural Prehistorica’ which depicts a huge snail, sea monsters, dinosaurs and man symbolizing evolution. The scenery of this area is impressive and similar to Guilin in China.
Scenery near Vinales

Vinales is a small town with many bars and restaurants as many tourists visit. Which explains the extensive souvenir trade which are all the same and unimpressive.

Our B&B Vinales
Our accommodation was a rather minimalist B&B the operators didn’t speak any English, the shower didn’t have hot water. My room had no bedside light and the light in the bathroom didn’t work however we were dished up a very tasty dinner there.

Breakfast next morning was 2 fried eggs, bread, fruit, cheese and quince paste and a very nice coffee. We were then picked up and taken to Caverna Santo Tomas the largest cave on the island- absolutely stunning and a beautiful 25 minute boat ride on the stream which runs through the cave.

This was followed by a visit to a tobacco farm, interesting information about the industry. The tobacco leaves are dried, but the humidity keeps the dry leaves pliable and soft allowing them to be easily rolled into cigars. We then driven to Hotel los Jazmines, mainly for the spectacular view. I think this was a place we were meant to sketch but we didn’t feel like plus we didn’t have our art equipment with us.

We returned to the tobacco farm for lunch, the tastiest meal we’ve had so far. We were then dropped back into town and went to El Jardin de Caridad a sprawling garden that has taken almost a century to establish. When we entered we were given a tour with explanations about the various plants which was very informative. The original owners were a Chinese and an African.

We insisted on a light dinner of soup, bread and fruit that night at our B&B.

Another fried egg breakfast, then the boys picked us up early as we had a long drive to Trinidad and our ‘picnic lunch’ consisted of just a cheese roll and fruit juice. The journey took 5 hours with minimal stops.

We arrived at the Resort Costa Sur (all inclusive) for one night. A short swim in the Caribbean and watching the sunset with our pina colada was a minor highlight. Dinner was buffet style and the dance show we watched was enjoyable.
Sunset over the Caribbean

In the morning we would be driving into Trinidad proper and stay in a home. We get there and when our guide checked the address of our accommodation, it was in Santos Spiritus about 70kms in the opposite direction we would be travelling the following day.

Our guide and driver managed to get us a B&B in the town which was really nice. Unfortunately I was unwell – ‘the trots’ but soldiered on the best I could. Trinidad is a delightful town where no new building has taken place for decades. It was very hot and my appreciation of the place was coloured by feeling awful.

My lunch was steamed rice but the bonus while sitting in the garden courtyard was seeing a humming bird and I managed to catch it in a photo.
The elusive humming bird

I should have refrained from dinner that night as the morning proved really bad for my diarrohea.