Joe Zullo – TravelogueBlog March 7, 2019
Introduction – email@example.com
I took my only trip to Cuba from Nov. 29 – Dec. 20, 2018. I have written a travelogue of my adventure. I took over 1,000 photos. At the end of this document are links to web pages on the internet that will open 10 separate photo albums. The document and the photo albums are quite long. Feel free to read all or a little at a time, then go to the end of the document so you can open the links to view the photo albums at your leisure and at several different times. Everything written is my own opinion and your opinion might differ.
As a very brief introduction, I am a U.S. citizen, I wanted to visit Cuba legally through the U.S.Dept. of Immigration, so I purchased a “Tour Package from TourRadar https://www.tourradar.com/t/73213#p=10_” an affiliate of another web site called Corazon Cuba (info. on the Cuba program is at: corazoncuba.com Many Americans visit Cuba by flying to Canada or Mexico and getting a flight from there to Cuba where the Cuban immigration will not stamp their passport. Since I entered directly from the U.S. mine has been stamped. I visited under a U.S. Immigration provision called: For the People and Culture of Cuba”. The tour package I took (which spent most of the time in Havana) is catered to meet the U.S. Immigration provision requirements. It provided Spanish lessons, Salsa dance lessons, guided walking tours, a beach visit, rooms or hostel accommodation, breakfast and lunch. It was well organized, efficiently managed and all the staff were excellent. The price was very reasonable. I would highly recommend it.
I hope you enjoy the read and photos….
Santa Maria beach near Havana 12/2/2018
My third morning in Havana I don’t remember where in my head I placed the other 2 days, but I can say I have not been drinking. I put skin lotion on my feet, legs & face to settle the intense tingling, the pinkness, and the dryness from my afternoon hours yesterday under a tall palm tree at Playa Santa Maria in El Mar Azul, a beach about a 25 minute drive from Havana Vieja. The lovely tan-tinged white, fine sandy beach is long and extensive along the beachfront and wide enough to leave the low-brush tropical greenery and sand verbena behind, opening to a tropical beach vista. A few local proprietors rent their white plastic lounge chairs with dark blue cloth shade umbrellas, a few permanent thatched palm frond talapas and a small unobtrusive kiosk, simple and old, fronted with rum bottles, bitters, coco, water, and soda mixers. These very dark-skinned men and women walked along the beach-front and served the small number and sparsely spread a-part beach bathers cool drinks to quench their sun-lounging and thirsting bodies.
The sea water was variegated and bright and turquoise; and got deeper and darker, but mostly bright turquoise colors of your mental picture of how the Caribbean Sea looks in its tropical inviting way. The locals with their peddled wares of straw hats, or snacks of bagged chips or peanuts, cocos, bananas, and other fruits, strolled by about every 15 minutes pitching their sale in hopes of gaining a few pesos. They are present, but not annoying; theirs is a good service. But, this is not the beach season; it stopped last month when the temperatures were extreme and the humidity dripping. Now, in the shade of the palm tree, it is a very comfortable 80ish degrees, the breeze is slight to none, the air pleasing and the view of mixed people, mostly foreign tourists from Europe and the America’s ranging from bikini beauties to average and big shapes and sizes; but not so different than I see when I go to the Florida beaches… then again it is not beach season, so I just see the few.
I’m here with 19 year-old slim, blond and pretty Norwegian, Rein. She is pleasant, unassuming with an expected idealism of a youthful traveler. She just spent many months in Arizona at an experimental architectural compound with about 75 others doing some-type of artsy, Utopian lifestyle until it was her time to leave for whatever reason. She is young, independent, and my feeling from talking with her the past 3 days is she is a bit spacey….but, that could simply be the language communications; it is likely just my stale oldness shading my view.
It’s now 1:30 on a normal intensely sunny afternoon (and for me hot, but for the locals it is wonderfully nice, being the start of their “winter” in the tropics) that began for me at the Corazon Cuba (the program/tour I am taking) office with the usual breakfast of fruits (pineapple, melon, sweet bananas -those very small ones, ½ canned peach, mango, papaya, and guava – which I don’t like or eat, so I let the Cocinera know today) bread that is soft and flavorless, butter, sliced cheese that edges toward soft and mild, a luncheon meat slice that I have yet to try, dried oats for cereal (but I normally do not drink milk outside of the U.S. other than for coffee…just my own oddity) so I skipped the cereal. It is a healthy breakfast, but leaves me wanting what I am used to….that is my “back-home norm”.
For The People and Culture of Cuba
The program I am in is 2 weeks (although I’ve added an extra 6 days) that fits into the U.S. immigration requirement “for the people and culture of Cuba”, and consists of the following: a private room and bathroom, breakfast & lunch, 3 ½ hours of Spanish lessons each working morning, an afternoon guided walk through parts of Havana for 2 hours on each of 3 days per week, the other 2 days provides a 1 hour Salsa dance lesson by professional dancers, and the friendship of many other people who are in the program. In addition, I’ve signed-up for an overnight trip to a nearby town named Vinales where they grow the tobacco for the famous Cuban cigars. The total cost was just about $1,000 U.S., and I considered that a bargain. The room I have is fine and the bathroom good. Within central Havana Vieja, it is situated in a building that is about 6 short blocks from Lamparilla Street (near Compostella), where the Program administration, eating, getting together, and teaching occurs. That is also the site where most of the participants reside in hostel style rooms (I opted for a private room. Hence I’m in a different building). All is very clean and nice and tries to provide privacy. The Program has a continuous in and out flow of people, beginning and ending whichever program fits their desire. For me, the fit was simply to satisfy U.S. immigration and give me a reason I could visit Cuba in its present “time-warp”.
Walking Havana Vieja
I am exhausted from walking for the past 4 hours in the sun and shade of Havana Vieja (Old Havana, locally spelled Habana – Vieja means OLD; there is also Habana centro – central and Nuevo – new). I walked along the harbor drive of Bahia de Habana seeing historical fortresses, canons from another era that were the protection of this island’s locals from enemy ships. Those were times of real pirates and days of war ship from European nations. I was immersed in history mixed from centuries past to decades past, with the constant passing of Chevys, Fords, Dodge, Pontiac, and other vehicles some from the 1940’s but mostly the 1950’s, shining with their new-looking paint and polished chrome, parked with their hoods opened letting the radiator cool. It is a true time-warp, and I love it!
There are fishermen with hand-lines and others with rods & reels; their leathered features glisten, and hope is deeply-set in their lowly reactive eyes. I spied many fishermen along my mile plus coastal walk but only a couple fish, some mackerel, but mostly small fish. Their time passed with slow anticipation, and my walking pace moved in spurts stopping to take photo after photo, until I entered the shore side of the famous Malecon (roadway and large walkway along the sea-walled coast of Habana Centro. I pushed the camera button to take a photo and the msg. appeared, no battery power…that meant I had already taken plenty of photos since my arrival. I continued my walk for another 30 minutes and decided to begin my return in a different direction. I headed away from the water and toward the juxtaposed streets fingering their way dividing the 2, 3 and 4 story very old, colorful, and in need of maintenance stucco buildings that make-up this part of Havana called Havana Centro. I kept moving in what seemed to be the “right direction”, that is a reverse direction but I was now moving into the city streets. I was beyond the limits of what showed on my paper map and in a district of Havana I had not seen. It was mostly poor and just as fragrant with a stench of heated garbage which fills the dumpsters, boxes and sometimes the curb, which together with the under-designed and non-maintained refuse and sewerage systems are a smell issue. I am sure many of my friends would have difficulty getting past their intensified sense of smell and the sights in order to enjoy the people who live hard lives where the wage is only $1/day and buys very little; in fact, only minimal staples for eating, handed-down clothes for dressing, and using any ways they can think to get pesos to change from another’s hand to theirs. Their lives are much harder than we can understand; and for them, it is how life has been and will continue to be. Yet there is an innate vibrancy in the people who laugh and dance and smile throughout the day. The real hope is that the U.S/Cuba political relations completely thaw, monetary investment comes into Cuba, trade opens with the world, and the years change quickly into very heavy U.S. tourism where dollars can flow into the country and begin filling people’s pockets which in turn will open opportunities for employment and services. Ten years after the politics open, it will look very different here. In 15 years the mind-set of the locals will be very different with many opportunities that are now unthinkable, and a new way of thinking will transcend. It will be just another Caribbean island. It is the inevitable future, only kept artificially halted by the U.S. with the trade embargo. Thus was the creation of life not-allowed to progress with the opportunities of Western World’s progression and change (caused mainly by the trade embargo). Change stifled in 1961 with the advent of the communist regime and they have been living in that time era as if in the old TV show The Twilight Zone, where it has only pushed harder into some time-warp where progress is slow motion; meanwhile the outside world is always in its normal progressive pace. Only recently has the country relaxed its attitude somewhat, allowing some private business fronts which yield spin-off employment opportunities and the beginnings of the prosperity to a few. It is in its infancy, still awaiting the real need, open relations with the U.S. and trade with the world. Cruise ships and mostly European tourism bring much needed currency. The Program I’m in is an example of the change that will prevail.
The Airplane Trip to Cuba – Back To Day 1
On the plane from Atlanta to Cuba, a bit after an hour, I could see out the window sliver views of textured blackened-blue between the obscured cloud deck and knew we were south of Florida, over the Atlantic ocean. Soon, the pilot announced on the intercom, and we began our decent through the clouds, and then I could see the greenery below; mostly natural but spotted with pattern agricultural geometric shapes and sometimes a long linear road cut the green. Then, I could recognize the tops of canopies from coconut palm trees among the other greenery. So, here I was flying just above Cuba feeling in awe when I sighted the opening in the green of the airports control tower and the associated terminal buildings. A few planes could be seen from the runway, all parked and spaced a football field away from each other. We touched down in the bright afternoon, rolled to a stop and I noticed what I have not seen in my air travel over the past 15 years — nobody pulled-out a cell phone; there was no cell phone service.
I felt great about the seemingly historical time-lapse. Cell phone service does exist, but you need the Cuban service which can be purchased. We departed the plane a ways from the terminal building and boarded a modern bus which had us entering the terminal in a few minutes. I followed the crowd, who seemed to know where to go, to our 1st set of lines which was Immigration Control. While on-board the plane we were given a tourist paper and a visa paper, which I had completed showing I had nothing to declare regarding what I was bringing to Cuba, and that I was going under the U.S. legal criteria “for the people and culture of Cuba”. I awaited my turn in line, presented my passport which the officer stamped and was off following the others to the simple baggage revolving belt where the baggage came-up the underground escalator very, very slowly… a bag about every 20 seconds which seemed like a lifetime of waiting. I had my bag after about a 15 minute wait, and I again followed the crowd toward the next set of lines, but spied a sign to my right showing, “Nothing to declare”, and remembering my Internet research, I took that direction “as if I owned the place”; I presented one of the 2 tourist/visa papers I had completed on the plane, and then I was out of the airport seeing the crowd of people awaiting passengers. The Corazon Cuba Program had arranged a taxi driver to pick me up. I scanned the crowd looking for a sign with my name, found it, made eye contact and acknowledged the man, walked to him, shook his hand as he welcomed me to Cuba. I told him I needed to do currency exchange which brought me to another line with about 15 people in front of me. After about 15 minutes, I was handing the clerk 600 Euros (the Internet advised me to exchange Euro’s rather than U.S. dollars because they automatically take 10% of the U.S. dollars before they begin the exchange, then add their fee) and she handed me back the CUC’s (Cuban currency for tourists) in denominations of 20’s and some change. I asked her to break another 20 into 5’s but she refused. That was my 1st bad taste.
The Taxi ride From the Airport
My taxi driver’s car was parked in a remote parking lot which he walked to as I awaited his return; we loaded my luggage which consisted of a 50 lb. checked duffle bag of used clothes and other things, my fully-packed carry-on luggage, plus my very stuffed back pack. Finally, we were off for a few minutes on small roads surrounded by open space and passing into “car history” – my first sightings of the many automobiles from the 1950’s era mixed with other older ones and also newer cars that I did not recognize. I asked the driver if the car next to us was a Renault and he answered that it was a Lada; so I asked where it was made and he said in Russia, then we both had an outburst of loud and boisterous laughter, me knowing that no such car is in the states, and him knowing it is “a total shit car” that Cubans consider “bottom of the line”. We moved onto a major fast moving highway where we were moving at a fast pace for about 12 minutes.
Next, we moved off the highway and I had my 1st close sighting of Havana. Old, colorful stucco buildings all connected (like you would think of townhouses), all 2, 3 and 4 stories high sporting many different shaped styles, colorful and high to very high door entrances and some with balconies. People, dark skinned and tan skinned and some light skinned walking, sitting in dusty doorways wearing long pants, short pants, skirts, casual tops, t-shirts, short sleeve shirts, with most of their attire appearing well-worn and not so bright. The t-shirts are the same as you would see worn in the U.S. Lots of old, whiskered men squatting on doorways or standing and chatting with others on the edges of the narrow one-lane (maybe 15 feet wide straddled on each side by broken concrete very narrow sidewalks) where cars and commercial water/sewer pumping trucks travel, but mostly it is pedestrian traffic, some bicycled taxis with their 2 seat cabs; these tiny roadways or alleyways separate the buildings on each side most having very old balconies that look too broken to stand-on, but have laundry draped over their rod-iron or stucco sides or cords with the laundry drying in the air. The doorways have signs that show they are tiny restaurants (often times a euphemistic term if you are thinking Western World) or tiny store selling a few kinds of items (such as the water and soap store), and doors to enter marble hallways and steps that lead to the many flats where people live and where some rent rooms for the tourists…. These rented rooms are called “Casa Particulares” and are the Communist’s entry into allowing the locals a capitalistic way of earning some income. I will be staying in a Casa Particulares owned by the tour/program operators; this meets a U.S. travel requirement fulfilling the “for the Cuban people and culture” visa.
The Casa Particulares
The driver found our destination address, rang one of 5 buzzers, got no response so he kept trying until finally a woman leaned over the 3rd level balcony to say she would be right with him. He waited a few more minutes and she told him she was trying to call the Corazon Cuba Program’s manager Leonel. Finally, the driver assured me the woman would help me, and said he had to go leaving me at the outside of the building. I gave him a 5 CUC tip and I thought he was going to kiss me; to put that in perspective, that is 5 day’s government wage. A bit later the lady came down, opened the door to very beautiful but narrow marble steps that went up two flights in alternating directions for each story and we were going to he 3rd story. Here I was at 67 years of age with bad knees, a fully loaded backpack on, a 50 lb bag in one hand, my heavy carry-on luggage in the other hand stepping up 6 flights of stairs stopping to rest only once, until finally entering the living room to where I thought I was staying. The lady began dialing phone numbers again until finally speaking with Leonel who told her I was staying at a different place. The current place was where his parents lived (his Dad is a medical doctor and his mom works so they were not at home) and they have a couple rooms they rent, but the rooms were occupied. I again grabbed the heavy luggage and began heaving it down the stairs a step at a time making sure I did not lose my balance on the marble steps. We got to the bottom not a second too soon and I exited onto the broken concrete narrow sidewalk then into the asphalt street among the other pedestrians all busy moving in their different directions, turned right, traveled to the block’s end, turned left onto a street that didn’t look quite as nice, walked another 20 yards and entered the doorway to the building on San Juan de Dios street. At the building’s doorway was a woman sitting and I supposed watching who enters and exits. We walked down the marble hallway another 5 yards to a doorway on the left, unlocked and entered it, and I was greeted in Spanish by the housekeeper, Zeraida, who showed me my room which happened to be directly right of where we stood. She gave me a set of keys, showed me the room with twin beds, bathroom, and remote controls for a wall mounted fan and separate long and high wall mounted (not in a window) air conditioner. The room was nice and I was very happy to set the bags down and call a place “home”. The main entry door to the flat opened into a cozy-size room with a breakfast bar about 8 feet from the door separating the tiny living room area from the tiny, linear, and functional kitchen. It had a small stove, countertop with electric appliances for coffee, a George-Forman type sandwich cooker, a slender refrigerator with a small microwave set on the top. The living room had a very small table against the wall with one chair, above was a nice flat screen, wall mounted TV, and below the breakfast bar were 4 very sturdy stools made of a walnut looking wood. A stairway was immediately left of the door and it went up several steps then turned 90 degrees continuing up to the next level, to a door on the left and another door directly ahead. These were the other 2 rooms in this flat, and each had its own bathroom. I later learned that Leonel’s parents raised him and his brother/business partner Leandro in this flat. I had already been told not to flush toilet paper down the commodes… place the paper in the small trash receptacles next to the toilet. After 2 nights I switched to an upstairs room because of air flow and humidity issues in my 1st room. As it turned-out, switching the air conditioners mode from cooling to humidifier solved this issue.
I felt relaxed putting my luggage in the room and beginning to unpack when I heard a “British or Australian” accent being spoken in the living room. A woman had just arrived. She occupied the room above with another woman who was traveling the globe with her. She was from Brisbane, Australia on their Gold Coast, and was chatting away a mile a minute in English which the housekeeper could not understand. I stepped-out, said my hello, learned she was about to find a place for dinner, so I joined her. The housekeeper recommended we walk up a street about 3 blocks to an area with many restaurant/cafes. We got just that distance when a man standing outside, nicely dressed and looking distinctive in his black 4-inch beard showed us a menu, told us his restaurant was newly opened, and as we saw through the glass front all looked new and modern and clean, so we decided this was the place. The place sparkled with newness. The lovely, very light skinned waitress spoke perfect English, and I thought she was European; I told her so and she laughed and thanked me for the compliment about her English, but assured me she had never traveled outside of Cuba….. I would never have suspected. For my 1st Cuban dinner I had grilled, thin-sliced Pork, grilled mixed fresh veggies, and a large bed of rice. Little did I know that I’d be eating this often because it is a staple restaurant dinner. The accompanying ice-cold Cuban beer was just the needed relaxing touch. Dinner was good, the woman’s company was fine, she was talking a lot and tired my listening. In 2 hours I found myself back in my room. I showered, opened my book and found my eyes closing by 8PM; I was tired because my day had began at 3AM…. And so passed my flight and 1st day in Havana.
My 1st Breakfast at the Corazon Cuba Program Dining Room 3-Dec-2018
It is my son Sean’s 18th birthday today, so I asked someone if they could message him, but when they returned they told me there was no WiFi connection to the internet at the nearby park. There are small green parks throughout Havana and these are areas where you can get WiFi access. I could ask Leonel, but I’ve already asked him for a few messaging favors and that is enough. So, the birthday card I had left Sean before leaving Alabama would have to suffice.
A new crowd has come to our morning breakfast table at Corazon Cuba. The other’s I had met have left or are about to leave. A couple close to my age, Rose and Mike; they are seasoned global travelers and have traveled most of Latin America. Rose wants to brush-up on her Spanish, so she joined the program; Mike simply tagged along with his wife; he is a hobby artist and spends his time walking about Havana sketching whatever interests him. Also, are a couple of guys who are from London, although one is Nigerian and the other Pakistani. They both just graduated from University of Oxford near London, are on break and will return to go to law school to be solicitor’s (one of 2 types of lawyers in the UK.). Also, there is Sofie, a beautiful 20 year-old German girl, a Holland girl of 23 named Mica who has been traveling the past 1 ½ years. A 22 year-old Englishman who has been here for 1 week and still has 3 weeks left in his program. In addition there are 2 women from Chicago who are here doing some volunteer work and will do whatever tasks are assigned by Leonel. Anyway, the crowd makes for a loud foray of questions and answers of “Where are you from; how long have you been traveling; how old are you… and hearing about lots of ideals that I spouted when I was their age”. I listen lots trying to hear what is closest to me since my hearing is so bad; I always have difficulty when there is more than one voice. The people are nice; the house and kitchen workers are all polite, friendly and nice. I have yet to meet the teachers. After a bit, Leonel begins giving his Program introduction which I heard Saturday; then he cuts it short so he can give everyone a Spanish test and place them accordingly into the teaching level that fits.
Fifteen minutes later, Katy, a 24 year old veterinarian from Brooklyn, NY and I are assigned to Laritza and told to climb halfway up the stairs to a small loft area under the caged cockateel birds, where we will have our lessons. Laritza is a lovely 25 year old who enjoys learning languages, speaks excellent English, knows her grammar, and is taking a class in Chinese, “just for the fun of it”. They have me in medium advanced, but I quickly determine that Katy speaks much better than I, and my guess is I did well on the reading and responding to written questions, but regarding speaking, I will hold Katy back. Anyway, Laritza begins by asking in Spanish our backgrounds, why we are here and generally gets us talking… as best we can in Spanish with her always there to help us out, but 1st requiring us to make the effort. It is obvious that Laritza had done this before and she is quite smooth with her tone and leading us in what we are trying to say.
We are seated at a small oval, white rod iron patio table with Laritza on one side holding a white board in her hand and us straddling the other side, speaking and trying to keep-up scribbling in our notebooks. Every time Katy speaks, I think she knows so much more than I and that I should be at a lower level. Our little veranda is at a 2 ½ level tier with the staircase continuing to the 3rd level where the office is and where other teachers are doing the same thing. The tropical birds are very loudly screeching as we have our lesson. I tell Laritza that I am deaf in one ear and have real difficulty hearing, especially when there are no walls present for the sound waves to bounce. It might sound like I’m making excuses, but she can quickly tell that I can not hear much of what she is saying, and being in a foreign language only adds to my demise; then, there are the screeching birds, and just below me is the kitchen where the Cocinera’s(the kitchen workers) are cleaning-up from breakfast and preparing for lunch. Laritza tells us there will be homework most nights and I cringe knowing that I am taking a “real” Spanish class. I brought a Spanish dictionary with me to Cuba, but gave it to another girl two days earlier because she said she needed one, and I never took his class seriously. I see that was a mistake. Luckily, the woman returned my dictionary 3 days later. Finally, the class ends and my tenseness from trying to “glue” unfamiliar words together into a sentence, subsides.
Lunch at Corazon Cuba
It’s lunch time. Everyone gathers at the two long tables that mostly fill the dining room, and chatter begins as the cooks (Cocinera’s) hand out plates filled with rice, a little pork cut in strips, some vegetable, a small bowl of bullion soup with tiny pasta, and the usual shared plates of sliced tomato, large chunks of avocado, and slices of cucumber. We eat and the hour passes quickly; most of the group now go to their orientation tour, but I stay back with the Nigerian Oxford graduate, Folarin, and somehow we get into talking about the stock market. He is doing the listening and asking the questions and I’m telling the stock market story and explaining how to buy and sell and how the market can be reactive. I can tell he is at the same stage I was in when I 1st came to Huntsville and began buying Intergraph stock 35 years ago. It has been and continues to be a real life lesson to me. He listened with open eyes and ears.
Walking Tours of Havana Vieja
Later, One of the Corazon Cuba teachers takes us on a walking tour of a part of Havana Vieje (one of many). I walk the streets/alley’s of Havana Vieja as I had during the week-end; however, now it is a different time, a different direction, I see different people, and a different dustiness mixed with nicely painted places; same strong sewer & putrefaction smells emanating from the 5-10 small size trash dumpsters found every few blocks apart, and from dirty water puddling the curb or ponding in the broken asphalt streets and narrow sidewalks. Your sense of sight, while watching the unending, tall and colorful buildings with their very old and non-maintained facades, rod-iron 2nd and 3rd floor balcony’s showing stretched cords with clothes hanging and displaying crumbling asphalt corners eroding with time’s weathering punishment. At the same time your eyes must take care to lead your feet on a safe trek because the sidewalk and asphalt road/alley can be treacherous; cutting, breaking, and pulverized spreading of the asphalt and concrete and the grilled sewer covers at curbside often are not flush with the road. This exists enough that you need to be conscious of the possibility of twisting a foot or ankle; consequently, you have to keep your eyes alert to the road surface, so dividing your desire to look up at the views of the buildings is safer done when you stop walking and make time for photos.
When I’ve traveled countries lacking the economic opportunities to build and maintain a modern infrastructure (generally 2nd & 3rd world countries), my sense of smell is totally on high alert. It is simply the result of the waste disposal problems with solid and liquid wastes. It is something I take for granted in the U.S. because I seldom find places in the states with these problems. So, don’t take my words regarding the bad smells I experience during my city walking as anything more than information. They are real and part of Havana. It doesn’t change the fact that Cuba offers so much with its differences in ways of living, in its people’s vitality, in its sense of rhythm and song and laughter and exuberant life, its varied architecture, its colorful life to be a place offering a unique experience. The time-warp into a 1960’s TV set is priceless. Yes, Cuba has economic issues and all the things that come with it, but time and capital investment will rectify that and then the waste systems will be repaired and the olfactory issue will subside.
Gran Teatro Nacional
Last night, I was so lucky to get a ticket (after it was sold-out) to a world class ballet by director Carlos and Acosta Danza; There were 2 ballets, the 1st was very contemporary, lasted about 40 minutes and I was in heaven watching it. It was absolutely magnificent. The 2nd was as good, it was his variation of the classical ballet “Carmen” and also captivated me. The performance was in the Gran Teatro Nacional which is very, very “Ritzy” and was a highlight of my Cuba visit. It was mesmerizing! If you have the chance, see a performance here.
The Birthday Party 7-Dec-2018
My teacher Laritza was turning 25 and had never had a birthday party, so her co-workers decided to give her a party on Friday night at 9PM. It would be on the 4th floor roof top of the Corazon Cuba building overlooking the neighborhood. I walked the 6 blocks from my flat, arrived about 9:15PM, climbed the many stairs to the rooftop and was met by pitch black and the silhouette of a woman whom I had not seen. I introduced myself, told her about the party and then said I must have made a mistake regarding where it was because nobody was here. She told me her name and that she arrived 30 minutes earlier after flying-in from Germany, that she had been here before and loved the people at Corazon Cuba and was awaiting the arrival of another women flying-in from Sweden. She also told me she had just met the 2 Oxford boys and seeing no party action, they went back to their room. She told me I need to understand Cuban time and 9PM really means 10:30PM. So, I found some other people on the floor below and passed the time with them until 10:30, when the music started blasting and several of the Cuban guys had arrived. The guys immediately started dancing while the women stood around and chatted. Just the opposite occurs in the U.S., so I was totally caught by surprise; and the guys were really getting into their dance moves and having the best time out there. This continued for about 20 minutes before a special song started, and suddenly all the women were on the dance floor, music blaring, bodies moving with a special rhythm and curving and smoothness like a snake moves… and the party was in full action mode. I loved it. More people came, soon no one could resist the beat and everyone was moving, even me! I was laughing and talking and watching with amazement how well these Cubans dance so smoothly with a sensuousness for dancing with their inner body rhythm. Laritza, who is a bit shy, finally got out on the dance floor with everyone else, and her smile extended from Havana to the stars. She was so happy. People brought appetizers, lots of rum, and I had bought a birthday cake. People ate and kept dancing. The other foreigners who were there were all having the best time. I lasted until the midnight hour and decided this was my highlight of the trip so far, and it was time to head to my bed. Of course, for all the young people there, the party was just getting hot and they continued for another 3 hours until their energy also ran out. I loved Laritza’s party where I got to see my new friends having such a wonderful time doing what Cuban’s are renown for doing….dancing!
The Time Gap
It’s been 10 days since my last written entry. Please excuse the long time gap. I had read so much about how safe it is in Cuba and how crime does not happen that I became a little laxed in my common sense. I had left my laptop/note book in the living-room of our 3 room shared flat for 2 nights, and on the 3rd day I worked on this document and uploading about 400 photos from my camera’s memory disk. I then shutdown the notebook and left to go to my 1st one hour Salsa dance lesson. Nobody was in our flat. I returned an hour and fifteen minutes later to find that my laptop was missing and presumed stolen. Without putting me in a tailspin, it nonetheless took the air out of my positive mind-frame, and I quit writing for 10 days. I can’t get the 1st version of this document back, so I was pretty disappointed… here I am trying to write it a 2nd time.
Leonel, the housekeeper, my housemates and I searched the entire flat to no avail. We were all gone for only the one hour. Someone must have known about the laptop and where it was and that we would all be gone at that time…. At least that is my thinking…but, what do I know? We did not report it to the police because I thought that would not get my laptop back and the last thing I wanted to deal with is the Communist policing bureaucracy. I never saw the laptop again. My intention was to give it to my teacher as a gift before I left, but that didn’t happen.
My transport to the town of Vinales in the mountainous part of Cuba was on a very modern, air conditioned bus that was an hour late leaving in the morning because of traffic issues due to some political big-wig from a Latin American country being in town; so some traffic lanes were closed for security. But, we were finally on our way, through Havana Nuevo, and I had not ever seen this part of Havana. I was quite surprised at the cleanliness, the nicer and more modern buildings, the wider streets, more cars and generally an upscale part of Havana. Now, please don’t think I do not like old Havana; it has a charm like no other and that is missing in Havana Nuevo. The bus continued to the autopista (kind of like an interstate… a fast highway)…the main highway covering long distances between important towns….but still only 2 lanes each way. I looked out the bus window the entire two plus hours of the ride. It was simply rural green open space with some small farms, but nothing like America. When entering the Rio de Pinar Province, where the Vinales valley sits, the highway begins its mountainous decline and we exit onto a much smaller, very winding mountain style roadway which declined into the valley of Vinales. The valley is home to the best tobacco farms of Cuba. A special type coffee tree that produces a different tasting coffee bean and is responsible for the very strong Cuban coffee is also grown; In addition comes a specialty local liquor renowned throughout Cuba and a local honey from the bees that frequent the flowers from these trees.
I exited the bus and looked for a sign with my name, when a man came-up to me and asked if I was Joseph, and that is how I met my new Casa Particulares owner, Sergio. I would be staying at his house with his wife Mari and two young children. We walked about 100 yards to the front of his small, wide all stucco yellow home with a nice small cement porch having 3 rockers made of aluminum with clear plastic narrow webbing. The width of the house was about 20 feet; parallel to and in front of the porch is a one meter wide cement lined drainage channel that is 12 inches deep and extends to all the houses. It is the drainage system for the rains, and from its size, they must get some huge downpours that quickly turn into a small river in the channel. In front of the channel is a 10 ft. wide grassy area followed by a four meter wide (huge) sidewalk that extends for about 100 yards. Next, another little grass area is followed by the 4 lane asphalt road which divides the same mirrored development on the opposite side. This development parallels the street going into town for about 100 yards at which time the wide sidewalk narrows to a normal width. Many of the homes have two or three pillars on their front side at the edges holding a roofed, concrete-lined porch area and all having the same rockers and front doors. The scene repeats itself the entire 100 plus yards going into town where the development turns into many modest and lovely cafes with nicely set clothed tables, glass and dinnerware; six to 10 tables are set at the outside of the cafes and more as you enter the doorways, different style restaurants line both sides of the streets, colorful and story-book style buildings set with intermittent tourist shops and the few tiny and simple stores serving the local’s needs. I did see one market, about the size of a U.S. convenience store (think 7-11) but having 1/2 the number of goods; but still, that is one of the largest supplied stores that I’ve seen since being in Cuba.
Money and buying things….
As a consumer, getting products and food in Cuba is not easy. First, the people have very little money since the average wage is 1 CUC per day. The CUC is the tourist’s currency and set at prices you would expect a tourist to be comfortable with. The locals have their own peso (CUP) and 25 of them equal 1 CUC… or about 4 cents U.S. Their peso buys about what a nickel would have bought in the U.S. in 1960, however there just are not a variety of goods to buy. So, having no money is one problem exacerbated by having little choice of product to buy. Remember, anything that can be imported will be at a “global” price and out of most people’s price range. I’m told the locals get a monthly government allocation of staples like rice, beans, bread and whatever makes-up “staples”. Vegetables, fruits, chicken, pork and eggs, all locally grown are normally available; although eggs were not available in Havana the last week of my trip. Beef is not an item readily available. So, even though poverty is prevalent, it has been their 3rd world norm at least since the 1961 revolution (and likely before) when the U.S. created the trade embargo and a Communist government began.
When walking the narrow streets of Havana Vieja, I sometimes see CUP pesos passing in a hidden way and something passed through a rod-iron bar past a window, or simply passed through a window opening fronting the road. This type buying of things often takes place through very tiny and dirty windows or doorways where someone has a few things to sell. I can’t say for certain this is illegal because I don’t see what is purchased, but I always get the feeling from its quickness, it is not above board. I’m told a small black market exists, but on a limited scale since doing things against the law has very quick and stiff penalties. That is why I’m told it is so safe in Cuba; if you are caught disobeying the law you could be quickly put in prison for a long time.
I have seen a supermarket in Havana Vieja (Harris Brothers) catering to the tourists and people with money, but that store doesn’t have what would be found in part of just one aisle in an American grocery store. I was taken aback by so few products and no variety. A bottle of beer costs more than a $1, a 12 oz. Soda is 50 cents, a liter of super-pasteurized milk is $2 (I have not found fresh milk), water is $1.90 for a 5 liter bottle which I buy every 5 days. The locals drink the faucet water because their stomachs can deal with the microbes, but not the tourists. I am not complaining about the prices, I am only trying to give you an idea of them. These prices are out of reach for the locals. I did get sick, (stomach cramps for 4 days, and Montezuma’s revenge) as did several other people in the group. I can only guess that it might be from the fresh vegetables that are not cooked, such as tomato, cucumber, lettuce…. things that are rinse in the local water. Again, I’m only guessing as to the cause; other than that, I’d been very careful about what I ate.
Learning Marketing Principles….
Leandro, the other partner and brother who head the Program, told me that about 15 years ago in the Universities, some capitalistic marketing ideas were introduced and these tiniest new beginnings now show among some of the young. It is particularly evidenced in the “Casa Particulares”, where a room in a person’s modest home can be rented to tourists thereby giving the owner some means of earning money. It is government watched and a common rate is $25 CUC per night but different places may charge different rates, and many will offer breakfast for an additional $5 CUC. This is almost 1 months working wage. This has spread opportunity to many and brought in huge amounts of money to those having rooms they can rent. I’ve only viewed a few of these rooms for rent, but all were clean with a nice bed, fan, air conditioner and a small tiled bathroom; I think they are a great value. Mind you, you are living in a family’s home which can have a friendliness to it, but is not “hotel private”. One time I was served dinner which was deliciously home cooked, flavorful and twice as much food as I could eat. I was served rice, beans, and a veggie like casaba (which boiled, peeled like a potato, is delicious), fresh sliced cucumber, sliced tomato and carrot, and some chicken. I thanked her energetically and she appreciated the praise.
Back to Vinales….
After putting my things in my room, Sergio recommended I go to a restaurant to eat. It was directly around the corner, offered chicken cooked on an open pit grill and just happened to be owned by his uncle. It had a nice outdoor colonial look, I sat down, ordered ¼ chicken and was treated to a very delicious meal for $5. It included the best freshly made limeade I’ve ever drank. The grilled chicken had a great grilled flavor, and I know the chicken had been alive that morning, so it tasted very fresh.
Now, what happened between the delicious grilled chicken lunch and the wonderful homemade dinner served in Sergio’s home that evening is the real adventure. After settling-in upon arriving at Vinales, the normal part of the Corazon Cuba Program is to go for a horse ride followed by a visit to a tobacco farm. But, since horses and I have never had a fondness for each other, I told Sergio I did not want to do the horse ride. Here is where my lack of Spanish and his lack of English meshed into a mash. So, I sat on the porch in a rocker for about 10 minutes, when a very dark skinned Cuban man wearing 14” high rubber boots come-up and Sergio introduces Luis to me, then tells me that Luis will lead me on a walk into the National Park. Well, that sounded like a good substitute for the horse ride to me, so up I got from the rocker and followed Luis past the restaurant where I had just eaten, and continued a short way until the asphalt road turned to a dirt road, and continued again for a short way to where the dirt road stopped and a 5-6 foot wide dirt trail continued. So, we took the trail and I soon saw horse dropping all along the trail, and as we walked for a time, we came across several riders on horses. It was soon evident to me that my walk into the National Park was simply us walking the horse trail. OK, that seemed all right until about 25 minutes hiking and I started to ask myself if I’d have been better off on a horse rather than hiking the trail that was slightly inclined on both sides, had an eroded small channel in the middle and had horse dung everywhere. All traces of houses were nowhere to be seen and it was green everywhere. In front, but mostly to my left were very high, very steeply protruding singular mountains that demanded the viewer’s sight. The scenery was beautiful within the valley, laced on its periphery with these huge singular conical mountains…. I would think of them as volcanoes, but I saw no trace of basaltic or volcanic debris; and I recall the bus driver telling us that the valley was under water millions of years ago and was made mostly of sediments and limestone which was a reason for the many caves that could be found in the area. So, remembering a bit of my geography education, my guess is the mountains are made of some material much harder than most of the valley and that most of the valley is made of eroded deposits of the surrounding land and the sediments from when it was under water. And I was told the soil is iron rich, so maybe the iron is eroding from the much harder mountain material. So much for that guess; the point is that the valley’s scenery is very lovely and topographically varied and eye catching.
Back to the horse trail that I am walking swiftly on to keep pace with Luis’s long gate and fast walk in his nice rubber boots that have walked this area his entire life and whose site and smell do not even register in his mind. But me, much of my attention was trying to pick my steps to avoid the dung, while the smell could not be stepped over and the lovely scenery was missing my eyes. More horse riders (tourists) were passing us in the return direction and my guess is I was supposed to be with one of these small groups. I did not know how far we had to walk, the sun was now obscured by clouds that drifted in and were darkening the sky. My mood was on the verge of changing from “being on a lovely walk in the park” to “we’ve been walking quite a long time, my shoes don’t work on this trail, the scenery is lovely but the sky has darkened and is showing sure-tell signs of rain and we are probably going to be caught in it”. Minutes later, the 1st scattered but large drops began to fall while our pace was maintained. My feet were still fine, stepping on each slightly sloping side of the rutted, low-level dirt path with its tiny parallel, eroded and somewhat sinuous beginnings of a gully centered as best gravity could do. I asked Luis “how much further” and he responded not much, as he stayed 15 feet ahead of me maintaining his stride. Then thunder exploded in the distance, the skies brightness to one side hid the lightning as the other side’s darkening was rapidly overtaking the clear part of the sky. The cold front I had been told about was now pushing directly above me and the rain was pouring. Luis is still moving swiftly in his boots, our clothes are now wet, meanwhile the dirt path is quickly becoming mud. With each step, my nice Montrail running shoes with their bright orange colored soles are caked with mud. The minutes pass, the rain pours, adjoining the trail’s muddy surface and sloped sides is the surface run-off that is moving to this lowest point, in this case it is the small rivulet in the middle of the trail and it has started its ephemeral stream, slight but moving and muddy and slippery and to be avoided by my feet. Again, none of this phases Luis with his appropriate boots, so he continues as he did a few minutes back when the sun was shining and all was dry. I can no longer avoid the horse shit which has begun liquefying, mixing with the mud and moving on the surface and into the stream of moving water. Luis’s pace never slows. The sloped side is slippery, so I try my best to walk gingerly and flat-footed, lifting my foot straight-up then moving it forward then setting it straight down. It is much more difficult to walk this way and it slows my pace. But, I don’t want to slip, so I begrudgingly look forward with a full understanding of Luis’s lovely boots and try to keep pace with him. We come to barbed-wire fencing 3 different times, and each time Luis stops and spreads the wire so I can move my leg like a hurdler over the wire and follow it with the other leg. I am holding onto the moving barbs the entire time knowing I don’t want to have my foot slip and my balls posted on the fence. I stretchingly hobble over each time, keeping one foot as firmly planted on the mud as I can, holding the barbed wire to maintain my balance, then lifting my leg high and over. My 35 years of daily stretching has done me well for this task. Still walking quickly in the downpour for the past 15 minutes, I am trying my best o make steps into the brush adjoining the trail, but the brush is full of burrs and my pants are already loaded with them. Again I yell to Luis, “how much further” only to get the same answer as before, “not much”.
A few minutes later I take my first slip of one foot and my hand reflexively goes down into the crud to catch me, as my brain registers “yuck” and my first curse word abruptly escapes my lips and my “until then positively thinking mind” subsides. My mood is quickly turning to frustration. We continue to go on like this, and I begin saying under my breath, “shit,shit,shit”, and am soon hearing myself more loudly, “shit, shit, shit” which seems to be my sound for the next several minutes. Luis can sense that I’m not too happy, but there is nothing he can do, so he maintains his pace telling me there is not much further to go. The rain slackens to a sprinkle which is a mental relief; the mud and stream I’m walking on are total yuck, but I feel some positiveness. We continue like this for 10 more minutes when the sprinkling completely stops; in another 2 minutes we reach our destination.
The Tobacco Farm & Cigars….
Unknown to me, our destination is the tobacco farm, and we have arrived at a 6 ft. by 6 ft. ruddy, weathered-gray shack with a shed style roof, and one of the farmer’s adult son’s is greeting me. He is nicely dressed, appears to be about 24 years old, and proceeds to give me a lesson on the area, the soil, how it is the best place in the world to grow tobacco because the soil is rich in iron, it sits in a high mountain valley getting ample precipitation and under these conditions tobacco thrives. He explains how the tobacco grows, its sizing on the plant and how it is cut then placed into one of 3 groups, small, medium, and large leaves, each having a distinct change of flavor, thus demanding a different price. When the tobacco is harvested 90% is immediately taken by the government, leaving him 10% to sell and sustain his way of life. He takes his 10%, hangs it in the aging shed, sprays it once with a mix of lime, honey, cinnamon and water and lets it age for 4 months. His spray has no non-natural preservatives, but will keep the tobacco good for about 3 years. The government uses chemical preservatives in their process and their cigars will still be good after 15 years. After taking it from the aging shed, the farmer removes the center vein, which holds most of the nicotine. This is another step the government and other cigar growers do not take. He also mixes all 3 classes of leaves, he cuts them to cigar size, rolls it into a cigar shape, then finishes the rolling by placing it into a special paper where he rolls it more tightly bound into a final cigar. I watch him do the rolling and it is a great way to completely change my mood from our adventurous mud trek.
I ask lots of questions and he happily enjoys the interest and answers; he then tells me he has 2 cigar bundles, one of 20 cigars for 60 CUC and the other of 30 cigars for 90 CUC. Each bundle is tightly wrapped in skins from the trunk of a palm tree, which he explains will help keep the cigars fresh. I asked him is there an incentive, discount price to get me to buy the larger bundle. He did not understand the logic of the question. I immediately recognized that he had no education of a capitalistic profit volume incentive; and it is true, such a thing is completely foreign to his communist educated manner of thinking; besides, he is a farmer not a broker. So, I quickly changed the direction and asked him, “aren’t we going to light one up and try it?”, and he nodded, of course. He snipped the lip-end off the cigar he just rolled, dipped his finger into some honey, spread the honey very thinly on the lip-side outer cigar skin and told me for non-cigar smokers this provides a sweeter and more pleasing flavor. He lit it up, I took several puffs before getting a good one in my mouth, held it for several seconds and exhaled. It was subtly sweet and nice, nothing like I remember in the past when I tried a cigar, which left a very nasty taste with me. I liked the cigar. I sat in silence not saying anything and he said nothing. For me it was a sales technique I learned years ago, that silence will usually cause one of the party’s to be uncomfortable enough to make a decision, yea or nay. We sat for almost a minute until I finally said something about the 20 pack was cheaper and that is what I should buy; he was ready to give it to me. But, then I said, I’ll likely get back to Alabama and kick myself for not spending the extra $30 and getting the 30 pack. This went over his head and did not faze him. I bought the 30 pack and proceeded to try and teach him a little marketing and selling technique of “how to offer the cigar tasting”, “how to ask if the flavor is sweet and tasty”, “how to ask if the cigar was enjoyable”, how to say some positive lines about the moment while asking, “would you like another puff?” so that when the person gets back home, they can share this moment with their friends. Then, ask them in closing, would you like the 30 pack of cigars that contain no nicotine and no preservatives, were grown, picked and aged right here on the farm, and will last for 3 years. I repeated all this again, but left seeing a blankness in his eyes. He was the farmer, I was the salesman; but we laughed, enjoyed each other’s chat and company, and had a good time.
Next, I walked about 20 feet to another place where a different, very tall, golden skin, chiseled- face with high cheek bones, big, happy guy presented me with his talk about the coffee trees grown in the valley; telling me the coffee bean produced here is quite different than other coffee beans grown elsewhere. Before he got too far, I told him he looked like a Spanish Conquistador who should be wearing metal armor and carry a long sword; this had him laugh as he told his nearby friends what I’d said and they all laughed. He told me about the coffee bean and what made it different from others and gives Cuban coffee a very strong taste and distinct very deep black look…almost a mud. I knew of the taste from drinking it for the past 2 weeks, but also because they sell it at Costco in the U.S. and I had bought it; but, after drinking it for a week, I gave the entire large bag away. It was just too strong for my taste. I had not thought of watering it down, which is what I have been doing the past 2 weeks, and enjoying the coffee which quickly wires me for hours. I’ve also had it in Havana a few times as espresso drenched in their pure cane sugar and it gets me going like a rocket blast. Anyway, I did not buy any. He then proceeded to tell me about a special guava-rum liquor they make only in Vinales that is renown throughout Cuba…. Sorry, but I only had my carry-on backpack for the return airplane trip and they would not allow me to take liquids on the airplane. He then told me about the special honey from this valley, but again, no liquids on the airplane.
This entire time I had been hot from the warm air, the humidity from the rain, and the long hike. Smart for them, they had a small cafe in which they offered drinks, cerveza, and snacks. I bought myself a beer, and Luis 2 beers. It was a nice 20 minute rest before we began our return.
The return hike….
We began our hike back. Luis told me we would take a short cut that was quicker… this gave me an upbeat feeling. But, that quickly faded 20 minutes into our return on the mud/shit/water river trail with me trying not to slip but going down to my hand a 2nd time. He took me up a steeper sloped hill with low-growing trees covering it and jungle vines which gave me something to hold on to; because the steepness of the slope added to the muddiness, it made the walk much more precarious. The short cut did not last too long and at the end, I don’t think it saved that much time. I continued tromping through the smelly sludge; I’d given-up on keeping my shoes clean because they were caked in sludge, my pants were muddy to the shins and they were full of burrs from my waist down. I was very focused on keeping my feet out of the river in the middle of the trail. My forehead was sweating, Luis’s pace never let-up, my out-loud cursing re-started and continued this way for a long time. Finally, we were getting back to the trail and seeing tourists on horses. At least that told me we were heading home; then, I could see a shed a long way ahead. Finally, I could see houses in the distance and we changed from the mud/sludge/river trail onto broken asphalt mixed with gravel and dirt. We were getting there. When at the end and I asked, Luis told me we traveled a little over 6 km (about 3 – 4 miles) but on the trail with the dirt, with the horse dropping, with the rain that turned the trail to mud, with the slight sloping edges of the trail, with the little river that developed in the trails center, with the brush and its ubiquitous burrs, and under the downpour, it seemed much further. One good thought was it was going to make a great story being told to friends over a beer back in Alabama, even though at the moment I was not a happy “hiker”, being wet, having muddy pant legs and burrs, and having shoes caked in sludge. I wiped my feet best I could on the grass, the rock, the asphalt and anything I thought would help rid my shoes of the crud.
Back in the Casa Particulares….
I got back to Sergios’s house, thanked Luis for the adventure and tipped him enough that he smiled largely. Sergio’s wife, Mari saw me, saw the expression on my face, saw the burrs, the muddy pants, the very muddy shoes, my sweaty forehead and my look of exasperation; she led me along the side of her house to the water spigot, gave me a brush and water bucket and I spent 10 minutes very carefully cleaning-up. She found a pair of Sergio’s old slippers and gave them to me, and I left my wet sneakers on her porch hoping they might dry.
I went to my room, took a very nice shower and cleaned-up. I then sat on the porch in the rocking chair while Mari made me a very delicious dinner. After eating, I returned to the porch with my John Grisham book and intermittently read and watched the people walk along the sidewalk, the young teen boys and girls gathered at a nearby bench waiting for a time when a nearby house door opened and they all entered for some get-together. Sergio told me I had to get up early for the 5:30 sunrise hike. I adamantly told him NO! That I would sleep-in and skip the hike. I said I would have my breakfast at 8AM so he canceled the previous plans. I continued to enjoy the early night as the light turned to dusk and dark. By 8PM my eyelids were falling, so I said good-night to the family and went to my room where I quickly fell asleep and slept solidly all night. My breakfast of hot tea, a sweet and durable pancake, a banana, and pineapple (I declined the guava, mango and papaya) was good. I then went to the porch with my book, saw my shoes were not drying much, so I got the fan and placed it in front of them; it is where they stayed for the next 4 hours. I sat on the rocker, read my book, watched people, watched the sky again open and the rain come down, and I was so happy I had canceled my sunrise hike knowing I would now be soaking wet and miserable.
The rain stopped about 9AM and I walked the sidewalk into town, looking at the cafes, restaurants, stores, and people. I took at least 75 photos as I walked the main and the side streets. Upon my return, I stopped at a cafe offering an egg and toast breakfast and sat down, shared small talk with the owner, had a delicious hand-squeezed orange juice and fried eggs and bread (they did not toast it, and I was not going to complain). It was delicious. I made my way back to Sergio’s home, sat on the porch again and read and watched people. When I saw Sergio I asked about the bus and he told me I would not take a bus back, but instead I would take a shared taxi. I would have rather taken the same bus back, but again, I was not about to argue. The taxi ended-up being a nice full-size van, air conditioned and we spent an hour traveling to houses in town picking-up passengers until all seats except the one between myself and another women were filled. Lucky me, I got to ride back without someone sitting next to me.
Impressions of Cuba….
I really liked the town of Vinales. It was a great way to decompress from the urban living of Havana. It was like a small town in the U.S. and gave me a similar peaceful feeling. I could not stop taking photos. I could have spent 4 or more days there simply relaxing, walking, hiking, eating at different cafes and enjoying the town’s ambiance. I’m so glad I decided to book the Vinales trip, otherwise I would have had a very different view of Cuba, when in fact I had only seen Havana Vieja and had no information from which to draw judgment of Cuba. I’d only seen one small part of this country and that there was still the entire island with its many towns and cities still awaiting my discovery.
Cuba is a completely different looking place then my other country travels; caught in this 1960 time-warp, isolated from most of the world because of the U.S. trade embargo, a place with incredible architecture so in need of maintenance, along with an infrastructure begging for repair. The people; well they are incredibly smiling, hugging, touching, laughing and happy. They know they are poor. They know they need the U.S. and Cuban political worlds to hold peace and shake hands. The people I met love Americans. The people have an island-world of music; by the time a child begins to walk, he/she is already dancing and intrinsically learning a musical rhythm, a body movement that flows like water, it is their happy cultural way. If you hear music in Cuba, you will see someone dancing… the men will often start on their own and the women will join in their time with their bodies that move like flowing curves to the sounds and the feeling is simply joyful. Their bodies move like snakes, curving, slow, fast, bright and mysterious. And me, I took my 4 salsa lessons and was as stiff as steel, no flow, no rhythm, no correct step; the more I tried and concentrated, the stiffer I became. I was not born with it. In Cuba, you are. I did not even get out to the nightlife of bars and music. That is where so much of the local’s “way” can be heard and seen. And, me, I missed all that. Well, that world is for the youthful…. Yes, Cuba is all of this and much, much more. You need to experience it before it changes into, “just another Caribbean island”!
I was again lucky enough to go to the Gran Teatro Nacional in Havana to attend the ballet tonight. It was Cascanueces (The Nutcracker) and it had my total attention for every second. It was the 5th time I’ve seen it, but the 1st time by a professional ballet troupe. I absolutely loved the magnificence of this performance. Yes, it was a highlight of my Cuba visit.
THE END …
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CUBA PHOTO ALBUM LINKS
joez firstname.lastname@example.org Cuba Google Photo Albums on the Internet Web
Album 10 Vinales