Monday, 31 December 2012

Cuba ... heading west

All to soon it was time to leave Havana and head west to explore the Pinar del Rio province.

We travelled through the national park on Peninsular de Guanahacabibes to the spectacular Maria la Gorda. This is a very remote beach which is the base for some of the best diving in Cuba.

It was a tough few days here ....

Please disregard the different coloured toe nails!

Eventually I dragged myself off my sun lounge and headed to Vinales.

The road trip was fun, stopping off to check out a rum factory, a cigar factory and eat street pizza with the locals.

This small town is nestled in Valle de Vinales which was declared a world heritage site in the 90's for it's rocky outcrops and amazing architecture of traditional farms and villages. We stopped at a look out on the way into town to admire the view.

I settled into Casa Pippa & Myra, my home stay for the next three days. While I don't speak spanish I soon felt at home. It may be because Myra reminded me so much of Grace, my friend Tannie's mum!

We went for a big walk out of town, through different farms and popped through a cave. The landscape is spectacular.

But even more amazing was watching the farmers at work. No machines for these guys, it's horse or oxen power all the way. It's not strange to see a farmer head through town on a horse and cart, wearing is cowboy hat.

We stopped at a coffee and tobacco farm. Yes, I know, my kinda place. While the coffee pot was set to boiling on the wood stove the old lady who ran the farm whipped up a cigar. Her speed was incredible, one minute there were some tobacco leaves, the next minute she was puffing away. So I joined in, it would have been rude not to really.

We also stopped at another farm where there was a fresh juice stall. Nothing like fresh pineapple juice right from the source.

Climbing up the rocks and through a dark cave we came out to an amazing view. And it was loads of fun climbing around in my havai's. Those flip flops make for mighty fine climbing boots!

The next day we popped to the beach, about and hour and a half from town. The beach was amazing and the water was so very clear.

We also visited a farm that has been given UNESCO funding due to the array to produce and how it is farmed. We could have played in the dirt with the farmer but I chose to relax on the balcony and sip cocktails before having a yummy home cooked meal. I think this family should get UNESCO funding for their cocktail making skills .... mmm they were good.

Evenings were spent at an open air salsa bar. Now while I suck at salsa I loved watching the locals strut their stuff. Never have I seen people so happy to dance. If the men ran out of partners they danced together. I think this was preferable than trying to teach us gringos the moves!

The locals in this town live a very basic life but they are some of the nicest and happiest people I had ever met. Its amazing what a bit of salsa, Cuban rum and a cigar or two can do to keep the smiles on peoples faces.

 This is a ration store, not much on offer....

While I was only in Cuba for 8 days, it was long enough to know that I will be back for sure.

More photos
Cuba - Maria La Gorda &Vinales

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Cuba. Viva la revolution!

After a week of relaxing on the beaches of Playa del Carmen and Cancun it was time to head to Cuba.

I was excited!

I had wanted to visit this country for such a long time, I wanted to see if all that I heard was true.

Cuba is amazing. It is like no other country I have visited. It really is like being transported back in time. And it is a series of contradictions. The people are economically poor but culturally so very rich. Many of the buildings are crumbling and decayed but the streets are full of music and laughter.

The waterfront is a popular meeting place for the locals, particularly at night. With not enough money to go out, this waterfront promenade becomes the local hangout with lots of music and of course rum.


The streets are full of cars from the 50s and 60s, some in immaculate condition but many blowing smoke and carrying loads of people.

Walking the streets of Havana you can't help but marvel at the spirit of the people. The government wage is $150 a month coupled with rations to pick up the basics from the ration stores. Housing, education and health care is provided by the government but it is tough existence. But the spirit of the people is so very strong.

Music, rum, cigars and salsa seem to be part of everyday life. Walking the streets of old Havana the buildings are restored and the people are out working the tourists. But you can't help but dance down the streets to the music while trying to dodge the ever present cigar smoke.

The people dress in modern clothes and always seem to be eating ice-cream. Well why not when it is government subsidized. I went to the famous ice-cream shop and was prepared to line up with the locals. But tourists were sent to a different ice-cream stand, no queues and a higher price .... but very good ice-cream.

Facilities in Cuba are very hit and miss. One day I had loads of water in my shower, the next day just a dribble. I wasn't there long enough to get the day with hot water. Wifi is non existent but some hotels have computers that can be used if you buy a log in card. Usually they have run out of log in cards.

But none of this mattered. It was easy to just make do.

It was magical.

All to soon I was leaving Havana to explore the western province of the country. But Havana sure gets under your skin.

My Havana photos
Cuba - Havana