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Published: April 15th 2018
We stopped here for a sandwich during our long drive from Viñales to Cienfuegos. Not sure how it got the name???
Sorry to overload you with two stories in quick succession but Cuba turned out to be an internet black hole. No contact with the outside world for 12 days! I haven’t lived like this since 1997. So, I have written two entries and published back to back.
If you like Italian food but don’t like going to Italy, then Cuba is for you. Every restaurant here does pizza and pasta and some will serve a proper meal for $1.50. The currency used by tourists in Cuba is CUC, Convertible Cuban Pesos. CUC are equal to USD so it is easy to work out what everything costs in your usual currency. Back to the Cuban gastronomy though. You don’t have to eat Italian every night. The local cuisine can be interesting too. Some good meals have been grilled chicken, roast chicken and roast pork. Fish is available everywhere and often good, including prawns, lobster, crab and octopus. We can vouch for the prawns and crab and have seen one of our casa particular owners cook lobster for other guests, which smelt tremendous. These meals can be less than 4 CUC too, depending on where you are and what you order. Most
It just had to be done!
After Nathan was asleep with a few Rum and Cokes. I think I'd prefer the rum and coke by itself though.
meals come with some combination of rice, beans, salad and thinly sliced fried potatoes as a side. The drinks here usually contain rum. This is part of their national identity. Cuba libre, piña colada, mojito and daiquiris are on all drink menus. Nathan has found a new favorite drink too; it is piña colada. And, no, we are not the world’s worst parents. They sell virgin cocktails everywhere, for the same price as the ones with rum. And if you ever want more rum in your drink there will be no questions asked. They just top you up for free. There are also the state-run restaurants and we avoid them. You can tell which are private because of the staff out front trying to bring you inside. You can tell the government ones by the pictures of Fidel on the wall.
Usually we like to stock up on fruit, yoghurt, cereal, milk and juice when we arrive at a new place. We make sure that we have a fridge and that way we know we are going to start the day with a healthy breakfast. But this is not possible in Cuba and we have been breakfasting at our
Horse and cart ride in Cienfuegos
This was a tourist taxi ride, but horses are a common mode of transport for people in Cuba. You see them on highways and in the streets of towns. Usually with a smaller cart than this and one person sitting on the cart.
casa particulares. The shops don’t have the range of products that we take for granted. They will have a pallet load of something like tomato juice or canned tuna but very little of anything else. I think that corruption means that supply is not reliable and for the general population ration books are issued to ensure that everyone gets their fair share. The shops we saw were a bit more expensive, but ration books were not required. Many supermarkets have a counter near the front door and you can’t actually go into where the merchandise is. You ask from the counter for what you need, they bring it to you and then you pay. I don’t know how you would run a restaurant under these conditions. Apparently, there is a black market for all sorts of consumer goods. One of our casa particular owners wanted to paint his house, but couldn’t get any paint, so he will probably have to wait years before paint is available. Supermarkets dedicate at least one quarter of there shelf space to rum. I think this is the one product in good supply. There are plenty of sugar cane fields for rum making. But we
First Solo Dodgem Car Ride!
In Australia they have stricter rules.
also found a drink called guarapo de caña. Sugar cane is squeezed by a machine to extract the juice then a little lemon juice is added to make a refreshing drink.
We had another drive in a collectivo to go from Viñales to Cienfuegos. We were told that the driver would expect $85, we would get a modern car, it would go directly there and we should get there in less than 5 hours. But the man who sold us the ride, with his gold teeth and cowboy hat was a liar! We had to pay full price for Nathan (only an extra $5), we got an old van that took us to the outskirts of Havana where we waited for an hour so that other passengers could meet us and get in another truck to take us to Cienfuegos in a total of about 8 hours. We swore that we would use other transport options from now on. Cienfuegos was not interesting for any one thing, but it was nice to stroll around the Punta Gorda region with old palaces built in the early 20th
century by the rich socialites and today most are converted into hotels. We
stopped at Club Cienfuegos, set up for families, and Nathan had a ball, driving dodgem cars. He is also proud of his queue-jumping expertise. He asked why I didn’t just go to the front of the line and get what I wanted. So, I said, “you go over there and ask for ‘el agua mas grande, por favor’”. He did and was taken behind the counter to the fridge to pick out the water that we needed, came back to me to get the money and paid whilst all of the locals and tourist looked on and smiled at the cute niño.
The old cars in Cuba are a fascination to us. Most of them belch pollution and smell but give the roads character. As I’ve said, they are not necessarily comfortable to ride in for long distances. Many are from the 40’s and 50’s but some are almost 100 years old! There are lots of electric motorbikes on the roads too. I guess this will help to reduce some of the pollution.
To get to Trinidad we found a better mode of transport. We met 6 French people (Celeste, Clara I, Jerome, Clara II, Sam and Clara
III) who had a 9-seat van, a new Peugeot, and went with them, visiting El Nicho in the hills on the way. This was a great stop with waterfalls and swimming holes. There was a good rock to jump off and Nathan did this as many times as possible. We all loved El Nicho and had good company on the way. We were given a tip to take a different road than we had planned and this could have been a very bad idea. It was barely passable and we all had to get out a few times to give the van extra clearance over deep potholes. We also had a lot of steep inclines that the van only just got up. We had to walk up a few hills after then van! Let’s say that sometimes the journey can be better than the destination and this is one journey we will remember for a long time!
I’ll note two interesting aspects of Cuban wildlife. 1. Big black birds. I think they are vultures. You can see them everywhere. 2. Small hairless dogs. I think they are native to Cuba.
Unlike some previous destinations, Trinidad turned out to
El Nicho Swimming hole
One of many, but this had the best rock for jumping off.
be a place that Lonely Planet had not over-stated. Until this point we had liked Cuba without loving it. Trinidad has an old-world colonial feel about its town center. It is UNESCO heritage listed for good reason. The bars and restaurants spill out excess customers and live music floods onto the cobbled streets whilst quality rum at a bargain price is consumed by the patrons. There is a good beach just a short taxi ride from town and we spent a day catching rays and swimming in the warm Caribbean waters. You can buy a local drink called chanchanara made with rum (or course), honey and lemon. It was quite nice too.
As I’ve alluded to, a few places turned out to be less than we had hoped for, but I am still glad that we went to all of them. We cut our stays short and this gave us two spare days to visit Varadero. The guidebook billed Varadero as an overdeveloped location with a beautiful beach but we chose it for its proximity to Havana, from where we would fly out. Our impression was of a beautiful powder sand beach with a gradient of turquoise to marine
Dodgy Road out of El Nicho
We went through lovely scenery and enjoyed good company too.
blue waters off shore. There are no high rises and we liked the place.
One thing people have more of in Cuba, is time. They have time to be patient with a Spanish student who want to improve his skills, the have time to wait in lines at the shops and what stands out to me is the number of rocking chairs and how often they are used. Locals and tourists spend lime relaxing and talking with each other. All of our casa particulars had rocking chairs
Have a look at an example of a Casa Particular in this video.
Just in case if the video doesn't insert properly, copy and paste to youtube.
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