Santiago De Cuba - Day 1


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Central America Caribbean » Cuba » Este » Santiago de Cuba
February 24th 2018
Published: March 9th 2018
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The only word to describe today was exhausting. Not because we did so much, but because everything in Santiago de Cuba is a lot harder than anticipated. As I write this I am sitting at our casa, it is only 6.30 and I am completely done in. We walked into the city centre which is about five blocks away. We found the town square no problem, but then the town square found us. We could not walk 5 meters without someone offering us a taxi, or cigars, or a cheap place to buy rum. If the answer to any of these questions was “No gracias” they came back with “what are you looking for?” Everyone wants to help but everything has a price and there are no rules. For lunch we walked into an alfresco café, as we walked in a man approached us and asked us if we just wanted drinks or food as well. When we said we were looking for food he started walking us out of the restaurant to another place. We walked back to our restaurant of choice to be greeted by an actual waiter. The cheek of it.

To start with at the town square, we first had to find some breakfast and then a bank, which was relatively easy. On leaving the coffee shop we were approached by a man who works at the flash looking hotel on the corner. He walked was quite chatty and asked us where we were from etc. He was very friendly and after a few minutes left us to our own devices. We crossed the road to the park in the middle to wait for the infotur store to open. While we were waiting an old man approached us wanting to sell peanuts. We didn’t want any so he started chatting away to us in Spanish, knowing full well we couldn’t understand him. Awkward. Then he starts to open up one of his peanut packets to show us what he was trying to sell. At which point we were both saying No! knowing full well once that damn packet was open he’d expect us to pay. Then chatty man reappeared and called us away. He took us for a walk down to the fruit market, which was great because Jo has been craving bananas ever since her stomach bug. Then he disappeared and left us to our own devices again.

We decided to wander down to the bay as the LP guide had recommended a walking tour starting from this area. Almost at the bay we were approached by a bicycle taxi (or tuk tuk in our minds). The guy appeared to speak relatively good English and offered us a one-hour ride for 10 kooks. That seemed like a pretty good deal so we jumped in. First, he took us all along the waterfront and I got some good photo ops. Then he pointed out a seafood restaurant and told us it was average. Then took us past one that he thought we should try. Hmmm. He took us past the barcardi factory and we dropped into the showroom for a quick visit. He then also recommended we buy our rum and cigarettes elsewhere because he knows where we can buy it cheaper. Did I mention his relatively good English seemed to deteriorate rapidly on the tour? I was only getting every fifth word, Jo got every 10th.

He took us to the cemetery where Fidel Castro was buried. We had been told he left specific instructions for how he was to be buried, that he didn’t want any fanfare. I don’t know what the Cuban equivalent of keeping it simple is, but his monument is huge. It can hardly be missed. And there is a changing of the guard every half an hour which is done with great pomp and ceremony. We got there just after the ceremony started we were walking across a park to the cemetery. We might have actually seen some of it if the guards hadn’t yelled at me for walking on the grass. By the time we got off the grass (and I use that term loosely) and found the correct path into the cemetery, the parade was all but over. So, I took a snap of his monument and we were out of there.

After the cemetery our guide took us on a tour of the “real cuba” which consisted of the old Russian built housing estates. Which look just like Russian built multistorey buildings (boring) but with murals on the sides making them a little brighter. He took us through an old neighbourhood which was much more Cuban and showed pulled up at an old gnarly tree. Apparently, it is 100 years old. I’m not sure
Barcardi MuseumBarcardi MuseumBarcardi Museum

Not what I was expecting
of the significance of this tree but he insisted we take a photo in front of it. I was more interested in the guy just down the street who had a campfire going in the street and appeared to be curing some pork.

After our tour through old town he took us past the Plaza de Revolucion and then back to the town centre. Well not quite the town centre because that is at the top of hill and we insisted we get out and save the poor bugger the effort of towing us uphill. We get out pay him his 10 kooks, only to find the tour was three hours therefore it was 30 kooks. After a heated debate over the time and the price we gave him his 30 kooks and told him he Cuba should be ashamed for him. During the tour I felt a little guilty that the poor bugger was cycling my fat ass all around town. Now, not so much.

After that little adventure we made our way further along the LP walk to the Barcardi museum. I figure Bacardi has been responsible for more than its fair share of my brain cells so it deserved a look. Surprise! It is not what you think. It is actually an art museum. Lots of renaissance art from Espanya and some modern stuff from Cuba. Quite nice actually and the air conditioning was magnifique.

We decided to look around for a spot of lunch. There was a nice alfresco restaurant that I liked the look of. We didn’t much care for the menu but stopping for a cerveza sounded like a good idea. And it was until I attracted the attention of a young Cuban student. From the little bit of conversation, we could have (he doesn’t speak English) he’s a student in Havana, here to visit his Dad. He said something about going to la Trova, which I gathered had something to do with dancing. I gave him my google translate to explain further, he responded with “what time shall we meet?” I hadn’t agreed to anything. He gave me his number, I hope he is not still waiting for my call.

After a reasonably rapid exit from the café (not easy when Jo was having a merry old time with cervaza and my clear discomfort) we made our way to the infotur office to enquire about some tours. We had some ideas of what we would like to do (well what I would like to do, Jo is being a very good sport at this point) but they didn’t have exactly what we would like. We decided to retreat to find another place for lunch and then discuss it. Walking around a couple more blocks and not finding anything we liked we decided to give up and go for the BBQ at the first café. This is where we met the cheeky bugger mentioned in the first paragraph. So, having decided to compromise on the menu we ordered, then they told us they had run out of the steak and chicken we had ordered. OK we keep walking. It was now getting quite late in the day and lunch was turning into dinner. In the end it was a blessing because we ended up at a restaurant across the road that had the dunny jackpot. Restrooms here leave quite a bit to be desired. Optional extras include toilet paper, a seat, a door that locks, a door, a lou that flushes, somewhere to wash your hands and if you’re really lucky, soap. This one had it all and we didn’t even have to pay for toilet paper. Dunny Jackpot!

After that triumph, we decided to return home to rest our weary bones. And possibly get clean. After our tuk tuk ride Jo has bike chain grease all over her legs and arms (an incident her handbag, nothing untoward) and my feet were there filthiest I have ever seen them. And I spent my childhood in bare feet. Thongs and Cuban streets do not mix well.

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