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Published: February 17th 2009
After a few weeks of winter in Quebec, I now find myself enjoying the sun in... Cuba. I first landed in Varadero where I met a friend. We promised each other 2 years ago that we would go to Cuba again together, where we met doing a Spanish immersion program. My friend was in Varadero already for weeks, but I really can't say I enjoyed it there. It is a place full of tourists, some stay for a long time and all they seem to be doing is drinking and talking about each other. I left after 2 days, and travelled to Cienfuegos, where we visited our Spanish teachers and friends there. It was a lot of fun, even though my Spanish is not doing so good... After 2 days in Cienfuegos, my friend and I took different routes.
I first visited old Havana with a retired Austrian that I met in the bus. We found a really nice old house where to stay, and walked around the city. We had supper in the Barrio Chino, looking at all the Cubans dressed up for Valentine's day, and he had to buy the ice cream after we competed in a friendly shooting contest with an old pellet gun in Old Havana. Then we went to see the Ballet at the Gran Teatro. The evening ended with a mojito in some kind of local bar with friendly drunk old Cubanos. Memorable.
The next day I took the bus to Vinales, where I wanted to go for a long time. There too I met some tourists, a French couple, an Italian girl and a guy from Argentina. The first step was to find a place to stay and I couldn,t believe the luck I had. I found a little cabin, close to the city but at the end of the road, where the tobacco fields start. The owner is the sweetest litle woman who takes care of me like I am her daughter. She even did my laundry today. I have two rocking chairs where I can sit and watch the campesinos, the horses and the mogotes, these hills that are typical of Vinales. Sometimes a goat or a chicken come to visit me and I also share the room with a few lizards. It really feels like home, except that I have power, running water and a bathroom with a shower!
The first day I went horseback riding with my 4 friends. It was a 4 or 5 hour trip, and we visited a man who grows tobacco. We drank coconut juice with rum, sugar cane juice, he rolled a cigar for us too, and gave us some fresh pineapple. Then we went inside a cave where we walked for a while to reach some kind of natural pool. Finally we rode back under the stars, hoping the horses would know the way back home! Also memorable.
And yesterday, it was beach time... We hired a taxi driver to take us to Cayo Jutias. We spent a few hours there, waiting for the sun at first, and then the other 4 went swimming. I was still enjoying the warm sun. Half an hour later, I heard one of the girl scream... She touched a jelly fish that wrapped its tentacules around her arm and chest. It was horrible. She grabbed it with her hand and ended up with her hand black with the tentacules. One Cuban lifeguard swam to help her, but it was hard for anybody to do anything because, as you touched the tentacules, you were also getting burnt. The poor girl was in so much pain, like being stung by hundreds of bees at the same time. They put vinegar on her skin and we drove as fast as possible to the hospital. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Cuban lifeguard still manage to ask the Italian girl out while we were worrying about our friend... Es Cuba!
The health system in Cuba is fascinating. As we got to the hospital, they took her inside and she was looked after by a super nice doctor and 4 or 5 nurses. They gave her medicine and after another hour or so, we left. The pain was still quite severe but eventually got better. They never charged her anything for the treatment.
In the evening we all had a rum at my cabin and we each had to eat in our own casas, because the system doesn't allow for tourists to eat in a different casa than their own. But I am sure I have the best cook of the country... Here is just an example... Breakfast: freshly pressed pineapple juice, bread, butter, honey, oranges, goyava, pineapple, papaya, cheese, coffee, milk, and a huge omelet. Yes, you read it well, I have coffee and I admit I like it! Well, with a lot of sugar and cocoa and hot milk! Supper: rice, beans, 2 kinds of salads, cheese, some kind of very very sweet pickles, fries, yams, tomatoes and cucumbers, carrots, and I know I forget a few things. In other words, they stuff me like a goose! But it tastes soooo good! All fresh from the garden that grows just in front of my cabin.
So this was not the trip I had planned with my friend, but it could be worse!!! I now have a bunch more days to sit on my rocking chair and study Spanish, first aid (for my upcoming course), read, relax and eat more fruits! It is almost perfect, except that yesterday I found a cockroach in my jeans that had managed to climb half way up my leg without me noticing...
Vinales is amazing, Cuban but more easy going than other places, they seem to like tourists but don't harrass them, and tonight Valle Son is playing, a band that played in the Yukon many years ago! Should be fun.
Only bad part with Cuba these days, it costs a fortune. The exchange is bad, but they also charge you a 12% commission on top. Good thing I don't need to eat 3 times a day and save some money that way!!!
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