Star Date:  June 2012
 Caribbean - Cuba


Hello Dear Family & Friends!

Hola!  Que pasa?

(Hi! -What's up?  Spanish)




"Amor cuerdo, no es amor."

(Sane love, is not love)

(Ernesto "Che" Guevara)



I would if I could but I can't so I won't.
Disclaimer:  Since Americans are Not allowed by the U.S. government to visit Cuba (the only country not permitting a visit - why? ) the information contained herein is derived from research, the notes from someone very close to me, and European friends who were able to freely spend 2 months in Cuba. 



Cuba.  Let yourself be led by your senses. A feast of music, light, color, joy, flavors, smells.  Lezama Lima wrote, "Life is a party".  Only 130 miles from Florida this is a time warp, a rough jewel in the lotus waiting to be discovered.  The 'tranquilo'  low stress existence makes this an island of marked contrasts, promoting the essence of the human spirit.  500 years of racial and cultural mixing has created a goulash unique to Cuba.  White, black, urban, rural, seafaring, land loving; are all part of this living history and culture.

Cubans enjoy life and add their distinctive flavor and touches to everything around them.  These sturdy hard working people are filled with an infectious joy that will call you back time and again.  This is a living culture.  It is contagious.  Beautiful women and meticulously dressed men perform subtle courting dances laced with sexual innuendo.  Romance is in the air and emotions run hot in this mixture of Afro and Latino blood.  Even the Catholic Church or the 'Santeria' ceremonies have a hard time throwing water on this fire.  People are welcoming, affectionate and expressive.  This spirit stays afloat even when life seems grim.  Communism has done little to give women equal rights, except to now be able work in the home as well as outside.  Machismo is alive and well. 

Most Cubans have at one time participated in a Santeria or slave based religion ritual.  The gods were disguised and mixed in with the then more popular religious icons.  Many people have alters in their homes honoring both the saints and appeasing the spirits with glasses of water, cigars and fruit.  People dressed in white are often devotees of Santeria. 

With the Catholic Church popularity dwindling, the divorce rate has sky rocketed to 1 in 2.  As in the Spanish culture worldwide there are special terms for wife and girlfriend as many 'mujeres' exist even in the lives of married men.  Kids are the by-product.  Proud Grandmas will list all her 'nietos' or grandchildren from spouses or girlfriends with equal enthusiasm. 

One Casa host told us this story.  A father asked his son, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  "A tourist!" was the immediate reply.  Most Cubans have never been around Cuba let alone dream of foreign travel, something discouraged by the government and impossible without money.  Youth are far removed from the pro revolution slogans and statues everywhere.  Disgruntled at the lack of opportunities this sometimes repressive society offers, change seems inevitable. Many feel communism, led by a stubborn ailing dictator, has failed the people.  "No hay", "there is none", rings out in the mostly empty markets.  Make do or go hungry.  The diet consists of what is available that day; mostly beans, rice, a shadow of vegetables and pork or fish.  Like the Chinese who rub Ho Tai's fat Buddha belly in hopes of invoking more food, the Cubans refer to a handsome guy as 'pa comerselo (good enough to eat).  A good looking man or woman is referred to as 'un pollo' (chicken).  A man may be heard saying to a passing beauty, "If you cook the way you walk, I'd scrape the pot."  The current government ration, 1/2 chicken per person per month leaves a lot to be desired.  The interesting thing is that in this perfect growing climate vegetables have fallen away from the diet, even though they are full of nutrition and are quick to cook; in a country where cooking fuel is very expensive.  The western diet is creeping in. 

Queues for hours in the hot sun with ration books, stores with empty shelves, feeble technology with slow censored internet costing 1/5 of a month's wages per hour, medical doctors earning $20/month.  Beloved Fidel, an icon, must look to the future of his island to restore the faith of the people who fought in the revolution for the ideals they held dear. 

Cuba, the largest Island in the Caribbean, consists of over 180 miles of sand beaches bathed by warm, calm waters and more than 4000 cays, north and south.  When bored at the beach there is great hiking through green valleys and along forested mountain paths.  That is if you are a lucky tourist.  Cuban coastal towns are utilitarian, lacking the glitz and modern conveniences offered to 'extranjeros' or foreigners.

Life in rural Cuba is the simple life.  Lack of modern equipment has farmers plowing with oxen, planting with sticks, and riding horses from farm to farm and to town to gather supplies.  Vinales north of Havana is in the heart of tobacco land.  Large steep thatched huts dry the leaves from the verdant fields.  Old guys puff on hand rolled cigars at every corner. In cigar shops old men and feisty women smoking their free bonus cigars roll a seamless stogy in 2 minutes.  Shock waves reverberated through Cuba in the 1980's when Castro declared when kicking the habit that "Cigars are good for Cuba's economy but not so good for my health."  Still these prized cigars are sought after by locals and tourists alike.

Walking back through the glorious, scenic mogotes for the day is transporting to a land frozen in time.  Everyone greets you warmly as you catch a glimpse of their simple, rustic lives.  Everywhere boys are spinning tops and playing stick ball, with homemade, sometimes off center or squarish balls, which are easier to keep track of during the game.  Inspired by our walks we decided to stay in a farmhouse back in the valley with only the family, cows and chickens and an up-close unobstructed view of the mogotes (limestone mountains worn down to scenic towers). 

Cruising in style.  We hired a 1955 classic Chevrolet for the afternoon, complete with 2 old guys, and musica.  'Una fiesta' on wheels.  What fun we had!  We toured the whole valley through caves where runaway slaves hid, gazed over vistas of the mogote filled valley and saw a large mural painted on the side of a mountain.

Driving to Trinidad on the south coast you pass through the vast sugarcane fields of the Rural Heartland.  Trinidad is a colonial gem of Cuba.  Founded in 1514 this tiny community is a maze of cobblestone streets, red tile roofs, museums hidden in old colonial houses and plazas full of locals visiting or tapping to the tunes of traditional music floating on the wind.  Every night the Plaza springs to life with live bands and dancing. 

Further down the coast is the port of Cienfuegos.  Not even listed in our guidebook this town has the fascinating historical square of Parque Jose Marti, complete with the Tomas Terry Theater playing music and drama from around the country and South America.  The gazebo is a great place to watch life in Cienfuegos.  The buildings lining the square set the atmosphere.  Walk down the Paseo El Prado past Cienfuego's  Malecon waterfront and on out to Punta Gorda - about 4 kms.  Don't miss walking through the marina building, the Blue Palace and the Moroccan influenced Palacio del Valle, the last being a restaurant with music and a great place to drop off for a 'limonada' natural.

With all these fancy eating places in architecturally exquisite buildings we found the best food, street pizza, across from the City Mercado (people's market).  There we met Roberto, Ramon and Nereida and were invited back to their home.  It was quite unbelievable to see the surroundings in which these poor souls lived.  A tiny 10 x 16 ft room in a crumbling building was called home; since the parents in their 80's had moved from the country into town to be closer to doctors.  They had to climb a ladder up to a platform where 4-6 adults slept nightly.  Never once did they complain, but instead joked and twinkled from within.  Invited in for coffee we just couldn't refuse the single thing they had to offer.  As they tried to heat it up 'Poof' the only single burner they had blew out.  They looked devastated as they realized they now couldn't afford anything to cook food on.  Enjoying the tiny cold coffees, looking at photos, singing with the guitar with no strings (as they couldn't afford them) we passed the afternoon in party mode in the tiny crumbling 'apartment'.  The next day we surprised them with a new burner (costing a year's wages for a pensioner) and a pizza, because never once did they ask for money or anything.  They were thrilled.  We just enjoyed our time together, later sending them photos to add to their prize picture album and surprising the 84 year old Dad with strings for his guitar.  New friends in new places.  We also met a lovely journalist and his wife and shared an evening in their home as they watched the local music and dance performed on national television.  This is a weekly family event, much as we used to gather around the TV in the 1960's to watch the Ed Sullivan variety show.

Inland we went to the historic plazas and 'iglesias' or churches of Camaguey.  Legend has it that the people there were so tired of being attacked by invading forces or pirates that they laid out the center of town in a maze pattern.  We can vouch for this as we ended up in a different direction several times.  We returned to experience Carnival Camaguey.  Everything comes to a standstill in the center as thousands walk downtown to enjoy the parade of lively drumming bands and gyrating, scantily clad young girls.  Afterwards they feasted on pork sandwiches from whole roasted pigs on the spit or grabbed a handful of popcorn and a drink while listening to live music playing on stages around the city.  Party!  Fiesta! 

The former Oriente Province is a part of Cuba that must be experienced.  Lively, passionate Santiago gazes lazily over the bay below from the hills of Tivoli.  Ethnically diverse, Santiago, has decedents of Haitai, both white and black, who brought their French and or voodoo roots with them when fleeing an uprising in the 1900's.  Descendants of slaves, pirates and foreign merchants, this city vibrates with diversity.

Casa de la Trova down near Cespedes Square is a bohemian style hangout of local musicians whose instruments are often older than they are.  This IS traditional Cuban music at its essence.  We also happened on to the Museo of Carnival, complete with a 4 pm music review of Afro Cuban music and dance.  At night we would walk through the neighborhood of our Casa greeting the groups of families sitting on the curbs.  We discovered another musical gem, Casa de las Traditionales, where music plays afternoons and every evening in an old neighborhood house.  We enjoyed an evening out with the new couple we met from Columbia.  An energetic band of 7 women belted out traditional songs as we drank limonadas and danced with the locals.

Old cars.  Los autos of Cuba haunt the streets like old ghosts of days gone by.  Trapped in time before the 1961 U.S. embargo, the classic big old Buicks, Chevys, Chryslers, Studebakers, Fords prowl the road, some with new paint jobs others barely holding together with a song and a prayer.  Trading chickens for work or swapping parts from Russian jeeps the local mechanic under a tree keeps them running.  A sign of the ingenuity and survival mode that keeps Cuba ticking. With only a ration of one tank of petrol per family per month these 'antiques' are often packed to the gills with families out for a Sunday drive.  The 'boot' contains tools and a pair of overalls to work on the car mid outing.  Leather interiors, and back seats that hold 6 these were some of the most powerful cars going 100 m.p.h. without straining.  They were built for endurance before capitalism bit hard and America became a disposable society.  During the late 1980's the Cuban government started selling classic cars to foreign investors offering a new Lada or cash for the trade.  When the Soviet Union collapsed the Lada supply dried up and the remainder still offer rides for a trip down memory lane.  In a Havana museum there are old cars from Castro, Batista and Che.  Still the 1955 Chrysler convertible of Ernest Hemingway remains shrouded in mystery.  The car cost Hemingway $3,924 new and now is worth a fortune.  Owned by a unemployed policeman, the government tried to pressure Gutierrez to accept a Lada in trade.  Knowing the value of his treasure he demanded a house instead.  Frustrated by all the bureaucracy and life in general he hopped on a raft and sailed to Miami.  Somewhere this beauty is tucked away in the island's countryside, waiting for prince charming to bring it back to life.

The real adventure begins when one heads east from Santiago into the remote region of 'La Moncada'.  Due to rough roads and long hours on infrequent buses, few tourists venture out to the ends of Cuba.  The daily buses to Baracoa are now good and the beautiful scenic trip of about 5 hours is worth experiencing.  The only sighting of foreigners may be at the Guantanamo Base lookout which allows views of U.S. soldiers hidden behind barbed wire and land mines beyond "Castro Barrier Road".  Containing McDonalds, 5 outdoor cinemas and a golf course this base dwarfs the Cuban counterpart with decrepitating buildings, due to lack of cement and disheveled troops grunting to train in the obstacle courses along the road.  Cheap rum and accommodating prostitutes were the norm in the 1950's for sailors stationed here.  In exchange for guns and grenades these prostitutes helped Castro's guerilla war movement.  Once Castro gained power the bars and brothels were shut down and the barbed wire went up.  The out of place, fancy 4-lane road leading into Guantanamo is really a landing strip in disguise in case of invasion by the imperialists to the north. 

With threats of being shot by either side when swimming to the peninsular base, it's better to just settle for a look.  They wouldn't even let Michael Moore in during the filming of his "Sicko" documentary. 

"Gitmo" costs the U.S. government more than $40 million a year to operate.  The lease remains in effect until both sides agree to close it, but not much talking goes on and Castro hasn't cashed the $4000 annual rent check since 1960.  Hard to believe the world was on the brink of a nuclear war as Khrushchev battled Kennedy over control.  Cuba was just the pawn.  When will we ever learn?  Takes two to play.  The Cold War is over, come on boys, go play somewhere else.  Or better yet grow up and make people the priority rather than the profits of war.

Baracoa, a frontier Caribbean town in the very SE corner of Cuba, is a mixture of the colonial days (founded in 1511), the good old revolutionary days, and the current 'want to be modern' days.  Snuggled into a paradise of turquoise inlets fringed with coconut palms; the Sierra Maestros Mountains and anvil shaped "El Yunque" loom in the distance.  Columbus landed here and was in awe with the beauty.  The Sibony and Taino natives had lived here for thousands of years and welcomed the new arrivals.  Columbus' sailors brought back to Europe tobacco, syphilis and the welcome news of a whole new world to plunder.  The natives however were not keen to become slaves to mine the gold of the mountains for the Spaniards.  The great Indian warrior Hatuey was captured and when tied to the stake was offered baptism.  The chief reportedly asked if there were any Christians in heaven?  When told "Yes" he preferred to be burned than spend more time with these so called righteous Christians.

Casa de La Trova in Baracoa is a glimpse into the 'tranquilo', relaxed heart of Cubano traditional music.  As the sun slowly sets they haul 3 tables into the narrow, main street next the Cathedral.  An improvised band of trova musicians chat as they warm up.  As their sidewalk 'stage' comes alive with music the ancient bells of the cathedral chime.  Townspeople walk through the narrow space between the 'stage' and the tables as if we weren't there, high fiving the singers mid song.  A man on a bike circles the block once then stops right in front of the band and joins in loudly singing his favorite tune.  Different people saunter by guitars strapped to their backs or mariachis gripped for action.  They take turns joining in.  Each song requires a reconfiguration of players depending who dropped by.  A woman with a powerful voice appears.  As there are never microphones used, strong lungs express a talent that loudness often replaces with electricity.  A man pushing a wheelbarrow overflowing with beef carcasses slowly walks through as even the main singer in mid song bids him adieu.  The latest lead singer serenades me during one of the love songs, then asks me to dance.  We dance the salsa right there in the street with all the townspeople slowing down for a look.  By then 20 locals have occupied the remaining seats but we are the only ones that buy anything, one limonada natural, with ice smashed with a hammer since no blender is available.  Adding our customary tip to their passed hat, it must be split 14 ways as that is their only payment.  Not much of a profit in 2 hours but then this isn't about profit.  This is about Cubanos doing what they love to do more than anything else - enjoying music.

The town squares in Cuba are to this day the gathering places for townspeople of all ages.  Saturday nights after 9pm (when the addictive Brazilian soap opera, "Novella"  finishes) the town comes alive with music and dancing.  The open mike gathering at the Cultural Center is tradition at its best, where the local doctor bellows out melodic songs, a dressed to the nines bicycle taxi driver serenades, guitar players drop in to play a tune after a shot of rum out of a plastic water bottle, and Grandmas join in singing and toe tapping to every song.  Music is a way of life and something to share in a culture where the good old days are alive and well.  Further down in the center of town the "Casa de la Trova", like it's counterpart Casas de Musica in Havana and Santiago always has a band warmed up.  A few tourists join the locals inside but most residents just sit in the adjacent park listening, occasionally dancing, visiting and eating the tasty local pizzas (40 cents) offered at the many tiny pizzerias. 

Later in the evening, blaring on the other side of the central park is the smoky "Cinema" featuring a hodgepodge impromptu rock band with a bad sound system.  What they sacrifice in quality they make up for with enthusiasm.  If you have rum or beer you pass the bottle around.  The next time someone else will be flush and you can get a free pick me up.  The worst insult in this culture of survivors is to be called stingy.  This is a flavorful venue for watching locals dancing and enjoying life a la rum, especially when a favorite like "La La La Bamba" makes the crowd go wild.  Let yourself get caught in the moment!

Most people look at Cuba through western eyes.  Yes, they are poor and lacking modern amenities but the standard of living is far above what is seen in Africa or many rural parts of Asia, China or India.  Living in crumbling old family homes with tile roofs is better than the feeble mud or tin huts of their world neighbors.  Horse carts, bicycle taxis or simply walking are inefficient compared to cars but do the trick, plus give exercise.  Taking a public truck loaded to overflowing, on the dirt roads over the Sierra Maestras Mountains to the remote S.E. corner of Cuba was breathtaking and full of natural wonders.  From Baracoa to Moa to Holguin was a rough ride in the back of a jeep with locals but revealed a hidden, wild Cuba, that only intrepid travelers with extra time to explore are able experience.  These mountains have a large variety of rare birds and animals found nowhere else on earth; 350 species of birds, 186 species of butterflies and thousands of insect species.  The bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world, weighing 2 grams and is only 2 inches long from beak to end of tail.  The fireflies are almost as big.  One night while sitting watching the stars and counting these large 'flying flashlights', a firefly came hurling towards us.  Obviously distracted by the light he hit a board right above our heads and literally, 'knocked his lights out'! 

Cubans dream of life in Miami.  Without a doubt Americans are friendly, helpful, ingenious, creative.  The possibilities are endless in this country that was based on freedom.  We as a people cannot be blamed in entirety for our government but "all it takes is for a few good men to do nothing!"  Cuban 'balseros' risk high seas, dehydration, attacks from sharks on their flimsy rafts to reach the promised land. Over one half die in the process of floating over the 90-200 miles that can takes weeks.   Until 1996 the U.S. welcomed over 1 million Cuban refugees with open arms but now it is difficult to be granted permission to stay.  Many are now intercepted by the Coastguard and detained in Guantanamo until processed.  Caught by the Cubans they are jailed as traitors.  Why go through such risks to reach the U.S.?  Is the grass always greener? 

Hold on Cuba.  Inevitable change is coming.  And with it will come those modern conveniences you long for in the promised land to the north.  But the price will be high.  In the name of your demand for consumerism your food will be full of chemicals and GMO, general health will deteriorate as 'rich men's diseases' creep in and herbal remedies and prevention are replaced by pharmaceuticals.  The family structure will break down, people will work long hours in exchange for 'stuff' they don't really need.  Loud speakers will blast raunchy music disturbing neighbors.  MTV and violence in the media may corrupt morality of the youth.  Gone will be the days of sitting around the town square at night talking and listening to traditional music, while young children play at your feet.  Everyone will retreat into their homes, locking and bolting their doors behind them in fear, as with many neighboring Caribbean islands.  Crime will increase as the 'have nots' take what they want from those who now 'have'.  Government corruption will go underground as the lies increase; delivered by smiling talking heads.  Instead of a few government programmed TV channels you will have over 100 to choose from, but all laden with hidden propaganda.  TV replaces reading and knowledge, learning becomes a faint memory in failing public school systems.  Critical thinking stops.  Why ask questions?  Who has time?  Just give me a drink while I sit and unwind in front of the TV after a hard day. Priorities change.  We in America never seem to have enough time; quality time for family, for meaningful relationships, for a spiritual path, for Nature. 

Control never goes away, you just think it does.  You will be so busy consuming and thus kept happy until, like the frog in the pot of warm water, the temperature is slowly rising but nobody notices until it is too late.  Simplicity is replaced by stress and anxiety.  But don't worry the expensive health care and the drug pushing medical profession have a pill for your condition.  Ask the millions of Americans and their kids on anti-depressants.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news; the hard core facts and the truth of modern life hurts.  Money becomes our God.  Welcome.  Worship at the altar of the modern world.  You must sell your very soul for modernization, and the scary thing is most people don't even realize what is happening.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Just unplug yourself.  Jump off the treadmill and go your own way as millions worldwide have done.  The strong can, as individuals, become self responsible, and retain control of their health, their spiritual path, their quality of life, their very lives.  Unplug from the mass media and the duplicity.  Internet allows information for those who will take the time.  Share your ideas and try to open the eyes of those around you.  Free thinkers or 'conspiracy theorists', as through history, will be scoffed at and labeled as dangerous to the herd mentality, not realizing that therein lies the hope.  The choice is yours.  Choose quality over quantity.  Above all, once you have made any changes or realigned your priorities, lighten up and enjoy the ride!  Smiles are contagious.  We can learn this from our Cuban neighbors.

Great planning and foresight can make the Cuban dream have a happier ending.  Communism and Capitalism alike work better in theory.  Time for something new.  Keep the passion.  Keep thinking and questioning.  Non violent revolution with a deeper meaning or higher consciousness this time.  'Buenas Suerte'.   Good luck.  May the Force be with you!

And so it goes.........................................Next from the Caribbean to neighboring Central America.   Until then keep smiling even when life around us doesn't seem sane.  It is always worse somewhere else - we have so much to be thankful for.  Thanks for keeping in touch!  Take care!


Love, Light & Laughter,

xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph


Travel notes:


$1.00US = 1 c.u.c or 25 peso nacional

Possible to book with  when flying in.  Professional and a big selection of places to stay.

We were met by helpful Yaneysi "Janet" who speaks English, is a good trained cook, is very attentive & will help you with anything you need with a smile.  A fun rooftop terrace and small pool add to the small terraces downstairs and modern dining room.  We had a good vegetarian meal but cooked one meal a day after that.  Salvador Cisnero #16 A.  Right in the middle of life in Vinales, where people still sit out on their porches after dinner.
Phone # 0153715678  home#695223

After taking a wonderful walk past Las Brisas Restaurant, down Calle Salvador Cisnero, out to the mogotes, we decided to stay with a farmer for a change of scene.  Villa Vista al Valle is a newer small but pleasant room/bath with your own terrace right up against the gorgeous mountains.  Quiet and serene, with only the cows and horses as neighbors. (15cuc)  Osiris, Dunia and 5 year old daughter  Dafni are friendly and fun to be around.
Phone # 0152239150  Mobil# 53311754

It is worth taking a look around the valley of Mogotes.  Very scenic and interesting for 1/2 to a day.  For 5cuc p.p. you can jump off and jump on the open double decker bus.  It goes in a circle and you can stop and get back on.  Supposedly it can take 2 hours before it re-appears so plan to go out to the caves earlier in the morning to get it all in.  Luckily the bus was broken so we bargained for only 12cuc for a full 1/2 day in a 1955 classic Chevrolet, complete with 2 old guys, one a doorman, and musica.  What fun!  We first went out to the Cuevo del Indio - around to the backside and enjoyed the river and had a fresh orange juice in the little cafe where the boats come out of the cave.  We then walked over to the more modern tourist complex.  Next to El Paenquede los Cimarrones an interesting historical look at the caves where runaway slaves lived - complete with almost real snakes, a campfire, music and dancing. (1cuc).  Off our car chugged up for the magnificent vista over the valley at Los Jazmines, stopped for a coconut then took in the view of the large Mural de la Prehistorica.  (3cuc entrance but the best view is from outside the fence on the road.)  From high on the opposite hill we enjoyed a drink at La Emita hotel and walked back down to town.  A fun afternoon out with the boys!

The Cultural Center has a full schedule but most events don't ever happen.  Just how it is.  In the corner of the square is the only 'Cabaret' with different shows every night, from good to less than good, that highlight the Cuban kitschy culture, music and nightlife.

Just down from the only Omnibus terminal where you arrive:  We would recommend: Calle Piro Guinart (Boca) #106 (Bright blue colored building on the left side, 2nd block of Piro Guinart going down the hill from the bus station.)

Sr Luis Izquierda Leon simple, large double room and private bathroom. (15-20cuc) Large window with mountain view and your own entrance.  The private roof terrace is the best part of this Casa Particular and the friendly, helpful family welcomes you and makes you want to settle in for a longer stay in this wonderful little town. 
phone#52903670  house: (041) 993430

Right across from the bus station Yolanda's (Piro Guinart 227) is a classy palace type casa worth a look and maybe a couple nights at 10cuc more than the Casas around them.  We had an upper floor in a family home but it was on a local street that was noisy with talking at night and the husband of the family was bored and a 'nudgey' pain at times.  Our autonomy in our own apartment was worth it and we took care of the 'pain' but we recommend the above options more.

There are many Casas near the Plaza Mayor but beware of music blaring until the wee hours and old rooms without windows.  Just take a walk and look around - you will find your favorite one in this charming old city.

There isn't a central market, rather farmers drive their produce around in wagons and hawk in the streets.  You just get what is available for the day.

You can hike up to the tower on the top of the hill overlooking the valley.  Not difficult hike but better in the morning before it gets too hot.  Sweeping views of the coastline and the fertile valley below.  Walk past funny "Disco Ayala" in a cave and though fascinating outer streets where tourists never seem to reach.

Just down from the main Plaza and near the Museum is "La Parranda" courtyard restaurant.  It often has the only live music playing in the afternoon, with a couple of traditionally dressed dancers waiting to have a dance with you. Calle Ruben Martinez Villena #53.  Always have coins available for a tip when the band and or dancers finish, wherever you go. 

Visa Extension in Trinidad:
Immigraccion Y Extranjeria: Callejon de California

You need for an extension:

1)25cuc per person.  Buy the stamps for 25cucpp at Bank Bander - Jose Martin St. before going to the immigration office (which is out of town on the way to the airport.  About 1.5 miles from the center a little beyond a hospital)
2) Pasaporte
3)Current visa which should be in your pasaporte
4)  Copy of medical coverage cards.  Buy a cheap coverage, get a card or proof receipt, print it up and adjust date if necessary.  You cannot get an extension without this !!Going into the country this card is required along with an onward ticket, but no one is ever asked for it.

Cien Fuegos:
Vicente's Casa Particular: Located on a side street within 6 blocks of the enjoyable, historic central square (Calle #43 5601, just down from the bus station) Helpful Vicente operates a well maintained casa, 2 classy rooms with windows in the colonial home of his sweet parents.  Good food, occasional internet, in this relaxed home.  Don't miss Cien Fuegos.

Phone: # (53) 43 516095

The fascinating historical square of Parque Jose Marti is complete with the Tomas Terry Theater playing music and drama from around the country and S America.  A day pass allows you an entrance to several productions in a day.  The gazebo is a great place to watch life in Cienfuegos.  The building lining the square set the atmosphere and the walking promenade back up past the Union Hotel is worth a walk.  Walk down the Paseo El Prado past Cienfuegos "Malecon waterfront and on out to Punta Gorda - about 4 kms.
Punta Gorda is full of expensive Bed and Breakfast and Restaurant options, there are also small casas for sleeping for about 5cuc more than town.  Don't miss walking through the marina building, the Blue Palace and the Moroccan influenced Palacio del Valle, the last being a restaurant with music and a great place to drop off for a limonada natural.

With all these fancy eating places in architecturally exquisite buildings we found the best street pizza across from the City Mercado. (just up a couple of streets from the Union Hotel - (which is also worth a walk through and great bathrooms).

El Nicho waterfalls is supposed to be a good day's outing from Cien Fuegos.  Also some of the beaches on the coast are remote and unique, but require private transport ($50 - bargain hard).

Only 50 meters from the Plaza San Juan de Dios this centrally located casa is a good option for your stay in Camaguey.  3cuc from the bus station across the river.  Retired Miriam and friendly husband Omelio, will help you and keep a careful eye, as she cleans everything around you. Cisneros #62 Phone # (53-32) 292300. We were picked up by their nephew (Leduar 58223560 very helpful and speaks ok English) and friend Pipo (58002472) at the bus station and whisked away to Old Town/City Center for 3 cuc.  Ask them about a van transport to Havana or Santiago for less then the price of Viazul bus. It may take a little longer but more convenient.
Fernando/ nephew:  

Hostal-SandraPaco, Colon # 59 tucked away in the hills of Tivoli this clean, modern little apartment is in a safe, great local location; only 10 minutes from the town square and around the block from nightly traditional music.  Sandra and Paco are extremely friendly and helpful.  phone# 53 22 85 8602  53 52 942912

email:  (taxi 4cuc from bus station )

Casa Bella Vista: Calixto Garcia 55, about 2 blocks from where the bus drops you off.  We happened on this place during our evening walk.  Wonderful, quiet, view of the bay.  The 'sister' was helping out while her sister was in Miami.  Ran a tight ship but clean and comfortable.  Relaxing cool rooftop balcony.   phone # (53 21) 64 3883
Email: (they will answer you).

Casa de Sol: Call Sol and she will meet you at the bus.  In a local neighborhood tucked up near the forest, Sol is the sweetest person in Baracoa.  She has 2 rooms that are very clean, quiet and she goes out of her way to make your stay enjoyable.  A rooftop dining area where she will serve you a free welcome mango smoothie!
Phone #  64-2684
Emiliano Corrales #39 - we are working on getting her daughter's email.

A few places along the ocean as you drive in on the bus but the road is between you and the ocean. (Veronika's, I think, was the first from the bus terminal and best one.)  Several have an ocean view over the rooftops.  Further down towards the stadium there were a couple places but the beach was dirty.  This is not a beach destination.  The main beach down the hill is a fishing village and is dirty also.  Just enjoy the coast views and fresh breezes.  Walk the 'malecon' from end to end.  There is a beach 20 miles away, supposedly beautiful but no where to stay and no infrastructure.  A bus for 5cuc pp leaves at 10 am returns at 4 from near the Cathedral daily.

The 'truck' terminal is a couple of blocks past the Cathedral.

Moa is a total mining town and not a place to stay.  Terrible red nickel mine pollution and wash out.  Plan your day to get through it.  Shows what happens when the environment is secondary to making profit! 


The route of this travelogue around Cuba for 2 months.








The world famous Cuban cigar.


Beautiful Vinales Valley.


A valley where time stood still.  Tobacco is grown here and dried
in thatched roofed buildings.


A cowboy visiting a small farmhouse.


Back from town with supplies for the farm.


Don't miss spending a day walking around the valley.  This
was an organic farm nestled amidst the mogotes.


Hey Dad, let's go get the horse!


The Father of our host family plowing the field as he has done
for decades.


Che is everywhere!


One little stand back amongst the farms sold pineapples to eat, fresh
 coconuts to drink and cigars grown and rolled on their farm.


 What a treat to have all the produce in Cuba organic or at least chemical
free. Mango, pineapple, papaya, guava, fresh ginger & a squeeze of lime.


 Cruising in style.


We hired a 1955 classic Chevrolet for the afternoon, complete with
 2 old guys, and musica.  'Una fiesta' on wheels.


Music, dancing and fire eating in the cave where runaway
 slaves used to hide.


Vibrant, colorful local art!


Many of the stylish old buildings have been set aside for
government offices.


Singing with the guitar with no strings (as they couldn't afford them) we passed the afternoon in party mode in the tiny crumbling 'apartment'. 
The next day we surprised Roberto and Nereida with a new burner
(costing a year's wages for a pensioner) a pizza and new strings,
because never once did they ask for money or anything. 
 They were thrilled.  What wonderful new friends.


One way to get around Cienfuegos.


Garlic anyone?


The Moroccan influenced Palacio del Valle on Punta Gordo, next
to Cienfuegos.  Stop in for a 'limonada' natural.


Two little sweeties on our street.


Even the lizards are colorful!


You can always enjoy a ride in a horse carriage.


Making straw hats along the back streets of Trinidad.


The smile of the cook outshines the tasty street pizzas we had for lunch.


The Spanish tile rooftops of colonial Trinidad.


The main cathedral of the Plaza Viejo in Trinidad.  One almost
expected a conquistador in full armor to ride by on his horse.


Terrible flooding washed out the cities' water main.  Trucks supplied
water to lacking resi
dents - now broken over a month.  Most
tourists never venture into the back streets to see life as it
really is for locals.


The boys resting from a serious stickball game.


Local bakeries are one reason for the increase in diabetes in Cuba.


A Camaguey Carnival beauty!


A mini dancer.


The parade was a raucous event wit
h lively drumming bands and gyrating, scantily clad young women.  


Drummers marched and danced down the streets.


What's a parade without clowns?


Afterwards they feasted on pork sandwiches
from whole roasted pigs on the spit.


The view from Cespedes Square, Tivoli, down to the ocean
in Santiago de Cuba.


A classy old convertible.  Everyday as we walked by
someone would be tinkering with it.


Fruit for sale.


The rumba at the Carnival Museum.


 Casa de la Trova down near Cespedes Square is a bohemian style hangout of local musicians whose instruments are often older than they are.  This IS traditional Cuban music at its essence.


The beautiful coastline just outside of Guantanamo Bay.


The reason Baracoa was so remote.  They finished the road over
the Sierra Maestras in the late 60's.


Everyone gathers all day and into the night in the town squares of Cuba.
 We talked with this old town character every day.


Many family homes were replaced with dreary apartment blocks.


The view from our bedroom's porch over Baracoa.


 As the sun slowly sets they haul 3 tables into the narrow, main street
next the Cathedral.  An improvised band of trova musicians
 chat as they warm up.  As their sidewalk 'stage' comes alive
with music the ancient bells of the cathedral chime.


The scenery between Baracoa and Moa.


Riding in the open back of a jeep with local Cubans was quite
an adventure.






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