Star Date:  October 2017
El Oriente East Cuba


Hello Dear Family & Friends!


"Estoy agradecido"

(I am grateful.  Spanish)


"When we find ourselves JUDGING or COMPLAINING, replace the thought with "THANK YOU  THANK YOU."  No analyzing, thinking about it, giving ourselves excuses, rationalizing.  But, but...
Simply repeat "THANK YOU  THANK YOU."  Move on!!  If we can switch our brains over to an Attitude of Gratitude - our lives WILL improve!!!"



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. 


"Tengo hambre; quiero jama." (I am hungry and want food. Cuban slang )  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) in Cienfuegos. 

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 only 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 80 year old Dad with strings for his guitar.  New friends in new places.    

Retracing steps 5 years later to the old people's market on the edge of town I decided to wander past the small abode of old friends Ramon and Nereida.  Salt of the earth. The large old hotel next to them had caved in during the past 5 years and their tiny little hole in the wall room next to it seemed doomed.  Hesitantly I walked on, wondering if I should simply remember this dear old couple as we left them 5 years earlier.  Peeking out of the tiny mouse hole door was Nereida, now 80!   Hola!  Recuerdame? Remember me?  She yelled, "Nancy!"  I was stunned.  We hugged and jumped and kissed.  She dragged me inside and showed me the little electric burner that we had given them 5 years earlier.  It still works!  We caught up and planned to get together that night.  I ran up to the market and bought 3 kilos of rice, some beans, and two bags full of vegetables.  On the way back to our casa I stopped and bought a set of glasses, more groceries, flowers and a new blouse for Mama; possibly one of her first new blouses ever.

I cooked a big pot of curry and away we went back to the tiny room overflowing with love.  We kissed and hugged once again, this time with Ramon now 84, and son Roberto.  We shared a hearty meal of beans, potatoes, yucca, salad, pumpkin, rice, curry and home made pastries.


Of course after dinner they hauled out the guitar, with strings this time!  A plastic tub of rice became a drum and Mama kept tempo with a pair of spoons.  I tell you this rivaled the finest performance of music anywhere, even Carnegie Hall!  When we were tired and hoarse from rounds of 'La Bamba' and 'Veinte Anos' we settled into catching up on the past 5 years.  An earthquake had shaken and crumbled their little room but once propped up it was livable again.  Mama had broken her leg and had to sleep down on the little single bed that occupied their small living area.  Roberto continues to sell little 'doodads' on the streets and ekes a living for him and his parents.  During the 'Revolucion' Papa had helped with the cause.  Roberto had gotten hold of a small transistor radio and would listen to a radio station from Miami.  He fell in love with the English language.  Self taught he started practicing and learning it.  Quite fluent when Castro took over, Roberto was blacklisted by the party because he spoke Imperialist English!  He has lived in this shadow to this day.  The family lived on a tiny self sufficient farm but at times life became so hard that they lived on sugar water, from the cane in the field.  Food is scarce now but nothing like during the Revolucion.  Now they are in town near doctors and after the poor quiet country life they are quite enjoying the social aspects and the excitement of the city!  We hugged and sadly said 'Adios' and joked,  "Hasta Luego, In another 5 years?!"

Thinking that it would be good to go to Cuba before all the Americans come streaming in, we joined the ranks of Europeans beating the rush.  Great minds think alike unfortunately.  As it turns out the visas have been stopped again and Cuba is safe from development for the time being.  Modernization has not reared it's ugly head in this little corner of the world.  Yes, young people want to live like other young people they see in the movies.  But do they realize what they are wishing for.  Convenience, technology yes but cell phones alone are sucking the very soul out of our society.  Everyone walks around addicted to that strange little device or cell phone glued to their hand.  It totally controls most peoples every spare minute as they scroll and scroll - eerily engrossed in their virtual reality.  Missing life in the Now around them.  Parents ignore their kids.  Kids ignore their peers.  Couples at dinner hardly talk.  Walking into a typical cafe nowadays one sees people glued to their phones, with very few doing important business but rather surfing and paying homage to their latest addiction. Gone is the mindful attention to the people around them.  Gone is the mindful interaction to the people they love.  The very soul is being drained from our modern society.

A recent scientific study states that smart phones affect the brains of children just like Cocaine!  And so the young Cubanos long for modernization.  Everyone has a cheap cell phone but with wifi and calling so terribly expensive, the time purchased on sim cards for talking and data is used up like steam into the air.  And so voila - people still sit in cafes and parks talking!  Little children play in parks at night and walk home in the dark without worrying about crime.  The 'good old days' still exist in Cuba. 

Musica!  Music curses through the veins of every Cubano!  Walking down the back streets of Santiago de Cuba; sultry music, hot rhythm and singing was oozing from every window, doorway and pore of this living, breathing city.  I had thought how nice it would be to experience this music first hand, far from the maddening crowd.  I walked by obvious music schools, cafes and bars, a percussion congo rumba practice, when I heard a traditional band practicing in the Cultural Center.  A large impressive colonial building, the acoustics warmly accepted and returned the rich sounds.  I motioned towards them, asking if I could observe.  They warmly invited me to sit down, smiles radiating from each of the 6 faces.  If you have ever experienced first hand the rhythm of Cuban music, you know that it is impossible not to get up and dance.  Just when I was about to 'bust a move' a young black woman gyrated across the room in beat to the music.  I jumped up and we danced, smiling and laughing.  She complimented my moves and said, "Te gustas bailar!" (You like dancing!)  The band loved that we were having such a good time with their music.  We danced every other dance and soon another young woman, walked in the door, filling a short black spandex dress to the eruption point.  She greeted everyone and started blaring music, with a voice like Whitney Houston.  She was the lead singer.  Her version of, "Besa me, Mucha" brought tears to my eyes.  Between dances I sat grinning ear to ear and observing these vibrant Cubanos, their instruments living extensions of their bodies.  Almost every one of them was missing a tooth, several had hand done tattoos of guitars on their arms,  clothes were ragged around the edges (having just erupted a tear in my shirt and my Buddha bag I fit right in).  A bit bedraggled, with instruments many decades old, patched and wired together this "band of merries" belted out tunes to rival any DVD sold.  I closed my eyes and thought I was sitting in the Buena Vista Social Club, without the polish.  Although these artists were poor in reality, they were rich in simple things.  In fact I have never been in the company of such royalty in my life.  Simple, loving life, living big, and immersed in the spell of their contagious music they were kings and queens of the moment!  Amazed that 1.5 hours had flown by, I got up and blew them a kiss.  Gracious for letting me experience this Cubano momento with you! 

On our way out of Havana I noticed a small flyer advertising the reopening of the infamous "Buena Vista Cultural Club" complete with three original members of the band - now in their 80's.  There is a great documentary about a musician going to Cuba 30 years ago and finding the members of a band that played at the famous club Before the Revolucion, B.R. (like B.C.).  Knowing they would still be playing musica he slowly hunted down each member and got them back together.  After rehearsing he realized that they hadn't lost their magic touch and before they knew it he had them on a world tour.  They even played at Carnegie Hall in 1998.  And there we were, in Old Havana, in the Buena Vista Social Club, listening to these original Octarians sing and play their hearts out 60 years later.  Does it get any better?

"Ese hombre es tremendo mangon!" ("That guy is so hot - Cuban slang!) The Casa de la Trova.  Santiago's shrine to the power of traditional Cubano music is still going strong five decades later, continuing to attract big names such as Buena Vista Social Club singer Eliades Ochoa and a roster of superior talent just wanting to play within these hallowed walls.  A tiny hole in the wall, with photos of past performers lining the walls, one could easily walk right by, but when the music is playing passersbys are drawn in like bees to honey.  A trova (as in “troubadour”) is a form of ballad. At the Santiago Casa, a cadre of musicians and ballad singers perform nearly every afternoon and evening.  It’s considered an honor to play at Santiago’s Casa de la Trova, and the quality of the musicianship is high. The audience is a mixture of local people and tourists. The atmosphere is informal. It’s not uncommon for people to get up and dance.  Totally engulfed in the moment and the exquisite musica I was surprised when the lead singer of the band grabbed my arm and we danced a song.  I did pretty well for never having a dance lesson.  Breathless I sat down to enjoy my 'limonada frappecina' when a guy, with a cowboy hat cocked on his head, walked towards me and put out his hand.  Off we went to the small dance floor as the 4 person band jammed behind us. He put his cowboy hat on my head and we danced up a storm. At one point when a woman was taking a video he busted a couple of break dance moves.  What a classic Cubano character!  We high fived, laughed and my smile was from ear to ear!  Viva la Salsa!

When the crowds got to us we took the long bus ride to the south of the island, past the weird military zone of Guantanamo, to Baracoa.  Crossing the lush mountain range we were pleasantly surprised to see that nothing had changed here in 5 years.  Still a quiet backwater, we found the rest and experience of the 'real Cuba'.  We walked and walked to the very edge of town and found a small 2 room Casa Particular right on the ocean.  The second story place and our terrace looked out over the white sand beach and we were lulled to sleep every night by the lapping surf.  We met Damaris and Idania at the local little corner pizza stall.  We were invited to their homes out in the jungle and had an enjoyable visit one afternoon.  We shared a meal and then a coconut at the friends home further along the river.  Both dental technicians, they get minimal wages, but needs are met and life is simple.  Health and dental care is good and free.  Education ok.  Food is not plentiful but gone are the mountains of junk food, the processed packaged crap food and all the chemicals and additives in food like their neighbor to the north.  Missing is 60% obesity and deteriorating health at an ever increasing younger age.  Gone are all the mountains of imported stuff that fills the shopping carts of America.  Gone is the social breakdown of families.  Gone is the high crime rate and violence that plagues many countries of the world.  Gone is the high rate of depression and anxiety that has up to 50% of Americans taking prescription medications.  Gone are nuclear power plants leaking radiation on surrounding neighborhoods. Modernization and development comes at a price.  Oye!  Cuba may have lost the battle but in the end they have won the war!

Baracoa is the birthplace of La Salsa.  Nightly there is music at the little local cafes.  On weekends they have town dances and drop in music at the community center.  At 4 pm every day, the tavern next to the Cathedral in the central Plaza, would drag tables and chairs outside, blocking the street and turning it into an instant Fiesta!  An improv band shows up and soon everyone is dancing, singing and doing what they do best in Cuba, enjoying life.  Remember what that's like?


And so it goes.........................................Next a long awaited visit with family and friends in Hawaii, and the surprise that awaited us.  Until then let's remember to replace 'stinking thinking' with Gratitude.  Just simply repeat  "Thank you.  Thank you".  Take care and Keep in Touch!



Love, Light & Laughter, 

xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph



Transportation in Cuba!














Travel notes:


$1.00US = 1 c.u.c or 25 peso nacional  Check out this website.  We met the German artist, Peter, in Santiago. He puts his heart into his wooden creations!

Casa: Andres y Clara, Casa Colonial, centrally located, Ave 54 #3706
Clean, quiet, soft spoken Andres and his Mom were very helpful  phone # 53771040

Edenia Casa  phone # 53836779 or 4  20A Carlos Echenagusla   Basic, clean, quiet room right in old town, 4 blocks down from the old square.  Allowed to cook.  So friendly and helpful.  Quiet is important.  We had to move from a wonderful apartment because trucks and motorcycles roared by at all hours.  Also people talk loud in the neighborhoods.  Check nightly music proximity, as music is everywhere.
Very friendly and helpful Edenia (and her sisters from the finca sometimes!), quiet, basic room upstairs with big window, you can cook  25cuc

La Boca Playa:
Take a shared taxi out for 50 cents or taxi for 3-4cuc.  Quiet little stretch of beach, a few snack shops and a few nice little casas.

We liked:
Hostal La Caridad
Sra Maria, very friendly, lovely little terrace w/hammock right on the water (not across the road like many) Across from the little pizza stand  25-30cuc a night  often booked so call
phone# 53 41 993301
cell: 0153081126

Santiago de Cuba:
Casa de Renta:  Tato & wife
San Carlos No 262
Phone #casa  623823
Clean room with big windows and AC or fans.  Very friendly and helpful. Small burner for cooking. Lovely terrace with view of Cathedral. 4 blocks from main plaza  Other rooms don't have windows - so the small street noise at times is worth the light  25cuc  20 per week

Almost all the casas have one great room with bathroom and windows and another without windows or without bathroom, more for additional family members.  When you book ahead you never know what you will get.  Better to look around yourself or book the first night then look around.

St Pauli Restaurante:  highly recommended for a change.  Great tasting unique food prepared by 2 chefs for only 4-6cuc
Up the walking street - near top on the left

Casa en la Playa, Cardonza (Rubin) & Raquel

Marti #407 (La Pasada)
phone # 52334094 cell# 53595472
The location sells it.  We had a wonderful 2 weeks lulled by the ocean.  The owner, Rubin is always trying to get more money from you.   As long as you decide on a price, do your own thing - no problem. 

Casa Drioli & Lleny: Down the beach towards town - bright yellow house sea side - 1 great room right on the beach  20cuc night 15cuc for a month.  Phone # (53) 5321 3002  54187 380 Marti # 383

Casa de Papito y Maidelin
Marti # 387 - one good room seaside
phone # 216 43326  58548583
20 - 25cuc

Make sure to go to Boca de Miel, a nice remote town down the beach from Baracoa.

And if you get the chance, drop by in Gibara on your way back, it is remarkably 'untouristy'.  On the coast from Holguin.


Going from Baracoa:

Bus to Havana - 22 hours  66cuc
Van to Holguien: 5 hours Wed and Sat  30cuc
connecting bus 6 hours later or next morning 44cuc
taxi compartido to Havana:  80cuc 13 hours  Yovel # 53 670871



Front Door to Cuba

The Legend of Hatuey


In 1511, Diego Velásquez sailed from Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) to conquer and colonize Cuba. Among his soldiers in that expedition was Hernán Cortés, who later conquered Mexico. When he arrived in Cuba, Velásquez founded the island’s first Spanish settlement at Baracoa.

Meanwhile, reports from the Indians of Hispaniola reached Cuba. Hatuey, a Taíno chief, had escaped in canoes with about four-hundred men, women and children, to warn the Cubans about what to expect from the Spaniards. He explained the need to join against their common enemy, the white men who had inflicted so much suffering on his people.

As later recorded by Spanish priest Bartolomé de las Casas, Hatuey showed the Cubans a basket full of gold and jewels. “Here is the God the Spaniards worship,” he said, “for these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea…

“They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…”

The Taínos of western and central Cuba could not believe the horrendous message brought by Hatuey, and few joined him.

Hatuey’s strategy against the Spaniards was to attack, guerilla fashion, and then disperse to the hills, where the Indians would regroup for the next attack. For about three months Hatuey’s tactics kept the Spaniards on the defensive, afraid to leave their fort at Baracoa.

Through a traitor, Velásquez was able to surround and capture Hatuey. On February 2, 1512, Hatuey was tied to a stake at the Spanish camp, where he was burned alive. Just before lighting the fire, a priest offered him spiritual comfort, showing him the cross and asking him to accept Jesus and go to heaven. “Are there people like you in heaven?” he asked. “There are many like me in heaven,” answered the priest. Hatuey answered that he wanted nothing to do with a God that would allow such cruelty to be unleashed in his name.

De Las Casas describes the fate of the Taínos. A village of about twenty-five hundred who welcomed the Spaniards, fed them and gave them drink, was immediately wiped out once the feast was over, “they set upon the Indians,” he wrote, “slashing, disemboweling and slaughtering them until their blood ran like a river.”

Of those sent to the mines, he said, the Spaniards “required of them tasks utterly beyond their strength, bending them to the earth with crushing burdens, harnessing them to loads which they could not drag, and with fiendish sport and mockery, hacking off their hands and feet, and mutilating their bodies in ways which will not bear description.”

Aside from being one of the first guerilla-style warriors in Cuba’s history, Hatuey is the first martyr in the struggle for Cuban independence.












Dance extravaganza in Cienfuegos.


Dance to the conga beat!


A dance commemorating the slaves.


Each town has a Casa de Trova.


Bright, flashy costumes.


A lively band in the old town of Santiago de Cuba.


We got the thumbs up from this dapper old guy!


A market in the mountains.


Our friends from 5 years earlier,
Ramon, Nereida and son, Roberto in


After dinner they hauled out the guitar, with strings
this time!  A plastic tub of rice became a drum
and Mama kept tempo with a pair of spoons.


Fisherman at sunset.


La Punta is a narrow peninsula with a
quiet park at the end.


Old mansions line the roads.


Just sitting and watching the world go by.


Waiting for something to happen.


Up in the hills behind Trinidad.


Young communist's union.


A lovely small home in the country.


Cowboys herding their cattle.


We were met with smiles and laughter
wherever we went.


Trinidad is a town in central Cuba, known for its
colonial old town and cobblestone streets.


La Boca Playa.


The Valle de los Ingenios still contains the ruins of
dozens of 19th-century sugar mills,warehouses,
milling machinery, slave quarters, and old manors.


A friendly dog jumped on board our open coached
train and caught a ride back to Trinidad.



The Central Plaza of Santiago de Cuba.


The cathedral has been carefully restored.


We loved sitting in this cafe over looking
the square.


This old guy played music on old jugs while
singing at the top of his lungs!


Casa de la Trova.  A tiny hole in the wall, with
photos of past performers lining the walls; one
 could easily walk right by, but when the music is
 playing passersbys are drawn in like bees to h


One of the many bands we enjoyed downtown.


Everyone's favorite - street pizza.


Relaxing on the sofa.


A young beauty.


We bought some street food and invited these
young guys to lunch.


Sierra Maestra Mountains, between
Guantanamo and Baracoa.


Our beach in Baracoa.


Friends we met while hiking.  They invited us
to their simple home, then proceeded to climb
up to get us coconuts.


They had a 'view with a house'.


A beauty in every window!


Hatuey is celebrated as the 1st revolutionary
fighter in Cuba.  He was burned alive by the Spanish
in Baracoa.  Read his interesting tale to the left.


Locals enjoying a dance at the little bar next to
the Cathedral.


An impromptu band at Baracoa's Community


A cultural performance with beaming dancers.
Cubans love to dance!


Time for our daily coconut.


Our dental technician friend
s, Damaris and Idania,
 we met for street pizza lunch daily.


Cool Cuba.


Our taxi home from town.


We were invited out to our dental friend's
homes in the jungle.


What a great day we had together,
with both families.


We cooked together and shared a tasty meal.


Hiking back along the river we watched this
man lovingly wash his horses.





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