We’ve left Havana now in a rented car for our five nights road trip visiting:
D) Playa de Guanabo
F) and back to Havana
Visiting Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Playa de Guanabo, and Viñales, and dancing salsa with fine Cuban gentlemen.
We rolled into town without a reservation but had become familiar with the accommodation system in Cuba where home owners apply to the government for a license and then can rent rooms in their house.
I have a picture of the symbol in another slide and the places, called Casas Particulares, are so easy to find. It felt like each landlord was an eager capitalist hoping to make a living out of renting rooms and making meals for their guests.
Alex chatting it up with the guy who’s running the audio board.
Let me thank Alex for all his efforts on our behalf. Alex, born of Cuban parents and a native Spanish speaker, likes to talk, and he shared all his conversations with grace and enthusiasm.
We were able to learn from and enjoy the people so much thanks in large part to Alex.
In Trinidad, our Casa Particular, and The Internet! we could use on the family’s computer attached to a dial-up modem attached to the wall. That’s a motor-scooter in its parking place by the internet.
The host here was a woman who told us ‘I have connections’ and she had the look of woman who definitely had connections.
The thing about the internet is that you can find it at the upscale hotels and there’s the occasional café or private connection, but we were a group of four people and finding time for a singular activity like searching out the internet just didn’t happen.
Our host in the black top and her helper in the blue, getting the breakfast together which we enjoyed before hitting the road again.
The Casas Particulares rooms cost between $15 and $30 depending on how many beds, if there’s a view, if there’s a terrace, etc..
Your host will make as much breakfast as you can eat for $4-5. She’ll make you dinner for $8-12 depending on the ingredients. They will also sell you a beer for $1-2 and water for $1. This is an important part of their income and fun so take advantage of the opportunity.
The car was about $100 per day and the gas is expensive. The roads are perfectly good and the drivers (cars, trucks, horse carts, etc.) follow the rules. Signing could be better but just have a good map and people will point for you. We used the car for the road trip but gave it up for our time in Havana. You definitely don’t need a car in Havana.
Restaurant meals run between $4 and up-up-up.
How many colors graced this wall.
Speaking of budget, there are two Cuban currencies, the national peso called a CUP and the convertible peso called a CUC.
Local citizens are paid mostly in CUP which is worth about 6 cents (according to Alex) compared to a CUC which is tied (pretty much) to the US dollar. So on the street a vendor will be selling a little snack for 1 peso – CUPs to the locals and CUCs to you. If you get some CUPs, in change for example, you are free to spend them at the local rate.
As of now you cannot spend US currency. Bring Canadian or Euro to exchange at the bank.
Taking the train from Trinidad through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valle de los Ingenios is a top tourist attraction but we decided to drive since it’s faster and we had many hours to drive to our next destination.
“Sugar production was introduced by the Spanish in 1512 .. and trade in the commodity enriched Trinidad and the surrounding areas.
“The island became the world’s foremost producer of sugar during the late 18th and 19th centuries… The climate and soil were perfect for the cultivation of sugar cane .. To prevent the sugar from spoiling .. a special railway line was laid down through the valley in the late 1880s, connecting the Valle de los Ingenios with Trinidad and the port at Casilda.”
Here’s one view.
Most of the sugar mills are in ruins although intact structures exist, including at Guachinango where the plantation house stands, and the plantation of Manaca Iznaga, where the owner’s house (now a restaurant and gift shop), a tower (once the tallest structure in Cuba), and some barracones (the original slave quarters), still stand.
It’s late and raining when we arrive into the town of Playa de Guanabo, a seaside resort very near Havana.
For the first time we ran into Casas Particulares that were full. Oh no. One guy is full so he calls another guy but his place isn’t right for us so he calls another guy and eventually this guy leads us, riding on his bicycle, to…
This was a pretty good Italian restaurant. In general we were not so taken with the food except for the wonderful fruit all the Casa Particular ladies included in breakfast.
The main thing we will all remember are the ham and cheese sandwiches. It seemed at lunchtime we didn’t have many choices and ended up day after day with ham and cheese sandwiches. Some places we stopped offered a ham sandwich, a cheese sandwich, and a ham and cheese sandwich. They come on local rolls, on white bread, and sometimes panini style. And if there happened to be salad available – ever-and-always cabbage, tomato, and cucumber – you could have some tomato on your ham and cheese sandwich.
At one point Merlyn went on a ham and cheese sandwich strike.
We stopped off at this place that has a name but I forget what it is .. for some, again not-very-good, lunch out there on the deck.
This particular not-very-good lunch was comical even.
In general all salads are presented with only and always these three ingredients: cabbage, tomato, and cucumber. Fortunately I like cabbage, tomato, and cucumber. This time however they were out of tomato and cucumber so the salad was cabbage and they added slivers of sweet pickle for color and the veggi-pizza that Carol ordered came with, yes, cabbage and slivers of sweet pickle.
I saw nowhere anywhere even one bit of outdoor advertising. None. Yikes, how are they going to maintain this once the Americanos hit in big numbers. Tourists aren’t going to change the scene much but all you need is a trickle of US investment, like just one little innocent McDonalds and bam that’s it game over.
But we do have these…
(I think: ‘For the motherland and socialism we are in agreement. Long live the workers.’)
“Viñales is a beautiful and lush valley .. declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (in 1999 for the karst landscape, traditional agriculture, and vernacular architecture, crafts, and music) and said to be Fidel Castro’s favorite place in Cuba.
“The mountains are beautiful, the farmers grow the best tobacco in the world, and tourists come every day by the busload from Havana.”
The sisters, our hosts in Vinales. The sisters each had a house one in front of the other and they each had a room for rent.
They were both lovely, the sisters that is. One of the rooms was new with nice furnishings and great a/c. The other room was old and pink and the windows were covered by broken louvers so it never got cool. We flipped for the better room.
What one of the ladies said: everyone there in Viñales has at least one person in their family who has disappeared trying to get to the States, and many who made it too, but that the flow of escapees has slowed down because people who really wanted to go had left already and because life in Cuba is improving.
A guy cutting we didn’t know what and stacking it in his bullock cart.
The tobacco harvest is long over we learned. Since so much acreage is planted in tobacco harvest must be a wild time.
OH, YAY, I haven’t mentioned yet how HAPPY I am to have succeeded in my goal. What was that goal? To not torture my travel companions complaining about the smoke. And I didn’t complain! not because I was so good but because the smoke was shockingly not bad. I couldn’t believe it. It was in fact unbelievable.
Heroes of the People!
I should talk about the expression ‘the triumph of the revolution’. I didn’t hear any Cuban use this expression when speaking in English but Alex said so many of his conversations resulted in time being denoted by ‘before the triumph of the revolution’ and ‘after the triumph of the revolution’, like triumph-of-the-revolution is one word.
It reminded me of when I was in Hanoi and the tour guide at Halong Bay denoted all events as being before or after ‘we defeated the American imperialists’. I have to think about why, but both expressions make me smile.
Isn’t this fun – I’ll tell you why.
First, everyone knows who’s a tourist. All you can rent are the government issued cars and they are all generally the same, a fleet of these cars that come over from China by the boatload.
So these guys are tourists asking the cart driver for directions. We (meaning Alex) were always doing this too. We’d have to ask many people the same question though, and then ‘average out’ their answers.
It wasn’t stressful because how bad could it be. In the worst case we’d just have to turn around.
We went to look at another one of the caves but it was raining off and on and to get to the mouth of the cave you had to climb 400 ft in the mud. So we took a pass.
As we were leaving one of the guides asked if we could drive the doctor who works at this clinic into town. Sure, why not.
Alex talked to her the whole way and translated for us. Her assignment was to control chronic conditions such as diabetes which is bad there she said due to the Cuban sweet tooth, and to teach the community about nutrition, exercise, and keeping healthy. Cubans on the whole seemed significantly heavier than the Dominicans.
I copied this mostly from wikitravel:
“Perhaps the worst tourist attraction in Cuba is the Mural de la Prehistoria.
“In 1961 Fidel Castro visited a beautiful valley near Viñales. He personally commissioned that the cliff should be painted with snails, dinosaurs, and a family of cavepersons, and he chose the garish colors!”
Part of a ‘bulk distribution center’ where one guy has crates of fruit that he is weighing out and passing along to the carts that will sell the fruit on the street.
The fruit was by far the best part of most meals. There was an excellent selection of fresh and ripe delights including mangos, bananas, guava, this other guava fruit whose name I can’t remember, watermelon, pineapple, and more. YUM!