04/04/2011/8:30 am, Camiguey J and B, Puerto de Vita Madcap
We are having a most amazing time here. We have to go to a hotel or etecsa centre to connect so I have not been making postings. Besides that, Jim and I have been way too busy for me to write. BUT, I have been taking notes so lots of stories will be coming.
We go back to Puerta de Vita tonight and will probably leave there on Tuesday to head toward Varadero. We rented a car and have visited Baracoa, Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo and Camiguey ' all fascinating. If you think you might like to come to Cuba, change it to Ï MUST come to Cuba!
I will try to have some things ready to post when we get to Varadero, but that will probably be several days away. Weather is very hot, music is fabuloso, people are friendly. food is plentiful ... for touristos.
02/04/2011/5:06 pm, Santa Lucia
Saturday was market day again, and we all went off to Santa Lucia. This time we discovered that it had moved to a field where the rodeo takes place. Once again, the streets were packed with horses and carts and trucks and bicycles. A dark cloud appeared overhead just after we got there, and we remembered that we had neglected one of our standard rules - always close the hatches when we leave the boat.
Jim went back to take care of that while the rest of us took in the sights and sounds. When he returned he introduced me to a group of women and children to whom he had given a lift. Hitchiking is commonplace here, and in fact in some areas, vehicles are required to stop and pick people up. These folks were warm and friendly and clearly pleased to have been picked up by a touristo!
I bought so many peppers and tomatoes and lettuce (a HUGE bunch for 2 pesos) that I had to buy another basket. A string of braided red onions, several bulbs of garlic (for 1 peso (4 cents) each), a flat of eggs and a couple of sweet, ripe pineapples completed my shopping. From then on it was observation time. Again, there were the butchers with machetes and cleavers flying. This time we watched a whole pig being roasted on a spit over a smoldering fire. Large slabs of cake were being sold from the back of one truck - just handed over on squares of paper. I didn't buy any - we found them too sweet. But we did indulge in more of the pork sandwiches and coffee and fruit juice. I took pictures of some of the oxen waiting patiently and thought, I really would not like to be one of those creatures! Wait, and plod, and wait, and plod. I don't think it would suit me!
I took pictures of my produce when we got back to the boat - it was breathtaking - so much food for less than 15 CUC. It takes some reflection to understand that what we find so cheap is not so to the Cuban people. 25 CUC per month is considered a good income! People would say again and again, "Cuba is very expensive", and we learned early on to agree with them. It does no good at all to say, "No, we find it very inexpensive." Our reality is so different from theirs. We have the freedom to come here to visit. We spend 25 CUC on one meal without worrying too much about it. We use the internet whenever we please. We decide to change jobs and give our notice and move on without needing to ask permission and wait for it to be given. We meet someone and fall in love and set up housekeeping away from our parents. We visit other tourists and join them on their boats for dinner. None of that is available to Cubans.
The crews of Polar Pacer, Amazing Grace and Madcap all gathered on Camelot for happy hour that evening to munch on tortilla chips with Jackie's home made fresh tomato salsa, and to sample John's rum. We are having an exceptional time!
While Polar Pacer and Amazing Grace planned to stay put for a day or two, Camelot and Madcap were raring to go again so we got ourselves rested and ready for the next road trip.
01/04/2011/5:04 pm, Bayamo, Cuba
As we left Santiago, we came to El Cobre - the site of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Cobre - Cuba's most sacred pilgrimage site. As we neared the church, we passed numerous stands and vendors selling candles and yellow flowers and miniatures of La Virgen ("Cachita"). Legend has it (and the Lonely Planet guidebook reports it) that the 40 cm statue was found floating in the Bahia de Nipe in the early 1600's. The storm tossed fishermen who found her survived and brought her back to El Cobre where she became a venerated figure, and the church became a pilgrimage site where visitors leave offerings of thanks for her favours. We didn't go in - nor did we buy anything - but we found a couple of spots for good photos. It is a beautiful sight - the lovely church nestled under the mountains. This area has had a working copper mine from pre-Columbian times until 2000. Now there are lots of young men looking for work.
We had decided to break up our trip home by visiting Bayamo for a day so we had a relatively short drive. While it was not our favourite place, it was worth an overnight stop. Bayamo is much smaller (144,000) with a quieter, peaceful feeling to it. We stayed at a modest little Casa Particular a few blocks from the main square, Parques Cespedes. Each square in each city has its own unique feel and this one was different again. It was long and wide with a smooth floor (I am remembering marble but that might be wrong) and mostly empty. A statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, hero of the first war of independence, and the bust of Perucho Figueredo, composer of the Cuban national anthem, face each other. The edges were lined with trees and benches, while the centre was blistering hot. I watched one boy roller blading on the smooth floor while his buddies laughed and chased him. (I saw only one other set of roller blades - in Havana). We ate cheaply here - at a street side peso place. A yogurt drink, 2 sodas and a beer, 4 pretty yucky fish sticks and 4 fried egg sandwiches cost us around 70 pesos - about $4. for the four of us. Across the streets were the grand old buildings - not as elaborate as in the larger cities, and not as old. During the war against the Spanish in 1868, local lawyer/revolutionary, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes liberated his home town briefly. A short time later, however, as the Spanish troops neared the city and reoccupation looked likely, the townspeople set their town on fire rather than see it fall back into the hands of the enemy.
Jackie spotted a salon on the pedestrian street (Calle General Garcia) as we walked along and the two of us decided to have manicures in the air conditioned space while the guys went to an Etecsa centre to check e-mail. We thought the price was 3 CUC - an inexpensive way to get our hands prettied up and relax for an hour. It turned out, the price was 3 pesos!! (12 cents instead of $3.00 - again, one really must keep asking "Convertibles (CUC's) or National pesos?") The bowl of soaking water didn't get changed from person to person. The manicurist clipped the cuticles but did no filing - except when I asked her to do a little shaping, and there was not much choice of colour, and the bottles were all different brands. We each picked shades of pink, but the lady put one coat of that on, then another coat of a pink of her choosing and finished it off with a topcoat of sparkles! We certainly had our 3 pesos worth of experience!
With our hands all sparkly, we visited the school of art down the street. There must be quite a significant art culture here - the light posts along Calle General Garcia are funky and interesting, and when we peeked in at the school's gallery, a teacher invited us in to see the pottery studio, a storeroom of finished works and a metal sculpture workshop. On our way back, we stopped by the Casa de la Trova to see if any one was making music, and they weren't but a band member quickly assembled the rest of his group and they performed a one hour show just for us. We danced (with instructions from an encouraging, English speaking instructor) and Jackie and I received flowers as part of a love song sung by two of the musicians - with frequent questions, "Is OK?" to our husbands. We bought a CD that turned out to be quite good for 8 CUC, drank mohitos and beer, and had a thoroughly good time.
After dinner, Jim and I wandered back down town where we listened to some beautiful music - singer, keyboard and drums - from a group practicing in the back of another gallery. We had somehow missed this gallery earlier, and we were glad to see it now. The works were wooden, depicting scenes of Cuban history, and Cubans engaged in every day activities - washing clothes, hauling wood, rolling dough. They were beautiful, but my favourite was a self "portrait" - the artist carving a block of wood that mirrored the actual carving. I wish I had written down his name!
I think it would be nice to be here on a Saturday, if we came back. That is when they hold the weekly Fiesta de la Cubania; the street organs that we read about in our book might be found then, and perhaps there would be more chess players on the square (also mentioned in our book). Or perhaps our feeling of let-down had more to do with just having come from the big bustling old city of Santiago, and this was a simpler, smaller town.
While this was not our favourite stop, it was still interesting - the street we stayed on was a little neighbourhood street where folks sat outside in the evenings. Children played up and down the street - we watched a couple of boys playing "baseball" with a small ball and a stick as bat. Women hung washing from lines on the rooftops and men filled water jugs from little pumps on the sidewalks outside the front door. A cart went by early in the morning with bread and rolls for the householders. No milk deliveries - milk seems to be in short supply. In this and the other cities, we saw men pushing carts of vegetables, calling out their wares. In the larger cities with tall buildings, a basket would be let down from a balcony two or three floors up. The vendor removed the money, put in the vegetables or bread and the basket was pulled back up.
Oscar and Manuela served a full breakfast (4 CUC each) and after admiring the resident grandson and learning that here again, 3 generations live in the same house, Jim retrieved the car from the fenced back yard (with a great big pig being fattened up at the back) and we set off toward Puerto de Vita and home.
As always, the signage varies from non-existent to good and we continually asked directions from folks on the roadside. In fact, after buenos dias, hola, como estas? (how are you?), por favor and gracias, donde es...? (where is ...?) became one of the first phrases we used with regularity! It is a good idea to learn the words for left, right and straight ahead too.