04/04/2011/5:10 pm, Camaguey
With a few more days at our disposal before winds that would blow us westward, the crews of Madcap and Camelot decided not to let any grass grow under our feet.
Jackie liked the look of Camiguey, about 3 hours west of Puerto de Vita so off we went. It was a good choice and we had the opportunity to discover yet another distinctly flavoured Cuban city - the third largest at 325,000. We read that it had a labyrinthine layout to its streets, developed over two centuries of fighting off pirates. There aren't pirates there today - well at least we didn't run into any - but the winding streets and alleys (many of them one way) are still hugely confusing. We used the same technique as in Santiago. Keep going, keep cool and eventually a street will match the map and it will all become clear. Once again, Jackie did a masterful job. We parked near a casa particular that was listed in our guide book and looked interesting. Alas, there was no room, but the helpful man led us around a corner or two to an amigo who did have space. Only one unfortunately, so John and Jackie stayed there and Jim and I stayed in yet another casa around another corner. We were told that the city was pretty well full because many tourists had been relocated due to some sort of problems in another area. These were not quite as grand as the Santiago place, but were still most interesting, with inner courtyards that can't be imagined from the street.
We had read that there was more danger from pickpockets here, but we saw no sign of it ourselves. What we did see was a more modern city, with considerably more restoration and renovation happening. It didn't have the gorgeous old stone buildings with ornate carvings and railings, but it had a charm all its own. Calle Republica is a pedestrian street with shops of every kind. We stopped by a recreation facility and found a bowling alley, an arcade, and in the back, a swimming pool chock a block with children happily splashing away a Sunday afternoon. We chatted with a woman at the bowling alley - amazed to hear the voice from a Spanish looking woman - it was distinctly New Jersey! She was here visiting relatives. Farther along the street, we came across a huge ice cream shop - with lines too long to wait for. (We ate Nestle ice cream products all over Cuba!) The shops are full of products - a little out of date and not as expensive by North American standards, but very hip and very expensive for Cubans. Once again, we were reminded that many Cubans rely on money sent home from relatives abroad, and from CUC's they manage to earn on the black market and from operating casa particulares and paladars (home based restaurants)
John and Jackie's "Casa Mama" suggested Bodegon Don Cayetano for lunch and we were pleased with the food we ate in the attractive outdoor patio. Jackie and I had the chef special described in our book - steak in red wine and mushroom sauce, and it was delicious indeed.
In the evening, we dressed up and visited the Sala Fiesta El Colonial. We were expecting a cabaret style show, and it wasn't quite like that, but we did see a show! The clientele was mostly African/Cuban (and the Spanish fellow we met earlier didn't recommend going there - he said there is often trouble later in the evening.) We went anyway and didn't see any sign of trouble although the sexual energy was almost palpable. Those drums were intoxicating and the scantily dressed young women wiggled those hips. We left about 10 and Jim and I drifted down to Parque Ignacio Agramonte to catch the last bit of beautiful music from a full orchestra on the steps of the Cathedral. While we enjoyed the music and rhythms of the Colonial, I couldn't help thinking I'd be much happier to have my children in the orchestra here. Unfortunately they wrapped up shortly after we got there, and there didn't seem to be music at the Casa de la Trova, so we sat on a marble bench for a while to watch the families - grandparents, parents and children - before making our way back to our casa.
Before leaving the next morning, we walked to Plaza del Carmen, a quiet little square where the tinajones (large clay pots once used for catching rainwater) are now used as planters, and where life sized statues of Camagueyanos seem to be going about their daily business.
It took us forever to find our way through the maze of one way streets - and more than once we ended up going the wrong way or driving on an alley meant for bikes - and we all breathed huge sighs of relief as we crossed the Rio Hatibonico and left the city behind us. Don't let me influence you to avoid Camiquey though - it is well worth a visit - just be patient and persistent!
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.