Seans Musings- Brace Yourself... 20 days worth of updates in one hit!
Hi family and friends we are now in Quito again with our friends Jose and Valeria. Long day with two flights (kids definately have had enough for today...as have we!) We are here for one night before flying to Lima, Peru. Trust you and yours are all well, we are tired, a little travel weary but well, :-) Sean.
October 22nd: Vinales: 2hrs drive from Havanna
Well the tiny hormida (ant) of Vinales has made it quite clear that he does not like us Kiwis. After biting Brodin on the arm and dispatching him to tears his mates then did the same thing to Daisy except they caused a hell lot more pain. Double dosing paracetymol, apply paw paw cream and giving an oral antihistamine all failed to reduce the pain. Such were the cries and rapid the inflamation we thought some nasty spider had bit her. Eventually solved by some hydrocortosol cream from the pharmacy, instant relief apparently. Despite telling us that there is no treatment for this bit in Cuba our Casa Particular host did do something right by dispatching her son to spray for ants.
On the personal from I've resolved to keep out of the sun and eat nothing but boiled eggs and bread in an attempt to get over the diarrhoea which has had the better of me these past four days. On the upside I have plenty of time to update this blog ready for upload when we next get access to the internet!
Rach and Clare have just returned from exploring the area. Apparently the kids now know where tobacco comes from and can roll their own cigars. (Sorry Mum!)
Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you about another scam we have discovered which caused us some stress on our 7-8 hr drive to Vinales, two hours north-ish west of Havanna. SO the deal here when you hire a car is that you have to fill the tank when you first pick up the car. So in goes 42L on our fairly modern 2L vehicle. Interestingly, and not surprisingly for Cuba, the odo does not work. An estimated 300kms later the fuel light is on...shit we are a long way from any petrol station and the map provided by the car rental place is proving unreliable when it comes to the location of petrol stations. As you can imagine the stress level in the car rises the more kms we travel. We reduce our speed to reduce consumption. Turning the air-con off to save fuel is discussed. Its decided that we should stay on the autopista and not stray into one of the smaller towns as there is more traffic on the motorway and so more chances of help should the car conk out. Eventually after a few bad turns and several Donde Gasolina?'s later we find a petrol station and fill up with 24L.....Hang on.....we drove for ages on the empty yellow light and the tank is not even half empty! The penny drops. This is a country where the cost of petrol is very high relative to their incomes. The rental agent has tampered with the car to encourage you the unsuspecting tourist to return the car with the tank at least half full!
October 21st: Trinidad
Well what a shock Clare and Rach got when they recieved the bill from our Casa Particular Hosts. The charge ($35CUC) for doing some of our washing was more than one nights accommodation $25CUC per room! The girls negotiated it down to $15 which was still three times more than what it cost at the last place. Unfortunately this has soured what has been a pretty average experience at Casa Felix (Calle Lino Perez) which is best to be avoided. Its sad that the desire for money has corrupted so many of our interactions with the Cuban people.
October 20th: Trinidad
What a neat experience it was to witness all the locals parading themselves at night time around their local plaza dressed in their best. Kids only a couple of years old are to be seen being shown off by their parents at nine o'clock at night.
October 19th: Trinidad
I am writing this after having spent the morning purging my body of whatever nasty bug I somehow ingested. Its possible I was in the sun too long yesterday or perhaps it was the fish for lunch? Regardless I've lost day. I feel week. Gastrolite is the second most disgusting thing I have tasted, second only to the Cuban dessert we tried last night. It came in a little saucer of very sweet jam with a slice of warm cheese stitting in it.
October 18th: Trinidad: La Vega Hacienda Horse Ranch
We find ourselves in Trinidad, after a rapid and safe trip via a modern private taxi yesterday. After doing the costal beach resort thing for an hour or two the boredom sets in and so Rach convinces us to take a risk and hire a "taxi" (more on that later) to La Vega Hacienda (horse ranch) recommended in our LP Guide. As luck would have it does have someone home. We eat at the sole restaurant which serves average food but does have a gentle sea breeze and ugly but interesting and friendly gheckos for the kids to amuse themselves with.
Then what follows is the highlight of my time here in Cuba. A man appears with three horses, saddles them up and then we are off for a 40min ride through bush, streams and mangroves to a small beach lagoon (20metres accross) bounded by rocky outcrops. On go the snorkelling gear and we are in tropical fish heaven for close to an hour in full sun before mounting the horses again to return, or so we thought. Instead we take a turn to Agua Dulce Cascades (Sweet water, waterfall) where the kids and I get in for a relatively cool (the water was warm but not as warm as the sea or air) dip. Absolute magic. Our horse man did not speak any English but was friendly, patient, helpful and unlike just about everyone else we have encountered in Cuba so far did not attempt to scam us. The pre-agreed price was $4CUC per horse (=$4USD)...we certainly did not expect a three hour adventure. We decided to give him $20CUC and encouraged Brodin to give away his snorkelling gear (which he did) to his son who was of a similiar age and who we met at the waterfall. The smile told all.
Unfortunately we discovered on the return leg whilst in the car that our taxi driver was drunk...
October 17th: Santa Clara
Wow this town has a great feel. Its heart is Parque Vidal, a plaza where everyone seems to meet and thanks to a cultural festival has free performances (dance, music) on every day. The people are better dressed and look happier and healthier (as do the animals)
than their Havanna counterparts. We also see evidence of healthcare here. People with crutches, people using sign language and walking sticks for the blind. Our taxi driver tells me that the income disparity is small here and that it is rich in culture. Of the few countries I've been to in the world these two factors show up time and time again. They seem to be essential to community happiness and wellbeing.
Sadly though we get frequently approached by two beggars which does not make sense here as every Cubano has a food ration. Sadly I read that some have quit their jobs as they can make more money begging or scamming tourists.
Last night Clare (Rachels friend who has joined us for the Cuba bit) and I discovered a free concert off the square. We listened to two choirs. The rythms I've not heard before and the harmony incredible.
October 16th: Santa Clara Cuba
Our accommodation is amazing here and is the same price per room ($25CUC) as the other places we have stayed. The front door opens onto a colonial courtyard with water fountain and palms. The four rooms form a perimeter on one side with a kitchen at the end and block wall with climbers on the other. Beautiful furniture, chandelliers, pottery and paintings. Managers Carmen and Obregon have a superb service ethic and I strongly recommend their Casa Particular. Their family has the two front rooms. Best place we have stayed yet and less than 5 mins walk to the central plaza. [Holly and Andrew the details are: Hostel Autenica Pergola, Luis Estevez #61 e/ (means between Independencia Boulevard and Marti]
October 15th: October: Playa Larga (Beach) Cuba
I am glad to say that we are out of Havanna. If I'm completely honest about it, while I like the market, some restaurants and Plaz de Armas, I don't like what I've experienced in Havanna. I could not live here. The touts are seemingly constant. As Rachel's friend Clare put it "Everyone seems to be out to make a buck off you" Everywhere we go we are watched and approached and pressured to buy something or pay for some service. Everyone wants to be your friend (super friendly) and then quickly turn sour once you say no to whatever it is they are selling.
In stark contast Playa Larga is a relaxed costal fishing town. Pity about the noisy hound dog next door who successfully gets the beach dogs barking overnight. Fairly average Casa Particular (the owner does not live onsite so its really just a house for rent) but the breakfast lady had a great sense of humour. The water is warm with the occassional jelly fish unfortunately for poor Daisy who was stung on her tummy. Glad I brought the bottle of paracetemol.
Got two hours off to myself snorkelling at Cueva de los Peces a 20 min drive from our Casa, marvellous! Crystal clear water 5m deep accessible straight from the costal edge, no beach to navigate...live coral, parrot fish, tetra neons.....just like swimming in an aquarium!
October 14th: Havanna Cuba: Over trusting Kiwis
Scammed again! Short changed by a rude agressive taxi driver. As soon as I started inspecting the change (it was dark and no lighting) the taxi driver reached in for a forcefull handshake diverting my attention long enough to make his getaway. Expected change $5CUC, actual change $5Pesos which is equivalent to 1/5th $CUC!
The other common scam we are getting caught out by is being overcharged (sugar water, mohitos...etc) when you fail to ask the price first. Friendly staff and nice surroundings in restaurants tend to lull us into a false sense of security. At
one restaurant the staff returned our $50CUC note saying that it had a tear in it and could not accept it. They would however accept Canadian dollars, US or Euro but not credit cards. The rates for the other currencies were (unusually) stated on the menu. Given that it came fresh from an ATM we believe that they tore the note in the hope that we would cough up another currency with a less than favourable exchange rate. Later that night I did wonder if the torn note they had handed us was a counterfeit! Fortunately not as it turned out.
October 13th: Havanna Cuba
On departing the San Jose Market (best place in my opinion to buy art) turned out the driver of our 1953 Chevrolet was a young avionics engineer made redundant 2 years earlier by the "anti-inflation measures" With four positions reduced to one the three youngest were left to find new work...hence why he became a taxi driver. In the safety of the car (no other ears listening) he explained that jobs are given to those who are oldest and have the most senior connections. The implication was that skill and hard work had nothing to do with it!
October 12th: Havanna Cuba
Cuba certainly is an interest contradiction in many ways. For all I have read about how Cubanos perceive America to be the cause of all their woes they appear to embrace American culture. While I am writing this from our Casa Particular (Villa Azul, Curazao#24 entre Luz y Acosta, Habanna Vieja) someone has Madonna blaring from their sterio. Many have access to American TV and DVDs. Many restaurants have 80s pop music videos playing which is a shame as it ruins the atmosphere in my opinion. While on a short tour by horse and carriage (Daisy and Brodin loved it...Daisy's smile said it all) the unexpected guide (a friend of the driver who we thought had just joined for the ride) pointed out the Opulent Spanish Embassy. When asked how can they celebrate kicking out the Spaniards and still have a Spanish Embassy he just shrugged his shoulders.
Our host Graysis (Gracie) is fantastic by the way. I recommend this Casa Particular (you live in their house, fortunately we have our own lounge, bathroom and two bedrooms, own keys) due to the host, its location, space, clean rooms and while keeping in mind how hard it is for Cubanos to access supplies wonderful breakfasts. We found the noisy air conditioning drowned out the nightime neighbourhood noise perfectly. Its a 15/20min walk or $2CUC by bici-taxi to the Malecon (waterfront) and $3CUC by bici/-taxi to Plaza de Armas.
October 11th: Havanna, Cuba
Daisy and Sean suffering from heat exhaustion. Daisy not eating at all. Sean skipped lunch to crash out for a three hour sleep in the afternoon and would have kept sleeping if were not for Rach waking him up! Daisy still drinking water but bit of a worry as does not appear to be enough. Guesssing its 40 deg and 90% plus humidity. The prickly sensation all over and red spots has Sean wondering if he is going to cope in Cuba.
October 10th: Havanna, Cuba.
Returning Cubanos cheer when the plane takes off. Puff of smoke from left engine prior to take off bit of a worry as is the hand sketch on cabin exterior describing the details for a replacement panel. Cubanos start singing, the vino (not supplied by the airline) is flowing....and the Cubanos start dancing at the back of the plane! On arrival we are welcomed by 40 deg heat with 99% humidity. A loooong day with Daisy throwing up four times (two good catches by Sean) at the airport. Up at 3:30am, finishing with a long late walk and surpising good Cenar (lite meal) from a wee outdoor cafe on a cobbled street one block back from the waterfront.
This update brought to you by Sean.