CUBA 2016-2017

Pssssss – I like you 😉

Cuba is a country of miracles where reality can become a poesy. Special value in Havana is to talk sincerely to every passerby like if he would be an old friend.

Seeing half-empty or half-full Cuban streets with old Cadillacs and Pontiacs made me realize fast that I was far away from home in a completely different country. In Havana was the least traffic I ever saw in my life. Simply, no cars, no traffic.

I arrived 24 December. It didn’t seem that people are celebrating Christmas as we do in Europe. Cubans started to celebrate Christmas influenced by a pope visit in 2015.

People here don’t stay calm, they get out, they talk, they observe, they are very active in social life. A real social life, they are not yet so destroyed morally by media as they hardly have access to internet, which costs 1-1.5 euro per 1 hour (while salary around 30) !

People are not shy here at all. If they like something, they say it immediately, if they want something, they do it immediately. Life is too short to waste it on maybe’s and what ifs. My bus to Santiago de Cuba was leaving at midnight so I had enough time to enjoy the company of some locals. One worker decided that he likes me and shortly everybody at a bus station knew about it. Cubans don’t care about showing their feelings in public. He cared if I had a boyfriend and how we could get together as a couple. I cared just about my bus arriving and about sleeping. I was not in shape to accept his courtships. Some guys listened salsa so loud like at a discotheque. Some were shaving in public. Nobody really cares what others think, they just do what they wish at that moment. Salsa everywhere.

People are really friendly and helpful, but need to speak Spanish! I had some problems as my 30% of Spanish knowledge was hardly enough sometimes.

Guys love girls and love observing them without hiding anything.

At a bus station I thought that nobody paid any attention at me. At least it looked so. It was enough that I changed my sitting place as some guys reorganized their positions to better see me in my new place. What a silent tactic.  As I didn’t show any emotions and sat calmly, they soon changed positions to see better the new girl who kept moving seat all the time.

Bus arrived. The bus tickets you can buy online 1.5 months in advance. Especially during the peak of tourism season, don’t forget to provide yourself with them. For December and January periods, the places on the busses are sold out 3 weeks before the date of departure. If you miss a place on a bus, then it can cost a lot as would then need to rent a car.

I understand that it’s hot in Cuba (around +25 during the night and +35 during a day) but it doesn’t mean that they had to put air conditioners of +15 degrees maximum in the bus. If you plan to travel by busses, get ready to have something warm to put on, because shaking from cold is guaranteed.

I found a free aisle seat.  A man about 50 years old was sitting at a window. I took my aisle place. Then a woman who was sitting on the other side leaned towards me saying “it’s my husband”. …. Good for her. Then to protect her husband from me she put her daughter in his place and kept husband sitting by her side at a window! I continued to sleep. I tried, but these 14 years old girl nails didn’t get out my mind. They were at least 5 cm long and green. I hardly see adults with such long ones and it was always on TV, but in Cuba it’s normal. Cuban females love making nails. The salons for nails and hairdressers are almost on every corner. They try to dress nice and look good but it’s a big chance that behind it at home is an empty table and a fridge with nothing to eat. Some guys put on big chains on their necks and to be sure that everyone sees it, they open at least 7 upper buttons of their shirts.

Bus stops after a few hours, so travelers can easily get out and stretch their backs, go to the toilet or to buy snacks. Toilets are payable (plus need to have your own toilet paper) and prices of food often seem like in Europe. It’s the only way to earn money – tourists, so they use the chance as much as they can. Even bus tickets costs different for the locals and tourists.

After few hours of ride in a bus, that woman sat in her daughters place and after few hours again put her husband by my side. She seemed not liking to sit by her lovely husband, or probably she started to trust my intentions.

In Santiago de Cuba I was staying with one local family. Surprisingly I was eating “borsch” – Ukrainian soup but with rise as they don’t have potatoes here. A girl used to study in Spain and had Russian friends who taught her how to use beetroot other way than just to eat it boiled as Cubans used to do. A Cuban’s kitchen in general is a very modest one. They don’t have many imports as its super expensive and locals have no money to buy this type of food. They have to cook just from what grows there, but unfortunately agriculture is not developed as there are none of the needed machines for it and working by hand is not profitable at all. In general, it seems that they don’t experiment a lot with food and in most restaurants they propose very similar food.  They have no milk and bread is something dry, white color and not tasty. There is lots of fish in the sea but people don’t eat it often, or eat it ‘illegally” as the government forbids them to fish as they’re afraid that fishermen will escape to another country.

The main food is imported from Brazil – rice and beans. Cuba is a friend with Venezuela where they import cheap petrol from.

In the city they have some spots where internet works the best. People get on in the evening there and connect for one hour. Better not to bother them at this time. Internet is very expensive and slow that’s why people try to use it as little as possible. A girl at whose place I was staying was going to a park, connecting to internet, copying letter to her computer and disconnecting. When she was home, she was reading it and answering. Letters were sent when she was again back to a park. Copy paste and disconnect. It was super hard for her to readapt to a local life after few years of life in Spain. Life in Cuba is rather isolated. Those who never tried to live abroad, don’t suffer so much, but usually those who manage to get out this country, come back here just as tourists.

Lots people don’t have passports as they cost 100 dollars if not more plus preparation of all documents. Even in Europe this seems super expensive, so to Cubans it’s a cosmic price.

To eat in a restaurant can cost 7-20 Euros. In “food place”/mini restaurant for locals, possible to buy butter sandwich – white untasty peace of bread cut on 2 with butter inside. It costs 0.5 Euros that is insane expensive. 10 minutes drive in a taxi and they ask 10 Euros! Internet 1 hour – 1.5 Euros or 1 if connected to somebody’s internet. Some guys make money buying internet for 1.5 Euros and sharing it to others for 1. These way users make some money too. In a hotel 1.5 hours of internet is 5 Euros. I forgot to mention that normal salary here is 15 -20 dollars per month!!!

Then we saw a very sexy lady, half dressed or half undressed, no idea. High heels, make up, ass half seen or unseen. She looked like a real prostitute but my Cuban friends told me that I was wrong. Prostitutes and ‘good’ girls dress similar here so it’s hard to know sometimes who is who while the real machos are visible from far away. There are lots escort girls and boys here. It’s easy here to borrow someone for money and it’s not rare to see a tourist woman in age with a young handsome Cuban guy. Some just come to you in a street; some follow you in aim to buy them at least a drink.

There are lots old French living here too. I was curious how they manage it, but there is a way. The retired sign to a university for one year pretending studying Spanish language. After this period they come back to France and then back to restart studies in Cuba.  It seems that they love to study ;).  The French brought fashion to Cuba; they changed the way of dressing while getting out in the evening as the locals, especially women, used to stay home when dark.

Some Russians are still living here for already 30 years and teach Russian language at university. In this country there are a lot foreign students as Cuba is known for a very good education level and medicine. Unfortunately, after such great studies, graduates have no chance to work a great job with a great salary.

Cubans are rather jealous people and can make lots of dramas. It happened that some jealous ones set other person on fire, this way hurting that person badly. The maximum what justice does to a dangerous guilty one – they put him/her into a jail for 24 hours.

Electricity is cheap here, it costs almost nothing. In aim not to let people misuse it, it’s forbidden to bring to this country any specific electronic devices (check the list of requirements and forbidden stuff to bring to Cuba on the internet).

Taxi from Santiago de Cuba bus station to the center costs 5 CUC/5 Euros.

5 hours on the way from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa. It is really a very nice road. It is winding, surrounded by green mountains and national park filled with wonderful views of the greenery and sea. Baracoa is not so touched by tourists yet, just by hurricanes from time to time.

Baracoa is largely isolated being bounded by the Atlantic, by rivers, mountains and forests. It’s one of Cuba’s most charming travel destinations, thanks to the stunning diversity of local landmarks. Music lovers will appreciate Baracoa’s unique changüí music. Baracoa is also the home of the Tumba Francesa, a Creole dance inspired by the French minuet.

Baracoa’s lush rainforests are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, many of which are rare or endangered. The diversity of the landscape makes travelling throughout the region as enjoyable as the destination itself.

On arrival, there are always lots of taxi drivers waiting, but if you save money, you can go wherever you want here by feet. It’s a small town and easy to reach any point by feet. The town and surroundings look a bit sad as one month before they had a big hurricane, which destroyed lots of trees and buildings. It’s a poor zone, visited time to time by hurricanes and few tourists. The town is nothing special in itself, but they have the best national park here where you can go for a trek or have a trip by car. Nature is amazing.

It’s easy to find a boyfriend or girlfriend here as lots of local propose their services. Guys were catching traveler girls on the streets saying that they are travelling alone so they need boyfriends. One was following me while I was in Baracoa in bicycle taxi shouting as loud as he could that he loves me and is ready to be my boyfriend. So sweet. They like to share their generosity sending air kisses to almost every girl.

One my friends told that his sister used to work as a prostitute as the family needed to survive somehow. They had no choice. They are not happy with what she did but nobody judged her.

If you are lost or need something, people will be here for you. It’s easy to make acquaintances on the streets, people are easy going, and open for discussions. Tourists are very visible here.

Be ready to bring an umbrella with you as you never know what can happen here in Cuba and especially in Baracoa. During one day here, it was very sunny and hot and heavily raining time to time.

It’s really hard sometimes to find a food shop here. In all Cuba is more alcohol in the shops than food. In some towns was looking for some bread, in vain. One shop had it but the shop side was separated by metal grills. Bread was sold just to the locals and who had special coupons for it. People had no rights to buy more bread per month then the number of coupons that they had. I had chance to try it, but it was dry and tasteless. One small track brought cabbages to sell. People run like crazy to buy it. Painful view which shows how long locals sometimes have to wait to eat here. In one place I found some sweets to buy. It was a grotesque view. A man was painting no-how a façade. The paint was running down while people were getting out and in the shop. The stairs were slippery if one was not attentive,  you could easily fall down, on top of this, just downstairs in the middle was a bucket full of paint just in case.

 The best place to eat is a restaurant, it’s too hard to find to buy products and cook something. It’s possible and cheaper to eat at hosting peoples. Their food usually is no worse than at a restaurant. Try a local ice cream, it’s really tasty and costs just one cent!

Here, like in all Cuba, people are super poor and live just from tourism.

Tired, got back home and had plans to stay the rest of my stay here in bed. But it was not given to me. Two Germans met on a bus, came and took me out for a drink. We found the calmest and cute place to stay in but it was not given to enjoy it long. After a few minutes came musicians and started to play and sing. Soon after this place was the noisiest and the most overcrowded by people in the town. That first moment I knew that I will have to dance too. Lots of tourists were dancing and locals invited tourists to dance too. Then came the salsa dancers. He was the best local dancer and teacher, Rogelio. Soon after he came to me inviting me to dance. I never dance salsa before, but he didn’t care, he was there to teach me. The one dance was lasting at least 30 minutes. For a girl it’s not so hard to learn, she has just to follow. If a guy is a professional dancer, then a girl should easily adapt to his movements. We became friends. After the bar was closed, with Rogelio and his dancer friends we went to another place to continuing the party. Sweet, good hearted, funny guys. One Cuban was complaining that one tourist girl didn’t want him to accompany her home. She thought that he probably wanted something but “I just wanted to accompany her home to be sure that she arrived well, that’s all” complained the guy. In Cuba it’s normal that a guy accompany a girl home. They accompany girls not because they expect something from them but because it’s a gesture of a gentleman. Long ago a guy wanted to go out with a girl, and her parents let their daughter out saying to this guy that he has to bring her back home after a meeting. So guys keep doing so till now no matter if it’s their girlfriend, friend or just a girl who is alone.

My dancer friend is from these Cubans who have to calculate money before buying something, as almost all Cubans, but as we become friends, he wanted to buy me drinks. It was so sweet to share with me while not having lot himself. I couldn’t let it happen.

The guys seem attentive and noticed each detail. Probably because they have little access to internet and learn everything by observing and experiencing for themselves. One guy liked me, we kept talking then I saw that his shirt buttons opened one by one till it showed his muscled body. I remember that I kept looking at him while our conversation but really can’t remember how and when he managed to open all the buttons. Probably the wind was very strong, that’s why :).

Cubans know how to seduce. From the way some used to talk to me and what I saw from outside, it looked really sometimes hard to resist.

They told me that Cubans used to party more before Castro death, but since he’s gone, towns seem less crazy and calmer.

Unfortunately I had not enough time to discover local national park and had to come back to Santiago de Cuba before taking a bus to Trinidad. I left a great new friend there. During the waiting time for another bus, I had enough time to visit an old beautiful cemetery, where Fidel Castro is buried.  Situated maybe 15 minutes walk from the bus station. I asked one police guy for the directions, he helped me and immediately asked for my telephone number, so normal. Cemetery was really beautiful. Each monument is a separate artistic masterpiece.

Trinidad

Guys here have very rich imagination and have big ‘bags’ full of different tactics how to seduce different type of girl. They talk softly while looking deeply into the eyes and then you see that he is so close by you keeping his hand on your shoulder or around you….  they touch, they pay attention at each smallest detail, they surprise….  They are very fast. But at the same time they look very natural. It’s in their blood. Till you realize what’s going on, you’ll be already a girlfriend of somebody. They love looking at women bodies and people like to show it. It’s normal to talk about feelings, to have a romance, to flirt. They rarely ask about your age. Beauty has no age as they say. It’s so popular here that people even don’t pay attention at this. They seem enjoying their very hard lives. 20 Euros salaries but they look often happier than tourists. They have no choice. They choose happiness and positivity. Complaining about hard life won’t help. You always see smiling, bright face Cubans but being in their homes I saw them not so happy at all. Lots of the locals are just tired from trying to survive from day to day. The richest people here are car owners. Taxi services bring very good money. An hour of work and more than 1 months’ salary! Incredible!!!

Lots people have tattoos here but I don’t advice to do it here as the quality is not good.

There are lots of dark skinned locals. Long ago, French came here and tried to teach Cubans how to cultivate coffee. It was hard, physical work to which locals were not used to. It was a reason why the French brought lots of African slaves with them, which later stayed to live here.

With a few other travelers I met by internet before we met in Trinidad, we went to visit local national park Salto Del Caburní. We took a taxi. It was a horrible old Russian car that started to smoke in the midway. We expected being stuck, but that car was more resistant than we though. The Caburni River trail has plenty of natural and historical value. It is a challenging route with a high level of difficulty. The main attraction here is the breath-taking river and 75m high waterfall at the end of the route. The less enjoyable part of the tour is the return. You have to walk all the way back again, now uphill. This hike allows an hour down and 1½ hours back up for this 5km (round-trip). In spite of these difficulties, the Caburni River route is worth trying because of its magnificent views and the historical and natural attributes of the area, declared a National Monument.

We had to pay 20CUC each for both ways by taxi, rather expensive, but it’s hard to get it cheaper. Taxi drivers didn’t even show us other beauties on the way. They calculate time and take profit from tourists as there are lots of them in a town and need to use them as much as possible.

I didn’t feel good in Trinidad. Too much tourism, everything around is for tourists. There are more tourists than locals. One day for Trinidad and one for the nature were enough for me. I missed Baracoa which was more authentic. I missed especially those singers and dancers from Baracoa who were dressed simply, playing instruments without using any modern technology. In Trinidad they wore special costumes, playing electric guitars, using microphones and all that was compressed so tightly with the mass of tourists. The real Cuban spirit was in Baracoa while in Trinidad was touristic spirit.

Locals usually don’t close their house doors. The doors are open, windows too. As they don’t have easy access to media, they socialize and kill their days watching what others do and know everything what’s happening around. In the downtowns people make souvenir shops in their flats. The inside is perfectly integrated to outside, public life.  Live your life, nobody cares.

They sell lots of souvenirs made from wood, handmade jewelry, cigar boxes, and hats. Sometimes the prices are incredible high. Need always to negotiate. In all places souvenirs are almost the same, so if you miss something in one town, no worries, you will find it in another place.

In the shops I never saw any electronic cash desks. Sellers always took the notes in the notebooks.

Pina colada 1.5 CUC. You can easily buy a drink at a window of a street bar. Drinking alcohol in public is not a problem.

All houses look very similar from outside but the real difference starts when you enter inside where the real beauties could be hidden – patio, terraces, gardens.

Taking my ticket, the conductor kissed it, then gave me it back and when I was leaving, sends some more air kisses to be sure that I didn’t miss it.

Havana

Arrived on December 31st. Easy to find a help at neighbors, just ask someone and they will call others immediately and solutions will be soon found. They live in a community of a huge family where everybody knows everybody. Lots of people have no interesting activities in their life so to help someone is kind of new color brought to their days.

I shared a house with some other travelers, with who I rented a house for few nights. During the New Year period it is hard to find last minute place to stay in. Ask at a particular casa if they have a free room but if they don’t, they will call their neighbor or friends and sooner or later you’ll find it.

Our flat mates group soon found common language with a family living in front of us. Unfortunately, in that family only one person spoke English, the main family man. Their son saw me and immediately everyone knew that he liked me. He was telling the compliments asking others to translate each detail for me. He was a shy guy but when it comes to love, even such guys tell what’s on their mind without wasting a moment. They invited us to a New Year party at their flat. My companions refused as they expected to have fun in downtown. New Year in Cuba is a family party, so if you expect Cubans being on the streets making fun, you are wrong. Downtown is mostly just for tourists and some performances are made especially for them. We were a big group of foreigners and soon everyone went his own way. With one Russian guy we decided finally join ‘my’ Cuban family and make party Cuban way with Cubans. They were happy of our visit. They drunk a bit of rum, they cooked some vegetarian dishes (but very minimally) and during the midnight they drank champagne and everyone smoked the same cigar. During the midnight people usually don’t get out on a street to not become wet or dirty. They have a tradition to throw some water from the windows or doors on a street this way believing throwing out all bad from their home. They too throw raw eggs and tomatoes but nowadays they do it few as the food is expensive deficit here. After the midnight they dance and make fun. In ‘my’ family they had a crazy aunt. She was slim and small, dancing like insane. Real family treasure. She jumped on her sister’s third husband hugging him on a waste with her legs and pulling her body down moving seductive way. Then with his daughter they were at a ground pressing on feet and palms, pushing asses up while guys clapped them. I was shocked. I kept repeating to myself that it’s normal, it’s Cuba, it’s ok and deep deep inside I hoped that nobody would invite me to dance! While I was sitting on a sofa with that guy in love, she came and started to shake her ass few centimeters in front of his face. Then she pulled up her skirt showing her red panties, he clapped her ass and she went away……. then that guy in love decided that need to kiss me and each time he tried to do it in the most visible place or in the middle of a room. I barely found the ways how to refuse politely. It was finally a New Year and we had fun with all family. He was in front of me and his uncle just beside us looking with curiosity. He tried to kiss me again

“I can’t, people are looking” I told.

“It’s normal, it’s a family” he told looking around.

“But I even don’t know these people” I insisted to find an excuse.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaa, you don’t know….” and keeping my hand he brought me to introduce to each member “this is my mum, this is my uncle, this is my step father, this is my sister and her boyfriend…..and this is my girlfriend” informed publicly pointing at me.

“So now you are officially his family member” told laughing my Russian friend.

“Shut up, I even don’t know this boyfriends name”.

His family was so happy that their son found a girlfriend. It seemed that everyone was happy except me. I was some kind of shocked. One person who didn’t really care about anything was his aunt who kept dancing like insane shaking around her sister’s husband. Finally all my New Year was about trying to keep my new ‘boyfriend’ at a distance. Soon after, the family got used to my Russian friend who spoke a bit Spanish and could communicate with them. The last view I saw going for a walk was the Russian trying to drink some rum while the aunt was shaking her ass to his front and sliding around him. He could hardly take one sip of the drink. He had no choice but to enjoy his new company. He had a girlfriend too :). While taking a walk with my ‘boyfriend’, he kept looking at me from head to toe, constantly repeating ‘wooooooooow’, while in my head all I was thinking was a much shorter, ‘wow’. Everything was very unexpected and new for us, especially for my Russian friend on his way back home. One girl attacked him, grabbed him, and shackled her body around him without letting go. He had real problems to escape from her.

Next day looks like nothing happened. Locals stay with families. People taking a walk, tourists exploring. I was walking with a serious face in aim to avoid all these sweet guys’ attentions. “Smile please” said one guy and went away. I didn’t.

I had to repair my sandals and the owner of our casa fast found a guy for me (they usually make such works at their flats and just the locals know about it, so always ask). We met on December 31st and he repaired it and brought me back the next morning. He really had no need to work during the New Year, it was not urgent, but he wanted to do me good so he did all the work early morning. He spoke perfect English. We became friends and he accompanied me round the city showing me around and telling interesting stories and history. I learned from him so much and our meetings were very valuable for me. He and his mum, they became to me like a family. Dear Alan. He was surprised and asked once why tourist couples don’t usually keep hands while having a walk. He told that couples in Cuba always show their feelings and stay as close to each other as possible. I couldn’t answer his question why tourists seemed so cold in feelings. Some local couples if they suddenly feel the need to kiss, they stand in the middle of a street and do it. Nobody cares. Once I saw a young couple of 13 years old. Watching them kissing I understood that they know everything about relationship and have already all needed experience. Other couples looked sweet showing warm feelings to each other. Others didn’t exist to them, just them and their love. They are proud of their partners and want everyone to know about it. Cubans know how to be romantic. They are dreamers and don’t give up on their dreams. They laugh from their problems. Jokes are often related to sex.  When Cubans see girl and boy having a walk together, they already call them a couple.

They love being together, family is very important and they love kids. Abortions are popular here too but mostly to adolescents it happens much more often. Guys often ask girls opinion how many kids she would like to have. My ‘boyfriend’,  during the party, immediately asked me about it. I was flattered but I really had no plans to stay in this country and populate it.

“Psssss, I love you” – one of the most heard phrases heard while having a walk in the streets.

Romantic Cubans buy flowers for the girls and have a walk in Malecon – seaside, romantic place for those in love. When a guy likes a girl, he immediately introduces her to his family.

Before marriage Cubans usually date just for few months. They dance at altars and ride Cadillac’s during their wedding ceremonies. Usually one family has 3 kids. They are fast to marry and they are super fast in divorce too. It’s very normal to be married three times. Family mixes a lot and it’s hard to understand who is who. Once I asked if that woman is their family member and it was told to me “yes, she is my mothers second husband sisters husbands mothers step sister….” After avalanche of such information, I felt that I understood everything.

When a girl has her 15th birthday, it’s the biggest party for her.

Cuba for lots of years used to be in bad relationship with USA and it was forbidden to have anything home that is from USA. If Cubans found a USA money in a street, they tried not to touch them, to avoid being accused and going to a jail for that. Lots of Cubans in the past went to the jails just because of such stupid details. It was even forbidden to them to talk to the tourists. People just recently started to learn English and got a freedom to do with tourists whatever they want. My Baracoa and Havana friends, who spoke English, learned it by themselves. They were studying at the libraries and practicing talking to tourists. When we really want it, everything possible and I am very proud of my local friends who fight so much for their future.

In the evening we went to Fabrica Del Arte. It’s the best place to have fun in Havana. The Fabrica Del Arte is the ingenious idea by the Cuban singer songwriter X Alfonso to create a cultural space where up and coming Cuban talent can perform and display their work. The factory is spacious with a modern feel to it. Here you will find art exhibitions, dance, film, live music, night clubs, and bars. There are always so many visitors that before entering need to wait at least 30 min outside. Everyone can find something he likes here. The entrance is 2CUC and about 10 CUC to drive by taxi from the downtown.

There are taxis outside the Fabrica Del Arte ready to take you back to your address but expect to pay higher prices than normal. If you are not willing to pay the taxi prices outside of the Fabrica Del Arte, you can walk to Linea and wait by the tunnel exit and waive down a taxi or an almendron.

It’s hard to start a business in Cuba. One guy tried to open a small restaurant. To open it, need to have a permit from an inspector. When he finds any small error, they refuse to provide that permit. Inspectors are corrupt. Even if everything would be well done and correspond with the requirements, an inspector will find a reason to refuse a permit. They ask for bribes of 10 Euros no matter if your project meet all requirements or not.

It’s hard to see Cubans eating in the restaurants. They just can’t afford it. There are restaurants for the locals too. In the local ‘restaurants’ it’s possible to have an omelet or butter sandwich for 10-50 cents. Kitchen is very simple and not really tasty. In general, in Cuba they don’t use spices. They just don’t have it. The only thing they use is salt, pepper and sugar which is not really sweet. So if you need, bring some spices or sauces with yourself. It can be really useful.

Vinales

With the same group of solo travelers we decided to go to Vinales. It was cheaper to share a taxi. Viñales is about three hours of drive from Havana. in new place, again we all went our own ways. I mostly stayed with my Russian friend.

Two days were enough to explore its valleys and plantation of cigars. Life in Viñales revolves around agriculture, so visiting a tobacco farm should be at the very top of your to-do list. We took a horse ride (3CUC per hour because horses seemed to be in a good shape!) through the lush valley and visited the place where the most famous cigars in the world are made. I never imagined that they have first to put one end of a cigar in honey and then smoke it. If I would smoke, I would prefer to do it this way. Tasty.

We had a chance to visit the Cuevas de Santo Tomas, Cuba’s largest cave system. Visitors can explore this unique natural feature by foot and take a shortboat ride through the caves. The Viñales Valley is an outstanding karst landscape encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome-like limestone outcrops (mogotes) that rise as high as 300 m. Colonized at the beginning of the 19th century; the valley has fertile soil and a climate conducive to the development of stock-raising and the cultivation of fodder and food crops. Traditional methods of agriculture have survived largely unchanged on this plain for several centuries, particularly for growing tobacco. The quality of this cultural landscape is enhanced by the vernacular architecture of its farms and villages, where a rich multi-cultural society survives, its architecture, crafts and music illustrating the cultural development of Cuba.

Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria is the work of the former Director of Mapping at the Cuban Academy of Sciences, Leovigildo González Morillo. Morillo undertook the massive project of portraying world history up until the age of humans on a rock wall in the Viñales Valley. For entering the territory to the see paintings from a little bit closer they asked 3CUC. It was perfectly visible from far away were we stayed. I was mainly fascinated by the valleys and their beauty. On a way, far away from everything we saw a small wooden kiosk selling drinks. I ordered water. No water. What? Absurd. “Pina colada, cuba libre, mochito, rum…..what do you prefer?” I was thirsty so I took pina colada. I never imagined having a hike while drinking alcohol. No water means no water.  It seemed like they drink more alcohol than water, though I just once saw a drunken man.

One old man proposed to carry us on his carriage but soon he asked us to get out as further was a police and ‘officially’ he had no rights to help us. While we were riding, he told us an interesting story that I would like to share. Cubans value and used to value their horses a lot. It was their real treasure. They call horses ‘Tc Tc tc’. They say that the women are like a horse and that’s why they call them same way ‘Tc Tc tc’.

We found one food shop….. It was almost empty. On the shelves were exposed some conserves and that’s all. How people feed themselves if here is not food in the shops? Another shop, which had a bit more food, accepted buyers one by one creating this way long rows outside. Friend lost a sock. He had a mission to find to buy new ones but failed. Nobody knew where he could to buy it. During my entire trip I didn’t see here clothes shops. I was highly curious how and where they get clothes. They usually buy it on a black market from importers from Mexico and Venezuela. Some receive clothes as the gifts from their family who live abroad. I found one cloth shop in Viñales – really nothing to buy there and expensive.

My last days in Cuba I wanted to spend with Alan and sometimes with my ‘boyfriend’ to practice Spanish.

Cuba is a land with many rich and authentic traditions, a number of which have been in place for centuries.  At 9pm every evening is the Firing of the 9 O’clock Cannon, continuing a tradition that began in the 18 century. The cannon is fired from the ancient Fortress of San Carlos de Cabana. Originally the cannon was fired twice daily. First shot firing at 6am to announce when the gates of the city would open and at 9pm signaling when the city gates would be closed.

Bus costs 1 peso to ride 40 minutes to get to the sea outside Havana. You can always take a taxi but it will cost no less than 10CUC. I saw that getting out from the buses; men always give hand to females to help them to get out. No matter if a guy know a girl or not. They give hands walking on the stairs too and always accompany them home. Girls like to sunbathe and lots locals consider tan lines on their bodies sexy.

We kept friendly relationship with that ‘boyfriend’. Once I asked him why he never tried to sleep with me but just introducing as his girlfriend. “There are things more important in a life than sex” he kissed my forehead and hugged me softly. I was flattered. He just wanted my company and simply conversations about life. He knew that I would go away. Cubans enjoy the romance as long as possible especially when they really like a girl.

Cats and dogs are friends here. Animals are friendly with people too. Cubans like keeping animals at home.

Every home has a fix telephone. Once I had to find one person and he was not home as promised. Then my friend switched her computer and opened a program which found my friends telephone number and address easily after I mentioned his name and surname. All Cubans have registered telephone numbers and all information is easily accessible on computer. When someone calls you, it always shows who is calling like if this person name and surname, address would be saved in your contact list.

I tried to drink pina colada in so called the best bar known for this. It’s super expensive, even 6 CUC and not tasty at all. It seems that they put lot of water, a bit of rum and pina. It tasted like water with ‘something’. Typical touristic place. I didn’t see Cubans drinking lots or smoking Cubans. They usually only smoke cigars during the big events.

Medicine and education are free but for other services need to pay.

People ask 30 CUC per night. Nobody host you for free as people can know and inspector could come to check and then they would have problems. Maybe it’s changed now but it used to be so – if you want to be hosted by your friend for free for one month. Need a special inspection to proof relationship and to pay 25 Euros and receive a permit to stay free for 1 month. I never saw such absurdity in my life. Poor people can’t fight with corrupt inspections.

As the taxis are expensive here, travelers always try to share it and locals avoid them. I couldn’t resist riding a pink Pontiac. 1 hours of a ride is 40CUC. Expensive pleasure but we had chance to enjoy this ride at least once. The drivers have specific route for 30 minutes or 1 hour ride, but if you have a specific wish where to go, they can adapt.

Police here care mostly about tourists; they check cars and taxi licenses if they work legally or not.

Cubans are not really happy living in Cuba. If they would have possibilities to earn normal salaries, they would like to live here much more.

Money to exchange at airport is at departure section. It’s better to exchange enough just to get to Havana where you can do it in better rates. Taxi to the center costs about 20 dollars. Yes, this is the prices for the tourists and hard to change it, at least if you have local friends who accept to do it in 15 Euros. As there are lots tourists at the airport, it’s easy to find someone to share taxi dispenses. To find a taxi outside an airport is easy, just need to ask a local and they will arrange everything immediately. Old car taxi is more expensive. They know that tourists mostly come here for these cars.

Unfortunately, Cubans hardly speak English. If you want to have full-fledged conversations with the locals – practice some Spanish before your trip. Some older Cuban generation speak Russian as these two still remain good friends.

“I received your postcard with greetings!” shouted mum.

“What postcard? I didn’t send you any”. Then I saw that it was my Cuban Christmas card which I sent 3 months ago. It arrived for Easter. Wrote was “…….don’t worry, everything is fine here….”

Pssssssssss

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Diana Vaneta

In my stories you won't find lots of descriptions of visited and seen beauties. Usually such information is easy to find on the internet. For me, the most important is how visiting places and meeting people made me feel. The real beauty of a country can hardly be described by words. In order to preserve privacy, all the names of persons in my stories are changed. And unfortunately my destinations are not intended for lazy, comfort-searching tourists. My priority is to explore countries which are considered ‘dangerous', complicated or out of the average lists of tourist destinations and mainly involve places, which there is little or no information about. You would ask, why? My answer is, because usually in those countries people tend to be the most incredibly welcoming, friendly, respectful, helpful. Every time I leave them, I leave a piece of me with my newfound family.

3 thoughts on “CUBA 2016-2017”

  1. I enjoy, cause I discovered exactly what I used to be taking a look for.
    You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.

    Bye

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