Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cuba Part 2

For 6 days we hired a car and headed west; with some in trepidation as every car we saw was scratched and damaged in some way - fortunately we returned the car without any more dents and scratches than when we took it - though it was not without incident as we went over potholes, muddy rutted roads and on one occasion went part way off the edge of a road.

Here are some of our pictures to show where we went.

One of the best things about travelling is meeting other travelers here is Steve and Yvaana with the gorgeous azure sea as a backdrop.

We stopped many times along the road - here Suri is shaded under one of Cuba's enormous and very old trees that seemed to be everywhere.

A great find was Villa Soroa which had a welcoming swimming pool and was set beautifully and caringly in what remains of the Cuban Jungle (tropical forest really as all of the jungle has been chopped down and replaced with faster growing tropical trees), here we had lovely chalet - it was so good we stayed for 2 nights.

Close by was a magnificent Orchiderio ( Orchid garden) which was really a not to be missed place.

In the morning we woke up to find the whole place covered in mist - it was quite magical.

Close by we checked out the waterfall, it was suffering from a lack of water as we only had 1 downpour during the 2 week stay.

A familiar sight as we drove along was rice being dried out on the road - fortunately there were very few cars where we were travelling so most of the times cars drove around it - though there was one occasion when a lorry drove over part of it as it approached us.

Local farmers offer their fruit and vegetables that they have grown by the side of the road, we stopped to buy fruit at these - on this occasion the farmer took us in to his home and showed us around whilst his wife cut up and prepared the pineapple that we had bought from him - this was typical of the Cuban people in the countryside - always helpful and smiling.

Another place we stopped at was the Hotel Islazul El Mirador in San Diego de Los Banos - a quite old building which was in need of some repair - probably due to the lack of tourists - I believe we were the only tourists staying here. Part of the problem stems from the hurricane 2 years before which swept away the main bridge, but also the closure to tourists of the Spa next door due H & S reasons - though the locals were still using it.

In the town we came across this tobacco factory where leaves were being processed for making into big fat Cuban cigars.

On our drive we headed for Cayo Levisa a small island off the North Coast - but it took us so long to get to the jetty where the ferry left, that it was too late and so we decided not to go, all around this area were Banana Plantations - here Suri compares herself to a leaf.

In Vinales we visited the Jardin Botanico - a garden maintained by 2 elderly sisters - with help from friends and family - here in this large garden where so many varieties of plants and trees - even this unusual tin can tree.

The lady who showed us around was determined to tell us the name of every plant growing there.

The west of Cuba is well known for growing tobacco - here I inspect the inside of a traditional barn used for drying the leaves, as expected the smell was quite strong.

In the countryside towns old hotel reception areas are used as shops - this one is typical both in look and the fact that the shelves were almost bare.

The views over the Sierra del Rosario were impressive, the way the mountains rose up reminded us both of Guilin in China.

Our 3rd stopover was the Hotel El Ranch San Vicenti - just north of Vinales - another lovely place with cabins set in beautiful scenic woods, spoilt only slightly by a few minor things like no hot water, but with the heat this really was not a problem.

A bit out of the way and a tad difficult to find was the Cueva de Los Portales - the HQ of the Western revolutionary army under the leadership of Che Guuevara during the 1962 Missile Crisis. This is now part of a campsite. Whilst we were there I guess this was the hottest day of the trip.

Finally we headed out to the Playas Del Este - just a few miles east of Havana where the 10 miles of beach were fabulous and as it was Sunday there were lots of local people from Havana.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cuba - A sample of the cars we saw - including one being resprayed

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cuba Visit December 2009 Part 1 Havana

Here are some of the sites of the city where we were based - We stayed at the 100 year old Plaza Hotel right in the centre of Havana - check out the hotel review at Tripadviser - see link to side.

Part 2 to follow.

Here's one just for Brod - an old steam train - caged in for some reason - located just outside of the station.

The Theatre was quite magnificent with murals on the wall at the entrance and inside was pretty good too. We saw the Cuban Modern Dance troupe - unbelievably energetic - if a tad on the repetitive side and a bit pricey at 20CUC (1CUC = 70p), though the locals paid only 2CUC.

Outside of the Museum of the Revolution - apparently this tank was used during the Bay Of Pigs attempted invasion by the US.

A little gem - a Russian Orthodox Church close to the pier - I am sure tourists rarely visit this pristine church.

The Castillo De La Real Fuerza was in great shape with much information about how the Spanish conquered Cuba - unfortunately none of it in English and my Spanish could not cope with most of it, but lots of cannons and cannon balls and real trunks of silver or so we were assured.

Many of the visitors to Cuba came by cruise ship and in my opinion they see very little of the real Cuba or even the real Havana, here is the Europa moored up close to San Fransisco Plaza.

A typical transporter for the Cuban armed forces, this was quite a modern vehicle - shame they had to take it out of the museum really :)

These Coco Taxis are everywhere and probably the best and almost the cheapest way of getting around - not to mention the air conditioning thrown in for free - this way you get the diesel fumes straight in your face.

A view of San Fransisco Plaza taken from the rooftop of the Convent De San Fransisco De Asisis - a beautifully restored building with many good artifacts to see - inside there are two lovely courtyards which are typically Spanish.

Along the Malecon - a long promenade running along the edge of the sea is this Black Flag Monument situated outside the "US Interests section" - intended to block the view - it certainly does - 138 flags - when we were passing they were being repainted so not all had flags on them.

One of our finds was this renovated Exhibition Hall along the Desamparado close to the station - not in most guide books - this is the place to buy any of the tourist type gifts that you may need - unfortunately for us we found it just hours before we left to return home.

A typical Havana scene - I could not resist this - this was a photo of a picture I found in one of the hotels - where we checked e mail and booked our hire car.

This was the Fabrica De Tobaccos Partagas building - unfortunately closed to the public when we visited - but there was a distinct smell of cigars around - but there again that was the same in many parts of Havana.

Close to the ferry terminal there is the Musea De Ron - which was poor value for money and not very interesting and only a tiny tot of 7 year old Havana Club at the end of a very short tour, we should have spent the money in the bar attached to the museum where when we visited there was some great music and singing.

Across the ferry is the Marble Statue of Christ watching over the harbour - well worth a visit for the view and the trip across on the ferry.

Close to the the Statue, is the Castillo De Los Tres Santos Reyes Magos Del Morro - known more simply as the 16th century El Morro Fortress - which is very impressive and when we went was deserted, with very few tourists. To get there we took a cab as it was across the water and access was through a vehicle only tunnel.

Just about at every bar and restaurant there would be a band and singer these were typical of them all - singing of course "Guantanamera" ("girl from Guantanamo") perhaps the best known Cuban song, and everyone sang along to the chorus.

This bar in Plaja Vieja brewed its own beer, we returned a few times to sample the food as well as the beer, their speciality was a 6 pint tube which sat on your table and you helped yourself.

Close to the station was the Casa Natal De Jose Marti - one of the heroes of Cuba though he only lived here a few years. He died fighting for his country on his first day in battle on the 19th May 1895 near Bayama. Today his statues are to be found everywhere.

The view of the Prado outside of the Capitolio building typifies the meting of Old and Central Havana with the big old buildings crumbling - with nobody caring about it at all whilst the hustle and bustle of traffic and people go on - this is the main thoroughfare in the heart of Havana which is full of potholes and at night the lights do not work so it is very dark - but this is Havana!!!

The Capitolio Building built in the 1920s as the new presidential and government building - it dominates the skyline of Havana and resembles the Capitol in Washington DC, this was built when the US pretty much ran Cuba as a colony. Inside is very impressive - we were able to see and visit most areas including the parliament, and stand / sit where Fidel has made some of speeches.

On the rooftop of a restaurant overlooking Plaza Armos - here I tried out a daiquiri - one of Cuba's famous cocktails - rum based of course - very refreshing I have to say when temperatures are in the 30's C

All around the Plaza Armos are booksellers and street artists here are a few on stilts.

More to follow.......................................... check back.

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