Terri, Dan and I left in the same taxi. We were on the same flight to Miami. Porfirio would leave later in the day and fly home to Costa Rica.
One more goodbye at the airport to some special people. Standing: Terri going home to Iowa, Robin to Philadelphia. Sitting: Dan to Colorado Springs, Noreen to Alexandria, Terri (aka “my Terri”). We had a great travel group.
Miami. Customs was fast and easy. The meal I wanted most:
A stop at Finca Vigia – the home of Ernest Hemingway.
His fishing boat, Pilar.
D’Brujas – the witches – are soap and skin care product makers who have been successful and recently opened a store in Los Angeles. We visited the workshop where all the products are made.
Next, a very large market where you can buy ANYthing.
After checking in at the hotel, we all met downstairs at 4 pm. A fleet of six 50s cars were waiting for us.
Three people per car. We made several stops so you could switch around and ride in 4 different models. So much fun.
A broad avenue along the water where many embassies are located.
Artist Jose Fuster reclaimed his impoverished Jaimanitas neighborhood by creating colorful mosaics everywhere. He started with his own studio then asked neighbors if he decorate their homes and businesses. Over a decade of work, Fusterlandia was born. To me, this is a not-to-be-missed highlight of Havana.
With our driver, Ramon:
We drove through a huge park in the middle of the city, aka the “lungs of Havana.”
Revolution Square surrounded by many government buildings.
Before dinner, a few of us walked to the amazing Hotel Nacional for a drink.
Our final dinner was at Casa Miglas,
followed by a one-hour performance by the Havana Queens dance company.
We toured the museum dedicated to the Bay of Pigs invasion – a military operation on the southwestern coast of Cuba in 1961 by Cuban exiles which was secretly financed and directed by the USA, hopefully to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist government. It failed within 72 hours.
A brief stop at a “secret garden” with many small trees and bird feeders in the backyard of a home Ray/tour director knew of.
So many little birds flitting about and hard to capture in a picture. There were many bee hummingbirds, the smallest species, just 2 inches long. I took 10 pictures, only one contained a bird, and it wasn’t a bee hummingbird:
Today, we were supposed to do a short bike ride. Although that particular activity was communicated to us, the travelers, it was not communicated to our tour directors. No arrangements had been made. Darn. To counter our disappointment, we stayed only one night in Cienfuegos instead of two, and came to an all-inclusive resort in Varadero called Melia Las Antillas. We had a very relaxing afternoon, many enjoyed the pool or beach (not me, I caught up on the blog and answered emails).
The view from my balcony:
Beautiful, relaxing, but not much to share. Giving you a break from super long blog posts.
We boarded the bus and drove into the mountains on curvy narrow roads. We stopped at a couple of overlooks.
Our next stop was a coffee farm where we would have lunch – the best meal so far!
We took a walk on a narrow path to see the coffee plants.
Green coffee – not ready to harvest.
Red berries ready to pick.
Roasting the dried coffee beans stirring constantly:
A very special lunch of roast pig:
The seating was a bit rustic.
The family who hosted us. So friendly and welcoming.
Before we left, we used the outhouse with a porcelain toilet, actually much cleaner than some of the indoor toilets we’ve used.
From rustic to over-the-top opulence. In Cienfuegos – 100 fires – the home of a rich Spanish investor in the sugar cane industry built to resemble the Alhambra.
The view from the roof patio.
We walked the wide boulevard downtown and ran into a children’s group parading to celebrate the International Book Fair.
The Tomas Terry Theater built as a thank-you to the people of Cienfuegos for making him a rich man, again in the sugar industry.
We went to dinner at Cafe Cienfuegos and had another very authentic Cuban experience – no electricity. Totally dark and no candles. The wait staff showed us how to get a bit of light – set a bottle of water on top of a cell phone with the flashlight turned on.
Remedios is the only city in Cuba to have two churches in the plaza. They alternate services weekly. We visited St John the Evangelist.
The altar is 22-carat gold over cedar carvings.
A side altar with a rare image of a pregnant Mary.
To get to the next destination, we all boarded bicitaxis. Our driver was Manolo.
At a local museum, we learned about Remedios’ tradition of Parrandas which lasts 7 days from December 24-31. There is an imaginary line through the center of the plaza and down one of the streets that divides Remedios into two neighborhoods: San Salvador (rooster) and Del Carmen (hawk). In church people sit on one side of the aisle or the other depending on the neighborhood they live in. There is even a joke (I think) that you only marry someone from your neighborhood. For Parrandas, each neighborhood creates floats, costumes, and fireworks. There is a friendly competition to see whose is best. There is no winner, just the enjoyment of competition and bantering back and forth.
Handmade fireworks. This type spins.
The costumes are quite elaborate.
This is only a headpiece, 3 meters wide, 3 meters tall.
The preparations for Parrandas begin immediately in the new year. Designs are created and the building begins in a secret location in each neighborhood. We visited the Del Carmen location.
Great left turn signal, Manolo.
Horse-drawn carts are a common sight.
We learned about the bodega – the government run rations store. There’s one in every neighborhood. Our Cuban tour guide, Ray, shared what a ration book looks like and how the system works.
A ration book:
Back to the hotel and onto the bus to visit a nearby museum which showed the history of the sugar industry from the early beginnings
to the next stage of modernization.
Lunch was at a nearby farm. To get there, we crossed a busy road and railroad tracks, then a bridge which was limited to 8 people at one time.
The man in the center is 81 years old and has been harvesting palmiche from the palm trees since he was 14.
Then he showed how it’s done.
After lunch, we met local professional baseball players and played a one inning game.
Across the street was a typical Cuban cemetery which are always above-ground.
Dinner at a local paladar called El Piramide. The family lives here. We ate in the converted living room. This is what local families do to make more money.
We checked out of our hotel and made one stop at a cigar factory before heading out of Havana.
We climbed several floors to get to the area where the cigars are being rolled. On one side, trainees will spend one year learning how to do it correctly. On the other side, experienced rollers made 70-140 cigars/day depending on the size and type of cigar. Taking photos is not allowed but the security guard was on his phone, so we provided cover for one another and took quick pictures.
Back to the bus and on to our next stop, actually a bathroom stop but also the option to get a pina colada.
Lunch at Restaurante Los Tainos.
We stopped at a monument to Ernesto Che Guevara.
In Santa Clara, we learned about a community project called El Menjuje which aids people of all types and encourages inclusivity for all.
Our hotel in Remedios – Camino Principe – The Prince’s Path. Beautiful hotel outside and inside! And … slow but adequate (and free) wifi. Time to catch up.
All the rooms face inward to the courtyard.
After dinner in the hotel, Terri and I walked around the plaza. We were lucky to be in Remedios for the annual Semana de la Cultura – Week of Culture. A band getting ready for their performance although the big show began at midnight to celebrate an important person’s birthday. Two in our group stayed out until 1:40 am enjoying the performance and dancing in the street.