Friday, November 20, 2015

Cuba - part 12 (last night in Havana)


Last one!

We made it back to the hotel in time to freshen up and take the bus to our farewell dinner. Earlier in the day we tried to make reservations for Cafe Parisien, but were discouraged. It was really frustrating. Many in our group were going to the Tropicana, but it was both more than we wanted to spend and a longer show than we wanted to go to with having to rouse at 5:30 for our flight home. Oh well. We are good sports. We went to dinner with the group.

At the dinner I saw TV cameras. I later learned they were for the "heroes" who had been released nearly a year earlier. Four of the five were dining there, too. 

We sat with Stephanie, my new role model. Rum was constantly offered to us. I put a drop on my tongue and decided that was enough. 

Our table

I was making small talk with Luke next to me. I asked what he was doing after dinner and he said he was going to Hotel Nacional de Cuba -- the one with the Parisien Caberet in it. Really? The one we were talked out of getting tickets to and was told we had to buy tickets in advance. Oh pooh! He then said the bus was going to drop them off and that they did not have tickets, either. Oh...that changes life.

We pretty much showed up as the show was starting. Not only did we get seats, we got seats on the floor real close to the stage. Not only could we buy tickets at the door, we could use our credit cards. I didn't since between Martha and I we had enough money for the show and to get us through the next morning. I later learned when Don told the credit card company I might use the card in Cuba the best they could do was code it that I was in the Caribbean. In other words, it might have been rejected. 

Our tickets included one drink. Before I had a chance to order a water, this was brought to me. It has rum, curacao, and lemonade in it. I tried my best not to inhale it since I was so thirsty.

The show was a complete "when in Havana" kind of show -- it was a Cabaret with about 24 dancers and six musicians. A much smaller version of the Tropicana, but we were up close. The show is a "fusion of Indoamerican, Hispanic, and African cultures that led to Cuban culture." The costumes were colorful, and the singing was all in Spanish. The biggest downside is that the tables are really crammed in together so there is no room to move about, but I was very happy with my seat and for once not annoyed about being crowded.

The show was about two hours long -- a good length. There seemed to be dozens of costume changes. The action was non-stop.

After the show we were encouraged to go on the stage for a dance contest. One lady from our group took the challenge. I didn't catch her name, but she had a lot of fun. She was continuing on for the 8-day tour.

We piled back into cabs for the ride the hotel. Four hours later we were due to wake up and head back to the airport, only to learn the flight was delayed by two hours and we could have had a great breakfast at the hotel rather than a pretty awful sandwich in a Styrofoam box without even a bottle of water (they ran out). Many suspect that sandwich made them sick for days after the trip. The experience in the Cuban airport was mind-numbing. They have a couple of Duty-Free shops, a small bar, and a giant room where everyone waiting for a flight waited together. As flights were called, people lined up to wait for shuttle buses to take them to airplanes (all of the planes were easily walking distance). In the airplane I was assigned the last row and did not have a window. The flight had just enough turbulence that the fasten seat belt sign never came off, which meant I had a quiet flight not having to listen to the bathroom door keep opening and closing.

Back in Miami we had an American meal at TGI Fridays with many glasses of iced tea. Martha and I called our loved ones and caught up on three days of emails, news, and a little social media. The time passed much quicker in the Miami airport than it did in Havana. At the airport I was upgraded to the exit row and even ended up with TSA Pre-Check Status. 

Don picked me up at the Philadelphia airport and I chatted non-stop about the trip. What a whirlwind! It was a nice ending to the weekend away

All pictures can be found HERE

Cuba - part 11 (John Lennon statue and walking around Havana)


Martha and I are great travel partners. I respect her travel experience. We both enjoy walking a lot and taking a lot of pictures. We also seemed to be in sync with when to fold and take a cab.

Our tour guide at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes told us about a John Lennon statue. What piqued both of our interests was the little old man who pops out when the tourists show up to put glasses on the statue. The story goes the statue's glasses have already been stolen five time. We came from the side and did not see the old man, or the glasses, but we posed for pictures anyway. I am not willing to admit how far we walked. I enjoyed the walk as it took us past some embassies and parts of Havana we would not have otherwise seen including this group. That was the oddest outfit we saw on our trip.

The park is at CR 17 and 6. The streets in one direction are odd numbered, and are even numbered in the other direction once they go through the entire alphabet and cross over a couple of streets not facing the regular naming convention. In other words, it was a long walk.

These are the street signs. How are you supposed to see them while driving?

Love the countdown. There was a countdown both for crossing and when it would be safe to cross again.

It is always fun to have a successful quest. At that point, thoughh the walk back seemed daunting. We knew we had taken the long way and wanted to take a more direct way back. The problem was our two-sided map did not seem to line up. We started walking in the right direction planning to get a cab. Of course you can never find a cab when you want to. A Fiat passed us and offered a ride. Umm... we wanted something prettier (like I said, Martha and I were both on the same wavelength). 

Then a man started talking to us in a British accent. Like a dummy I answered him and he engaged us in far too long a conversation without finally going in for the ask -- could we give him 5 CUC so he could buy a wifi card so he could contact his friends in the UK. This was after he had already offered to take us out clubbing that night (I had read the worst that tends to happen in these situations is you end up buying a round of drinks for the entire bar). Martha and I have been around the block enough to keep walking and not accept his offers. Fortunately it was daylight and we were on an extremely busy (by Havana standards) street and did not worry about our personal safety.

Once we ditched him by explaining if we had any money, we would be taking a cab and not walking around Havana, we returned to our quest for a ride in a cool classic car. When this beauty asked us if we wanted a ride we said YES! We even waited for him to make a U-turn and meet us on the other side of the street. I'm sure we could have negotiated a better rate, but we were happy to pay 10 CUC ($10) to get back to the hotel in a convertible. Though the day was overcast, it still felt like a day meant for tooling around town in a convertible.

A few more pictures from our walk:

Movies are huge business in Cuba. This movie theater was packed.

Next to the John Lennon statue

All pictures can be found HERE


Cuba - part 10 (Companion tour of arts and dining)


Our first destination in these classic cars was Muraleando. Fifteen years ago someone had the vision to turn a dump into a place where children could go and learn crafts. Anyone who knows my artist daughter knows this cause is near to my heart. I also love the idea they turn trash into treasures.

Prior to the Casa Cultural Comunitaria moving in the place was a dump. Literally. They got rid of the trash. They cleaned out the 1911 water tank (which had been abandoned in the 1960s) and did a massive clean up transforming the place from a jungle into a place of beauty and art.

All this was happening in the midst of what the Cubans call the "special period," or as our art museum docent called the "adorable period." A time during the 1990s when the collapse of the Soviet Union was happening while the trade embargo with the United States was tightening. To say things were not good economically for the Cubans would be a gross understatement. The word Muraleando literally means "mural-building," they called it that to change the "me first" mentality during the "special period" into a community mentality.

They took nice care of us during our visit, starting with giving us a drink of guava juice and playing music for us (this time the CD was for sale). I got up and danced with them. I'm just hoping no one from the group has posted my dancing on YouTube! My only disappointment was there were no children working on art while we were there (our trip took place on a Sunday when they were not in school). 

They currently have about 250 children involved with programs. A sort of built it and they will come success story. There are other groups like this throughout Cuba. In 2014 this one won a national award for their work.

This stop helped me with a problem I was having ... I had not found any souvenirs. What I had seen (like the hat in my picture) was found all over the place. I wanted unique souvenirs. Ones made in Cuba. 

My wish list was simple: a small piece of art, something for Ashley, and music for Don. I should have taken pictures inside the water tank. There were a number of artists selling their wares (and those of their friends). Half of the money went to the artist and half to the art community. They provide art classes to the students for free. Their prices were reasonable. I saw no reason to haggle.

Too lazy to take another picture. The hat and "Coke" can were not from here.
We returned to our classic cars (same ones) and went to lunch at a local organic farm. It was fun seeing the countryside from the back of a classic car. Il Divino is rated as one of the best places to eat in the area. (click on the link about Il Divino, I can't say it better). Our visit started with some cold juice none of us could identify that they offered to liven up with some rum (I passed). Even though it had ice cubes in it, I drank it and was fine. (I did brush my teeth with bottled water and felt wasteful.)

 Some of the runners joined their families at the restaurant. They took a cab to get there. Fortunately we had just enough room in the cars for them to squeeze back with us to the hotel.

After taking our order (we had a choice of lamb, some kind of fish, or lasagna (I went with the lamb)) we were given a tour of the farm. As I am a little familiar with organic farming it felt like a repeat of what I have learned. I did learn 19 years ago when the farm started (during the "special period") the area had been incredibly swampy when they started because of the underground river. Now it just looks lush. They recovered 120 species of fruit trees since the Revolution.

They have non-stinging bees who pollinate the area. The honey from these bees is used to cure glaucoma and other infections.
Organic raised bed gardening

Children with their art in the community center on the property
Yoandra Farm feels like it is a million miles away from Havana, but technically it is two suburbs away and still has a Havana mailing address. 

Lunch was phenomenal. All of the vegetables and fruits came from the farm. As my dad says "you can taste the dirt on it." That night when we went out to the group's farewell dinner (mind you, I still hadn't met most of the people on our trip) the runners were raving about the food. guys really missed out on some fantastic food.

Guava with cheese for dessert -- so refreshing

Back to the hotel for my final two adventures.

All pictures can be found HERE