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Medellin - La Habana - Vinales - Trinidad - Cienfuegos - Santa Clara - La Habana - Medellin
02 APR 2011 (Sat): The city of Che, Santa Clara, then back to La Habana
We were thinking to stay a night in Santa Clara, but it seemed like there wasn't much to see except Che Guevara Mausoleum (Mausoleo Che Guevara). And Mausoleum is far away from teh city. So we decided to visit Mausoleum and then go back to La Habana on the same day.
The bus terminal of Cienfuegos is located a little far away from Centro and it was shabby. It was our first ride on Viazul bus and the bus was really old and beaten up. It looked like the axle was not straight and the ride was very rough. The make was Yutong as usual, but I could see huge differnce between the modern Yutong and the old Yutong. Chinese manufacturing has been improved very far in these 10 years or so.
There was another Japanese backpacker on the bus. His name was Junya. He also was planning to visit Mausoleum and go back to La Habana, so he joined us.
Once we arrived at the bus terminal of Santa Clara, we checked the time table of the bus to La Habana. The earliest bus leaving in the afternoon would be 5pm. It would arrive La Habana at 9pm or later. The fare was 18CUCs per person. Then those taxistas came to us and telling us they can take us to Mausoleum and La Habana with 20CUCs per person. Well, it was not a bad deal at all. Anyway, Mausoleum was far away and we needed to catch a taxi there, and we would not need to waste our time waiting for the bus. So we took the taxi. We made a right choice.
The taxi was not a proper taxi. It was a Pugeot 308. It was not that old but pretty beaten up. Firstly he took us to the monument where the regiment of Che Guevara blew up the cargo train carrying arms for the gorverment army. The mission was successful and the rebels (M-26-7) took those arms, and this made the President Fulgencio Batista flead to Dominica. The scene was shown on the movie of "Che - Argentinian". The cargo cars were restored on the sight and we could see them. The railway is still used these days.
The enrace (?) of the monument cost 1CUC. Inside the cargo cars, those arms, the rebels took, were displayed, but nothing was special. If you are not interested in Cuban Revolution or Che Guevara, it would not be worth coming here. I was excited to be there, and so as Mr Sheep.
Then we went to Mausoleum. Finally I got here! He started his trip on two wheels from the South and ended up here. And I started my trip on two wheels from the North and finally I got to get so close to him. I could see the statue of him - so famous now - standing under the blue sky. The statue depicts him in the battle of Santa Clara. He broke his left arm, so he was wearing plaster cast and a scarf - presented by his future wife Aleida March - to suspend his broken arm.
We took photos of the statue and then went into the museum. Unfortunately, cameras were prohibited there. Inside the museum, those goods used by Che himself were displayed. His beret, gun, potable inhaler for asthma, phone, military uniform etc.
Then we entered to Memorial where Che and his comrades rest. I did not know we could enter there, so it was a good surprise for me.
Inside sourrouded by those comrades, he is resting. There was a relief of each man and woman resting there. There bodies are behind the wall I suppose.
I stood still for a while in front of Che. I reckoned I was only 50cm away from him. "Finally I met you, Ernesto. I will do my best to carry on your legacy." I promised him.
As a revolutionalist - I try to be - it was the undiscrabable moment for me to see him so close. He is still fighting for people and equality and fighting against injustice.
Back to the taxi, we drove straight to La Habana. We arrived there around 3pm. We checked-in at Joaquina's place. Tom and Toko left us a note and stating they were staying at the Casa they stayed before.
After a little rest, we went out for a walk. Then I had a good talk with Junya and another Japanese traveller - the cyclist - Jin.
Around 7pm, Tom and Toko came to see us so we went to have dinner in Chinatown.
03 APR 2011 (Sun): Relaxing in La Habana. Unable to find stickers, so bought pins
Especially coming back from small towns and cities, we felt La Habana was a really big city.
Toko will be back to Mexico early morning tomorrow and Laura will be bacl to Germany on 5th, so we went to look for souvenirs around Obispo street. At the Chocolate Factory we had iced chocolate (CUC0.80). It was a little expensive but we deserved a treat.
There were many stands around the plaza at the end of Obispo street selling old books, stamps, and pins. Cuba is a part of the Comminist blocl, so there were many pins from North Korea, PROC (People's Republic of Chiina), and Soviet Union.
As I could not find any of stickers (Cuban flag, "Viva Fidel" etc), I bought some pins - UJC , Fidel Castro and M-26-Julio pins. (After I came back to Medellin, I put those pins on my riding jacket. They are cool, aren't they!?)
04 APR 2011 (Mon): Coppelia was closed on Monday...
Toko went to the airport in the early morning. Yesterday she asked one of the taxistas on the street to pick her up at her casa around 2:30am and he came on time (according to Tom). As she left the casa, Tom moved into our casa - Joaquina's place).
Junya also needed to go to the airport around noon, so we walked around Obispo street. We found a proper restaurant "La Luz" accepting CUP on Obispo stret, but it was so busy. We were too hungry to wait to be served and Junya needed to leave. So we ate at a food court. A lady said the fried chicken was cheap and nice, so Tom and I ordered 2 pieaces of fried chicken each. They were big but so greezy... They were worst fried chicken I had ever... To make matters worse, it cost 75CUPs (3CUCs) with a drink. Expensive!! I got upset stomach and was not feeling well whole day after that.
Then we went to Coppelia (the Ice Cream chain store) park where were many Coppelia stands. Toko and Tom went there twice and they said the ice creams there were cheap and good. We took P11 bus to New Town of La Habana.
But, but, all the shops accepting CUPs in the park were closed. There were only 2 stands open but they only accepted CUCs!! And it was very expensive, 2.80CUCs for 2 scoops!! The taste was just average.... How unlucky I was!!
We had dinner in Chinatown again. We had enough of CUPs meals and other places would be too expensive, so we had no choice.
I talked with Tom till 2am about trips, loves, Japan, Cuba etc. I was so glad to have this conversation with you, Tom.
05 APR 2011 (Tue): Laura left Cuba. On the way to the airport, we went through a huge storm...
In the morning, Laura and I went to Obispo street to hunt for souvenirs. We had lunch in Chinatown again! Well we had no choice...
After lunch, we went back to Joaquina's place to pack up.
We took P12 bus to La Plaza de la Revolucion. There we took photos of Che and Camilo's faces on the government buildings. There was the tower of the revolution on the hill top and behind the tower, there was the office of Raul Castro Ruz..
We went back to the bus stop and took P12 bus, I thought....
The bus was packed as usual. And the sky got darker and darker. It looked like a storm was coming. We were on the bus for a while, but I did not remember seeing those scenary outside. Around 40mins later, when the bus stopped at a bus stop, I saw outside and on the sign it stated "P1, P2...". I asked a guy "Is this P12 bus?", and he said "No, it's P2!". Oh now, we got on the wrong bus. It was my fault. I was so sorry to Laura. We quickly got off the bus, but the storm had come already. Very strong wind and heavy rain.... Voy bien Camilo?
At the bus stop, I asked those people how we could get to the airport. They said "Either you take the same bus back or catch a cab!". Well, the storm was too bad, so we decided to catch a cab.
Luckily we could catch a cab in no time. But the cab was realy old Russian made Lada. The rubber seal of the doors were almost done and water got inside the car. There were many tree brunches on the road. Some parts of the road were flooded!! It was amazing. Surely here was tropic. But we wondered if he plane could take off in this condition??
The cab driver was excited with the storm too. We saw a new Mercedes was stuck in flooded street, but our old Lada went through! He was so high and we were kinda happy to experience this bad storm.
We arrived at the airport safely and on time, but it cost 20CUCs. The display showed the plane would be late for 1 hour. There was a long queue in front of the check-in counters. But none was processing passengers. I guessed it was still possibility of cancelling the flight.
The airport building was not built properly, so there was lots of water pool on the floor inside the building. This is the main International Airport of this country...
We waited for a while and finally the checkin process was started. I said good-bye to Laura and left the airport.
I had a great time in Cuba with you, Laura. Next time when I see you will be in Germany next year. Till them, my good friend, have a good time and be well! (Actually the plane was delayed for 4 hours!!)
Well, how could I go back to City?? I did not see any bus and it was still raining, so walking to the main road would be hard. So I caught a cab (15CUCs) to City. On the way back, I asked the cab driver how the economy of Cuba now. He said it was not getting better, but since Raul was in charge, there were some changes he could see.
Back to Joaquina's place, Tom was little sick, so we thought we had little snacks from a CUP shop nearby, but we ended up going to Chinatown.
In front of the "Restaurant Street", the beautiful lady found me and asked "When are you coming to my restaurant?". Well, I met her on the first day and she asked me to go to her restaurant. But I said "next time". She said "I will give you free drink and free chips." So we decided to have dinner at her restaurant. (Isn't she beautiful?)
We ordered Chef's recommendation (TOm had chicken and I had pork) and they were very very good. The best meal I had in Cuba. It was 6CUCs but it was money well spent.
Tom went to sleep straight after, so I went out for a walk around the city. I have only one more day in Cuba.
Medellin - La Habana - Vinales - Trinidad - Cienfuegos - Santa Clara - La Habana - Medellin
24 Mar 2011 (Thur): Finally I am in Cuba - the land of the Revolution!!
Well I got up really early, at 4am. I packed the most of stuffs last night, so packing up was easy. I was brawsing Internetto check the news of the nuclear powerplant incident in Japan. Arund 5:30am Cecilia - the cleaning lady - came, so I returned the key and leaft. Claydy did not get up and say "Good-bye". Well, I expected that anyway.
The airport bus leaves from Parque Barrio. It operates from 4:30am every 20-30mins, and it takes about 1 hour to the Jose Maria International Airport with the cost of COP7,000. Ince arrived at the airport, I went straight to the check-in counter to see if I could get the Cuban tourist card. And I could get it but I paid COP40,000 (US$22) for it! It wasnot included in the airfare....
The security check was pretty tight before the immigration. My baggage was thoroughly checked by the security officer who asked me "Are you a military personnel?". Well my outfit was all in army green (including my backpack) and she found my "Che" beret, but which military personnel wears his/her uniform on his/her vaccation? Then there was another baggage check before boarding (everyone including flight clues was checked). I was not sure why the security was so tight.
The flight from Medelin to Panama took about 1 hour and left and arrived on time. The view of Panama City from the sky was pretty good. High rised buildings, Puente de Las Americas, lots of big ships heading tothe canel. It was a bonus for me as the view was totally different from the one I saw from my GS.
It was a 2 2/2 hrs flight to La Habana. I could see beautiful view of Carribean sea, Coral Reefs, Islands. emerald green water, etc. Then I saw the land of Cuba! The firm land speaded in front of my eyes and I could see the city of La Habana. FInally I came to the land of Revolution!
The airport building was pretty simple, nothing fancy. The boxes of immigration officers were no frill, those made me think "Cuba was a part of Soviet block."
I guess because of my military like outfit again (I was wearing "Che beret tihs time)", I was questioned by the officers for sometimes (for 5 - 10mins?). Evertone went throgh the immigration but only I was left behind. But I could go through after the questions. Then I went throgh Custom without any problem and step out side of the airport. My first step on Cuba!! I took a big breath of Cuban air. Mr Sheep was very excited as well!
I went to the money exchange. MX$5,000 became 359CUCs. Then I excanged 10CUCs to 240CUPs. Checking souvenir shops, there were lots of
Now I had to find a way to get to the city. Taxi was very expensive here (20CUCs). According to my info, there should be airport buses going to the city. But none told me where the bus stop was. In fact they said there wasn't any bus going to the city. But I found the cloud of people near the car park. I went there and asked people "Esta es el autobus a La Habana?" and the answer was "Si". So I waited there fot the bus. The bus came at 5pm and every man let all ladies go in first. It was nice culture to see.
The bus was actually for workers at the airport only. But those people other than airport staff were on the bus. So the rule is the rule but the reality is the reality. The fare was 1CUP, but I had only 20CUPs note, the driver let me in without a penny. I felt sorry for that.
It took about 1 hour to Capitorio - the former parliament house - near where lots of Casa Particulas located. But here was not the terminal. So I was wondering if I could catch the same bus back to the airport as tomorrow I have to see my friend Laura at the airport.
I went to Capitorio House (Joaquina'S place) recommended by other travellers. 10CUCs a night (dorm) including breakfast. This was a bargain price in La Habana. There was only 1 bed available, so I shared room with 4 girls. My friend Tom would be here this evening but it looked like he could not stay here....
With those girls I went to China Town (Barrio Chino) for dinner. There were around 10 restaurants on the street, and every restaurant tried to get us. We chose the restaurant recommended by the information note. The taste was not bad, but it cost me 5CUCs including a drink. It was expensive considering the prices in Cuba.
Then we went to Casa De La Musica for night out. The show did not start until midnight. But once the show started, everone started to dance. It was a nice experience but I was a little to tired to have all night fever. We went back to the hostel around 2:30am.
But where is my dear friend Tom??
25 Mar 2011 (Fri): Reunion with Tom and Laura! Nice to meet you, Toko.
Joaquina handed me a memo from Tom when I got up. He wrote he came here last night but I was not here. He is staying at another casa inroduced by Joaquina, 2-3mins away from here, and he will come here today.
Then Tom came to see me! It had been 2 months since I saw him at San Cristobal de las Casa, Mexico. He had a friend with him, Toko, a Japanese girl from Aichi. They met in Xela, Guatemala. Then we went to buy lunch at a CUP shop recommended on the info note.
The lunch box I had came with Moro (Rice with red beans, the Cuban traditional rice), BBQ Pork and some veges and cost 20CUPs (less tan US$1). What a bargain! It was prety gleasy but was not bad at all. I had a 1CUP "Refresco (cold drink)", but it tastedlike dish washng liquid and irritate my throat.. A cup of fresh fruit juice was2CUPs at next door, and it was really good. Then we walked around the old town of La Habana a bit.
Laura's flight was scheduled to arrive at 4:30pm, so around 2:30pm I took P12 bus from the centro to the airport. I asked Joaquina's daughter how I could get to the airport cheaply and she told me to take P12 bus. But it does not go to the airport, it just goes near the airport, so I had to get off near the airport. It tok 1 hour there. She told me there should be another bus to the Internatonal terminal, but I was lazy to find a bus stop and wait for it, so I walked 30mins to the terminal.
At the airport, those taxistas were trying get me on their taxis. I told them I was waiting for my friend and we will catch a bus back to the city, but they were so persistent and annoying. Some saw me walking from the bus stop to the terminal and said I was crazy.... 30 mins walk would be nithing for backpackers.
I waited for a while and Laura came out from the arrival gate! It had been since Last May at Alice Spings, Australia. It was good to see my good friend again!
We went to the bus stop for the airport bus, but none was waitng there and no bus showed up. So we decided to walk to the place where I got off P12 bus and take it back to the city. I like Laura! She seemed to be enjoing the idea walking for a long distance and catch a local bus cheaply. If Claydy was here, she would be complaining why we were not taking a taxi. If she was like Laura, we would not have broken up.
On the way to the main street, we found a bus stop. We asked a guy if the bus goes to the city. He said it would go to the main street and we can catch P12 back to the city. So we got on the bus (1CUP). At the main street, we got off the bus and looked for a bus stop for P12. There was a guy standing near the intersection, so we asked where the bus stop was. He said "Follow me". He offered us peanuts and he stoped a car. He was talking to the driver and saying "They are the travellers but haveno much money. Can you make it cheap??", something like that. Ans he said "Get in". So we got into the car. He got in as well. He said "It is 1CUC each. Is it OK?". Of course it was Ok! How kind of him. I kind of worried that P12 bus would be so packed and with her big backpack, it wouldn't be nice ride to the city. 1CUC is 24CUPs, but it is stll much cheaper than 20CUCs if we took a cab. The car was a classic American car made in '50s. It was quite beaten up, but I was happy to experience a ride in a classic car.
He was a scientist researching vaccinacion. He said he went to Munic, Germany - where Laura is from - for a conference before. At the plaza of the revoution, we took a few photos of monuments of Che and Camillo. The driver took us to Capitolio.
We went to Joaquina's place, but there was no extra bed available, so she introduced us Casa de Odalis / Rafelito. The casa was near Opispo street and neat/tidy. It cost 25CUCs a room/night.
With Tom, Toko, Laura, I went to CHina Town for dinner. We found a restaurant where we could pa in CUP, and we had fried rice for 20CUPs. It wasn't reat but all right. We went home early today.
26 Mar 2011 (Sat): Sightseeing Old town
Today we walked around old part of La Habana. We had an appointment with Tom and Toko at 11am, so Laura and I walked to Melecon (sea side boulevard). We met a Cuban guy on the way and he invited us to have a drink. I asked if it had any alcohol in it but he said no. It looked like Mojito a bit, but different. He said "Cubans have this in the morning." But it had alcole and I got sick a little bit later.
It was not hot in the morning, and walking in the city was pretty good. Cuban holiday.
Tom and Toko joined us, and we went to Ingratera Hotel to buy bus tickets for Vinales. It cost 37CUCs, a little too expensive but we had no other choice.
Then we walked along Obispo street where lots of souvenir shops, stores and restaurants located. Lots of tourists walked around here (yes, we were ones of them). We had soft serve corns at 3CUPs each. We found a market selling those Cuban goods there. We researched what we could buy and prices.
Then we went to the museum of the revolution. There was "Granma (the yacht Fidel and Che sailed from Mexico to Cuba) " displayed at Memorial of Granma. We saw her from the distance.
Laura decided to wait outside, so Tom, Toko and I went in. In the museum, there were lots of displays, including Trousers a pair of glasses used by Fidel,M-26-7 flags and patches, the beret Che wore, rifles used by Camilo and Che. If you are the Cuban Rebolution fun, you will love this museum.
The building itself was used to be the presidential palace, so it was quite lavish. Here are some photos of the displays.
Unfortunately, Camilo's hat was not displayed (under repairing).
Then Laura and I walked to Cathedral. Actually we wanted to go to Revolution Plaza, but the bus was full of people and we gave up. We thought Cathedral would be much closer, but it wasn't. With the afternoon heat, we were so exhausted. We wanted to have Diet TuKola, but it was either not sold or not chilled... Well, in Cuba, you cannot buy what you want when you want.
We had dinner in China town again.
27 Mar 2011 (Sun): Valley of Vinales and Carnival!
The bus to Vinales was to be in front of Ingratera Hotel at 8:30am. But it was late for 40mins! It was Chinese made bus (Yutong). It looked very modern and the quality of interior was not that bad. The quality of made in China is really improving. With their low price tag, no wonder they will gain mare share in the world market. Japanese need to advance even more to sustain our position in the market. But I am not sure if it is a good thing to keep being one of the top players in the world.
There was a guide on the bus. We did not want to have a guide and he was so annoying... Especially Laura did not like theway he talked. We made a few stops (at Souvenir shops, a cigar factory, and a view point overseeing Valley of Vinales).
At the view point, there were stoles selling souvenir goods, and Laura was interested to buy paintings and looking at them. However, the guide said "We have to leave now!" So we had to get back to the bus. Laura asked him "Didn't you say we would have 5 - 10mins break here?" and he replied "Yes, but other people want to get to their hotel ASAP."
Then he said to me "She has an attitude, doesn't she." Laura and I was speechless....
When we arrived the town of Vinales, there was a lady (not sure why she had mustache) having a card with Tom and Toko's names. It seemed like the host mother in La Habana contacted the mustache lady. She said the rate was 15CUCs a room, so we followed her. But she said her house was now occupaied, so she was taking us to her friend's places. Carnival was going on in the town, so there were lots of stoles. It looked very interesting. Laura and I stayed in one house and Tom and Toko stayed in another house.
Tom and Toko were cooking their instant noodle, so Laura and I went out to see Carnival. The host mother told us not to eat from the street as those foods would be prepared days ago. But when I saw BBQed whole pig, I forgot about her advice. It was "Carnival", I had to eat meat!!! Laura said "You'd better not eat that....", bt I had BBQ pork sandwitch at 10CUPs. It was little too gleasy but nice! Well, this caused a big problem later.....
We walked along the main street. There weren't much to see but we enjoyed the festive feeling. What made me surprised was banadanas with print of "American flag" were sold there. There were toys, key rings, accessories, and lots of "Che" goods as usual. Just looking at those stoles and goods, I thought there weren't much differences from Central Americas. We had moro (red bean rice) and other stuff on the street. A soft serve corn was 2CUPs and it was so good having it on a hot day.
In the evening, dance party was going on at the central plaza. Initially the music DJ selected was not good and not many people were dancing. But soon everyone started to dance and had fun! I We wondered how those girls could move their hips that way. Toko was asked to dance with a Cuban guy and they danced together for a while.
28Mar 2011 (Mon): Riding horse for 4 hours... food poisoned by the pork sandwitch, I reckon... Puked in the middle of the night.
Laura and I was thinking to hire bicycles and ride around the town and surroundings. But Tom and Toko wanted to ride a horse. They said it would be 5 CUCs for 1 hour ride. We thought tf the ride would be for just 1 hour, we could ride bicycles later on. So we took the horse option.
My host mother cantacted the firm and a lady came to pick us up. Well, she did not really pick us up. She was riding a bicycle and we just followed her on foot. It took 25mins or so to get to the firm.
At the firm, we met our horses, well, in fact, they were more like donkies. I named my "horse" "Valentino Rocinante", named after "Valentino Rossi" and Don Quixote's horse "Rochinante". Toko named hers "Workhorse Yukio" named after her deceased tortoise, Laura and Tom named theirs "Gonzales".
According to the guide, we would ride around the valley, and it would take 4 hours! So it meant it cost 5CUCs for each hour!! We heard it wron at Casa. Our Spanish sucked.
But it was fun riding horses with everyone. My Valentino Rocinante tried to lead the herd, but Toko
's workhorse Yukio tried to defend the position. Then Valentino Rocinante bite Workhorse Yukio. It was fierce race!! 2 Gonzales were riding confortablly behind (But later Laura told me her Gonzales was always walking into the bush and she got a scare).
Although it was fun, but as Sun got higher it got really hot and we felt exhaused. Poor Laura got sun burned seriously even though she put sunscreen on twice! How strong the Cuban sun was!
We stopped at the lake side. The lake was quite huge. While I was called by nature, Tom jumped into the water. It was clouded at that time and he said it was really cold....
Then we rode to a cigar factory, here the owner showed us how to roll a cigar and we could puff the cigar. Tom had a mojito and he looked so relaxed after that.
After 4 hours ride, we were so exhausted. We still had to walk back to the town... Once we came home, we took shower and went to sleep straight.
Dinner was served at Casa tonight (8CUCs). The main dish was grilled lobster (langostina). It was good!
I woke up with acute pain in the stomach in the middle of the night. I had bad diarrhea... I had similar one in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexco, so I took the piles I got from the doctor in Mexico. I tried to sleep but with sever pain I could not. I had nausea too. I ran into the bathroom and puked a few times. Well tomorrow morning we are going to travel to Trinidad. Can I servive the trip??
29 Mar 2011 (Tue): To Trinidad. It was a hard ride....
When I woke up (somehow I could fall into sleep), I was still very sick. Probably foods in Cuba do not suit her, Laura also wasnot feeling well.
Breakfast was served, but I could not touch anything. Host mum said she could pack them for take away, but I did not think I could eat anything, so I said no. Host mum and dad gave me some medication (tonic water and some liquid), they I felt a bit better. Muchas gracias!!
We walked to the bus stop. The bus was already there and Tom and Toko was waiting for us. As soon as I sat on my seat, I fell into sleep. As I took a pill to stop diarrhea, I did not need to stop the bus for an emergency, but I felt so weak - no strength at all. It was so cold on the bus.
It was 7 hours ride to Trinidad. We made a few stops on the way. We had lunch break, but i could not eat anything. I just had a bottle of Spright. It was a long ride, but all I had to do was sleeping or taking it easy, so I could take a good rest. A Cuban movie was on. It was a crap but I watched it till the end somehow.
WHen arrived Trinidad, a lady was waiting for us (The mustache lady contacted her friend here). As I would not have strength to look for an accomodation, so it was good for me to have the accomodation arranged. As soon as we got to the house, I went to sleep. Tom and Toko stayed at another casa nearby. Here the host mother gave me a medication. Muchas gracias!
While I was sleeping, Laura went out for a walk. In the late afternoon, I felt a bit better, so with Tom, Toko, and Laura, I walked to the church. On the way, there were some shops selling paintings and those paintings were nice. I liked walking aong the street. But those people were bothering us by saying "Restaurant, restaurant?". I was not sure home many restaurants were around there, but we were asked "Restaurant, restaurant?" every 100m or so.
I still could not have anything, and went to bed early.
30 Mar 2011 (Wed): I feel much better now.
I had a good rest yesterday, so I felt much better this morning. There weren't much to see in Trinidad, but I liked walking around the town. But how many times we were bothered by "Restaurant, restaurant?"? We were so disgusted by those insensible people.
Laura and I walked pass a school. There was a photo of Che on the wall. In La Habana we walked pass schools and it looked like every school had a photo of Che on the wall. So in the school, Cuban childrens are taught to be like Che still.
We saw some posters of Fidel as well (usually in CDR office). Fidel ordered not to make his statue or anything, so there weren't much posters, wall paintings of him as Che and Camilo. May be because Fidel is not that popular among Cuban people??
Then I found a car with "Viva Fidel" sticker!! I want have one! Where could I get it? As the driver was not around, so I asked people at nearby stores. But they said "Not sure"....
Laura said "You can order it on Internet." Yes, Laura, you are right, but I want to find it in Cuba!
There was street market. They had those souvenir goods, paintings, wood crafts, key rings etc. We walked aroung the market and went to the church we went last evening.
There was a band playing live music. Listening to nice musics and looking down the town, a nice way to spend an afternoon.
With Tomand Toko, we came back to the church in the evening. There was a live show. The dancers were very good but their costumes were so ugly...
Tomorrow, Laura and I will go to Cienfuegos. Actually we wanted to go to Santiago de Cuba, but it would be a long long ride and waisting our time. Why Cienfuegos? We passed there on the way to Trinidad. I was sleeping but Laura was looking outside and found the town was very pretty.
Tom and Toko will stay in Trinidad one more day and will go back to La Habana. So we will see them in La Habana in a few days.
31 Mar 2011 (Thur): The city of hundred fire - Cienfuegos
The city of Cienfuegos is named after the revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos. According to his friend Che, he was a very cheerful person and a military genius. Che respected Camilo so much and named his first son "Camilo". Cien + Fuegos translates to English "Hendred Fires". How cool.
In Cuba, we often saw "UJC" wall paints and posters. UJC stands for "Union de Jovenes Comunistas". There are 3 men representing each duty of UJC member, Estudio (Study), Trabajo (Work) and Fucil (Gun). And Camilo is the representative of Fucil. Che represents "Trabajo" and another guy representing "Estudio", I forgot his name. Voy bien, Camilo?? (Camilo, am I doing well?)
We caught 8am bus to Cienfuegos. Tom and Toko came and saw us off at the bus stop. Thanks, guys! The bus was as usual Chinese Yutong.
It was 1 hour ride to Cienfuegos. The beutiful town along side sea shore appearedin front of my eyes. Oh, Cienfuegos is called "La Perla del sur - The pearl of the South".
We got off the bus in centro. We did not have a booking for an accomodation here, so we had to find it by ourselves. We found 1CUP softserve shop and we had one each.
Having the soft serve and walking down the main street, a Cuban guy came to us. "Are you looking for a Casa?" I replied "Yes, but we are looking for a Casa with a room 15CUCs a night." He said "Ok, follow me." Not sure why another guy (his friend) came along and walked to the Casa.
Unfortunately first Casa we went was occupied, so they took us another Casa. This Casa was located just in front of Central Park. Very nice location. They said "This Casa will be 20CUCs. The owner has a good restaurant, so the meal provided here is very good!" We looked at the room and decided to stay here. The owner was nice guy. Smiling all the time. Vas bien, Saburo. (Saburo, you are doing well.)
After a short rest, we went out for a walk. The view of Central Park was pretty good. There was a mall and lots of street venders selling souvenirs. We enjoyed walking down the street and looking at those stuff.
We had lunch at a CUP sandwitch shop. Usually CUP shops do not have any seat (we have to eat on the street), but this shop had seats and tables. We were looking at the menu outside (all prices were in CUP) The waitress called us in. I had a sandwitch (20CUPs) and Laura ordered Salad with toasts. When we asked for a bill, we were charged in CUCs! And it was very expensive (6.50CUCs). We argued why we were charged in CUCs when the menu was in CUP. The waitress said something but we did not really understand. But it seemed like she was saying because we are foreginers. We were unhappy but paid in CUCs. I should have argued more, but I paid in CUCs anyway.
But I remember that a Mexican girl, Roccio, I met in Joaquina's place said that sometimes she could pay in CUPs as shop staffs thought she was a Cuban too, but other times she had to pay in CUCs in CUP shops as they realised she was a foreigner from her accent. So it could be normal for us to be charged in CUCs in CUP shops. But we felt realy bad with the treatment we received.
Cienfuegos is supposed to be Camilo's city, but there is more presence of Che in this city. We saw lots of Che signs and photos. I heard Camilo is as popular as or even more popluar than Che in Cuba. But we see more Che.
A sign states "Che, caballero sin tacha y sin miedo - Che, men without blemish and without fear", and another states "Tu Ejemplo VIVE, Tus ideas perdura - Your example lives, Your ideas remains".
We walked to a park and sat under the shade. Laura got serious sunburn in Trinidad, so it was better to avoid strong sun during noon and afternoon.
Cienfuegos is very relaxed city but those "taxistas" still bothered us a lot. They have tricycle taxis and horse carriage taxis. We just wanted to have a walk and talk, but they came to us and asking us "taxi taxi?" This really let our holiday mood down....
In the late afternoon, we walked around and found a nice place to see the sunset. There was El Rapido (the fast food chain in Cuba), so I ordered Pizza and a cup of coffee and looking at the sunset in the sea. THen a Cuban guy came to our table and said "I saw you guys this morning near my place. You guys were carrying backpacks and looking for a Casa. My place is really close to where you stay. Please come and join us." We looked at his table, there was his son (?) and a lady (his wife?) with more than half emptied Habana Club. Yes, they were drunk. I replied "Well, we are looking at the sunset." Then he said "Ok, after you finish the pizza, come to our table!" I smelled something dodgy here.
We were still looking at the sunset and having conversations, but he came to our table again. So we joined them with little hope that they were nice people. He said "I am working at a cigar factory." and gave us a cigar each. "My son and wife are in Italy, so I have money, don't worry!" he said. "But in Italy everything is expensive!", "My brother is a fisherman, so we eat fresh seafood everyday, please come to my place to eat seafood!", and then another lady came and he said "This is my wife!". I thought his wife was in Italy... He said "I ordered another cup of coffee for you, so wait a moment." But I looked at the counter, none was making coffee, rather they were preparing close the shop....
"My place is just there, so please come!" he said. I thought his place was near our Casa....
Then we decided to leave. We needed to make up an excuse and I got one. "We have an appointment with our friends in centro, so we need to go now." He said "Oh, that'S to bad, but please come to my place tomorrow." And I said "We are leaving here tomorrow morning. Thanks for the invitation, anyway." And we left there.
On the way back to our Casa, Laura and I was questioning ourselves "What was his intension?" We agreed that he would not be a "nice" person, but we had no clue what he wanted from us. He was wearing a gold chain, a gold watch, and his outfit did make him look suspitious. He did not make any sense either, so I guess it was a good decision not tofollow him.
Back to the Casa and we took a rest. But it was really hot evening....
1 Apr Mar 2011 (Fri): Walking around Cienfuegos. Seeing North Koreans!!
Well, yesterday we told the "Cigar Factory" guy and his family(?) that we would leave here this morning, so I used Japanese towel as a bandana intead of Che baret, so that they would not find us. But Japanese towel could make me more standing out??
Today I felt much better, almost perfect condition. We took a walk from the morning. Those buildings around Central Park looked really nice. We walked where we could see the sea.
When walking back to our Casa, we saw a long queue in front of Coppelia (Ice cream shop). Today I was well and we had prenty of time, so we lined up in the queue and waited for our turn.
We had a former Soviet block experience here. We could see there were empty tables, but people in the queue were not served. Very inefficient way of service, but here is Cuba!
Ensalad - 5 scoops of ice cream was 2.5CUPs (10cents)! Please take a look at the photo. It's unbelievable, isn't it!? No wonder people were queuing up. The flavours were vanilla (?) and orange (?). The quality was not really good, just like "Savings" and "Homebrand" quality.
When we were walking at the mall looking at those souvenirs, there was an Aisan guy. We did not see any Asian beside myself, Tom and Toko recently, so we were looking at him. Then Laura and I found something on his chest and looked at each other. It was a pin of Kim Il Song, the father of Kim Jong Il. "He is a North Korean!" Actually we talked about North Korea last night as there was an article about the succession of the power from Kim Jong Il to his son Kim Jong Wun. What a coincident!
It was the first time for me to see a North Korean from North Korea (well there are North Korean living in Japan, but they are usually came to Japan before Korean War or born in Japan). Well, North Korea and Cuba are both "Communist" states, so it was not strange to see a North Korean in Cuba, I suppose. Later 4 other guys came out from the Supermarket. It looked like 2 of them were high ranked officials and others were servants.
We found a CUP shop selling other than Pizzas and sandwithes. I had set meal with deep fried fish for 30CUPs. It was nice to have a more proper meal. My appitite was gradually coming back.
It was so hot in the afternoon. We found a cafe with air-cond and stayed there for a while. A cup of coffee was 25cents. By walking around, we could find many things new.
At dusk, the temp was getting lower, so we went for a walk again. We found a wall painting of "Volveran" . We saw "Volveran" many times during this trip. There are 5 guys (sometimes with their photos) with stars. We guessed they would be the popular band or the next polotical leaders, but were not sure. (I found out what they were at the airport)
We had dinner at the restaurant at our Casa. In the info note, many poeple wrote the food here was excellent. I had grilled pork and Laura had vegearian meal. My one was 7CUCs with a drink. It came with large serve and good. But it was not that good as described in the info note.
We went for a wlak after dinner. Tomorrow we will go to Santa Clara, the city of Che. The cost is 6CUCs and it takes 1 hour. The bus is operated by Viazul (we had been taking buses operated by Transtur).
The diaries from 2 APR to 7 APR 2011 are in Part 3.
Medellin - La Habana - Vinales - Trinidad - Cienfuegos - Santa Clara - La Habana - Medellin
What I felt and thought in Cuba
This is the summary of my two weeks holiday in Cuba.
It has been 52 years since Cuban Revolution Army (M-26-7) defeated the US backed Batista regime. Fidel Castro had been leading the country for nearly 50 years till he retired a few years ago. Cuba survived the US embargo, the fall of the Soviet Union, and economic crisis, and developed its unique Socialism. As a revolutionalist, I had lots of expectations towards Cuba. I wanted to feel the history of the revolution and current lives of Cubans with my own skin.
After spending 2 weeks in Cuba, I have now mixed feelings. Cuba is now in a situation to rebuild the economy with the tourism and relationship with Latin American countries such like Venezuera after sufering economic crisis since the collupse of the Soviet Union.
What I saw was lots of Cubans were depending on tourists money. Wherenever I went (well, as a tourist I went to tose touristic places) there were Cubans tried to get "business" with us. I did not see so much "money driven" people in other latin American countries, so I was shocked.
When I got on an airport bus to Habana City, all men were waiting for ladies to get on first, so I thought "Cubans have a lady-first culture", but I did not see much of this culture elsewhere.
I felt those people tried to get our "business" did not know how to treat foreginers.
Whereever I went , cab drivers called out "taxi, taxi" to us many times, and when people came to us with "Hola, amigo!" always end up with "Do you wanna buy cigars? It is special today (everyday is special....)" To make matters worse, they were very persistant and annoying.
I guess for them asking is free, and if they get a business, they are lucky, if not, it does not matter, they just try anyway.
Oh, so called "Bici Taxi", they are actually three-wheeled, so "Tricicle". Those "Taxi Drivers (Riders) always asked us "Bici Taxi?" or "Taxi, Taxi". Every where we went, even for a short walk, they bothered us. They bothered us so so much, in the final days of our stay in Havana, Laura finally said to them "It's a Tricicle!" Well, finally we got them, Laura.
Those poeple came to us did not have good manners either. They often yelled out to us "Hey Chino! (it means Chinese or Asian)" Well, I am an Asian and was called "Chino" in Central Americas. But I did not feel that bad as much as in Cuba. I guess this was because the way Cubans said "Chino, Chino" had the bad intension (racism).
I thought what they feel if they were called "Hey, Cuban!" like that way in a foreign country? In "civilised" countries, people would not call other persons that way.
It got better in the country side though.
Although they rely on tourism money, they do not have much thoughts on how to please tourists, so that they spend more money here. Well, it may be because of "Socialism"nised service and lack of competisions...
Where is that revolutionary spirit? Che proposed "new man", but as far as I saw in Cuba, there was none. In the school, I read before, kids are taught "To be like Che!", but I did not feel anything like Che from those Cubanos. There were signs of Che and stating "Your ideas live, your examples will remain", but I did not see those reflect on people...
Education level of Cubanos seems to be higher than other Central Americans. Lot of people do understand and speak English (not fluently though). But this also leads to more annoyance to tourists. As they can speak English, they followed and continuaslly asked us if we were interested in their "products (cigars, mojito etc)" or "sercices (taxi)".
I tended to compare Cuba and other Central Americas, where was (is) dominated / controlled by the States. And I was thinking what was the revolution for the majority of Cubanos?
Not all Central American countries are fully independent from the States (such like El Salvador and Panama, I felt strong the US presence), the living standard is getting higher and higher. In contrast, Cuba has been against the States since the revolution and beloned to the Soviet side, the living standard in general seems to be higher than average Central Americans. The majority of Cubanos seem to have basic goods, if not fancy. So the wealth is distributed more evenlly in Cuba than Central Americas.
However, if I ask the question myself, "Is there the spirit of Revolutionary or Socialism I could feel?", I would say, "No, there isn't much." I saw more downsides of the uniqueness of Cuba than good sides, such as bad services, lack of choices etc.
In Nicaragua, also over thrown the governemnt with revolution, I felt hope there. But I could not feel that in Cuba. That was really sad truth for me.
So far I am criticising Cubanos, but I had good experiences with Cubanos too. All of families at Casa Paticular (like home stay) were very kind. They respect our privacy, but did care about us. There were humble too. However, they charged us for everything (well, except medications when I got sick).
I think they were truely kind people, but I might be wrong. The fact is if we stay a night, it will be more than monthly income of averge Cubanos!
Basically,they are very cheerful and relaxed. But at the same time (as the most of Latin Americans) they are sloppy. Well I like them because of those reasons. These traits of Latin Americans are "something" we - Japanese- need to learn.
Before this trip, I thought a "Socialist" nation would be very different in many ways from "Capitalist" nations. However, in myopinion, there weren't much different from Central Americas. Well, noiceable differences were, less stores, unable to buy things when I wanted, and bad customer service. I reckon those are because there weren't much cpompetitions, but what I felt was, generally speaking, they did not have consideration making customers happy.
So if Cuba lose its title of the "Revolution" and the "Socialism" , it will be just "One of Latin American" country. Then there would not be much tourists coming in, I suppose. For the better economy, Cubanos need to improve their ways of doing business to get more repeaters.
Unfortunately, there was not encounter that made me feel "I want to be friends with him/her!" At other countries, people came to us for just out of curiousty, but in Cuba (in my experiences), those people came to us were 100% money driven. Ah, one exception. The gentleman Laura and I met on the way to Havana city from the airport. He helped us hitchhike. He was ascientist researching vaccine, so he was highly educated and had a good manner.
There are two currencies used in Cuba, mainly for foreigners "CUC" and for Cubanos "CUP" are used. 1CUC (about US$1) iequals to 24CUPs. Foreginers can use both currencies, but those touristic shops and restaurants accept only CUC. It seems like those CUP shops are subsidised by the government and selling things really at low price, but there aren't much choices and the quality of goods are low.
I guess foreigners are supposed not to use CUP. But we can exchange CUC to CUP easily at money exchanges at the airport and in city.
I stayed in Cuba for 15days and used 508CUCs. On average, I used 33CUCs a day. It was not expensive but not cheap eaither. The airport tax is 25CUCs, and I spent 50CUCs on taxi, those were very expensive. Basically, accomodation and transportation costs are high in Cuba.
Even the handful of men/wemen with aspirations led the revolution and inspired people, they cannot achieve or cannot even come close to their ideas? It may be better to follow as time goes by? There are Pros and Cons that Fidel Castro Ruz had done, but I am sure that he thought "I have to do something about Cuba",risked his life to make better Cuba, and made the revolution. From what he said, and wrote, I am sure that Ernesto "Che" Guevara also faught for the better future of people. The enemy they tried to defeat was "Injustice and Inequality" of this world.
It has been 52 years since the revolution. How close have they come to their ideas? I was questioning myself during my trip in Cuba, but I got no answer.
But it is true that in the course of history "Heroes" like Fidel and Che came along, made the revolution and changed the future of Cubanos. Human history may be a natural flow, but also artificial, of course.
So if it is the case, as Fidel said at the trial of the raid on Moncada barracks, "History will absolve me. " I just follow my belief and go on my way.
As a revolusionalist, I will put more efforts and do whatever I can do for the better future of Japan.
The diaries of my Cuba holiday are in Part 2 and Part3.