Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Camaguey, Santa Clara and Trinidad
13.06.2009 - 30.06.2009 28 °C
I´ve not written for a while as I´ve spent the last 2 weeks travelling around the country. Its been a wonderful experience and I´ve seen some great places: seriously, anyone who hasn´t been to Cuba yet, I really recommend visitting!
Risking you getting VERY bored now, here´s a little summary of the last 2 weeks.
On Saturday (13.06.09) I got the night bus to Santiago de Cuba (a 15 hours journey!). I got a ´Viazul´ (= tourist) bus there, which stopped every 2-2.5 hours for a little break (in Jaguey Grande, Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin and Bayamo for those interested). When entering the bus, we all got a chocolate toffee sweet, which I saw as a sign that this was the right bus to take. Everything would work out well :-)
Though, arriving in Santiago, I wasn´t that sure afterall.
The city is hot... hot, extremely busy and polluted. A woman was waiting for me at the bus terminal (with ´Ingge´ written on a paper)- the casa owner in Havana had organised it so that I´d have a casa sorted in Santiago. We got the taxi from there to her house and sorted out the official papers. I had a shower and decided to check out the city, but was a little disappointed. May be because of the extreme heat or because I hadn´t slept much, Santiago just didn´t impress me. There was more hissing, ´psst´-ing and name-calling there than in Havana (something i didn´t think was even possible) and I found it hard to breathe due to the car fumes in the air. I found one little nice park though (Parque Cespedes) and checked out a few shops, had a Creole lunch (i.e. chicken, rice, beans) on Plaza Dolores and went to the ´Museo del Carnival´- a recommendation in my Rough Guide, which, frankly, I found rubbish (haha... I like to be negative). I then checked my mail and decided to go to bed (at 5pm!) as I was still too tired from the bus trip.
At 8am the next day, I decided that one more day in Santiago would be (more than) enough for me, so I walked to the bus station and got myself a ticket to go to Baracoa the next day. I then decided to be adventurous and take a different route back, managed to get completely lost and in the end, it took me about 2 hours to get back to the road I was originally on... but it was actually quite a nice walk- went to a little market on the way and bought some vegetables and fruit for pesos.
Once back in Santiago centre, I checked out a book store (bought the only English book I could find, which turned out to be a collection of short erotic stories, haha) and then went to the ´Museo Emilio Bacardi Moreau´- probably the only thing I really enjoyed in Santiago. It was originally Bacardi´s own private collection of antiques, art and archeological finds, but he later moved it to a new building to be opened to the public. A huge section of it was guns/weapons/torture instruments used on slaves and there was also a mummy... and upstairs there was a photography exhibition on African body art- really impressive (and I got in for 2 pesos (student discount) so I was happy, hehe).
I spent the evening sitting in Parque Cespedes, drinking shandy and taking photos. Once again, an early night for me (I was in bed by 9pm)... Yes, I´m turning into a granny.
Got up at 5:30 the next day as I had to be at the bus station at 6:45. My bus left at 7:30 and by 1pm I was in Baracoa. The bus trip there was amaaazing- green massive mountains, beautiful lakes and small, windy (dangerous) roads. We stopped at a little farm on the way selling bananas, apples, chocolate and ´cucurucho´ (a paste-like mixture of mashed coconut, sugar, honey, guava and orange- typically Baracoan, served in dried banana leaves and surprisingly tasty).
At the bus terminal in Baracoa, a lady with an ´Inge´ sign was waiting for me once again (this time unplanned... made me feel a little bit stalked) and we got a bikitaxi to her casa...which was, once again, amazing! (I´m not feeling creative with my words today). My room had both a double and single bed, my own bathroom, a porch (with rocking chairs) and my own little private roof terrace (with great view). And the casa owners were both really friendly. It was actually a really nice change to Santiago and Havana- Baracoa is much smaller (the first ever town in Cuba) and amazingly beautiful, surrounded by mountains and the sea, and its generally hassle-free.
But, like Santiago, its VERY hot and i had to spend the afternoon in my room, as it was too hot to go out. At around 4pm, I went exploring- first stop: Casa del Chocolate (obviously). Had some chocolate ice-cream there (as Baracoa is famous for its chocolate) and then checked out some art galleries, shops, the malecon and the plaza de revolution. From there, I got a great view of ´El Yunque´, a famous (literally) rectangular shaped mountain, which was beautiful. I then got myself a pizza and fanta, and sat on the Malecon where I met two German guys who´d also been on my bus. We agreed to meet up the next day on the beach and I went home.
I spent the next morning trying to find the ´Museo Arqueologico´, which took me over an hour as it was hidden away in the mountains and I was directed wrongly (twice!). I got some great views of Baracoa from up there though, but the ´museum´ (in two caves) was a let down.. I was the first customer there, so they let me in for free (as half the route was still shut) but i found it rather fake-looking and saw a scorpion (or something similar) moving around i the distance (ahh!!!) , so I didn´t stay long. I reserved my bus ticket to Camaguey for the next day and then headed to the main square (parque Independencia) where a band was playing outside the Church there. It was really nice- lots of saxophones, trumpets, trombones and bongos... Watched them for ages, as the music was great and it was really nice to see how all the locals responded. Baracoa, as its so small and quite secluded, has much more of a community-feeling than Santiago or any other big cities.
As the day got hotter, I headed home for a little siesta and then went to the beach (Playa Boca de Miel) around 4pm to meet the Germans. The water was nice, though we´d been warned that further out there were biting fish, so I basically didn´t swim further than anywhere I could still stand. We left around 6pm, I had a shower and then went for dinner at ´La Punta´ restaurant on the Malecon. Amazing food- plantains and king prawns in coconut sauce. Yummy! For desert, I bought myself another cucurucho :-)
At 7:30 the next day, I went to Cubatours and bought my bus ticket, checked my mail and walked around a bit. I went back to La Punta for lunch and got on the bus to Camaguey at 2pm, along with the two German guys and half of Holland it seemed. The trip went through Santiago de Cuba, but luckily I only had to stay there for about 20 minutes this time, before getting an on the next bus to Camaguey. The trip (in total) took about 10 hours and I arrived in Camaguey at 2am. When I got off the bus, someone was waiting for me (this time, it just freaked me out a bit as the casa-network seems a little too developed for me- although its really efficient and nice that they sorted it out for me, I felt it was a little too controlled for me as I wasn´t even asked if I needed a casa there!) so we got a taxi to the casa, my room was nice and I got a descent night´s sleep. The casa owner was very friendly, but a little pushy about me having breakfast and dinner there (as I preferred not to eat there so that it would be easier to meet people). It made it a bit awkward for me, so I decided to only stay for one night and to just get the night bus to Santa Clara that evening.
I spent the day exploring Camaguey- a nice little city with colourful colonial buildings and not too much hassle. The only problem was that the map in my Rough Guide was out of date, so i got very lost, but a friendly Cuban showed me the way to the Cubacan office where I wanted to buy my bus ticket. Unfortunately they couldn´t order them for me, but they gave me the bus times (I wanted to get the 3am bus) and told me I´d be fine just showing up there and buying the ticket on the bus. So I walked around a bit, checked out some shops and a ´CrAap´ art gallery (the name amused me)- a nice little gallery displaying art work of students there (very very erotic/suggestive... though may be I´m getting used to this in Cuba now!).
I then went back home to pack and pay for my casa (telling the woman that I didn´t need a place to stay in Santa Clara as she´d already been ringing around to try and organise it for me, once again, without asking me... I had to eventually tell her I´d already sorted something out there as, although it is incredibly friendly and nice of her, I was starting to feel far too looked-after and that I was losing control a bit of what I wanted to do). I left the casa at 5pm, walked around more and bought myself an 8pm ticket to see ´Australia´ in a little cinema there. Around 7pm it started to rain a lot and whilst sheltering a really nice 70-year old Cuban spoke to me (for about an hour) about what its like living in Cuba, how he´d been to Europe when he was young and his life in general. Was nice to be able to follow the conversation in Spanish :-) At 8pm, he walked me to the cinema and when I walked in, they were showing some random Jean-Claude van Damme film... which they stopped half way through to start ´Australia´.
At 22:30, the film ended and I made my way to a hotel, changed into some jeans and some warmer clothes (as Viazul buses like having their airco on high) and walked to the bus station. At 3am the bus came and I fell asleep pretty much straight away.
I got to Santa Clara at 8am and found a casa almost immediately. It was gorgeous- a massive colonial house with high ceilings, my own bathroom, balcony and tv. I had a little nap, bought some breakfast and watched ´When Harry met Sally´. I then went to find the ´Monumento a la toma del tren Blindado´- where Che famously derailed 5 armoured carriages (aimed to go to the Orient) during the battle of Santa Clara (in 1958). It was not that impressive to be honest (it seemed a little too-well restored for me... slightly fake?) but I´m glad I got to see it. I then had some lunch, checked my mail and went to see Casto Solano Maroyo´s statue of Che, not so famous, but I really liked it (have a look for it on google if you can... I still haven´t figured out how to put photos on this yet...). I spent the evening on a bench on Parque Vidal- a beautiful little park in the centre of Santa Clara, very family-friendly, great atmosphere with loud music and watched the sunset.
At 7:30 the next day, I left the house to find the Viazul bus station and to check out Che´s famous memorial statue. The museum there would only open at 9:30, so unfortunately I wasn´t able to go there in case I´d miss my bus (which left Santa Clara for Trinidad at 11:20). Real shame, but its something for me to do next time i come to Cuba :-) The bus journey took about 3 hours and I arrived in Trinidad at 2pm.
Now.... me being a dumbass, thought Haiyon would meet me at the station at 3pm (I´d called her when I was in Camaguey to tell her I´d go there so we arranged to meet up), buuuuuuuuttttt I didn´t realise that she´d actually be coming the NEXT day... so I waited for her for TWO hours before realising it was Sunday, not Monday.... I felt incredibly dumb! So went to find a casa to distract myself and decided to explore Trinidad a bit...which is incredibly beautiful.
Most of the centre is recognised and protected by the UNESCO and it really is a stunning little town. The streets are all cobble stones and its a no-car zone. I found a little Internet cafe and bumped into Sacha there- a Dutch/Russian guy that was also on my Spanish course in Havana, but he was leaving Trinidad the next day (for Santiago!). He gave me some good tips on what to see in Trinidad and i ended up having dinner in an amazing little paladre called ´Sol y Son´, where the food was just delicious! I went to bed feeling completely full and satisfied :-)
After breakfast the next day, I went souvenier shopping (so far, Trinidad´s been the only place tha´t offers nice souveniers I think...) and checked out the ´Iglesia de la Santisima´- a beautiful, simple little church with 8 (!!!) wooden altars. I then made my way to the bus station and picked up Haiyon, changed casa´s (confusing and not a great experience as the casa where I was staying wasn´t happy I was leaving after 1 day) and moved my stuff to the next casa, which was located under a MASSIVE oak tree and which was incredibly cheap- 5 CUC p-p-p-n + 5 CUC for dinner. We then did some sight-seeing and went to ´Casa de la Trova´ to listen to some live music whilst sipping on ´Canchanchara´ cocktails- famously from Trinidad, but basically just a Mojito without the mint.
We then stopped off at a little art gallery, bought 2 paintings and went back to our casa for (a lobster) dinner! The food was amazing and we joined a Canadian woman and her Cuban boyfriend for the meal. We then had a few drinks at ´Casa de Musica´ and got back home at 12:30, both knackered.
The next day we got up at 7am, had breakfast and walked about 30 minutes to find the train stop for a steam train to Valle de los Ingenios. We bought two tickets and and took the ´supposedly 30 minute-lasting trip´ (but actually 1.5 hour trip) to see the famous tower there, which was the tallest tower built in Central America at the time, built to overlook the slaves working on the sugar plantation. I managed to get to the one-but-last level without getting too scared of the height (yay!) but both Haiyon and i felt nauseous from the rocking of the steam train, so we spent most of out time there sitting in the cafe trying to recover... before getting the 1.5 hour journey train back to Trinidad!!!
Once we arrived back, we got a taxi to Playa de Ancon (about 5km from Trinidad) and spent the afternoon sunbathing and drinking beer on a terrace. We met an Australian, Irish and Scottish guy there (who had volunteered in Tanzania!) and we ended up getting the bus back with them, but not before getting covered in mosquito bites. Once back in Trinidad, Haiyon and I were too tired to go ´out-out´, so we had dinner and had a drink at ´Casa de Musica´ (where we randomly bumped into Bo and his new girlfriend!). I arranged to meet them the next evening to check out the nightlife there.
The next day, Haiyon left back to Havana (as she had to attend the Spanish classes the next day to receive her certificate). We did some souvenier shopping beforehand- she bought a beautiful painting from some really friendly artists there (they also explained that the reason why Trinidad generally has more to offer in terms of souveniers, gifts, art etc. is because the rent here is much cheaper than in other cities in Cuba, so many artists hire people in Trinidad to expose their work there). Once Haiyon had left, I checked my mail and started to read a book on Che. I then had dinner (shrimp, yummy!) and met Bo and his girlfriend at 9pm. We sat in ´Casa de Musica´for a while and then followed a random little carnival procession around the town- it was really amazing! Loved it so much- there´s just so much life here- everyone was out on the streets, in pyjamas, hair curlers, dad´s with their children on their backs, whole families... just so nice! And people can dance so incredibly well here... even kids! Its a bit depressing, but amazing to watch. We followed them all to the main square (Parque Cespedes), where afterwards a salsa disco started. A scary-looking little man made me dance with him for a bit, but Bo´s girlfriend saved me (haha, I like being dramatic) and i later danced with a lovely +70 year old man for a bit... I seem to attract the +70 generation here.
The next day, I did some sight-seeing: I went to the ´Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Asis´ (its tower being the image associated with Trinidad)- had a great view from there. I then had a look in the museum downstairs (´Museo de la Lucha Contra Banditos´) which was really impressive- lots of photos, speeches and information about student strikes and the fights leading to the revolution. After this, I checked out the ´Museo Romantico´- a furniture museum which I actually really enjoyed (see! I´m becoming a granny!) and did some more souvenier shopping. After deciding to stay one more night, I planned to go horse-riding, but Cubatours told me they only accept groups of at least 5 people. Walking back to my casa, a guy approached me, saying he was actually the guide for the horse-riding trails that Cubatours offers and that he´d take me (on my own) for a 2-hour trip for 15 CUC. I wasn´t too sure about it at first, and if this wasn´t Cuba, I would have never risked it, but I decided to just go for it. I got my camera and met him half an hour later, we walked for about 20 minutes to get to the horses and we set off.
Although it could have turned out really badly, it ended up being one of the best things I´ve done in Cuba! The trip ended up taking 4 hours, but the path was amazingly beautiful, getting great views of Valle de los Ingenios and he took me to the Salto del Caburni waterfall. On the way back, we stopped at a little farm and they made me fresh sugarcane juice and we ate some mangoes (no complaining now AT ALL!). The guide was really nice- we spoke in Spanish (or at least i tried) and he seemed to find it amusing watching me panic when the horse was galloping... I have to say that I was quite happy to get off the horse towards the end, haha. When I got home, I had another amazing meal (shrimps, sweet potato, rice, ocra, greenbeans, fruit... far too much!) so ended up going to bed quite early as I literally couldn´t move.
I got the 7:10 bus the next day, arriving back in Havana at 1pm. I found myself a new casa- with the daughter of the woman I was staying at before (in Nick´s old room). The owner´s really nice and its only about 10 minutes away from the Uni. I met up with Jess in the afternoon (as she was leaving for El Salvador the next day) and we had a drink on the Malecon, watching the sunset.
For the rest, I´ve spent the last few days hanging out with Haiyon, eating lots of ice-cream and on Tuesday we went to Hotel Florida- with a friend of Haiyon´s, Raymon, Sylvia and their (gorgeous) tango-teacher friend Mauel. I also had another salsa lesson with them on Monday and though I seemed to have forgotten most of it at the beginning, its slowly coming back to me. I´m planning to go back to Hotel Florida tonight for some more salsa dancing and of course to Chevre tomorrow (my last evening in Havana). I just can´t believe the time has flown by so quickly these last few weeks...
Two more nights and I´ll be in Panama. Although I´m very excited to see Maudy (btw: Vipasha no longer can join us there) and discover Panama, I think I´ll probably be spending half of my evening tomorrow crying... I just don´t want to leave Cuba yet!
I guess its a good sign though- I´ve loved my time here and I´m sure I´ll be back.
Okay... so that´s the update. Now I´m off to meet Haiyon as we´re going to Plaza de Revolution to check out the view from above the Marti statue.
Hope you all have had a great weekend! The next update will be from Panama! xx