Saturday, 30 November 2013

8th November, 2013
One should always allow for shrinkage on holiday.

We filled up with fuel and looking confused (in a CUC garage with red plates it's easy), a youngster on a motorbike offered to help. Rob willingly handed over 40CUC (R400) with Llyris exclaiming "he's giving our money to a total stranger". Quite predictably he bolted with the money leaving us to confront a rabid young petrol attendant, as, once again, the situation was lost in translation!

We went to the very sacred Basicillice del Cobre close to an old copper mine, and home to the Black Madonna.

The nearby pit from the mine is filled with florescent blue water.

We drove to the Sierra Maestra Mountain Range and had a spectacular view over SdC - or Santa Cuba or Cuba de Santiago, depending on Rob's mood.

We headed to the beach at Buanito for Joan to fulfil her fantasy of swimming in the Caribbean. First disappointment was the awful beach – the annoying beach boys, the warm water, the mangy dogs and the old lady washing her dirty plates where we were swimming. We ate at the beach bar and had a good meal of fish and langoustine, all washed down with beers to keep the humour flowing. We learnt that the beaches in the north of Cuba - on the Atlantic Ocean - are far better than the Caribbean side.
Beware: bathroom facilities in Cuba are a little scary at times!

We headed back to town and to the Castillo del Morro to watch the sunset. Built in 1637 it latterly became a prison in 1775. It was smoulderingly hot and we limped around until the sun set magnificently over the placid Caribbean.

On the way home the car came to a spluttering halt in the middle of peak hour traffic. Pushing the car to the side, gasping with the CO2 fumes, a guy offered to help, and to his and our amazement Robbo instantly figured out the problem - half a ton of petrol on the road said it all. 
The mad mechanic hadn't put the fuel pipe back on properly.

 Carolina and Ronaldo had prepared a lovely meal of rice, chicken and shrimp prepared in layers and covered with mayonnaise. 
Luis joined us and we had fun evening learning more about Cuba over a bottle of Havana Club.

7th November, 2013
Gasp, hot.

And like mad dogs and Englishmen we chose today to walk around SdC. Our guide was Luis, I can't remember his surname, but it translates to 'Beautiful'. 28 year old Luis is a Uni prof, in architecture, earning 22CUC ($20) a month. He was very knowledgeable and passionate about buildings. We felt lucky having him for the morning. We walked around the old town, learnt its history, visited many cultural centres, and got glared at as we stood out like Tommy Tourist (it’s the beginning of the season and there aren’t many of us around, yet!). 
Spot the tourist!
The oldest coffee shop in Santiego de Cuba, where a shot of coffee (for a local) costs 1 peso (25 pesos to a CUC). Note the water and antiseptic to wash your hands. Cholera was a problem after the hurricane in September 2012.
This salsa dancer (way passed her best by date) was busking when a blind man came walking along - slap bang into her. Couldn't have choreographed it if you tried.
Maracas for sale. Curios have started to flood the streets. Free trade is slowly developing thanks (or no thanks) to the influx of tourists.

Everyone talks about how friendly the SdCubans are but there are distinct times when we feel a level of animosity. The bank was a prime example. Our car is a dead give-away and now that we understand that having a car is such a status symbol and something that is handed down through the generations, it is no wonder that we get the stares we do.

After walking around for 2 hours we made our way to the harbour and had sangria, beers, and Llyris - “my body is my temple” - a cola. We gave Luis 20CUC which nearly a bowled him over - equivalent to his month's wages.
Classic cars became a familiar sight. Initially we photographed EVERY car we saw. By now we were a little more blase (much to our camera's relief - which packed up by the end of our holiday anyway!)
CATEDRAL DE LE ASUNCION being renovated after the hurricane damage.

In the meantime the old Gleagle had a puncture which was a mission to fix. A bad tempered mechanic arrived to help release the tyre (the device was missing). We had also parked on a slope with little fuel. The bad tempered mechanic went off to the gas station (without checking if we needed diesel or petrol), oi vey, what a palaver. Thank goodness for the helpful neighbour who finally got us through this mechanical episode. 3.30pm and we were back on the road, too late to go anywhere, so we went to Plaza Matis for mojitos.
Late afternoon at the PLAZA MATIS
Our hosts had offered to cook us dinner but, like many occasions, things get lost in translation, and we arrived home to find 20 professors sitting outside our bedroom. When dinner was served (to them) out of polystyrene boxes we gathered our invitation was cancelled.
Roof top dining at what became our regular haunt 
(it was also called San Francisco)
We went back to our regular 'haunt' and had another good meal for less than 30CUC.

Friday, 29 November 2013

6th November, 2013

Oi vey but that was a long way.

Santa Clara to Santiego de Cuba (or as Rob calls it Cuba de Santiego, or Santa Cuba depending on how muddled he feels). We seemed to travel the whole world to get there, Venezuela, Florida, Colorado, Uruguay and yesterday we saw Australia, reminiscent of our drive from Pongola to Johannesburg which we did via Amsterdam and Belfast. Everyone seems to borrow names – so who did come first?

But, boy, did yesterday fell like a whirl wind tour. 9 hours with Rob and Llyris sharing the driving. The road was fine, until Llyris took over when she went crashing into the worst pot holes we have encountered. The shocks on our Gleagle are just that - shot. Road signs are a little dubious, with Camaguey (pronounced Camaway) changing its mind on a regular basis dropping or adding kilometres when it feels like it. How we have ever found our establishments is a pure a miracle with no maps. The trick is to pick up a runner who either literally runs in front of the car or hops in - with Llyris growling from the front "who is this man?"

People along the road have not been particularly friendly, in fact viewing us with disdain. It can be disconcerting. You have to be careful where you take pics. Our hosts have all been great and cannot do enough for us, but the average guy on the street glares with almost hatred at our red number plates (clearly indicating we are foreign). The double currency also lands up costing us a premium as everything costs CUC1 ($1) no matter what it is.

It is quite fun being in a place where buxom is beautiful and people certainly aren't starving. Their status quo is also a little confusing with some saying it’s impossible to travel whilst others have family 'in the States' who they see regularly.

Our hosts in SdC are very embracing. Carolina is a professor of architecture at the University and her husband, Renaldo, is 'the best chef in town' says Carolina as she pats his rotund tummy. Tonight we shall eat with them. Last night we went to a casa particular and had mojitos (finally) and I stuck to shrimps, knowing I can't go wrong. It was an excellent meal for CUC 34 - half the price of Santa Clara and 1/3 of Havana.

Address: 556 San Francisco Street, Santiago de Cuba. 
Hosts: Carolina and Rolando.
San Francisco Street. One of the main roads - 
and, gasp, so narrow!
One of the many nerve wracking moments in 
San Francisco Street -
trucks rushing down a whisker away from our Gleagle!
Roof top view by day....
.....and by night!! A stiff G&T before dinner.

5th November, 2013

This is unashamedly Che country.
His statue stands proud - 
and guarded in Revolution Square (there's one in every town!)
Horse power in Santa Clara
Horses and old cars obeying traffic lights.
The lights have a count-down system - such a good idea.
Our home for the night: Valdez Perez, 106 Luis Estevez St, Santa Clara. 
Our hosts: Teresita and Roberto
Breakfast! Note the creative use of a shower curtain.
Sunflowers - cheerful sight on a dull day!