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.