A Travellerspoint blog

HIGHLIGHTS OF MY HAVANA

THINGS OF NOTE AND A FEW SNAPS OF ME

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Since I have a five hour lay over here in Halifax airport, I figure I would jot down a few things of note about Havana and my experience there. My typical reflection post.

1. I loved staying at a casa. It was simple but warm and comfortable with the best hosts. I felt like I was at home. It is a realization how excessive life is back home. So, if you are up for it, check out Hostal Casacuba.

2. Life is not easy at the casa or for the average Cuban people. Families have ration cards for groceries and have to line up daily for basic necessities. The average salary is $20 CUC (about $20 usd) a month. Although it is obvious that anyone who can earns a buck on the side. Doctors who make about $30 a month often do work on the side.

3. Water! There is no ready/guaranteed access in the home. Pressure is low, there is not always enough gas pressure to keep it warm or like last night, you just run out. Orlando was good enough to borrow water so we could have showers before we traveled. Yes, borrow. That means lugging buckets from neighbors to the barrels on the roof.

4. Water! For the first time ever, I did not find bottled water to be readily available. I sometimes went to 6 or 7 stores before finding any and if I found the large bottles, I bought at least two. It was hot and you have to drink to stay hydrated.

5. Cubans can move! Man, I don’t know how but if there is music playing, the people are smiling and moving in a way that would make you think their hips are built different than ours. I could never go on the dance floor without making a complete fool of myself. People have so much fun dancing.

6. People are comfortable in their skin. No matter the size, they are in tight clothes and rocking it on the dance floor. They look good too.

7. Wifi is fairly new to the average person. Internet is sold on the black market for $3 an hour in the form of a little card. Hundreds gather in the local hotspot to make calls and text. Tons of people have cell phones. I am told they come from relatives living in the states. For now, you rarely see people on their phones outside those hotspots.

8. The reported literacy rate of Cuba is 97%

9. I want to learn the Rumba and the Salsa and wish I could have taken up all the offers for lessons as I walked down the street.

10. I need to learn Spanish. English was pretty limited in our area. It seemed better in the tourist areas.

11. I love taking pictures and feel especially lucky to have had this opportunity to take pictures in such a warm community with welcoming people.

12. The boys are very pretty.

Dan was snapping pictures as we moved through the city this week. Here are a few images of our activities.

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Great week with great people.

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Posted by curlygirl 15:06 Archived in Cuba Comments (3)

LAST DAY - PETER TURNLEY AND A LITTLE RUMBA

A FINAL LOOK AROUND, A VISIT TO THE ART MUSEUM AND SOME CRAZY DANCE

overcast 25 °C

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It has an absolutely wonderful last day in Cuba. Although it may not be reflected in the images because for much of the day, I did not have my camera in hand.

After a late breakfast, a few of us headed out to explore with only two real objectives. We wanted to walk to the artists’ market and take in an exhibit at the Fine Art Museum. Our stroll to the market was slow because we did stop and take a few pictures along the way. We just can’t help ourselves. The market had no real surprises and was really no different that any tourist market so we didn’t stay long before leaving empty handed.

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We took another fun taxi ride to the museum where we saw a Peter Turnley exhibit. This proved to be an awesome end to a week of photography. Peter is an American photographer who worked for Newsweek for years and has been featured on the cover 43 times. Lexi, had previously done a workshop with him in New York city so was very excited to see the exhibit which featured his early work, his photo journalism as well as his collection of photos from Cuba. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have been introduced to this work or to see such an amazing collection. He has photographed so many major world events including the Tiananmen Square riots, Rwanda genocide and the falling of the towers on 911. It was really moving.

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After a quick lunch, we returned home to pack up our things before I headed out with Dan and Sandy for the most surreal couple of hours of music. We returned to the Rumba bar, first visited last Sunday, to see Dan’s favorite band. This was nothing short of insane and I am not sure there is any way to describe it in words. The room is quite small so when arrived one hour before the show and it was already packed. Not nearly as packed as it would become. By the time the show started, if you were one of the lucky ones, and we were, to have a seat, you were not moving out that spot and it got increasingly crowded as the show went on. I wish I had my camera but I grabbed a couple of shots early on from my phone. Rumba is said to originate in Cuba with the African culture and is a form of drumming and chanting/singing. It was so loud that at times I thought my phone was vibrating but it was just the rhythm. The band had 10 people on stage ranging in age from 35 -75 and everyone looked like they loved it. They had two dancers who were performing the traditional chase of the vagina. They both hold a scarf which is part of the dance. It is such a sexual dance but is simply magnificent. Everyone in Cuba can dance and the Salsa is impressive but this is insane. I have NEVER seen people move like that. As the night goes on, other people take the scarf and perform while the crowd goes wild dancing, singing and clapping. At one point I was buried in a sea of Cuban hip gyrations and let me tell you, they can gyrate. The Cuban men are absolutely gorgeous and the biggest flirts. Everyone is so nice too. One of the drummers who could tell I was loving the show, came over after and introduced himself and thanked me for coming. I absolutely loved every second and felt very lucky to have such an intimate and local experience.

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I am so impressed with the love of dance in Havana. Every night there are live bands with 10-14 members performing at several clubs, both for matinee shows at dinner time and a late night show. No matter the time the dance floor is full with all ages and sizes. Awesome.

It was a wonderful last day and after enjoying supper with our gang we took some time to review our “fun’ photos of each other. We all really gelled with each other and our host family.

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Posted by curlygirl 09:41 Archived in Cuba Comments (3)

CRUISIN’ HAVANA AND THE TROPICANA

GRAVEYARDS, RICHES AND RIDES IN OLD CARS

sunny 32 °C

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Another sunny and very warm day in Havana, although I think the humidity is down a little. I also just discovered there is air conditioning in my room so I need not swelter anymore.

Today we headed out for some more sightseeing and shooting. Our first stop was the cemetery Colon, which is similar but less dramatic than the Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Still it was huge and lovely. Lots of interesting symbolism on the tombs. I am sure you could spend days there never understanding it all. The columns that appear short or broken off represent a life lost too young. We also saw the most famous grave in the cemetery of a woman who died young in childbirth and her husband is said to have come for 40 years to try and wake her. People still bring flowers to make wishes and ask for health and fertility.

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Our next stop was for lunch and one of the highest building in Havana with glass walls providing a panoramic view. This really provided some perspective on the size of this city.

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We dropped into the National Hotel which is spectacular and has a ton of history in pictures. Even a picture of Jean Cretian with Fidel Castro.

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The we rented two identical purple 1956 Buick convertibles and went for a city tour. This was terrific.

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We got home after a long hot day and Lexi and I, having lost Neil, decided to walk the water front as the sun was setting to grave a few more shots.

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Last on the agenda was a visit to the famous nightclub/show bar, the Tropicana. Great show that was full of interesting surprises including a little opera. Our ticket included rum so it was a bit of a late night, but well worth it.

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Posted by curlygirl 12:46 Archived in Cuba Comments (4)

LIFE AT THE CASA

CRITIQUING OUR WORK

sunny 30 °C

Since I have some time, I thought I would write a little about our experience and group.

The casa experience has been really great. I would never opt to stay in a hotel given the option. The accommodations are simple but more than adequate. I have a room with my own small bathroom. Sandy and Lexi have a room each but share a large bathroom. Neil and Sally are in a nearby apartment and Geoff is nearby at another casa since he joined late. As I mentioned hot water and electricity are not guaranteed. I had a refreshing cool shower this morning. But honestly, it isn’t that bad when the air is hot and humid. I will say, it would be lovely to have a pool to dive into but not if it meant giving up my casa. Our host family is so sweet and seem to enjoy having people around despite the fact that it means they are all crammed into one little room.

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Every morning is a full breakfast including multiple fruits, bread, homemade mango and guava jelly and freshly cooked eggs, made to order. The suppers have been brilliant and Nuika is an awesome cook. All theories that the food in Cuba is bad have been discarded. We typically have rice and beans, a protein, pork, chicken or seafood. One night we had yucca (a starchy vegetable) cooked in oil and garlic. It was so good; I was eating out of the serving dish at the end. Tonight we had a kinda lobster and shrimp paella that was to die for and really garlicy tamales.

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My group is really lovely. Everyone is very laid back and we are all my age or older with the exception of Jeff who is 30. He is actually MIA this morning after seeking a little fun last night long after we were in bed.

I miss the internet but it is probably good for me to be disconnected. Not good enough that I would elect to avoid the walk to the park. It is only a couple blocks away and it is really a hoot seeing hundreds of people huddled into a wee bit of green space to experience the outside world. Likely, a new experience for many of them although cell phones are very popular. For $3, you are almost guaranteed an hour of internet. Neil has been gracious enough to come with me which is nice since it is quite dark and I am the only person sitting there with a MacBook on my lap. As safe as I feel here, it is a comfort. He enjoys touching base with his wife back home as well. Neil is a real character, he is fluent in Spanish, speaking it at home with his Chilean wife. This is a real asset and hindrance. He loves stopping to chat to people and sometimes this goes on forever. But we always wait patiently for the signature handshake, indicating he is ready to move on. Honestly, he has provided great insight into life in Havana when he shares what he learns in conversation.

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This morning we all stayed home and spent some time reviewing our images, learning about processing and getting some great feedback from Dan and each other. Everyone’s images are so different. Crazy how we can all walk the same streets and capture the same scenes so differently.

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At 5 we went to a nearby bar for the salsa matinee. Unfortunately, it started late so we only got about 40 minutes with the live band before having to leave for dinner but it was AMAZING. There was about 12 people in the band and the music was awesome. The dancing was even better. Holy crap, there is no way to join in without standing out like a sore thumb because ever single person on the dance floor can move like professional dancers. I so want to learn Spanish and Salsa dancing.

We have a busy day planned for tomorrow so it is off to the park and then to bed.

Posted by curlygirl 18:22 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

ROAD TRIP TO THE LAND OF CIGARS

A DAY IN VIDALES

sunny 30 °C

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We are back in time to at least write a few words and post a few pictures although I must admit I am not terribly excited about today’s images. This is not indicative of the day which was terrific.

We left Havana around 8 am for the three hour trip to Vidales, the land of tobacco and cigars and a world heritage site. It was an interesting drive, first along the coast, and into an area that was quite wealthy. In fact, Raul Castro lives there. From there it was into the countryside to the town of Vidales.

We had a few stops including a view of the valley where Jeff did the touristy bull ride and we snapped a few shots.

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We had a wonderful lunch of chicken, pork and rice and then went to explore the tobacco fields. This included an explanation of the process and a demonstration of cigar rolling. Some of us even smoked one. I opted out but after a demo from the roller’s wife, 72 year old Sandy, jumped right in. She’s not missing anything.

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I did find a flaw in the fitbit today. I have earned well over 20,000 steps even though I spend 6 hours in a car. A bumpy ride will sure rack up the steps.

I am not so far from "home"

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Posted by curlygirl 19:41 Archived in Cuba Comments (1)

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