Last day of R&R

last 2 days in Cuba on Flickr

I like to keep busy both at home and on vacation but every now and then you need a down day to relax and rest. Today was one of those days. I slept in. I finished my book. I packed my suitcase to see if I have any more room for shopping and I spent a few hours at the beach visiting with my Cuban friends the beach dogs. I watched the sunset snuggled up with my favourite one. I’m so tempted to sneak her in my carry on.


A day on the water

Day 5 – Catamaran Tour on Flickr

Another busy day. Today we had reservations for the ‘sea tour’ which is a trip on a catamaran out to an island. You stop on the way to snorkel and then there is some downtime on the beach and a huge buffet including lobster. It was a wonderfully relaxing day with little pops of excitement. The boat we were on was called Lira and our crew was amazing. Every now and then they’d stop the boat for some entertainment and get everyone up dancing.

My recommendations is bring your own goggles or mask as the ones they provide have been well used and aren’t super clear. It’s not the best snorkeling but they do drop some bread in the water to attract fish.

The island you stop at is Cayos Blancos and it has amazing white sand and turquoise sea, even more stunning than Varadero.

Despite trying to stick to the shade as much as possible I got too much sun so it was a pretty low key evening of reading my book.

Havana a whirlwind tour

Day 3 &4 Havana on Flickr

Havana was a whirlwind tour. Prior to flying to Cuba we’d arranged a night at a B&B (Casa paticularrs) in Havana through Home Stay. It’s a great way to find affordable accommodation in Cuba and I totally recommend it if you are a bit more on the adventurous side. Our first day in Cuba we asked around to find someone who had a classic American car that would drive us to Havana. Yesterday morning we got picked up in ’54 Chevy for our adventure to Havana. The pre arranged price was $140 CUC which I think was the return rate if we’d planned on returning the same day.

Our driver was well aware that you got a lot more in life with a smile and a handshake especially if that shake included a tip. We started our trip at 8 and we had a lovely combination of guided tour and time to relax and enjoy the ride. Our first stop was at the tallest bridge in Cuba and the lookout. There was live music, drinks, a washroom, vendors and a lovely view. However the parking lot that was a car show in the making was equally as appealing.

Our first stop in Havana was at the castle to pickup cigars then it was into the city to do a lovely guided car tour with a few scheduled stops. Although the parking was free each time we stopped he tipped a guy that was there keeping the cars safe. It made you wander how much money he walked away with at the end of a full day after fuel costs and tipping costs.

Our tour included…. it was so nice having a vehicle to show us around so we got a better lay of the land.

After a slight mis-communication about the arrival time at our B&B we arrived 2 hours early. Our driver made yelled up at our building until a neighbor responded. Who then got in touch with the owner who arrived within 5 minutes to let us in.

We enjoyed a bit of downtime in our air conditioned room prior to heading out on foot to explore our neighborhood. Although there were lots of signs indicating a room for rent we were in a less touristy neighborhood but the appeal was being 2 blocks from the waterfront walk way. We located some ‘landmarks’ in relation to our location and then headed off with no particular destination in mind. We saved the waterfront for a bit later in the day when it’s suppose to be popular with locals and zigged and zagged through the streets of … occasionally asking directions to a ‘casa de la cambrio’. Everyone was happy to help however my Spanish wasn’t good enough to fully comprehend the directions. Eventually we went in to an air conditioned lobby of a large hotel knowing they could do an exchange for us. I asked the rate which was slightly lower than the rate we got in our lobby in Varadero   I was going to exchange more money as practically everything needed to be paid in cash. She then told us in broken English that there was a tadeka Casa de Cambrio just a block away that would have better rates. So we continued on our adventure confident we could find the exchange office. When we did I was happy to notice it was across the street from a giant ice cream parlor I’d read about. We waited in line with the mostly Cubans waiting to exchange money. I was surprised how many were exchanging money vs going to the bank next door. I’m guessing either exchanging tip money or switching between convertible pesos and national ones. We then enjoyed some ice cream before circling around to the water and back to our B&B. We had a bit more downtime before venturing out after dark to find a restaurant from the guide book. We found the street and block but couldn’t find the restaurant so we went to a different one. It was located on the roof top terrace and was excellent. The food in Havana is much better than the food at our resort.

The next morning we got up and had a hot shower and breakfast before catching a taxi in a pink convertible ’52 Chevy to the giant art market. We explored the 1000s of pieces of art in various styles as the market began to come to life. My favourite piece of art was still in Varadero so I crossed my fingers it would still be there when I got back.

The next stop was the Havana Club Rum tour and drink at the bar.

We then started wandering the streets of old Havana which I could do for days. We generally zigged and zagged in the direction of a few of the places on my to see list.

Although I’d wanted to try catching the Hershey train back to Matanzas and then a taxi to Varadero the locals all seemed to look at me like I was ‘loco’. It wasn’t the first time my travel plans made people think I was crazy. When we first arrived at our B&B we had our owner phone for information and found the trains to be 4am, 11:30 and 4:20. The 4:20 would have worked well timing wise but although we couldn’t figure out why he knew that was a train we shouldn’t take. The 11:30 was ok but not the 4:20. We felt 11:30 was too early so arranged with Pedro for a 4pm taxi back to Varadero. When we met our taxi it was a small Russian car. We hadn’t been specific about what type of taxi we wanted. The drive back was in eventful and I slept most of the way. He did stop in the art market in Varadero so I could get the piece I wanted. It was a low key night back at the resort but we did take in a evening show at the pool.

Equal part R&R and adventure.

Day 2 and album on Flickr

Today was equal part R&R and adventure. I started with another early morning. I was up for breakfast (an omelet today a much better choice) and down the beach by 7:30 to scope out beach chairs. I couldn’t believe how many had been claimed with towels already. Some of the people didn’t arrive for hours while others I never did see. I managed to snag us two loungers in the shade and then made friends with the stray beach dogs. I passed the morning reading my book. When Michelle arrived I went for a walk along the beach followed by a swim in the Caribbean Sea and a pinacolada from the beach bar. When I was getting my second pina colda I watched them put out a steaming pan of paella and grabbed some for lunch. I’m getting smarter about my meal choices. It wasn’t as good as paella I’ve had in Spain but it was my best meal in Cuba so far.

After lunch we had an excursion booked called the Sugar Tour. It gets you out in to a more rural area of Cuba and I recommend it. Though I think the selling feature for many is the two bottles of rum you get for free at the end of the tour. Most of the passengers were older I think my generation and those younger are spending their days drinking on the beach, their nights drinking and partying and their mornings hungover.

The tour starts with a 35 minute bus ride to our starting point a private sugar plantation. Buses are one of my least favorite forms transportation as they often make me nauseous. Today’s ride was in an air conditioned coach but with the bumpy roads I spent most of my time focused on not getting sick in stead of enjoying the scenery. The plantation is a working one who uses machines for the true harvest but for our purposes we got to see the traditional form of harvesting from machetor (machete master). He harvested some fresh sugar cane and we all got to enjoy a piece. We boarded the bus and headed over to a sugar mill that closed years ago and has been turned in to a museum where we learned how they made brown sugar and molasses. There were also numerous trains on display some live music and various vendors.

We then boarded the train to Cardenas this mode of transportation though bumpy and jerky was far more enjoyable. I sat on the floor in the back cart and watched the country side slip by. The open air allowed for a steady breeze.

We had a half an hour stop over in Cardenas and could either head to the museum, have a drink at the bar or explore. I of course opted to explore, though 30 minutes wasn’t nearly long enough. I saw our bus driver have some kind of deep fried street food and opted to follow suit it was very good. I then wanted something to drink, unfortunately bottled water isn’t really an option and tap water we are suppose to avoid. The shops are sort of hidden and each only carry a few items but I found one that carried some form of canned cola which was super sweet but refreshing. I took a lot of photos in that 30 minute time frame as everything caught my eye. Cuba really is like stepping back in time and I’m loving every minute.

It was a low key evening which included a nap, packing for Havana and calamari and rice for dinner followed by ice cream. My food choices are getting smarter and meals are more enjoyable but not quite a culinary tour.

Wildlife settings
Lots of pelicans and turkey vultures
6 stray dogs
Lots of farm animals (goats, chickens, horses, a couple of cows and an UIC (un-identified creature) possibly an ox)

Classic cars and friendly Cubans

So the first full day of Cuban adventures was a lovely one. Went for a morning swim, got the lowdown on excursions, booked a sugar tour for tomorrow and our Taxi to Havana on Tuesday. We lounged by the poolside and I sipped on a pina colada before lunch. After lunch we walked through Varadero looking at the various shops and art markets before returning to our resort for a swim and dinner. We had a low key evening and then bed.

Flickr Photo Album of our walk through town

I can confirm a few things:

First the food, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just cold and bland. Even the breads and desserts lack flavor. There is plenty of food around but spices and seasoning are not used at least not at our resort. Even something as simple as salt and pepper are avoided, at least you can add salt at the table but if you want pepper pack your own. We’ll have to try a meal out eventually and compare. As for the temperature, it’s a lot like this mornings shower lukewarm at best and probably better described as cold. All though my taste buds aren’t loving the food so far my tummy is adjusting just fine. The one thing I’d classify as good is the ice cream. Coconut and mango flavored mmm mmm delicious.

Second that classic cars truly are everywhere. For me the vintage automobiles are one of the main reasons Cuba was so high on my bucket list and day 1 they didn’t disappoint. I probably saw a hundred plus as we walked along 1st street. I don’t think I could ever get sick of seeing them. We made arrangements for a classic car to take us to Havana on Tuesday and give us a city tour before dropping us off at our bed and breakfast for the night I can’t wait. I wonder what kind of car we are getting. I hope it’s a beauty, for now here are some photos I took of the ones cruising along 1st street as we walked along and explored the stores and market stalls.

Thirdly that Cubans are very friendly people. Two examples from today, the first was the twenty something guys playing dominos at a table in the street. I’d read this was a popular passtime and was happy to stumble across our first (of a few) sets of four guys playing. I walked along the block towards them under the guise of snapping photos of other things in the hopes of sneaking one of them. You could tell they were paying attention to me so I finally decided just to ask using my rusty Spanish. One replied ‘un photo por un peso’ the rest all laughed but were surprised when I agreed with a happy si por favor. They smiled for the camera and I snapped my photo. They were shocked when I went to get out my peso and wouldn’t accept it. So I thanked them and went on my way. The second example was a lady who was crocheting at her stall at a little market as she sat waiting to sell her creations. Prior to coming here I’d done some research in to the fibre industry and lack there of and found next to nothing. I’m an avid knitter and love buying yarns when I travel but after numerous google searches I discovered there aren’t really yarn shops. That knitting is scarce but cotton crocheting is more common (and we definitely saw lots of crochet dresses / swim suit cover ups for sale). So after visiting countless stalls of souvenirs and handmade items I was happy to stumble upon her crocheting away. I started a conversation with her it was apparent her English was far worse than my broken Spanish but we fumbled through. She wanted to know if I was looking to buy a dress for me I tried to explain that I was more interested in buying yarn. That I knit although I don’t know the word for yarn or knitting we managed to make sense of each other by the number of tools we use 2 for knitting (in reality I regularly use one circular but that was too complicated to explain) and 1 for crotcheting. She then said she also knew how to use 4 and I agreed that I did too for socks (though once again I use 1 circular). She then tried to explain that she uses cotton which I understood but couldn’t think of the word (all that popped in to my head was Baumwohl, my German is so much better than my Spanish) she then explained that she had used small embellishments of a different yarn gifted to her from a friend in Canada which was some form of acrylic blend. She then asked what colour I was looking for and of course I couldn’t think so tried to explain any colour would do. Now I can easily think of all kinds of colors (blanco, negro, azul, verde, rosa) she asked me to wait while she went home to check. She came back with a cone of peach cotton. After asking quantas cuesto she said it was a gift but I insisted she accept my $5 CUC. She explained how to use the single stand cotton to make balls to knit together many strands. Although I’ve never knit with cones I get the concept my nan talks of the days of a ‘yarn barn’ in the Comox Valley. I thanked her and took a photo of her and her current WIP. After I left I made a promise to myself to either take her some of the sock yarn I brought to knit here or get her address to mail her some. So hopefully I can find her.

Wildlife sightings:
Countless chickens and roosters.
Quite a few skinny stray cats
4 lizards
A couple of dogs that might have been stray or waiting around for their Cuban owners.
I also saw my first ever pelican in the wild though I don’t have a picture he flew overhead while we sat at the pool reading our book and I didn’t have a camera with me.

Now it’s relatively early to bed so we van get out there and get a beach chair tomorrow morning for some R&R before our sugar tour.

Our newest adventure

It’s been a long time since I last posted. My heart really went out of it when I lost George in Fairbanks. I love George 2.0 that was lovingly hand made for me by poppysock company, however he’s just a little too big to throw in my purse and is better suited for adventures with #DornytheBoler

However I needed something smaller for more urban adventures. I tried to replace George but I just couldn’t find one that met my needs. I’ll keep my eye out but In the mean time meet my newest adventure companion in memory of the best dog ever, my Huuna who I had as my real life adventure partner for 12 years and had to put down last summer.

I’d been meaning to post leading up to my latest adventure the trip planning, the excitement etc, however I was busy with work and life and it never quite happened. Now I sit in my hotel room and I just needed to put my thoughts in order. It’s 2am here in Varadero but only midnight back home. That’s right you read correctly I’m in Cuba for Spring Break. It’s been so high on my bucket list for so long I decided to splurge as an early 40th birthday present to myself. In reality it’s happy birthday to me from Grannie, I firmly believe she’d approve when I spend my inheritance on travel. She traveled so many places including Cuba.

So now I’m on my first ever Spring break adventure to a sunny destination. After the cold white winter we had this year it was so nice to arrive in Cuba at 10:05pm local time and have a lovely 26 degrees out.

I’m not sure what counts as day 1. Yesterday when vacation actually started, today our travel day or tomorrow our first full day in Cuba. So far it’s been a great adventure. After work yesterday I headed to the mainland to meet up with Michelle my travel buddy, you last saw her on our Meziadin, Stewart, Hyder adventure and to visit with Francis. We wanted a low key night as we had a big travel day today I suggested pizza ,Francis suggested Nook. It was amazing I highly recommend checking it out. Then on the walk back to his place I saw my first ever Skunk. I was so excited I really wanted to take a picture but also didn’t want to get too close in case I got sprayed.

Travel day started early. We left Francis at 5am to catch the Canada Line to the airport, it sure makes that commute easier. Check in was a slow process but we had plenty of time to kill before our first leg of the journey to Ottawa. I slept most of the way. I’ve heard great things about Ottawa but all I saw was the terminal of the airport for 2 hours. Then we were enroute to Veradero I enjoyed a lovely business class upgrade for that leg it really is a nicer way to travel. Thanks Michelle for sharing your lucky seat assignment.

We are staying at the Gran Caribe Palma Real. The bus ride in was entertaining with our guide as part of our air Canada vacation package. Not a lot to see as it was dark out but you could tell the palm trees were there and the beach was close and occasionally you’d glimpse a classic car out the window. When we arrived at our hotel the lobby was a busy place with a few characters that had enjoyed a little too much at the all inclusive bar, so we had some entertainment. My room is pretty basic but clean. I’m ground flour so it doesn’t have the balcony or view I’d hoped for but it wasn’t too hot and the A/C works so I was happy until I saw the cockroach in the bathroom 😮 . I know it’s par for the course in warmer cultures and that they don’t bite however they gross me right out. I locked him in the bathroom and went to the front desk. When I got there a few groups were back complaining wanting different rooms. I felt bad for her as she was almost sold out. She was happy to hear that all I wanted was for someone to come kill my cockroach or free him, just get him out of my room. One of the bellhops came back to investigate. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t a snake which he said he was afraid of, something new to worry about. I’d left the light on in the bathroom so of course when we looked he was no longer in the shower. I was a little nervous he’d leave me with wondering where the cockroach had disappeared to but no he pulled out his cell phone and turned on his flashlight and got down on his hands and knees looking for the creature. He found him hiding under the bathroom counter and killed him for me, now that is some excellent customer service. I can’t wait to get out and explore tomorrow but for now it’s time for bed.

Wildlife count –
March 17 – one skunk
March 18 – 1 cockroach