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Cuban Vacation…Part X

Saturday morning after an early rise, and I mean early. The pick up was at 7:30 at a neighbouring hotel. I departed for Vinales via a Cubatur bus at a cost of 55 C.U.C.. There was a lady waiting outside the hotel when we arrived and then a gentlemen join a few moments before the guide arrived. My friend and I were leisurely talking about the tour when the man interjected, asking if I was from Canada. Easily this time I could tell he was from New Zealand. We just exchanged names when the tour guide arrived and we were off.

Our first stop was a coffee-house, juice bar and souvenir shop. This is a nice model for tours, as people generally like to get off a bus to stretch their legs for a few minutes. As there were many people, I grabbed a table. As I looked onward, there was our New Zealander that we met at the hotel. I extended a smile and waved him over. He came to join in and we started talking. The discussion first started with music, but changed to community gardens and development. I boldly made the statement, you must be a community activist! He smiled at me and said he was a Member of Parliament. He enlightened me on the proportional voting-system they have adopted versus the Canadian first past the post system. We got to engage in some interesting conversation. Before too long we realized we were well overdue and hoped our bus did not leave without us.

The second stop was a Rum Factory. Since it was Saturday, there were no actual production workers on site. Instead the guide explained the machinery and production. She gave us some sort of berry to taste which formulated into the equation  of the tasty liquor we later sampled. I purchased a bottle and some coffee as my brother-in-law instructed me to bring him back a bag.

The next stop, a tobacco farm where cigars were being manufactured. We saw workers preparing the bundles of dried leaves. The smell of molasses and tobacco filled the shelter. After a brief presentation we moved outside and later the group was given a demonstration on rolling a cigar from raw materials.

The views were breath-taking. Once more we stopped and had the option of purchasing the sugar cane juice with or without rum, pending an individual’s taste.

As we climbed the stairs to the limestone caves, there was some reprieve from the outside humidity. The interior was cool, with drops of water falling on occasion. We walked through little crevaces to emerge to a larger opening and a small stream of water.

A small motor boat would take use through the little canal. We were told there were animals and other images to be seen. I guess it is like looking at the clouds or stars, sometimes there is something that just pops out at you.

There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Outside, the sunshine poured down once more. There were tables of wooden souvenirs, Cuban artwork, beads and mementos. I try to refrained from purchasing souvenirs, as I am a frequent flyer and these things can certainly add up if you have to bring gifts back to your entire clan of family and friends.

We were told we would see a wall mural from the 1800’s. I imaged something not quite so extravagant. This piece of art dominated the hillside. Alas, my camera battery was near the end of its life and the photos from this point on were limited. We had a delicious meal and further discussion with our MP acquaintance. We found out we were staying at the same hotel, thus continued our chat until the lobby and said farewell.

I liked the creativity the housekeeper had when she put together this swan and basket with a special note. It sometimes are these little things that makes a stay quite memorable. Have you had an experience at a Hotel, B&B, Inn, Hostel or Cottage where the owner/operators or employees did something to wow you?

Stay tuned for one final part of my Cuban vacation and the journey back to Rural NL…

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

 

 

Cuban Vacation…Part IX

The Governor’s House was out next stop. It was quite an exquisite place to venture, as it had a nice green space in the courtyard. The road of the square on the front had the cobblestones replaced with wooden blocks that resembled bricks. It was apparently changed at the request of the Governor, as the horses clinking on the stone kept him up at night.

The former residence is now a museum. The lower level  had coaches, carriages and related items. There were two employees quite eager to take some photos with us. They noted they would pull the rope back and let us see the most important coach, the one that belonged to the Governor.

They had taken several snaps. I had tried to explain that the placement of us would not get a good photo of the carriage as we were standing at the focal point of the object. However, the bad photo ops continued as we moved through the museum. The employees eagerly asked us to have our camera and take some photos for us and take us to what seemed like a prohibited area. It has ended up with several dozen humourous photos. After about four rounds we would have no more of it. Some basic photography skills are needed for more serious photos, but I reflect on this moment and tears almost come to my eyes. I will not forget the insistence of us taking photos by the pair of marble bathtubs, a dresser and the bed, which the person commented to the tune of “No Six” and smiled. Immediately, I thought of a character by the name of Eleanor, a 90 year-old sex therapist, who would have something to say about that one.

All jokes aside, if local people are interested in tweaking their photo-taking abilities, they may wish to consider enrolling in the digital photography course offered at the College of North Atlantic, St. Anthony Campus. I am still working on completing it.

After providing some coins and exchanging monies we left. We passed a couple of peacocks and left for a rest before dinner and some nightly entertainment.

My German colleague, whom I met in the Czech Republic several years ago made his vacation to learn Spanish. I asked him to teach me a few sentences of German.

Here is what I learned:

German: Ich bin aus Neufundland and ich mag schokolade

English: I am from Newfoundland and I love chocolate

German: Ich moche einen Mojito!

English: I would like a Mojito!

I think I would need a lot of practise to become conversational in German, especially since some of the enunciation is quite different from how I am use to speaking. I often wonder if people would be interested in learning more about our rural dialects and if they too find it challenging? I may only have to look back to the few people I have Screeched-in to make Honorary Newfoundlanders to know the phrase “in’deed ’tis me ol’ cock and long may ya’ big jib draw” is not as easy as it sounds.

That night we went to a Gran Concierto of Bueno Vista Social Club nature with 9 stars. The cost was 50 C.U.C. per person, which included a three-course meal.

There were dancers, singers and entertainers of all sorts as they worked the room. There was a lot of life and attention paid to these true stars. They had talent, just like rural Newfoundland has natural talent – no lip synching or special Hollywood effects.

One of the men, wearing white and blue with a Harry Hibs hat came up and shook my hand. I’m practically almost famous! Despite the poor service and mediocre food, the entertainment made the night. Joining the conga line was more than memorable and so much fun!

The night reminded me of being at a good old-fashioned Newfoundland kitchen party. Everyone had smiles on their faces and were quite happy to take part in the festivities to the sound of great music.

Stay tuned for the final couple of days of the Cuban vacation. It will take you to Vinales and also reveal the New Zealand connection. There is no need to miss a post, subscribe to the Live Rural NL blog by entering your email near the top right corner and get updates in your email. If you missed a post on the Cuban vacation, I’ve included some related links below. All of them can be found under the Category of Vacations.

Enjoy Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

Cuban Vacation…Part VII

The series of squares and Old Town Havana in part reminded me of being in Europe. The impressive architecture would capture the attention of any North American, as our vernacular architecture is different in many ways – style, size, material, age to name a few examples.

Old Town Square

Church at San Fransico Square.

The fountain in the square.

We took a stroll along the Caribbean sea, along the waterfront promenade.

The Old Town Havana is under restoration with many of the buildings getting a new lease on life, while others still require a facelift. One did not have to veer too far away to see that not all regions of Havana had the same level of prosperity. As we strolled along the water front I was briefly reminded of my roots of rural Newfoundland & Labrador. A series of small fishing vessels were moored in the harbour, while a couple of men were trying to catch some fish at shore’s edge. I reflected of a time, nearly two decades ago when my father and I went fishing on the wharf in an attempt to catch some rock cod. We were successful! I remember also catching some flatfish, unwanted sculpins and even a catfish. I kept the eely catfish for a couple of days before I realized he did not make a good pet and needed to be released back into the ocean.

After spending the morning under the suns rays of nearly 35 degree temperatures, we sought shade under a large tree. We were readily befriended by a local who chatted it up with us. He told us about a concert happening later that night due to the National Holiday. That he could get us cheap tickets. We passed on the offer. He disappeared and came back handing us two cigars. We noted that we did not want. He would not take no for an answer and insisted they were gifts. A gift in fact that you pay whatever you would like to give. :(. I do not miss the constant pressure from some locals to provide them with money. However, it is hard for me to judge as I am unaware of the personal circumstances and adversity that may challenge these  individuals. To move things along we stopped by the Museo de la Revolucion (Revolution Museum). The impressive building had an immaculate dome that caught my attention. It had memorabilia, information and praised national heroes.

The Granma Memorial and Gardens we were guarded. One must be careful not to loiter or sit as they will get a whistle blown from the careful watch of a guard at his post. There is an exhibit of war vehicles, including cars, tanks, planes and boats.

After spending the day sightseeing and walking many streets we had a rest to escape from the shade. Additionally, at the hotel I tried to purchase Internet. It appeared to be a rare commodity. The cards were not for sale at the front desk. The store hours at the hotel werre limited and when I did manage to talk to the worker, she did not have cards for sale. Quite often I heard, check back tomorrow. It was actually a blessing to be away from technology – where I was not frequently checking my Blackberry, Email, Facebook account or even posting on my blog.

That evening we have a meal and a couple of drinks at a quiet restaurant on the square. A great meal for a mere $10.00. It as quite the find. It was time to call it a day and make the most of the final two days of the vacation, as on Sunday I would be starting my way back to Varadero and making a flight that night for Canada.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

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Cuban Vacation….Part VI

I’ve left my readers in suspense long enough and owe it to you all to finish the stories of my Cuban vacation. In Cuban Vacation….Part V, I ended with a teaser with the hope of meeting two wonderful women at Casa de La Musica.

Another Fabulous Cuban Meal by Addys

After leaving the pub, Umberto took us to visit his mother and little brother. His mother had made some lovely fabric dolls that were quite colourful, which his brother watched cartoons in Spanish with a friend. It was different to see the way the locals lived in Cuba. At 20:00 a large meal of pork, black bean rice, fried bananas, fruit, side salad served with coffee and ice-cream for dessert. We hurried to eat our meal, get decked out and swing by Casa de La Musica.

Stairs at Casa de La Musica

We climbed the stairs and who would be highly visible but the two wonderful women I met earlier from Birmingham, who turned out to be Kate and Alice. We had found out that we were heading in different directions in the morning, but still enjoyed each others company. We had hours of storytelling and laughter with the playful music continuing in the backdrop before receiving a goodnight kiss. It was like a midsummer’s night dream.

In the morning, Kate & Alice noted they would leave for a waterfall. Tobias and I decided we would give them a send off; unfortunately we were unsuccessful finding the departure of the tour company. Alas, we left Dr. Suerez after writing a nice comment in their book and taking the long ride on the Viazul bus to Havana, some 300+ KM away and more than 6 hours of driving.

A Vintage Car...One of Many

 I slept most of the way and was quite happy to arrive at Hotel Los Frailes, which was a former monastery. The rooms had towering 14 ft ceilings, with wooden furnishings and was poorly lit, partly due to the fact there was no window. One can only imagine the life of a monk several hundred years ago, living in this room – it was quite the masterpiece.

The Key...it had a little Monk!

The key was quite heavy and had a little figurine of a monk. It was a nice feature. Maybe an idea for local accommodators to incorporate something culturally significant to their operation for a small cost, but will get people to notice and keep them talking. Local ventures like Fisherman’s Landing, Torrent River Inn, Sea Echo Motel, Tuckamore Lodge, Mayflower Inn, Vahalla Lodge, Viking Nest and others may be able to utilize this tactic.

Towering Doors

The towering doors had a peep-hole, which had a latch and several drills. It made me think of time that was more medieval.

Hanging Chandelier

The hanging chandelier looked like it required a stepladder to climb and light the candles. It was a very good knock-off and I was pleased they had upgraded to electricity, even if it took a while to light the room.

Furnishings and use of wood trims

Dinner was at a nearby restaurant that had a platform with a band and two dancers that made great use of the floor to vibes of  Cha Cha. I ventured into the wine cellar to pull out a Spanish Chardonnay. The Big Sword was my order, filled with a variety of grilled seafood. Believe me if was quite the feast….if you do not, the photo below will speak for itself.

The Big Sword

My friend Tobias had a little sword (a skewer). The baby version more or less. The meal was quite enjoyable and I was quite eager to explore the Old Town of Havana in the early AM, after getting a taste of the flavour during the evening.

Part VII will be posted soon. Don’t miss a post by subscribing to my blog by entering your email at the top of the page. You will get an email telling you of a new post.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

 

Cuban Vacation…Part V


The amount of green vegetation was quite the shocker for me. There were many impressive fields, trees and forests thriving in Cuba. Some of this may be due to the exceptional amount of humidity in the air.

One of the stops via train led us to a restaurant and bar. We ventured inside to get refreshments to quench our thirst. The temperature almost unbearable, with my clothing getting wetter by the moment as I perspired. A bottle of icy cool water never tasted so wonderful as it did at that moment.

Suddenly, a guy from the train told us that just down the stairs there was a contraption to press sugar cane to have a juice. He noted it was better with added rum for just 2 C.U.C. We ventured down. Little did we know we would be put to work pushing this device.

A two person job and a couple of turns we had enough juice collected for a couple of drinks.

The delicious end product – with rum for extra flavor.


After catching the train, we returned to Trinidad. Tobias and I met up with Umberto at the park. He toured with us, showing hidden gems of Trinidad. He also kept trying to sell us on visiting a family restaurant, despite us telling him that we had made previous commitments with our Casa for a traditional meal at 8 PM.

We were going for ice-cream, but instead walked to the Casa de La Musica. We opted to spend some of the afternoon at a nearby bar. We had rounds of Mojito‘s and Buchanero beer for all. It was an afternoon of sharing a few drinks and trying to talk to Umberto without him knowing English and myself not knowing Spanish. A little bit of friend and a good translator in Tobias we were able to have some conversation.

Suddenly there was a scream from a nearby table. A snake had dropped from the vine ceiling. The music was great, when suddenly my attention was no longer with Tobias and Umberto but two beautiful women across the room. The brunette and I had shared a few smiles with our eyes and the blond reminded me of a certain Doctor Heritage. Since Tobias was engrossed with trying to explain in broken Spanish my position of working for a non-profit in Rural Newfoundland & Labrador conducting Community Economic Development and business development services. I had to get up, in one part because I knew they had a good story to tell and secondly I had to passed them to get to the restroom.

The ladies greeted my presence with a smile. From hello I tried to get their accent and had asked the blond if she was from New Zealand (we later did make a connection from New Zealand); however, this women was currently enrolled in her third year of medicine in the United Kingdom. We had some beginners chat about the UK, Cuba and not wanting to overdo my visit let them know we would be going to Casa de La Musica at 9-9:30 PM. They noted they would hope to meet us there.

Stay tuned for more adventures of Cuba in Part VI.
Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore

 

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