Posts Tagged ‘Vinales Valley’

Family & Friends

August 1, 2019

I have some new ones in both categories.

I should be more specific.

I have new family of choice, not of origin.

Though heaven knows I have enough family out there that it would not surprise me in the least if a cousin had a baby and I had no clue.

What I am referring to is Cuban family.

I received the sweetest, most heartfelt gratitudes and thank you from the Cuban people I connected with when I was in Havana today.

Yesterday I finally hopped on Air BnB and reviewed the experiences that I had booked in Cuba.

Normally I don’t actually do reviews on Air BnB.

I have never booked experiences before though and I was asked by each person that hosted me to review them on the site.

Apparently it really helps them and considering the state of economics in Cuba I was more than happy to help in anyway I could.

I gave 5 stars (out of five) to all but one of the experiences.

The one I only gave 4 to wasn’t necessarily the hosts fault.  I gave a lesser rating to my trip to Vinales because the tour tried to pack too much into it.

First, Vinales is almost, not quite, but almost  two hour drive from Havana, so that’s four hours in a car, a classic car–which is at once super cool and also, not comfortable.  At least not nearly as comfortable as a modern car. It was a great car, but my legs were cramped for sure.

Second, the tour really could have, in my opinion, ended after the horse back riding and lunch.

The first thing we did was stop at the Vinales Valley visitor center and take in the panorama of the valley.

It was gorgeous.

After a little education about the valley we headed to a tobacco and coffee farm to learn about how they grow tobacco and to smoke cigars and drink rum.

I did neither of those things.

I did, however have coffee and I bought two bottles of coffee beans.

Yes.

I said bottles.

The country has almost no manufacturing capabilities, everything gets reused and recycled, so my beans came in reused water bottles.

Lovely beans too.

I have been having Cuban coffee every morning since I got back.

Then after the cigars, rum, coffee we went horseback riding through the valley.

It was gorgeous and unfortunately being on a horse did not really facilitate me taking a lot of photos.  No pictures of horses for you.

It was hot though, whew, sweat galore.

After the horses we went to a local paladar and had an amazing Cuban lunch–yucca, lobster, squash, beans and rice, stewed pork, chicken two different ways and I had, for my drink, a huge young coconut that I happily sipped all the juice from and ate the entirety of the insides.

Baby coconut is so freaking good.

Then we went to a cave.

Then we went to a mural.

I did not like the cave, it was too dark and wet and it was hot, it did not feel cool being underground and there were bats and we rode a boat at one point.

I did not need that experience.

Nope.

The best thing about the cave?

Literally the light at the end of the tunnel.

After that we got back in the car and went to visit a famous mural.

Now I am done at this point and the cave had been a pretty popular tourist destination so for the only time I was in Cuba, I had to wait in line to do something.

Never my cup of tea.

The mural was nice, but it was nice, not amazing and it was late and a free pina colada was not to my liking.  Just give me the water and get me home.

And that was my “worst” time?

Please, I got to ride in a classic car, meet cool people, go horse back riding, buy coffee from a Cuban farm, go spelunking and visit a national monument (the mural).  I have nothing to complain about.

The rest of my experiences reflected just that, nothing to complain about, nothing that I would have changed or made better.

I had a slight critique of feeling dropped at Mediteranneo Habana, but it was such a tiny glitch I didn’t give them a negative review.

It was a farm to table experience where I went out and had a tour of the farm that provides meat, milk, cheese, sausage, cured meats, chicken, pig, rabbit, vegetables, all the fruits–bananas, sugarcane, mango, guava, and herbs to this very highly regarded Mediterranean restaurant in Verdado.

The farm was beautiful and I was met by the manager of the farm, his family has been running the farm for 5 generations.  He was super kind, very friendly, had great English, and greeted me with a heaping plate of mango, watermelon, pineapple, and guava.

It was lovely.

I felt so welcomed and really got a grasp of what it is like to farm in Cuba.

Where almost all the farm’s production goes straight to the government.

They are not allowed to keep any of the beef they produce and only 10% of the milk they produce.  The milk they use to make cheese for the restaurant.  I tried four different kinds between the ricotta and the fresh mozzarella I was astounded.  They were so good.

The farm also gives the government almost all pork produced and a fair amount of the eggs and chickens.

I was amazed they are able to stay in production.

It was quite a behind the scenes look at farming and I really enjoyed my meal later at the restaurant.  The transition between the two was a little bumpy, but like I said, the food and the waiter who took care of me pretty much negated it.

And here I am at the end of my blog time, I’ve got to get up early for group supervision and I haven’t even got to the three top experiences that I went on.

They will have to wait for the next blog.

Buenes Noches!

 

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First Book Ordered

July 26, 2019

And summer is done.

Well.

Not quite.

I still have a few weeks before school starts, but I am already doing just a little reading for this upcoming semester.

I said I wouldn’t touch school books until after my trip to Cuba.

I got back Tuesday night at 7a.m.

My god.

My bed was so nice to get into.

I love to travel, I really do, but there is nothing quite like your own bed.

Especially after sleeping 8 nights on a really hard mattress.  I have to admit I was a little let down when I saw my room, but after doing a walking tour of old Havana with a local architect, I got over that shit.

My casa, in comparison to much around me, was really quite nice.

It is one thing to know about the Cuban embargo.

It is another thing entirely to experience it.

The country is poor.

I mean.

Really poor.

And dirty, the streets are disastrous, the cars are all old and there is no smog control, so much exhaust.

So much.

And not actually that many cars, lots of classics, yes, which was fun, I won’t lie, and super cool to see, but there were lots of horses and carts too.

Horses and carts people.

Traveling from Havana to Vinales one day for a trip to visit a tobacco and coffee farm, I counted more horses and carts than actual cars on the freeway.

ON THE FREAKING HIGHWAY.

More horses then cars.

I am not kidding.

These were some of the cars I got to see and go for rides in.  I actually went for more rides in classic cars than regular cars, I didn’t actually take photos of them all.

Sometimes I don’t want to act like a tourist.

Even though I am totally a tourist, I just couldn’t really bring myself to pose on the cars, it didn’t feel like me.

I did, however, quite enjoy cruising around in them, especially when they had A/C.

It was fucking hot.

It was humid.

So humid.

My hair did some batshit crazy things.

And I was constantly sweating.

Er.

Glowing.

I was glowing.

A lot.

 

As you can see, I was “glowing” quite a bit.

I also learned to wear my hair up real fast.

Real fast.

And I was hella grateful that I had brought a travel umbrella.

I actually didn’t use it that much for rain.

There were some showers and one big storm, with hail!

But mostly, I used the umbrella for sun shade.

I was reminded a lot of Burning Man in that regard.  I usually  bring a parasol for the hot days out on playa.

In fact.

Havana reminded me a lot of Burning Man and in some ways having had the experience of going to the event was actually very handy.

I had to bring everything that I wanted or needed.

There were no stores to buy sunblock or extra toothpaste.

I had to use my water filter bottle or buy bottled water, there is no drinking water from the faucets.

Everyone buys bottled water.

Everyone.

It was really dirty, Old Havana is all cobblestone and dirt roads.

I mean.

500 year old cobblestones ain’t clean.

Plus add dogs, cats, and chickens to the mix, garbage, and potholes everywhere.

I’m super glad my friend who had been before cautioned me to wear really sturdy shoes and to bring anything that I might want because I was not going to be able to purchase it there.

I cannot tell you what it was like to see people queuing up for chicken, or to buy one bread roll.

The black market is a real thing there and I found out that I had participated without even knowing it by eating beef one night.

All beef is allocated to the government, restaurants are allowed to have it.

I had it and that means that it was bought on the black market.

Most of the time though I did stick with Cuban classics and I was quite happy with that.

My casa had breakfast every morning, fruit–usually a slice  of watermelon, some papaya, 1/2 a banana and slices of mango with coffee followed by one egg and one slice of avocado.

No bread for me, which my host couldn’t quite understand, but I’m sure she was happy to have the extra roll I sent back each morning.

I dined in a lot of private restaurants, basically in people’s homes.

And I found a couple of cafes that became my haunts, Cafe Bohemia and Papa Ernesto.

Aside, Che Guevero’s given name is Ernesto.

 

This is Cafe Bohemia.

I was so happy to have Pellegrino and mango blended with ice, which they called frappes.  I had a lot of mango.

A lot.

My poop turned orange.

I know.

But it did!

I have never had orange poo before.

Anyway.

The cafe was a life saver as too was Mas Habana.

A restaurant I never would have stumbled upon on my own as it was down a super dirty street with a lot of construction on it.

But I had made a reservation to do a tour of the houses in Old Havana and my host wanted to meet there.

It was a fucking oasis.

An air conditioned oasis.

I went back every day from that point on, either for lunch or for dinner.

On my last day I went there for both lunch and dinner.

I was the queen of beverages at every meal.

San Pellegrino.

Mango frappe.

Cafe con leche.

I had the same amazing appetizer each time, sometimes it was just my meal since I filled up on all the bevvies, tostones rellenos–stuffed fried plantains.

OOOOOH.

So damn good.

Mashed plantains made into patty’s, fried, and then topped with smashed avocado and a shrimp.

I was in heaven.

 

Mas Habana was my little haven.

And on my last night, I splurged and had lobster.

Also black market.

But, fuck it, it was my last night and I knew it was going to be good.

It was in fact, amazing, bathed in a beautiful garlic broth and shelled for me.

All I had to do was scoop it up in a spoon and sigh with delight.

The staff was great and my last night discounted my bill, “for being such a nice customer.”

I am a good tipper.

Once a waitress.

Always a waitress.

I had many more adventures, but I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.

So more pictures to come.

And more tales to tell.

I have a few more days before I need to knuckle back down for school, I promise I’ll show and tell a bit more before I get buried in the reading.

Promise.


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