A Travellerspoint blog

The End of a fantastic journey


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Six months have flown by so so fast and I feel very priviledged to have been able to make this journey. There was barely a day that went by when I didn't want to stop the clock.

I have witness the most jaw dropping scenaries from the colourful mountains of the Andies and the Valley of the Moon in Argentina to the Salt Flats and breathtakingly beautiful lakes in Bolivia, the powerful wonders of nature of Iguassu Falls in Brazil and Argentia, the night sky with millions of stars in the desert of northen Chile, the amazing Inca ruins in Bolivia and Peru, dozens of beautiful sunsets everywhere and one amazing moon rise in Nicaragua ....

I have trekked on the beautiful Perito Marino glacier in Patagonia, hiked up Wayna Picchu mountain, swam in a piranhas and caimans infested river in Brazil, swam with turtles, sharks and sting rays in Belize, sunbathed next to marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands, climbed an active volcano in Nicaragua, swang 200m above the forest canopy in Costa Rica, put one foot on each hemisphere in Ecuador, and swam in the most beautiful and warm caribbean sea.

I have met the most wonderful people, both travellers and locals and have made many long term friends all over the world. I will never forget the unique place and people of Cuba who, despite their hardship are the friendliest people, full of life and with music everywhere. I hope that the future will ease their hardship so they are able to put their many talents to proper use without spoiling the country with too many modern developments.

I have visited 13 countries, travelled 26,773 miles (43,085 kms), taken 6 flights (excluding outbound and return London flights), spent countless hours on buses and many miles on foot and if I could do it again tomorrow I would.

Thank you to all of those who have followed my journey, I hope my blog has given you joy and perhaps the will to have a go yourself.

The end
Catherine

Posted by Lifeis4living 07:01 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged english Comments (3)

Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Varadero

sunny 26 °C
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Cienfuegos

Next stop is Cienfuegos, further south. We share a taxi with a couple from Quebec, at least we thought it was a taxi, it turns out to be just a guy with a private car who takes us about 1hr away and then we swap cars for the remainder of the journey as he does not have a licence which allows him to go to the next region. We eventually get there though!

Cienfuego is a large town and supposedly the 'pearl of the south'. They said if Cuba had a Paris, this would be it. It is certainly the most restored city I saw and not just thanks to UNESCO money. Cienfuegos is located around a large bay with a shipyard, a thermoelectric plant and it is also the centre of Cuba's shrimp-fishing fleet.

We stay here just one night and visit the town and go to a cabaret/show.

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Trinidad

About an hour away from Cienfuegos, we continue our journey in a beaten up old american car which we shared with a polish couple. No handles on inside for doors or windows, the roof is exposed metal, the seats are patched up with packing tape. I did check the tyres before I got in and they were ok and we do make it to Trinidad without problems. A really pretty little town (quite touristy) with lots of hidden gems behind a simple door.

Whilst walking around, we come across a kind of community hall in a lovely old colonial building, there's a band playing and lots of local people dancing. I can't help but stop and look through the door at all these lovely people of all ages having a great time dancing. It's not long before I get spotted and dragged along for a few dances with this lovely old boy. I think he looks great!

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Trinidad is all cobbled streets, people are friendly without being pushy (in tourist shops) and there is music at every street corner. They have an area called 'Casa de la Musica' which is just above some large steps from the square where there's music playing all the time. It is a great place and always full of people just having a drink and listening to the music or dancing. There are also a lot of artists selling their paintings, many of which I really liked.

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I loved walking around and watching people, I took one of my favourite photos of Cuba here.

Only a few streets away from the centre though you can see some real poverty with houses in a bad way. As I was walking around, a lady came to me and asked me if I had any soap or shampoo or cream. I felt so terrible that I went back to my hostel and got as much stuff as I could manage without and went back to give it to her. She was so delighted!

The next day we take a taxi to Playa Ancon, a few miles away and our first beach in Cuba. The sea is warm and the beach is not at all busy. It is very hot though, in the 30s.

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I then say goodbye to Simon who has more time than me in Cuba so is able to travel all the way to the south. I spend the day looking a little more at the art shops and in the evening I meet two girls from Brittany who have also spotted the little place selling 'crepes' lol We spend the evening together chatting sitting on the steps and listening to the live music.

Varadero

Situated about 140Km east of Havana, Varadero is one of the largest resort town in Cuba with a peninsula consisting 20 kms of white sandy beach. After checking into my casa, I take a walk around and check out the beach, there are hardly anyone there! This is meant to be the most touristy area of Cuba! In fact the 'luxury' hotels (still by Cuba standards) are located at the end of the peninsula quite far from the town so I expect that is where all the Canadians and Italians are (they are the most common tourists in Varadero). So it is great for me, a beach almost to myself! :)

It is my last few days before going back to Havana and then home and I spend much time looking at the art shops, I love their art and have ended up buying quite a few paintings as well as a couple of crochet dresses made by local women.

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Posted by Lifeis4living 08:13 Archived in Cuba Tagged english Comments (0)

Viñales

sunny 26 °C
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Viñales
After queueing 2 hours the previous day to get our bus ticket (only one ticket desk open at a time and many tourists), we arrive in Vinales, about 3 hrs west of Habana and home to much of the tobacco plantations. There are no hostels outside Havana so we are now staying in 'Casa Particulares', Cuban's version of Bed and Breakfasts with optional dinner. These have opened thanks since the 2011 licence law and now much benefit from the growing tourism.

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In the afternoon, we go for a 3 hr horse ride in the countryside amongst fields with pinapples, avocados, mangos, sugar cane, beans and tobacco. We visit a tobacco plantation where Omar explains the process of growing, harvesting, drying and making cigars. Each plantation owner has to sell 90% of their crop to the states who buy the dried leaves for their factories where chemicals are added and the cigars are rolled and branded. The farmer is allowed to keep 10% for himself and for selling privately. These are not branded and do not have chemicals. They often make an infusion with honey, and a mixture of fruit leaves which give their cigars some flavour.

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On the 2nd day, we hire a couple of bikes and go off looking for a waterfall some 17 kms away. On the way we stop to eat some deliciously fresh pinapples from a man who has just harvested some. I love fresh pineapple! The secondary roads are in a terrible condition and we have to be quite careful as there are holes and broken tarmac everywhere. The man selling the pineapples tells us that the road was built by the French in 1967 and it doesn't look like it's been touched since! Perhaps they are waiting for the French to come back and repair it. :)

After meeting mainly very old tractors, horses and oxes, we eventually find our waterfall (no sign post anywhere so we had to ask several times) and jump into for a refreshing swim.

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Posted by Lifeis4living 08:23 Archived in Cuba Tagged english Comments (0)

Havana

sunny 30 °C
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It is difficult to describe my first impression, our taxi is a 25 year old Lada, outside the architecture is very square, very grey and very bleak, although I have never been to Russia, it is how I imaged it would have been years ago. The lorries we pass by are from the 60s. As it says in the tourist books, it is as Fidel Castro pressed stop on the evolution button in the 60s and that is where they have stayed. There are a few modern cars too but not very many other than rental cars.

There is no advertising here, the only billboards we see along the road are pictures of a young Fidel Castro or Che Guevara with socialist slogans and reminders of the revolution and how good it is for the people.

As we approach the centre, we see all the old american cars which Habana is so famous for (although they are all over the country). Some look well restored and maintained but most show their age and contribute to the heavy pollution along with the old trucks and buses which cough out a lot of black smoke.

The cars
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After checking in at the hostel and despite our lack of sleep, we decide to look around the old city centre and jump on the hop on/hop off bus which is a good way to get your bearings in a new place.

Havana is a fascinating city with some beautifully restored colonial buildings and hotels along with derelict houses, some of which are still occupied, and others just rubbles. Everyone lives in the streets and sells their wares in the streets, mostly by shouting out what they are selling. Here you have to queue for everything, the bank, the market, the shops. At the market we see long queues of local people who come to see what they can get for the day as not everything is available. The non-tourist shop windows are almost bare and every shop seem to sell everything they have been able to source so there isn't a clothes shop, a shoe shop etc. We walked into a large shop and it had ventilators, shoes, alcohol, a few kids clothes, toilet paper, some juicers, just all sorts of random supplies which they have been to get.

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Many roads are in a terrible condition with holes everywhere. The Malecon is Havana's 8km sea front which has the same mixture of crumbling colonial hotels, austere 60s building blocks and renovated colonial hotels. We are told that money from Canada and Europe are helping with the renovation of some of the buildings.

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On my return to Habana for the last 2 days of my trip, I visited the 'Museo de la Revolution' which is located inside the old Presidential Palace. A very grand building where you can also see the old Presidential Office where Fidel Castro was assigned Prime Minister and Che Guevara was appointed President of the National Bank and also made a Cuban citizen. There is a large room 'the Hall of Mirrors' designed to resemble the Versailles one which is currently under renovation.

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The museum itself is very interesting, if very one sided, giving a chronological account starting at pre-colonial time until the present day socialist regime. It ends with a satirical mural of Batista (the dictator president before the revolution), Reagan, Bush Sn and Bush Jn. In case you can't read the writing:

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Next to Batista: 'Thank you cretin for helping us TO MAKE THE REVOLUTION'
Next to Reagan: 'Thank you cretin for helping us TO STRENGTHEN THE REVOLUTION'
Next to Bush Sn: 'Thank you cretin because you've helped us TO CONSOLIDATE OUR REVOLUTION'
Next to Bush Jn: 'Thank you cretin for helping us TO MAKE SOCIALISM IRREVOCABLE'

The people
Despite their hardship, the Cubans are lovely people full of life and real characters. Ladies on the main boulevard making crochet dresses, people selling their property with details written on a cardboard cutout.

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Posted by Lifeis4living 07:37 Archived in Cuba Tagged buildings people english Comments (0)

I love Cuba - Fascinating, complex and vibrant

sunny 30 °C
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2nd March
With a little trepidation, I make my way to Cancun airport for my last destination - country number 13 (and last) on this trip - Cuba. My first job of obtaining a tourist card was easy, just hand in 300 pesos and you get your bit of paper. I then get in the queue to check in (first class as it was the only ticket left when I booked) so the queue is not too long. However, I am told there is no plane and they do not know when it is coming! This is not uncommon with Cubana airline (in fact it happens a lot) so they register the luggage but do not take the bag away. We are told to wait by the Cubana ticket office.

An hour later, we are told that our 4pm plane will now leave at 00.50! Fortunately they put us on a bus and take us to a nice hotel back in Cancun where we each get a nice room for just a few hours! I haven't been in a room this luxurious in my whole trip! After a complimentary dinner I try and get a little sleep.

At 11pm back on the bus and we (that is the first class passengers and the rest up to 250 people) eventually board a smaller Russian plane. The rest of the passengers will have to wait till the next day!

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We arrive in Havana airport at 2.00am and I am with a 30 yr old German guy who is looking for a hostel. We decide to wait till daylight to take a taxi into the city first because we don't want to arrive at a hostel in the middle of the night and also because we want to be able to get our first impression of Cuba in daylight. So we wait in this very bare airport. The only ATM does not work so we have no money either.

At about 6.30am, they have refilled the ATM so I am able to get money and Simon changes some Mexican Pesos, we're finally off to discover Cuba.

A few facts/dates

Population of Cuba is 11 millions and about a quarter of them live in Habana where there are 200 people per square km. It is a very young country with 60% of the population between 15 and 60 yrs old. Only 12% are above 60 and 22% are around 15 yrs old.
Whilst 70% of the cuban population is white, descendants from European countries, it has also many african descendants and the whole mixture of heritages gives it its unique vibe. The cubans are extremely friendly people and not as pushy towards tourists like many other countries.

Education and health care are totally free and many are very talented but cannot currently earn enough. The top salary for a fully qualified doctor is the equivalent of £52 a month. For this reason many qualified professionals have given up their jobs to work in the tourism industry as waiters for example where they can earn more with tips in order to feed their family.

2006 - Raoul Castro takes over from his brother Fidel as president and starts to reform regime
2008 - Cubans are allowed access to tourists hotels and allowed to purchase mobile phones and other electronic goods
Jan 2011 - 1million government workers are laid off and the private sector is stimulated by granting business licences to 178 state recognised professions
Oct 2011 - legalisation of car sales and allowing Cubans to buy and sell their homes
2012 - Cubans are allowed to freely travel abroad for the first time since 1961 (although not as easy as it sounds)
2014 - Relations with the US under Obama starts to open and everyone wonders what the future will bring for Cuba

Privately, the young people have had enough and cannot wait for the death of Fidel Castro (now 88 yrs old), hopefully the end of the embargo and for the country to open their doors and for allow the economy to grow and the Cuban talent to flourish.

Posted by Lifeis4living 04:16 Archived in Cuba Tagged english Comments (0)

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