I have lots of stories and photos to share about my latest cruising adventure. As I posted earlier, it was a cruise where the passengers choose which ports we would visit. So, where did we go? Here is an overview of the cruise:
From Southampton, we sailed 530 nautical miles to Leixoes, Portugal and a visit to Oporto.
In many ways, this year’s challenge was much easier for me for many reasons. This year, I planned a more concentrated theme as compared to last year which was a collection of some of my favourite travel stories. I had also just returned from my trip to Cuba and this gave me a fresh outlook on my experiences. In addition to planning the daily posts, I actually pre-wrote and scheduled publishing of each. That made such a difference, as I was able to write and add photos when I had more time and then not worry about publishing – it was automatic!
I really enjoyed sharing my stories of Cuba, since it is a unique travel destination and one that some people may never get to experience. My challenge was to keep some of my own ideological viewpoints in check because I was not writing from a political viewpoint, but from a travel perspective. It was sometimes hard to hide, though. I was also very careful in how I described some of the unique, traditional religious practices. Fully discussing Santeria beliefs and practices would fit in a different blog and not necessarily one on travel. That said, I hope that I did honour the tradition in some very small and simple way.
Here is a re-cap of my A to Z Challenge: my travelogue of Cuba!
As the April 2015 A to Z Challenge ends, so do my stories about my 2015 trip to Cuba. I’m sure I have more tales to tell, but for now, I need to draw this to a close. What else can I say about Cuba? Well, I highly recommend travelling to Cuba, but go with an open mind. This is not Europe – Cuba is unique and there are no words to describe the differences. Here are some of my tips to make your Cuba adventure truly remarkable.
Immigration: I’ve seen many posts from people complaining about immigration rules or security. Yes, it can take time to get through immigration checks, yet, what’s the hurry? You’re on vacation and you’re in a beautiful place! Relax, let immigration officials do what they need to do and soon, you will be sitting on the beach, mojito in hand. Just don’t forget to carry your passport and tourist visa! They need to check it. When you do finally go to the airport to leave, don’t forget to pay your $25.00 CUC airport tax BEFORE getting into the immigration line, otherwise, you’ll end up standing in the immigration line twice.
Safety: Cuba is one of the safest places I’ve visited. As a solo traveler, I had no problem getting around on my own in Havana and I felt very safe. If I said “no” to someone, I was left alone. However, when I travel, I am very aware of my surroundings and I know my limitations. It is a matter of trusting your instincts. Cubans are friendly and helpful, but if something doesn’t feel right – stop and get back to a place where you do feel safe. It’s the same advice I would use no matter where I travel – even where I live in Toronto!
Try something new: Do try to get “out of your comfort-zone” by trying new food, exploring different beliefs, or simply talking to people! Remember my comment at the beginning of this post — keep an open mind! Learn, discover … that’s why you should visit Cuba! The resorts are nice – and if you are escaping winter for a brief respite, I do understand curling up on a sandy beach with a drink and a book. But please try, for at least one day, to get off the resort and see some of the country!
Look beyond the surface: While many people notice nothing more than the poverty of Cuba, I noticed that it was very clean, people treated each other with respect, and they have so much joy to share. Cuba is unique and very special, so put aside any judging and preconceived notions. Embrace all Cuba has to offer.
Above all, dance, laugh drink and have the time of your life!
It is very possible to see practitioners of an Yoruba-based religions, typically called Santeria by many people, while travelling in Cuba. Practitioners honour the spirits of Orisha and ancestors. There are several different Orishas, each with their own attributes and symbols. One of them is Yemanja, who is associated with the sea. Before coming to Cuba, I was told I would have an encounter with an Orisha. I figured it would be because of some of the places I wanted to visit. I was not expecting to be walking down a crowded street in downtown Havana and be approached by an older woman wearing white and blue. But there she was, walking towards me with her arms opened wide to hug me and give me a kiss on the cheek. And then, she was gone, vanished into the crowd. I think being blessed by the Mother of the Sea was a good omen for my cruise around the island!
You may encounter ladies dressed in traditional costumes in some of the plazas in Vieja Havana, like the ones in this picture.
I’ve already written a lot about Callejon de Hamel. While I was there, I saw several priests busy working around the area to clean and prepare things for a gathering. They will typically wear white and have strings of beads that indicate the Orisha they work with the most. In the art shop, there was a small altar with candles.
When we docked at Cienfuegos, we were greeted by three women dressed in traditional costumes that would be worn to honour and dance for different Orisha: Oshun (gold), Chango (red) and Yemanya (blue).
And you may even encounter other symbols that represent protection. This baby doll was next to one of the bus drivers, along with the gold crown and lucky dice hanging from the mirror. He was both a very safe driver — and very lucky. Somehow, he made it back to our ship in record time!
To my friends who practice Santeria / Lukumi, I thank you for the information. I also apologize for the simplistic way I may have portrayed it in this post. You know how much I respect and honour you.
You probably won’t find Antilla on a map of Cuba. It is a very small village in Holguin Province. It is mostly a farming and fishing village and, for the past couple of years, a port of call for the Cuba Cruise. We used ship tenders to get to a very small dock — always an interesting experience!
Waiting for us on the dock was a group of dancers and musicians. They were very good and fun to watch. It makes you feel like everyone in Cuba can dance — they sure had great moves!
Local craftspeople set up shop along the road leading out of the port and into the little village of Antilla.The village itself is trying to rebuild from the devastation of a hurricane. One building that appeared to be intact was now used as a local lunch place. Someone I met on the ship went there for lunch and really enjoyed it.
The rest of the village had small houses with yards filled with gardens, chickens and an occasional goat. As with everywhere in Cuba, there were old cars as well as horse-drawn carts in the streets.
It was fun to see this village and talk to the people that lived there.
Vieja Havana is the old part of the Havana. It has plazas and cobble-stoned streets, many of which are pedestrian-only. This is the heart of the city. There are people, art, music, and dancing everywhere you turn. On one side is the port of Havana and the start of the Malecon. Within the area of Vieja Havana are several plazas with cathedrals, old architecture and so many surprises to see. This is also where you will find Opisbo Street along with several museums.
Everyone loves bears, right? When I was in Havana, there was an art display called Unity Bears. This was a collection of bears painted to represent countries from around the world.
Everyone seemed to be looking for the one that represented his or her country – and I was no exception. Should be easy to find a bear representing Canada –look for one decorated in red and white, maybe with a maple leaf, or a moose, or a beaver, possibly even a hockey stick, or a goalie mask, or a Mountie’s hat. Well, it wasn’t easy at all and several of us Canadians stood around it trying to find out how it represented Canada. Maybe you can figure it out: