Category Archives: Cuba

H = Havana

A to Z Ports: Havana, Cuba

Sailing into the port of Havana as only been open for four years on a cruise ship has only been available for the past few years. A Canadian company setup a partnership with Celestial Cruise Ships. For the first two years, they did a week-long cruise around the island and allowed passengers to board at either Havana (mostly for Canadians and Europeans) or Montego Bay, Jamaica (for US citizens). The ship was older, some of the cabins were a bit funky, but the entertainment was amazing and the mostly Cuban staff was friendly and extremely helpful. Because it was a small ship, it would dock in some unusual places.

For the Port of Havana, the dock is across the street from the plaza in front of the San Francisco of Assisi Plaza, making this an easy walk throughout old town Havana.

If you walk along the beginning of the Malecon, you will come to a stand for Coco taxis. I highly recommend negotiating a tour with one of these and heading down the Malecon! I had such fun and my driver, Nadia, was very good at showing me the highlights of Havana – as well as some of her personal favorite places.

It is so easy to just walk off the ship and explore this fascinating city. Language can be a barrier, so learn some basic Spanish so you can talk to the locals. Most of the people who work in the bars and restaurants speak English, but it is always nice to know a little of the local language.

In some of the plazas, you will see people dancing or dressed in colourful costumes. Don’t just take their pictures, but ask or permission. Most will agree, some may ask for something in exchange. I was standing on a street corner with several other people waiting for a bus when some guys came by pushing a cart filled with vegetables to sell. All of a sudden, everyone (except me) seemed to have their camera or cell phone out to take a picture. Finally, one of the guys looked over and said “hey, this is our life. If you want a picture, ask.” There is something to be said for being polite.

Celestial runs its own Cuba cruise now, and changed the itinerary, missing the north side of the island completely. Some US-based cruise lines are now visiting Havana. If you get the chance, go! There is no place like Havana!

For more posts, click on the menu above for Cuba or the A-Z Challenge for 2016!

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L is for La Habana Vieja

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For last year’s challenge, I wrote about Cuba. I just couldn’t let this year go by without another quick visit to La Habana Vieja — the old city of Havana. It is one of the most vibrant cities I’ve visited. I love the energy, the music and the spirit of Havana.

For more about my adventures in Cuba, check out my 2015 A to Z Challenge blogs.

J = Journeys through the Land of the Dead

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Cemeteries can be interesting places to find some fascinating artwork as well as quiet places to walk in otherwise busy cities. Here are some of my favourite ones.

Père Lachaise Cemetery is Paris is well-known and has some very interesting statuary and “residents”.

La Recoleta Cemetery is the large cemetery in Buenos Aries with many famous Argentinians buried there, including Eva Perón.

I stumbled upon a massive cemetery in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I thought it had interesting art, then I came to the edge of the cemetery and saw there was so much more. This is the largest cemetery I’ve every seen.

My last suggestion is the cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Not only does it have a memorial to Jose Marti with a changing of the guard and other famous memorials.

 

 

My reflections of the A to Z Challenge

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!

A = Autos

B = Beaches

C = Callejon de Hamel

D = Dolphins

E = Evening at the Tropicana

F = Farms

G = Guards

H = Havana

I = Isle of Youth

J = John Lennon

K = Kicking back with rum

L = Laundry photos

M = Malecon

N = Negril, Jamaica

O = Opsibo Street

P = Pottery business in Trinidad

Q = Quirky transportation

R = Revolutionary Heroes

S = Santiago de Cuba

T = Trinidad, Cuba

U = Unity Bears

V = Vieja Havana

W = Walled fortresses

X = “X”tras in Antilla, Cuba

Y = Yemanja and other Orishas

Z = “Z”-end

Thanks for going on this journey with me!

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Z is for “Z-end” of my tales from Cuba 2015

ZAs 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.

Street vendors in Havana
Street vendors in Havana

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.

Even in Havana I find supporters of my favourite team! Forca Barca!
Even in Havana I find supporters of my favourite team! Forca Barca!

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!

China town in Havana
China town in Havana

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!

Banana grove
Banana grove

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.

"Guard dog" at Fortress Morro, Santiago de Cuba
“Guard dog” at Fortress Morro, Santiago de Cuba
My new Cuban look!
My new Cuban look!

Above all, dance, laugh drink and have the time of your life!

Y is for Yemanja and other Orisha

YIt 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.

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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).

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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! IMG_5142[1] IMG_5145[1]

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.

X is for “X”tras treats at Antilla Cuba

XYou 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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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It was fun to see this village and talk to the people that lived there.

V is for Vieja Havana

VVieja 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.

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U is for Unity Bears

UEveryone 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:

Canada Unity Bear

Here are some of the other Unity Bears:

Unity Bears

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T is for Trinidad, Cuba

TAbout a 90-minute drive along the coast of Cuba from the town is Cienfuegos is the town of Trinidad. The drive itself is very beautiful as it runs past farms, mountains and then the sea. Trinidad is a beautiful town on the southern shore of Cuba with some unique architecture and cobbled streets. It is very easy to walk around the main area around Plaza Mayor. If course, the highlight to the plaza is the church, however there are several other interesting buildings. One building is a former house that is now a museum showcasing beautiful furniture and art objects typical for a home of some of the powerful people of this area. There are lively bars and art galleries that line the street surrounding the plaza.

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Trinidad is also the home of the pottery company I visited. The bar I visited used their pottery cups to serve what has become my favourite rum drink, canchanchara.