Friday, April 29, 2016

Why I Stopped Blogging… Halfway to Havana

A number of people have recently asked me why I stopped blogging. Well the image above provides a little insight.

Last year, about this same time of the year in May, I took a trip to Cuba. My intentions were to bicycle across the country from the east coast town of Baracoa to the west coast city of Havana to collect stories to tell on my blog and research stories to for a documentary. Well, sometimes reality gets in the way. 

It has taken me some time to really process all that transpired during my last few days in Cuba and all that has transpired since that time. Near death experiences tend to make one reflect on one's life. 

Finally, I think that I'm ready to tell the story. 

I've recently reviewed my blog and rewritten and republished many of the stories that I had previously published about my adventure in Cuba. As always, while I was traveling I was writing and publishing stories as I was experiencing them. However, because of the lack of internet service and the slow speed of internet service in Cuba, many of my stories were brief and many of my images and commentaries were jumbled. I've since corrected the images and commentaries so that they accurately portray my experience. 

Over the next couple of weeks I'm planning to republish these old stories to my Facebook page Then, once I've brought everyone up to date, I'll publish five or six new stories that lead up to the story of my near death experience in Cuba. 

Please be patient. Thanks for being supportive. There's more to come...  


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bayamo, Cuba… Good Food, Bad Food, Cespedes and Shopping

From La Demajagua I rode to the town of Manzanillo then caught a bus to Bayamo. 
After checking out a few casas I chose the casa of Ana Marti Vasquez located at Calle Cespedes No. 4. The casa was conveniently located steps from the Cathedral and Plaza Marti.
When I first entered the room I thought that I was entering a honeymoon suite because it was decorated primarily in pink with lots of crystal accents. The owner was so nice that I overlooked my initial impression. 
The bathroom was clean and the shower was perhaps the best that I had experienced in all of Cuba. The shower head was an overhead rain shower head which I love. 
I walked around a bit and found this restaurant about two block away. Restaurante Manegua seemed a bit more formal than most restaurants, but their prices were reasonable and fit within my budget.
I ordered a pork steak filet, rice with beans and a salad.
I tried my first Cuban cerveza called Tinima. After tasting this beer my recommendation would be to stick to drinking rum while in Cuba.
The next morning the assistant of the casa told me that there was place near the main shopping street where one could find a hamburger for 2 pesos (8 cents). I had to check it out. Once I found the cafe I noticed that there was a line outside the door and every table inside was occupied. I thought that the hamburgers must be pretty good. I had to wait about 15 minutes just to get inside. Once inside and seated I waited another 15 minutes to place my order. After perhaps 15 minutes more my hamburger arrived. It was terrible. It was pretty much a meat patty on a piece of bread. The bread was dry. The meat was chewy. Well, at least I know what an 8 cent burger taste like.
I was around the central area. There was a heroic looking statue of Carlos Cespedes at one end of the park. This statue faced the house he used to live in which stood at the opposite end of the park.
Also at the other end of the park there was this statue of Peruchu Figueredo who wrote the national hymn of Cuba.
This is the historic home of Cespedes which is now a museum.
On the inside was some original period furniture which belonged to the family. 
A large kitchen facing an open patio.
A small interior patio. 
The Cuba flag alongside the Cespedes flag. 
A bell from La Demajagua.
A fountain pen and ink well perhaps used to pen his famous manifesto.

Down the street a young girl gazes out of the doorway of a local church.
At one corner of the park there was a street closed for only foot traffic which contained a number of shops and restaurants.
I spotted this optometry shop. They actually had some pretty current designs of eyewear, but the selection was limited to about ten designs.
A store selling shoes. 
Soap and toothpaste were on display.
As evening approached I tought that the park might come alive because it was a beautiful park and very centrally located. But not many people were actually strolling around the park. I later learned that Bayamo is a pretty laid back town. By 10pm most people are at home and asleep.
I decided to check out the Cine Cespedes (Cinema). There was actually one cinema in front of the central park and another little video cinema a few hundred feet away. I always seem to enjoy towns with cinemas.
I happened to catch the premiere screening of a Cuban film called Valores. No red carpet or movie stars at this premiere, but there was this cool little band that played a few tunes before they screened the film. The film was about the adventures of three hair stylists who venture out on the town in Havana. I enjoyed picking up a few nuances about the cultural life of Habaneras, but I felt that the pace and some of sequences dragged. It was still worth the price of admission of 2 pesos (8 cents).
The next day I ventured out early and tried a croquette for breakfast. It is typically some meat or filling deep friend and served in a bun.
I happened to pass by the bar dedicated to the Beattles.
The attendant let me look inside and mentioned that at night there was a Beattles cover band that would play and also some Karaoke. I smelled a tourist trap so I decided right then that I would not be carooning to "Imagine" later on in the evening.
I stuck my head into to this local art gallery.
In almost every city I visited the was a local art gallery that displayed local artist work. I did not find any of it all that interesting or overly striking. It just seemed like much of the art I saw was thematic and not very original.
Ok, well this end of the outdoor shopping area had some original street art.
I came across this nook where there were a few food venders. The locals seemed to be standing in line for some nice fresh bread.
The tourist were standing in line for some ice cream cones.
I joined the line with the tourist and enjoyed this almond flavored ice cream cone for 2 pesos (8 cents).
There was a somewhat large line standing outside this storefront. I don't like to shop, but I sometimes like to walk through grocery or shopping stores just to see what local people buy.
This store was like a mini department store in that it had many smaller stores inside the one large store. Displayed here was some clothing.
Some bath products.
Some hardware products.
The cathedral was located at one corner of the central plaza. I've noticed that often in Cuba that the cathedrals are not one of the primary features of the central plaza, but are often off in a corner or even on a different street. I found this to be a contrast with many Latin American cities in which the cathedral is front and central on the main plaza. I don't know why.
This particular afternoon it began to rain. An attendent of the park quickly took down the flag. Two little kids stood by and watched in amazement. It was one of those times that I wished that I was carrying my good camera with a zoom lens to capture the moment. The expression on the little boys face was priceless. 
Parked under an awning to protect it from the rain was this awesome handbuilt tricycle. If you looked closely you could see that every part of the tricycle was hand fabricated. I thought that it was awesome.
Since in was pouring rain all afternoon I decided to seek indoor entertainment. I mentioned that there was a normal cinema located off the park. There was also this video cinema near by. I did not fully understand how it worked, but I found out. There was a listing of films and time posted outside the cinema. I paid my 2 pesos for my ticket. I was then shown through a door. Inside there was a small room with maybe 25 seats, a window air conditioner, a tv and DVD player. The film was a US film called John  Wick staring Keanu Reeves. I has not seen the film but I think that it came out perhaps a year ago. So the video cinema basically played DVDs of semi recent releases and foreign films.

The experience was paculuiar because some people showed up late and others left early. I was wondering if all of the patrons, all five of us, were really just trying to find an activity to avoid the rain.

I really enjoyed my time in Bayamo. The town was large enough to have a number of interesting sites and activities, but small enough to have approachable and friendly people. 

I asked a number of the locals where I should go next. I inquired if it was worthwhile to visit the nearby city of Holguin to the north or Las Tunas to the west. Many folks said that both of the towns were more touristic, but not really very significant. One person was honest enough to share with me that many male tourists go to Holguin and Las Tunas to find Cuban girlfriends. Interesting. I inquired if the tourists eventually get married to these girlfriends. He said, "No." In other words Holguin and Las Tunas had developed somewhat of a reputation for sex tourism. At first I was not sure if the locals were telling me the truth, which is sometimes hard to decipher in Cuba, or telling me tales of the neighboring provinces and cities out of rivalry or jealousy. I had begun to notice that many Cubans held fierce loyalty to their hometowns and provinces - wherever that might be. 

Later, I ran into traveler and asked her if she would recommend visiting Holguin or Las Tunas. She confided that she felt uncomfortable in both cities and confirmed that she saw what appeared to be a lot of overt sex tourism. I decided that I would seek a more legit location. The owner of the Casa at which I was staying mentioned that I might like to visit the town of Sancti Spiritus. I knew nothing about the town other than it was about 400km west along the Carretera Central (Central Highway). Sometimes you just don't know until you go.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Niquiero to La Demajagua to Bayamo… Independence

From Niquiero I caught a local bus to a little town called Calicito. I was told that in or near the town was another historical  landmark called La Demajagua. 
I rode my bicycle a short distance to the local bus station.
This is what I was looking for... a gua gua (bus). It is an industrial truck with a steel enclosure welded to the back. On the inside are four rows of steel beams running the direction of the axis for seating. The gua guas often do not operate on a schedule. An assistant calls out a destination and when there appears to be enough people to justify the trip they leave. Sometimes it is a few minutes, more often it is a few hours. I ended up waiting about two hours.
I arrived in the small town of Calicito and inquired about directions to La Demajagua. Turns out that the spot that I was looking for was about 6km out of town. So I bicycles down the road for half an hour and found this road marker. I inquired about the site and was told it was another 1 or 2 km down the road.
I eventually reached the site of La Demajagua. I entered and noticed right away that the grounds were very well manicured.
La Demajagua once was a sugar can plantation operated by slaves and owned by a wealthy man named Carlos Manuel de Céspedes.
There was a small museum on the grounds and the caretaker shared with me the significance of the site.
There were some relics of a sugar plantation scattered around the grounds. At one time this area was very profitable area due to plantations and slaves for the Spanish crown.
Céspedes was the instigator and leader of Cuba’s first revolt against Spain. His son was captured by the Spanish, who told Céspedes that they would spare his son’s life if he gave up the struggle for independence.
Céspedes refused, and his son was duly executed. Céspedes was then attributed with the quote, “Oscar is not my only son. I am the father of all Cubans who have died for the revolution.”
During the revolution Céspedes created a flag that resembled the Chilean flag as a tribute and with the hope of solidarity. 
Céspedes also was attributed with ringing this bell and setting his slaves free to help fight in the revolution. 
Cespedes wrote a manifesto on the 10th of October 1868 which states, "Cuba aspires to be great and civilized nation with friendly arms and a fraternal heart to all people.

It was raining for much of my visit to La Demajagua. For some reason it felt appropriate. It seemed like a solemn place. 

After some time I hopes back on my bicycle and rode about 15km or an hour or two to the town of Manzanillo. I was thinking about staying in Manzanillo, but my ultimate destination was the town of Bayamo. 

I was amazed that it was still somewhat early in the afternoon. I estimated that if I could catch a ride I could make it to Bayamo. I inquired where I might be able to catch a gua gua. I was told that I could wait along the road, but that I would have a better chance it I went to the bus terminal. I knew that waiting by the road was not always reliable, so I hoped on my bicycle and headed down the road. People mentioned to me that the terminal was about 5km outside of the town an up a hill. I chugged along... eventually found the terminal... and within about two minutes was able to catch a gua gua bus. It was the shortest wait that I has experience thus far. I arrived into Bayamo at around 7pm and rode to the town center in search of a place to stay.