North America · 10 Days · 65 Moments · September 2018

Bill and Sheri's Excellent Adventure to Cuba


2 October 2018

The end!

1 October 2018

El Morro from the ship.
Richard’s ration card.
Also on this square is the Ayuntamiento (town hall) where Castro announced the triumph of the revolution in January 1959 after 8 years of war with the Bautista government. He also took us to the Museo de la Lucha Clandestina (Museum of the Underground Struggle). It is dedicated to the heroes of the 26th of July movement. In 1956 it was occupied by the Bautista police unit and was fire bombed by the guerillas. Across the street from this structure is the childhood home of Fidel and Raul Castro. Richard took us to a music school for the children in Santiago that was actually in session, then off for some cerveza at the venue where the Buena Vista Social Club band played frequently .
More walking and then lunch in a local restaurant, again the food was wonderful. The cooking in Cuba is very simple but elegant and delicious, I think its simplicity is what makes it so good. Couple more cerveza, a taste of a 15 year old rum (made to be sipped not mixed in drinks). It reminded me of a very good cognac. Sail away time is 5 PM. We will be leaving this wonderful country and heading back to Miami.
We visited the Casa de Velazquez the oldest house in Cuba. The house was built in 1516 and was home to Diego Velasquez the founder of Santiago and Cuba’s first governor. It contained the original furniture, lighting and decorations from the time it was built. The mayor of Santiago de Cuba at this time was conquistador Hernan Cortes who set out from Santiago in 1518 and proceeded to conquer Mexico. I am assuming this was his plan all along, I mean you don’t just go for a visit and then conquer the country….or do you?....
We started our walking tour and a local guide, Richard Martinez adopted us for the rest of the day. There are independent guides who just sort of walk with you whether you want them to or not, of course this is not free, but for a few pesos you do get a good local flavor for the city. In any case, since it was obvious he was not going away, we hired him for our walking tour. It turned out to be a very good choice. He took us back to the Cathedral for Sheri to take photographs and explain a few things about the church. We became a little more comfortable with him so we hired him on.
Uphill from the ship to the town square. Santiago de Cuba is very hilly.

30 September 2018

We met up with a new friend, Bea, for a night of Jazz in the city center. It was a funky little club which seated about 75 people with no air conditioning and no fans. It was hotter than hell in that place. Our friend Bea passed out and we had to carry her out and get her on the bus in the air conditioning. She survived and now has a new story to regale all her friends with when she gets back home. I am sure there will be plenty of embellishment to go along with the story. In any case the music was exceptional, American Jazz with a Cuban twist. It was a six person band with members ranging from their early 20’s to near 90 playing for the crowd. Fun was had by all, including Bea until she went south on us. Tomorrow is a free day for us in Santiago. We will be go exploring on our own….
Arrived Santiago de Cuba at 7AM. Santiago is in Eastern Cuba and was discovered in 1514 by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar. It was the first capital of Cuba and remained so until 1533 when there was a population shift to the West and Havana became the capital. Santiago is also the birth place of the revolution and is where Fidel Castro lived as a child. His family emigrated from Spain and Castro was born once they arrived in Cuba. Santiago is also a major shipping port where many of the goods for other parts of Cuba enter the country. Bacardi rum was also founded in Santiago but the Bacardi family was forced to flee to Puerto Rico during the revolution and Bacardi is no longer based in Cuba. The government took over the Bacardi facility and renamed it Matazul which is now the official (but not the only) rum of Cuba.
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, commonly known as El Morro - a fortress at the mouth of bay.
The city is set among hills and mountains and has the potential to be a world class tourist destination, however, it is still recovering from hurricane Sandy which hit the Island in 2012. Many families are still displaced and waiting for their former homes to be restored by the government. We went to the main square (every Cuban city has one). There is a beautiful Cathedral built in the 1500’s that is amazing both inside and out. It was heavily damaged by Sandy but has since been restored and re-opened. It is a Catholic Cathedral that was originally built of wood but was destroyed by fire in the 1500’s and rebuilt with stone. Also on the square are several museums and the Grand Hotel.
We went to an artist gallery for ceramics. It is again a cooperative of 4 artists sharing the space making very interesting designs and beautiful pottery. They were able to sell to the tour members and the ceramics seemed to be selling like hotcakes. Good thing they cannot ship to the states or there were have been several large packages arriving in Palm Springs soon. It was then off to San Juan Hill and the rough riders. There are several monuments there commemorating the battle between the Spanish, Cubans and Americans for the control of Santiago. The Cubans with the assistance of the Americans and Teddy Roosevelt won the day and defeated the Spanish in Cuba. The Cubans have taken exception to the name of the war in most history books (it is call the Spanish-American War). Cuba placed a placard at the monument park, renaming the war the American, Cuban, Spanish war. I guess since it was held on their land and in their name, they should be included.

29 September 2018

Woke early, and sat outside on the deck to watch the sun come up. The sunrise and sunsets in Cienfuegos are very impressive. More pelicans interrupting the lives of fish, and boats heading out for what I assume is day of fishing. The waters seem to be teeming with fish, which is why so many sea birds and pelicans stay in the area. So it was time to do some shopping. Back to the square - a nice walk from the ship to the city center. Walking through the neighborhoods we saw lots of people. Sheri tried to take a picture of a man cutting up meat on the side of the road, he was none too happy about that, but hey if you are doing something interesting on the side of the road, people are going to be curious and maybe want a picture.
Sheri decided she wanted to climb to the top of the Palacio Ferrer a 100 year old building under renovation. There is a widow’s turret there (appropriately named) that I am sure has a spectacular view. Sheri did climb to the top of what they called the Queen’s crown to take her pictures. Me, I kept my feet firmly planted on terra firma. Pictures from the roof of the Palacio were just fine for me. We then did our shopping and added to the Cienfuegos local economy, there were some very happy merchants when we left. Cienfuegos is quite different from Havana. In Havana there is a lot of hustle and bustle, but Cienfuegos is a lot more laid back. It is also cleaner and better kept (this may be because of the upcoming anniversary) but still it is a stark difference in the two towns. After shopping, we were HUNGRY and decided to go to a local restaurant Casa Prado. The food was quite good and the beer tantalizingly cold. The best part of the dish was the beans and rice…um um good

28 September 2018

Arrived Cienfuegos at 7 AM. It is a beautiful town on the South Coast of Cuba. Looking across its scenic bay reminds me of looking at Seattle across the Peugeot Sound. The bay is surrounded by rolling hills on the west side, with a mountain range to the east. There were a lot of Pelicans in the bay when we arrived. A side musing here, but you know, your some fish just swimming around with your fish friends having a good time and then BAM! your someone’s breakfast/lunch/dinner, it can be quite disconcerting don’t you think? But I digress, Cienfuegos is not a large town, it has a main city square with quite a few government style buildings in different pastel colors. Founded in 1819 by French, the city is getting spruced upped and renovated because next year is their 200th anniversary. The people here are quite proud of their city and I can see why.
Another striking thing about Cuba is their music. It is rhythmic, happy and addictive. Wherever you go, there is music, squares, restaurants, cafes, everywhere….this I think goes back to the fact that at the age of 8 children are given string instruments to learn (violins, basses, guitars) at 15, they are given any type of instrument they want to learn. It has created a country where music is a way of being and it is quite impressive the talent these people display. The same is true for painting, ballet and sports. The American school system should take note about the impact of art on children and society as whole.
We did an art tour of Cienfuegos, stopping at galleries and hearing their stories. A lot of things changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union here in Cuba. One of those was that the artists became free to run their own galleries and create their own art. It has allowed the art community in Cuba to grow and is one of those areas where private enterprise has expanded to allow people to keep more of their own money.

27 September 2018

Today was a total day at sea. Nice and peaceful with beautiful blue waters. Had a few hours at the SPA and then a nice workout, then a nap. Afterwards we went to a wine tasting seminar and learned about red wine. So the oldest wine is Pinot Noir, it was actually created by the Egyptians in ancient times and is basically the mother to all other wines. We learned that Zinfandel was created in 1861.

26 September 2018

Okay so lots to talk about today. Two tours 4 hours each, yikes! So it was Ernest Hemingway day. First we went to his home in the Eastern Municipality of Havana. Havana is separated into 15 distinct municipalities with most residents residing in Old and Central Havana Municipalities. Cuba is very rich in history having been conquered or ruled by multiple nations including Spain, France and England. Interestingly the British invaded Havana in the late 18th century and then traded Havana to the Spanish for Florida.
If I have not mentioned this before, dogs run wild here in Cuba. They don’t seem to be mistreated or under fed, but are relatively happy and quite friendly. They seem to love the tourists but I am wondering if that is because we feed them? In Havana, we had a pair of dogs walk with us for miles. If someone passing by us didn’t seem right to the dogs, they barked at them, keeping guard of over their tourists! Just find it interesting that they are everywhere and no one seems to mind. This applies to cats as well.
One of our tour guides was talking about the lack of restaurants after the revolution. However, workers came from China so a Chinatown came into being. They were mostly left alone after the revolution and the best Italian food could be found there.
For some reason the Cubans feel like Americans really want to know how Hemingway lived in Cuba. I am not sure if this due to their affection for Papa, or they think that all Americans are fans. In any case, in addition to his home we saw his favorite Mojito bar (good but not great) his favorite Daiquiri Bar (very good) and the restaurant where he like to eat sloppy joes (they are not like ones I had as a child but were tasty). Interestingly, there is also a sloppy joes in Key West where he loved to eat, so my thought is, the man LOVED sloppy joes….must of had something to do with all that alcohol he drank. We visited a cigar and Rum store (some people will be getting cigars). The cigars rated by who smoked them. The top brands Cohiba (smoked by Castro), Romeo and Juliet (Churchill’s Favorite) & Mature (Kennedy’s favorite).
Cuba is a big Catholic country but also has other religions represented as well. However, their Cathedrals are beautiful. Sheri, being the tart that she is had to wrap a cloth around her waist since her shorts were too short to go into the Cathedral. These guys would have a heart attack in the US. She made up for it by buying a rosary for her mother. We visited an artisan’s co-op, basically a big flea market. They had paintings, jewelry, hats, cloths and a lot of other knick knacks. We did help out the economy, but not a whole lot….
The architecture certainly reflects the different ruling countries and their times. All in all it makes for a quite beautiful landscape of historic buildings. Anyway, back to Hemingway. His home was well outside the city limits in the suburbs of Havana. This grand home is surrounded by a lot of poverty, I wouldn’t exactly call the home slums, but they are quite run down and desperately in need of repair. While the human basics are fully covered for the Cuban people (food, housing, education and health care are provided 100% by the government if needed) there is still poverty and lack of other basic needs. Up until 1998 after collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba only had electricity for 4 hours a day. They lacked water (you are still told not to drink the water or eat ice cubes). After 1998, the Cubans entered into alliances with Venezuela and they began having electricity 24 hours a day.
Okay so lots to talk about today. Two tours 4 hours each, yikes! So it was Ernest Hemingway day. First we went to his home in the Eastern Municipality of Havana. Havana is separated into 15 distinct municipalities with most residents residing in Old and Central Havana Municipalities. Cuba is very rich in history having been conquered or ruled by multiple nations including Spain, France and England. Interestingly the British invaded Havana in the late 18th century and then traded Havana to the Spanish for Florida.
Hemingway’s house in Cuba
Entering Havana

25 September 2018

So we’re cruising. Stopped in Key West for the day. It was supposed to be Catamaran’s and snorkeling. However, it seems that the red tide and jelly fish had other ideas. So we went into Key West had lunch and the Southernmost Brewery (how they can verify that I am not sure). However, the food was good and the beer was cold, so even if they are not the southernmost brewery we still liked them.
Hemingway’s house in Key West. Cats everywhere. The pool was built by his second wife as revenge for cheating on her with his third wife.
Key West. Last Starbucks for awhile.

24 September 2018

Boarded ship around 11AM and hung out at port until 6:30PM. Sheri and I did some exploring on the ship, it is quite nice with lots to do. We had the abandon ship drill (everyone must attend). You know how they show you on the airplane how to fasten your seat belt and how the life vests work? Well this is wayyyyyyyyy more involved. Everyone on the ship has to go to their muster point, put on their life vest (the most attractive orange) then actually go line up under your life boat. Looking at the boat, I’m thinking to myself, all these people in that little boat? Hmmmmm…not sure how that will work out. Hopefully there will be no need as I really don’t think there will be enough room.
Had dinner aboard ship, food was tasty, table company was shall we say different and we will leave it there. Since this is my first cruise, I am finding the people who cruise ummmm, interesting. More to come. We arrive in Key West tomorrow. It really is an overnight cruise from Miami to Key West. Who Knew?

23 September 2018

Sheri picked me up in Orlando for the scenic drive along the Florida Turnpike to Miami. If you are into flat non-descript scenery this is the route for you. Oh and if you are hungry or low on gas, you will die before you find the next off ramp….just a warning. Sheri took me to a Cracker Barrel for the first time. If you ever go, get the hash brown casserole it is killer. It is quite addictive, not sure how they make this one, but will try to find that recipe on the internet. I don’t even like hash browns! Arrived Miami stayed at the Doubletree on Biscayne Bay. Beautiful view, had dinner at Ernie Els restaurant. We thought it appropriate to have our first dinner together at a South African restaurant since that is where we travelled last. Food and company was quite good.