Cuba · 6 Days · 59 Moments · December 2016

15 December 2016

Hasta luego, Cuba.
Che Guevera
Saying goodbye to my casa and wonderful host in Trinidad.

14 December 2016

So the entire town just lost power. I've thought it many times this week, but don't think I've written it here yet: this trip has been extremely character building.
Good god, Nierelys can cook. The soup was some sort of squash and was my favorite part. Spaghetti and lobster in a red sauce, also amazing. Fruit cocktail to cleanse the palette and help digest. Flan for dessert (slash probably with my coffee tomorrow morning because I couldn't make my way through all that food in one sitting).
Playa Ancon sunset.
Playa Ancon, which is a ten minute drive south from Trinidad. It was extremely relaxing and peaceful, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not at all crowded.
My ride for the morning, and a few of the other old cars parked at the beach this morning. I am so impressed by the resourcefulness of the Cubans in keeping these cars alive for 50+ years, and they sure are visually charming. That being said, they're also dirty, slow, and smelly. A lot of them run on diesel and I have found the towns to be very smoggy as a result. This morning I made the mistake of putting my bag on the floor in the car and it got covered in grease. This was the first and only old classic car I've taken since I've been here, and I think perhaps if you specifically book a classic car tour in a bigger city like Havana you might get a better maintained vehicle.
Breakfast is served. The star of the show was the fresh pineapple and orange juice.

13 December 2016

Its 9:45 pm and the rooster outside my casa is crowing nonstop. WHY?
Another sunset walk through the colorful town of Trinidad.
Roof dog watches over the neighborhood with vigilance. His friends are the eyes and ears on the ground.
Indulging in some sesame bars that I picked up from a roadside stand earlier today. YUM.
Hammock on the porch of my casa. On the other side of those plants roosters and dogs run rampant and they all like to make a lot of noise in the middle of the night which is really fun for me. But for now, it is very peaceful.
Cortado from the cafƩ that serves the local coffee harvest. Beautiful scenery and of course a stray cat.
Lunch spot. Amazing arroz con pollo.
Top of the mountain in Guanayara. The close ups are of coffee beans, which are ready for harvest when they turn red. 80% of the harvest goes to the government and the remaining 20% is for the farmers to keep or sell themselves.
This. Fucking. Waterfall. šŸ˜ It actually literally makes me well with tears thinking about how giant and beautiful it is. I'm such a sucker for nature.
I hear you have to pay for this in other countries. But in Cuba, it's free. Just like education and healthcare and rations of food. All you have to do is give up a few other basic liberties, nbd.
I have yet to find anything as gratifying as swimming under the falls in a perfect cold teal pond in a foreign country after a 3km hike.
The farm animals. There are about 363848 more pictures of baby pigs on my phone in case anyone is interested.
The house of the coffee farmers. They sleep three men in one bed and four children in another. The old radios are from when the military was based in the mountains during the revolution.
Hiking in Guanayara.
Sup bro.
The road to Guanayara. When I booked the transport to the park, I had a choice of a truck or a jeep. I selected a jeep. Apparently in Cuba, that just means an SUV. So we were in a small little crossover type vehicle and I had to watch the people on this truck have way more fun than me.
A lookout point in Topes de Collantes on our way to Guanayara. It was a bit hazy, but you can make out the ocean on the top right of the horizon in the first photo, and the town of Trinidad is in the valley between the ocean and the mountains. Shout out to my German friend who took the photo of me, will forever have your blurred finger as a token of our special day together.
Morning coffee at my casa particular, accompanied by a conversation in butchered Spanish with my host.

12 December 2016

Assortment of fresh fruit at my casa particular. I could only identify 2/4 of these fruits. Any ideas on the two on the right?
Plaza Mayor
Yesterday Bar, Rigo (from yesterday) told me I HAD to go here and that it was the best place in Trinidad. It was weird, and empty, and weird, so I didn't stay. Sorry, Rigo.
A late afternoon pick me up.
Bird chilling in his cage out in the streets.
The streets, casas, and people of Trinidad.
Arriving at my casa in Trinidad. This city is much, much different than where I was staying in Havana. That is, significantly more run down. I'm staying on a dirt road in La PĆŗrisma, which is a ten minute walk from Plaza Mayor, the more touristy area. The hammock and seating area outside is cute, but this casa is a pretty huge downgrade from Alicia's. My host is super sweet but doesn't speak a word of English. She really had me work for it in Spanish this afternoon trying to get directions and some basic information. She is incredibly sweet, though, and apparently a great cook which I look forward to enjoying.
Heading out of Havana for Trinidad. I am disappointed that I didn't spend more time in Havana. I had thought I could spend my first afternoon walking around the city, but the combination of the rain and the fact that my casa was much further from the city center than I realized made it tough. I tried to change today's taxi reservation to Trinidad to be later in the afternoon so I could do a walking tour this morning, but they weren't able to make the last minute switch. Traveling in Cuba, particularly as an American, requires much more forethought and planning than I am usually known for.
Hanging out on Alicia's porch waiting for my taxi to Trinidad. Little did I know how much I would miss this casa.

11 December 2016

Sun beginning to set over a lake on the way back to Havana.
Oxen. I saw a lot of them in the fields and on the farms in the absence of tractors. The agriculture here is still very manual and the farmers are real salt of the earth men. But I still feel sorry for these cuties.
Sorry for the overwhelming number of pictures of stray cats but also I'm not sorry and if I could I'd bring all of Cubans stray animals home with me.
Los Jazmines Lookout / not the worst pool situation I've ever seen. / note to self: come back to Cuba and ride a horse through that perfect god damn valley.
Prehistoric Mural in ViƱales, aka self-admitted tourist ripoff of the century. At least the area surrounding it was pretty.
Lunch with a view. They served us a FEAST. Didn't get great photos because I'm trying not to be an obnoxious gringo, but we were three people and had: - plate of potato-esque chips - fried yuca tortilla type things - chicken and vegetable soup - sweet potatoes - more yuca but this time roasted - sweet potatoes - two other unidentified root type vegetables - roasted eggplant - roasted carrots - roasted beets - tomatoes and lettuce - mac and cheese with ham and pineapple - rice and beans - a plate of four chicken drumsticks - a plate of fish - a plate of 6 pork loins - a plate of beef tenderloin - flan for dessert It was a gross amount of food so I decided to just try my best to have one bite of each thing and still failed. Rigo must know the drill because he literally brought a giant Tupperware container and took all the leftover meat home. My favorite part was my drink; a virgin piƱa colada with mint, cinnamon, and a few other spices.
Farm to table. The restaurant where we ate lunch was situated on a beautiful family run farm and everything they serve is harvested here. Because the farm is on a hill instead of in a valley it risks erosion, so they've walled off areas to protect the plants. Some sections are covered in palm trees serving as a makeshift green house for seedlings.
Learning the process of cigar making, from start to finish. Tobacco plants come from teeny tiny seeds (I actually thought they were coffee grinds). The leaves are very soft and velvety, and the strength of the tobacco increases from mild on the bottom close to the roots, to medium in the middle, and fuerte or strong on the top. The difference in which leaves are used and how they are blended will impact the type of cigar. It's takes only 2-3 months for the plants to grow, and the farmers harvest the leaves in waves from bottom of the plant to the top. Leaves are hung to dry but actually still remain soft and flexible due to the humidity. Flavor is added to the leaves by spraying them with unique mixes of flavors and herbs. The leaves are then rolled and left in the sun to dry. The finished cigars can be stored up to 4 years and retain full quality, but will decline after that.
Tobacco farm in ViƱales. The farmers I met had a true passion for their work. One of the men actually studied to be a lawyer and was incredibly successful in university, but he chose to stay on the farm instead because he was so passionate about it. There's something to be said for a simple life in a beautiful place. When chatting with my guide about this, he broke out singing Lynard Skynard's "Simple Man" and it seemed an apt description of what I've encountered here in Cuba so far. Despite the waves of change experienced in this country throughout its history and the poverty that exists, the people are resilient, kind, and grateful.
Creepy scarecrow which will evidently be lit on fire as some sort of Cuban Christmas tradition.
Indian Cave. Indigenous people used to live in this area until they all died either by slaughter or disease, and the cave apparently had some artifacts and remnants. It's a quick walk and boat ride through to explore the cave. There is a small dam which was built to increase the depth of the water to allow them to bring motor boats of tourists through. The inside also has several man made stairs and lights built in for traffic. It didn't interest me much since it didn't feel very natural, and I would probably skip this if I ever return to the area.
Cafe con leche from a roadside cafe, and great conversation with my guide, Rigo. I think the most compelling reason to visit Cuba is for the exchanges and conversations that can take place with its people. Unfortunately, the language barrier has been an issue for me up until now. My Spanish is limited only for the basic necessities, and many people here don't speak English at all, or if they do it's also quite piecey. So I was very grateful to spend a full day with someone who spoke English fluently so I could really pick his brain. We talked about everything; predominantly about the systems in Cuba and what it's like to live in a communist society, both good and bad, but also about all the great American bands that Rigo loves (accompanied by his terrible but endearing renditions of their songs).
Driving through ViƱales.
Drive from Havana to ViƱales. There was a bike race taking place on the highway which caused a bit of traffic. Also spotted old classic cars (of course), buses, mopeds, people on horseback, horse drawn carriages, and oxen pulling farm equipment... all sharing the same road.

10 December 2016

Sunset in Havana
Sooooooo the grocery store only had: frozen meat (just one nondescript kind, and it smelled, despite being frozen), tons of chocolate, mayonnaise, apples (but no other fresh produce), and soda. Thankfully I have plans to eat lunch out tomorrow, and I think the next casa I go to will cook for me.
My casa particular in Havana. I am staying in the top floor of the home of my lovely host Alicia. She speaks only a bit of English, which is still vastly more than literally anyone else I've met today. Doing my best to speak Spanish but mostly butchering it.
JUST LOVE ME, CUBAN DOG
I sat and listened to the waves crash here for a bit. Something about the juxtaposition of a run down concrete lot and abandoned buildings next to this beautiful teal water and moody sky really do it for me.
One of the prettier floods I've seen.
Exploring Miramar, a neighborhood a bit west of Havana's center. This is where I'll be staying for the next two nights. It's a nice quiet area that's about 10 minutes by car to Old Havana and runs along the ocean. It also borders the avenue where all of the embassies are housed.
The clouds really put on a show for me today.
Getting ready to board my flight to Cuba.