A Travellerspoint blog

One Last Colonial City for Ash


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We arrived in Trinidad and once again found our casa waiting for us at the bus station bypassing the many others that are insistent on fighting for your money. Our casa is quite nice with a lovely terrace overlooking the rooftops of Trinidad where we have breakfast and dinner other than this it is just like all the others.

Trinidad itself is a colonial city with some lovely old fashioned buildings and mostly cobblestone streets. Initially we thought that no cars were allowed on the roads and hence the reason we pack marched to our casa however we later found out this wasn’t the case so not sure what happens. The street buildings are quite old but nicely preserved providing an almost village like feel however the ever present touts manage to ruin it a bit. Overall the city itself is nice but nothing spectacular and to me didn’t live up to its reputation.

We did head out to playa ancon which is by far the nicest beach we have come across with probably 10-15km of actual beach and clear blue Caribbean waters. This beach was a welcome change up to the rest of the cities and we spent almost the whole afternoon relaxing here.

Tonight we headed out to the steps of what translates to the house of music where they have a local band playing every night to a large crowd. Here we were able to catch up with some people that we had met earlier in the day and listen to the live music playing as we smoked some cigars and drank some more rum. All in all this was quite a pleasant night out for us with no one really hassling us and the wait staff very attentive to our wishes after we gave them a nice tip to start since they cut and lit our cigars. The steps were packed with approx 150 people gathered in the small area giving the place a rather nice atmosphere.

We then headed back to Habana to drop Ash off at the airport and along the way we met a Spanish speaking Dutch guy named Rene who is travelling around Cuba by himself. Once we got to Habana we were greeted with the worst casa we have had, the lady that ran it was insistent on holding us to ransom with our visas and hot water and wanted to explain things over and over again. Not really the final memories of Cuba that Ash was hoping for and by the end I think he was about ready to leave for Canada. With Ash gone I ventured west with Rene to check out Vinales, what promised to be a relaxing little village in the tobacco region.

Posted by rhinoc 18:55 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Ahh the Serenity!

Cienfuegos, Cuba

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Today on the bus we finally met some more tourists (something that is actually quite hard here as everyone has their guard up due to the touts), who were also suppose to be in mexico and as a result their plans were also up in the air. It was nice to find out we weren’t the only ones being stuffed around but it didn’t really help us out much.

We arrived in Cienfeugos with the hope that since the town was less touristy then the atmosphere might be much quieter. Once we got to our casa (which is coincidently miles out of town – thanks a lot to our last casa owner who recommended it) we decided to head out and take in a day at the beach. Now I know what most of you would think of when I say beach, but this was ~10m long max and mostly rocks still a nice relaxing day none the less. We also had our nicest experiences with Cubans yet where in a local café those that had finished eating and were having a beer happily giving up the table to those that were about to eat without a table. This was very nice and they were very appreciative of us joining despite attempting to give us chairs at any possible point.

Since I was getting older tomorrow we caught up with Will and Simon (our equally stuffed around English friends) for our best night out in cuba yet, we took in a nice sunset with a mojito and then had some coronas on the 3rd storey of a hotel looking over the entire bay, took in a good disco with some locals and finished up in a live music club at the end of the night.

The next day we headed into the markets and once again were greeted with the charm of this place, which is unlike most places in cuba has strong French architecture due to most of its earlier settlers being French. This place is remarkable in that it is laid back and we were able to walk gently through the market without being hassled which is a real rarity here. After buying a few things we checked out the sites of the city which are all within walking distance, overall this is a very gentle place and by far our favourite in Cuba thus far. By the way guys the girls in Cuba are very pretty however Ash and I have uniformly agreed that here they are better than anywhere else in cuba and amongst the best in the world (along with perth girls ofcourse).

Today we both also managed to find out where we heading after Cuba with things resolved a little bit. Ash is off to Canada to catch up with friends and second part of my tour exiting playa del Carmen going into Belize and Guatemala is going ahead so I just have to sort out a flight there (my flights through cubana have been cancelled) and fill in two weeks which won’t be hard. Tonight its off to the colonial town of Trinidad with its cobblestone streets that everyone I talk to seems to be very fond of – here’s hoping.

Posted by rhinoc 11:08 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

The Adopted Home of Che

Santa Clara, Cuba

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We arrived into Santa Clara happy to get away from Habana and hopefully find a gentler more interesting way of life. Sadly with the bus getting in at 6:30pm and the morning bus leaving at 11:20 it left us little time to see the city. We were however nicely greeted by our casa owner who was waiting for us with a sign and a horse and carriage taxi back to his place. This is apparently the nicest place in Santa Clara with owner very proud of his 80 square metres and the fact that once an Australian diplomat stayed at his house.

We headed out and found a place that seemed really nice only to find that we hadn’t left the touts behind in habana – we are becoming slightly jaded with the Cuban people as every conversation seems to involve some kind of financial transaction. With us being closed in on by the minute we decided to skip the street party that was starting at midnight and head back to our casa balcony and tuck into a couple of our newly acquired cigars and a cerveza or two.

The next morning we did a whirlwind trip of the city three main monuments, the che memorial, the mausoleum (which was ofcourse closed) and the site where Che and his army took out the train with a tractor. We managed to cover all that in an hour, enough time to say goodbye to our casa owner and step on the bus to Cienfuegos. A bit rushed but oh well there is always too much to see and not enough time to do it!

Posted by rhinoc 11:04 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Welcome to the 50´s

La Habana, Cuba

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This will be a long blog for a few different reasons, mostly the restricted access to internet here with access cards only getting dropped off once a day and some hotels running out very quickly! This restricts us to one hour between the two of us and usually includes an hour long hunt in the first place. (not really a major problem unless say a major flu virus breaks out in your next destination). This is very indicative of Cuba with nothing happening with much urgency and intuitive systems. This can make things incredibly frustrating when you need information or to get something done.

Finally caught up ash today after a long drawn out process and flight, the flight was seriously delayed with me getting there 2 hours before hand apparently not enough. I managed to just get my ticket as the flight was supposed to leave and after a variety of other issues including waiting on the tarmac for about 45 minutes we finally took off, 1.5 hours late (the joys of international travel). I did finally get there only to find out that debit cards don’t work here only my credit card, atleast I should be ok as long as they don’t cancel my card for overseas use.

The hotel we are staying in is quite nice with a really cool old 50’s style lobby and rooms that were more that suitable. The first night we headed out and had our first taste of Cuban nightlife sampling a few cerveza’s followed by some mojitos. As expected the mojitos here are very good with most bartenders taking a considerable amount of time and pride in their preparation. The cerveza’s are also on the whole pretty good and certainly drinkable even the very local brands.

After a couple of cerveza’s and mojitos we met a Spanish speaking Quebecer and things went from good to very good to bad. We were able to go out and mix a bit with the locals and managed buy some local food and local rum-in-a-box. Neither the food nor the rum was all that spectacular in quality however it was nice for novelty value. This rum turned out to be bad move followed by an even worse move getting a bottle of rum at the night club. After being hit on by almost every girl in the club, most of which were gorgeous, none of which were free we ventured back to the hotel sans some money and my camera. Not a great start but you have to learn from this and atleast I’ve still got my wallet and all I lost on my camera was photos of montreal and niagra falls, not exactly my favourite places anyway.

The look of Habana is quite something else, some parts look very poor whereas other parts look quite nicely restored but still with a 50’s style feel about it. The whole vibe around the place is very laid back as well with the possible exception of people hassling you in the street about taxis, cigars, casa particulars (guest houses) and girls (hookers).

With ash under the weather and the swine flu epidemic appearing in Mexico we have decided to stay in Habana until after may day allowing us the best option of monitoring the emergence and whether or not the airports are going to be open into Mexico. Our mobiles don’t work over here so our contact overseas is limited to internet access that is costing us about $A10 an hour, it is certainly not cheap to travel here.

We however did have to check out of the hotel which meant that we had to go searching for a casa particular. The casa’s themselves are generally the same and overall pretty good but for the occasional absence of hot water, luke warm not cold water is about as good as it gets most of the time. The best way to describe them is basically a room for rent typically containing two single beds maybe a fridge, a table and a light with the luxury option having a TV. They are typically costing us about $A30-35 a night each with breakfast but are supposedly much cheaper outside of Havana. The good thing is that once you get into the network they all know someone else that has one in another town so they are easy to organize and easy to change if need be, the bad news being that you get stuck in a standard price cycle.

With Ash feeling better we decided to start the tourism portion and took in the museo de la revolution, so much information detailed up to and including the revolution and what we thought would be a disappointing visit and possibly a waste of $A8 but turned out to be well worthwhile. Next we had a walk around the Capitol building here before taking in the cool baroque cathedral and finishing with a walk through the Castillo de San Cristobal which offered some very nice views of the city as darkness fell. With ash getting older by the day we decided to go out and have a couple of quiet drinks at a place we found that did 1m beer columns – about 5 pints.

After changing to another casa particular we went down and took a 50’s chevrolet taxi ride (something every tourist should do) out to plaza de la revolution the scene of tomorrows parade. After getting a photo saluting comrade Che and having a look at the preparations we took a bobblehead taxi (something I really can’t describe) out to the US special interests building (i.e. not an embassy but close) to see where the US attempted to broadcast free media towards Habana and Cuba responded by blocking the messages with black flags signifying the Cubans that have died as a result of American atrocities since the peace/embargo agreement was signed. From here we walked almost the entire length of the Malecon (a long way ~11 km’s), this street is popular with Cuban couples as it runs all the way along the coast and is usually packed especially at night.

At the moment we are having daily checks of our emails and the news to check on the advances regarding the swine flu situation. We are pretty much resigned to the fact that Mexico will be in lock down within a week and that our tour packages will be cancelled. This leaves Ash a week to fill in which won’t be so hard, but will leave me 5 weeks to fill in and stuffs around flights and accommodation. I think this will take a while to sort out once they finally make the call and my travel agent gets back to me with some options, annoyingly this is also eating into our experience in cuba because of the time spent monitoring and finding internet.

Today we are off to the may day parade hoping to see Fidel make an appearance for his brothers official first may day and the 50th anniversary of the revolution. We managed to get down to the parade alright and got caught up marching in the parade, walking with 1000’s of proud cuubans through the streets and towards the plaza the final destination of the march. After this the crowd just disperses all of a sudden and the festivities are over and have everyone heads off to get drunk. Neither of the brothers made an appearance which was a bit of a shame.

I found out today that my tour through mexico has been officially cancelled so I am waiting to see what options arise as far as alternatives otherwise I will have to come up with a redundancy plan as I have gained 5 weeks. Ash is still not sure what is going on as we get information here about it daily but because Australia is 13 hours behind when we get our emails we have often got more updated information than when they were sent. We have got a week to sort it out theory but at the moment cuba has closed its airports for flights to and from mexico complicating things slightly.

Posted by rhinoc 11:01 Archived in Cuba Comments (1)

The Falls, Disneyland & Outlet Malls

Niagra Falls and the drive to Chicago

Having caught up with Jo & Lawrie it was time to leave the crap weather behind (or so I hoped) and head sout to check out Niagra falls on my way to the border. Niagra falls is an interesting place with rather spectacular natural resources in the river and the falls surrounded by almost everything designed to ruin your experience there. As I was told by the guy at the hostel when I asked for a map “Just look for Disneyland and walk out the other side”. True to his words in the three block walk you pass theme parks, haunted houses, casinos and the like really giving the place a cheap and sleazy feel. It is a shame that all this is put in and takes away from an otherwise quite pretty natural wonder.

Once you get past that however you make your way down to the mighty river that is impressive in itself and your eyes are drawn firstly to the American side of the falls and then over to the Canadian horseshoe falls. Now at this point I should point out that the weather was still terrible here with rain and heavy fog – not the best conditions for viewing the falls I’m sure, that combined with the fact that the tour season starts next week made for poor timing on my behalf. But what can you do and I atleast committed to seeing the entire length of the falls because the American falls are quite disappointing (but on the other side of the river admittedly). The Horseshoe Falls are really quite awesome and you can get right up close (within 5m) to the very apex of the falls and whilst at that point the water is not that deep it is certainly going over at a great rate (equivalent to 11 million bath tubs per minute apparently). All this water dumps down into the river creating a massive whirlpool approximately 5km down the river as it changes direction and the whirlpool is quite something else.

The next day I took a half hour drive up to a little town called Niagara On The Lake which is quite a sleepy little place that is untouched and is a lot more beautiful than the town of Niagara falls. Apparentky this place is quite popular with some hotel rooms going for $1000 a night. This feels more like what Niagra falls should be like and provides some great views of the river in a less touristy environment.

Here I started my long journey down almost the entire length of the river to the border and back into the states hoping it wasn’t going to be as painful as Colin’s adventure. Once I got to the border it was clear I was in for a similar experience however despite some difficulties I was able to get through in an hour and a half with no apparent reason for the hold up. Nevertheless I was right to continue my 500+ mile trip to Glen’s.

Along the way I passed Freemont a town that has apparently nothing going for it but a bunch of outlet malls (some 100 miles from anywhere mind you) but after getting sick of my 4 shirts I decided to check it out. Well worth doing so, and I might add ladies if you want to go shopping the states are the place to be at the moment with everything at just about name your price. I walked into the Tommy store and was basically told that everything was a further 50% off the lowest marked price. So not to overdo it I walked out of the store with a pair of jeans and 3 T’s for the grand total of $A60, certainly can’t argue. I decided that with another 200 or so outlet stores to choose from that I should honour my creed of traveling light and resist the urge to spend more money.

Posted by rhinoc 20:54 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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