Santiago de Cuba, love it or hate it

Wednesday 11 to Saturday 14 March

It was a long bus journey from Camagüey, averaging well under 60kph for the 290km journey. The bus left late as the driver struggled to fix the air conditioning. We appreciated that it was fixed!

Once again, disappointingly, our Casa Particular was a long way out of town.

We were desperate for internet. Both Hayden & Evan were job hunting and we wanted to know if any progress had been made. Our host suggested we visit the local 5-star hotel which was close by.

So it appears that Ev’s interview in New York was not successful however Hayden & Andrea were both making progress in their quest to work in Berlin.

The other bit of news for us was Hayden & Andrea announcing that they were looking for places in Granada to celebrate their marriage in September 2016. Clearly we have more travel to plan next year, and we are very excited for them.

It was a long hot walk into the old town the next day. We have discovered lemonade, a refreshing drink of lemon juice, sugar, ice and soda water. And if you can find a shady place that catches the breeze, so much the better.

Santiago de Cuba is a more modern city, following destruction by pirates, earthquakes and hurricanes. It was a long walk before we reached the old city past many tiny businesses run from the front porch or the stairwell. A lot of plumbing supplies were displayed. We later learned that a plumbing manufacturer is just outside the city.

Buses are always crowded. They are mostly truck-buses – a truck with high sides and a canvas canopy. Seating along the sides and a rail to hang from in the centre.  There are large truck-buses and small truck-buses and others of in between size.

Horse and cart is still a common form of transport, although in the upmarket area where we stayed the wheels were big and rubber and much quieter than in other cities.

The main boulevard or pedestrian street is a busy street with ice cream parlours, fast food and the usual mix of souvenirs.

There are a number of Mercado or department stores with their dirty windows and queues of people waiting to enter. Each seems to have its own range of goods, clothing, household goods, detergents, furniture but they all seem to sell Havana Rum. After a refreshing lemon juice in Plaza Delores we found the Catedral de Nuestra Sanora de la Asuncion. Lonely Planet explained that it is beautiful inside with highly decorated ceilings. What we found was a work in progress with some parts finished and a lot of scaffolding around unfinished parts. I don’t think it will be completed by May 2015 as promised.

At least part of the exterior has been repainted, looking stunning on the square in soft greys and whites.

Most of the museums seem to have the same offering of antique furniture and ornaments brought in by successful sugar cane and coffee plantation owners a couple of centuries ago, shown off in magnificent large rooms with high ceilings – a legacy of better times.

For a change we tracked down the Museo de Carnaval to see how they dress up for their July carnival. Of course all annotations were in Spanish but with a bit of imagination we were able to view costumes that were fifty years old and some more recent ones.

We also visited the Museo de Ron, housed in the original factory of the Havana Rum company. Once again an excellent overview of how rum is made – in Spanish. Of course sugar and molasses are the main ingredients. We were also offered a tasting of their better rum, not our favourite alcohol, but interesting comments (not nice) were made about our own Bundaberg rum.

We continued our exploration of the city to the xxx Balcony where entry was free, but cameras weren’t, for a view over the harbour, and then to the area where Fidel Castro studied. We walked down to the port, past what seemed to be the poorer part of town and then back up to cxxx square where a small orchestra was setting up for a short performance. A pleasant hour listening to some classical music of moderate standard. Of course the obligatory CD was offered for sale and a donation to the orchestra requested. Cheap entertainment.

As the sun was getting lower and the day a little cooler, we headed to the rooftop bar of the Hotel Casa Granda for a sunset drink. The visiting cruise ship was leaving port so locals outnumbered visitors in the squares.

We found a lovely restaurant near our Casa Particular and tried the lobster. Cuban cooking has suffered from revolution years where restaurants were limited in number of seats and what they could offer. Since Raul has taken charge there has been some relaxation, however food is unsophisticated and often over cooked. Wine is sometimes available but cold beer and mojitos are always available.

The next morning over breakfast it became clear that our hosts expected us to vacate. We had booked three nights, not two and had confirmed this with our agent. Last night in Cuba and nowhere to go.

With their assistance we booked into a nearby hotel, figuring that an early morning departure for our 8:30am flight was a better choice than another Casa Particular.

We got organised and then enjoyed a rather lazy day soaking up Cuban lifestyle of sitting around doing nothing.