Cuba 2016

Flight down was long.  We were near the back and had a good conversation with one of the FAs. Still hate airplane washrooms (fixing and using makes no difference). It was already dark when we landed. Through customs and security and off we went to the resort. No long legged diamond stocking military uniform amazon women in security this time. Bummer. Big tour bus and it went to a couple of small resorts besides ours, pretty sure it was never supposed to drive on those rough dirt roads with the tree branches smacking the bus with a solid “thunk” every time as the bus swayed and bumped along unpaved roads…LOL Lady at check in was a bag. That was surprising for Cuba and such a new, large resort. She took our info, then a phone call and disappeared in the back while others behind us in the linup got checked in by others. Bag pickup was confusing and she was no help.  Went to buffet to grab a bite, it was late and well picked over and a bit cold too. Bottled water tasted odd too, so stuck with pop.

Not impressed.

Plan was to get up Sun morning and Raul and Yaima were to pick us up  for trip into Havana and visit. We got up, no hot water. WTF? This place is 3 years old. We called front desk. After a while still ice cold so Dawn went to front desk as nobody called back as promised to keep us advised. Meanwhile I took a cold shower (ugh)…anyway by the time Dawn returned the hot water was coming back. Not so my frozen bits. Also, toilet is very tall but only a little bit of water in the bottom so if you like loud noises this is the one for you!!! Raul and Yaima picked us up at resort and are hilarious. We stopped at their house in Matanzas to have a coffee, also met Jerry their small dog (“The Tree Rat”) which is nuts, rolling on floor, sliding around and watching the street from the roof of the house. Raul and Yaima have to be the most energetic, funny people we know. The trip to Havana flew past and pretty soon we were surrounded by colored buildings; all the old cars and equipment; hustle of so many people and all the sights/sounds and smells of that place. It is amazing. On one of the streets I sanpped a picture of a guy who was fixing a car...right there in downtown havana, oil bucket and rear diff parts strewn all over and he is eating a sandwich while tourists have drinks under umbrellas in the background. That pretty much sums the place up. Magicians they call them, they keep everything running without much to work with.

We were hoping for a ride in one of the nice convertibles but it wasn’t to be. Apparently the Pope and a Russian religious dignitary and entourage were in town so the cars were all booked. Just my luck

The cars, as usual, are a big attraction for me. I’m so impressed how they have kept them running all these years with absolutely nothing in the way of parts. You have to work on old machines to understand that I guess. Some people of course have connections and can get some parts brought in, but it’s very expensive and time consuming. 

The cars range from utter garbage to amazing quality. It’s very expensive and the average Cuban does not even own a car of course. Last I heard you couldn't sell your car either it could be passed on but thats it.  It’s a heritage thing too so the taxes on new cars are brutal to keep new stuff out, so if you want to buy a new Peugeot for example, you are looking at 220-230,000.00 CUC. Keep in mind the average person makes 20 CUC a month. 1 CUC is now worth 1.40 Canadian, so quarter million dollars for a small POS French import 4 door.  I'd walk too.

The exchange rate hurt a bit. Cuba is a closed system but they tie their currency to the US dollar value (that’s a topic for another time). Using the banks with Raul’s help saved us 5% on exchange. 1 person in bank at a time, that is all that is allowed. Machine gun armed security guard makes sure of that.

Had a drink and some appetizers at a local pub. Wandered around. Funny to see the Canadian flag everywhere you go. Cubans love Canada I guess. I know we love Cuba!

Had supper at very nice restaurant that belongs to one of Raul’s friends , so we managed to get in even though normally need a week or more to make reservations.

Heard some funny stories….Raul who walked 1.5 km buck naked in Matanzas while in university for a few pesos on a dare…at 1:30 in the afternoon! What did he do with the money?? Bought 22 cans of orange pop….
University chem students making stills. Drinking the water from fish tanks. Secondary students are the same everywhere :) Also stories of tough times…the day the goldfish disappeared and turns out it was actually supper the night before, that’s how tough things were in the late 80s and early 90s for Cuban families, no meat, no supplies, no money (collapse of the Soviet Union in late 80s ended all the subsidies for Cuba).
The stories are funny now, but at the time they were not of course. Starvation was real, people simply disappeared when they spoke out against the government. Both Raul and Yaima know people who just never came home one day, and that’s it. Gone, no news, nothing ever heard again.Yaima’s dad is an electrician, and back then he built a big truck full of batteries so when the power went out every day for 12 hours he could keep things in the house running, then the once the power was back on a charger would charge things up again for the next day.Yaima also brought a squealing baby pig back on the train one day to grow as food. Once it was ready they decided it was a family pet so they couldn’t kill it and ended up trading the pig for an Atari Nintendo which they never used.

As we were supposed to have supper at their house on Wed, I said “well as long as Jerry is still around after supper we're ok” Much amusement,  laughter and hand waving. Wow Cubans love a good joke…and Yaima added “ And Ronny!!!”…  (Ronny is the little frog that showed up in their shower one day last year and is still there just hanging out…). Drive back was a bit quieter but still a lot of conversation.

Breakfast buffet is good, lots of fresh fruit, muffins, eggs, sausages, toasts, pancakes, bacon, French toast, cereals, orange juice, grapefruit juice, yogurt drinks, etc. Cuban food is bland and boring??  Depends where you stay I guess.

At breakfast they handed out a survey about the resort. Dawn filled it out and we were pretty honest. She left lots of comments and of course our names and room number. I laughed; does anyone ever read those anyway??
Off to the beach where we spent hours just enjoying the surf, sun and sand. High tide came in slowly and eventually surrounded our lawn chairs.  Waves big, lots of shells, coral and various stuff brought in. Water is pretty cold. At one point the big palm tree umbrella we were under fell over in slow motion…odd.

I could lay on the beach all day and just listen to podcasts. Something about the ocean that is just awesome.

Little electric trucks always drive on the pathways to deliver supplies to the rooms, carry bags etc. Great idea.

Back at the room, got a call from public relations who wanted to discuss our survey. Wow. So we went down there, explained it all including the delays, no hot water, Dawn said this is the only resort in the Caribbean we have been at where we were NOT greeted by a drink on check-in, etc. Also told her things were good otherwise.

We were given a free lobster meal at one of the fancy (pay) restaurants with no waiting needed, we would have reservation at a place that doesn’t have reservations…(say what?) LOL 
Few drinks and shut it down for the day. Noticed at our room the slot you needed to put your key in to power everything didn’t seem to matter which way the card went in, so I wondered if the magnetic strip even mattered, tried my my petro-canada card and put it in and YUP, works great. Awesome!!  That means we can leave that in and keep everything powered if needed (fridge, chargers, etc) when we are not there (otherwise, once you remove keycard, after about 30 seconds all the power to the room is shut off to save electricity). Sorry environmentalists, I see no point to having a fridge that is shut OFF. They also use some kind of solar grid in each grouping of buildings to provide power (looks to be solar tubes that heat up a gas that runs turbines to make electricity). Might as well, it’s always sunny there for the most part.

Light switches are square, and opposite…up is off and down is on, some neat room lights...I tired ot find these later for my office but no luck. See pic.
4 english channels on TV, ESPN, China 24 (English by a Chinese guy...LOL), CNN (the election network), and a weather channel which reported weather from all over the globe except Cuba (I guess you already know what it is since you are there). Everything else is Russian, Chinese, or Spanish.

Tues: Super heavy walking person in room above us. I call her Thumper  (no guy needs that much time to get ready in the morning

Plan to hit Varadero with 10.00 CUC bus passes (all day). Waited at the bus stop for a while...up the road we could see a bus coming towards us on other side but it was being held up by small tractor with a load of cement and oncoming traffic…finally it pulls out and passes cement tractor and goes blowing by us ….up the road we see it pull over for people going the other way as the small tractor goes by…putt, putt, putt, putt, putt…super slow, pretty sure it only had one cylinder working…but funny thing, as the bus down the road was just about to pull away, the tractor with the cement pulled out and went around him and was now back in front holding him up again….LOLBefore the bus arrived a lady showed up with the taxi, so we ended up catching that. 1927 ford convertible for 20.00 CUC. Hope they put the money toward some front end parts, at one point I wasn’t even sure the steering wheel was connected to anything…certainly nothing that gave any directional control, anyway…Canadian flag on the dash too, “We love Canada”…Got passed by everything pretty much but never the tourist bus so good choice.

Varadero shopping center helped German tourist figure out how to use his camera. He spoke German and Spanish, bad English, we had English and French on our side, and overall it was a mess. But in the end I solved his problem. He didn’t understand how the zoom worked (he asked me because I had my zoom on my camera).  We were inside a little store and clerk kept telling us to go up to the camera shop (somewhere)…so once we sorted the German guy out we left without buying anything.

CUC to use the washroom. The woman followed me in to get her peso…LOL 
Working our way to the shops taxis and horse carriages all tried to get us onboard. We resisted. One horse guy was very insistent but we waved him off. Going up the road the other way with people on board he waved at us. Then, after we had walked 25+ blocks in 35 C heat and spending some time in a local markets, there he was…we finally relented and got on the carriage. 5 CUC to taxi area….he said “my name is Fidel. Like the guy in power but with no power. My wife is in charge…”Sat in small café patio on side of street, could do that all day, just sit there and watch the people, cars, horses, bikes, dogs and cats wander by…

I actually recognized a couple cars from our last trip there.
Still trying to figure out how the half buried fire hydrant works.
Caught a pink 1954 Plymouth convertible back to the resort. Another 20.00 CUC. Cuba is the perfect place for a convertible.

So much for the 10.00 plan.

Asked gardener about the tall rods we saw in each section of the resort “ZZZT, ZZZT” and the lightning gestures made it pretty clear…LOL


Wed: Windy. Spent morning on the beach. Swim was nice. Ocean is still salty. Cab sent for us arrived at 3PM, ended up at Raul’s house, met Yaima and kids. Had a homemade espresso. Kids are funny, cute too.  “Can we dialogue?”…first question Samuel asked Dawn “ How old are you?”…     :)
We wandered around a bit,  then caught a cab. This thing was rough. I grabbed door handle to get in pass side and it came off in my hand!!!!  I was trying to jam it back in when the driver asked if Yaima would sit up front as he didn’t have a license for tourists…so I got in the back with Dawn and the kids, first thing I noticed was the bar welded from pillar to pillar to hold the front seat upright. No interior panels at all, major rattles and you could see every panel and part move independently over every bump. Door handles corroded half through, makes you wonder about the suspension or body bolts…Every time doors were closed they got checked to make sure they were latched. The rattles were insane, like 1000 marbles in a tin can-and us!

Managed to survive the trip and arrived in Matanzas to check things out. Highlights included the overview from the top of the hill into the bay, old cars again, walking past a major gay bar (thanks for that Yaima!!), and just life in general for everyone. This is not a tourist destination although supposedly the cruise ships will be coming soon enough…overall pretty rough place I thought, people are very poor and I felt conspicuous with my camera.

Check out the registration office waiting room pic. This is a government owned place.

For trip back Yaima flagged down a Lada, we all loaded up and the guy backed up into the median, now the traffic came and we are stuck with the back end hanging out into the inside lane of two lanes each way….sat there for like 6 minutes. After the other car this one seemed almost decent even though Raul calls them garbage cars.

Back at Raul’s place he was back from a tour, greeted us face half shaven first thing he did was show me Jerry and Ronny were still there so they weren’t supper (“Look Tim, Ronny and Jerry are still here!!”)!!LOL Asked how our trip was, I said awesome “We wrecked a guy’s car, toured a gay bar and almost died in a Lada..!”.....turns out the guy with the car didn’t have ANY kind of taxi license at all…
Lobster, shrimp, rice, salad and plantains for supper, it was excellent. Great conversation, their English is better than last time, my Spanish still sucks (ie, none). Gotta work on that.
Raul has great plans for our next trip, long running tour all through the heartland of Cuba and various towns and places, it would be crazy but fun I think.  The beach is a big attraction for me though.
Late leaving, we didn’t get back to the resort by cab until 11:45 or so…


Thumper upstairs making noise at 6am already, how can anyone make so much noise just walking around? Stayed on beach all morning, more swimming, back to room about 3pm discovered one of our deck chairs was missing. Called the front desk (it’s room 6212 again! LOL)  and pretty soon maids running all over the place looking for our chair. They found it too, had our room number on it, and brought it back. Never used it.
Free lobster dinner was excellent. Funny we were told no waiting so when the door opened I walked right to the front of the line, the door broke too so they were dealing with that and I leaned in, blocked everyone and told them had a reservation and after repeating the room number about 10 times we were in.  Pretty sure some people didn’t like that as they had been lining up for 30 minutes but that was the deal. Forgot wallet but wanted to give waiter a decent tip as he was excellent. So awesome lobster dinner, run to room, crush amazingly large bug walking across the floor, grab wallet, and back to restaurant where the girl at the desk simply pointed to him when I explained everything so I walked right through the middle of the place to give him the tip…LOL

Watched some local dancers and bands, good entertainment. Had a few drinks. Funny thing too, at the conclusion of the dancing, they were all wearing a Caribbean flag on their shirts as the final outfits, one flag per shirt, every Caribbean country there and also one shirt with the Canadian flag on it. Go figure.


Up late. We discover the departure tax might be covered already with our bookings, so Dawn goes to call the number to check and the phones are dead! They worked the day before. Now confusion over the tax (you don’t want to leave with CUC’s as you can’t cash them anywhere and it’s 50.00CUC or 70.00 Can), plus Raul was going to call and maybe get together one last time for drinks before we left…

Small truck on the pathway obviously had dead horn. Driver would say “Beep Beep!” when he came upon pedestrians...

Some time on the internet (2 CUC for a hour of log in). Dawn helped two older ladies who were having trouble getting their internet set up.Also, while sitting in the lobby, noticed people checking in were now getting drinks served as they waited. Go figure, and you're welcome. Very windy on the beach, bit disappointing for our last day getting blasted with sand.


Check out day.  Tried to call for a bell boy to pick up our bags but…phone still was not working…
Walking along with our bags as we were leaving it started to rain a bit . Another tourist walking the other way “A little rain and you’re leaving?...” Everyone is a comedian.

Long wait at airport. Dawn went to washroom and four Cuban employees tried to buy her shorts!!LOL Then they wanted her to pay for using the washroom, she refused. The Cuban shakedown.
6.00 CUC for two cans of diet coke at store. Ouch. It was stale. As Raul says "Airports are madness!". No arguement here.

Flight from VRA to YYZ the molding on the front of the cabin bins slid down. FA put it back, but it fell down again (you have to snap the tabs into the clip properlys or it just slides back out).

Back in Calgary, picked up my truck, after the Cuba rides that thing glides along like a limousine!!

Nice to be home.


BEST Tour company in Cuba


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