Tuesday 20 December 2016

A Cuban adventure part 2

Welcome to the countryside. This is just outside Vinales in the beautiful Pinar del Rio province. Despite the climate it is verdant, with mountains which look like a herd of elephants which have been half buried. There are palm trees and waterfalls. I really loved looking out of the window when we were travelling around. Once you arrive in Cuba, it becomes very clear that you are in the Carribean, which is one of those things you tend to overlook before you get there.
Collectivo taxis became part of our lives. Every time we needed to move town, from Havana to Vinales, Vinales to Trinidad, Trinidad to La Boca, La Boca to Cienfuegos and Cienfuegos to Havana, we took one.

Forget buses, this is the way to do it. The price is similar, but they don't take as long and you get thrown together with other people who become new friends for a few hours.
Our very own cowboy, Manuel, who took us out for an amazing bum-numbing 5 hour ride, to a tobacco farm, a cave and a coffee plantation. He first got in the saddle aged one and a quarter. Q actually looked amazingly comfortable on his horse Morro. Every time Morro went to the toilet, Manuel would exclaim, 'Muchas cervezas, muchos mojitos!'

We met people from all over the world, and had the most wonderful chats. In fact that's a feature of this type of travelling. Everyone is open to chatting. We met people from France, Germany, Lithuania, Canada, America, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, America, China, and had really great intense conversations.
This is what the barns look like where they dry out the tobacco. They have just the right amount of humidity. Each area of the island is good for growing different crops. In this part of Pinar del Rio, the crop is tobacco. Farmers have to grow the designated crop or they will have their land taken off them. They also have to sell 90% of their crops to the government at a fixed price. The remaining 10% is theirs to smoke, to share with family or to sell.

Politics was favourite, with Donald Trump always raising his head at some point. In fact quite quickly. Within minutes most times. I'm sure we do a lot more small talk here before we get down to the nitty gritty. 

I can report that we didn't encounter any Trump supporters. 'He's mad, right?' our American friend, Lavinia said. Our Canadian friend Joy, who is black, reported that her relatives were looking at how to leave the US because they no longer felt safe.

You know that nubile virgin who hand rolls your cigars for you on her thigh? Well, there she is on the left. Don't be disappointed. Everyone has off days.
That's a revolutionary on the right. They dip the cigar end in honey before you start puffing on it. I'm not a puffer normally, but you know, when in Cuba...

There was great concern amongst everyone that we spoke to about the rise of the right wing all across the world. I found that rather comforting. 

Coco Loco, a drink as big as your head. It's got coconut water and various other bits in it, then they plonk down a bottle of rum on the table and you stick as much as you like in. Imagine the dilemma. There's no alcohol to be had for love nor money, and then you get access to some, but you're riding a horse with stirrups which are too long. Your feet only just reach if you point them as hard as you can, so you feel out of control. Meh. I had a tiny capful just because and then trotted home with all the grace of a sack of onions.

But I guess that people doing what we were doing would be like-minded. I guess if we'd gone all-inclusive to Varadero for two weeks, maybe we might have met people with differing points of view? I don't know.

This was the cave part of our excursion. You walk about 250 metres in and then there's a natural swimming pool. Pitch black apart from torches, but absolutely heavenly. What an adventure. There were about 30 of us there, and I was the only one who went in! Crazy. They were all papping me. I was just on the point of executing some Ethel Merman synchronised swimming moves for their viewing pleasure, when then this German guy joined me with a headlight on, so we went off to explore instead.

I think my absolute favourite thing was chatting to people. Our Cuban friends were remarkably open and it was very clear that they are thoughtful, politically-aware people.

The left is the view of our street from our roof terrace in Vinales. There's always something to see. If it's not an old car, it's a pair of oxen and cart or the man who comes round on his onion-adorned bicycle, shouting, 'Cebolla! Cebolla!'

One Casa owner told us that Venezuela was very important to Cuba, that they get all their diesel from them, and that financial disaster in Venezuela means ruin for Cuba. No diesel means lorries can't transport goods across the country, farmers can't collect their crops. Really basic stuff. I couldn't help but feel rather worried on his behalf because from what I've read in the news recently, Venezuela is not looking good.

There you go, the oxen I told you about.

I overheard someone say, that in the early 1980s Cuba was doing well. Russia was there, supporting them. 1 CUP equalled 1 dollar. But then Communist Russia went bankrupt and they pulled out of Cuba and now 25 CUP equals 1 dollar, but the wages haven't gone up.

That's our room there, with the white door. The kitchen is to the side of it, and that's the sitting room just in front of it.

Yes, they need change alright. I hope they get it. It doesn't feel right that things should be so unequal, that we should be able to afford a nice holiday there while they struggle to get loo roll and basic medication. It just doesn't feel right.

So what can we do? I guess, listen to what they are saying and be empathetic. This is their life. If you can do something to help, do it, whether that's giving tips or leaving presents. It's really difficult for them to get hold of so many things even if they could afford them, so any gifts are really useful and welcome.

We left all sorts. Medication, toiletries, jewellery, make up, clothes, shoes, accessories, batteries. If you're out for the day with a guide, buy them something to eat or drink. We're not rich in British terms, but in Cuban terms we are, so we need to help if we can, and in a sensitive way.

One more post to come. It must be time to go to the seaside, surely?!


Fiona said...

I'd never fancied going to Cuba before, but since reading your thought provoking posts I've changed my mind. Your trip sounds rich in every experience and the people seem a delight. We all take for granted everyday items but when I was flying I often left bits and pieces for the kids in Kenya and the aircraft cleaner in Albania, who didn't have such luxuries as loo roll. Looking forward to the one about the seaside. x

Anonymous said...

This post made me giggle muchas! Look at you with your cigar and mermaid turn : muchas respect. So much colour bursting out again in this post and love the stories about all the people you met along the way. Looking forward to the next part of your adventure xxxx

Vronni's Style Meanderings said...

What a lovely thoughtful post, Tania.

I really like the sound of the Cuban people and as for Cuba I would very much like to go next year if finances permit. They probably won't but we can but try...

It seems like such an interesting country as well as beautiful and it's great that you got around to see so much and met so many 'chatty' people!

By the way, I thought the 'nubile virgin' was looking rather cool...

Looking forward to part three and I was also wondering - apart from rum and cigars - was there anything else that you could buy as souvenirs/mementos given how little the people have?

Lynn Holland said...

What an adventure and a great insight into Cuban life. It's very unlikely that we will get there so it's been great to hear the story of your journey xxxx

Sue said...

Very much enjoyed part two now looking forward to part three. Excellent post, more more more please.

Vix said...

Oh bloody hell, no booze and then there it on, on a plate, so to speak! Its funny, isn't it, I can go for ages at home without a snifter but after a few enforced dry days in rural India I now always carry a bottle of rum in my backpack.
Yet another wonderful and thought provoking post, T.
How lush and verdant is that first photo? I remember travelling in a similar style in Turkey, I think those communal taxis are called "dolmus" there, meaning stuffed. Its a great way of meeting people and, like you say, travelling means you meet similar people, adventurous, easy-going, open to anything as opposed to the all-inclusive, spoon fed lot.
Ha! you did make me laugh with the nubile virgin.
Donald Trump's definitely a conversation starter, how awful for Joy's family to feel that threatened.
That's scary stuff with regard to Venezuela, India's going through a similar thing with Modi withdrawing 500 and 1000 rupee notes almost overnight without enough new currency to support the change. January should be interesting. xxx

Polyester Princess said...

I very much loved reading part 2. I was hooked from the moment I saw that wonderful opening photo. That 5 hour horse ride must have been quite an experience, but I think I can imagine the bum-numbing part. It's great that you met so many like-minded people of different nationalities, and of course you didn't meet any Trump supporters. It was the same when we were in the UK, we didn't meet anyone who voted Leave, either ...

Connie said...

Lovely lovely photos. I love that you went for the full on Cuban experience. And that photo of you with the cigar is honestly one of my favorites.