Saturday, 17 November 2007

Highlights of My Cuba Trip

I have a lot to catch up on so will try to do this chronologically. This will be fairly long.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6 Skip and I packed like fiends and did all the things necessary to prepare for out trip to Cuba the next day.

The next day we attended the afternoon matinee of "Sweeney Todd" at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It was well staged although a very strange musical. I was most impressed with the actors who also performed all the music and did the singing. Wow! I can't even imagine how challenging it was to find instrumentalists that also could act and sing that were suited to the respective parts.

After the show we went for dinner at "Nawlins" a restaurant and jazz bar on King St. Then we took the subway up to Yorkdale where we had parked the car. Then we drove to the EconoLodge on Airport Rd. Our flight to Varadero was scheduled to leave at 6:30 the next morning so we were supposed to be at the airport three hours ahead - at 3:30!!! We went to bed as early as we could and set the alarm and asked for a wakeup call at 2:30. Of course, no one was at the counter when we arrived but there was already a lineup. Things went very smoothly checking in and getting through security. Since we didn't have to clear US Customs, we were through to the gate fairly quickly.

The flight was delayed a bit but we arrived pretty much on schedule. Sunwing had buses waiting to take us to our hotels. We were the last ones to be dropped off as our resort is almost the very last one on the Varadero Peninsula.

The Paradisus Princesa del Mar used to be a Sandals resort but was bought by the Sol Meliá group last December. It is an adult-only all-inclusive 5-star resort. We had been advised to go for as many stars as possible to ensure the best quality of food. It was good advice.

Most of our days were spent relaxing by the pool,

or on the beach,

(did I mention I did some knitting?),

having meals, resting in the afternoon and going for dinner. We went booked a tour to the Varadero Tropicana on Saturday and to Havana on Monday.

The Tropicana show was very good except for the emcee who would have fit in well in the 60s. He sang a version of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and a Neil Diamond tune. He did about a 20 minute set - very cheezy. Then came the dancers. They were excellent and had very colourful and elaborate costumes. The show was very well done. We were seated at a table with 6 Russians who smoked like fiends and drank like fish. We got a complimentary 'cuba libre' (rum and Coke with lemon) and a cigar for the gentlemen and a carnation for the ladies. Supposedly it's very similar to the Tropicana show in Havana.

On Monday, we got up early and boarded the bus to head to Havana for the day. It's about 140km to Havana but a 3 hour drive. The paved roads are very bumpy in a lot of places. We stopped for a washroom break about 40 min. out of Havana and I had a great pina colada. It was the first of several bathroom visits I had where there was no t.p. or a seat on the toilet. Can you say 'helicopter'? Fortunately, I had brought my own supply. Heh, heh, heh.

Once through the tunnel into Havana, we were driven to the square by the San Francisco de Assisi church.

This area of 'Habana Vieja' dates back to the 16th century. Old Havana is a UNESCO historic sight and is partially funding restoration projects in that area. Havana is a beautiful city that is crumbling. Time seems to have stopped almost 50 years ago with the US sanctions against Cuba after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. There are still many, many cars from the 50s on the roads. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the Eastern Bloc, Russia ceased to support Cuba. Things got very bad then. Cuba has very few trading partners. In 1992, they even ran out of oil. There was nothing to generate electricity and there was no power for a couple of weeks. Each Cuban has a ration book issued every year. They get 6 lb. of rice, 900g of beans and 12 eggs a month as well as some other basics. Children up to the age of 7 also get 1 litre of milk a day. Basically, the people of Cuba are starving. I lived in Mexico and saw poor people there but this is a different kind of poverty. Anyway...

We saw several interesting sights: the Ambos Mundos Hotel where Ernest Hemingway lived for a time (the room on the top floor in the corner)

We had mojitos in the lobby bar.

We saw lots of old cars.

We went to Revolution Square where Fidel Castro once gave a 5 hour speech without any notes.

The building facing the square is the Department of the Interior and has an iron outline of Che Guevara on the facade.

"Hasta la victoria siempre" (Always until victory).

It is a lovely, sad, old, crumbling city. Fidel's brother, Raúl has basically taken over and will stay in power when Fidel dies. It is after Raúl dies that things will change for Cuba and probably not for the better initially.

Not having a computer, I had lots of time to knit and read. I read "The Birth House" by Ami McKay which had been recommended to me by a couple of the ladies with whom I knit on Thursday nights. I also finished Mark's socks (one is pictured here with a rum punch):

I didn't have a needle to graft the toe (Kitchener stitch) so just put the stitches on matches to hold them.
I didn't have much left yarn left on the first sock as you can see from this picture.

Our trip home was fairly uneventful. I did a mammoth laundry yesterday and some food shopping. Skip picked up Scooter and I had a baked chicken dinner with broccoli and sweet potatoes ready for them when they got home.

I was really fading after supper and ended up going to bed at 9. I got up at 9 this morning. Wow! I haven't slept that long in ages. I guess the trip back took the stuffing out of me.

I met Nancy, Lorna and Sue for lunch today. We are sorority sisters from university (University of Western Ontario - the 'centre of all learning in the universe') and we try to get together for lunch a couple of times per year. It is always a good time and we get caught up on all the 'dirt'. It is good to spend time with long-time friends. We all have 'stuff' in our lives and it feels good to share it. We know each other's 'history' and just pick up where we left off. It's good for all of us.

Skip had a delicious dinner waiting when I got home - pork roast with roasted veggies and broccoli. He and Scooter had to head off at about 6:30pm to go to Scooter's hockey game.

While we were in Cuba, we watched an HBO special on the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State football teams. They have an annual grudge match the third Saturday of November every year. The special was very good. Sadly, because of our lunch I missed the entire game but Skip said it wasn't that exciting and Michigan lost - as predicted. Oh well, there's always next year.

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