Day 10

To day we would tour the city of Camaguey, population 350,000. First stop was the ‘Institute of Friendship’ where we met the Director and his staff . . .

. . . he and Jon exchanged gifts . . .

lots of smiling handshakes . . .

. . . and of course a sing along!

There were posters regarding the US Cuban relationship and  . . .

the results of a local painting contest . . .

whose message seemed pretty clear . . .

Soon we were back on the bus and as we motored along came a cross a new type of biking outfit . . .Yikes!

A lot of restoration is going on in the city but there is always room for more . . .

We unloaded outside the Camaguey Municipal Band’s practice area where they performed a special rehearsal just for us.

. . . a logo that was developed in the US for the group . . .

You will recognize this song . . .

. . . many of the musicians had pedaled to practice on their bikes carrying their instruments . . .

. . . including this beauty, which looks like may have been won in the Dutch National Postcode Lottery!! It is biggest charity lottery in the Netherlands founded in 1989. Fifty percent of the proceeds of this lottery are donated amongst 81 charities, which, in 2010 amounted to over 270 million euros.

All the touring made us hungry and we headed to lunch which was in sort of a Transportation/Amusement Park/Restaurant area. Planes and train cars were used and spotted among the restaurants . . . sort of lost in translation.

But . . . our lunch was EXCELLENT

Seated right on the bay . . .

. . . starting with a nice salad, although I had have adopted the ‘What Would Cindy Eat’ philosophy of NO RAW LETTUCE which probably would have been OK to eat here . . .

. . . followed by a lobster dinner for 21!!!!

Nice meal and garnishes . . .

Provided by the proud staff . . .

. . . the chef’s trained at a culinary school in Venezuela!

Back on the bus after this HUGE lunch we were on our way to meet with the City of Camaguey historic district planning restoration department . . .

. . . complete with powerpoint presentations . . .

A lively question and answer period and exchange of gifts . . .

. . . and we began our walk. First through one of hundreds of small square around the city, this one with . . .

. . . bronze statues of colorful local citizens!

Two new friends of Barb’s who received a few goodies . . .

Resourceful Cubans figure out an easy way to transport the kids around town with these wooden seats.

As we wound through the narrow street, many of which are not wide enough for auto traffic, the planning commissioner points out one the relics of the Soviet area . . .

. . . a historic block that had been razed to build the highest ‘condo’ in eastern Cuba!!

Luckily there was lots of local art and murals to add some color.

Here is their new convention center, with all the amenities, built to bring more meetings to Camaguey . . .

. . . which is right across from the Comndant Che hotel. Evidently, Che still keeps an eye on everything with the aid of a close circuit camera.

We finished off our walking tour by visiting the artist Orestes Larios’s gallery . . .

. . . which he has opened to a dozen local artists for producing art.

We wandered around, meeting the artists, looking at and buying art , for an hour when a special chamber orchestra concert that had been arranged for our group began setting up.

Very nice use of the space . . .

. . . with great acoustics. Really a nice time!

Jon, the delegator, had requested a group of 4 to serve as our final nights farewell dinner committee. Here the two treasurer’s assess the CUC’s collected for our guide and bus drivers tips.

. . . while over their shoulders in the hotel was this kiosk with literature reading everything that is Fidel/Raul and Che. Wonder if they would approve?

Tonight we were on our own for dinner and chose a well know local private restaurant, the 1811.

Nice setting . . . and we couldn’t help but wonder

. . . if this cow had been the last one shot in Cuba. After the fall of the Soviet Union, and their withdrawal of financial support to Cuba, the island faced many problems including famine. Cows began disappearing and appearing on people tables. The government became so concerned they implemented special rules. All cattle became property of the government and if you are found guilty of illegally killing a cow, you get 15 years’ in prison. Kill one of your fellow Cuban citizens and you get 10 years’!! As Eliseo told us, “Cows are sacred in Cuba”. Sort of like India!!!

The restaurant was known for its wine cellar . . .

. . . that included a chef’s tasting table.

However, when we orderd wine we were told there was none available!!! TommyH pushed the point and one of the staff left the building and soon came back with a bottle or two, from where, who knows! Here are Barb and Tom protecting their special order from the rest of us!

After our HUGE lunch many of us thought we would never to eat again . . . but soon the Special of the House appeared, sauteed fish with shrimp and coconut sauce . . .

. . . along with a HUGE serving of fried rice. It would have been enough for the whole table!!!

At least we had a nice walk back to our hotel to work off some of the calories . . . which were quickly replaced by several rums before turning in for the night!!!


Day 11

We started the day with a nice breakfast and packed up. Although we had one more night in Camaguey, we would return at noon and move down the block to new hotels. Scheduling snafus!

There was not much hot water in the morning for showers and they had a few other plumbing problems too!

The pedestrian mall was already busy at 8:30am!

Mechanical improvising!!!

This morning we’d visit with staff from CITMA, the Cuban national version of our Department of Natural Resources and National Park Service.

Cuban version of a government office cube . . .

. . . no modern time clocks here!

We had a great overview of their system, followed by a lively question and answer period. The Cuban’s are very worried about  and studying the effect of global warming on the oceans . . . especially since they are an island!

Not sure if all presentations end with this slide or not!

Introductions and gifts were exchanged given by our group . . .

After the visit, gifts of chocolate and cookies were passed out by our hosts.

emJay discusses with our representative from the Institute of Friendship and Andréa, an environmental specialist with CITMA.

International relationships formed . . .

Bobbie and Gary hitting one more art studio on the way back to the hotel . . .

. . . local gendarmes on patrol.

At the CITMA meeting, we talked a lot about recycling and there was evidence of it along the pedestrian mall . . .

The street cleaner who uses this cart makes about 400 CUC’s or the equivalent of $20US/month . . . the same as a teacher!

. . . to put that in perspective, this Frigidaire full size refrigerator was close to $1000USD! Several years pay!!!

. . . and a HUGE window air conditioner, the equivalent of $900USD!

When traveling, we always like to check out the local markets or grocery stores. This grocery was in a regular store front on the pedestrian mall and exhibited their wares in the window just like a shirt of appliance store. Funny!

Lacking some supplies but not liquor . . . which is subsidized by the government.

. . . certain items were in stock, some were not . . .

. . . frozen chicken was widely available.

Back at the hotel right before lunch to transfer our luggage . . . one last chance to buy cigars in the lobby!

Jon, Jeff and Eric stayed in a hotel on the corner and the rest of us were right down the block in this one level 5 star hotel.

The entrance . . .

. . . reception area . . .

. . . and the courtyard with our rooms off on each side.

Very clean room . . .

. . . and bath, with TWO rolls of toilet paper . . .

. . . and all the goodies one might need.

We rendezvoused back at the boys hotel for lunch . . . where emJay decided to order the ‘Mysterious Chicken????’

. . . which as close as we could tell was, Mystery solved: chicken with grilled onions.

Bobbie, our retired accountant takes care of the finances.


Then it was off to tour a local hospital and meet some of the medical staff.


On the way in . . .


. . .  behind the door in the middle was the Cardiac Unit, a reassurance to several of us who have had ‘issues’ in the past.


Eliseo interprets for Dr Hottie, who wore 4 inch black heels to work!!!


The hotel where Jon, Jeff and Eric stayed. The rest of us stayed at a hotel just down the street on the left side . . .


. . . where we had a nice open air atrium to enjoy. Only our group staying here tonight!


We walked over to the boys hotel . . .


. . . where Eliseo had arranged a nice cocktail party to kick off the evening, before we walked to dinner.


Lot’s of laughter, all around!


As we had observed all week there was music and dance EVERYWHERE. As we walked to dinner, here was a dance class taking place just down the street from our hotel.


It was hard to believe how fast the trip had gone as we reassembled at the same restaurant we had had our kickoff dinner, 10 days before. Tonight our group had the head table, sitting right in front of the dance floor and entertainment.


Everyone was in a very festive mood, including Barb, Alberto, emJay. Barb and emJay both spoke Spanish so were actively able to engage Alberto during inner, something that was hard to do during the wee when he was behind the wheel. . . .


Tom, Cindy and Greg . . .


Alberto, Karen and Michael . . .


Michael, Laurie and Jeff . . .


Eric, Bobby and Gary . . .


Brenda, John and Carol (missed Jon and Mike!)


It was time for the committee to do it’s work. Barb and Laurie made the presentations . . . first to Alberto . . . . of course, Eliseo was on hand to interpret Alberto’s responses


Then on to Eliseo, where we shared many of the lighter moments of the week . . .


. . . and among our gifts a PACKER flag!


The entertainers were nice enough to hold off with their performance until we were done with our ceremony  . . . then time for dessert


. . .and lots if action!


Eventually it was time for the audience to get up. Karen and Alberto got us first, he really had the moves . . .


and soon the floor was packed!


But way too soon, it was time to say goodnight as we snapped a few more photos . . 596


. . . and of course did a little more shopping during our stroll back to the hotel.

Goodnight poochy!  A few more rums at the hotel and it was time for our last sleep over in Cuba.


Day 12

The morning started with an early breakfast and final load up for our trip to the airport. Twenty minutes later we were there, hoping our plane would leave a the scheduled 10:30am flight time and not face similar delays like we had experienced on the way over from the US.


Lots of Cubans the heading to Miami, too.


Eliseo put on his ‘official guide’ lanyard and made sure each of us made it through customs with our $25 CUC Cuban departure tax and passport in hand. At the back of each immigration booth there was a red door and when they buzzed it and you walked through you were on the way out of Cuba. Here emJay says good bye to our new and dear friend whom we all hoped to see again when he travels to the United States. Last year he traveled to Vancouver with the Cuban All Star team serving as their interpreter at the world baseball event. He and his wife then then spent two months in the US!


Once we got through customs and to the final waiting room there was lots of chance to spend any CUC’s one had left in their pocket. CUC’s cannot be spent outside of Cuba, so our goal was to leave with zero!  Lots of international liquors including many from Russia.


The plane arrived on time and seemed like it was greeted by the ENTIRE airport staff. Most of us were given extra legroom seats in the 4 exit aisles because we could speech English like the crew.

The plane lifted off on time and soon, only a 90 mile flight, we were back on US soil. We spent the afternoon and evening at South Beach and over dinner discussed the contrasts of Cuban life as to that of the SOBE area, which of course is nor typical of the general US. Talk about night and day comparisons!!


In two days time, everything was unpacked and washed, suitcase’s put away, souvenirs put on the shelves. It was a fine time for a glass of wine and our last “coocooroucho”.



Cuba was a most memorable trip.

Three things come to mind:

The Land. As many have said the best thing that has happened to conservation and the ecology of Cuba is communism. Although the Cuban people have a strong environment bent, the revolution of the past 50 years basically stopped all development. Many areas remain pristine with not much of a human footprint or disturbance. There is very little litter in the rural or urban environments, when compared to the US or other countries in the Americas. One reason may be there is so little ‘junk food’ available to the population along with is wrappers and plastic bottles. Of course they do have one HUGE cobalt and nickel mining industry with vies with tourism for the number 1 and 2 source of income for the island. The staff we met during the week were VERY professional, knowledgably and doing the best they could with the resources they have available. One thing they all have to their advantage is the Cuban peoples spirit of protecting the environment. A fear of many is eventually the island will be ‘opened’ when we drop the embargo and things could change. Most of us felt the Cubans will remain conservation conscious and protect what they have.

The People. we met in the cities and countryside were very friendly and always tried to make us at home. Tourism is a HUGE part of their economy but they seemed especially friendly when they found out we were actually from the US and not just another Canadian tourist. Politics aside, the Cubans want to raise their families, be safe and have a future just citizens in any other country. Our thumb of oppression has prevented their economic advancement. The reasons that may have made sense 50 years ago to create the economic embargo seem so miss-guided in 2014. We seem to be friends with every other country in the world now, other than North Korea and Cuba. Good reason probably for North Korea, but Cuba is no North Korea. Rich Cubans in Florida, New Jersey and around the US have enough political sway (READ: political contributions) that there is no change foreseen in the near future. It may take a generational change to make it happened. As we like to say . . .”Democracy . . . may not be perfect but it’s the best government money can buy!”

The Economy. In 1993 when the Soviet Union pulled out of Cuba because of their own problems, evidently Fidel told over 500,000 Cuban government workers they no longer had jobs and should go out and ‘start a private business’. Many of the entrepreneurial types did and have now formed what is called the ‘inverted economic pyramid’ in Cuba. In the US, it is the captains of industry, doctors, lawyers and other professionals who are at the top of the pyramid. Considering doctors, lawyers and other professional in Cuba make about what a teacher or street cleaner make, it is the ‘private entrepreneurs’, primarily working in the private sector industry, that are becoming the wealthy. In fact, the private all inclusive resorts were ‘off limits’ to Cubans until just 5 years ago when the government relaxed their control. Now 30% of the visitors to the large joint venture resorts are Cuban. Cuba is no longer a classless society.

Restaurant and B&B owners are becoming the wealthy of the country. Our bus driver Albert had been a lawyer for ten years and quit to become a coach driver. More lucrative? You bet. Doctors are have starting new careers as restaurateurs’. The tips we gave Alberto and Eliseo for the services they provided equaled about three years of a normal Cuban government ‘salary”. Interestingly, there has never been an income tax in Cuba until recently. It’s only on tips made by those working in the tourism sector and can be as  high as 50%. The fee is not called a tax, but a contribution, that is used to purchase pediatric medicines in hospitals.

The trip to Cub was definitely and eye opener. As we were told . . . ‘Cuba is only 90 miles away from the US but it is another world.’ It is . . . but things are changing. I’m glad we had a chance to experience Cuba before major changes take place.