Saturday, August 28, 2010

a trip!

august 28, 8:55 pm

Just got back from the trip to Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. Kind of a whirlwind.

Santa Clara is where the Che monument, museum, and memorial is. Cool monument (whoops, no pictures) and got to see an underground, very dark and solemn Che Guevarra memorial complete with eternal flame. Later that evening we went to a community center (bar) and I met a Belgian and two Dutch tourists, who I spoke English with. There was supposed to be a "rock show" that night, but due to the rain it didn't seem that the performers showed up. Instead we listened to a DJ playing "rock" and watched a bunch of cuban guys playing air-guitar. They got really really into it.

Cienfuegos was next. In the morning there was a tour of the main plaza. We all agreed it was terrible. Way too hot, direct sunlight, the tour guide babbled and was difficult to understand. The street we walked down was really crowded with folks and tourists and we found our first market of touristy trinkets. Had a hell of a time finding lunch. We were supposed to be on our own, and were given moneda nacional. But we tried 3 or 4 different places and everything was priced in CUC. Finally after walking around hot, sweat, hungry, grumpy, our assistant director Matt took a group of us to a restaurant and paid CUC for us.

I might not have talked about this but I forget whether I did. Moneda nacional is the cuban currency (pesos cubanos). CUC (convertible pesos) is the currency created for tourists. Now it circulates among cubans as well. Moneda nacional is worth a lot less than CUC. The conversion rate is 2.40 moneda nacional per 1 CUC. Once we get our carnet (cuban ID) we'll be able to go to concerts and things and pay really low prices in moneda. As far as eating goes, it's hit or miss. Many street vendors are in moneda, and many nicer sit-down places are in CUC. But as we found in Cienfuegos, it was really hard to find food in moneda because it kind of felt like a touristy hot spot. Also, there are sometimes CUC menus and they might've given us the CUC menu because we're white and appear to be tourists.

Back to Cienfuegos. Very cool expedition to the mountains. We all got on this camión, a huge soviet era truck that was outfitted with seats on the truck bed. Enormous, loud, bumpy, and absolutely thrilling. It took us on rough dirt roads that were curvy and steep.

We went up a couple mountains, and had a couple moments where we thought we were going to roll backwards. Lots of downshifting. Luckily we had a driver who knew what he was doing. After driving for a while, we stopped to go on a hike. Beautiful mountain terrain, but it was a really easy hike designed for tired tourists. But it was amazingly beautiful and there was a waterfall that we saw and a natural water hole that we stopped to swim at. So refreshing, so surreal. I even jumped off the embankment (maybe 12-15 feet up) and this is coming from the boy who was too terrified to go off the diving board. We hiked some more and finally arrived at a little place where we ate lunch. Perfectly delicious. The chickens were walking around under our table, as were the cats and dogs. They must eat well. The chicken we ate certainly tasted as if it had a good life.

Anyway, our last 2 days of our trip were spent in Trinidad. It's a beautiful town and we got to explore a little and see the hilly neighborhoods where folks live. It's the most touristy feeling, too, but I think we had the most fun here. The first day we went to a museum and had another tour guide who was a blabber. Lots of military history and no air circulation equals grumpy kids. After that we explored on our own and met up for lunch at a palada, which is a restaurant run out of someone's home. It was great food but funny because there was construction going on, so literally a huge hole in the ceiling with sunlight pouring in. Later that evening we went to the "casa de la música," which is not a casa but an outdoor plaza area where there are bands and dancing at night. Kind of a funny mix of european tourists, cubans, salsa teachers, and us. Lots of great dancers (the teachers and some tourists) and the music was very fun. Beers were 1 CUC each. There are two that are everywhere. You can get una Cristal (the light beer, hence the feminine article) or un Bukanero (the heavier beer, with slightly higher alcohol content). I go back and forth. They're both good. Beer is always one of the beverages that is "included" ie free with our lunch or dinner on this trip. So we drank a lot of beer.

The second day in Trinidad we went to a tower that was used on a plantation, constructed super high so as to look over all the slaves. Cool building, great views. Whoops, no camera again. Then it started pouring but we kept our plans to head to the beach. It stopped raining by the time we arrived, and the water was super super warm. Again, very comfortable bath. Still cloudy out, and some lightning in the distance, but it was gorgeous. My first time in the Caribbean! We got some stingy spots, possibly from jellyfish pieces/parts floating around.

That evening was the best night on the trip. After dinner we napped and I got a cafecito, nice little espresso, because I knew it would be a late one. First we went back to the casa de la musica and heard another great band playing. This time a couple of the girls got up and danced. They were awesome and looked beautiful up there with all the pros. There were old men who looked like they were going to die the next day, but dancing up there they couldn't have been more than 20. One old cowboy, complete with hat and leathery skin, danced with a couple of the girls. He did this move that kind of resembled the splits where he would just suddenly jerk his legs open and hit the floor. I couldn't believe that old man's body was doing that. Increíble.

The real fun was the discoteca! It's owned by the hotel we stayed at, which was this big sprawling affair with a nice pool. The discoteca is literally in a cave. Not just one chamber, but a string that are connected and paved with stone, pretty dry and comfortable but a little hotter than I was expecting. Full disco lighting, bar, tables, music videos projected on a huge screen. Absolutely magical. We had a blast and danced our asses off. Weirdly enough, ran into the Belgian and Dutch tourists from the first night.

Today we made our way back home to Havana. On the way we stopped at a cute spot in some bay, and there was a huge mansion that our guide told us supposedly cost a million pesos when it was built a while back. The pictures show a little bit of what it's like. There was this incredible woman with this gold turban and over-painted face who was playing piano and singing a little bit. Absolutely fabulous. Wish I had talked to her but I was feeling shy.

Good to be "home" in Havana. It's already starting to feel that way, after having gone away for 4 1/2 days. I think tonight we're off to a jazz club nearby, supposedly a really good one.

*Edit* Decided not to go to the jazz club. Watched "dirty dancing havana nights" instead! Ha. Good times. The jazz club turned out to be 10 CUC. Way pricey.

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