Category Archives: Cuba

Cuba Vacation at the Arenas Blancas Resort in Varadero

Posted on April 6, 2010 by

Overall

Because this is my third trip to Cuba (twice before for business, my first time at a resort), I may be a bit biased, but I have read some poor reviews for the Arenas Blancas resort, and I must say, these people need to get some proper perspective.

The hotel is nice, relatively new, and clean. The location is great, not far from downtown shopping areas in Varadero, and it is a short trip past the pool onto a beautiful beach. The rooms are clean, and this resort also does not charge a surcharge for single occupancy, so you can get this price even if you are traveling alone.

The facilities are good. The excursions are well-organized and fairly well scheduled (for Cuba… North Americans are notorious tightwads about schedules and timing). Cuba doesn’t work the way Canada does, so you can either make yourself miserable complaining that nothing occurs on time, or you can just relax. Don’t forget Toto, you are not in Kansas anymore, so stop being a pain in the butt about time and schedules!!!

For the price, I would recommend this resort. My trip was $840 CDN, all taxes included, flying from my hometown of Saint John, NB, via SunWing. This is for an all-inclusive stay, including food and drinks. Add $250 – $300 CDN for excursions and tips, and you can have a great winter getaway vacation for less than $1200 CDN/person. How can anyone seriously complain about that??? If you want the Ritz, pay for the Ritz and go somewhere else. I can’t go to Halifax for a week for this kind of money, and the beaches around Halifax this time of year are not very appealing!

Cuba

Remember that this country has been under a brutal economic embargo by the US government for many years, so their ability to obtain some of the things you may find commonplace in your everyday life is made more difficult. Plus, they rely much more heavily on public transportation and the generosity of friends for travel every day.

The money for tourists is Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC). These exchanged the week I stayed for about $1.14 Canadian. In contrast, the locals use Cuban pesos, which trade at a rate of about 24 pesos per 1 CUC, but tourists are not permitted to spend Cuban pesos. Don’t bring US dollars, there is a 10% tariff on US money in Cuba.

Many things are priced very well in Cuba. If your fascination is with the usual sins, bottles of rum (“ron” in Spanish) and boxes of cigars can be had very inexpensively. Rum sells for between $3 CUC and $30 CUC per bottle, depending on the quality and age. The average Havana Club (tourist brand) rum will run you ~$5 CUC/bottle in the stores (tiendas) and a few dollars more at the hotels. I don’t smoke, so none of them interested me, but  cigars range from several cigars per $1CUC to as much as $15 CUC/cigar for the big Montecristos. If you don’t really care about the glitz and glamour of a pretty box, almost everyone working at the resort has a “friend” who can get you black market cigars for much less. My last trip, a Cuban friend from the University I was working with helped me pick up 50 hand-made Cuban cigars for a colleague at work for ~$5 CUC.

The tour guides say that baseball is the number 1 sport in Cuba is baseball, followed very closely by hitch-hiking (their primary form of travel). I would add that haggling is probably a close third. Most prices you see listed are subject to “negotiation” (though not in official tiendas and hotel shops). While you can easily drop 20-25% from a price in a market (and I recommend you do this), unless it is a major purchase, haggling any further means you are really just beating someone up over bits of money you don’t need but could mean a world of difference to the vendor. My time is worth more than haggling for a few pesos.

Language

The official language of Cuba is Spanish, although there are many multi-lingual people, and English is, of course, a popular language as well. In Varadero, language was not an issue. If you are willing to learn a little Spanish, they know enough English and/or French to get you through any issues you may encounter.

If you can order a beer (cervesa) or a mixed drink (pina colada, mohito, cuba libre, ron punch), can ask “How Much” (cuanto cuesta?), can figure out the 10 basic numbers (uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez), can say “Yes” (si) and “No” (no), ask where the washrooms are (banos?) and be nice (Gracias!), you will do fine!

Beach

The beach, as noted above, was just a short walk past the pool, through some palm trees. It offered nice, soft sands and beautiful water for swimming. The beach had volleyball nets, kayaks, paddle boats, and a mini-Catamaran, all available for resort guests to use. There were also plenty of sun chairs for lounging around, and a beach bar nearby offered a large range of drinks and food all day long.

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Pool

The pool is excellent, clean, probably one of the the nicest pools in Varadero. It is an interesting design, with various areas for different types of entertainment/water sports, and a children’s area. The water is chilly, which is just what the doctor ordered for those hot afternoon tanning sessions when you are at the pool because you are tired of picking sand from body cavities. Has a decent pool bar that is right next to the pool (no swim-up bar, but that’s not a big deal). Would maybe have liked a deep section (I think the deepest is about 4′), but again, it is for cooling off and playing, not doing laps.

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Entertainment

During the day are many excursions, and at the resort were daily children’s activities like learning to dance, etc. Early every night was a show for kids. Kids would be ushered onstage, costumed, and allowed to put on a show for the audience, which I am sure the family-oriented travelers would love.

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Later in the evening is live entertainment, sometimes game shows, sometimes live music, and several nights, the Arenas Blancas hotel dance troupe performs various original shows. The dance troupe is very good, professional, and entertaining, so if you want to stay on the resort instead of heading downtown to Calle 62 (a local night spot) or somewhere else for entertainment, I recommend checking them out a few nights.

Opening from 11 PM – 2 AM was an on-site “disco bar”. I think it was in a poorly marked location, but it was always at least half-full when we were there. One thing to note, the bartender in the disco bar makes the best drinks in the resort, worth visiting for that if nothing else!

Excursions

All excursions can be booked through your respective travel representative in the lobby of the hotel. They will take payments (even from credit cards, as long as they are not drawn from US Banks), and make all the arrangements for you. The day of your excursion, a bus picks you up at the main door to your resort, takes you with people from other resorts to the excursion site, and then picks you up and returns you at the end of the day.

Some excursions that are possible include the Catamaran trip, a Jeep Safari, SCUBA diving, fishing, various types of trips to Havana, jet skis, boat tours, etc. These range in price from $50 CUC for jet skis to $135 CUC for the full Havana package with dinner and tickets to see the Tropicana show.

Our group enjoyed several excursions, including the Catamaran day trip, the Jeep Safari, and I did some SCUBA diving at Playa El Coral, a marine park between Varadero and Matanzas, a nearby city. The Catamaran and Jeep Safari were great, as was the SCUBA diving. To save on space, I will likely post individual info for those, with pictures, at a future time.

Staff

OK, this resort does fall down a bit when it comes to friendliness of staff. While there were quite a few shining stars working at this resort, and most of the staff were very friendly if you took the time to get to know them; however, some were just downright grumpy.

Food

While much maligned by the self-appointed food connoisseurs who have posted online, I found the food to be fine. At every meal, if you went relatively early to the buffet, there were plenty of good options. If you wait until hundreds of others have been through, you get the leftovers. Plus, Cuba sometimes has food shortages and/or delivery problems, so you may not always get everything offered each day. Live with it.

The a la carte restaurants were very good. The Italian was probably the weakest, but the authentic Cuban was very good, and the International (near the beach) was fabulous and would rival many higher-end Canadian restaurants for food quality.

As for the types of foods, remember that this resort does not only cater to Canadians, it also caters to South Americans, Europeans, Asians, and the odd Aussie as well. The ketchup is not Heinz, there is no relish for the hotdogs, and their pepper is different. Milk is not a daily staple as a regular drink in Cuban life. Not all of the world eats the types of food we like here in Canada. We just need to get over it, pull our heads out of our butts, and be ready to try new things. This is Cuba, not Toronto. If you want your Filet Mignon steak every night, go to one of the nearby local Cuban restaurants and pay for that, or some fresh lobster for between $10 – $20 CUC.

Final Words of Advice

Rooms are all wired 220 Volts, so either bring a converter to charge up your cameras and iPods, or you can drop them off at the front desk and they will charge them for you.

Bring a stainless steel travel mug for your drinks. The bartenders will fill these up for you whenever you like. Plastic travel mugs will do, but the stainless steel ones hold up better, are cheap enough (Wally World and Zellers-type stores sell them for about $10 CDN), and they can be traded with Cubans in the markets and stores for trinkets so you don’t even have to bring them home with you. If you don’t bring a mug, the small plastic cups they have at the bars that you must use if near the pool or on the beach do nothing to keep a drink cold in the sun and also force you to make many more trips to the bar to stay “hydrated”… 🙂

Anyone who has traveled to Cuba knows that toilet seats and toilet paper are a rare commodity in public places. The rooms had seats and were always stocked with toilet paper. The public washrooms in the resort were generally the same, although some didn’t have toilet seats and most experienced toilet paper shortages at one point or another. Drying towels for hands after washing were pretty much non-existent. Bring hand sanitizer!

Don’t forget to save $25 CUC for the airport departure tax, the Cuban government’s last parting shot at you and your hard currency before leaving the country. While airport taxes are not unusual, particularly in non-Western worlds, they tend to be included in flight costs, but not here.

One word of advice about SunWing, this charter is very picky about their baggage limits. Each passenger is permitted 2 bags, with a combined weight of a maximum of 25 kg (~55 lbs), and that includes your carry-on luggage! If you have clothes, camera gear, and SCUBA gear (like me!), you are pushing the envelope on weight. If you are at all worried, it may be worth the extra $40 to upgrade to Elite status. This gives you an additional 10 kg of weight, not to mention supposedly giving you more foot room in your chair, although the plane I flew on had no first/business class areas. The penalty for being over the 25 kg limit is the closest thing to legalized theft I have ever seen – $20 CDN/kg overweight fees. Again, you get what you pay for, and SunWing is a discount charter line.

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Che!

Posted on May 27, 2009 by

Picked up my tickets today!

FilmPix is showing, one night only, Steven Soderberg’s movie Che, Part I, a portrayal of Ernesto Che Guevera

Whatever you think about Che, his story is an interesting one! To quote the FilmPix site:

The name still resonates forty years after his death. Perhaps more than any other individual, Che Guevara personifies an era: the sixties, a time when revolution was in the air. His hold over the collective imagination is arguably as powerful as it was when he was alive.

From the Apple movie trailer site:

November 26, 1956; led by Fidel Castro (Demian Bichir), a band of 80 rebels sails to Cuba. Among these young rebels is Argentine physician, Marxist, soldier, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Benicio Del Toro). Nation-less, strapped for resources and fueled only by determination, the group engages in swift, bloody battle to free the Cuban people from the corrupt dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Che and his soldiers wrestle the nation’s resources and affection from Batista’s grasp. Though considered a hero by some, Che becomes a hugely controversial figure. At the height of his fame and power, he disappears. Entering South America incognito, Che recruits another band of guerilla fighters in the harsh Bolivian jungles.

Here are links to the various movie trailers:

Apple Trailer

YouTube

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After Cuba and home again…

Posted on March 15, 2007 by

Despite being in love with Cuba, every good trip has an ending. So here I am, sharing some of what I returned home to… 🙂
Snow Piles

What do you do with a pile of snow? Start shoveling!!!
snow removal

No Cuban can visit the “Imperialistic Western Empires” without visiting the most guilty of capitalist institutions… Wal-Mart and McDonalds! 🙂

Here is Henry, quoting passages from Che and Jose Marti to Ronald McDonald… 🙂
Ronald McDonald

Then he decided to show off for our Cuban friends who view this and not be zippered up to his eyeballs in the snow… 🙂
Golden Arches

When we pulled out from McDonalds and passed by our dilapidated harness racing track, Henry started laughing when he saw one of our “Canadian Coches”!
Canadian Coche

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Last Morning…

Posted on March 1, 2007 by

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(posted after I returned home!)

Getting ready to leave the guest house… Eric (from our St. Andrews campus), Leonardo, Onis, and Arturo
Last Morning At Guest House

Henry, Leonardo, and I spent the morning in Havana wandering around, watching the tourists, and having a few beers (my last taste of Cuba… 🙁

Anyone who thinks there is no trade coming and going in Cuba hasn’t mentioned it to the lines of container ships and tourist buses that flood through Havana every day…
Shipping In Havana

The ‘Catedral’ is a beautiful building and is a “must” for photographers to visit.
Catedral

For those of you who were wondering, this banner shows that apparently Fidel is still alive! 🙂
Fidel

Henry was pretty excited on the plane ride…
Henry on Airplane

He took a great shot of another plane flying under us near New York. I told him it was the Americans shooting a missle near us as a warning because we had a Cuban on board… 🙂
Airplane Contrail

When we arrived in Toronto and went through customs, I went straight and Henry had to go through Immigration process. He looked at me with a quizical look as he was directed to a separate line and I just told him it was where they would perform the strip search! 🙂 Even the customs lady laughed when he figured out what I had said and his eyes widened! 🙂 I let him off the hook though, and just told him it was standard procedure for all foreigners. 🙂

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The Last Supper!

Posted on February 27, 2007 by

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(posted after I returned)

The last night in Cuba, we had a great party at Casa Danaysi.

The supper was awesome – salmon!
Last Supper

Danaysi with her friend Greta…
Nana and Greta

Danaysi and her new niece Diana!
Nana and Diana

Daimarelys seemed a little sad I was leaving. I was pretty sad to leave too!
Daima

Even Leonardo and his very unique horn showed up with Henry for a drink and some fun!
Leonardo

We had so much fun dancing in the heat, I started hogging the fan…
Fan Dance

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Last update from Cienfuegos

Posted on February 27, 2007 by

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So this is it, last day in Cienfuegos.

During the morning yesterday, Danaysi spent a lot of time downloading all my photos and videos to her computer so she could have a copy of them. I think it may be for blackmailing me later with a few embarrassing videos of me dancing… 🙂

For lunch yesterday, Oscar took me to a restaurant on the Malceon plaza because his house is still under repairs and it is difficult for him to entertain. It was a nice place, and we had plenty of food – pork steaks, Chinese butterflies, chicharitas (fried banana chips), fresh salad with tomatoes (mmmm), and rice with beans (arroz congris), with a couple of soft drinks. I even tried Bucanero Malta (a sort of sweet, non-alcoholic beer). The entire meal came to 82 Cuban pesos (about $3.20 in foreign money), very cheap, although that is a large portion of Oscar’s salary. Oscar refused to allow me to help him pay, he said it was his invitation. They may not have much money in Cuba, but people like Oscar appreciate friendship, have more class than I could ever try to explain here, and will give whatever they do have to make you feel comfortable and welcome! I am still awaiting word from the Vatican about my request to have him canonized as Saint Oscar of Cienfuegos (’Santo Oscar de Cienfuegos’) for all the work he does for us and time he spends with us while we are here!

Yesterday afternoon, there was a book fair on Prado and the Boulevard. Every year they have one, and it celebrates a different country (I assume it is Latin American or Spanish normally). This year, the celebration was about Argentina. There was a carnival-like atmosphere in the streets, and Prado was closed to vehicular traffic near the boulevard so that pedestrians could shop in relative safety. Paula, Viviena’s daughter, was singing in the concert that accompanied the fair.

Supper (sena) was at Casa Viviena, with Laura, Anna Rosa, Paula, and Viviena’s mother also present. Before supper, we played dominoes, and the team of Laura and Chris were the winners, with Laura and I being labelled as ‘bota gordas’ by Paula and Anna Rosa for always managing to get rid of the big dominoes quickly. We had a lot of fun. Supper included a lesson in the kitchen on how to cook tachinos (fried banana chunks) and how to make ‘Coffee Cubano’, and also included meatballs, rice, potatoes (a rare find in Cuba), and a salad with tomatoes (I can’t get enough of their tomatoes!).

After supper, I walked Anna Rosa and Laura to their homes (well, until they could catch a coche), then met Oscar y Monica, Fuster y Meili, Daima y Danaysi, and Daylin y Kadir at a oacked Teatro Tomas Terry for an orchestral concert. The name of the group was ‘Camerata Romeu’, and it was made up of all female string players. They started with very conservative classical music, then moved into more contemporary Cuban music (but done with strings!), a ‘dueling banjoes’ style of performance by two violin players, and also a percussion piece written by a Cuban composer in which they used the bodies of the string instruments to create the percussion sounds, and at one point during the percussion piece, one of the players got out of her seat and danced Cubano style, much to the delight of the crowds. The concert ended with two encore performances, something almost unheard of in Cuba from what I was told, and no less than three standing ovations. The entire performance was amazing. Taking a classical performance and converting it into a hybrid of Cuban-Latino music was simple genius. I will post some of the videos and pictures on YouTube and the blog when I get back.

Today, I will spend most of the day getting ready to leave and picking up the last of the trinkets. I am heading back much lighter on trinkets this time than last, since most of the ‘tourista’ stuff I brought back last time. More coffee this time, to stock up on, and Henry is still trying to find some Cuban cigars for Craig (I think he forgot)!

Tonight is supper (sena) at Casa Danaysi in Tulipan, a district in the North of Cienfuegos. It is my Farewell Party (’fiesta de despedida’), and expected to attend are Daima, Oscar y Monica, and Fuster y Meili.

Everyone is remarking about how quickly I picked up Spanish (espanol), and although I am sure much of what they are saying is just them being friendly, I know I am able to carry on simple conversations and then use ‘Spanglish’ to get my point across even when I am alone. I am even learning some nuances of Cuban Spanish – that espousa means wife but also means handcuffs is a favourite joke of the Cubans. Also, there are some jokes they love to tell here over drinks, like the subtle terminology surrounding ‘papaya’ (a fruit, but also polite slang for a woman’s reproductive area…) and ‘con queso’ (meaning ‘with cheese’, but also polite slang for not having ‘mingled’ with a member of the opposite sex for a while and becoming frustrated about it…). You will understand my surprise when I saw ‘papaya con queso’ as a dessert on the menu yesterday, showed it to Oscar, and once we stopped laughing, Oscar said that since I am noticing these types of things, I must now be a true Cubano!

Tomorrow morning, Leonardo is taking us to Havana early in the morning so Henry and I can walk around Old Havana for a few hours before the flight leaves. As long as all goes well with the flight schedules, I will be home sometime after midnight tomorrow!

I am very excited to get home to my family, but at the same time sad to be leaving such good friends. Hopefully we will be able to extend this project and enjoy more time with such good people!

Voy Tumbando!

Cubano Boy Chris

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Weekend Tales of a Cubano Boy – Days 6,7,8

Posted on February 26, 2007 by

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The weekend went well! Friday was spent with Fuster working on some Java issues, then to a fiesta at Casa Deisy. Everyone arrived from the faculty and we had a great meal, played dominoes, and danced around a lot. We played a game, similar to musical chairs, called ‘baile de la escoba’, in which someone is in charge of the music and everyone passes a broom around and whoever is holding it when the music stops must do something determined by the group. For instance, when Monica was caught with it, she had to physically pick up Oscar (quite a feat indeed!), when I was caught with it, I had to dance like a Cuban girls (shaking and all…), and when Oscar was caught, he had to physically pick me up (even greater feat than Monica’s!!!)

Saturday was a trip to the Castillo. We were told the ferry was not running in the morning, so we took a bus from Cienfuegos to Pasacabello, then a small ferry to the Castillo. I paid in Cuban pesos rather than CUC for the bus, but the ferry operator wouldn’t let me pay in pesos, only CUC.

After wandering about the old castle, we went for a walk to Rancho Club and the Cuban Campground area, then along the shore to a spot where there are holes in the coast with small lagoons good for swimming. We went to the very last one. The surf was quite heavy, but Oscar, who is apparently almost a Canadian, went swimming with me. He seemed to think the water was cold, but I would say it was no colder than the Aquatic Centre pool in Saint John. Daima and Danaysi tok turns with my camera taking pictures of what they thought were two locos in the water!

Lunch (almuerzo) was by a reservation made when we arrived at a place near the Castillo (a small hotel restaurant). Danaysi’s mother knows the manager, so she made plans for us to eat there. It was all Cuban food – rice, chicken, and fish. The fish was ‘pescado’, caught fresh in the morning just for us (we know this for sure, because the lunch was a little late because the fish had just arrived and was being prepared. It was laid out on the plate whole, it looked similat to a walleye or yellow perch, with spines and a long green tail. I tried to get a picture of one that was uncooked, but the woman in the kitchen (cocina) had already cooked all the fish the fisherman (pescador) had caught.

Saturday night a group of us went to see a concert at Teatro Thomas Thierry. The singer was William Varanco, from Havana. Daima bought the tickets for the show and bought me a Cuban ticket (5 cuban pesos vs $5 CUC), and I was either lucky or my tan is starting to work, since they did not question me going in with a local ticket.

Yesterday morning (Sunday, domingo en espanol), I went to the Mercado Campesino (open market), an open air market in Cienfuegos. I spent the morning shopping with Oscar. He bought beets, carrots, pineapples, tomatoes, guagui (s small root vegetable, similar to sweet potatoes, and some other items. When we were finished, Oscar had three large bags of food and had spent 40 cuban pesos (about $1.60…)

I met up with Daima after the market and we went with her father in his car to their place for the afternoon. Danaysi joined us and I had a lot of fun with the family, not to mention the great food! Jose y Elida (Daima’s parents) are great people and a lot of fun. Everyone had a great chat about how most Cuban men do little, if any, housework, but that Jose helps around the house a lot. Jorge, Daima’s brother, and his wife, Yoandra, were with us and we spent lots of time comparing cultures. Jose is an electrical engineer and a manager (3rd in charge) of the local oil fired power plant. Jorge is a doctor in Santa Clara and came home for the weekend, Elida and Yoandra are both pediatricians in Cienfuegos. The company was quite intelligent!

At supper, Jose, Jorge, and Daima drove me back to the guest house for supper. After supper, I spoke with Eric and Terry from the St Andrews campus (their project is helping the Universidad train students in refrigeration and electrical). Air Canada had lost their luggage coming in. One bag arrived via Veradero (???) and the other one has yet to arrive.

Last evening was pretty quiet, just chatting about experiences in Cuba, then we went to Costal Sur for the live show. It was pertty good, and the place was quite busy (Cubans are happy that their ‘cold snap’ is over… I personally don’t consider 10C a cold snap, but hey, I’m Canadian!) Went home after the show and slept with the air conditioner on for the first time since arriving because it was humid.

My mother and Nadine both called the guest house last night. I also managed a short dial up connection from the guest house that, although very slow and unpredicatble, allowed me to have a short chat session with both Chris B and Bev!

There is a book fair on Prado this week, I will be visiting it after work this afternoon with Oscar. I have been invited to lunch with Oscar and supper at Casa Viviena. Tomorrow night (my last night, a mixed blessing, to be sure…) is supper at Casa Danaysi.

I miss Canada and I am looking forward to my return to see my family, but there is something magical about Cuba. Yo queiro mas tiempo en Cuba!

OK, I think that’s it for now. Henry seems to have recovered quite well from his cold, so we will be doing some work on Project Management today.

Regards,

Cubano Boy Chris

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Diary of a Cubano Boy – Cienfuegos, Days 4 & 5

Posted on February 23, 2007 by

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Fiesta at Casa Eduardo on Wednesday night was a success. It was Naomi’s birthday, I told her she didn’t look a day older than 29 (vente nueve). She seemed to like that. I have some incriminating videos of me trying to dance to Cuban musica, the girls all wanted to dance and kept dragging us up with them. 🙂

I rode in a coche (horse taxi) with Katia and Henry to get to Casa Eduardo. I have now experienced every type of transportation the Cubans have – planes, buses, cars, horses, bicycle taxi, bicycle, and feet! I guess I could try a boat… 🙂

Onis cooked the shrimp (camaron) for me for lunch (almuerzo) again yesterday. MMM, very tasty! I have some pictures of them raw, they are very big.

Arturo needs some gaskets for the shower water heaters at the guest house if anyone can find them. I have one of the old ones to bring back with me for comparison, but if anyone can find some before I return, the next crew can bring them down.

Katia and Henry put on a nice fiesta last night at their Casa as well, and after a few drinks of rum and a couple of bottles of beer (a local brand called Manacas), I decided to teach the guys at the party the art of “flinging a bottle cap” by snapping it in your fingers… You can imagine the results! The nice part was that Claudia (Eduardo’s daughter) chased them down after we shot them, so we never ran out of “ammo”! On the bright side, it may become a new sport here, since everyone did a lot of laughing and trying to get it right…

This morning, the two Cubans from Havana left the guest house, tonight Eddie from the St. Andrews campus arrives for 2 weeks, so he will be here when the next crew arrives from Saint John, and there is a Mexican professor arriving tonight as well, staying for the weekend (fin de semana).

Henry has been sick with a bit of a cold for the last few days and trying to fight it before his trip with me back to the Great White North, so today I have been working with Fuster and his research student on some Java programming issues they are having. We worked through some Enterprise Java Bean questions they had and I provided them with a new development environment to try (free, open source software is such a nice addition to the world for us IT geeks, no need to pay Bill Gates when you can get open source software for free!!)

The El Nico trip is off – transportation issues, it’s the Cuban way – so a group of us are all heading to the Castillo (Castle) on the other side of the Bay near Pasacabello. We will have a picnic there, then return and go to a show at the theatre tomorrow night. The show is by a well-known Cuban singer. Monica bought my ticket in Cuban pesos, so Oscar laughed and asked that I not show up in shorts and a hat so I could try not to look too much like a tourista! Like my white (blanco) skin and stuttered Spanish (espanol) won’t give it away!!! 🙂 (tourists must pay much more money than Cubans to go to the theatre, almost everything is subsidized for them to make it more affordable)

Anyway, that’s it for today. I’ll likely not have any new messages until I get back to the Universidad on Monday (lundes) because of the lack of Internet connectivity at the Guest House.

Ciau!

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Cuba, Day 3

Posted on February 21, 2007 by

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I found ketchup potato chips at the store (tienda) yesterday afternoon. I bought a bag and noticed that they were made in Quebec, so that was a nice treat (sorry honey, fell off the diet wagon!). I also found Coca Cola there as well, also shipped in from Canada. Those are a rare find here.

Some Cubans from the Education Ministry in Havana will be staying at the Casa de Visita with me tonight and tomorrow night, some conference is in town. And another instructor from NBCC St. Andrews (Eddie) is arriving tomorrow to stay for a week, so the guest house will be busier than it has been with just me there!

Arturo has promised me another feed of camarón (shrimp) tomorrow for lunch but I think that may change to today with all the people coming… I asked for the recipe and Onis told me she cooks it by butterlying it, salting it, rolling it in flour, and then frying it in oil. Not exactly healthy, but very tasty. Somebody thank Bill Stroud at the college for telling me about that treat!

Baseball game was fun last night. I grabbed some video and some still shots with the camera. Cienfuegos was playing a team from Havana and lost 8 to 1, but the overall calibre of play was very good, at least for the other team… heh…(the skill levels were easily at AAA level for you baseball fans out there). They like to joke that the Cienfuegos pitchers are so good they hit the other team’s bats every time…

After the game, we went to an open air bar called Club Artex, where they had a live band of female singers called ‘Mana Franca’ (Hand of Truth or something like that). They were pretty good, and I grabbed some video of that as well for Nadine to hear.

We had some rum (Cubay), and I mixed it with the local cola, TuKola. Actually, I drank diet TuKola, which in espanol is ‘dietitica’, so that I could try and keep from getting a ‘barrigón’ (big belly!).

You can’t order a drink in a glass here like home, you order the whole bottle, so everyone at the table chips in and buys a few bottles, then everyone shares. Daimarelys is still at home in bed after last night, she had more to drink than most of us. I laughed when Dianysi told me, then we joked about las ninas (kids) who were not able to handle the morning after a party..

Tonight is the birthday fiesta for Naomi at Casa Eduardo y Naomi, tomorrow is a fiesta at Casa Henry y Katia. I am giving a short Project Management presentation at a construction/Engineeing company Friday morning, then dinner at Casa Slava on Friday night with Slava y Deisy. I’ll try to get some more photos of Deisy for Joe! heh

Oscar is trying to arrange travel for El Nico (a beautiful mountain waterfall area outside of town) for Saturday. We are also going to try and go to the old castle near Pasacabello on Tuesday because the ferry will not be as busy then.

I brought my Spanish books and have been practicing my espanol whenever I can. I ask people to speak slowly and try to pronounce things clearly so I can understand, and I can now carry on simple conversations (OK, maybe I communicate with basic phrases almost always in the wrong tenses, but that is a start!). Spanish is actually very similar to French, which makes it easier, although of cuorse, sometimes I break into French by accident, which really confuses the heck out of them… heh

Anyway, that’s it for today I think.

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Cuba, Day 2

Posted on February 20, 2007 by

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Henry and I went for a bicycle ride yesterday afternoon to Eduardo’s house (Henry scrounged a spare bike somewhere), then to his house, then we walked along Prada (the main drag) and to the Park. It was fun, but my bum is sore from the bike seat. It has been a while for my lazy Canadian butt apparently… heh

It is nice out, but the Cubans find it a little cold, so there were not many out yesterday afternoon. Today is warmer, so there should be more people around.

Arturo went out and bought some shrimp for me (I requested them at the advice of Bill Stroud, a colleague who had them here before). They were HUGE!!! Anyway, Onis butterfly cut them and they were each almost the size of a piece of fish we might have in fish and chips!

I think Oscar is taking me to a baseball (beisbol en espanol) game tonight at 8PM under the lights. The local team is apparently not very good, but it should be fun for a laugh. Apparently, they joke and heckle like the rest of us North Americans!

Naomi, Eduardo’s wife, is having a birthday party tomorrow night, so I am heading there for that. Henry’s wife, Katia, is having a gathering at their place on Thursday, so that takes care of this week’s evenings.

Henry has a meeting in Havana on Saturday, so I may go along for the drive, then wander around Old Havana for the morning, depending on how much room there is in the vehicle and what time they plan on departing…

And yes, for those who think I am simply vacationing, Henry and I are working diligently during the day, so it is not all fun and games. Henry is working to organize a meeting at a local engineering company for me to present some project management information for them. But, it is really much more fun to explain the interesting stuff than the boring work details!

That’s it for now. Time, as always here, is flying by quickly.

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