Cuban Architecture:Windows of Matanzas

20161023-DSC_0082.jpg

We saw some of the most beautiful architecture in Cube, but the poverty in the country makes it very hard to repair and maintain buildings. But I could tell there were days of glory somewhere in the country’s past. The old buildings had windows that opened to floor, as you see on this balcony. The shutters open and there is no glass so breezes can come in during the heat of tropical summers.

Cuba: Delivery Transport

20161026-dsc_0590

I was fascinated with transportation in Cuba – especially how people move from here to there to work, shop and visit. I also enjoyed seeing how people used transportation to make money, for work. Above is a man who was selling eggs on this residential street in Trinidad. I also took a photo on the fly of a man driving his horse and cart past. When I edited the photo I realized he had eggs in the back. These are cobble stone streets – a rough ride for an egg.

20161026-dsc_0418

As in all cities, we saw many people walking. It took me a few minutes to figure out that this man is carrying a cake. I wonder what type of celebration is planned.

20161026-dsc_0419

Bicycles are a very common form of transportation. This man has turned his taxi bike to a delivery bike, at least for today. The government controls most forms of production and services, while keeping wages very low. Consequently people are very creative and resourceful in finding ways to make money, seemingly outside of government control.

20161026-dsc_0556

I acted quickly to get the next photo when I realized the cargo was a hind quarter of a hog. It could be on its way to a restaurant or someone is planning a big gathering with roast pork. I bet there will be beans and rice – a staple of Cuban meals.

20161026-dsc_0617

This farmer’s cart with fresh produce is obviously bringing joy to this women as she is thinking about supper for her family.

20161026-dsc_0603

One of the reasons Trinidad was my favorite stop on our trip, was because three of us had time to walk around a neighborhood to see people living their day. We observed many working hard and throughout the trip learned that most people have a hard time supporting themselves and their families. They are having to live their day-to-day lives with major shortages in basic materials and very low wages.

I’m not sure how I came to the conclusion that the U.S. embargo beginning in 1960 is to blame for the severe poverty in Cuba. However, the more I listened to descriptions of daily life and thought about this issue, I came to the conclusion that the U.S. government policy cannot be blamed. U.S. domestic laws don’t apply to other countries – so Cuba is free to trade with the whole world, minus the U.S. What appears to be creating the poverty in Cuba are the economic policies of the Cuban government. I will share more observation on this topic in future posts.

Cuba: People Movers

20161026-dsc_0581

One of my first observations was how few cars there are in most places, and the wide variety of ways people get from here to there. In the cities we visited, like Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Matanzas there were taxis – some in a form familiar to us and others not so much.

In the countryside and small villages there are few cars, and people used a wide variety of means available to them to get from here to there. The customs of travel were ‘foreign’ to us but our guide gave us some glimpses to how it worked, like the people holding a 5 peso note out in front of them were attempting to get a ride to another village. I was also surprised by the number of people who relied on horses for both personal transportation and for business. My next Cuba post will be on business transportation.

It feels so good, when in a foreign land that is so different, to see something that is familiar.

20161027-dsc_0634

And something to excite our memory.

Cuba: Tiny Grains of Rice

20161025-dsc_0299

We were riding through the countryside, the agricultural heartland of Cuba, on our way to Trinidad. Then we moved to the other side of the road and drove past this – half the road covered with something raked into rows. It was rice – tiny grains of rice. Because there was just one lane of traffic (luckily there aren’t many cars on the roads), I wasn’t able to stop for photos so I rolled down the window and clicked away.

20161025-dsc_0301

There was a man who walked, pulling a raked to turn the rice over. This is how they dry the rice for processing. The asphalt heats up under the very hot tropical sun – maybe even toasting the rice a little. We would pass a long line of drying rice and then we would drive a little way, maybe through a village, and there would be another row, maybe on the other half of the road.

20161025-dsc_0309

Mid-afternoon we saw men with brooms, sweeping the rice into a row. Down the row men were scooping the rice grains into bags. Bending over scooping rice with a metal rice scoop.

20161025-dsc_0312

We learned the bags are taken to warehouses, and then brought back in the morning; repeating the process for three days. No mechanization here, this is a manual labor intensive process.

20161025-dsc_0308

I continue to think about this, probably because it is so different than the highly mechanized society I live in. But this is a poor country where there is complete government control and the government owns almost everything. And the government doesn’t seem to be doing a good job of providing for its citizens. Even professionals, like teachers, engineers, and doctors leave their professions or leave the country because they don’t make enough to support their family. But one of the characteristics of the Cuban people that I admired is their resourcefulness. When I mentioned this to our driver, he smiled at the compliment and said that people have to make do with what they have. And I continued to see evidence of pride in this strength as I observed other parts of their culture.

And I ponder if one way of life is better than the other – or just different. This looked like the “good ol’ days” we long for when life was slower and we start to buckle under the stress of our fast-paced life. I will continue to ponder the questions in my mind as I write about other aspects of their culture. Stay tuned!

The introductory post in this series on Cuba shares the unique nature of this custom tour. You can read about it here.

Linked to The Daily Post.

Cuba: Traveling on the Edge

20161023-dsc_0081

Last Spring I called my daughter who loves to travel and said, I wanted to go to Cuba – she agreed. It was decided.  JB wasn’t too excited until I got online and told him there are tour companies that have trips to Cuba. He prefers traveling on a tour where someone else makes arrangements for where we will sleep and how we will get from here to there. He has no desire to drive in a foreign country, except in Canada. They are our Michigan neighbors, his father immigrated from there, many of our Florida friends are Canucks, so Canada isn’t a foreign country).

20161024-dsc_0182

I wanted to learn about Cuban culture and history because the islands are not very far away from our southern Florida home and I remember hearing news about the Cuban Revolution and the US/Cuban Bay of Pigs crisis so many, many years ago. JB was eager to see the vintage cars that he has heard so much about – we grew up a short way from Detroit, down I-94. We grew up when now-classic cars were new models we eagerly awaited each year, and Motown played as we cruised the Ave.

I called a tour company we have used in Europe and they said they were booked through 2017, but would take our credit card number and book us if there was a cancellation. JB went to a travel agency in Naples and picked up some literature. The travel agent said they worked with a Naples company owned by Cuban natives that would be willing to develop a custom tour to meet our unique needs and desires. I was a bit leery but we got an itinerary and quote. I also got online and checked them out – and I read the big tour companies’ glossy paper brochures, especially the pages of rules and regulations in the back.

20161023-dsc_0042

The itinerary looked good and the price was right so the three of us agreed to use Positive Things and Destinations. I sent the information to friends in Michigan and they booked along with Lynn’s niece. We were excited but all of us were a little worried. This company was started in 2015, operated in a different way, and we were booked to go to a country where touring is a new opportunity for U.S. citizens, even though people from other countries have been vacationing at resorts for years. For us it was kind of like the scary excitement that comes from living on the edge.

As we exited customs at the very small Havana airport, having come from the huge Miami airport, we were met by two people associated with the tour. It didn’t take long to know we had made the right decision. Confronted by local customs that were not instantly comprehensible to me, our guides took us figuratively by the hand and loaded us into two taxis.

20161023-dsc_0041

For the next eight days, the six of us rode in two taxis to Varadero, then down to Trinidad, and back to Havana. One driver was fairly fluent in English and was eager to answer our questions. JB enjoyed riding with him because they shared an interest in identifying old cars and discussing modification that had been made to them (not much to exterior).

We had a tour guide who spoke excellent English and rode with the driver who didn’t speak English. The guide was the one who negotiated the time of pick-up each morning, gave us options for things to do, and made decisions about how to fit in the sites that were on the itinerary. He was also sensitive to pace and listened to what excited us most so he could modify itinerary as we went along.

20161023-dsc_0033

1950 Chevrolet and driver.

This taxi made JB’s heart beat a little faster because he has owned two 1950 Chevys. Both cars had been updated with diesel engines, air conditioning, and the 1955 had power windows. The climate of harsh sun and salt air is hard on paint so they have had several paint jobs. Both drivers were very proud of their cars and felt great pleasure in our enjoyment of them. Judel was especially proud of owning his 1955 because it had been purchased new by his grandfather.

20161023-dsc_0034

1955 Chevrolet BelAir

It was this type of interaction with our tour guide and two drivers that added that special human element to the tour. We learned about girlfriends, wives, children, saw photographs – and had special interactions with a mother and friends – but you will have to wait to hear more about that.

What I comprehend more now than at the planning stage, is that this company will structure a trip to meet special interests. If our group would have been smaller, only two or three travelers, I could have told them that I wanted to pace the trip to take lots of photographs. Travel companion, Gary, could have played a round of golf or two or three. Lynn could have gone snorkeling or horseback riding (almost every family outside of the major cities has a horse or two), Sharon and I could have attended a ballet or concert.

Traveling in a small group allows more flexibility than a tour of 25. Having two taxis allowed us to go anywhere a car can go, and sometimes to split up to meet unique needs. There are a wide variety of lodging options and some of us would have enjoyed staying in small hostels and homes. Some on our trip wanted en suite accommodations and we didn’t know enough about small establishment so we asked to stay in four or five star hotels. I will tell you about them in later posts. We had the opportunity to see both rural and urban living. We went to parks and World Heritage Sites. We shopped at a variety of markets and walked through city streets. And we felt safe knowing that our guide, Lester, was in charge and was dedicated to helping us learn about his country.

I look forward to sharing my observations, in words and photographs, along with some of my thoughts about their country, people, and history in future posts. You can obtain more information about this tour company by clicking here: Positive Destinations. I am not on their payroll nor receive any kickbacks. I’m just a satisfied customer.