Sunday, 23 December 2012

WHY CUBA?


I arrive into Cuba, late in the afternoon, on a rainy November winter’s day with heavy clouds up above.  This must be my 13th time in Cuba, but I feel a bit apprehensive, maybe because I haven’t been back for over 1 year and a half.  A year and a half might not seem that long, but it feels like an eternity for me.  Since meeting the family in 2006 I had been back quite regularly, but then I was based in Central America, only an hour or so by plane and a couple of hundred dollars air-fare.  Things have changed; I moved to Uruguay, friends in Havana were absent, now living in other countries, new acquaintances made over the internet; I was about to meet in person for the first time.  

I was staying in a Casa in Havana Centro, as per usual the streets were bustling with people going about their daily business.  As I made my way down Calle Neptuno towards Prado, weaving myself around other people, avoiding the puddles on the street and dodging oncoming traffic, I noticed that there were more street vendors selling fruit ‘n’ veg. and new privately owned businesses popping up all over the city.  It wasn’t my first winter in Cuba but somehow Havana looked grey to me for probably the first time, which took me by surprise.  Even with all its complications and issues, I had always viewed Cuba through my own personal set of rose coloured glasses and I wondered to myself ‘has the magical spell cast over me by Cuba been broken?’ 

When I think of Cuba I always think of my friends in Trinidad, spending time with the family, strolling around the streets of Trinidad, nights out at Casa de la Trova, and undoubtedly lovely sunny days, so I was keen to get the next possible transfer out of the city.  It was after 6pm when I got to the Cubatur bureau at Hotel Inglaterra and I wasn’t pleased when I was abruptly told that the Transtur was fully booked.  That’s never happened before!

If there is one thing I have learned from my experiences in Cuba, it’s that if you need something done always ask your casa, they always seem to know a man that can.  So I phoned my friend in Trinidad and asked if she knew of any transfers returning to Trinidad the following day, she said she would find out.  Convinced I would be on the 8am Viazul bus to Trinidad, I started to make the necessary arrangements for the following day.  However, after my shower there was a knock on my door.  ‘Was it a telephone call for me?’ My friend must have worked her magic, it was Roberto, ‘Who is Roberto?  How did he get my number?’  He offers me a ride to Trinidad the next day, leaving at 4.30am.  ‘Que, what time?????’  It didn’t take me long to decide, when I realised I would be in Trinidad by breakfast time, I jumped at the chance to avoid the freezing cold Viazul bus and take the ride to Trinidad.  I couldn’t have planned it better, even if I had tried, somehow whenever I am in Cuba everything eventually falls into place!  

After my various telephone conversations that evening, I start to think, ‘how curious, who is this Roberto and why is he travelling to Trinidad so early in the morning?’  The next morning, waiting by the door unsure of what to expect, apart from a white Jeep, I finally meet Roberto, he is a journalist travelling to Trinidad for work.  It turns out to be an interesting journey, intellectual conversations at the crack of dawn, how he ended up in Cuba and I in Uruguay.  It never fails to impress me, the people I meet in Cuba always fascinate me and I remember this is one of the reasons why I am drawn to Cuba and what makes each of my experiences so unique.  

As the sun started to emerge our conversation was momentarily cast aside.  I noticed the mist hovering at ground level in the fields and then the sun appeared in the horizon and rose over the carretera and it reminded me, que lindo es Cuba!   

As we approached Trinidad, the same feeling of joy that I always feel at this point of the journey wells up inside me.  We arrived into Trinidad safe and sound by 8.30am and I realised that the spell hadn’t been broken, I was finally in Trinidad.  The door to the Casa appeared to be closed but it was on the hook and was left open in anticipation for my arrival.  It seemed very quiet inside but I walked into the house as if I belonged, Fortuna the family dog, was the first to greet me, followed by the children and then my gorgeous friends, Misleydis & Gustavo.

I realise this is why I always long to return to Cuba; to see my amazing friends in Trinidad.  It feels like home to me.  I look forward to making my first trip out onto the streets of Trinidad, having a cerveza with my friend in our favourite little hide-away, listening to Cuban music, long chats with old friends, discovering changes, having new and unique experiences and greeting people on the street as if I never left.  






Sunday, 16 December 2012

BODY ART IN CUBA


Studio 16

The art of tattooing dates as far back as the 5th to 4th millennium BC, however Modern tattooing began in the 16th to 18th century when sailors came into contact with Polynesian tribes and brought the art back to the Western world.

Once a form of deviance, tattoos have now become part of the mainstream global fashion and revolutionised into an acceptable form of art expression.

Cuba is no exception; it too has a tattoo artist movement which is growing in many of its provinces, not least of all in Sancti Spiritus, and the town of Trinidad.  

The province of Sancti Spiritus, known for its richness in cultural activities, attracts many young Artists like Ranses Oreski Marrero Consepcion.  He decided to move to Trinidad and open a Art Gallery in the historical centre of Trinidad after graduating from the College of Art in Matanzas.  Ranses is an Artist of Lyrical Abstract Art and is also a keen advocate of Body Art in all its forms i.e. painting, video art, performance, photography, fashion etc.

He believes that this is the right time to attract followers and lovers of the art of tattooing and has therefore created a new cultural project called “Studio 16”.  He will begin by organising a cultural event related to Body Art in Trinidad, January 2013, but with the support of government and cultural institutions, proposes the organisation of concerts, video presentations, films, exhibitions and conferences across the whole of Cuba.  He believes that if you do a good job of teaching the fundamentals of the art and the place it has within society and the world, it can have a positive effect on the youth of today and those of the future.

His aim is to promote the art in a positive setting as well as educate the community about the harmful habits of this art.  The project will contribute to the spiritual and educational enrichment of the community and thus change the way society views individuals who choose tattoo art; so they are no longer seen as a marginal group of society.

The event will take place 17th – 19th January 2013 in Trinidad, Cuba and will stage the following cultural activities:

Creative Workshops – the appreciation of tattoo art both at an artistic and educational level
Theatrical Performances – presentation of visual and audio samples relating to body art
Visual Arts – an exhibition from local Artists
Competition – a display of tattoo Artists demonstrating their talent and ability 
Catwalk – a visual show of body art designed by various Artists
Music – a Rock concert to celebrate the end of the event



Thursday, 6 December 2012

FIART 2012


The 16th Feria Internacional de Arte (FIART) 2012 (International Fair of Craftsmanship) with the slogan Art, Usefulness & Skill takes place between the 7th & 23rd December in Havana, Cuba.

This year the Fair will be dedicated to Ciego de Ávila province.  It is aimed at encouraging the exchange among the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA). 

Over the years, the family Santander have received many awards at FIART.  In 2007, UNESCO awarded the family with a special prize in honour of their special family tradition; the master craftsman.   

On my recent visit to La Casa del Alfarero (Santander) they showed me some items that they were planning to send to FIART.   

The family Santander also offer workshops to budding pottery enthusiasts.













Sunday, 23 September 2012

OUR TRIP TO HAVANA


Today, sat in my garden, drinking a freshly made, hot coffee, I remember my days in Havana.  An enormous city!  I am used to my town, where everything is relatively close by, I had an idea that it was immense, but the reality almost always surpasses the imagination.

Havana’s buses!!!!....I had heard so many stories, mostly of theft and of the quantity of people that travel on them, I dreaded the idea of riding on one.  But I had to get on this type of transport if I wanted to arrive at each of the places the children wanted to visit in good time, I must confess that I clung onto my bag with dear life!  How silly!  After a few days of having seen my friend, now used to living in Havana for more than 5 years, capable of sleeping on the bus whilst a young man is singing in the centre of the bus and at the other extreme, a man asking for money so he can have something to eat, and others shouting at a passerby walking down the street, I realised that my fears were exaggerated.  

On one occasion, after running half a block we managed to catch the bus and in my effort to raise the children onto the bus, then myself with my bag glued to my chest, I didn’t realise that I pushed into a woman.  She rapidly and angrily said to me ‘hey, we are people, not animals, don’t push me!’  Off course I apologised and replied ‘Honey, if you don’t want to get pushed around, then take a taxi!’.  This lady kept talking, but I was not listening, I was surprised with my reaction, I had only been there for 3 days and already I was just as stressed as any other ordinary Havanero, that has to take the bus each and every morning and afternoon for work.  So I looked at my husband and we smiled at each other.  Only at this moment could I understand just how difficult it is for these people to go backwards and forwards on the buses on a daily basis.

I was only on holiday, which I enjoyed very much and most of all I didn’t lose anything, I only won, I got to know another way of life for us Cubans.  Respect to them!  This city is over populated, with its diversity of races and religions that make Havana a wonderfully quirky and awesome city.  And now from the comfort of my home I can remember fondly of these experiences and continue to be grateful for living in a city as beautiful, quiet and safe as Trinidad.

Cuba is beautiful in its entirety, but nothing like I have here with the mixture of gulls and mockingbirds, I'm near the sea and the mountains and most of all I DO NOT need buses.

Anonymous

Hoy, sentada en mi jardín, tomando un café caliente y recién hecho, recuerdo mis días en la Habana. Una ciudad enorme! Yo, acostumbrada a mi pueblo donde todo está relativamente cerca, tenía una idea de su inmensidad, pero la realidad casi siempre supera la imaginación.
¡Las guaguas de la habana!!!... Había escuchado tantas historias, sobre todo de robos y la cantidad de personas que entraban en ellas, que me aterraba la idea  de montar en una. Pero tuve  que acudir a ese tipo de transporte si quería llegar en tiempo a los sitios que los niños querían visitar, confieso que me aferraba al bolso como a mi propia vida, !que tonta!  Después de varios días y ver como mi amiga que a  vivido en la capital por mas de cinco años, es capas de quedarse dormida mientras en el centro de la guagua cantaba un chico y en el otro extremo un señor pedía algo de dinero para comer, y otros le gritaban a un transeúnte que caminaba por la acera, me di cuenta que mis temores eran exagerados. En una ocasión después de correr media cuadra logramos coger una y en mi esfuerzo por subir a los niños y luego yo, con mí bolso pegado a mi pecho, no me di cuenta y empujé a una mujer, esta rápidamente me dice  muy enfadada “ oiga aquí hay personas, no animales, no me empuje” Yo claro pedí disculpas y dije “cariño, si no quieres que te empujen toma un taxi” esta señora siguió hablando, pero yo ya no la escuchaba, me quede sorprendida con mi reacción, solo llevaba tres días allí y ya estaba tan estresada como cualquier habanero de a pie, de los que tienen que coger guaguas cada mañana y cada tarde para el trabajo, entonces miré a mi esposo y sonreímos, solo en ese momento comprendí lo difícil que se hacía para estas personas el diario ir y venir, Yo, yo solo estaba de vacaciones, las que disfruté muchísimo y sobre todo, no perdí nada, solo gané, púes conocí otra forma de vida de nosotros los cubanos ¡mis respetos para ellos!
  Esta ciudad está sobre poblada, su diversidad de rasas y religión hacen de la Habana una urbe peculiar y maravillosamente increíble  y  en la distancia, ahora desde la tranquilidad de mi casa, solo  recuerdo con cariño esas vivencias y sigo agradeciendo el vivir en una ciudad tan hermosa, tranquila y segura como Trinidad.
Cuba es bella en su totalidad, pero nada como la mezcla que tengo aquí de gaviotas y sinsontes, estoy cerca del mar y del monte y sobre todo NO necesito guaguas.

Anonimo



Tuesday, 18 September 2012

COMMENTS | EXPERIENCE THE REAL CUBA

Katie and Fi spent a couple of week with us, Experience The Real Cuba, in Trinidad, Learning Spanish in Cuba, living in a Casa Particular and having Salsa lessons. If you are unsure about whether to come to Trinidad or if you are curious to see whether they enjoyed their experience in Cuba, check out Katie's comments.  Hopefully this will make up your mind.

Thanks to Katie for sharing with us her experience in Cuba.

COMMENTS | EXPERIENCE THE REAL CUBA

Katie and Fi having a ball in Trinidad, Cuba

Sunday, 9 September 2012

IS CUBA SAFE?


I often get asked this question, especially from the parents of students about to go to Cuba and in my opinion it is the safest country I have ever visited.

Before going to Cuba I had this vision that crime was ubiquitous in Cuba, I’m not sure where I got this idea from, but I have noticed that many people, before knowing Cuba, think the same.

Upon arriving into Cuba for the first time, I felt nervous, but I soon realised that I didn’t need to be.  Walking the streets of Cuba, you obviously feel disorientated, but as soon as you get used to your surroundings, you couldn’t feel safer.  All you have to do is sit down on a park bench, people watch and you will discover how fascinating it is.  If you’re lucky someone will join you on the park bench and before long you are comparing stories and putting the world to rights.

Cubans are not very aggressive; they are generally a happy go lucky bunch, you don’t find gangs of youths with a menacing presence, instead they are listening to music, laughing and joking or paying a compliment (piropo) to whomever walks by.  It’s not a violent country; no-one has access to guns or other lethal weapons.

Saying that, as with any place in the world, you should always be street wise and be aware of your surroundings.  I’m not a woman with many material possessions, but what little I do have, I don’t like to flaunt it.  I often go to Cuba with as little as possible so I can at least try and blend in with the crowd.  

I have heard of other people losing belongings, for example, I met a Dutch girl who lost her mobile phone on the overnight Viazul bus from Santiago de Cuba to Trinidad.  We were all sleeping, it was very dark, but I remember this girl leaving her bag wide open on the floor in the gangway, obviously not a wise thing to do in any country.   

Another guy I met, told me that he was out late at night in Havana, completely pissed, on his own, walking the streets, when he got mugged by a group of youngsters.  For some reason he had all his worldly possessions on him; his mobile phone, his passport, all his travellers’ cheques, cash, credit cards, camera etc.  They weren’t violent but they took advantage of his drunkenness and helped themselves.  He was so pissed he was unable to stop them.  

There is no need to go out at night with all your worldly possessions, leave it in your hotel or casa particular, it is far safer there.  All you need is some cash for the evening and a copy of your passport, why do you need to be bogged down with anything else for a night out on the town!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

RAINING IN CUBA

It is raining outside, I can hear music close by, I'm not sure whether its making me feel sad or if it's the weather.
It' s coming from my neighbours, they await the arrival of their son after four months in Australia.
He got married to an older lady, but he didn't like life in that continent.
Will this always be the only way Cubans can get to travel, to know other regions?
To sacrifice so much for a dream!
This visceral love we feel for this land, it brings us back time and again, even though the sadness of seeing it in it's decline hurts us to our bones.
Cuba, beautiful island with sad eyes, torn in anguish for the missing children and the present whom have a love hate relationship, with the established uncertainty of an uncertain future.

Anonymous 

Esta lloviendo afuera.
Cerca escucho una música, que no se si me pone triste o es solo el tiempo,
Son mis vecinos, que esperan a su hijo que regresa, después de cuatro meses de Australia,
Se casó con una señora mayor que el, pero no le gustó mucho la vida en ese continente,
¿Será esta siempre la única posibilidad para los cubanos de viajar, de conocer otras latitudes?
¡Sacrificar tanto por un sueño!
Este amor visceral que sentimos por esta tierra, nos hace volver una y otra ves a ella, aunque la tristeza de verla en su decadencia nos duele hasta los huesos.
CUBA, hermosa isla de ojos tristes que se desgarra de angustia por los hijos ausentes y los presentes con esos encontrados sentimiento de amor y odio, y  con  la ya establecida incertidumbre de un futuro incierto.

Anonimo

Saturday, 21 July 2012

CUBAN PICNIC


My friend ever the optimist and not fully familiar with life in Cuba suggested we have a picnic in our room in the Casa in Caibarien.  We had spent the day driving to Cayo Santa Maria, walking along the wild, wind swept beaches taking photographs.  It wasn’t a typical hot day on a Cuban beach, it was more like a winter’s day in the UK; grey, gloomy and windy.

We had already been out to the only restaurant we could find in town the night before and my friend was a little tired of Cuban food.  Being a Muslim, she doesn’t eat pork, she didn’t realise that this would rule out most options on most Cuban menus.  As a creative cook herself, she was forever looking for the spice.  However, on this day we felt like a cozy picnic style spread just for two.

We went in search of a supermarket to see what we could find.  Number one on our list was bread, but this proved to be a challenge in itself.  “How hard can it be to find a loaf of bread or some bread rolls?”  Well, this is Cuba, I had to remind her.  After spending 1 month in Trinidad, I could honestly say that I had never seen bread in the shops and there certainly weren’t any Bakeries in town.  I remember walking up and down the road of my Casa Particular on the way to my Spanish lessons and smelling the aroma of freshly baked bread, but the bread being baked wasn’t for sale.  It was a government run Bakery where bread was being baked for rations.

It was difficult for her to comprehend.  How can there be no Bakeries?  This was in December 2006 before private enterprises were being encouraged.  Refusing to believe there was no bread, she insisted that we continue driving around the poorly lit streets of Caibarien.  Finally we stumbled across a Bakery, we couldn’t believe our luck, we were a little excited so we boldly entered the Bakery as if we had the right to walk in and purchase a loaf of bread.  All eyes were on us for a split second, two strange girls completely out of place and then everyone continued to work and pretended we didn’t exist.  Off course, she didn’t speak any Spanish so I had to be the one to ask, so I sheepishly went up to the counter and asked if we could have one of the baguettes he had in his hands; the delicious aroma wafting around us.  He stopped what he was doing, he looked around him, maybe he was looking for moral support from his co-workers, and finally he handed me one of the baguettes and he continued to work.  A little bewildered, I asked him how much he wanted for the bread, ready to be overcharged as I was obviously a tourist.  But he looked at me and said he didn’t want any money.  Now I was surprised, I asked if he was sure and he just smiled and waved me off and told me to enjoy the bread. We got the feeling they just wanted us to get rid of us.

It was like finding the jewels in a treasure hunt.  We were so pleased with ourselves, not only did we find some bread, we even got it for free!  It was the highlight of our day, we couldn’t stop giggling like a couple of exited teenagers.


Friday, 15 June 2012

TRINIDAD CARNIVAL CUBA VIDEO II



The Carnival in Trinidad, Cuba usually takes place at the end of June. This year the 'Fiestas San Juaneras' takes place between 23-27 June (2012).

Saturday, 2 June 2012

TRINIDAD CARNIVAL CUBA


Trinidad Carnival Cuba


I’m excited by the fact that my trip to Cuba has coincided with the Trinidad Carnival. Trinidad is always alive with music, but I have never experienced the Carnival and I was looking forward to sharing it with the family.  

The Warm-Up Trinidad Carnival Cuba
I’m at the bank and I can hear music being played outside so I go out to see what’s happening and there is some kind of band procession, with a flow of people following the musicians.  It’s like a prelude to the carnival celebrations, a refreshing welcome to open everyone’s appetite, a reminder of what carnival entails or an announcement of what’s to come.  People stop what they’re doing and watch the musicians pass by and join the back of the procession, following it to Parque Cespedes, where the band continue to play a little while longer.

Around the square there is a buzz in the atmosphere.  José Martí has been transformed from an ordinary street to a place dedicated to fun and festivity.  I walk several blocks and I am amazed with the transformation, there are street vendors, food stalls, beer vans, activities for the kids.  

Once the afternoon sun has cooled down a little, we all put on our favourite outfits and go out to join the carnival fun, which is a family affair.  The streets are crowded with families, all looking their best.  Ladies with their hair and nails done, men wearing their smartest jeans and t-shirts with extravagant designs.  

Trinidad Carnival Cuba
Pipa de Cerveza - Beer Van
We try to explore the different stalls, the children are excited as their eyes bulge at all the goodies on offer.  Every few steps we bump into friends or family and we have a little chat and catch up on the local gossip.  My mind begins to wander and I lose focus on the conversation being held.  I can´t help but stare around me at the harmless fun being had by all.  Just like the kids, I eye up the food on offer and am keen to try what looks like chicken kebab sticks.  I am amazed at the beer van, people queuing impatiently holding all kinds of empty bottles / plastic containers of various shapes and sizes.  It looks like you can fill any container for 1 Cuban Peso (CUP), not a bad deal and people are making the most of it.

Tractor Trinidad Carnival Cuba
Later on that evening I go out alone and find one of the guys from Casa de la Trova.  We head to the sports stadium slightly out of town where a Salsa Band from Havana are playing live.  I´m so glad I bumped into my friend as I had no idea that this event was happening.  There was no entrance fee but there were tractors pulling beer vans into the arena, more cheap beer!  

We got our cheap beer and found our spot and it didn´t take long for people to find us.  All the guys that usually hang out at Casa de la Trova, come wondering by.  We all share the beer, taking swigs from the same bottle without a care in the world, we dance, we have fun, and it feels good to be part of this small community, even if I´m not a permanent member.  

Carnival in Trinidad, Cuba usually takes place at the end of June.
(In 2012, it will take place between 23-27 June)


Street Food Trinidad Carnival Cuba


Youtube Video Trinidad Carnival Cuba

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

CUBAN VOICES


I like my town it´s quiet and smells good. In my yard I can listen to the birds singing and the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of the trees, and if I try a little, I can hear the waves of the ocean in the distance.  Here I have peace and my children are happy, they are not aware of the economic situation that we have faced for a long time and, like throughout the world,that which has got worse in recent years.  I do not know what to think,I had high hopes, but now I am certain that nothing will change for Cubans who want to see the prosperity of our people.

From my point of view, the only thing the the new changes have achieved is the so called law of elasticity, where with some effort you can make some progress, stretching a a little, but then the execissive taxes only end up making you step backwards two-fold.  Leave this country??? No way!! Those who leave, are neither from there, nor here, a few forget their roots and others can´t stop thinking about them. In the end they will always be immigrants.  It would be perfect to have the freedom to travel, enter the Internet, make plans for the future, it's a shame that "paradise" for foreigners, is the cage for Cubans which I fear, one day will break.


Anonymous

Me gusta mi pueblo, es tranquilo y huele muy bien. En mi patio puedo escuchar el canto de los pájaros y el sonido que hacen los árboles con el viento y si me esfuerzo un poco, podría escuchar el mar. Aquí tengo paz y mis hijos son felices, los pequeños no tienen conciencia de la situación económica que afrontamos hace ya mucho tiempo y que se agravó en estos últimos años, como en todo el mundo. No se que pensar, tuve muchas esperanzas, pero ahora tengo la certeza que nada cambiará para los cubanos que deseamos ver la prosperidad de nuestra gente.

Desde mi punto de vista, con los nuevos cambios, solo logramos la (ley del elástico), puedes avanzar con esfuerzo, estirando un poco, pero luego retrocedes el doble, con los impuestos tan excesivos. ¿Dejar este país??? ¡Ni pensarlo!!!! Los que se van, no son ni de allá, ni de aquí, unos cuantos olvidan sus raíces y otros no dejan de pensar en ellas. Al final serán siempre emigrantes. Sería perfecto tener la libertad de viajar, de entrar al Internet, de poder hacer planes para el futuro, es una pena que “el paraíso” para extranjeros, sea la jaula de los cubanos. Que TEMO, un día se romperá.

Anonimo

Saturday, 14 April 2012

JUMPING WATERFALLS IN TRINIDAD, CUBA



Feeling hot in the city.  Get out of Trinidad for the day and enjoy the refreshing natural waterfalls that can be found around Trinidad in Cuba.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Falling for Cuba -- National Geographic Traveler

Falling for Cuba -- National Geographic Traveler

An article about el sabor de Cuba.

IMMIGRATION CUBICLES IN CUBA

Do I have to enter a cubicle at Immigration?

The immigration process in Cuba can be long and tiresome, it really depends on how many planes have landed at the same time or how many passengers there are on your plane.  

On one occasion I arrived from San Jose, Costa Rica, a flight of only a couple of hours, which for me is a dream, as from London it’s usually at least a 9 hour flight!  It was only a small plane compared to the ones that come from London, so there were fewer passengers and I sailed through customs.  I couldn’t believe it when I arrived into the immigration hall, there were no queues!  I hesitated for a second, I thought maybe the cubicles were closed, but one of the Officers assured me to just take my pick and approach any of the cubicles.

I was out of Jose Martí International Airport, Havana, in record time, about 20 minutes.  I must admit I was so pleased with myself that day.  I even considered moving to Costa Rica permanently so I could be that much closer to Cuba.  

On the other hand, I have also arrived at Havana International Airport, after a long and tiring flight, only to be faced with around 20 queues, about 15-20 people long, leading to one of those daunting army green cubicles.  All you can see is a serious looking Immigration Officer sitting inside the cubicle, examining passports and tourist cards.  Each person, relieved it’s finally their turn, but also tired from having to wait for so long, stands there nervously, waiting to be let into Cuba.  

Whilst in the queue you wonder to yourself, ‘what questions will they ask me?’, ‘will they know this is my 8th time visiting Cuba?’, ‘what is taking so bloody long?’, ‘does their system register how many times I’ve visited Cuba and for how long I’ve stayed each time?’.  I somehow doubt it, I don’t think such a sophisticated system exists in Cuba.  But who knows, maybe one day they will surprise me!


You can watch people, with sweaty patches on their back, holding layers of clothing they have had to take off as there is no air-conditioning (or if there is it’s not working very well), looking into the eye monitor when prompted, answering questions politely and finally you hear the spine-chilling buzzer.  A locked door is released and you can see them struggling to push then pull the heavy door open, wondering what will happen next.   They are probably thinking ‘can I finally set foot into Cuba?’, ‘what is waiting for me on the other side?’.  Don’t worry, it’s only Customs and the luggage hall.


So as you can see, you don’t have to step into the cubicle, the immigration process in Cuba is fairly public, as with most countries.  All eyes are on you as everyone behind you is hoping for things to move a little faster, so they can get to the front of the queue and start their holiday in Cuba.


As for questions, sometimes I have stepped up to the cubicle hoping to have a friendly conversation with the Immigration Officer, but then they have looked at me like I am crazy without saying a word and other times they have been quite pleasant.  I have been asked simple questions like, ‘is this your first time in Cuba?’, ‘Do you like Cuba?’, ‘One month is a long time, do you have friends in Cuba?’, but nothing more serious than that.


I have never been asked about money or asked to open my luggage.  I have never been asked to give specific details of my trip, like where I will be staying or what activities I will be involved with and I have never had to show any documentation of Hotel or Casa reservations.  I have sneaked in 2 laptops into Cuba in my hand luggage.  I have entered into Cuba with a suitcase full of toiletries, clothes, kitchen utensils and have left with an empty suitcase.  


You do hear scary stories about Cuban immigration, but I have visited at least 12 times and I have never had any issues.  I have gone to Cuba for 10 days, 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months and I’ve sailed through immigration without a hitch and I hope it continues that way.  


If you are planning a trip to Cuba, just be prepared.  Don’t worry about the immigration process so much.  You don’t have to have a set itinerary and explain your every move.  They are not likely to ask, but if they do just keep it simple.  I wouldn’t worry about having printouts or documents confirming Casa reservations or Hotels.  Just relax and make sure you have the most important documents handy; a valid passport, a tourist card, proof of medical / travel insurance, but most of all, smile and learn to be patient.  


Queuing On The Streets of Cuba

Queuing at CADECA in Cuba

Friday, 2 March 2012

EATING OUT WITH THE FAMILY


In any other country you take it for granted that going out for dinner at a restaurant is a promising idea when visiting family & friends.  After spending most nights, a slave to the kitchen, cooking not only for her family but also for the many tourists that are welcomed into the family home, who wouldn’t want to take a break and spend a rare evening out at a restaurant.

Off course as with everything in Cuba, it’s complicated.  How can eating out be so complicated?  Well, most restaurants in Trinidad are in hard currency, prices are in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC); most families in Cuba cannot afford these prices. 
Hitching a ride in Cuba
The couple of restaurants that do accept Cuban Pesos (CUP) are out of town, so you need a car to get there or hitch-hike.  Luckily for us my family have a tiny green limozini, which is like a tardis; we have managed to squeeze the whole family into the back seat many a time, sometimes getting amazed looks from other tourists. 

But travelling with the family in their car is complicated in itself and risky, as they do not have permission to have me in their car.  But I’m family now, well we consider each other as family, but officially I’m still a tourist, I’m not Cuban.  For me this is a hard pill to swallow, in my eyes I’m no longer a tourist.  Over the last few years I have probably spent more time visiting my family in Cuba than my family in London.  I feel as close to my Cuban family as I do with my family in London.  In fact, when I’m in Cuba I feel like I belong, maybe I was Cuban in another life!  Doesn’t that count?  Why can’t I go to a restaurant with my Cuban family without it being risky or complicated?  ‘Eso es Cuba’ or ‘This is Cuba’, is the only reply I get.

Then there’s the fear that the waiters will spot me a mile off as being a tourist, any excuse to charge us in CUC prices instead of CUP.  Paying in CUC, for the family, would be an absolute horror, and they would die in shame if I offered to pay for them.  So the first time we ventured out to a Peso restaurant, I was ordered to remain silent.  My accent was not quite Cuban yet (and I’m afraid to say, still isn’t). 

Since then we have become semi-regulars at another Peso restaurant out of town.  My friend’s husband knows the waiter there; it’s always good to know the right people in Cuba.  Always the joker, he walks into the restaurant, and instead of making our entrance as conspicuous as possible, he announces for everyone to hear that I’m his cousin from Sancti Spíritus, ‘ella es bandolera....loca’.  He loves to claim that I’m some crazy delinquent from another city in Cuba, which explains for my strange Spanish accent.  He is well known in Trinidad, everyone knows he’s a prankster and even though they know full well that I’m not from Cuba, they usually allow us to dine in peace without the fear of paying in CUC.

In fact, I often run into the waiter in town when I’m in Cuba.  The family say he has a soft spot for me, but then in Cuba I am irresistible!  He always asks me ‘When are you coming to the restaurant?’ or ‘When are we going to go out dancing?’.  So you can imagine our disappointment when the last time we decided to eat out at the restaurant, they decided that I had to pay in CUC.  We were a larger group this time with 2 other ‘tourists’ with us, 1 of which was married to a Cuban.  Maybe we were pushing our luck that time.  They insisted that ‘we’, meaning the ‘tourists’ pay in CUC.   I was just glad that the family could pay in CUP, but they felt bad for me and vowed never to return again!  That can’t be easy, 1 less affordable option for them.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

POTTERY IN CUBA



At EXPERIENCE THE REAL CUBA we can organise pottery workshops with one of Trinidad’s most renowned and talented families.  The family have maintained a tradition of pottery over many years and have passed down their secrets from one generation to another, working with clay on the wheel.

Their dedication and talent has received much attention over the last 60 years.  Not only do they have a successful workshop visited by many people wanting to purchase their items, they have also received many awards at Havana’s Feria Internacional de Arte (FIART).  In 2007, UNESCO awarded the family with a special prize in honour of their special family tradition; the master craftsman.
   
They have given courses in ceramics both in Cuba and abroad and they also have developed workshops aimed at local school children.  If you have an interest in taking part in a ceramics workshop, learning about the basics of ceramics, how to create your own pieces, contact us at EXPERIENCE THE REAL CUBA.