Sunday, 10 June 2012

Cuba till the end.

I'll start with some happy stuff before I'll start complaining :)

Swimming with DOLPHINS! Next on the list. Epic epic epic! One big jump in the air. Oh boy.
First we got a show, in which,for the first time, I was actually chosen as a volunteer. To hula hoop ( chipmunks anyone?) And fail at it, like Hannah and an other girl who was chosen. Fail, because we dropped it after max three twirls. Fail, because the dolphins were great at it. They twirled those hoops around their snouts whilst swimming circles in the basin. Jeremias was asked to volunteer as muscle man, jump in the water and have those dolphins raise him in the air.

Afterwards we got divided in two groups of eight, to have actual interaction with two other dolphins: Seos (Zeus?) And Triton (Poseidon?).
Clap on the water and point at your cheek? They'll 'kiss' you. Twirl your finger? They'll roll on their backs. Float on your belly with your knees locked and legs straight? They'll wait for the command and then find the soles of your feet so accurately, push you forward and then upward, as if you weigh nothing. It makes you feel like you're flying. Yet still standing on even (solid) ground.

We were all so giddy when we came out of the water it was kind of funny.
We went snorkling afterwards, but the water was unclear as hell, tide not helping, and most fish nowhere to be seen. First time I get to swim with flippers though. Heavy and not the most comfortable shoewear. But it didn't matter that snorkling was a failure, because it had been the only day off up till now, with no tours. I had given myself a day off. And because of the dolphins. Because of the weather.

And now for some lesser than happy news: travellers should always be aware of itchiness. Bugs, sun, heat, food allergies. No matter what it is, all of us are itching away grumpily at the bumps and rashes it all results in. And after-bite doesn't help a notch. So annoying. Right now, my entire lower back (all the way down to my left knee) is covered in the biggest, hottest and itchiest boils I've had in a long time. The heat is radiating through my clothes. And the problem is, I have no idea what is causing it. Probably an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite, but there must be several kinds of mosquitoes here, because some bites react 'normally'.

Cienfuegos, unfortunately, or at least the bungelow park we were staying at, was full of creatures. Not only the friendly ones either, though the cats and dogs there were cool enough. Crabs. Lots of them. Everywhere.
And insects. Mosquitoes, roaches, tics. Lizards. Salamanders, gecko like creatures, newts.
We were quite relieved when we left those houses and the place to go to Trinidad.

Trinidad, another pretty city. We haven't seen much more then the square, which is a shame, because it looked like a nice enough town. Our tour and city trip weren't the most complete, so I guess we'll never find out.
The accomodation, though, was much. Nice enough rooms (though on the small side), and everything was, well.. uncomfortably all-inclusive. Every drink, every meal. We ate even when we weren't really hungry. Just because it was there. And it was free.
Which is unlike me. Especially in a country like Cuba.

We went on two nature hikes this week. One, el Nicho, had been an optional. And though it was a nice hike, the information had been slightly lacking.
The other, to Topes de Collantes, was more interesting. Because of the rainfall we've been having since we came here, the waterfalls were terrific. And terrifying.
We saw the national bird, the Tokororo, which is said to be a rather shy animal. (Yuh right). Coffee plants, banana plants, the royal palm trees. Lots of scary bridges. And a swim in one of the lakes.

There had been a 'rumour' about the existence of a disco cave in Trinidad. A cave with a party. A cave, that had shiny lights and lots of music echoeing off its walls.
Needless to say, our group was curious.
And, by the overheard commentary of those who had gone, it was great. Nobody who had gone had regretted it, which is good to hear. My body has not regretted staying home. At all.

Yesterday, we left our luxury early morning (though all mornings have been early, I haven't woken up after 07:30 since the before I left for Cuba) to head to Sancti Spiritus via a Sugarcane plantation. Lora had just heard Rochelle wasn't feeling well, and had agreed to take the entire group on tour, something which demands respect if nothing else.

The plan had been for us to board the Steam train to Iznaga from Trinidad, but like the optional of the Canopy Tours before it, it was cancelled due to the heavy downpour of rain. According to Griselle (our Cuban silent guide, an awesome woman), the rails had been wrecked, and in some places water was waist high. It would take a good three months to repair..

So we went by bus, and Lora gave her tour. She did it well enough, with a slight story trail twist to it. Sugar cane and slavery were the topics. Then we continued to Sancti Spiritus, about at hour drive, where we first had lunch (and I walked into roughly four jewellers in one street) and then got toured around. Topics were healthcare in Cuba, the difference between bodegas (necessity shops) and tiendas (dollar stores). And religion, and the difference between catholicism here and in the rest of the world, due to the Santeria (an african rooted belief in a lot of Orishas -Gods-).

Sancti spiritus is the first city that comes even close to Habana's atmosphere of an actual city. The shopping street even reminded me a bit of Maasmechelen Village in Belgium, though without the big brand names.

The accommodation was, as always, just outside the city's boundaries. Big, with an actual bathtub and warm water. A big pool. Cheap food. Also, unfortunately, sort caterpillarish insects in my bed. That didn't make me too happy.

This morning, after only one night, we had to check out at the unholy time of 07:25. Luckily it was possible to have breakfast from 07:00 (usually breakfast here starts half an hour later). Now, we're in the bus, prepared to sit through a good five hours to go to the North Coast of the island: to Cayo Guillermo.
Our second 'free' day these three and a half weeks. And my last, because if I don't finish writing my tour quickly, I'm going to be screwed in three days.
_______

Right now, just one more day before my tour, I'm only slightly nervous because I'm not allowing myself to be. 

We went to Cayo Guillermo, which was pretty. A key, like all keys, created of sediments of dead animals, compressed by waves and pressure over the years, to become like islands along a shore. In 1988 (!) they built the bridge to the three cayos: Cayo CoCo, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Romero.

The sea, however, wasn't as awesome as expected. It was pretty, but there were stretches of seaweed and patches of clear sand. We were at least quarter of a kilometer in, and the water still didn't reach our waists. And there were jelly bugs, but of course only I was stung.
We took the day off easy, none of us did too much.

From Cayo Guilermo we moved to Santa Clara. /Everybody/ was looking forward to this: Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. The tour took two days, and was impressive to say the least. If there had not been any discussion about whether Che was a good or evil man already, there was one now. The fact that he believed in his ideologies (justice, liberty, courage), didn't care if he died protecting and spreading them, makes him a good symbol. That he killed a lot of human beings makes him less than friendly.

I don't like the fact he killed people. I don't like the notionof a human's life being thought so worthless. But I like what he stood for. And according to his pictures, he looked like a man with plenty of charisma to persuade anyone to do anything. And he had asthma. Like my sister. Which makes everything just slightly more personal. And he was an Argentinean. Like Jeremias. ;)

Though I sincerely believe that if he hadn't died when he did (right after the start of the revolution) and where he did (Bolivia) doing what he had always planned (spreading his ideologies), he would never have been this much of an icon. Fidel could never have used him as such. Also, Che wouldn't have allowed it himself. Because ironically, he stands for everything that icon (and especially its merchandize) is not.

On day one, we visited Che's statue in front of communist chief centre of Santa Clara. A rather personal thing, I've never seen a statue I liked more.  And that's not just because of his pretty smile. It had the smallest details, that slightly remind me of some fairy tales.
We also visited el Tren Blindado, or the Armoured Train, that was full of Batista's soldiers and got taken over by Che and his men, 27-28th december 1958. 

The next day we went to his mausoleum (memorial), where his remains now are. Apparently when his body was first buried, nobody knew where it was. It was only in 1996 that they discovered he was buried along the take off road of the airport of...
When they dug him up, it became apparent that they had cut off his hands so that nobody could tell it was him(?). Nobody knows where these hands now are. His remains where sent to Cuba, to his daughter, who immediately presented it to Fidel, saying Che belonged to the Cuban people.

Right opposite the mausoleum is the museum, full of his pictures and items. Though not his world famous coat. Then we walked over to the square, where his huge (7 m. Long) bronze memorial statue is, and next to it his 'farewell' letter and a stone engraved some of his 'scenes'. Anouk and Jan did a great job touring it.

After Santa Clara we had a long bus ride to Varadero. The. Most. Beautiful. Beach. Ever.
Or at least of Cuba. The water was seriously clearer and cleaner than most swimming pools our hotels had. We didn't have to walk long to reach swimming and diving heights, and even at night (last night I swam from 0200 till 0500), it was gorgeous. Especially because there were tiny sea creature (or plants?) that glow in the dark.

We had a visit from a representative of Thomas Cook, who explained what it is like, not to be a tour manager, but to be a local host and representative. To receive groups, transfer them to their hotels, and then continue to make sure they are having a great vacation until they're back on the plane. I don't know if I would like it as much as touring around. But maybe I would..

Now, we're in the bus back to Havana. We'll be visiting the Dutch Ambassy this afternoon, and I wonder what they'll have to say. I hope it'll be interesting, if for no reasn but the fact I haven't slept for more than two and a half hours last night. (Totally worth it though!)

I'll probably update one last time after my tour, cause the next thing on the agenda will be a flight out of Cuba.

______
So... the Ambassy visit was enlightning. The women said so much using so little words it was beautiful. And she also said it was sure everything that was said was being taped, sent to the CDR and national security to be translated and overheard in about a week's time. A rather strange notion to be aware of.

We watched the football match: Ned-Den at Hotel Nacional all together! It was awful! Regardless of all the orange t shirts, all the red-white-blue stripes on our cheeks and the passionate and fiery hopefulness in our hearts, Denmark still won. Now the question is, will Netherlands get through the first pool at all, now that they're playing Portugal and Germany.. At least we showed patriotism and comradeship I am proud of! :)

La Habana was almost like coming home from a trip, rather like 'home'. A lot of places and people looked familiar, we all knew where to go and what to do. Quite remarkable.
I skipped  the evening out to study for my tour, but really ended up falling asleep.

The day after, I woke up feeling horrible. I'd hardly slept, I had an infected (swollen and painful but not pink) eye, and was feeling queasy and stressful. It was warm, and tiring.
It was not the best tour I've given.
But it was sufficient :)
I passed. With positive criticism.
And I'm happy :)
And our trip here is almost done.

One more thing on the bucket list I managed to tick off officially: get in contact with/sleep at a local's. Because Grisel, our silent guide and angel, invited Anouk and me over, notonly for dinner, but to sleep as well. We were flabbergasted and weren't sure how to respond. In the end, Stacey joined us for dinner, left, and Anouk and I went for a short walk through what we felt was the real Cuba. Houses in disrepair, streetvendors, kids playing football in the streets.. lots of people doing a lot of.. nothing, actually. Busy doing nothing but standing or sitting and watching passersby.

We (Anouk and I) talked. We (A and I) watched a Cuban woman get her hair styled. We went up to the sacred corner of Angel's (Grisel's husband). All we had learned at school was that religious beliefs were very much limited to the Santaría, a mix of the African Yoruba and Christian Catholicism. However, Angel was of a totally different 'branch', Palomonte. A religion more like Wiccans than anything else I could link it to besides the African influences. More focused on men than women. More focused on offering than sacrifice.

He demonstrated a seance, which made both Anouk and myself speechless. Anouk loved every word, I got slightly freaked. I had never seen anything like it before. I wrote down all advises and premonitions and things he said..
We played dominoes (Cuban style) with Grisel's neighbour and daughter, and won a cuple of times as well. (Twice, both of us). Then anouk went to take a shower to go to bed, and a dancer (and friend of G's oldest daughter) taught me some Salsa and Son steps..

All in all a day I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
Now:
Leaving the Caribbean.
Central America, here we come!

Xx
The Gypsy






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