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The curvature of the Earth over Newfoundland

We flew for mile after mile at 36,000 feet over the East coast of Newfoundland. A daytime flight, the weather is clear as we travelled the length of the US coastline. We also had a wonderful view of New York and Manhatten Island in the distance.

During our journey to the hotel the Sun set. We venture out to get some water from the Mini Market before dinner and bedtime.


The Sun comes up in a clear sky and it gets hot and humid. We go to see the main tourist spots such as the Capitol Building and Revolution Square. The architecture of any buildings lacking dilapidation has a Communist feel to it. The early stuff is Spanish. Although it reminds us of Buenos Ares and Cuzco, it is unlike any where we have been before.

In the old city we visited several different areas. There are many characters on the streets, most appear happy and carefree.

One of them sold me a book of Capablanca's games. The Chess club is close to our base. I may be able to visit it when we return.


Our visit to the botanical gardens appeared to get off to a bad start as we realised we would be confined to the coach. However when we eventually set off it became more apparent why this was. The gardens are very large and seek to recreate the habitats of different parts of the world. So using a coach is just about the only way to appreciate it. We all jumped ship and walked the last half mile back to the reception.

More Hemmingway finished off the morning.

Continuing in the small fishing town of Cojimar on the outskirts of Havana and the Hemingway Museum at San Francisco de Paula where Hemingway wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. It has a very busy bar where we had a beer and listened to the minstrels. We shared a light lunch and cocktails at the National Hotel's veranda gardens with other revolutionaries.

The locals.


Cuba is hard to get to grips with. Our guide Millie has lost her voice and the seventeenth century watchtower is the most well preserved building in Havana. Coach to Viñales in Pinar del Rio, Cuba’s most westerly province, 178 km from Havana and crossing two spectacular mountain ranges.

En route, visited a tobacco factory. Wonderful to see the process of Cigar making done by hand. Everything is centred around quality control. Every effort is made to ensure all the cigars in a box are a similar colour and taste. Each Cigar is tested individually for the amount of air which can be drawn through it. Then at the rum factory we tasted the two types they make, Dulche and Sec. Dulche is very good (like Tia Maria) and at less than three pounds a bottle we get two.

Several Cuba Libres welcome us to the Los Jazmines hotel which has rooms spectacularly overlooking the tropical valley and mountains. When night falls the Milky Way shines strongly. In the morning the valley is alive with sounds of calling birds.

A room with a view.


Morning visit to Indian’s Cave, part of the spectacular Santo Tomas cave system where we arrive before anyone else. We enter on foot and leave by boat. Our journey to Soroa has a stop at Pina Del Rio where we see the first shops on our tour including the chemist.

Soroa is famous for its botanical gardens, home to over 700 different types of orchids.

We stay overnight at the Villa Soroa Hotel, open plan chalets where the locals dance all day and night, beside a pleasant pool.

Time to reflect.


A long day in the coach on some fast highways and bouncing on some country lanes. Various stops on the way include Cienfuegos, a beautiful town with buildings showing the French influence of those who migrated here from Louisiana. The Thomas Terry Theatre is a highlight, with four floors of balconies in a horseshoe, it is in use and very well attended

We also stop at the Bay of Pigs where our guide tells us the story of what happened and we can visit the museum. The sea is turquoise and there is only a thin beach before the tropical forest starts after which we arrive in Trinidad for three nights at Hotel Las Cuevas, another villa style hotel, but on a much larger scale than the last.


We set off on a walking tour of Trinidad, recently nominated a UNESCO World Heritage site. There is colonial architecture here, quite utilitarian but well maintained. There are many squares and cobbled streets.

It is the first of the month, so the government shop is busy as a new months rations are available. We see a ration book which is very complicated, allowing for electricity & food ( all separately identified) per head but also medicines and special infant requirements. Rations also must be paid for in Pesos however the cost is negligible. (but so are the wages - that is how it works.)

It is an interesting morning, taking in a couple of bars, serving speciality cocktails and music. The slaves during the Spanish rule, were forced to attend Catholic Church, but they kept their own religion alive by associating the Catholic images with their own. This has left an African tradition of music and culture in Trinidad.

Millie took us to a beautiful restaurant for lunch where everyone selected the locally caught Lobster. The restaurant has magnificent architecture. It was quite a long way back to the hotel on foot, uphill, but we were all glad of the exercise after the previous day. We congregated at the pool to cool off.


Free day in Trinidad.

The optional steam-train ride to a local sugar plantation at Manaca Iznaga is broken. So we wander around town on our own and get a percussion lesson from this nice man who is part of a band in the main square.

It is impossibly difficult so we treated ourselves to a snack in the lobby of the best hotel in town. Full on colonial air-con city. It is another beautiful day and another long walk back up the hill with three litres of water. Opened the Guayabita del Pinar bought four days ago.

Local Lizard.


On arrival at the Che museum our guide finds it unexpectedly closed for three months. But that is OK, we can still see the monumental square and statue without the inconvenience of other tourists. This is sugar plantation country and we visit a bell tower used to give the alarm if a slave ran away. It is a pleasant climb of 100 steps and seven floors. Six of us get a chance to push the beam to turn the sugar press delivering enough juice for us all to sample.

Photo by Kevin

It is here we meet the minstrals calling themselves 'Maracanabo'. They keep alive their grandfathers music through playing it and were featured on Radio 3.

Very refreshing. We then check our reservations at the Hotel La Granjita for two nights. Here the idea is a recreation of Indian huts set in a park with animals (I have some reservations about this). Nice enough but no internet at all (or animals). We tune into CNN to follow Libian crisis unfold.

Solar power hot water


San Juan de los Remedios is, on the face of it, rather like the other cities we have visited, but everyone votes it the best place so far. The Plaza Marti is a beautiful square surrounded by colonial mansions along side the church, Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, built in 1570 and one of Cuba’s oldest churches.

Some of us jump the coach back at Santa Clara and find it to be the most wealthy place we have see so far. TV sets and electrical goods are on sale. We had a drink in the theatre bar.

Together with Chris and Lai Fang we had a simple lunch at a pleasant restaurant off the beaten track. We needed a taxi back and the waiter arranged for his friend to give us a lift in his sensational Ford.

We all loved it.


Varadero is a 12-mile strip of sand backed with dense tropical foliage and overlooking the Caribbean Sea. We are booked into the all-inclusive Melia Varadero Hotel which is very busy and appears to be a bit of a bun fight. Not having to pay for anything does make up for it and to be fair, we all begin to get to know how it all works and relax with some Salsa.

Of course we have said goodbye to Millie and Adolfo already but we still function as a group, meeting up here and there but also doing our own thing. We met our rep, Hector who seems to know I do not eat fish. Nice personal touch, as is that he has booked us all a table at the Trinidad Restaurant. Upon arrival it turns out this is a seafood only restaurant. So I have to skip courses 1, 2 and 3 but I do get a nice mixed grill.


A relaxed start followed by a session on the beach. The sea sweeps into the white sandy beach and produces breakers which make it probably the best swim we have had. We have a spot near the hotel where there are also some rocks, and the wave bounce off them to produce some lateral breakers as well. After lunch Keith challenged me to play Chess on the big set by the swimming pool. Keith - PW 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d3 Bb4+?! 4. c3 Bd6 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 Nxe4 7. Qb3 O-O 8. Bd3 Qh4 9. g3 Nxg3 (Better is 9... Bxg3 10. fxg3 Nxg3) 10. fxg3 Bxg3+ 11. hxg3 Qxh1+ 12. Kd2 d5 13. Na3 Bg4 14. Nab5 Re8 15. Nxc7 Qe1+ (Missing 15... Qg2+ 16. Be2 Rxe2+ 17. Nxe2 (17. Kd3 Qe4#) 17... Qxe2#) 16. Kc2 Bd1+ 17. Kb1 Bxb3 18. Nxa8 Re3 19. axb3 Rxd3 20. Rxa7 Rd1 21. Rxb7 Rxc1+ 22. Ka2 Ra1# 0-1

We all booked dinner in the steak house at tables of four the service and food is the best we have had so far ending with Banana Flambe effortlessly prepared by our wonderful waitress.


Another relaxed start and visit to the beach prior to our check out at noon. While packing the sky darkens and there is a tropical storm making us feel lucky that we had such wonderful weather on our full day here. There will be time for lunch before our coach arrives to take us back to Havana this afternoon. We revisit the Old City getting there by taxi

We find some shops as well as dropping in at La Bodeguita del Medio (a bar) where Hemmingway (remember him?) use to go and the walls are covered in scribblings. On the way back I dropped in at the Capablanca Club for a couple of five minute games. I let the occasion get to me and played below par loosing both games to the chap in Yellow.

Nice to see the famous 1927 Capablanca Table and his portrait hanging at the end of the room. The members all have their own pieces and clocks.


Revisiting the old town we saw more in depth of the buildings and people. The car museum was over priced so we did not attend and went to the rum museum. We paid up and joined the English tour. At the first exhibit we were told that much of the museum was closed for refurbishment, but the information would be the same. What we saw was just a collection of simulations ending with a small shot of seven year rum. In the afternoon a large part of our group met up to go to the Cassa da Musica Miramar. WOW that was loud. The young Cubans all dance so well to the electronic driving beats. We join in, but all agree to leave after a couple of hours.

The show included a live advertisement for the sponsors Bucannero Beer. Three Girls, two boys and a huge monster danced around handing out free cans to the locals. We have since found out the locals do not go to the late show (unless they are hookers) because it is much more expensive, so make sure you visit the matinee! After dinner we use the laptop to check in ourselves and some of the others in the group.


Breakfast, then more checking in to use up the last few minutes internet time. Packing and hovering at the pool awaiting our transfer to the airport. But what's this? We are all here at the appointed time, but no rep or coach. Fifteen minutes late and as a group we get edgy. A call to JV is made and the response is OK but after another fifteen minutes we still have no transport. After a further fifteen minutes we commandeer a coach and arrive at the airport where our rep looks confused and bewildered. Checking in on line pays off as the bag drop queue is quite short and the check in is not. Sorry I could not have done us all. Next we join the queue to pay the airport tax and our friends find us and take us to another spot with no queue. Passport control takes three minutes per person, there are eleven ahead of us. When it becomes six we blag the VIP gate straight though and security is then quick. We still have one and a half hours to wait in the hall but eventually we board and take off. Now 1:12 into the flight and time to reflect on the epilogue.

The contrasting views from the top of the Parque Central Hotel.


Cuba as a country is difficult to understand, so don't try. The weather is fantastic, just enjoy it. On the whole there is not much to see but the magic is in absorbing the ambiance. Our trip to the music house is a revelation where the young people will embrace twelve English tourists invading their evening and then want to teach us to dance. Bottles of rum and beer are on the table but there is no aggression, just the opposite nobody has too much to drink. This gives us a very positive view, but it is difficult to maintain this when your airport bus for a group of twenty does not turn up. Travelling in a group as we did allowed us to exchange views and experiences and added a great deal to the experience. There were also several occasions where we were able to offer help and assistance to each other. For our last three days we were left to our own devices but continued to sort ourselves out and arrange things between ourselves.

Warning - the following view is based on the explanations and assumptions given to us on our tour by many people and is stated after many Mojitos, Daiquiries, Beers, Honey Rums and Pina Coladas and is therefore a subjective view not necessarily supported by fact or truth.

What happened in Cuba? Well the original magnificence of the buildings is unparalleled anywhere any of us have been. This must have been such a wealthy place at one time. The wealth started no doubt by the Spanish rule which was uncompromisingly violent towards the 'Pacificos' (the population not associated with the insurgents fighting against the Spaniards). But it was built by slavery and there was eventually a revolution by the people. The rich retreated abroad leaving these huge buildings behind. The poor moved in, but that in itself did not make them rich. They enjoyed the benefits but had no income to maintain the properties and naturally the state could not do so either. Then something happed in the cold war and the USA sanctions kicked in. To counter the sanctions, Cuba received funds from USSR but when it fragmented the funding dried up leading to what the Cubans call the 'special time' when all the population struggled to find food and survive. This period eased and then tourism was sought which accelerated the recovery. So sixty years on it is what we see today.

Possibly. Have another Rum?


Your man in Havana

Your girl in Cuba