“Psss, psss, quieres……………………..”. Havanna, August 29th, 2011

I said 6am but my old lady from the casa particulares in Santiago de Cuba was worried and ripped me out of sleep at 5:45am. With that cushion and the cool breeze of the morning I could walk to the bus station watching a Cuban town wake up. No surprise, only friendly smiles or ignorance as they are waking up themselves while walking to work. The sound of the horse carriages however is so special, it will burn into my memory. The 4 hour bus ride to Baracoa went along the Caribbean sea, followed by a sharp left turn crossing entirely to the Golf of Mexico. This road was only finished 20 years ago and that is one of the reasons why Baracoa is so special. Despite being the first capital of Cuba and the landing point of its first explorers 500 years back, its geographical isolation kept it apart from most of the political developments. It stayed a relaxed little friendly town where nobody worries to much about anything except good parties. Going to parties alone is not so much fun but I meet Bastian and Sebastian on the bus, two friends from Wuppertal, Germany travelling together and the night out was great, poker, drinks, music, dancing till 4am. On Saturday we also went a bit north to a nice beach chilling all day.

In terms of eating each meal is a big decision. Street food, restaurant or at your casa particulars. All try hard to get your intention but in Baracoa it was easy, look at “my” cook, also check out his cell phone, isn’t that cool????

If you only care about fruits this man also might be an option. I felt like buying only to support him.

The hard party weekend left its mark and we slept well on the bus back to Sanitago. While the Bastians stayed there I continued to Bayamo, a bit further north, slept great and continued the next morning to Santo Domingo. Varies ideas took me out here. It is a small village far away from touristy stuff, it is near or in the jungle and it is the basis for a trekking tour to Fidel Castro’s hide out place in 1958. My 1,5h Lada ride to get there started very promising.

I would not be disappointed and as so many times before my learning proofed right, the poorer the nicer. This one family in their wooden box invited me for a tea and were so thankful for the pictures I took. God was I happy to have brought candy along, those little twin boys enjoyed it so much.

The isolation also proofed right. I was alone in the hotel restaurant but check out the company I found.

A good dinner and great sleep were essential for my next morning hike. The tourist coming here normally take an old Russian jeep for the first and deepest kilometres, only walk the last 3km. My challenge was to see how fit Castro must have been, how fit I still am. From all the guide (obligatory) only one was willing to come with me, obviously expecting a higher tip at the end.

It was hard, very hard, sweating and hot but I had my rhythm, got into the “zone”. My guide surely started to regret his decision but as so often in life, if you struggle through something you will be blessed later. “I did not know I can still do it, I am happy!” he said when arriving at the top. Together and with good conversation we walked the final hour. “The youth has not experienced Batista.” Hes said carefully when I asked him about Castro. The Batista era was terrible and till today, despite the poverty people are thankful to their “leader” Castro for ending this regime. The young generation however, partly already equipment with simple mp3 players while shopping for adidas shoes do not care about that. They want a western life. Either Cuba will change quickly or it will change violently when people (the youth) realize that with the Castros disappearing other old leaders take over not changing too much. At least that is what I think.

Walking back down was a real struggle, especially for feet and knees but lunch at this lady’s house made up for it.

Back in Bayamo I used the afternoon to observe and take photos. As so often people approached me friendly, wanting their photo to be taken, played chess with me or told me that they studied in East Germany back in the days.

I also got a great chance to look into some stores. Not much on the shelves, if something special then rationalised and if from the west then with crowds waiting to get it, mostly for a look rather than a purchase.

On my way to the bus station I got interested by this music, walked into the church and saw one if not the best ever church service in my life.

So fascinated I lost track of time and sorry to the horse I asked the carriage driver to speed up.

Good I made the bus to Trinidad because in it were the two (Se)Bastian’s. This time we even found a casa particulars together and enjoyed a few more days experiencing Cuba. Trinidad is a perfect example of a place being a tourist hot spot just because at some point in time someone started to recommend it or to market it. Yes it is nice, but not nicer than other cities in Cuba. The tourist flow has also let to the most annoying husslers, endlessly getting your attention with “Pss, psss, want chica, need apartment, like cigars, good restaurant, chocolate, great drink.” We considered writing “NO” on our foreheads.

However, you always wonder why they still exist if nobody ever uses their services. Well, if you are hones, we all have trapped into them or will do. As the Bastian’s got into Cigar buying in Santiago we reacted to the cigar offers. They wanted to know if what they bought was real. Of course it was not and of course the offers here neither real but after hours and hours of negotiation we all had what we wanted. The dealers good money, the Bastian’s a good feeling and I a nice secret video reminding me of the big BBC or CNN secret investigations.

After a nice disco night in a cave we left earlier than expected for Santa Clara, where “Che” is buried and celebrated with a big mausoleum. You can be of different opinions about this revolutionary and those who support him are quiet strong about it. An intense discussion at the central plaza of Santa Clara only stopped because we wanted to visit this student club. Wow, by far one of the best student parties, concerts I attended. Good music, great flair and Cubans dancing.

The three of us really considered going back to Baracoa as we loved it their. But I was running out of time and the Bastian’s bus was inconvenient. We went to Vinales instead, a village in the north corner of Cuba, supposedly very nice with the mountains around. But with the bad weather we did not really catch it. On top of that was the horse back ride a disaster. Poring rain and horses in bad conditions. At least a nice old car I catched again.

Oh well. We went back to Havana and the boys on to Veradero, the touristy town where all the tour packages book you in. It must be kind of an isolated rich western area within Cuba. I got my same room than two weeks ago in old Havana, enjoyed the familiar placed and took more photos including from the other side of river, showing the famous Malacon ocean front.

I want to come back to the lacking behind of Cuba in so many ways. Here are the NO’s I observed:

Phones, internet, street lights, advertisments, digital foto cameras, shopping malls, private cars, many TV channels if TV at all and traffic of course. The following video is taken at the 8 lane highway leading through central Havana on a Monday at 4:20pm, rush hour time. Oh, please do not ask me why they built a 8 line highway, I can only figure for the military parades on Castro’s birthday and so on.

After buying my first piece of art ever I took a last night walk for a dinner restaurant but got sidetracked, I had my tripod with me. I used it.

Then it was time to leave and let so many things behind, Cuba, Mexico, the US and Canada and the many months in South America. It felt like my trip is ending but it was just halftime. Where would the next stage take me……………………………………………

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  • Markus says:

    Hi Frank,

    i`m glad, you`re still in the shape for some mountain hiking to Fidel Castro`s
    refuge. Thought, i might blame it on you, if we wouldnt run a marathon this year…
    So, seems like i should start training again…
    By the way, the video of the Student party somehow reminds me of Caracas …

    • frank4444 says:

      oh no my friend, I lost weight, when I get back I start training again and I am already signed in for Berlin, September this year. Better start running……….
      Yes, the student party reminded me of SA as well, good old times.

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