Food – Cuban Style

One cannot travel far into the countryside without encountering fields of bananas.  And if I recall correctly every home in the countryside had a food forest growing in their back and side yard.  The usual, bananas, avocados, mangos, guava and an assortment of other fruits we are not accustomed to seeing.  Sugar cane fields in August were planted in the Holguin province and everyone was hoping for rain.

Below in the picture is a type of bananas not grown to eat raw.  To eat either boil or fry.    A bag of fish.  Small, tasty and delicious.  The guy on the bicycle stopped us on the road to sell us the two fish for 10 CUCs.  Way too expensive said our driver.  Seemed like a good deal to me but, what do I know.

The small hut by the sea is where we sat and enjoyed a delicious plate of garlic shrimp, cucumbers and avocado and cole slaw appetizers.  A large packet of crackers completed the appetizer entrée.  And of course the champion of the meal – ice-cold Cristal beer.  The culprit for my five-pound weight gain.

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El Chorro de Maita – Guardalavaca, Holguin, Cuba

El Chorro de Maita is a 16th century archaeological site made into a museum.  Worth the visit.  We nearly did not get a chance to visit since neither one of us had any Cuban CUC currency on us at the time.  However, the tour guide let us in for free.  To repay her I dug deep into my backpack of gifts and came up with pens, pencils, memo pads to hand out.  This is a must do if you plan on visiting Cuba.  Stock up back home at your local .99 cent store with anything school or health or beauty product related.

If I recall the story correctly about the Chorro de Maita; a farmer digging his field made the discovery.  When he reported the discovery he was paid handsomely and his home was moved to the adjoining lot.  This place is where native royalty was buried.  The arrows on the body point to the exact location where a gold or otherwise artifact was found buried with them.

After the tour I walked around the area taking pictures and came across the guy below selling bananas.  Once again I pull out my bag of goodies and made a trade.  I usually carried things like Goya food seasoning, deodorant, cleaning sponges and of course school supplies.  Pencils and a memo pad got us four ripe bananas.  Being extremely satisfied with the trade he headed home and came back with a bag of avocados and a garlic ring.

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Switching Gear for the Idaho Backcountry Ride – August 2018

Tomorrow the street tires come off.  Above our planned route.  Starting in the historic town of Jarbidge, NV our planned route crosses range lands and then heads into the Boise National Forest and treats riders with views of Andersen reservoir and Trinity lakes.

For me Burgdorf Hot Springs makes this a bucket list ride.  Lewis and Clark made history on the legendary Magruder Corridor and Lolo Motorway which skirt the roadless Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness.

We will reach modest hints of civilization as we pass through Sand Point, Bonneys Ferry on our way towards the Canadian Border. 

 

 

More to follow.

 

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We travel not to Escape life; but, for Life not to Escape us. – Anonymous.

Holguin, Cuba:  The greatest boon on earth to the traveling man is bringing home as complete a photographic memorandum of his travels as one desires.  My Fuji film digital camera did just that; too bad I forgot to pack it before leaving Miami.  Thanks Sis for offering to mail it back.

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Photo above:  An American with a vision by the last name of Boston once upon a time gathered up a few investors and built this sugar processing plant in the province of Holguin, Cuba.  The place quickly prospered and employed hundreds.  The town took on the name of Boston.  After the revolution the bearded one not only changed the name to  Nicaragua, Cuba but, by closing the plant brought economic ruin to the area.  And today with a total disregard for even the most routine of maintenance the place is quickly falling to the ground.  During our visit the two extremely talented workers that can produce any mechanical or industrial part needed were producing an aluminum cutting apparatus for some farm equipment.  Somewhat similar to an oversized razor blade.

 

Everything was operational, powered by 440V.  Mostly US manufactured equipment from NY, Cincinnati, Ohio and one Soviet era machine.

The now decrepit dock and abandoned track.

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And finally the feast under an avocado tree with the nearby ocean breeze blowing.  If only one could also bring back the smell and taste of a delicious meal.  Priceless!

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Holguin Random Pictures

 

An old Wurlitzer record player now playing.  An old radio on the bar counter ready to turn on and enjoy.  Earlier I consumed the first and second mojito; one slightly weaker than the other however, my thirst is now quenched.

My thousand word picture of the revolution.  “How do you like my little revolution now suckers”.  (Note: not a literal translation)

After the one hour flight jet lag wears off and you consume the first of many drinks everything around you feels like you are drifting back in time.  Time that without a cell phone or wi-fi suddenly slows way down.

In Cuba as a visitor you feel like an explorer on a mission; nothing can hurt you, certainly not the people and this is a country without snakes; dogs don’t even bark or want to bite humans.  They are also on a mission, in search of food.  However, your body in Cuba may become your worse enemy.  If you are not used to standing, can’t stand the heat, humidity or bugs, or seem to crave snacks or drinking water; or your body weight is such that you can’t stand for hours or walk endless steps, then low budget travel to Cuba may not be for you.

But do not despair my friend.  High end travel to Cuba is entirely available.  Resorts abound.  Endless tour buses and/or personal tours in old cars or jeep safari’s are available.

 

Above some random pictures.  My bar seat.  The shower in my casa particular (B&B like room) that cost me 10 CUCs (less than $10 a night)

My shower and hot water 240V thinga ma jig.  Totally scared the crap out of me for fear of electrocution I opted for cold showers.  Random people walking.  And if a picture is worth a thousand words to you then walking is my explanation for longevity of life in Cuba.  Almost daily I met someone in their 80s, out walking.

Above a Cuban breakfast kiosk.  And on this particular morning I somehow managed to consume an expresso coffee and milk, mango juice, one bar of a peanut brittle molasses mix, a small bar of crushed peanuts, the worse Iron beer soft drink in my life, and a half  bottle of water.

An hour later we stop in Las Tunas for a visit.  My first impression of this town is its  distinct sewer like smell.  My stomach begins churning.  Next I start to sense a  Mt. St. Helens type eruption.  No time for immodium.

Next I catch a strong whiff of what was later described to me as a pig shit odor.  But, this is a housing development I say.  You are correct my friend but, people here still keep a  pig or two in the back room of the house for fear or something stealing the critter.

Quickly I begin distancing myself from this location.  The treatment.  Three ice cold Cuban Crystal beers in their distinctive green bottles.  Once again, all is good with the world.  Eruption avoided.

 

Twins in their youths and today.  A fact is that people in Cuba live longer lives than in the US but, the women tend to age at a faster rate.  Don’t get me wrong.  They are some of the most beautiful people in the world.  However, that same woman ages at twice the national average.  Must be a climate change sort of thing.  The Cuban diet is totally hormone free.  You can taste the flavor in everything you eat in this province.  The Cuban people also have no choice in exercising.  So rarely do you encounter someone obese.  It is all the walking and waiting for everything that does it plus the humidity and heat.  Want to lose some weight.  Visit Cuba.

 

And were it not for the Pope, Cuba today would still not have any religion.  Castro outlawed it and in 1962 also stopped their postal system.

 

If non of the above have so much as peaked your interest in a possible visit of this 60s era encapsulated country then your sense of adventure needs a reboot.  Three Cuba provinces down.  Another 13 to go.

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Loma de la Cruz, Holguin Cuba

And on my second visit to Cuba I land in the province of Holguin.  It is said that Christopher Columbus landed in an area now known as Gibara, on October 27th, 1492 and said it was the most beautiful country that man has ever seen.  Fast forward a few hundred years and I doubt that he would come up with the same assessment.  Gibara is a town in the municipality of the province of Holguin.  The map below should orient you as to the location on the island.

Almost every place you visit is a photo opportunity.  Anyone with a camera and an eye for framing a picture that tells a story can easily be a great photographer in Cuba.  This morning a visit to the Loma De La Cruz (Hill of the Cross) before our flight home.

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The rest of the story is not as easily told.  Perhaps its too soon to come up enough expressive words.  First, imagine learning you have a half sister on your fathers side and then visiting her; now throw in an uncle on your mothers side; then later an uncle and aunt in their 80’s; then add a bunch of cousins you’ve never seen; then top it off with a visit to a cemetery and final resting place of grandparents on your mothers side you don’t have any memory of ever knowing. Yeah, this visit was something like that!

Just some random shots with no rhyme or reason to give you an idea of the experience you too might see.  Random guy offering to sell us fish.  Coca cola sign probably worth hundreds in the USA.  Average park in the town square lit up at night.  Just an average Cuban meal at a restaurant in Holguin.  And last but not least I am sharing with you a photo that to me more accurately describes our visit to the province of Las Tunas.  Guy killing and butchering a hog on the street; blood and guts running down the dusty dirty street.  The town I am told probably still has no cats.  And if you can read between the line then no further explanation is necessary.

 

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A Habana Story

On my second day of old habana travel I walk roughly five miles from hotel to old habana, ducking into a restaurant; literally missing a huge down pour by minutes.  The restaurant is across from the malecon whose mostly walls of prison cell bars provide constant fresh air and people watching opportunity.  The $2 mojitos on the chalk board catch my attention and I order one and a bottled water.

Within minutes I start a conversation with a guy from Brazil – Paulo, sitting at the next table.  We continue talking to one another the entire time without once moving from our own table.  Paulo tells me he is in Havana fulfilling his mother’s death wish that he visit Cuba and also become a Cuban citizen.

He goes on to explain that when he was just a baby just after the revolution his family migrated to Brazil.  His family never returned to Cuba, not even for a visit, and both parents have since passed away.  He goes on to tell me that part of his citizenship requirement is to stay in country for a period of one month.

What the hell I say; after noticing that my mojito glass is much smaller than his!  We both laugh after deciding that his mojito is off the main menu and will likely cost twice as much as my $2 special.  The time is now near 11:00 a.m. and we’re on our second mojito waiting for our main course to arrive.  Life has a way of slowing way way down in old habana way. Not holding onto or even carrying a cell phone probably played a big role.  We continue reflecting on our life’s curves and near misses.

Paulo and I decide that you cannot do any travel justice without doing a lot of walking, talk to the locals and see life, even if for a short period, from their perspective.  By the end of our lunch we both feel we are extremely fortunate to have run across each other.  Such is travel.

“With the notable exceptions of rum, drinks, black beans, fat brown cigars, the smiles of pretty girls, hot yellow sunshine, and fat men with guitars and bongos playing mambos, rumbas and boleros late into the night, nothing in Cuba comes easily.”    – J. Miles

 

 

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More Havana

A somewhat typical day; hotel breakfast included.  The food to me was only bearable.  Breakfast for me usually consisted of terrible American coffee, a mystery juice, a roll or two, some 1/8″ sliced cheese and a type of lunch meat.

My Day 1 Spending – Note a CUC is the Cuban currency for tourists.  To me it looks and feels just like monopoly money.  Unfortunately one US dollar roughly equates to about .87 cents give or take up or down.  In Havana I always encountered bad math, i.e. your food bill is 15 CUC’s.  You pay with a 20 CUC bill.  Lo and behold your change comes back in 2 or 3 CUC’s.  The mojito was 4 CUC’s.  You pay with a 5.  The guy says drink up, I don’t have change so will keep filling your glass up.  I win.

25 CUC – Taxi from Airport to Hotel (New Russian Lada taxi) Gave the driver one of the baseballs I brought plus pencils for his kids

10 CUC – Hamburger and a Sangria (Why?  Because my brother drops me off at the airport at midnight on the day of my flight; I thought the USO would be open all night like in LA; not, they close at 2100 hours.  For a 6 a.m. flight check in started around 4 a.m.

2 CUC – Beer at the pool

10 CUC – Gave five each to two groups of five kids fishing in some god awlful smelling water near old town and cruise ship terminal.  They didn’t seem to be catching much.    I nearly started a riot when I picked the leader of each group and gave each one 5 CUC for ice cream.  It was almost like throwing a bone into a pack of hungry wolves.  They all wanted to be the boss.  Thankfully I picked a strong leader in each group then just walked away and let them handle it.

14 CUC – Dinner and two beers; plus a mojito, water

5 CUC – Bicycle taxi – The guy tours me around old havana as I had hundreds of pencils I needed to give away.

3 CUC – Lemonade

10 CUC – Tip to a 6 piece band playing at the Hotel Vedado (Gal on a flute, singer, drums, two guys on guitars and one on maracas.

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My Havana Visit – August 2018

“Visitors to Cuba are usually Havana good time.”

The following is one of several stories I plan on writing about my first impression of  Havana.  The last time here I was less than five and my sister was less than three years old.  In 1958, more Americans probably lived in Cuba than Cubans lived in the United States of America.  That all began to change around 1959 when the bearded one and his guerilla army of eighty (80) traveled to Cuba on a 60′ boat named Granma to start a little revolution and overthrow an American backed dictator in power at the time.  For a short while life seemed good with the Cuban people until the bearded one decided he preferred holding onto power; and what better way to do so than to install a communist government.

In the early 60’s the bearded one seized all American owned property on the island, and the rest, …….. well you can easily look it up yourself; and learn about an important part of American and Cuba island history that today, as I see it, seems to still be evolving.

To give you an idea of how big Cuba is; you can easily place Cuba atop the U.S. state of Tennessee.  You can also compare Cuba’s population with just one U.S. City – the City of Los Angeles.

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Above just some random pictures; art work; at the restaurant of the hotel you see in the final picture; my visit to the cathedral.

And all i brought back from a six-day self guided Havana trip are pictures and some memories.  People immediately began asking me how I liked Havana.  My short answer is, “it’s much more complicated than just a yes or a no.

The U.S. Customs guy with my last country surname was the first to ask how I liked Havana.  I found myself saying, it’s sort of a shithole place.  The Oxford dictionary actually gives the definition as an extremely dirty, shabby, or otherwise unpleasant place, i.e.”this place is a shithole.

Yes there is a lot of trash everywhere.  And yes things are very much run down.  But somehow the people put up with it all.  The last time that their frustration level spilled over and it led to social outbreak and dissent was around  April of 1980.

So is Havana all a shithole place you might ask?  Of course not.  Just think of LA and San Francisco then subtract the thousands and thousands of homeless.  Also back out anyone begging for money.  Now imagine no car or pedestrian accidents in a congested city where behemoth 60’s era cars are roaming around anytime of the day or night.  Safety is another honorable mention.  One feels safe anywhere.  Black and white in Cuba blends into people.  Only those looking in seem to see “color” differences.  In five days of walking around the city I personally saw only three guns.  Most wore holsters with no guns in them.  Surveillance cameras seem to be their preferred method of enforcement.

Endless jay walkers are usually within sight of the mostly unarmed police but, no tickets or accidents.  Just don’t try speeding.  That is a big no no.

If you want to visit the Havana I saw just remember that the good always comes with the bad.  There is just no way of getting around it.  First the flight.  If your flight is at 6 a.m. just don’t plan on any sleep due to the fact that travelers to Cuba arrive with lots and lots and lots of luggage.

When you finally arrive and plan on seeing the real Cuba plan on doing a lot of walking.  One good thing is that in Cuba unlike Mexico they learned hundreds and hundreds of years ago how to build sidewalks.  Those same sidewalks are still functioning today.  The majority of the buildings, well, that’s another story.

The hotel where my travel agency booked me was near the heart of Havana.  Old town Havana is somewhat cleaner but, run down and a lot of old buildings are falling apart from neglect.  Simple things like routine maintenance does not happen.

An easy blame the people will tell you is the embargo but, why does the hotel not just hire a good handyman to tighten up that grab bar or stop that toilet from constantly running or clean the A/C filter or …….  Get my point.  There does not seem to be any reinvestment in the hotel cash cow.

At the Havana airport the outside terminal toilets are missing seats and there is no toilet paper.  The inside terminal toilets are also missing toilet seats but, a bathroom monitor for a fee dispenses toilet paper for a small donation.

In old Havana on one residential street the sewer smell was so bad I turned around and took another street.  On the next touristy street everything worked just fine.  When you flush in Cuba, where do you think it all goes?  Walk by the malecon near the cruise ship terminal and you can probably come up with the answer.

Prior to booking this Havana trip I found myself struggling with reasons for and against visiting Cuba.  Now that I’ve visited I can give you my personal assessment.

Don’t visit Cuba if you are in constant need to be on-line.  The locals all look like birds on a high wire hanging outdoors so they can get a signal.  I thought cigar or cigarette smoke from smoking countries would be a downer, it wasn’t.  People considerate in restaurants.  Imagine that.

Even in hot humid August the 60’s era classic American cars continue to run and spew raw fuel and foul-smelling exhaust but, there always seems to be a breeze in the air.  If you like historic buildings visit Havana.  You will never see them in this condition anywhere else in the world.

If you think colonial forts then just watch YouTube about old Havana.  That may be enough for you.  Not once did I need the immodium recommended.  I ate in restaurants, in houses, at the hotel, at a carnival like place however, I always bought bottled water.

Forget the mojito and go after the daquiri’s.  The Floridita is where Hemingway says it is the best served.  The malecon is only about a 10k walk in length.  Never did do the following so if there is another Havana trip in my future then I will add motorcycle tour of the city (possibly on a classic Harley, BSA or triumph); watching a Cuban boxing match and betting on the guy with no hair; and spend more time in museums.

  1. From indigenous cultures to colonialism to the Cold War to current events Cuba is filled with history and there is no way to escape it as you explore the country.
  2. The Malecon is the perfect place to people watch.  (Officially called the Avenida de Maceo).  Construction of the Malecón began in 1901, during temporary U.S. military rule and its main purpose of building it was to protect Havana from the water and the so-called Nortes, but in reality, it is a nighttime spot for the young and in love.
  3. And last but not least for now:  Best line heard on my travel to Havana by an American:

“If somebody is going to limit my travel to Cuba, then it should be a communist; and not my own government”.

Panama vs the Cuba hat; lunch at the Floridita; Hemingway hangout; sculpture.

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Last nights dinner – Quimbobo

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Amazing to think of the variety of foods our mother cooked and served us as children.  The best and worse parts are that we always had to try the dish but, no one forced us to eat anything we did not care for.  This morning I think back at some dishes she served us like, liver and onions, fried bologna, duck and pigeon, chicken and rice with beer, caldo de gallego (spinach stew) and even quimbobo.

This last dish (quimbobo in Spanish) is known to us as okra.  I never cared for okra as a kid but, recently started reading about the cancer health benefits attributed to it.  I now buy it at home pickled and enjoy it as an appetizer.

Yesterday while shopping at a local Miami grocery store I see quimbobo stew in the deli section.  I take home a bowl of it and sort of forced myself to eat it for dinner.  Not a huge fan of quimbobo as I believe I heated it too long and it turned into a slimey and gooey mess.

Oh well, you can’t win em all.  Now on to my guava desert.

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