Friday, 6 April 2012

Cuba -- # 1 of 4

We went to Cuba for a week. It was our third time. The first was over 20 years ago... not all that much has changed over the years, other than there are more tourist resorts now.

With Fidel now in the background, to some extent at least, winds of change are blowing. Time will tell if the people benefit from whatever changes come. Ever since the Russians pulled out in 1991, the Cuban people have suffered. There's severe poverty, especially in the rural areas and with the dual currency that separates the locals from the tourists and foreign investment companies, the society is upside down compared to ours.

Those in contact with tourists or other foreigners can get more money (tips mostly) in a day than those that aren't in contact can receive in a month or more. As a result, doctors and engineers can be found driving taxis or working as waiters in resorts. Just like Russia was when I was there in 1989. Just like here for some immigrants.

I always feel a bit guilty visiting poor countries. The fact that they are poor is why we can easily afford to visit them... but I still go. I use the excuse that I'm helping their economy. Though you usually come across some locals that resent or envy the tourist, by far the majority are warm-hearted and friendly... much moreso than you're likely to encounter in richer countries.

We were in Varadero, the largest tourist area of Cuba.The resort we stayed at is pretty typical of those in Varadero, a world apart from the way most Cubans live.

The beach in Varadero is about 20 km long, bordering the almost unbelievable colors of the Caribbean Sea.

I don't remember seeing a single person swimming during the week. People either baked on the lounges, with or without a book or a free drink, or waded or walked along the beach... or just stood in the water like this guy did.

A Brown Pelican.

Royal Palms on the resort, Cuba'a national tree.

Mature ones look like they have concrete trunks, and young or old have the green section of trunk at the top.

This was on the resort too. I think it's Bamboo, but it may not be. The variety of color on the same plant is remarkable.

It seems as though most trees in the tropics have gorgeous flowers of some sort. There were dozens of these on the grounds.

Who doesn't get a kick out of Geckos? They skitter across the ground & over the rocks & trees. We didn't have any in our room this time.

An unusual tree. There are so many tropical trees that trying to ID them would be a nightmare, but unusual ones catch my eye. The blazing sun makes photography challenging at times.

In the hotel lobby: Che Guevara (Fidel's right hand man during the revolution) is "everywhere" around Cuba. This head-shot of Che is said to be one of the most famous photographs in the world.

In contrast with most dictators, you'll see very few, if any, images of Fidel in your travels, nor is he on any of Cuba's currency.

The growth at the top of Royal Palms is used by the poor for brooms & stuffing mattresses & pillows.

And these fruits are used for animal feed.

Cuba is well known for the classic American cars from 1959 and earlier. With the revolution in 1959, time was frozen for American cars. There are 100s of them around Varadero. These ones were on the resort.

With the recent changes introduced by Fidel's brother Raul, there are now literally 100s of private taxis. Many are the pre-1959 American cars but there are many, newer, French, Italian, etc. ones too.

The yellow Coco Taxis are another choice for tourists. Cute, and cheap, but slow. A regular taxi into Varadero from the resort strip was about $12 US (actually in CUCs, the "tourist dollar", equivalent to the US dollar).

Common in flea markets, you'll find various items made from pop cans, beer cans or fruit cans, like these race cars. I picked up another camera made from cans to go with a "cheaper model" I bought on our last trip here.

Houses vary considerably, from good to sad. This is a guest house.

Most homes are of this type, with the majority by far being one story and small... this one is large. 80% or more are "boxy" with flat roofs, as they are in most poorer countries. You'll very rarely see a wood home.

Most apartment buildings are run down, in need of paint; and balconies, or windows even, serve as clothes lines. This is one of the better ones.

And another of the better homes.

Almost every classic car you see now is a private taxi. Slap a taxi sign in the window and you're in business, thanks to Raul.

In sharp contrast to the classic cars, this Peugeot was parked in front of our hotel. I guessed maybe it belonged to the owner of the hotel, but it turned out to be a rental, for $175 US a day.

When I asked who would rent it at that price (given that our hotel clientele were mostly average Canadians-- we outnumber other nationalities about 4 to 1)... I was told Russians rented it, sometimes a few days at a time.

These trees stand out from others. They're Pines... what type no one could tell me.

This might be an Almond tree, very common in Cuba. The bark reminds me of Eucalyptus or Sycamore.

We went down to the beach in town. It was good to see that the locals have lots of access points to the beach, better than we do here. The white sand is blinding in the sunlight.

Of the tens of 1000s of pigeons I've seen, I don't remember seeing any taking it easy and lying down like this guy was.

Any mother with little ones is worth a shot. Chickens are "everywhere" and you often hear the beautiful crowing of a rooster, not just at daybreak but throughout the day as well. There were some on the resort and we loved hearing them.

Something you'll never see in our parks... a Pigeon coop. They use it. There's a white one sitting on it.

A link to Cuba #2 of 4:

- fini -



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