Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cuba Trip - 3/24 Day 7

This morning, after breakfast we arranged to rent a motor scooter and took this for a ride around Varadero.

It was lots of fun for me, but Janet was on the passenger seat which really wasn't a seat at all and made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride. We went east on the Varadero land spit as far as the road would go and on the way back managed to find the Plaza Americas shopping mall.

We looked through these stores but didn't find anything to buy except a bottle of water.

Next we went into the town of Varadero and toured the 15th Street flea market shopping area. This was quite good, we seen lots of interesting stuff.
We ended up buying a couple of carved bull horn sculptures. One of a crocodile (mine) and the other was a combo turtle, fish and dolphin jumping. These pieces were really very well done and for what we considered to be bargain prices. Janet also bought a wooden bowl made of various colors of wood and lathed into a useable bowl.

We then took a few side trips down adjacent roads and seen all manner of vehicles, bikes, scooters, kids on school grounds, parks and roadside cafes. The amount of garbage really wasn't much and some people looked friendly, and others not so much. We went back to the resort for a light lunch and then out to the beach for the afternoon.

This was really the first time we had spent a few hours on the beach. I went for a long swim / walk in the waves a long way up the beach. When I finally got out of the water, I had a fair walk back. By the time I walked back in the sand, I had to go back in the water to cool off again.

When I walked in the ocean this time, I managed to look away at the wrong time (Note to self - don't turn your back on the ocean) and when I turned around to face the water again, a huge rogue wave smashed into me. A face full of salt water that nearly knocked me over ! Unbeknownst to me, Carmen and Steve were fairly close by on the beach and she said to Steve " Some idiot out there just got slammed in the face by a huge wave !" , laughing her face off. Then she said " I think it might be my Dad, Yes, it is my Dad !" They were both laughing there asses off over that.

A little more sunbathing and then off to the room to clean up and get ready for dinner. After dinner we have a date planned. We are going out tonight to the Buena Vista Social Club to see a concert by the 5 Legends of Cuba.

Part of the premium package was to get driven to the show in an antique car. I think ours was a 1947 Chevrolet Bel Air. It really looked great and had been refitted witha diesel engine and automatic transmission that worked beautifully.

When we got to the venue, we had a hour to spare and it was arranged that we had a drink in the adjacent bar and to particapate in a "meet and greet" with the musicians. Lots of smiles and handshakes but the Spanish vs. English thing didn't work out too well for conversation.

In the performing hall, our premium package gave us front row seats. How cool is that. The musicians were fantastic and it was definately a highlight of our Cuba trip.

A professional dancing pair also performed 3 times during the show in different costumes and it really was spectacular dancing. We really enjoyed it.

We got back to the resort about midnight and it didn't take long for sleep to take hold this night.

Cuba Trip 3/23 - Day 6 Wedding Day

Today is the wedding day for our oldest daughter, Carmen and her finance, Steve. It's a great looking day.

After breakfast we checked out clothes to make sure everything packed was okay to wear and then I had most of the morning off duty. I did a little walking around the resort, reading and had a couple of beers at the pool bar. The ladies were all at the hairdressers at 10:00 AM and we were told we were not to see them again until the wedding.

The guys had lunch together, pizza and drinks and then waiting until we had to get dressed at 2:00 PM for the wedding planned for 3:00 PM.

It was a really nice day out but not quite enough time to really do anything else between the schedule. At 2:30 I went to my daughter's room and she was just about ready.

Her and her Maid of Honor were there getting ready and doing the last minute glamor stuff. Carmen was really excited now that she had the wedding dress on and she said her heart was just pounding.
We now had only to wait for the phone call that all was ready down on the beach. The phone rang and off we went.

We had to wait a bit for the elevator and walk through several resort areas to get to the site and the bride got lots of attention from the sunbathing crowds everywhere. A final wait in a building alcove out of site from the beach, then the live music starts. The Maid of Honor heads out first

and then the Bride with the Father of the Bride (Me)

doing the slow walk down to the beach. A few steps here and a few steps there and then maybe 80 feet of sand.

Carmen did really well here keeping composed and when we were close enough to see Steve, he was tying to keep it together. A few deep breaths and a tear rolling down his cheek. He was certainly happy and excited to see his bride. And what a backdrop, with the aqua blue water and white curling waves behind them.

I gave Carmen a hug and a kiss and told her I loved her and probably everyone there was shedding tears by then.

I passed Carmen over to Steve, shaking his hand and then the ceremony began.

Janet and I, Steve's Mom and Sister, the Best Man and Maid of Honor, the local Magistrate, the interpreter and wedding planner, the photographer and the videographer made up our little assembly. Plus quite a few onlookers from the beach.

The ceremony was relatively short, Spanish first then each sentence translated into English. After the question about the husband and the wife and the I do's, the ceremony immediately broke up for the signing of the appropriate documents.

Some picture taking here, then back where we started for the ring ceremony.

And finally the husband and wife announcement and the first kiss.

A big cheer from the crowd here. It was really very nice and the setting was spectacular. A bunch of photo ops and back up the beach and more photos, a glass of champagne, a first dance and more photos around the resort.

When we finally went back inside it was about 4:30 and we went to the main lobby bar to relax and have a few drinks. The dinner was set for 6:30 PM so we passed these 2 hours just chatting and relaxing.

The dinner was on the outdoor patio overlooking the water. The view was still great but the wind came up a bit and was cool after dark. Janet had a white sweater she gave to Carmen and all the ladies put on the mens suit jackets to stay warm for the meal.

We started with being served water, then wine, then buns and butter, then a second round of buns and butter. No one knew what to expect and we were all thirsty and hungry so most of this dissappeared rather quickly. Then we were served a green salad with croutons and cheese and dressing something like a caesar salad. Next a hearty bowl of beef soup with root vegetables, next a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Most of us were getting near filled up by this time, not to mention the liquid diet for 2 hours before dinner. Next to our surprise was the main dinner plate with substantial portion of barbeque beef, a fish filet, a fancy bell shaped mound of mashed potato, and some mixed vegetables. I managed to eat most of mine, the ladies could not eat much and unfortunately this fine meal was just kind of picked at. The salad, soup and spaghetti had done us in already. Next was a fancy, large chunk of cheesecake. Wow, it takes a lot of will power to eat this much. I thought we were done, but then out comes the wedding cake.

Carmen and Steve do the cutting of the cake thing with photography of course.

Several diners in the adjacent area came over to take pictures as well. The cake was very good. Carmen cut a good sized slice for each of us and there was still over half the cake left, so she took what remained and put it on the dessert table of the buffet going on next to us. This brought a few cheers and a round of applause.

We returned to a room and downloaded our photos for a quick look and then off to our rooms to relax.

Quite a day for everyone. Bye for now.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cuba Trip 3/22 Day 5

Good Morning World !

Today we scheduled a jeep safari and all 8 of us went on the trip. We had to get up a little earlier than usual so that we were ready for the bus pick up at 8:15 . Everyone made it to the bus on time and it was about a 30 minute ride to several other hotels for more participants and then a drive to the other side of Varadero to the Jeep Safari compound. I was surprised to see about 200 Suzuki jeeps all lined up like an airport parking lot.

Our total group was 10 jeeps. The company rep. and the tour rep. led and we followed behind in 9 jeeps with 4 in each. When we first left the jeep storage yard, we went on several back roads through some cuban village areas.

Now these are really 3rd world poverty areas with people pushing old wheelbarrows, kids playing in the street, washing hung out to dry wherever a string could be strung, lots of 2 wheel buggies pulled by scrawny horses, lots of plastic bag remnants caught in the barbed wire fences, small really rough looking cattle and lots of small goats in the fields. Fields is much too good of a description for these lava rock enclosures with the odd blade of grass poking through. The rocks are all jagged and rough and cover probably 80 % of the surface.

We had heard that we should bring items to hand out to children we encountered on our step back in time. Every so often a mom would be standing by the road holding or watching young kids smiling and waving. The jeeps stopped briefly and handed out all manner of pencils, crayons, snacks, notebooks, etc.  Seems like all the Canadians had visited a $1 store at home prior to the trip and had these handouts to give to the kids.

The houses these people came out of were generally a concrete bunker type looking structure, maybe 10 feet wide by 25 feet long, with attached rickety lean to's and all manner of scrounged metal roofing. None of these places had windows. Concrete holes were boarded up or had primitive type shutters. Only the best looking places had a kind of wooden shutter that could be opened or closed like a large venetian blind.

These people with nothing all appeared very happy and friendly. The little kids all played happily and were actually really good looking kids. They all seem to have very beautiful faces and smiles. Don't know if I could say that about a bunch of Canadian kids. A tough existence but I guess the kids don't know anything different anyway.

Our first stop on the safari was for snorkeling in an underground cave. Now this was really cool and right up my alley. I was the first one into the water and had a blast exploring every dark corner of the cave. All the stalagmites and stalagtites were so cool to see and touch. The water was crystal clear and you could see clearly to the probably 40 foot bottom. Lots of strange and eerie shapes to view everywhere you looked. A really fun time for me.

Next we drove again over some more 4 x 4 type back roads and finally came to a working farm. Here they grow coconuts, bananas, pineapple, sugar cane, papaya and avacado. We ate fresh bananas off the tree, small ones about 4 inches long, fresh papaya, fresh cut and peeled sugar cane and chewed on the sugar cane stalks. There were chickens running around everywhere and a big old pig staked out for grazing. The locals were very friendly and always smiling.

More back roads and here we were able to go blasting through big water puddles and splash water everywhere. Lots of fun for me doing the driving, I'm not so sure about Steve's mom and sister in the back.

Next we had an interesting drive through the city of Matanzas. Old cars and trucks, people of all types on the street and just the narrow streets and congestion were wild. On one corner a guy with what looked like a pregnant woman in a swim top and small skirt and bare feet called out to me " Hey mister, you want this girl, this girl for you". Like I said, people of all types.

Next, maybe 10 miles of really rough broken pavement road out into a valley away from town to a country ranch where we were to have an authentic cuban lunch. Very interesting. A soup of some type of root vegetable (I think) or lentils, a plate of sliced orange and grapefruit, some boiled pork, a salad of greens and red cabbage, some really strange cake type bread, red beans and rice and then kind of a cheesecake type dessert. It was all quite good I thought, the bread was the wierdest and the dessert was next on the wierd scale.

They had a small lake where you could go out in a paddle boat or kayak. I chose a small sit-on-top kayak to try out. It was a little tippy and I probably exceeded the recommended carrying capacity. The odd part was the lack of a back rest so it was hard for me to sit basically with my feet a little higher than my butt and have to use stomach muscles (or maybe more acurately lack of) to hold myself upright. Too tough for me so didn't get too far. I'll probably feel it tomorrow.

There were a few horses there you could ride. Janet and Carmen tried this out, the horses went about 300 feet and stopped, turned around and headed back to the paddock. These horses knew the drill and weren't about to change.

They also had cattle and goats out in the fields, a big pig pen at the lake shore and chickens everywhere. We spent about 2 hours here then the drive back over the same rough road and through Matanzas again.

Next was a stop at a river for a big party boat cruize up the river. This was relaxing and on the way back we were entertained by live music and dancers. This was fun and the only time people had their hands out looking for tips.

Through some more back roads and bleak villagers to the jeep compound. Our 2 jeeps were definately the dirtiest. You could barely tell the color through all the mud and water. Back on the bus to the resort and got in just before 7:00 PM. A very busy day, full of adventure, excitement, smiling faces, bleak living conditions, new foods, mud and laughter.

Writing this journal and reading myself to sleep. Tomorrow is the wedding so that will be an interesting day too.

Bye for now.

Cuba Trip 3/21 Day 4

A pretty good sleep for me but Janet said she was up constantly with a toothache. Seems that an old filling has lost a chunk or some such thing and she was trying anbesol and pills all night to get by. In the morning its not too bad so hopefully the worst is over.

We decided to take the double decker bus on a tour of Varadero. The bus stop is only down at the end of the road we are told. As we leave the hotel, somebody else says its 2 km away. When we get to the street we find a horse and buggy and its so hot out we pay the 5 pesos and get a buggy ride. It's quaint and romantic and the clop clop down the pavement is a sound you don't hear much.

We get to the bus stop in about 7 minutes, not as far as we expected and the bus is just pulling away, so the buggy driver flags him down, kind of gets in his way type of thing and we get on the bus. We are rushing to the bus and I yell at the buggy driver " What's the horse's name ?" He says Chocolate with a big smile and I tell him that's a great name.

We get off the bus at different shopping areas and find most of the same stuff we had already seen, so not much buying to do. I get a Tilly type hat for 4 pesos to keep some sun off my head. My forehead and top of my head is burnt pretty good by now. I must be getting taller because I am growing right up through my hair. LOL.

When I get back on the bus there aren't many seats and I hit my head on a fan grate sticking down from the roof of the bus. It's sharp and cuts my head right through my new hat. The hats okay but the salty sweat stings like mad and the small cut / scape further adds to the scar tissue and hair loss on the top of my head. I'm not tall by any means, but I figure I must have been shorter in another life because I seem to hit my head a lot.

Back to the hotel for a late lunch and then back to the beach to read my book. It's called the Wolf of the Plains and it's about the life of Genghis Khan. He's only 18 years old so far and I've lost track of how many bad guys he's killed. Starting to wonder who is the bad guy after all.

Late supper tonight planned with the group of 8 and that means about 2 hours of drinking rum before we eat again. It's a tough life, but somebody's got to do it.

Writing this journal, then off to bed.

Cuba Trip 3/20 Day 3

Went to bed early last night about 10:00 PM and zonked out right away. Woke up at 2:00 AM and had to read myself back to sleep. Probably about an hour and a half. Woke up just before 7:00 AM and Janet was still sleeping. Went for a shower and let Janet slowly come to life.

Went for our first breakfast and it was a little intimidating holding the tongs while starring at a huge tub of bacon. There was probably 30 pounds of cooked bacon there. Took the bacon and went to the egg station and asked for 3 eggs over easy. The lady cracked 3 eggs side by side and when ready she flipped all 3 at once with a large spatula and never broke a yoke. On to the fresh orange juice line up and they have a see-through orange crushing machine. They keep feeding oranges into the top and out the tap comes the freshest orange juice ever. Oranges to orange juice in 15 seconds. Awesome. Then to the toast machine. Pick your bread from maybe 20 options and set it on the toast conveyor into the oven for toasting and then it slides out the bottom. I like it dark so I put mine through a second time and it was just right.

Mid morning we teamed up with Steve's mom and sister, taking a cab into Varadero for a shopping trip. Various stands of touristy things with many very similar products for sale. Bought a cuban conga drum set which included the shaker things, maraka's or something like that, drum sticks and two sticks you bang together. Some great noise makers for the grandkids. Janet bought a carved mahogany turtle and a couple of bracelets.

We toured the so-called mall and while interesting, not too much worth buying. Janet bought a scarf, nice blue colors like the water with dolphins in it. Back to the resort in another shared cab ride and back to the buffet for lunch.

After lunch we did the day on the beach thing, I went for a swim. Seemed cold at first but you get used to it and its quite refreshing. Definately a sobering effect, so back to the pool bar for some more rum. Must of had 15 different kind of rum drinks so far and each one several times just to make a decision if I liked it or not. Okay I exagerate a little. Never got stumbling drunk or anything close to it, just kept up with the warm and fuzzy feeling. It takes a lot of willpower to eat and drink this much. Fun in the sun and in the shade and then back to the buffet for another round with the ole feed bag.

After supper we mosied on over the the lobby bar and found a duet of a piano player and a saxaphonist doing their best at a lot of show tunes type of music. In the middle of one song while the piano player is pounding out a rythym, a big old rusty bolt falls out of the bottom of the piano and the foot pedals go off at some wonky angle. So the music stops and they are holding the bolt and looking under the piano. One guy leaves, goes outside and comes back in with a rock and balances the foot pedal assembly on the rock and it seems like it will work for now.  I'm right close by and walk up close, looking at this grand piano and see the manufacturer plate inside and its dated 1859 ! This thing is 150 years old ! Sounds good but needs some maintenance I guess. I ask the sax man about his saxaphone and its 1962. No shine to it whatsoever. He says its the salt air that has eaten the finish away. We stay and listen and drink some more rum until they shut it down. We head back to our room, a little TV and lights out.

I've had a sore throat since before we left, a cough and runny nose and its still hanging on. My body is fighting off the alcohol first I think. Thank goodness for the sinus medicine and cough medicine Janet brought along.

Bye for now.