Cuba As I See It, Days 11 & 12

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These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 11
Monday, Jan 2
Barracoa
This was a day mainly spent in our casa recovering from illness and enjoying our room. As I said on Day 10, this casa was clean and freshly painted. The bathroom had good water pressure or hot water, but not both. And each bathroom had its own toilet bowl brush. Nowhere in Cuba can you flush paper down the toilet. Most places have a trash can in each stall to use for this purpose.
It was about this time that I decided to come up with the Comprehensive International Bathroom Rating Scale. The ladies in our group and I consulted on what was important, and they came up with a variation of it, but after much intense study and further, ahem, experience, I have settled on the following:
1 point if the bathroom doesn’t charge money
1 point if it’s clean
1 point if it smells nice
1 point if there is a toilet bowl
1 point if the toilet has a way to flush
1 point if the way to flush doesn’t involve a faucet and a bucket
1 point if there is a toilet seat
1 point if it has a door that closes and locks for privacy
1 point if there is paper available somewhere in the bathroom
1 point if the paper is free and accessible from the toilet
1 point if you are allowed to flush the paper
1 point if there is a trash bin
1 point if it flushes itself at the proper time with a motion detector
1 point if there is a working sink
1 point if the sink water works with a motion sensor
1 point if there is soap
1 point if soap dispenser is motion sensing
1 point for a way to dry your hands
1 point if dryer is motion sensing
1 point for handicap accessibility
So here is the breakdown of what all those numbers mean:

18-20: Perfect

15-17: Near Perfect

12-14: : Excellent

9-11: : Good

6-8 ☹️: Not Ideal

3-5: Wipe everything with sanitizing wipes before you “go”

0-2: Hold your breath, don’t touch anything, and pray you don’t catch a disease

If we had a bathroom in the 9-11 range we were thrilled. We encountered more than one occurrence of bathrooms that were a 3 if you were generous in your counting. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. Using bathrooms like this are really the only time in life when I wish I were a man.
We did visit the Castillo Hotel, formerly the Castillo Seboruco built in the 1700’s. It has many steps that go up and up and up some more to a height of 40 meters (130 feet). At the top you’re rewarded with this beautiful view.
They also have free (if you buy a drink and have bought a card with login and password) wifi.
The yellow building in the foreground here is the Hotel Castillo.
Even though the Cuban government has tried to erase any positive influence by the US, if you look hard enough you can see evidence occasionally. Here is a sign on the hotel commemorating the reconstruction of the fort in 1900.
Here in Baracoa we also saw many of these kinds of signs.
You see how at the bottom it says CDR 3, ZONE 5. CDR stands for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. If Hitler’s SS and Neighborhood Watch had a baby, it would be something like the CDR. Basically, every block in Cuba has a CDR leader who is responsible for reporting on you to the government. If you want to change jobs or improve your house or a myriad of other things, you have to get approval from your CDR leader. They can also report you for having a bad attitude toward the government. They don’t need any proof or evidence, of course. You can imagine that this can be a very bad situation if your CDR leader is power-hungry or just doesn’t like you.
Day 12
Tuesday, Jan 3
Baracoa
On this day we went back up the mountain near the Castillo Hotel we had visited the day before.  We were looking for an item on our map called an “archaeological museum in a cave.” We occasionally would ask someone directions and they kept saying it was further on and further up. We accidentally (this time) had wandered into a part of Cuba that people don’t usually see. Basically the houses were shacks. Not sure if that’s “new construction” since the hurricane, but they were very bad conditions. Finally we reached a sign pointing us to the museum. A little boy led the way, and we gave him and his friend a tip for their help. It wasn’t much of museum or much of a cave.
Our enthusiastic guide enjoyed using his limited English skills as he shared his knowledge of the indigenous people Columbus “discovered” on his arrival but who had been living there for well over 500 years already. He told us about their religion, the way they used the caves, and some of their mythology.
He also told us about an area down by the beach where there were no trees, but black sand. He said not to go there because some spots are quicksand and people have been known to disappear. They are never quite sure if the missing people have been overtaken by quicksand or if they’ve gotten on a raft to go to America, but he said be careful. The girl from our group who was with us for our tour of the cave was a bit alarmed by this knowledge since she had walked that exact area of the beach the day before.
We came back down the mountain by a different route than we had gone up. We had experienced the natural alarm clocks (known as roosters) in just about every town we had visited. And it wasn’t just one rooster; there were always a bunch of them. I knew that we had eggs for breakfast every day, but those don’t come from roosters last time I checked. And we had seen only roosters, not hens. On the way back down the hill we saw a guy training his roster to attack another rooster and it all came together. Our guide had made a comment earlier when a guy crossed the road in front of us holding a rooster (at which point we asked why the rooster crossed the road). He said the guy was going to a cock fight. And it all clicked. THAT’s why so many roosters crowing every morning. They were meant for competition, but not to see who could crow the loudest. There is no gambling, at least in casinos in Cuba, but it seems there might be an exception.
At the bottom of the mountain we were hot and tired from our long upward trek, so we went back to the Hotel Castillo for cola and Wi-Fi. But it wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the mountain that we made this decisions, so back up we went, up all those steps. Not our brightest moment, I must say.
At the bottom of the hotel steps we encountered a man begging. He was the same man as the day before, asking for the same things: a pencil and shoes. Evidently if you have a pen or pencil you can trade it for something else so they usually don’t ask for money, they ask for a pencil or a pen.
After checking Wi-Fi we came back down the mountain. I felt like that old song about “The noble Duke of York, He had 10,000 men, He marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.” It was a hot day and after all our ups and downs we decided that chocolate ice cream sounded really good and we went to the Casa De Cacao.
 
We went into their air-conditioned show room that smelled absolutely amazing and saw their wonderful dark chocolate on display. They had bars of it as well as small little shapes, all covered by sheets of plastic. We tried one of the little shapes to make sure it was good. Sure enough, yep, it was great! We told waitress how many bars we wanted, and we watched her use her teeth to tear the plastic to get a piece to cover the chocolate in. I guess they didn’t have scissors or a knife. While she was busy with us, another woman came in and said something to her and showed her the middle ink-tube part of a cheap pen. We ordered some chocolate ice cream drink and sat down to wait. The waitress asked us if we had a pen they could have. This nice place of business with delicious chocolates only had one pen, and it was broken, so they were using the middle ink-tube part. Unfortunately, except for my iPad stylus which has a built-in pen, I only had 2 mechanical pencils. I offered her one, but I’m not even sure she knew what it was or how it worked, and she really wanted a pen. Their chocolate ice cream in chocolate drink was delicious, though.
This dearth of common objects was prevalent around Cuba. It’s not just that we saw no computers in use in businesses. Some places had adding machines with their receipt tape, but mostly it was just calculators in use. Restaurants generally had hand-written receipts that they gave us.
Many times we tried to break a 50 or even a 20 CUC bill, and they didn’t have change. Not just a little shops, but places like a hotel restaurant. There is just not enough cash or other resources for a business to keep money on hand that way.
Also, being in Cuba showed me how Americans see everything as disposable: cars, house furnishings, water jugs, etc. Things are used not until someone gets tired of them or when they start to look a bit worn. Things are used until they cannot be used any longer. Then if they can be repurposed as something else, they are. This is a theme I have recognized in all the developing countries I have visited.
This is how they still have running 1950’s cars running on the roads. As I stated when writing Day 5 in Trinidad, most of them are not in a condition that would be considered classic. 
They are just really old cars, beat up and run down. But they don’t get rid of them because it’s impossible to get a new or better one. So they just keep the old one running.
Click here to continue to Day 13.


Cuba As I See It, Day 10

Posted on
These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one day of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8, and Day 9.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 10,
Sunday Jan 1,
Going to Baracoa, going near Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Today we had another long travel day. After about an hour and a half of travel we stopped for a bathroom break and a look at a map of the area we would be covering in the day. Included was the area around the US Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
This whole area is the Guantanamo province of Cuba. I have zoomed in on the area beneath the black word “GUANTANAMO” on the map.
This dotted area is the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. You can see that even in cartography (map making) in Cuba the political messages are strong. Even with very limited knowledge of Spanish, if I tell you that E.U.A is Spanish for U.S.A you can tell what the basic message behind “Territorio ocupado ilegalmente por E.U.A.” means.
Then we went to a beautiful area for whoever in our group wanted to swim. We saw this brick beachfront property for sale. “Se Vende Llama…” means “For Sale, Call….” The house needs a bit of work, but the view would be beautiful.
Homes are rarely for sale in Cuba as most are state-owned. A few, however, have started to be sold by private individuals. Another one we saw in Trinidad looked like this.
Housing is different in Cuba. If you are necessary to the government, you get a house. If you have the money and ability and can get the proper permits, you can build your own house. They provide homes for athletes as well. As of 1970 and going forward, they needed more houses, so professionals were allowed to give a year or two to the government to build houses, and then they get one of the houses that they have built.
It is strange that, unlike some developing countries we’ve been to, most of the buildings in Cuba are completely finished. That does not mean, though that they are in good shape. A lot of them are beautiful old structures with gorgeous ornamentation, but the roofs are bad, or they are in a general state of disrepair. Also, we’d be walking along a city street and 2 of the 10 structures on the street would be shells with old bricks or piled-up concrete pieces in them. And I’m not talking about areas that were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Other times we’d walk by a large building and the entire bottom floor would be empty except for a single desk.
You can see from the “beachfront property for sale” picture that the area is very dry. The villages in the area around Guantanamo sometimes go a year or more with no rainfall.
You have to obtain a permit to visit relatives or friends near Guantanamo because some people try to escape to the Naval Base there since it’s American soil. There is a (very small) Cuban army installation here to keep an eye on the base, and in most of the areas you are not allowed to take pictures. If you as a tourist do this, they’ll take you away, take your camera, end your visit right then, and kick you off the island. Our guide knew a nice spot, though, where we could see the base in the distance and take a few pictures. In the distance is Guantanamo Naval Base. One of the ladies on our trip had a nice camera and we could see the US flag when you zoomed in on her pictures.
Reportedly, they have to use desalination to supply water on the base because the Cuban government cut of their water supply, and as I said, the area is very dry.
After we ate lunch at a tiny home restaurant which had amazing fried taro root chips, we started our trek over the mountains. This road, La Farola Viaduct, is another of the 7 Wonders of Cuban Engineering like the little tunnel outside Havana mentioned on Day 2. Many times the government had promised this road, but only The Revolution actually built it. Batista’s regime had started it, but was finished in 1965, so The Revolution takes full credit for it. It is a two lane road going through the mountains, like many I have been on before. The only difference is that on this one the concrete-with-rebar-inside guardrails in spots were in disrepair or missing. These spots are suspiciously in curves where it would be easiest for a vehicle to misdirect and go over. I suspect some have tried these routes and taken the guardrails with them. Luckily our bus driver was very skilled and got us to Baracoa safely. The views were amazing, though. 
Baracoa is a rainy little town, mostly isolated from the rest of Cuba except for that mountain road and an airport. It was heavily hit by Hurricane Matthew in early October and is still being rebuilt. Many of the attractions were closed or wiped out because of the hurricane. It is an area of cacao farms (though Matthew must have liked cacao because he visited a lot of them and took the trees with him), black sand beaches, high mountains, and rain.
Baracoa is the oldest settlement in Cuba, founded in 1511, and Columbus visited here in November, 1492. They have a monument to him which we visited.
We checked in to our casa, and unexpectedly (since a hurricane recently came through) it was our nicest one yet. Everything was freshly painted, and though the beds were still not comfortable, the linens, etc, looked like they were less than 10 years old. You see, the owner’s brother lives in the U.S. He was a medical doctor in Cuba and traveled to many different countries as it is common for them to do. He defected while in Venezuela and then came to America. He is now a nurse practitioner in Miami. I imagine from the looks of the casa that he has brought some plastic-wrapped packages to his family here in Cuba on his visits back home. American citizens are now allowed to visit family in Cuba. We somehow missed getting pictures of our room in this casa. The shower-head-water-heater was the same as usual, though, and this one made a shocking impact on my husband when he reached up to adjust it, so he got a picture of it.
 
During our orientation walk Vince got sick and left his lunch in the street, and I got queasy. We suspect it was some food we ate at the tiny home restaurant. Maybe the octopus and fish? So we ended the day with Vince alternately visiting the bathroom and watching Steven and I eat cheap pizza.
Continue the journey to Days 11 & 12.