Day 1

The day has arrived to venture south to Cuba. The first hop is to Miami where we will stay  overnight and then fly to Cuba in the morning on a charter jet. No US based airlines are allowed to fly to Cuba.

Tonight we are staying right at the airport. VERY convenient!2a1Since we got up at 4:00am to catch our flight it was time for a little lunchy and then a nap.2Just what we needed! Awakening we threw open the shutters to get ‘A great view of the Miami skyline?’ . . . not so much! 10Time for a few more winks!

emJay has been drinking water like a camel and eating all the salad she can find. No drinking the water in Cuba unless you want to take a chance getting ‘tourista’. Not a good way to spend 3-4 days of one’s trip. No water means no ice either, no veggies that have been washed in water and eaten raw (salad), no brushing your teeth except with bottled water. Sounds like lots of beer drinking on the journey ahead!!!

cubaAs our sister city host, Ricardo from Madison said, “Cuba is only 90 miles from the US coast . . .  but a world away”.

Before we head over though, time for one last dinner in the US. Barb and Tom had been in Miami since Friday, had done some scouting, and their friend Neil suggested BasilCo Restaurante.4Although some of the single guys decided to see what else Miami had to offer and took the ‘shuttle’!!!!

But, eight of us ‘married types’ piled in two cabs and headed over for a wonderful evening of cuisine, vino and friendship.86GREAT appetizer of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto.  7Followed by breast of chicken rolades stuffed with sun dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and cheese. YUM!!!!!!!!!5It is going to be a GREAT trip!

Day 2

Everyone slept like babies after our BIG Italian dinner at BasilCo.

We woke wondering if the magic of the night before had changes our view of the airport . . .

. . .  from our room . . .

not so much! Although it was a ‘little more attractive’ basked by the light rose color of the rising sun. Hopefully the morning views through our shutters in Cuba will be an improvement.

Time to enjoy one last “American breakfast” before we make the jump to Cuba. Not sure what breakfast there will be like.

 We all assembled at Gate G for what was to be a several hour process of checking in at Swift Airlines, our flight provider to Cuba.11Our happy group waiting . . .waiting . . .waiting12Lots of Cubans ahead of us waiting to fly to Cuba too. They all have been busy shopping. Lots of big screen TV’s heading for the island . . . also a bubble wrapped electric bike this gent is returning with to theisland. Karen was very interested in it because Michael and her both have electrics!13The process actually went very smooth. Jon collected all of our passport, tickets and the goodies and we were processed as a group . . . 16Then it was on to the luggage . . .18 . . . where Barb and Tom got the prize for the ‘Lightest Load of Luggage for a Two Week Trip’. Tom says he may not even use everything in his backpack!!!!!14 . . .   the number of bags were counted . . . 15 . . . and collectively weighed. We were all under the individual 44 pound bag limit, including ones carry-on.

We had two hours to kill until our 2:30pm departure so we had a group beer fest at Chili’s and were ready to go at 1:30pm.17Unfortunately, the plane was not. Pushed back until 4:00pm! Time for more beer!!!!

Now 4:45pm and the waiting is starting to take it’s toll . . . Karen was the first succumb!
Our flight was finally reannounced for 4:30pm. The original plane had a ‘mechanical problem’ and needed to be replaced. Then a new crew had to be found.
20Our new ‘wheels and wings’.

21We were finally in the air for the short 1 hour flight to Cuba and flew over this lake . . .

22. . . on our way to Camaguey

23The jet had an exit through the tail of the plane and since Cindy, Greg and I were seated near the back of the plane we headed out through the tail. Cindy and Greg were of first of our group to hit the ‘terre firma’ of Cuba  . . .

24… followed by Mike and Carol.

25We all change our dollars and Euros at the airport currency exchange for the tourist version of the Cuban peso, the Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC. One CUC equals about $1US. We met our first ‘private entrepreneur’, Raul, at the gate of the terminal selling beer for 2.5CUC. It was our first investment in helping the economy of Cuba!

26We met our guide Eliseo and bus driver Alberto who would be accompanying us for our entire stay in Cuba. The plan had been to go to the hotel first and then out for our arrival dinner but because of our delay in transit we went directly to dinner. A good move because we were all starving! Vino, beer and soda . . . no ice please!

27On the walk to the hotel Bobbie discovered on of the better maintained bicycles we saw on the trip. Just as all the automobiles seem to be of 1950 ere so do the bicycles!

30We had no more checked in when Barb and Tom met Peter at the bar in the hotel. A happy go lucky chap, We would run into Peter and his group from the UK several times during the coming weeks. Here they enjoy the first of many, many Havana Club 7-year aged rums we would enjoy during the week served ‘neat’. (no ice!)

28We checked into the rooms to find them pretty basic, sort of frozen in time from the early 1970’s Holiday Inn era. But always very clean!

29Then it was time to head down to the outside courtyard bar for several more rums and assorted drinks. A representative of ICAP, the Cuban Friendship organization joined us for a drink.

31Alberto and Laurie enjoy a daiquiri . . .

32. . . while we enjoyed several rums!

Day 3

Yes . . . air conditioning made all the difference in getting a good nights sleep. Window units, a little loud but with ear plugs securely in place . . . .zzzzzzzzzzzz.

We stayed in government owned hotels during the trip and there was always a continental breakfast included. Really ‘full course’, though, with a wide variety of meats, salads, breads and omelettes made to order!

The courtyard served as our ‘al fresco’ breakfast area . . .

. . . a hearty breakfast provided a days worth of energy for our daily schedule of activities. We were usually on the bus by 8:30am and on the road until usually 6:00pm!

. . . most of the hotels had porters but an independent group like ours usually hauled our own gear. Many times the bus could not get down the streets of the historic districts where most of our hotels were located. Here our guide, Eliseo rounds up the gang to point us in the right direction.

During our stay we say many forms of transportation to move people and commodities around the countryside. The most prevalent was one’s own two feet. We saw people walking EVERYWHERE. The vast majority do not own cars. Gasoline is about $4US/gallon and with the average monthly wage at about $20US, owning a car is a dream no one will ever attain. Many people pushed cars such as the one above with their wares.

There is a train system . . .

. . . but this was the most common form of transportation we saw. Two wheeled, usually rubber tired, carts pulled by horses, donkeys or oxen. This one had a big pig in the back!

. . .some where pulled by goats!!

A very common way of getting around town, and out in the country, was by bicycle. Usually VERY old bicycles. Never saw a TREK!!!

Horses for transportation were also very common.

Today we were busing to Santiago de Cuba with a lunch stop in Bayamo. We stopped about 1.5 hours into the 3 hour ride for a little rest stop and cafe!

Art for sale in Bayamo . . .

. . .and the kids returning to school from an outing. In Cuba, all primary, middle and secondary students wear uniforms to school.

Great use of color in this restored village.

Eliseo points our a historical marker during our walk around town.

First of many, many old US produced cars we would see during our tour of Cuba. A Studebaker, we thought. Most were in average shape with some looking like they just rolled off the show room floor. Some on the other end of the scale looked like they had been painted several times with a brush!

Lunch at the Bodega was very nice, eating on the veranda overlooking a valley with a river. We watched the herons and egrets come and feed as we did too. mmmmmmmmmm . . . I wonder about that homemade mayo.

Greg tries the ‘specialty coffee of the house’ that came with it’s own little trailer and honey pot!

After lunch we walk around town a bit more and head over to the House of Culture where there was a special concert performance for us. There would be music nearly everywhere and around every corner we turned. Most groups had CD’s for sale. Standard price 10 CUC’s.

These guys were REALLY good and soon had our group up on the floor dancing! Of course emJay bought a CD!

Soon we were back on the bus heading to the Basilica del Cobre recently visited by Pope Benedict. It is the largest basilica in Cuba and a special tribute to the Virgin Mary.

The church was in beautiful condition.

The story goes that two fisherman found a plank floating in the ocean with a statue of the Virgin Mary affixed to it. A church was initially construct to house the statue and eventually the Basilica was constructed.

Here is the golden statue of the virgin. In the red box is the a gold rose the pontiff brought during his visit. If one prays to the Virgin her for a request and it is granted, most return to give thanks with a donation or sign of thei gratidtude. After Ernest Hemingway won his Pulitzer prize, he brought the medal and left it at the feet of the Virgin’s statue. Someone recently stole the gold medal. Not knowing it’s significance they eventually returned it.

Crutches and appliances left by believers who have prayed to the Vrgin Mary for help and were healed of their malady.

Many baseball players have come to request help and have returned and left jersey, trophies and other clutter as a way of saying thanks!

Soon we were on the bus and heading to our home for the next two nights, Santiago de Cuba.

But not before a stop at Revolution Square where Antonio Maceo, a national hero who led the final charge against Spain for Cuba’s independence is memorialized. His popularity is national and will never be shadowed by modern leaders like Fidel or Raul.

An art piece depicting the machetes of the revolution.

We finally rive at our hotel for the next two nights, The Hotel CasaGranda located right on the town square.

Nice digs!

Many of the hotels we staed at had roof top gardens and bars. Here we had a good view of the church restoration going on next door . . .

. . .and a great view of the square. The hotels usually have a large buffet at night and the Hotel CasaGranda was no exception. With a full tummy and a few rum at the rooftop bar it was soon time for bed!

Day 4

Rick became sick during the night, from maybe the mayo served at lunch?  We had to change rooms at 1:45am when the toilet stopped working!!

He was down for the day.

The rest headed out in 7 jeeps for a rugged day of adventure.

Signs of timber cutting noted along the way to our first stop a botanical garden. Where of course there were local entrepreneurs selling their wares.

emJay helped the local economy by buying a red necklace and bracelet. Only 1 CUC!

The main entrance.

Our guide for the day who works for Ecotur, the Cuban outdoor touring company. All the jeep drivers were from Ecotur.

View looking south toward the Caribbean coast of Cuba. We were in the Baconao Unesco Bioreserve.

Jeff and Tom made buddies with the pups everywhere we went . . .

. . . this one was a little too shy.

The prized bloom of the ave de paraiso, bird of paradise.

Eliseo also added information along the way.

Ruins of an old home add interest to the gardens.

There was an area with many different orchids.

We enjoyed seeing the green emerald hummingbird here.

Hey – looks like our common daylily!!

The national flower of Cuba which has a wonderful scent!

Sample a fruit (perhaps at your own risk if you are being really careful about what goes in your mouth…)

One sees message boards like this all over Cuba.

Revolution  . . .  under construction?

Then we began our hike up to the Gran Piedra, a 63,000 ton boulder that sits perched high above the Caribbean.

Nearing the top of the climb . . . Tommy and Jon made a dash to the top . . .

. . . which is actually a ‘HUGE’ rock geologists can’t explain how it got there!

Fog started to blow in from the SW but we could see the hills to the NE.

And of course there were vendors on the top of the rock! Tom takes home a copy of the Santa Maria. Only 8 CUC’s!

Next stop was a family producing coffee the old tradidtional way. Beans roasted over an open fire . . .

Then cooled a bit prior to grinding . . .

Spreading out the beans after they have been roasted to perfections . . .

And ground in a wooden mortar and pestel.

It’s the rrrrichest kind . . . many of us brought a pound back to the states.

We next went to a Unesco World Heritage site, Cafetel la Isabella. It is the first coffee plantation in SE Cuba, built by a Frenchman and named in honor of his favorite concubine.

Alberto, our driver and strong conservationist Joel, Laurie and emJay say goodbye after a great day.

We stopped to visit a war monument complete with grazing cows!

Happy travelers, including our wonderful bus driver Alberto in tie on left.

After lunch at a local café, it was on to tour Morro Castle built by Spain, about 1700. It was later used as a prison . . .

A lonnnnnnng hike to the top from the sea.  Discouraged invasions!!!

. . . complete with a moat.

Walls made up of limestone with lots of marine fossils.

We used a reconstructed drawbridge to enter the castle.

Lot’s of info about pirates . . .

. . . great views from the top. You could see the enemy coming from a long distance away. Time to develop a plan!

Ready for attack from any side . . .

Local guide!!

We drove through Santiago’s area of (previously) fancy homes and wealthy folks. Now many of the houses are offices or government buildings.

Some people were living quite nicely . . .

. . . while most are not.

We finally arrived back at Hotel CasaGranda  . . .

. . . and were greeted by this beauty

. . . and a band concert by the Cameguey city band. Music everywhere, all hours of the day!!!


After an hour or so of listening to the band and having a few rums at our roof top bar is was time for dinner for a few of us at Restaurant Matamoros, a government run restaurant. The food was tasty and we had a live band to entertain us.

Day 5

It was quite a night for me . . . trips to the bathroom, toilet not working, changing rooms are 1:45am, trying to sleep, etc. etc. etc. Luckily we had Doctor mike and Emergency Room Nurse Karen who supplied several remedies. Between the Imodium, Cipro to kill everything in my gut, yogurt for creating new friendly cultures in my gut, Sprite to keep my electrolyte levels up, and even some Dr Shen’s Stomach cure that Laurie had. It was a real East meets West battle going on to combat whatever bad ju-ju I had got. Several others would need to use various versions of this regime before the trip would be over.

Be boarded the bus after breakfast for our tour of the city.

As we pulled away from the hotel Eliseo pointed out, across the square from our hotel, a famous government administrative building . . .

. . .where, from the balcony, Fidel Castro gave his first public speech after his successful revolution.

We arrived at the famous Santiago cemetery where the most famous hero and patriarch of Cuba, Jose Marti is buried.

Here is the Cuban version of the tomb of the unknown soldier. Each crypt holds the ramains of an unidentified soldier from the final war between Cuba and Spain for their independence.

Along the way Eliseo pointed out the black and red flag by many graves. These are freedom fighters who fought during the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

The tomb of  Jose Marti, the Cuban national her. There is a changing of the guard every half hour and we were present to witness one.

Must be hot in the morning sun. We ourselves were sweating like dogs and it was only 9:30am!

Here come the two replacements. Their ‘goosestep stride’ brought their legs up to a 90 degree angle. Very Russian looking!

Marti’s body lies in the bottom of the monument . . .

A famous author, he lived from 1853 to 1895 when he died in military action during the Battle of Dos Rios. Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba’s bid for independence against Spain.

His request before his death was that his tomb be supplied with fresh flowers each day. His crypt is covered with a Cuban flag that faces east to the rising sun.

We make a ‘pit stop’ at a local five star hotel that is a joint venture between Cuba and Sol Melia, a Spanish hotel group that owns 350 hotels in 40 countries. Interesting that the first stall I went to in the bathroom had no toilet paper. We were warned by Jon to bring our own rolls of  Charmin to Cuba because in most public bathrooms there was none. This proved top be true to the point that even the bathrooms in our hotel lobbies also did not usually have any!!! Most toilets in the public sector did not have toilet seats or they were broken. We started doing a survey and those that had toilet seats usually the right hand bolt was loose or broke off. Once the left one broke I guess they just never replaced them!!!

These beauties were parked outside the hotel . . .

Many of the old cars are now taxis like this one. Holy shnikees, Batman!!!

Time for a nice lunch in a government owned hotel. Almost on que, the moment we were seated our lunch entertainment arrived. Great voice and great guitar player.

Typical of the government restaurant plated meals. The buffets were a different story which many more options. As Raul headed to the head of the table with his guitar ,our waitress suddenly broke into dance to which Brenda and Karen quickly joined in. Fun!!!!

From lunch we toured the Cuartel Moncoda, the famous Barracks and Garrison where the revolution was started when Fidel and his band of revolutionaries stormed the door. The Cuban soldiers were tipped off though. Although Castro and his group had procured Cuban military uniforms in en effort to create a surprise, they were still wearing civilian shoes!! An alert guard woke the troops who defended the garrison. Castro and his band of revolutionaries’ retreated to the mountains. In true Cuban entrepreneurial spirit, the museum was charge 5 CUC (about $5US) to take photos in or on the grounds. We, in true American style, voted with our pocketbook by saying NO!

After the garrison tour it was time to head down the coast through Guantanamo province towards Baracoa. We stopped at the ocean to wade and swim. Being on the Caribbean side of the island, the water was warmer than many of the showers we would take during the week!


and found this perfectly preserved mummy on the beach!

Our faithful stead awaits our ride over the mountains. Most of the busses one saw were imported from China. Not much leg room and REALLY underpowered . . .

. . .looking back at our route the bus lurched rolled back a few feet each time Alberto shifted the manual transmission. We weren’t sure we were going to make it over the top. The road was in the best shape of any we would travel on during the week and is considered on of the ‘7 Engineering Marvels’ of Cuba.


Lets stop for a break . . .

. . .time for a Brenda and John selfie . . .

At the pullout, Gary admires the stead one of the ‘salesman’ rode up to the look point. We climbed to over 1,800 feet and passed over 11 bridges.

Our driver buys some beautiful snails from a vendor . . .while emJay does some bartering in the background.

We were heading for Baracoa located on the spot where Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba on his first voyage. It is the first Spanish settlement in Cuba during the 1500’s and was only assessable by water until the 1960’s when Castro build the road we traveled to get there.

We finally arrived at our 3 star government hotel in Baracoa, Porto Santo, our home for the next three nights.



Swim up bar to the left, out of the picture . . . and also on the left the ‘outdoor showers’ Carol and Mike enjoyed!

As we checked into the hotel we noticed this poster regarding the snails the vendors were illegally selling at the pass. They are endangered and harvested by the locals for tourist souvenirs.  Who knew!

We had what became our customary ‘Welcome Cocktail’ usually provided by the hotels in their outside bars. Here was our ‘water only’ group enjoying a cold one . . . with no ice of course!

Nicely landscaped grounds. We were ‘right next to the airport’, like 100 feet, but never heard a plane take off or land. Evidently there is only one commercial flight a day!

Clean room . . . but the wall safe and light in the bathroom light over the sink didn’t work and although we requested several times during our stay they be repaired, they never were. Several of our gang did not have water and Carol and Mike’s shower never did work. They showered using the fresh water showers near the swim up pool.


After a quick shower (barely warm water again) it was time for a few rums at the bar and them time for a group dinner which was included in the price of our room. Service not so god . . .and menu was similar to our lunch menu. Then more rum . . . which was beginning to become a habit!

Day 6

Great sleeping last night . . . the rum may have helped too!

Nice walk to breakfast . . . the silence broken by a speech being given by Fidel?????????

No just our own TommyH practicing!

Quiet around the swim up bar in the morning . . .

Omelets made to order  . . . provided energy for our first stop today with or guide Alexis, from the Baracoa historical center.

A memorial to the landing of Antonio Maceo, the military general who organized an expedition and gave the first orders for the fight to repel Spanish aggression.

Second stop was the home of a local entrepreneur who makes and sells cucuruchos, a tropical almond brittle made with raw local chocolate wrapped up brown palm leave . . .

. . . as you can see from the pile on the other side of the fence, they go through quite a number of coconuts!

Their simple but tidy and very clean kitchen . . .

their cistern . . .

. . . and shower area.

The local kids made out like bandits as our group loaded them up with small presents we brought to hand out.

Our hostess explains the process of making the candy . . .

. . . while her daughters hull and split the almonds used in preparation.

Local crafts made by the family. The purse was made out of foil gum wrappers and the gold and green ‘Packer’ ornament was made out of soda can pop tops. Very resourceful!

emJay talking to the patriarch of the family who was 92 years old! Eliseo, who had not been to the Baracoa area for 8 years, told us on the bus ride the gent had climbed a coconut tree 8 years ago and retrieved coconuts. He wasn’t sure if he was still alive. He is still VERY much alive and climbed the tree for us!!!! Note the curvature of the inside of his foot, caused, we believe, from climbing coconut trees for 85+ years!!!!

The palm leaf gadget he uses to climb the tree.

Ready . . .set . . go

See him in action in this video!!

emJay and Barb sample the coconut milk from coconuts that were, three minutes before, hanging on the tree. Can’t get any fresher than that!

The families ‘back yard’, nice view . . . .

Chickens like coconut too . . .

. . . but the kids like the chocolate candybar Karen shared.

Next stop was lunch, where they had white tiled bathrooms, WITH toilet paper!!

This was the first of several pig roasts we enjoyed at lunch during the week . . . YUMMY!!!!!!

It wasn’t quite done yet, so there was enough time for a guided tour up the river.

Just off shore there was an island where three families lived without electricity or running water. Their children went to boarding school on the mainland and came home on weekends.

Here is one of their ‘piggies’ fattening up’!

Our guides were very knowledgeable about the fauna and flora, pointing out birds it took us some time to spot . . . great humorists too as they tried to convince us of the crocodiles up ahead!!!!

emJay shares a hat with our guide . . .

. . . while some of the others bellied up to the bar . . .

. . . and some went shopping. Mike couldn’t decide if the baseball/revolution hat would fit in back home in MSN.

Four course lunch starting with a yummy pork soup served in pieces of split bamboo!

Great music during lunch. I was late on the draw with this song but got a sample of what we heard.

The pig is ceremonially delivered from the pit . . .

. . .and carefully dissected by our chef.

Pork and chicken are staples in the Cuban diet. This one lived to see another day!

Delicious lunch was had by all . . . including seconds

Jeff makes a new friends.

We sipped our beer and rum, listened to the music and watched the world go by.

On the way back to the bus we did some shopping . . .

. . . and so did Eric. Not sure where he will display that!

We returned to the hotel and found Mable, our maid, had left us a nice welcome home sculpture!


Back in Baracoa we walked the pedestrian mall . . .

. . . and ventured around the city until we landed at a great local artist’s shop and gallery.

. . .  several of our group bought paintings . . .

. . . while emJay made friends with these two little girls who were out with their grandmother. While they chatted in Spanish, the older girl made emJay the flowered necklace she is wearing.

. . . one of the many reminders.

However, private entrepreneurship is really taking off in Cuba primaily in the restaurant and lodging areas. Here is a restaurant that tried to lure us in but we walked down the street to another three story establishment where Brenda and I ascended the steep stairway to check out the dining options.

. . . while the rest of the group waited below.

Thumbs up was the report, 5 star bathroom and 5 star menu. We made a reservation!

We continued our walking tour of the city, stopping at a statue of Hatuey who was persecuted by Christians. His statue is right across from, and facing, the Catholic Church!!!

The American flag design never looked so good!!!!!!!

Jeff had a touch of the ‘tourista’ but was still his happy go lucky self, as he ate some oatmeal he had brought from home just for that purpose. He would pass on dinner tonight . . .

. . . as we headed downtown to the restaurant.

. . . and what a meal it was in this privately owned establishment.

Alberto passes the plate of lobster as we passed around the family style served meal . . .

. ..  of lobster, beef, shrimp and fish. What a meal . . . followed by a great dessert and

. . . a wonderful discussion with the restaurants owner’s son who explained to us the opportunities and challenges  of working in the private sector.

This was interesting. All the food is prepared on the second floor and sent up to the open air roof using this dumb waiter. They cook on the second floor so they can serve on the upper and lower levels. The lower level is used to provide the non-stair access necessary for a special Trip Advisor rating!!

Eric says goodbye to his new friends . . .

. . . before he heads home in a beecee (bicycle) taxi. The rest of us were going to walk through a few more galleries and head over to the Cultural Center for a special Afro-Cuban dance show.

. . . some Cuban artists have a great sense of humor.

The show was FANTASTIC and Karen and Barb could not help but get up during a few of the numbers. The Cuban dance part was the best. The African part was a little intense with the voodoo fire eating and the guy who put the point of  machete behind his eyeball!!!

The girl and the two guys dancing towards the end of this vidoe were UNBELIEVABLE!!! VERY high energy!

Day 7

Today would be spent out in the bush on a nature hike. Might be some rain. The Baracoa area receives three times the normal rainfall of Cuba because of it’s location in the mountains. Very tropical!

This is Anvil Mointain named, because of it’s flat top,  by Christopher Columbus on his first trip to Cuba.

These little piggies would soon be on the way to market. Only a couple of days old now.

We are joined by our guide for the day, Jorge, who is the site manager for El Yunque, the bio reserve we would be touring today. He works for the Cuban version of the National Park system. Most of the parks do not displace the local people but allow them to live sustainably within the park boundaries. They take great pride in the property and serve as ‘eyes and ears’ for any poaching or evil doing that might be going on in the hood.

We parked near a banana buying cooperative and the rolling stock was just staring to arrive. Sort of like our grain coops.

Heading out for a new load.

Health care and education is provided to all Cubans. Their medical system starts with a local clinic like this in every neighborhood. More urgent needs and you would go to a regional ‘immediate care’ type facility. Eventually, if serious enough to the hospital. Each of these clinics serves about 1,000 local people. The doctor lives upstairs and the clinic is downstairs. A doctor makes about $20US/month.

Local traffic in the preserve . . . this guy had a mind of his own as he came charging down the hill in front of his owner . . .

. . . then stopped in the middle of the road waiting for him to catch up. We gave the cart a wide berth.

Bananas waiting to be harvested.

Los Tunas, the cactus, is used in many places as a living fence using its thorns to keep the critters in and predators out.

As we walked through the park we camp to a camping area where one can rent a little house, shown in the background, located on the river. No need for lawn mowing with donkeys and burros around!

Heading out for a days work in the field . . .

. . . while these two ‘lawnmowers’ had the day off!

As the rain continued on and off . . .

. . . we began to carry more and more clay with us. All that weight meant it was time for a break . . . and a beer!

Eliseo checks with the owner of a ‘roadside bar’ to see if she is open for business.

Time for a beverage . . . ice cold too!

emJay pulled out some Oscar Mayer wiener whistles we had brought along for kids and they were a big hit. The boy on the right figured it out first and the one on the left is still thinking about it.

The mother seemed excited about them too . . . I wonder how long that lasted! emJay gave her some nail polish and lipstick as a gift. When we left she was still smiling!

Dad was busy working on the interior of the house, hauling hand mixed concrete in pails.

The kids actually got pretty good with the whistles and were soon playing harmony. Here the appreciative audience had front row seats!

Soon it was time to head back down the road and to the first of many stream crossing.

A local farmers house . . .

. . . who had just bought the pig from the fellow on the left. The back legs of the pig were tied loosely together so it could not run away. He was trying . . . might have been nervous of that big machette, and may have been served on the table that night!!!

Up the river we went . . .


. . .where this fellow showed us how the locals cross the river.

Great speciman of the Cuban National Flower.

We stopped many times so Jorge could explain the operations of the reserve . . .

. . . soon it was time for a swim . . .

. . . and exploration of the river.

We turned to head back and soon this exotic woman appeared right out of the bush with a bird. Not sure it that was her hair, a wig or a hat she was wearing.

Pretty bird . . .

. . .and fancy nails!!!

emJay gave her some nail polish to add to her collection.

Just like dogs all over the world, here Fido was keeping a watch on it’s, seeing who was walking by and waiting for their owner to return!

This interesting contraption we learned was to catch and hold rain water in the piece of tire. Health care workers would come around at regular intervals to collect the water. Back in the lab they would test the water for the amount and types of mosquito larvae.

Once back at the bus it was a short drive to visit a working cocao farm . . .

that grew three types of pods including this hybrid.

Once harvested, the beans were sorted and dried before processing.

We usually gave each of our tour guides a tip and Jon put a different person in charge at each stop to collect a few pesos from our group and give them to the guide. After our tasting of hot chocolate, emJay presented the tip and made a new friend!

Time for lunch and another pig roast . . .

. . . looks like one happy pig!

This chef used a boning knife rather than a cleaver like the chef the day before did. Not quite as dramatic in the carving show!!!

After our late 2:00pm lunch, is was time for our bus ride back to the hotel. A few more discussion points with Jorge and we presented him with a WDNR Wildlife management shirt and had all of the ex-DNR folks pose for a photo . . .

. . . emJay presented him with a TNC hat that I positioned in such a way to hide the WDNR patch on his new shirt!!!

Mabel our maid had been to clean the room and left us another towel origami sculpture. The day before is had been a big heart. Nice touch!


After a few rums, it was time to head to another privately owned  restaurant located in downtown Baracoa.


Some sat inside . . .


. . . and some sat outside. This is the second restaurant we have overwhelmed with our request for wine. One of the staff vanished down the street and came back from somewhere with 4 bottles. Great meals were had by all!


. . . and the staff were VERY proud of their Trip Advisor rating. They deserved it!

Home to the hotel, a few more rums by the pool and then under the covers! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

Day 8

Woke to very cloudy looking skies this morning.  Today was another nature adventure and we all made sure to take out umbrellas.

We said goodbye to our room at Porto Santo . . .

. . . and left a few gifts for our maid, Mabel.


Surprise . . . Alexis was waiting outside our door to help with our luggage. My boots had disintegrated during our first jungle hike and I was going throw them out but he was happy to take them and repair them with lots of a glue. I commented they might be too big for him but he thought they would fit just perfect (maybe with several pair of extra socks!)


We asked him if Mabel was around and soon she appeared to say goodbye too. Nice to meet her since she had provided such nice service during our stay.

Other groups were leaving too . . . always important to make sure your luggage gets on the right bus!!!

Our guide for the day, Porfilio, accompanied on the bus ride to our first stop.  Along the way we passed 11 of these unique little bays, located right of the ocean. What a place to retire!


Porfilio pointed out the small grove of palms along the way that are only found in Cuba, and only in this small area. VERY tall trunks with very little top.

He suddenly asked Alberto to stop and back the bus up 50 feet . . . to where, as we were motoring along at 40 mph, he had spotted this snail on the tree.

It is an example of the endangered species being harvested by the natives to sell to tourists.

We stopped along the way for a bathroom break at a small camp where children would come for environmental studies . . . we wondered if it looked anything like the ‘all inclusive resort’ we were traveling to at the end of the day.

The bathrooms . . .


. . . were of the rustic variety, this being the men’s. The woman’s looked very similar to this one, other than the log on the right side just up from the trashcan. It was a PERFECT place for the small notebook emJay had so busily scribbling notes in all week long to dislodge from her back pocket and slide down. NEVER to be retrieved!!

Porfilio explaining the soil structure of the the Humboldt National Forest we were touring.

We would make a 2 hour loop tour partially up, partially down, along a river, through a river . . . sort of like a three hour tour!!


The rain added to the slickness of the clay type soil and several of our adventures went down!

A hermit crab we found along the way taking up residence in a snail shell . . .


. . . great SMALL, teensy flowers along the way.


As we hiked along the riverbank . . . soon of course it was time to head up to high ground . . .


. . . and it was quite a hike up. Hand over hand!


After our ascent, out of the blue, around a corner, we came to this ‘rest stop’ right in the middle of the jungle . . .


. . . as soon as we all assembled our ‘hosts’ appeared to make sure we were all well refreshed . . .


. . . including newly prepared coconut drinks complete with a bamboo straw souvenir!


Eliseo had told us the world’s smallest frog lived in the forest and we might see one. We did  not along the way, but here at the rest stop they had one to show off . .


. . . it certainly was a small critter!


When walking in the jungle one needs to keep both a macro and mirco view so as not to miss too much. Here was delicate little flower one might walk right over . . .


. . .but getting a little closer. . .


. . . a whole new little world opens up!


One of seven river crossings we made during our trek. Of course, for some the objective was not to get their feet wet . . .


. . . and Eliseo was going to show us how to pick a route to stay dry . . .


mmmm . . . maybe next time, as he almost took a header!


Plenty of time to stop and ‘smell the roses’!


Soon we were back to the bus and said goodbye to our geologist guide, Porfilio who became an adjunct member of the Nature Conservancy!


It was on to our all inclusive government resort we would be staying at for the night. We hoped to get there earlier in the afternoon to enjoy the beach but traffic was terrible delaying our arrival. Again, everything that moves must travel on the highway and progress can be quite slow. Here is an example of what happens when you continue to use 1950’s American vintage trucks. As parts in the engines; rings, valves, pistons, etc. continue to wear the gas begins to burn incompletely producing LOTS of exhaust. Interestingly though it is probably not a MAJOR source of air pollution on the island, as a whole, because there are so few vehicles. This was one of the local ‘busses’ that would hold as many as 50 people crammed in the back. Cheap transportation though for the locals.


Here is the type of ‘people mover’ they use in more populated areas known as the, ‘Cuban Camel””’!!!


We arrived at the all inclusive hotel after dark and were presented with the customary ‘welcome cocktail’ . . . some had more than one!!!

We didn’t have much time to explore the area in the dark . . . but checked in and watch a little  CNN news regarding the US elections. Our biggest room yet!

BIG buffet with something for everyone’s taste . . .

. . . including ‘made to order’ banana and papaya foster compete with a rum flambe!


Most of these all inclusive’s have a nightly show for the tourists. This one was sort of a Cuban version of a ’Cirque du Soleil’ . . .

. . . with very agile and and muscular performers. After a couple more rums some of the gang talked about getting on stage and showing what we could do . . .

. . . like maybe keeping a dozen hula-hoops going at once!

We said goodnight to the performers, (all the narration was done in English because of the mostly Canadian audience) had one more rum (liquor is included at the all inclusives) and headed off to our cabana  . . . dreaming of hiking in the jungle!

Day 9

A great night sleep  . . . as we awakened to a beautiful morning. Time for a a little tour of the grounds . . .

. . .the main entrance to the resort


. . . registration on the left

. . . and to the right of registration . . . one of the many bars, well stocked and  open 24/7!!!

a ‘cabana’ with our room on the right . .


The all inclusive had the standard buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner along with snack bars serving hamburgers, and such, located several places around the grounds. The also have 5 restaurants; Italian, Mediterranean, Japanese, etc. where ala carte meals are prepared. One must have reservation’s though and they usually fill by 3:00pm in the afternoon. Since we had arrived at 6:00pm the night before, we had eaten at the buffet. This is the main buffet area in the process of be remodeled. The buffet was temporarily located poolside. Nice!

One of the many bars scattered around the ground (even at 8:00am it was too early for most visitors), although the lobby bar is open 24/7!

The grounds were very well maintained . . .

. . . as we walked by this beer and pretzel bat right outside of our cabana.

After breakfast it was time to head across the causeway to the beach.

Typical hues of the Caribbean . . . stunning.

Pull up a chair . . . and watch the action.


This is a view of the beach area. There are actually 4 resorts along this bay, all placed far enough from each other you didn’t see them except at the beach. One Canadian we talked to came down several times a year. This was considered the ‘off season’ and one week at the all inclusive, including airfare from Montreal, was $700CD or about $620US. Cheap vacation!!!

Wait . . . is that George Clooney strolling towards the camera on the right side of the photo above . . .

. . . no it’s TommyH!

Time to get in the water . . .

Or you could stay on the beach and be serenaded by strolling musicians. They lost interest in Greg, once Cindy went to the beach bar . . . !!

. . . but returned again, once she did!

We were leaving for Camaguey at 2:00pm, so . . . soon it was time to check out. Most of our group had worked for the State of WI in one capacity or another and were used to the inventory control system the state had for ‘movable equipment’

. . . I guess government’s are the same everywhere because everything in our room had an inventory sticker . . . some more obvious than others!!!!

Local Taxi . . . .

. . . we did have time for a nice lunch before we left, poolside . . .

. . . complete with a little dessert and espresso!

The four hour drive got us to Camaguey after dark and the bus had to park about a block from the hotel because the street had been turned into a nice pedestrian mall. The Grand Hotel, our home for two nights.

. . . back to the basics . . . but very clean.

Not wanting to push my tummy too much, emJay and I ate up in the fifth floor restaurant. Government Hotel ala carte menu = Uninspiring Government cuisine . . . but we did have our own singer and vino was only $2USD a glass!!!

Several rums in the main floor bar and it was time for bed!