Throwback Travel: A Bleachy Havana Night

**NOTE to READERS: The following describes a trip which took place in March and early April, 2016. 

2016-04-01 18.41.23Friday, April 1, 2016.

Part Two.

For our last night in town, Santana’s organized a dinner.

We pile onto the bus and drive to this nice restaurant where our meal includes musical entertainment, dim mood lighting and lobster.

Talking amongst ourselves, some of us are suspicious. We think the dinner is Santana’s way of buttering us up for a good end-of-trip tip, despite his slightly ridiculous demeanour almost the entire time.

Jana’s already decided she’s not giving him a thing. Same with Sue, to whom Santana spoke to quite rudely early on. I’m still on the fence. I don’t dispute he’s been a crap leader, but there were a couple moments where he wasn’t completely terrible. Eh. I’ll decide later.

Towards the end of dinner, part of the group plans to walk to another establishment for goodbye drinks. So afterwards, we pile back on to the bus, which drives us to another neighbourhood and stops to drop off part of the group.

One by one, those of us departing shake Santana’s hand and say our goodbyes. He doesn’t get a single tip.

Led by Joe and Claire, our band of tourists wind our way through the streets to an open square – which is bustling – and the bar they recommend.

I’m still full from dinner, but give in to a beer. Of course, a full belly means a few trips to the ladies’ room. I wouldn’t mention this mundane detail, except for one thing.

On my second or third trip to the restroom, I’m looking for soap to wash my hands, and can’t find a dispenser. In my haze, I notice a tinted plastic bottle with liquid, which I naturally assume to be watered-down liquid soap.

I pour some onto my hands … and I don’t realize my mistake until about five seconds later, when the unmistakeable smell of bleach hits my nostrils.

Yep. Bleachy water. All over my hands.

I start panicking because (1) bleach and (2) the group’s about to leave the bar at any moment. I do what I can to rinse my hands for a couple of minutes, but the stench is STILL THERE.

So I spend a good chunk of our group’s departure from the bar doing a terrible job of acting casual while periodically dousing my hands with bottled water and flapping them like a Muppet.

Jana, Claire and Joe and I walk back to the casa that we’re sharing (as it turns out), and we chatted a bit before saying our goodnights – and for me, goodbye. I’ll be the first to leave for the airport, in the wee hours of the morning.

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Jana and I say we’ll keep in touch (but really, I’m the only one emailing for the first little bit). Six weeks or so after our adventure in Cuba, she takes off on a another trip — this time, to Sri Lanka. (Guess her stressful job has some perks.)

I have had an email exchange with Anick and Lieven, but life has picked up again, so I haven’t really kept it up. The person I’ve probably had the most correspondence with is Joe – 16-hour time difference and all.

One other thing:

Back in Toronto, I visit the travel agency where I booked my trip, and fill them in on my experience in great verbal detail. They ask me to email them my comments, which they send to the tour operator’s regional manager.

I’m guessing that enough of my fellow trip-mates complain to the tour operator, that they got the message – Santana is removed from the tour.

I get a small bit of compensation, which I can put towards a trip in the next couple of years.

We’ll see.

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And that’s what happened to me in Cuba over Easter in 2016. I hope you enjoyed my posts!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go pack — I’ve leaving the country on vacation, and I cannot wait!

Maybe I’ll do this again sometime. But until then, feel free to read about this trip, or any of my previous posts! Thanks for reading.

 

Still photo posted above is mine. Please don’t re-post without my permission. 

 

Throwback Travel: Snark, Sugar Canes & Sweet Cuban Ladies

**NOTE to READERS: The following describes a trip which took place in March and early April, 2016.

2016-03-28 09.14.02

Monday, March 28, 2016.

Part One.

This morning begins a bit … backwards. Perhaps “odd” is a better word. Or maybe awkward? Just follow me on this one …

So the day before, as we arrived in Santa Clara, we were taken to this historical site. It’s famous (or infamous?) for a train blockage/derailment that’s said to have been pivotal in the Battle of Santa Clara, between fighters under Che Guevara’s command, and General Fulgencio Bautista’s army. But it was, like, a passing visit; we didn’t stay very long, and Santana didn’t give us much of an explanation. I’m guessing the museum/monument was closed.

But we’ve been brought back to the site this morning to take a look around before we head out for Trinidad.

The train cars house the museum, which you have to pay admission to enter. Most people go in; I hang back with Jana and wait.

Outside the museum, Jana and I are talking amongst ourselves, trying to figure out the day’s itinerary. According to the trip info, we’re supposed to be getting a salsa lesson once we reach Trinidad. But Santana hasn’t said much of anything so far; he’s been a bit tight-lipped about the group’s plans.

So when we spot him a little while later, we decide to approach, and Jana asks him about it.

His first words to Jana are, “When you want to say ‘good morning’, you say, ‘buenos dias’. When you want to say ‘good afternoon’, you say, ‘buenos tardes’ … ”

Jana says that’s not what she’s asked, and when she tries to ask a second time – particularly the salsa lesson – he sort of blows her off and says he doesn’t know.

Tv Show What GIF by Real housewives of Atlanta - Find & Share on GIPHY

Um. Okay

We drive a couple of hours out, and along the way, Santana speaks a little bit about colonialism and slavery in Cuba, which only ended in 1886 (much later than other Caribbean islands, like Jamaica, where my family’s from).

This is notably different than some of the historical information I gleaned from Daniel during my walking tour in Havana. And I would given Santana points for helping make my history lesson more well-rounded, except for the weird, condescending, passive-aggressive encounter Jana had with him back in Santa Clara.

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Our next stop is this tower, the path leading to it lined with people hawking souvenir tchotchkes – embroidered fabrics, papier-mâché cars, those topsy-turvy-like dolls (with the white lady on one side, and the black lady on the other), guys trying to sell people grasshoppers woven from grass.

A random chicken struts around nearby. Walking alongside a fellow traveller, Joe (the Aussie travelling with his mom) I joke that it’s the first chicken I’ve encountered so far on my trip that isn’t fried and on my plate.

We climb the tower – but not without a couple of head-bashes on the stairway upwards. But the panoramic views at the top of the countryside are worth the admission.

Ambling down from the tower, we head over to a nearby building, walking through the restaurant inside to the back where – under a gazebo – we’re seated in a circle around this wooden contraption. It’s a press used to squeeze juice out of sugar canes.

For the demonstration, they get several of my male travel-mates to line up along a large wooden log which acts as a handle to get the press working.

In what’s supposed to be a joke, Santana hands me his cell phone – he’s fired up an app that makes the sound of a whip – and says something to the effect of, “Now, you get white people to work for you for once.”

Awkward Stop GIF by Shalita Grant - Find & Share on GIPHY

Yikes aside, the idea behind the press is that the faster my colleagues move, the more juice comes out of the press. And at the end of it, we sample the fruits of their labour – combining the cane juice and some fruit juice – with the option of rum.

On our way back to the bus, we’re temporarily stalled outside of the restaurant, and just as people start to walk towards the bus, I’m stopped by one of those guys wearing the grass-grasshoppers. He affixes a grasshopper to my hat – which he’s woven on the spot – then gives me a grass rose. Then, he’s putting bracelets on my arm – first one, then two. Cost: 5 CUCs.

As I’m resigning myself to pay for what he’s given me (but I didn’t ask for), he slaps ANOTHER THREE bracelets on my arm. “Gifts for your family in America”, he says. Not happy with this, I try to tell him what I could pay for 5 CUCs (while now wearing 10 CUCs of his merch). In the end, he walks away with 9 CUCs and leaves me annoyed.

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On the bus, I explain what’s happened and – with help from a fellow traveller, Sue – am made to realize that he’s just trying to make a living, and I’m actually helping him with that. (Almost three years on, I see that much more clearly.)

As a partial consolation, Jana buys one of my wooden bangles.

Our bus ride continues through the countryside, past large swathes of farmland and palm trees, until we stop at a restaurant overlooking the valley, and hilly ranges as far as the eye can see.

Even though the sun is beating down, the view is breathtaking.

Inside the restaurant, we’re serenaded by a trio, one of whom apparently makes Jana a bit hot under the collar. (I’m having a love affair of my own – with my meal – so I don’t hear about this until later.)

We arrive in Trinidad mid-afternoon … but not before Santana FINALLY tells us that our introductory salsa class will be at 6 p.m. that evening. Jana and I do not say a word.

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Santana takes the group to a “home-base” casa, where the owner contacts several others in the immediate area, and we sort out who’s staying with whom.

Jana and I stay with a woman named Julitza. She barely speaks English, but she’s the sweetest lady we’ve met so far. We also catch glimpses also an older lady at the casa, who we think is Julitza’s mother. She lives in the other half of the house.

Our room’s on the second floor. It’s bright orange, with cream colour-blocked walls, twin beds, a really nice shower and access to the rooftop, which is decked out with a metal porch swing and a view of nearby rooftops. Pret-ty cool.

I think I might like this place already.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

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Photos taken are mine. Please do not re-use without permission.

The Planning Begins … Again.

I was debating whether to say anything about thglinfis, or leave an air of mystery about it until I started blogging about it in about five weeks.

But fuck it.

I’m taking another trip – I booked it last week. I go in just over a month.

Eeeep!

Some of you who have been reading my posts regularly, may already have a clue as to where I’m going. For those of you that don’t, I’m keeping mum until I post my first entry from the mystery location. That is, unless I’ve already spilled the beans to you myself. 

(And to those of you that DO know: don’t spoil it just yet for those that don’t …)

All I’ll say is, it’s not Europe. (Heh heh.)

Right now, I’m in that initial stage which comes after the trip package and flight (which has me trekking across the European continent!) have been booked and put on my credit card. 

I’ve been trying to take it down a few notches so I don’t lose all enthusiasm by the time the flight date comes around.

But inside I’m constantly saying to myself, I still can’t believe I’m actually going to make this happen! (Fingers still crossed!)

Now I have to educate myself  about my destination. I’ve already asked a  friend I know for advice and information, as well as people on an online travel forum, of which I’m a member. And it’s all been very valuable.

After waiting excitedly for four days, the first of two books I ordered online arrived in the mail yesterday. I’ve been doing everything in my power not to stay up all night to voraciously pour over every page and stare at every glossy photo. And daydream.

I figure, as long as I absorb as much as I can of the essentials – and make sure to use this time to buy what I’ll need – I should be okay. Right?