Cuba blog May 13, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 17:15

Confirmation of flight! :)

Place in San Juan, cheaper than tonight's place in Bayamo, Cuba!

So many things I have yet to learn about Puerto Rico.




Next want to ferry to Dominican Republic, briefly see Haiti.

New country!

Spanish? English? Spanglish?

Food, music, dance.

Yeah, I've been in Miami, but it's different in the country itself.

What are the people like? Friendly? Warm? Beautiful? Ugly?

What are the accents like?

I expect a more balanced population than Cubans.

Cuba's a fairly large island.

The Cuban people are warm, if etc.

It's a very sensory country.

People eat ice cream, greet neighbors, ride bikes, etc.

In Cuba, you can have a pleasant style.

Long day!

Did some thinking. Decided finally to leave Bayamo Tuesday, not Monday. Rested.

Walked around, found some disappointing food choices. I've seen a few "cerveza a granel" (beer from a huge container). They say 750 ml for 3.50, which is like two cans of beer for 15-20 cents US.

Walked around different parts of town than I've seen. Didn't know much about Bayamo before arriving. I hadn't thought of going, didn't even know it existed until recently. I just decided to go recently because of its location on the way to my departure airport from Santiago de Cuba, where I was.

Hot, sunny day. I've recently run out of sunblock. I don't have much cash left, so I've just been playing jump among the shadows. Burned my face and neck somewhat, like a redneck.

Went online. The only place was quite noisy. After working for a while, managed to confirm the details of my flight. Also, booked an Airbnb for tonight, and an Airbnb for my first night in SJ, PR! :)

Went for more of a walk. Bought fifteen pieces of cake from a street vendor, for around $1 US total. The food prices are ridiculously inexpensive here, although it can be tough to find food, at least food that one wants. I'd been craving cake, particularly moist chocolate cake, for a while.


Cubans are very efficient, by the necessity of scarcity. Highway posters proclaim efficiency. Cubans ride bicycles. Cuban food often uses large amounts of staples like wheat and sugar, with enough of the flavorings like chocolate or cheese to give a sense, instead of loaded with the more expensive chocolate or cheese like in the US.


Cuban products are harsh on teeth: sugar, tobacco, coffee, etc. I've hardly seen floss for sale. I have seen numerous toothless Cubans.


After walking while eating some of the cakes, I felt satisfied. That, plus the bookings, I felt like it was my lucky day!


As I kept walking, I felt someone bump into me. I maneuvered to let the person by, but instead the person seemed to bump into me more. I felt pressure on my laptop bag, which also contained my phone, wallet, passport, and more.


I realized that the person was trying to take my laptop bag. An Afro-Cuban had run up from behind me, grabbing the bag. The shoulder strap caught on my arm. I wrestled the bag towards my side, while he kept trying to take it and run. I started yelling to leave it. We traded blows. As he grabbed at my glasses, the head strap kept them on my face.


On a small unpaved side street, we fought. After a short while, a passerby was saying "socio, socio." I had seen the person repeatedly in my recent walking through the area. I thought that maybe it was a setup, with the two of them attacking me. Then I felt the pressure on the laptop bag release.


The second person was talking to the attacker. As they talked, I adjusted my laptop bag, picked up an object that had fallen to the ground that looked like my phone, and walked away.


After rounding a corner, walking some more, I looked more carefully at what I had. My laptop bag remained intact, unopened, with my phone and other possessions inside. The other object was a wallet, containing the ID of the attacker and the equivalent of around 25 cents US. The attempted robber lost his wallet!

I think that fighting back, yelling, having some awareness of the situation and the laptop bag, etc., contributed to the defense. Also, I had read previously, I can't remember exactly where, travel advice to carry items in a bag with a shoulder strap in addition to hand holds. I think that keeping objects tightly affixed can prevent problems.

I'm now backing up photos and stuff from the phone. I'd meant to do so a while ago. Had kept putting it off, was finally going to tonight.


I'm thankful to have the laptop bag. After all that work, I would have had no passport, laptop, phone, wallet. Maybe I would not have made it onto the flight. At the least it would have caused serious annoyances.


I think I should carry some important items separately, even if I do use them often such that it would be convenient to keep them together in the laptop bag.

I'm finding it hard to stay hydrated in Cuba. Even if I drink as much water as my body can hold, it dissipates so quickly that by later that day I'll feel severely dry again.

I think I've been in Cuba for over a month and a half.

Cuba blog May 11, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 17:12

I'm thinking Monday in Bayamo. Bus privado Tues. If by some low odds no bus privado, then bus, or hitchhike, or taxi, etc.

Looks like no town.

Things can seem slow or fast.

I'm now getting ready to leave Cuba. In my head I've already partly left.

It's a gorgeous country. Cuba has oceans, mountains, agriculture, architecture, music, communism. It's a diverse blend of a country. Again, as with other countries, I'm surprised by the variety, compared to my expectations previous to arrival.

I didn't have as precise a set of preconceptions for Cuba as I did for Mexico. I knew something from talking to Cubans in Miami. I feel like Cubans in North America are more like Cubans in Cuba, compared to Mexicans in Mexico versus Mexicans in North America.

I'm now considering staying in Bayamo another night, Monday, then taking a maquina to the airport Tuesday.

That would be instead of going closer to the airport Monday. There aren't many Airbnb's to choose from near the airport.

I'm somewhat concerned about getting to the airport without an extra just-in-case day. It's important to me not to lose the ticket!

There should be plenty of buses going Tuesday. If not, then I can probably hitchhike, get a taxi, or find some other solution.

One funny thing about travel is how sometimes there's a huge rush to do many things soon, while other times there's a lengthy period in which to do one thing. Each situation can be difficult, frustrating, but also a rewarding challenge.

Sudden thunderstorm.

I walked out of the river park. Found a nearby house w/ a roof. Ducked under for cover.

People kept walking by, carrying a chicken under an arm. I don't know whether it was for food, or a pet.


Cuba blog May 10, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 17:10

Woke up to do what I can to leave the country (Cuba) soon. Connected to wifi. See that even the house wifi requires logging in.

I now have like less than an hour of wifi. Maybe the host can log in again. Not even sure that I can log in to house wifi with my card.

My feet hurt.

I want to get to PR! :)

No wifi here.

So, I'm now in Santiago de Cuba, with $8 & change in (precious) wifi cards.

After an extensive search throughout the city, I found one hotel having wifi cards! Another hotel had some that were three times as expensive and only worked in their hotel. I don't have enough cash left to risk that price. Even the wifi bureaucracy, Etecsa, did not have any cards. I'm guessing that the hotels have some special arrangement so that their foreign visitors don't get disappointed.

I'm somewhat seriously concerned about getting out of Cuba. I expect it at least to cost mucho dinero, and possibly be quite difficult. Still, I think I can make it.

I can't say that this is completely unexpected. I thought beforehand that getting among any Caribbean islands would be difficult, especially Cuba. I did as much planning as I could, given the limited time in which I knew I would go. I'm going to look for a new plane ticket, or alter my previous one, or see about a boat, or any other means.

Travel/life lessons:

You can't wait for the perfect opportunity.

Things happen anyways. Just go ahead.

Don't expect things to be easy. Most (or at least many) things worth doing are hard.

Often better to leave some off.

Generally better to give than receive.

Cuba is annoying to get anything done.


Cuba blog May 9, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 17:08

"Let's just quickly…" does not work in Cuba.

Not sure yet how to get out of here.

Maybe fly to Puerto Rico.

Maybe fly to Dominican Republic. Somewhat less expensive, but less option to stay there, would have to have onward ticket, so no.

Maybe boat.

Do what I can! :)


Cuba blog May 8, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 17:07

Getting ready to leave Cuba, bittersweetly.


Some things I'll miss about Cuba:


Horses ("Caballo!")

Food! Rice, beans, etc.

Kind people







Some things I won't miss about Cuba:


Noises! Yelling

Vehicle exhaust




I'd wanted to go to Baracoa & Guantanamo. After walking around Santiago some more, seeing the main parts of the city, I went to the train & bus station. Asked around, sounded like no private buses going to those destinations.


With my cash reserves running low, still concerned about getting safely out of Cuba, I decided not to go. Instead, spent the beautiful day in a grassy area under the sun, thinking.


Now planning to leave Cuba Friday if feasible.


So far Santiago de Cuba seems like one of the dirtier, noisier cities in the country.


Cuba blog May 7, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 16:56

Woke up somewhat late. Walked around town. Felt like I had seen enough of Holguin. I was curious to see where Fidel Castro was born, which I had read was in Holguin. I asked someone, who told me it was not precisely here, but rather in a nearby location. The name was hard to make out, something like Vilan. (It's actually Biran.) I tried to look it up on my map, but did not find it.


Walked to the bus station. It's usually possible to get on a private bus at these. As the private buses came, a person yelled out the destinations. I asked around, but all the buses were going to small towns nearby. My preferences were to go to 1. Baracoa, or 2. Guantanamo, or 3. Santiago. Someone told me that no buses were going to Baracoa. I figured in that case that none would be going to Guantanamo, or to Fidel's hometown.


While deciding what to do, I bought some snacks from the omnipresent vendors. Some peanut bars, some butter crackers which weren't particularly buttery. Another vendor, selling chicharones which I didn't want, told me that a bus to Santiago had just left, but another one would be coming in around an hour. I decided to wait for that one.


Later, a bus arrived, again in the cattle car style. "Santiago!" Suddenly a huge rush of people. I wasn't the only one waiting for the bus to Santiago. People crowded around the entrance, pushing hard to get onboard. There were many passengers, some of whom would presumably have to wait for the next bus. I pushed forward, as the crowd applied pressure. People rushed the entrance from every direction. I was surprised at how effectively people fought to get onboard. With my strength above average for the crowd, I managed to get on.


The bus was packed. Somewhat hard to breathe, although once underway the air circulated better through the windows. I struggled to see outside. On previous buses, I'd had at least some view, while on this bus I could hardly see the buildings on the side of the road. The distant scenery was easier to see, because of the angle at which I could look out the windows.


At the stops, while people embarked and disembarked, vendors walked up to the bus and sold their wares through the open windows. At one stop, the kind man next to me bought a bunch of pineapple slices, which he shared with neighboring passengers. They were sweet and delicious.


I feel that Cubans are kind. I think they are even warmer than other Latin people I have met.


In some sense, the unity, the solidarity, the political socialism of Cuba, seems to me like a reflection of the Cuban personality. In general, I think that societies take on political systems reflective of the people.


I think that Cubans are intrinsically sociable. It's just normal here for people to do things together.


I think I've seen men greeting each other with kisses, as women greet each other or greet men in some societies.


Santiago is a large city in eastern Cuba. It has geographic beauty, with the gorgeous hills.


<Santiago pix>


So far Santiago seems to me like more of a culinary city than other Cuban cities. Maybe I'm just seeing some of the busier streets so far, but I feel like there are more and better food places than elsewhere. (After more time there, I think that it was just because I had arrive on the main streets.)


I'm now thinking of going to Baracoa and Guantanamo from here, then returning. Not sure yet of the details.


Cuba blog May 6, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 16:53

Woke up, had Cuban coffee. Walked to the bus station. Outside, took a ride on one of the maquinas, the buses that don't leave from the station. This time it was more of a rough vehicle, looked like it once transported farm animals. Previous vehicles I've been on have included somewhat rough old buses, and a nicer, newer bus.


<truck pix>


Cuba has a complex transportation system. Cubans can take Omnibus Nacionales, inexpensive rides on recent Chinese-made buses that depart from the station. Tickets cost approximately one or two US dollars per hundred kilometers, something like 1-2 cents per kilometer. Tourists from other countries take Viazul, comparable buses but they cost around five times as much, say 5-6 cents per kilometer. Then there are the trucks and buses that pick up and drop off passengers along the way. You don't buy tickets, you just pay cash when you get on board. These cost even less than the Omnibus Nacionales, probably less than one cent per kilometer. I've been taking these, which they let me on (as a foreigner) without problem.


Arrived in Holguin, the birthplace of Fidel Castro if I remember correctly. Tomorrow I may try to visit his casa natal (birth home), if possible.


Walked into town, stopping for a one dollar meal along the way.


This is a beautiful city, and province. After a while in the boring "ride-through country" (as in "flyover country"), it's pleasant to get to the eastern side, which is attractive like the western side. Cuba's kind of like the US in that regard, jejejej. The east and west are beautiful, the center's more boring. It would have been boring to walk the center. It would have been nice to walk the east. But with limited time and cash, I'm planning to bus the rest.


Tomorrow I'll try going to Barracoa, the eastern city. If there aren't buses that go directly there, then I may instead just go to Santiago. From Santiago, I'd consider a side trip.


Now that I'm so close to leaving Cuba (surprisingly fast! I'd expected to spend a few months in the country), I'm finally figuring out how stuff works, the culture, the geography. I'm getting to know what I like about the country, what I dislike, how I want to spend time here, just as I'm getting ready to go. I'm already starting to miss Cuba, before I've even left.


Cuba blog May 4, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 16:52

I don't know how this stuff keeps working out, but it does! :)

Made it to Camaguey!

Beautiful city, but not that interesting to me. I feel like I'm in the Cuban bible belt.


In Camaguey, there's a historic city with attractive architecture, although it's quite comparable to some of the other old cities in this country.

There's now a thunderstorm, I think the first I've seen in the month or so I've been in Cuba.

Tomorrow I think I'll continue to Las Tunas. Each day this weekend I've considered spending the remaining weekend in the same city, but found it insufficiently interesting for me to want to stay another day.



Cuba blog May 3, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 16:49

Woke up, walked to the outskirts of town. I've walked from east to west.

Tried hitching a ride from outside of the city. No takers. I was just down the street from the bus station. Decided to walk to the bus station. On the way, a horse carriage driver offered to take me to a place where I could hitch a ride. I climbed in. After a short ride, basically back to where I'd been hitching, he asked me for twenty pesos. I took out twenty Cuban pesos, which is as much as it would cost to get all the way to my next destination, Ciego de Avila. The horse person said no, twenty CUC (equivalent to twenty American dollars). That's ridiculous, I answered. After some bickering, he asked me to get down from the carriage. Then he offered to take me all the way to Ciego. I scoffed. How fast does this horse go? It would take too long. The horse person persisted in asking for money. I thought it would be interesting to go that far, but doubted the horse was fast enough. The horse driver said it would take two or three hours, for 80 km, which I think is far faster than a horse goes. After a short ride, he said we were there, if I heard him right, which we obviously weren't. After he threatened to call the police, I called him on the bluff. Finally, I convinced him to give back some of the money.


BTW I prefer the Cuban gesture for hitchhiking, in case I didn't already mention it. Instead of a thumb up, which is tiring, it's a flat hand, palm down, flapping.

Now in Ciego de Avila. Keep on going tomorrow. Hitching rides!


1 c per km.

This area, in the center of Cuba, reminds me of Texas, around Houston. I've seen numerous Houston hats, some rodeo stuff, pickup trucks, etc. The food reminds me of barbecue.

Deciding whether to camp out, or rent a place. Camp in the city, plus after warning by immigration I'm worried about deportation/etc. Places here look overpriced, unappealing.

In this city, Ciego de Avila, I've seen numerous Canadian flags, and just now Quebecois flag, especially on bicitaxis (bike taxis).


Decided to make a reservation. Why? Because I'm worried about Cuban immigration, just want to get through Cuba, leave ASAP.



After making the reservation at the wifi spot, went for a walk, to watch the sunset. Found an attractive area by the train tracks, took some photos.


As I was deciding when to head back to the park to see if the host had responded to my request for an address (which was already supposed to be there, but this host as w/ many in Cuba had not put the address) - a group of train station security people came. Asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was taking some photos. They asked if I was a foreigner. I said yes. They didn't know whether to believe me!


In most other countries, I think that the train security people, would have seen that I was a foreigner taking pictures, and just asked me to move on, maybe issuing a warning.


The group of security people stood around. They called the police, who apparently weren't answering. After a while, they asked me to walk over to a different area. We waited some more. People came by. It became a confab.


Cubans seem to think in groups, slowly. There were at least eight people hanging around, most of them just chatting. Some didn't have any uniform, I'm not sure what their positions were. Later, the police did arrive.


The police asked to see my passport. Despite the lengthy wait, the train security people hadn't taken that basic step. I showed my passport.


The police called in for a car. After much confusion, finally a patrulla (patrol) car arrived. Some of us piled in.


The police talked informally. If I understood, one of them mentioned issuing a ticket to a driver for having two women in the vehicle. Another cop nudged me to look at a woman riding a bicycle.


After driving for a while, with no indication of what was happening, I asked where we were going. They said they'd drive me to the police station for some interviewing, then to the hostel where I had a reservation.


We arrived at the police station. (The first station, they mentioned, I think the main police station in the city.) There, they invited me to take a seat on a waiting bench in the lobby. Someone at the front desk would call me.


Another person was also there, it sounded like he too had some ridiculous non-issue turned into an issue. At one point, he stood up and walked outside. The police asked him where he was going. Returning into the building, he said he thought he'd forgotten the keys in his vehicle.

A few other people were being questioned by the police. Didn't seem like much trouble, but one person did seem somewhat violent.


I kept on sitting around. After a while, I wondered whether they had forgotten about me. By now it was approaching ten o'clock. The sun had set at eight.


Because I had not had a chance to check the wifi again, I still did not know whether there would be a place to stay. Otherwise, what? Camp out, risking another visit from immigration? Ask to stay in the police station, risking more obnoxious wastes of time, or worse?

After a while longer, someone finally arrived. A woman from immigration. She and another person, not wearing a uniform so I'm not sure whether from police or immigration or what, invited me into a room for interrogation. We talked for a while.


The immigration woman asked me what I was doing in the country, what I did for work, and a bunch of other questions. It was quite comparable to my previous interview with immigration.


After I mentioned my reservation, they called the phone number I had for the place. No one answered. They tracked down the place by a number of phone calls, finding that it was already full!


So, the immigration woman took me over to a nearby hostel, where they let me in.


Now it's 10:51 PM. Going to sleep soon.



If the train security people, then the police, then immigration, had not gone on this wild goose chase, then I would probably have failed to find a place to stay, maybe camped out, maybe gotten in more trouble.


If the previous immigration people had not gone on their wild goose chase, then I may not have started using buses, maybe slowing down.


Often, the things that seem like problems become opportunities.

Paternalistic, or in this case maternalistic, society.

Even the bureaucrats get annoyed by the bureaucracy. (while waiting)


Cuba blog May 2, 2019

Submitted by eagle on Sun, 05/19/2019 - 16:47

Woke up, showered. Immigration official came by the forced airbnb. Explained that there's a detention center for deportees such as I would become if I run out of cash. Asked me a bunch of questions, to ascertain whether I would have money, where I was going, etc.


I set out to take a bus to the next city, Sanctu Spiritu. While walking, I kept getting run off the road by buses. While trying to take a bus, I didn't see a single one for hours. Tried hitchhiking. Finally got a ride in a big truck!


<truck ride pix/vid>



Now trying to get a place.



Maybe just hitchhike the rest of Cuba ASAP. Not sure which direction.


Cuba: The makeshift society.

Just pushing through, one thing then another.