Wednesday 15th December 2010 – Santiago de Cuba
We had visited Santiago de Cuba in 2007 and none of the ship’s excursions offered anything new. We therefore decided to “do our own thing”.
Our first task on walking into town from the port was to obtain some of the local currency for tourists – the Cu.C. – or Cuban Convertible Currency. This was easily achieved in a bank near the Cathedral.
We then walked the extremely short distance to the Parque Cespedes adjacent to which stands the Cathedral. This was adorned with a nativity scene.
We then went down a road that we recognised from our earlier visit and out towards Heredia. Jill’s eye was taken by a bone and wooden model of a drummer. We came back later to purchase this.
We managed to find our way to Plaza Dolores, a pleasant little shady plaza with attractive buildings nearby.
We noticed that the shops were relatively few. Even more of note was the fact that their window displays were virtually non existent with a bizarre mixture of items which seemed to bear no relation to each other.
After negotiating two cups of coffee for a total of about 80 pence, we returned to the ship for lunch since it was free there!
In the afternoon, we met again “Julius Caesar” who had accosted us on our way back earlier offering a tricycle ride for 5 CUC. He took us to the tomb of Josi Marti and also to Independence Square – both of which we had visited during our last trip. He also took us around a lot of the local housing which proved of considerable interest. Like the rest of the buildings in Santiago de Cuba, these were generally in a poor state of repair. There were also a number of blocks of Russian built flats dating from the 1970s or 80s. The relatively grim appearance of these was alleviated by brightly coloured murals.
At the end of our tour, we were told that the fare was 5 CUC each! Two other tricycles with fellow passengers from the ship had accompanied us for most of the tour and they also had the same surprise sprung upon them by the drivers. We felt disappointed that we had, quite literally, “been taken for a ride”!
If Cuba does not start to patch up and decorate some of its buildings, we wonder how much longer they will last. Little seems to have changed since our last visit except for the arrival of many motor bikes which we could not recall from last time. These belch black smoke over anyone near by – though, surprisingly, the drivers all wear crash helmets.
All told it was very much a case of faded glory.
Friday 17th December & Saturday 18th December: Havana
Having visited previously, we decided to do our own investigation of Havana and save money.
We walked along the riverside to Plaza de Armas and then up the main shopping street (Obispo) of Old Havana. We appear not to have visited this in 2007. It was bustling with people, although very few seemed to show any sign of having bought anything. This street took us past the National Museum to the Central Park around which are the Capital Building (a copy of that in Washington), the Theatre and a number of other very ornate buildings. We then walked down a wide street, known as The Prado, with trees in the centre. This had clearly been a wealthy area but now was showing some of the signs of decay evident throughout Havana.
We visited the Museum of the Revolution, situated in the previous palace of the President. This was well worth the visit to see the building but the actual exhibits in the museum proved of less interest to us. We were amused to see cartoons of four “cretins” three of whom were ex-U.S. Presidents. George Bush Junior was shown with the features of an ass’s head. In each case there was a sardonic word of thanks that they had helped to establish the revolution.
Our stay in Cuba was unexpectedly extended by snow! The new passengers for “Discovery” were to be brought out on a charter flight from Heathrow which would then carry us back. Snow, which had been around for about a week in England, had now completely closed Heathrow. We were forced to remain in the sunshine enjoying the benefits of life onboard. We did not go out into Havana again – partly this was because we had seen what we wanted, and partly because we had been put off by one of the passengers relating how they had been mugged the previous day. They had been punched and their necklace snatched. We had been assured in several different ways that Cuba was a safe place.
We eventually returned to England about 30 hours late – the Virgin Charter being one of only a couple that were allowed out on the Sunday. Had it not got out we were to have gone on to Mexico with Discovery and the flight would have been diverted there with the new passengers and to collect us.
When we eventually landed, after being stacked for some while, we were glad to be met by our taxi driver and to find that the journey back to Devizes along the motorways was not too horrendous. We shared the journey with a couple who were not as fortunate as us and who had been forced to abandon their longed for holiday in Australia. They had given up and were going back to their snow-bound home in Calne.
Within two days of getting home, Jill went down with a protracted bout of flu – possibly caught from someone on the ship. It’s probably just as well that we got home and were not forced to continue on to Mexico!