Day 01 Day flight France - Cuba arrived in Havana at the end of the day.

On arrival a first impression surrealist: all agents of customs and immigration are young women in mini skirts and fishnet tights. Caliente.

Then small confusion: a taxi driver holds a sheet of paper with the same first name as mine. But he does not know who we are or where we are going. There is no sign that it represents the local agency that supports us. He entrusts us to another driver. Car breakdown on the road to the hostal.

  1. Puce Overnight in Havana:

Hostal Matos Galán   Calle Chacon # 103 1st floor apt.1 e/ Habanay Aguiar, Habana Vieja Accueil Eddy, petit dej  Yaima  Propriétaire Yussimi y Alexis  +53 7 8672337

Day 02 Havana

In the night before our arrival, a violent tornado with winds of 300 km / ha passed through the Luyano district (municipality of October 10) of Havana, destroying everything in its path, as well as the neighborhoods Santos Suarez, Via Blanca and Chibas .

09:00, our guide Adrian is waiting with Carlo Ernesto the driver of a beautiful Chevrolet Bel Air of the 50s purple and white.

First thing: change the money to pay the balance to the guide, and for our personal expenses.

First encounter with the Cuban reality: at the bank we are allowed to go to the ticket office only one by one. Upon entry a counter is assigned. I have counter 8.

The exchange rate is necessarily unfavorable, the rate is lower than the rate of the official dollar tknowing that CUC is indexed on the dollar. 1 Euros = 1,11 CUC  1 CUC = 0,90€  1 CUC = 24 pesos

At the time of changing the cashier is sorry, she only has small cuts of 10 and 20 CUC. If I want 50 CUC, I have to wait for customers to bring it. An hour and a half waiting. Box 1 has tickets of 50, but I can not even ask if it is available. I have to wait for the counter 8 to have 50 notes. This gives a little idea of what the Cubans are experiencing in their dealings with the administration.

Once out of this state bank we go to the other side of Havana Bay to visit El Cristo de la Habana, a gigantic statue of Christ that seems to hold a cigar in his right hand and a glass of mojito in the left hand. From there to realize it with Photoshop, it is not only him who does miracles...

Next door is La Cabaña de Che Guevara, and the Monumento de la Defensa Civil depicting solidarity with intertwined arms.

The whole area consists of ramparts, forts and cannons: majestic fortifications to protect the bay from pirates and nations who wanted to annex the city and the island: the Fortaleza, the Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña (1763) , the Faro and the Castillo del Moro (1589/1630) which faces the Castillo San Salvador de la Punta (1590/1629) on the other side of the bay. They were linked by a chain to prevent enemy ships from entering the bay.

The view of the city and the port is very photogenic. Huge cruise ships cross the bay to dock and drop a thousand tourists.

Along the way, we discover Adrian, a young guide, francophone, a real database. We could call him Wikipeman. At first glance, he seems to have impressive knowledge at all levels (science, literature, visual arts, cinema, music, history, geopolitics etc ...) are impressive.

But as Jacques Ellul said: "we must avoid confusing culture and documentation: it is not because we have access to databases that we are cultivated". Culture is not an accumulation of knowledge, but the way we experience, manage and live knowledge, whether extensive or limited.

Rarely having the opportunity to meet such a well-informed person, we enjoy interacting with him, sometimes at the expense of timing and planned visits.

  1. Puce Lunch at the Maradentro in Vedado. A modern restaurant, at medium prices.

Back in town, we go to the huge Plaza de la Revolución, dominated by the star memorial of José Marti, against the backdrop of Che Guevara's portrait on the wall of the Ministry of the Interior, the portrait of Camillo Cienfuegos on the wall of the Ministry of Information and Communication, on the left a building looking like  a "very Soviet Cubism" the National Library. Behind the memorial the premises of the government and the central committee of the communist part, under good guard. Rien d'extraordinaire.

It's hard to imagine thousands of Cubans peacefully listening to Fidel Castro's eight-hour speeches every May 1st. And yet it was a reality.

Adrian wants to see the neighborhood devastated by the tornado and offers to go there. This is another reality of the Cuban people, regularly affected by hurricanes, cyclones, storms for centuries. We do not fancy visiting places of natural disasters !

It embarrasses us a bit to land in this district of Luyano (municipality of October 10) as voyeurs with an American car, while ambulances, trucks, and other equipment of clearing operate. This type of visit is not usually our concern.

This is the first time we discover live the effects of a tornado. Impression of arriving in a country after war. People are busy to clear, to clean, others look stunned, others are sitting on the floor, clueless. A few stands set up by the government deliver bottled and water at low prices.

Disemboweled, disfigured buildings, balconies and torn roofs, collapsed floors, uprooted trees, electrical poles torn off with hanging wires, piles of rubble blocking the streets ... apocalyptic scenes.

Despite this, the population is calm, in shock. The government announces 3 dead and 170 wounded. Hard to believe when you see the damage. What remains of livable? Who will help the reconstruction? When will the new disaster occur ?

The priority seems to be to restore electricity and running water and after?

We talk with people, we take some pictures and end up feeling that we should not insist too much. If people seem to want to talk, maybe to evacuate the stress, it seems that it is frowned upon to meddle with what is happening. Another reality, everyone seems to be afraid to speak and are wary of those who listen.

We return to the tourist town which seems far from these concerns, although ... boulevard Maximo Gomez we discover a first line of about fifty meters in front of a supermarket: there is a shortage of eggs, when eggs arrive, the crowd rushes to buy them. It sometimes takes hours. Although the number of eggs is rationed, opportunists try to buy several trays to sell them more expensive illegally. New reality of Cuba.

We visit the Fraternity Park (Parque de la Fraternidad) with the Ceiba tree, variety of  african "fetish" tree of the santeria, surrounded by majestic royal palms.

A few meters from the Capitol (1929), former government and presidential palace. Opposite along the paseo (prado) of Marti, the high colored buildings that seduce tourists. The prado is the limit that separates Habana Vieja and the authentic Centro Habana, which tourists visit less.

On the side is the Gran Teatro of Havana (1837), where long-standing national and international shows have been given.

In front of the theater, the central park and the eternal statue of José Marti, with its carriages and the hotel Inglatara.

We pass by the luxury hotel Manzana (Kempinski), beside which some dilapidated houses on O'Reilly Street do not shock. Paradox of Havana, renovated, sometimes luxurious buildings sit in the middle of dilapidated buildings, forming an almost harmonious couple that can be seen only in Havana.

Accenting this paradox, in front of the small park Francisco Albear y Lara, the Floridita, bar restaurant among the most expensive, where strutted in the 50s Hollywood jet set: Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, sipping a daiquiri whose "special" attributed to the Depardieu of the time: Ernest Hemingway. The room is full, there is no room available, even standing. An orchestra distils a languorous but deafening salsa.

We take the avenida Belgica passing in front of the Museum of the Revolución where we can see the Granma boat that the brothers Castro, Guevara, and 86 other guellieros used to come from Mexico, to land on the island (1951) and make the revolution.

There is a Russian fighter jet that was used to thwart the attack on the Bay of the Cohons, a tractor turned into a tank, a Pontiac with traficed floor used to carry weapons, a truck riddled with bullets during the attack on Batista's palace.

A little further, a small fragment of the wall of Havana, then the place of March 13 with the Spanish Embassy, completely illuminated when the night falls.

  1. Puce Dinner at Chacon 162, Chacon y Callejon de Espada. A racoler boss, dishes without great originality at "tourists" prices. Without interest.

  2. Puce Overnight in Havana

Day 03 Havana

Departure at 09:00 for a long improvised walk through the streets of Habana Vieja.

We start at Calle San Ignacio, along the Wilfredo Lam museum, a museum of contemporary art, to arrive at Plaza de la Catedral, with Baroque buildings: imposing Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of Conception (1777). Huge cobbled square where one can imagine the crowd of faithful coming to attend the mass, the slave sales booths held by the same faithful and their good conscience.

Creole-style fake flower vendors are trying to get photographed for money.

On the left side of the square, when leaving the cathedral, the casa of Count Lombillo (1741) wealthy slave trader, the Palacio del Marquès des Arcos (1741), opposite the Palacio de los Condes Casa Bayona ( 1720) on the right the restaurant El Patio installed in the old casa de los Marqueses d'Aguas Claras.

Then we take Empredado street with the bar Bodeguita del Medio, which was a grocery store in 1942 where artists and writers used to come for a drink. Meeting intellectuals it became a bar "trendy" where was found again the American jet set and Hemingway already accustomed to Floridita. Saturday night has become a popular appointment for Havanese night owls.

We continue through Calle O'Reilly one of the most visited streets of Havana and its Colegio Universitario San Geronimo de la Habana, to arrive at the Plaza de Armas, with the statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, hero of the war of independence (1868/1878).

Shaded square very animated, with the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales which became the House of the Governor and later the Municipal Palace.

On the left the War Museum: el castillo de la real fuerza with the Giraldilla's statue, symbol of Havana, tells the story of the beautiful Doña Isabel de Bobadilla, married to Hernando de Soto, governor of Cuba, who went to explore the Florida, where he never came back. Doña Isabel became the only female governor of the country. She waited for long hours for her husband in the watchtower of Castillo de la Real Fuerza, which at that time was the governor's house of the island.

Next to the Castillo, El Templete. A Doric temple that houses the works of the French artist J.B. Vermay. He painted various episodes of Cuban life in the era of colonization. In the chapel there is his bust and a granite urn, in which rest the ashes of Vermay and his wife who died during the epidemic of cholera in 1833.

This is the first place where Mass was celebrated in Havana on November 16, 1519. A "sacred" ceiba (cheese), whose original was destroyed by the hurricane of 1868, gives rise to annual rituals: the November 16, thousands of Cubans come around 3 times and throw coins on the roots to attract luck for the coming year.

To the left of the palace,  Calle Obispo with colonial houses with balconies, another street very popular with tourists.

We take the Calle Oficios, where is the casa del Arabe, a museum dedicated to Arab migrants who came to the island and the only mosque in Havana.

We arrive at San Francisco Plaza with on the left the huge Chamber of Commerce Longia del Comercio, and in the center the Basilica Monastery San Francisco de Asis (1608/1737). In front of the basilica, a strange statue of St Francis of Assisi, holding a young native by the shoulder in a rather equivocal way.

To the left of the basilica, Calle San Pedro, in a pretty garden, the small orthodox church Nuestra señora de Kazan.

Outside, the huge central station: Estacion Central de Ferrocarril (1912). Built by an American, at the location of the arsenal overlooking the bay, in a mix of Victorian and Spanish Renaissance.

We start the calle Brasil (Teniente Rey) along the coach "mambi". Luxury wagon, specially built to transport successive presidents across the country from 1912 to 1959.

Mambi is the nickname given to the guerrillas who took part in the war independence.

A little further, the street opens on the remains of an underground aqueduct: the Zanja Real. It reportedly provided water for Havana from 1592 to 1835. The water came from the Chorrea River (Almendares). According to some she was barely drinkable.

Calle Brasil is very eclectic: there are restored houses, but also houses almost in ruins. The Museum of Pharmacy, a beautiful place full of jars, plants and stained glass that still delivers its medicinal potions: the Farmacia del Reunion which belonged like other buildings of the neighborhood to the wealthy Sarrá family. Souvenir shops, but also narrow entrances of buildings turned into small shops, a shoe-making workshop, a popular restaurant for the underprivileged, and restaurants for tourists.

In this street a place that guides often forget to mention: the chocolate casa: museum but also tasting of creamy hot and cold chocolates. There is a lot of talk about cigars and rum and often forget about chocolate, which is also a particularity of Cuba.

  1. Puce Lunch at the ArtPup restaurant, 306  Calle Brasil (Teniente Rey)- 12h - 23h. in a very airy patio. Fresh cuisine, hearty and cheap

At the end of calle Brasil, between Beranza and Agramonte, there are many shops that sell religious articles, catholic but especially Santeria and Yoruba: statues, amulets, accessories and products for ceremonies and bewitchments.

This is the very popular area of square and church of Cristo del Buon Vaije: a charming neighborhood that is not concerned for the moment by the restoration: we discover the authentic life of the inhabitants. Havana in the rough.

All the streets of the district deserve a stroll, Calle Bernaza, calle Villegas, calle Cristo etc ....

We met the fruit and vegetable merchant, the bread merchant and their carts, who put their products in baskets that the inhabitants come down from the floors with a rope, the dog merchant, the florist whose stall is limited to two shelves blocking the entrance to her building, the yogurt shop whose display is limited to the window of his house, the mechanic who repairs the cars in the street, the women who are recovering old damaged umbrellas and repair them to sell them a few pesos, the kids who play ball, the neighbors who fight. Havana without clusters of tourists.

Another busy street, Calle Mercaderes with its bars, pizzerias, and shops leads to Plaza Viaja (1559).

It was the place of executions, processions, feasts, and bullfights which wealthy families attended from their balconies.

At the corner of calle Brasil and Mercaderes the yellow building Gomez Vila with on its roof the Camera Obscura (invention of Leonardo da Vinci) which allows thanks to a process of refraction to see the old Havana 360 °.

On the square a marble fountain, a stylized flower, and the bronze statue of a rooster mounted by a naked woman armed with a fork. According to the Cuban artist Roberto Fabelo who made it the cock would represent virility, the "macho" in popular language, mounted by a naked woman who dominates, symbol of female power and who really holds power.

The square is surrounded by art galleries, including one dedicated to comics, bars and restaurants, the majority of which have musicians playing cuban standarts, installed in palaces that belonged to families of the nobility or aristocracy: the Cueto Palace, the palace of the Earls of Jaruco. There is a restaurant bar that has its own brewery: La Fábrica de Maltas and Cervezas

The Taberna de la Muralla seems to have a very bad reputation in terms of honesty. on many forums.

To end the day, Adrian suggested the improvised visitthe Basilica Jesus de Miramar (1948/1953).

Miramar is the upscale neighborhood of Havana where most of the embassies and headquarters of big international companies are located. It is also the district of wealthy Cubans, some of whom benefited from the requisition and redistribution of property.

The basilica is huge, relatively well decorated. The symbols of Freemasonry are seen in different places, as in the Remedios church, suggesting that worship and secret societies were linked. It has an organ buffet, the largest on the island, unfortunately in poor condition.

Although elegant this basilica and its neighborhood are not very interesting.

Back to Havana, passing Calle Cuchillo and the Castillo de la Estación de Policía de La Habana Vieja installed in the old bastion San Telmo (1708) rebuilt in 1939. Since the revolution became the seat of the Policia Nacional Revolucionaria. One can easily imagine what could have happened between its walls!

  1. Puce Diner at Van Van calle San José de Dios on the left affordable prices (4 to 8 cuc) good girls band, a bit noisy. Best tables, near windows.

  2. Puce Overnight in Havana

Day 04 Havana - Soroa - Viñales

Departure at 09:00 We met Papito, the driver who will accompany us throughout our tour. A posed, kind, smiling, respectful man always in a good mood.

We take the autopista on which the cars drive between 90 and 100 km / h. Vehicles are scarce: trucks transformed into buses, local buses and tourist buses, some big cars belonging to wealthy families and Cuban middle class. Many police checks.

We then take a small country road to Soroa. The road is dotted with casa particular, and villas for rent for holidaymakers.

Farmers in the area have found ways to benefit from tourism.

We meet many sports tourism enthusiasts: hikers, cyclists who crisscross the region.

Improvised visit at Soroa Falls. It was not planned in our program that wanted small hikes on bird watching sites. We told it a long time ago to the agency. Adrian does not know these observation trails and according to him it is necessary to leave early. It was not planned in the legal schedules.

For those who have already visited waterfalls around the world, that of Soroa is uninteresting: neither abundant nor spectacular.

A succession of small waterfalls, in a forest setting. We have dozens of this waterfalls in our area. This is not worth the detour or the price of entry which is 6 CUC per person.

By bad luck, Nadia slips on a rock covered with moss. Fracture of the radius and ulna at wrist height. Thanks to the help of Michel, a local resident, we go to San Cristobal Hospital. Radios, fracture reduction, plaster. We appreciated the quality of the Cuban medical service, which is really up to the task.

  1. Puce Lunch at a local restaurant. We offer the meal to thank for support during the accident.

After a late lunch, Adrian suggested an improvised visit the orchid garden of Soroa (orchideario). Same comment as for the waterfall: for those who have seen orchid gardens in Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka) it is uninteresting and expensive (3 CUC per person + 1 CUC per camera). A mini greenhouse houses 5 or 6 orchids that are not original. The variety of the flora of the garden is poor.

We then go to a point of view called the Castle of the clouds (Castillo de las Nubes), a restaurant whose terrace offers a point of view without interest compared to the points of view that we will discover the following day. So, a poor day !

  1. Puce Dinner at Cocinita del Medio, calle Salavador Cisneros n ° 122 e / celso Maragoto and Aadela Azouy. A beautiful, modern, clean restaurant, with a varied menu and very nice prices: 3.50 to 7 CUC. A complete dish with meat, mashed manioc, congri, and fresh vegetables 6.50 to 8.00 CUC. Adelaine is welcoming and very attentive.

At the corner of calle Cisneros and Calle Adela Azcuy, a pastry shop that sells ice cream and delicious fruit or yoghurt milk shake (batido) 1 CUC.

  1. Puce Overnight in Viñalès

Villa Tito y Yanet  Calle Adela Azcuy 18, e/ Escobar y Gerasio- Vinales 22400, Cuba  +53 48793199

Day 05 Viñales - Las Terrazas - Havana

Viñales and the Pinar del Rio region were severely affected by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.

Visit of a tobacco plantation. That of Manolo - an opportunist peasant with an over-developed ego who speaks French, with bling bling jewelery ... He surfs on tourism by offering many lucrative activities: sales of cigars, handicrafts, visits, equestrian excursions etc ...

If the eccentric side of Manolo has bothered us a little, it is the most beautiful plantation we have seen compared to those we have seen in Africa and Asia. Tobacco plants are beautiful here.

Sowing is done in September. Transplanting seedlings in December. The greewing lasts three months until February. 15 days before the harvest the flowers are cut, to recover the seeds for the next season.

The state requires 90% of the harvest. 10% are left to the peasants who do what they want. Knowing that the first leaves (the highest and the most exposed to the sun) are obligatorily destined for the state to make Cohiba, the best cigars, the most full-bodied and the most expensive.

The leaves of the middle part are meant to make the average cigars, sweeter: Montecristo, Partagas. The lower leaves, the least exposed, are destined for the manufacture of cheap and sweet cigars: the Romeo y Juliet, the cigars of the people, not ringed.

Once cut the leaves are put in dryers, before being conditioned to make the cigars. Those destined for the state go to state factories.

When peasants make the cigars with the 10% that the state leaves them, they work the leaves by macerating them in water to which they add honey, vanilla, lemon and rum. Each family has its proportions and its secret mixture.

For the record: Cohiba was originally a cigar made by torcedores for their own consumption. The security chief of Castro (Bienvenido Perez) offered him one made by one of his friends (Eduardo Riviera). Castro found him exceptional and asked him to make some for himself and his friends. It is Celia Sanchez, assistant of Castro, who gave him the name of Cohiba in reference to tobacco that smoked the Taïnos Indians. The peculiarity of this cigar is the different leaves that compose it and a third fermentation in barrels, which refines the aroma and aims to eliminate nitrate products and excess tar.

What makes the difference of these plantations: the red earth, which participates in the singularity of the landscapes of the valley of Viñales, is very fertile. The climate is also particularly favorable for tobacco growing, with during the dry season (period when tobacco is grown) very low rainfall (<50mm per month) and a mild climate (23 ° C on average).

In Viñales, traditional farming techniques are still relevant and almost everything is handmade, from sowing to harvest, without chemicals. Farmers use agricultural tools pulled by oxen.

The "guarijos" (peasants) of the region maintain the ancestral know-how. The same goes for the manufacture of cigars, always by hand, even in factories.

In 2010, biodiversity researcher Humberto Rios Labrada received the Goldman Environmental Prize for his studies on seeds. His work with 25 farmers in La Palma convinced 50,000 Cubans to develop eco-friendly farming methods. Fertilizers are made from composts and plant residues and insecticides from maceration of tobacco.

A typical local liqueurs that we did not have the chance to test: Guayabitas del Pinar. Mix of rum and guava.

We then leave in search of a site that we have planned to visit: los Aquaticos.

A particular community living on the mountainside. The guide does not know this visit and the people of the region do not seem to know it well.

This visit gives access to a part of the region very photogenic in terms of landscapes, in the middle of the mogotes (limestone hills).

We see the Prehistoria Mural without interest. A fresco painted on a mogote by Leovigildo Gonzales Morillo at the request of Castro supposed to represent the evolution of man in Cuba. You can see it clearly from the road, no need to pay the 3 CUC entry to get close.

In the bend that precedes the Mural of the Prehistoria, a road heads towards the Penitencia valley, and the Bella Vista mirador. Charming little cafe overlooking the valley and has a beautiful view of the region.

To go to Los Aquaticos, on the left a little before the Bella Vista café, people evoke a difficult access path that requires both arms to keep up with the vegetation. The ascent would prove perilous with a broken arm (they said).

I'm leaving alone with Adrian walking. We abandon the vehicle, Nadia and the driver near a small bridge that the driver did not dare to cross, while other larger vehicles cross it.

We pass in front of a small restaurant: cafetaria el Ceiba. As we progress I realize that the path is very passable, that some people even spend with horses.

The hike is easy and enjoyable, the views are spectacular. I see my first cuban bird: the todier of Cuba. Too fast.

We reach the famous blue house designated as what remains of the Los Aquaticos community. It is held by Milagros Rodriguez.

The family lives from growing coffee, cane, and selling products - coffee and sugar cane juice (guarapo) to tourists.

The founder of the movement was called Antoñica Izquierdo. She created the community in 1943, following a number of unexplained cures that she would be causing after using the mountain water. The peasants of the region living in harsh and extremely poor conditions, would have seen in her a shaman who ended up taking a certain ascendancy on them.

She founded the community on the basis of certain rules of life such as refusing all medical aid and maintaining health through the mountain water, which would have here healing virtues. Refusing to have a piece of identification, refusing to participate in elections and voting for any candidate, which resulted in her being locked up in a psychiatric hospital where she died.

According to some the community would be reduced to 2 families, according to Milagros, there would still be a hundred members of the community distributed in the valley. They no longer practice political rules (incivism), and continue to resort to mountain water. The community no longer cares with water on people outside the community.

Myth or reality, difficult to separate things. This community existed, but what remains to justify a visit, apart from the tourist attraction?

While going down, we meet several groups of tourists who come to see Milagros, which confirms that it is known and accessible place, since agencies organize excursions. Would this become a "phony" activity?

Hotels, peasants and Viñales agency organize tours to los aquaticos for 10 CUC per person. While it is simple and free to go if you have a driver. In Cuba everything is sold, even a walk in the woods !

Leaving this charming region, around 13:30, while we were driving quietly on the road, we were machine-gunned by projectiles. The driver stops abruptly.

Outside, people are screaming that the police have just arrived and are looking for whoever is shooting at them with a rifle, showing the mountain. We leave quickly.

We will learn on the internet a few hours later that a meteor shower fell on the region at that time. The impact of the star particles on the road burst the chippings that hit the bodywork and entered the cabin through the open windows.

  1. Puce Stop lunch in a petrol station:  ham and cheese sandwich (bochadillo or bocadito)

Adrian invites us to reduce our stops because he wants to arrive in Havana before 17h.

Stop in Las Terrazas, an eco-friendly site without interest. If the setting is pleasant:  luxury hotel, small lake, site of hook-branch, a so-called green community / sustainable development / etc ... with rather vague objectives. A place that is not worth the detour. Just fine for a Sunday family outing. May be an extra tourist trap ? Entrance fee of course 1 CUC / pax.

  1. Puce Dinner of survival dry food. There is no reasonably priced restaurant nearby.

  1. Puce Overnight in Havana

La Casa de Concordia Calle Concordia 421, e/ Escobar y Gervasio | Centro Habana, La Havane 10200, Cuba Accueil Alejandro (owner) Geiler by night,  Marcos next day.

A casa very  quite far from the center and cheap restaurants. The one opposite has received Obama not so long ago.

Day 06 Havana - Matenzas

Departure at 09:00 by an autopista.

Stop at the Mirador de Bacunayagua. View of the entire valley and the bridge (1956/1959) that spans the Yumuri Valley.

A group of musicians - Sonora Jibacoa - plays beautiful traditional walks. A swaying music that makes you want to sketch a few steps. This changes deafening groups of Havana restaurants that pour salsa like diarrhea.

Arrived at Matenzas, we visit the Ermita de Montserra (1875) built in tribute to a monastery bearing the same name in Catalonia. From this place we have a view of the whole city and the bay of Matanzas.

  1. Puce Adrian offers lunch at a farmer's house nearby.

We expected to have lunch with a family. In reality it is a farmer who makes restaurant with zoo to enjoy tourism (12 CUC per person, 24 CUC for  two, the most expensive meal we have made in Cuba). There is an eagle, raccoons, hinds, in cramped cages.

The traditional meal is varied, complete and tasty, but it is served at the table under an arbor, while the driver and the farmer's family have lunch inside the house. It would have been more authentic and informative if we had been able to attend or participate in the preparation of the meal and if the family had a meal with us. This would have allowed us to exchange and discover their way of life, their history, their concerns.

After the meal, improvised visit in the center of Matanzas:

The Plaza de la Vigia, not far from the Puente Calixto Garcia, huge steel bridge that spans the Rio San Juan.

The square has beautiful buildings such as the Teatro Sauto, the Palacio de Justicia, the Palacio del Junco (museum) not to mention the barracks of the Bomberos (firemen) which houses some antiques of the fight against fire.

We continue on the shore of Rio calle 97 where there are many artists' galleries, a famous music school. Matanzians like to come for a stroll on this shore and have a snack or a drink.

Matanzas is known as the cradle of poets, writers, musicians.

The park of Libertad with the omnipresent statue of Jose Marti, with at his feet a life-sized statue of a half-naked woman wearing a Phrygian cap, symbol of the freedom used by the French during their revolution.

The park is surrounded by hotels, restaurants (Velasco, Louvre, San Severino, Libertad), theater café (El Portazo), museum (famarcia Triolet), government palace.

We take pleasure in discovering the street atmosphere: the Cadena Cubana del Pan bakery that smells the whole district of the smell of hot bread, or, as in all Cuban parks, this crowd of all ages in addiction to the smartphone, sending and receiving SMS or chatting with a friend or distant parent via Skype or Whatsapp. A procession passes through the square of La Vigia in music, perhaps in connection with the santeria, as seen from clothes and drums.

  1. Puce We dine at Alejandro's. Nice evening spent with family around a delicious meal prepared by his mother-in-law.

In the evening, Adrian has a surprise: a Café Théâtre show given by a group of actors he knows: Portazo's cooperative which play  "CCPC La República light". Mix of comedians, actresses, drag queen and transformists for an unequivocal protest work. A show of high level, full of emotions, on themes that preoccupy Cuban youth. We were particularly captivated by Camila Rodhe and Betiza Bismark. Surprising in a country where the word does not seem really released yet.

  1. Puce Overnight in Matanzas

Hostal Sueños  Calle Rio (91) # 29007 e / Santa Teresa (290) y Zaragoza(292) - 40100 Matanzas (Cuba) owner Noël y Marie

Day 07 Matenzas - Cárdenas - San Miguel de los Baños - Santa Clara

Departure 09:00. Visit the city of Cárdenas (San Juan de Díos de Cárdenas).

A very peaceful little town forgotten by tourists, at a stroll from Varadero. As in Matanzas a part of its population would be employees of Varadero hotels.

There are more carriages than cars. This is the usual mode of transportation.

It was here that the Cuban flag created by Naciso Lopez, a Venezuelan, was first raised. It has been the scene of fighting to free the island from Spanish rule.

At the beginning of the 20th century it was one of the main sugar export ports.

Here was born Jose Antonio Echeverria, revolutionary leader assassinated on March 13, 1957 by the men of Batista.

It is also home of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez whose mother died while trying to escape to the United States in 1999. He survived floating on an inner tube. Recovered by the American fleet, his family emigrated to the United States wanted to keep him while his father remained in Cuba claimed. Elian became the stake of a showdown between the USA and Cuba. He was finally returned to his father in 2000.

We visit the charming Parque Colón with its carriages, the cathedral of the immaculate design before which stands the first statue of Christoph Columbus of the island.

The surrounding streets are colorful, as the fire station.

Road to San Miguel de los Baños. A ghost town that had its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century when wealthy patients came for treatment.

Its medicinal waters (bicarbonate, sulphide, magnesium, silicate) were true panaceas against diseases of the liver, digestive and urinary tract, diabetes, arthritis. Mud treatments could relieve osteomuscular pain, osteoarthritis, degenerative diseases and post-traumatic arthritis.

It included: Luxury hotels and villas, Farmacia, Cinema, swimming pool, horseback riding, an airstrip, post office, telephone exchange, bus stops to Matanzas and La Habana ... until the day a little before the revolution, when the central sugar factory began to pollute the stream which fed all this wealth.

The Gran Hotel y Baleario flanked by its domed towers is in ruins and forbidden to visit.

The only charm of the city, are the wooden houses in colonial style found in Louisiana, but also on the island of Reunion. We are not convinced that this is an interesting step.

Country road for Santa Clara. A little before Jagüey Grande, we leave the fields of sugar cane to discover a huge decor of fruit trees. The region specializes in citrus fruits, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, 40,000 hectares under the supervision of Israelis!

Stop at a stall to taste homemade guava paste cookies, buy fruit and attend a chase between the police and an American car.

We leave the pleasant little country roads to find the autopista ... Ah those highways! Fast, but so boring.

  1. Puce Lunch at Km143 at the Los Martinez motorway restaurant. Hearty meat and vegetable dishes for 3.00 CUC.

Late arrival to Santa Clara.

Having no affinity for Ernesto Guevara, an Argentine bourgeois family's doctor who developed a radical Marxist revolutionary ideal by attempting to disseminate it in several countries in Latin America and Africa, we have declined all visits concerning him.

If it turns out that it is sometimes necessary to go through a revolution, his provocative, extremist, sometimes totalitarian and bloodthirsty personality does not seduce us. Director of prison, re-education camps, revolutionary court prosecutor, head of special units, he is the source of many executions, not always justified.

Step required on the road to the East, we were not seduced by Santa Clara.

Even the park Leoncio Vidal is not interesting compared to many other places we have visited in Cuba. The shaded part is invested as everywhere by the followers of the smartphone. Carts pulled by giant goats walk children.

The horrible hotel Santa Clara Libre with its green facade riddled with rockets or bullets (1958), the theater, the provincial palace with its Doric columns, the radio station Emisora Radial, the various bars and restaurants where a few orchestras while passers-by sketching a rumba step are not enough to give charm to the city center.

The only charms we found for it are spaces of art and peace, where one speaks of something other than war and revolution or in another form:

- the story of the philanthropist Marta Abreu (1845-1909) who did a lot for the people of the region and for independence: wash houses, power station, renovation of the theater, libraries, dispensaries etc.,

- The painted walls of Cespedes street and Placido street, 50 m from Vidal square and those from Calle Marta Abreu.

  1. -The cultural center "El Mejunje" structure that welcomes a wide audience since the 1990s. Everyone is welcome, straight, gay and lesbian, local or foreign. You can hear both "trova" and covers of famous songs, performed by stars of transformism, or concerts featuring the successes of the Beatles.

  2. Puce Dinner in a very cheap restaurant next to El Mejunje.2,50 CUC / pax

  3. Puce Overnight in Santa Clara

Hostal Casa de Pino Calle San Miguel No. 14 and Cuba y Colon, Santa Clara 50100, Cuba that does not respect the reservation and relocates us without warning to the Hostal La Casona Jover San Miguel No. 14 e / Cuba y Colon , Santa Clara 50100, Cuba

Day 08 - Santa Clara - Remedios - Caibarién - Camajouani - Santa Clara

Departure at 09:00. Having arrived late the day before, the guide says that we will end the Santa Clara visits this afternoon, because in Remedios there is not much to see. It became a joke when we went to places he did not know.

Before taking a small country road, stop to photograph the Santa Clara baseball stadium. We discover that baseball is a national sport as in the United States.

For a country that hates Americans there are many paradoxes: baseball, CUC indexed on the dollar,prices followed by a $ instead of CUC, millions of American tourists who come to get a bit of exoticism ...

The road we take through an agricultural region where vegetables are kings. We stop a little before Camajouani to meet peasants at work.

They grow tobacco, black beans, red beans, white beans, sweet potatoes, yams, green tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, guavas, pineapples, bananas, papayas. Magdiel is proud to show what he produces and sells in his roadside shop.

In the fields we meet Juan Miguel whom his neighbors call "el macho". No machine, no tractor. All done with a plow pulled by oxen, or by hand. He is cutting sweet potato leaves. A little further on, another farmer plants the stems of cut sweet potatoes. To our surprise, reproduction is done by cuttings.

When we arrive at Remedios, our first impression is serenity. The people are peaceful and hospitable. Adrian who did not know discovers at the same time as us.

Remedios is a small town little visited by tourists. Burned and rebuilt in 1692, it was deserted by some of its inhabitants who were fleeing demons and went to found Santa Clara.

Its reputation is due to the carnival and the feast held at Christmas every year: las Parrandas. The city is divided into two clans and each party competes to be elected best chariot, best parade. Party that ends with a gigantic fireworks display.

Papito drops us a little before arriving on the square, to walk the streets.

This is an opportunity to discover how people live: like the shoemakers Neander y Marcello. Their workshop reminds us of those that we had in Europe in the 50s and 70s and that we still meet in Asia where skilled craftsmen turned old shoes into practically new shoes. The farmacia is crowded with customers, and the ice cream vendor does not stop serving his cornets. Very nice vintage cars crisscross the streets, in the middle of the carts and bici taxi.

Arrived on Plaza Marti, we appreciate the beauty of the place. A bandstand, some trees and like all Cuban squares, it is surrounded by beautiful buildings with colonial facades in pastel shades.

An inhabitant urges us to visit the church because it will close. Remedios is the only city to have two churches in its place.

We visit the iglesia Parroquial Mayor of San Juan Bautista de Remedios. Built in 1692, it was damaged by an earthquake in 1939. A wealthy faithful betrothed the restoration site. Marta who speaks a little French serves us as a guide.

The altar and choir of the church are carved in the Mudejar style (name given to the Muslims of Spain who became subjects of the Christian kingdoms after the 11th century).

The entire choir of the church is covered with 24-carat gold leaf. The ceiling is mahogany and features sculptures that represent flowers when you look in one direction and the head of Christ when you look in another direction.

We discover unpublished statues: a virgin dressed in black and crying: the virgin of loneliness, a pregnant virgin who dances flamenco, and the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Lady of Cuba and all Cubans, found everywhere with her legend. She was found floating on the water by three men, fishermen or slaves depending on the version.

On some pieces of furniture, there are distinctive signs of Freemasonry.

On the square is the church of Virgen del Buen Viaje, closed for work. The Museo de la Música Alejandro Garcia Caturla, a former lawyer passionate about music who became a famous composer. One of the rare aristocrats married to a black woman, which was very frowned upon at the time, he was murdered in 1940 for wanting to condemn a policeman who had killed a prostitute.

The Museo de las Parrandas where you can see the remains of some parade floats.

The Statue of Liberty, again with a Phrygian cap.

There are also very nice hotels with period furniture like El Real, hotel E Bausa, hotel Mascotte, hotel Buen Viaje with its pretty patio and some cheap restaurants like El Louvre.

  1. Puce Lunch at Driver's Bar calle José Peña, behind the church. A very good local restaurant at reasonable prices for hearty and fresh dishes. (Meat + congri + vegetable salad + water = 2.50 / 3.00 CUC)

Calle José Peña is a street where practically all houses are casa particular.

Before leaving Remedios, we try to visit a cigar factory. As everywhere else, it is forbidden to approach workers and take pictures. On the other hand we are told that we can look through the windows that give in the street and take pictures under conditions not to exceed the bars of the windows.

About fifty employees ride cigars all day long. To avoid boredom and routine, a reader sitting at a desk in front of a microphone reads a novel. Each employee makes about 100 cigars a day from Monday to Friday and earns about 300 pesos a fortnight (12 CUC) or 1.13 € per day. 1,13 € for hundred cigars which are sold for some between 15 and 20 € each, there is enough to make a revolución !

We wish to see a non-tourist coastal town and its small fishing port.

We are on our way to Caibarién.

The same impression as in San Miguel de los Baños, a ghost town, deserted.

Neither the guide nor the driver knows this city. Either we did not go to the right place or something happened, but nothing corresponds to what is written on "the white city" famous for its carnival, its commercial port, its dream beaches in different guides.

Decaying buildings, in ruins, streets without life. Adrian spends an hour talking with a Christobal and Marien: many think that the city is in this state because of the hurricane Irma that affected in September 2017. But the inhabitants do not agree. The city would never have received state aid to maintain and restore homes, as it does in other districts. People feel abandoned by the system, they think Irma has a good back.

Meanwhile, Nadia chats with Camila Gonzales, an old lady who takes a lot of fun with what one is interested in her.

Even more surprising, when we ask to see the harbor, Adrian and Papito seem unable to find it, the locals seem to be unable to explain where to go to see the harbor. Hallucinating, there is a harbor but nobody knows where it is!

Back to Santa Clara, with a stop at Camajouani. Nice little town. Walking the streets, we meet a family who makes donuts in the street. She offers us one to taste: Buñuelos de Yuca, delicious cassava fritters. We buy for us, Adrian and Papito. They find it so good that we stop to buy more. We must not be the only ones to love, there is a queue in front of the stand.

Arrive late afternoon in Santa Clara, to see the ripe painted near the mausoleum of Guevara. Here again, no one knows, neither Adrian, nor Papito, nor the locals.

Arrive late afternoon in Santa Clara, to see the ripe painted (murales) near the mausoleum of Guevara. Here again, no one knows, neither Adrian, nor Papito, nor the locals.

I imagine what it should be in less touristic areas like the East of the country ...

We have searched quite a bit before finding these frescoes on Marta Abreu street, between Vidaureta and Carlos Pichardo, where artists express their way of seeing war, peace, relations with the USA.

  1. Puce Dinner at El Alba, corner Masceo and Pardo, 50 meters from Parque Vidal. Good Cuban cuisine (2,50 to 6 cuc).

  2. Puce Overnight in Santa Clara

Day 09 Santa Clara - Sancti Spiritus

Departure 09h We take the autopista. The disadvantage of this kind of trip is that as soon as there is a highway, the drivers love it.

It's faster, more comfortable for them. This deprives us of contact with the villages and the people who live there.

When there are only highways, we end up moving only step by step, from city to city, by obscuring all the rural life of a country.

We go from one place Marti to another place Marti, from a church Notre Dame to a church Notre Dame. Travel that ends up resembling those made by tourist groups in big buses or "backpackers" in trucks transformed into public transport.

Arrive early in Sancti Spiritus. A city that transpires authenticity, very nice after Santa Clara. The entire city center has been rehabilitated to celebrate its 500th anniversary in 2014.

This time the central park is called Serafin Sanchez. It is surrounded by colorful buildings: the Cine Conrado Benitez, the Provincial Museum, the Plaza Hotel, the Biblioteca Provincial Ruben Martinez VIllena with its dome and a remarkable dome. From its balcony we have a view of the square, the city and the hinterland.

Under the blue arcades of Casa Cultura Osvaldo Mursulí I meet Nelson Wencelao Garcias Perez, a miniature artist. He paints landscapes and country scenes on small pebbles, of great finesse with unimaginable details.

At this place is the departure of buses that crisscross the region. When we see that they are already full and the number of passengers who want to get on board and those who can not get on because there is no more room, we think that it is good to have a car.

We visit the bulvar (calle Independencia Sur), busy pedestrian and shopping street that ends in front of the great building of the Spanish colonia. Pharmacies, supermarkets, cheap clothing stores, furniture, household appliances, souvenir shops, art galleries restaurants, follow one another throughout the bulvar.

Two bronze statues, that of a man who gives the time and that of a painter enliven the street. We met Laurenzo Gonzales, a very welcoming Cuban man.

New queue in front of a supermarket. There was a shortage of chicken. The store has just been delivered. People are rushing to buy some. They can only go in one by one, the rations being counted so that people do not buy more than they are entitled to in order to avoid illegal trade. Shortage has always been the engine of opportunism and illegality in both capitalism and socialism.

For me the shortage created or maintained (speculation) is the spearhead of social inequalities, the fuel of civil wars.

Come Honorato street and its churos merchant, then Honorato square, which was the place where the hanging executions took place, before being a food market and then a public square.

The iglesia Parroquial Mayor del Espiritu Santo: built in wood, then rebuilt in stone in 1680, it would be one of the oldest churches in the country. There is a pregnant virgin dancing, better still a chapel with a Christ sitting apparently very tired. Her hair is made of real human hair. You can climb into its steeple (1 CUC) to have a view of the city and the surrounding area.

We realize that the majorities of the old streets are bent. It was a strategy to protect yourself from pirates. This made it possible to create get-apens, the enemy never knowing what to expect after a turn.

  1. Puce Lunch at Café Real, Calle Honorato. Hearty, fresh, and inexpensive dishes. Fajita polo shirt (2.80 CUC).

We meet Joel, a French speaking Cuban guide who works in the eastern part of the country. He is accompanied by friends: Zeydi, Leydi y Kenia.

After the meal, we visit a traditional Cuban grocery store, in front of which a crowd queues. There are only boxes of tomatoes on each shelf, of the same brand, a bottle of oil on each shelf of the same brand. On the other hand, the part of the store where the alcohol is located seems better stocked.

We descend the calle Maximo Gomez, pass the Museo de Arte Colonial, with its typical facade, pass the Teatro Principal (1876) with its blue facade.

In this district are the oldest paved streets of the city, with their earthenware jars, and low houses: calle Guairo, calle San Miguel, calle LLiano, Calle Padre Quintero, impression of taking a trip back in time.

It is also the district of Puente Yayabo (1815) pretty bridge of 5 arches which crosses the Rio Yayabo.

A few meters away, the casa de la Guyabera (1 CUC /pax), a typical 4-pocket shirt made in the region for peasants. The museum claims exposed shirts that belonged to Fidel Castro, Raoul Castro and a number of revolutionaries, but also to Hugo Chavez, to Danny Glover. The shirts on display seem to have never been worn, it's hard to believe the legends. Lonely Planet talks about a workshop where we could attend the manufacture of shirts, nobody knows this workshop !

The shirts for sale here are 2 times more expensive than in the shops of the city.

We visit the entrance of a primary school, we are surprised by its counting.

Returning to the casa particular we are surprised to attend a Santeria ceremony in the house opposite. Men beat the drum (omo bata), while another sings incantations of the faithful dressed in whites (novices) or gilded cloth (initiates) who dance.

A statue of the goddess Oshun covered with a phallic symbol resembling the Hindu lingam are surrounded by offerings.

The master of ceremonies invites us in, but we did not dare.

  1. Puce Dinner: Adrian plays "do it yourself"! We did as if we were preparing a meal in the casa particular, from a huge root of yam and green peppers that he bought in Camajouani. The family remaining outside the preparation. The yam is difficult to peel, as soon as its pulpit is in the air it becomes sticky like a fish. We slice some of the slices that are fried, and another part is boiled and mashed. It was a little light. He takes the opportunity totry to flirt with the servant who puts him back in place, stating that her husband would not appreciate it.

The experience could be developed with the habitants: a casa particular could organize a Cuban cooking class where customers would participate in the preparation of the meal. We could even go shopping with the family to discover the Cuban domestic reality.

  1. Puce Overnight in Sancti Spiritus

Hostal Calle Real Independencia 76 norte e / Frank Paiz and Comandante Fajardo, Sancti Spiritus 60100, Cuba - Camila brings a little smile and warmth in this casa a bit dull

Day 10 Sancti Spiritus - Trinidad

Departure at 09:00 before leaving Sancti Spiritus, visit the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad, Parque Maceo.

It was planned to visit the city of Trinidad today and make the El Cubano Park the next day. I had tried to remove this park from our program, but Alejandro seemed to want to keep it.

Unless they are spectacular or that they end up on something else we are not fan of waterfalls and forest walks.

As it's on our way, we propose to visit the Valley of Los ingenios to discover in this valley what took part in the history of Cuba: sugar cane plantations, sugar refineries and rich owners who who lived in haciendas and build fabulous palaces in the city, the slave trade, the revolts, the struggles for independence, the revolution and the redistribution of land: more eloquent than a waterfall ...

Trinidad owes its wealth to this valley, which at the time had dozens of sugar refineries at the end of the 19th century. The valley has suffered greatly from the wars of independence. The sugar industry moved to Matanzas.

The first sugar factories were trapiches: they worked with human (slaves) and animal power.

The ones that followed, ingenios, were the ones that used steam. The workers were often slaves.

Finally, the last one, cenral azucarero, uses fossil energy (oil) and electricity. Hard to say if the workers were slaves ... or if slaves were workers.

Although most blogs and guides evoke the diversity of sites to visit in this region, Adrian seems to know badly. There are 16 sites to see, including some slave quarters.

We visit a museum of sugar cane (INTA): the ruins of a factory, run by Americans with tanks, presses, premises, locomotive. Without much interest.

A rather interesting site: Manaca Iznaga. Estate bought in 1795 by Pedro Iznaga, who made a fortune in the slave trade. The 44-meter tower was used to watch the slaves.

When I am at the top of the tower, I can easily imagine the extent of cane plantations and the people who work there. I imagine the activity that reigned in this valley, with its columns of slaves coming and going, who bend under whipping when they slow down or take the risk of stopping, I imagine carts and trains overflowing with valuable plant.

The hacienda gives an idea of the luxury in which the owners lived.

The path to the hacienda is populated by stands and embroiderers who sell cotton to tourists.

We visited the site of San Isidro de los Destiladeros, unknown to the guide and the driver.

This site has been the subject of archaeological excavations that have uncovered the foundations of a very old candy factory. It dates from before the industrial era. The restoration of the site is in progress. We could see the foundations of the slave district, the furnaces that heated the molasses tanks. The various underground pipes that allowed the transport of water but also cane juice.

The hacienda less luxurious than that of Iznaga, with a much smaller bell tower.

I always feel a certain emotion when I find myself on a land where men have been exploited by men. After a barbaric capture, often perpetrated by neighboring tribes, transport under animal conditions, thousands of men and women worked for free to enrich some pretentious families. If we talk about the slave trade conducted by Western nations, I never forget that the Arabs practiced the slave trade long before the Europeans, much longer, but we talk a lot less about it! They could not have descendants to testify because the men were castrated.

When one speaks of wealth, of fortune, I think: what would these wealthy families be if there had not been slaves and workers underpaid ?

As in India, where I wonder what would become of the Maharajas if there had not been slaves and labor with no other salary than a bowl of rice to build their palaces, maintain their farms, make wars?

Who remembers ? When tourists admire these palaces, castles, haciendas, do they have a thought for those thanks to whom all this exists ? I hope it is a memory duty as important as the Holocaust.

We wanted to visit other sites, such as Casa Guachinago, hacienda dating from the 18th century, the Sitio Guaimaro, hacienda dating from the 19th, the viewpoint of the Loma del Puerto which allows to have a beautiful view of the valley.  This was not possible because it was not planned beforehand although they are all in the valley, a few kilometers from each other. It is true that these visits were not planned at first, since we were supposed to visit El Cubano. It also seems that the guide and the driver did not know this area very well.

We wanted to see a small fishing port and its activities. Cuba is an island, we have not been able to see an authentic port until now.

Before joining Trinidad, Adrian proposes to go to the port of Casilda, where we could have lunch of the best prawns on the island at a friend's house. The restaurant is closed.

We will see the port of Casilda: no entry and no pictures, because there is a military arsenal on the other side of the bay.

  1. Puce Arrival and late lunch at Trinidad Doña Gallo restaurant, calle Rosario (Francisco J Zerquera) at No. 181. A nice restaurant that offers rates for Cubans and rates for tourists. A dish of meat with congri costs 80 pesos for Cubans and 8 cuc (192 pesos) for tourists. This remains correct compared to Trinidad's tourist restaurants. Although it annoys me, it is not poor Cubans who come to eat at these restaurants.

After lunch, we are taken to our house and visit the Plaza Mayor alone.

First impression: Trinidad has a lot of charm, but there are so many tourists that it's like being in the Obispo calle of Havana.

The square is surrounded by the Palacio Brunet, the Museo de Arquitectura Trinitaria, the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santisima Trinidad, the Museo Romantico, all closed, bars and restaurants with terraces crowded with tourists, lovers of mojitos or beers, seated in the sun to perfect their tan. Stopping to take a picture of the scenery shading them earned us a few reprimands.

We ended the afternoon on the Plazuela del Cristo to listen to the group Trio Alarcón playing his languid walks, impression that they only played for us, tourists do not stop, or just the time for a photo.

  1. Puce Dinner at Doña Gallo. The tortillas are hearty, with vegetables and rice.

  2. Puce Overnight in Trinidad

Hostal Maricel and Gaby Calle Simon Bolivar n. 263 e / Frank Pais and Jose Marti, Trinidad 62600, Cuba

Day 11 Trinidad

Departure at 09:00. Visit the city a little bit "disjointed" at the mercy of the typical cobbled streets of Trinidad. Improvisation, a simple walk through the town ! We could have done the same thing without a guide.

Calle Real del Jigüe, Casa en Real del Jigüe, Calle Cristo, again Plazuela del Cristo with a new group: Sorpresa Trinitaria who starts the traditional songs (Guantanaméra, Hasta Siempre etc ...) without tourists because it is too early.

We take the time to talk with the musicians, to talk about their musical instruments that are interesting: apart from the traditional guitar and percussion, which ensure the rhythm, we discover an original bass made of a sound box equipped of 4 metal blades that the musician activates according to chords often played in D, F, A, G. It looks like the mbiro or African sanza, bigger and much more low-pitched.

Another instrument is the Tres guitar, with 3 double strings tuned to the octave, in D, F, A or G, C, E. It is played in rhythmic basis or in solos (melodic improvisations). It is typical of the majority of Cuban groups playing trova.

We take the improvised walk: calle Cristo and the casa de la Trova that is more interesting to see in the evening, knowing that in Trinidad there are more tourists than Cubans.

Calle Alameda, Calle Media Luna, looking for a guitar making workshop (taller musical instrumentos, corner Calle Jesus Menéndez and Valdes Muñoz) Unless Adrian did not have the right information, no luck it is closed . It must be said that Cuba does not facilitate orientation, most cities have changed the name of the streets. Some locals call them by their old name, others by their new name.

In anticipation of the arrival of the tourist buses, the pretty cobblestone streets start to fill with stands of opportunist shops: shirts, tablecloths of cotton, T-shirt with the image of Che, Cuban caps and berets of very bad manufacture, bracelets , seed necklaces, wooden trinkets, cigars, at disconcerting prices.

Another neighborhood grocery store where there is only one or two products per shelf.

We take the car to visit the ceramist Azariel Sandanter Alcantara who officiates for 50 years, calle Andrès Berro, n ° 9.(free time)

Apart from the terracotta pendants found all over the world, it has pretty water jugs, pretty dishes, beautiful vases. He can be seen working as well as his employees. Drinking a Canchanchara (a typical local drink made from rum, honey, lime) allows you to take the bucket after consumption (5 CUC).

The most authentic neighborhoods are barrio Los Tres CrucesCalle Juan Manuel Márquez, and Santa Ana Church District.

We visit alone (free time !) the authentic alleys around Santa Ana (church in ruins): Calle Procopio a man passes on horseback, another with his guitar. Calle Santa Anna, with pretty colorful houses on one floor. The open windows allow to see the interiors, simple, furnished in a rustic way. Many houses are casa particulars. With the tourism many Cubans must now earn more money than people like  to say.

Calle Paz we meet Hortansia sewing machine on his doorstep, then Carla her little neighbor of 8 years who already poses as a model.

  1. Puce Lunch with Adrian and Papito in a prison Real Cárcel (1842/1915) very explicit photos adorn the walls, transformed into restaurant Factoria Santa Ana brewery, café Doña Martines, calle Santo Domingo (Camilo Cienfugos) a few steps from the church Santa Ana.

After the meal, we are taken to Plaza Carillo, where the guide leaves us improvised free time, it is 04h00 pm. There is not much to see. A small church San Francisco de Paula, one of the largest hotels for groups of Trinidad, Iberostar, Romelo Cornelio cinema, with a terrace bar where the guide rests, and the premises of the Asemblea Municipale.

  1. Puce Dinner at Doña Gallo. Thanks to Magdeline for his welcome, and his kindness.

If Trinidad seduced us with its charm and its old streets we leave it with the impression of "unfinished" visit, finally it is a city that could have been visited without a guide. The photo tour proposed by Lonely Planet is well seen and easy to do.

  1. Puce Overnight in Trinidad.

Day 12 Trinidad - Cienfuegos

Departure 09:00. Road to Cienfuegos along the coast and through villages full of charm. Many plantations of cane, banana, cattle farms.

By the way the coast is very beautiful, there are not really beaches, but volcanic rock eaten away by the surf. The sea is calm, azure sometimes very dark.

Some houses are cement bungalows, others are rudimentary wooden huts.

We are taken to a lagoon: Laguna de Guanaroca for an improvised mangrove boat tour. It would be an ornithological reserve. 10 CUC per person for a 45 minute ride in a boat with a fisherman.

We will see a white heron, two gray herons and by far about fifty flamingos. In Spanish, we say: es una estafa turística. Without interest.

Without having to go to Africa or Asia, there are dozens of ornithological reserves much more interesting in France. Like the Bay of Somme or the Camargue park where there are hundreds of flamingos, wild horses, wild bulls...

Arrived at Cienfuegos, improvised walk in the district of Puenta Gorda. Off a sailboat worthy of pirate caravels, in the midst of supertankers crossing the bay.

Luxury villas, shingle houses, turreted palaces, confirm our feeling that while all Cubans are equal, many are more equal than others.

We meet Leonardo, a fisherman who has humor (pero no leonardo de caprio).

He must not live in one of these villas. He looks for crabs which he then uses to bait the fish. The water is clear, we can follow his hunt for crabs.

Some diodons, spines fish that swell when they feel in danger and trumpet fish swim quietly.

In the Palacio del Valle car park, a luxurious Moorish, Venetian, Romanesque and Gothic style palace dating back to the 20th century, we meet a young girl dressed as a bride who is coming to take pictures for the 15th anniversary with photographer Alfredo Daimy.

It is a tradition in Cuba, as in Latin America to make a Fiesta de los 15 when a girl is 15 years old (quinceañera). It is to celebrate the transition from childhood to adulthood. Depending on the wealth of the family this fiesta can become sumptuous: mass, musicians, groomsmen, meals, many guests, gifts, dancing etc ...

Sometimes whole families are depriving themselves in order to celebrate this event. It has grown so much that it is said that the two most important dates in a woman's life are her fifteen years and her marriage.

We do an improvised tour of the palace built in 1917 by a billionaire Spanish sugar trader Oclico del Valle Blanco.

  1. Puce Late lunch at Bahia Avenue 40, 3713 e / 37 and 39, a small, cheap local restaurant with fine Creole cuisine.

Then Adrian takes us to the Paseo del Prado, with its supermarkets, pizzerias, ice cream shops and tropical cabaret, which has no charm contrary to what the paper guides say. The bronze statue of Benny Moré just puts a little animation.

We stroll the bulvar, calle San Fernando with its clothing shops, home appliances, pharmacies, supermarkets and restaurants.

In supermarkets, there are entire shelves where there is only one product of a single brand: for example 10 meters of identical tomato sauce boxes, 10 meters of breakfast cereals of a single brand. ..I imagine the reactions of Cubans who visit our supermarkets. Then Adrian leaves us free, it is 16:00 ...

The Jose Marti Square is like most of the José Marti squares, a shady square with a pretty cupola kiosk, a statue of José Marti, Cuban addicts to the smartphone, surrounded by the governor's palace, a city hall, a museum Provincial, a Teatro Tomas Terry under construction, the Catedral de la Purísima Conceptión, and the Casa del Fundador (1841), the most original building of the square with its tower, pastel blue arcades.

Built by the city's founder, Louis Laurent de Clouet de Pietter, a freemason from Louisiana, who wanted to "whitewash" the population of the Caribbean, brought French families from Louisiana and Bordeaux. The building is occupied today by the chain of stores stores Artex state.

Our casa particular is on the square, a few meters from the casa of the Fundador.

We continue the visit alone. Calle Isabel, where the tourist stalls are concentrated, leads to Parque La Mar and the Royal Pier, which overlooks the fishing and ferry port.

  1. Puce Dinner at El Español restaurant in San Fernando Street, on the balcony overlooking the street. Nice Cuban meal at low prices.

Return casa particular, we are expected by the owners who seem to wish to sympathize. The lady invites me to dance ! Her husband seems a lot less friendly. When he asks us if we like Cuba, we say yes, but we are surprised by social inequalities.

He answers quite violently that Cubans who do not earn money are lazy. People can live well in Cuba if they are not a looser. We talk about the fishermen who do not earn much between 12 and 20 CUC per month, we could also mention the workers of the tobacco factories etc. He di not agree.

For him all this is false, people who work earn a good money, the others are idlers. He seems quite proud of his success saying that he travels as he wants abroad, he went to the USA, to Spain, to Panama, that there was never any state constraint to Cubans who want to travel!

We discover that their two daughters live in Spain. The parents were employees of hotels before holding a particular casa. Perhaps they are part of those Cubans who emerged thanks to the financial help of the family living abroad. All Cubans do not have the chance to have a family that sends them money to build a quiet life.

  1. Puce Overnight in Cienfuegos

Hostal Poty y Nieves Calle 25 Nro.5427 e / 54 y 56 Cienfuegos Cuba.

In the meantime their room is the least comfortable of all the rooms we had during our trip.

Day 13 Cienfuegos - Havana

Departure 09:00. After several email exchanges, Alejandro had planned that we would visit the Cienaga Zapata, believing that we had time on our way back to Havana. According to the guide it is not possible, it would be necessary to leave early, it is complicated to organize etc ... Not knowing, we can not say anything! Exit Cienaga Zapata !

Country road, rice fields, vegetable gardens. Here the crops are sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A farmer dries rice on the road. We notice horse droppings in the middle of the rice. He says it's not important, since the rice will be sorted and cleaned. That does not say how it will get rid of the faecal bacteria that penetrate the grains!

We follow the Bay of Pigs, known for the failure of the attempt to land Cuban mercenaries who wanted to overthrow the Castroite system. Today Bay of Pigs is very popular with snorkelers and bottlers, and beach lovers. It is true that the sea is particularly beautiful here. It comes in transparent to ultramarine blue through turquoise blue, jade blue. There is always volcanic rock with a large area of white sand.

We have two improvised stops suggested by the guide: the cueva de los peces, absolutely without interest. A resurgence of sea water at 50 meters from the beach, due to a natural underground network, with fish. There is a bar restaurant. We see three tocororos, birds emblematic of Cuba, because wearing the same colors as the national flag.

A little later, another improvised stop is proposed: the casa de zunzun where a farmer (Bernabé Hernadez Ulloa - draws through trees and feeders several varieties of hummingbirds: the hummingbirds of Elena bee hummingbirds (Mellisuga helenae), the smallest hummingbirds in the world, big such as flies, ruby-throated hummingbirds with orange-red hues on the neck (Archilochus colubris), Anaïs hummingbirds (Colibri coruscans), white-bellied hummingbirds (Colibri serrirostris).

It is necessary to be patient to surprise them in flight in front of a flower. The camera cell hardly supports the fast movements of these birds which distort the focus.

Interesting, but we would have preferred to observe birds in the wild, the few times this was planned.

  1. Puce Lunch on the highway at restaurant Los Martinez km 143, then Autopista for Havana where we arrive in the early afternoon. Adrian and Papito seeming to wish to leave soon enough for Matanzas.

The last two days seem to have been slightly "sloppy", as if there was nothing interesting to see or do. A bit surprising considering the quality of the program.

During our stay in Trinidad, we had met Maricel and Gaby who had in their house a statue of San Lazaro, as well as in the Doña Gallo restaurant. According to the saying, this saint would be a good protector for the families who shelter him. As it seems unknown in France, and that we think we need protection, we want to buy a small statue in Havana.

While looking for a bici taxi to take us to a religious store, we met Tony. A kind man honest and helpful. The shop where we wanted to go being closed, he proposes to take us to see others, also closed.

He suggests to come pick us up the next day at the casa to take us there again.

We return to the casa on foot, browsing one last time the streets of Havana that had bewitched us. It's Saturday night, the Cubans are out, the bands are raging. Rum and beer flow afloat.

The place of the catedral full of tourists, a group of women plays a sensual salsa.

The bread merchant makes his last home deliveries by hanging basket.

Calle Aguacate, we meet Evelio Leal, a 82 year old black man full of charm. What a man, I am sure that I met him in another life, so much the current passed quickly between us. He smokes cigar while listening to music in the street, with a smile to catch the moon.

He is the grandfather of a pretty mulatto who comes to join him. We sympathize.

The Calle Habana takes on the air of the 50's with its old lanterns.

  1. Puce Dinner at Van Van

  2. Puce Overnight in Havana in the best casa paricular we had.

Casa Azul Habana Calle Habana # 54, e/Peña Pobre y Cuarteles Havana 10100, Cuba  Welcome by Luis, extraordinary, at Bar Julian hyper nice. The owner is Adela Guevara López

Day 14 Havana

At 9:00, Tony is there as planned. He takes us to Brasil Street, where the Santeria shops are: statues, ritual objects, black magic instruments, potions and other ceremonial items. They have a statue of San Lazaro: 2 CUC.

Not wishing to leave Tony so quickly, we ask him to make us visit the city as he wants.

He crosses the paseo J Mari, where is the capitol. We cross the border of tourist Havana, to reach areas that are not yet part of the restoration. We go from the city museum (Habana Vieja) to the ordinary city (Habana Centro).

We take the direction of Barrio Chino, the Chinatown. People circulate in the streets where garbage cans, rubbish piles. They do their shopping, the laundry, repair their car.

We pass by a Confucius community, then in front of a huge blue pastel police station, to reach the callejon of Hamel, the district of the rumba and the santeria. Painted walls, shops, santeria altars. The inhabitants have taken over the decoration of their neighborhood, with their means: murals, tags, various objects of recovery transform the place into a modern museum in the open.

We are surprised by the contrast of some streets. As in Habana Vieja many buildings are in very bad condition and do not seem to benefit from any comfort. To ask if families have electricity and running water, or even toilets.

As in some streets of Habana Vieja we have seen balconies that only hold by a wire, old people who live on the top floor of buildings that have neither roof nor ceiling, families living in wooden or sheets cabanas laid on the roofs, facades just waiting to fall, ruins fallow, vegetation that does not grow in pots but on the grime of balconies or on the decaying cement of some walls. Household garbage and garbage cans seem not to have been picked up or cleaned for a long time.

Grocery stores seem even more destitute than elsewhere, fruit and vegetable sellers do not have much on their cart, butchers have only a miserable piece of meat to offer. Here no supermarkets.

We are far from the postcards of travel agencies ....

We return to the malecón, calle San Lazaro, until the monumento Maximo Gomez and a statue of freedom, woman bare-chested in the Phrygian cap sitting (parque Martires del 71).

  1. Puce Lunch at ArtPup restaurant, 306  Calle Brasil (Teniente Rey)- 12h - 23h

In Calle Brasil, we meet Evelio again. We greet each other as if we are the best friends in the world. He is sitting in front of the farmacia La Reunion, he is reading. He goes to the library almost every day to borrow small novels. He reads one a day. He offers me a cigar. We take some pictures. He talks to us about him.

We will meet him again later in a bar where he sips a little rum. He invites us, but it is time to return to the casa to return the key and wait for the driver for the airport. We will leave Cuba with the smile, the kindness, the bright face of Evelio in mind.

Hasta luego amigo.

A driver is sent by the agency to take us to the airport. It's the same gruffy driver who greeted us on arrival.

He is still not informed that the agency pay for him. When he's upset he does not look cool.

At the airport, the Cuban employee of the counter Air France No. 7 refuses to register because Nadia has a plaster on the arm, without explaining why or what we must do. She aggressively asks us to leave her counter to let other customers pass.

The person who holds the neighbor counter n° 6 is in solidarity with the first one. A supervisor is called, the situation makes him laugh.

I ask him for explanations, he does not answer and leaves.

After 01:30 the situation does not evolve and having seen the majority of passengers going, I called a KLM captain who passed with his crew to embark. I explain the situation to him and ask for his help. Scandalized, he calls the Air France/KLM desk chief who arrives immediately and makes us register at another counter.

When we go to the immigration counter, the two women who refused us the registration follow us laughing and say that now we can go and register. Provocative ! This is the only nuisance we encountered in Cuba.

Upon our return we file a complaint against them to Air France customer service.

In summary: Havana is not just an open-air museum in Habana Vieja, Cuba does not only have beaches, churches and squares José Marti, plantations and cigars, mojitos and salsa , caballeros and old cobblestone streets, its history is not limited to the brothers Castro and Guevara. There is so much to see and discover ... there are plenty of people just waiting to open and share, in the countryside, in villages, even in non-tourist areas. It's an island that demands that we come back to it, that we sink deeper into it.

Cuba West and Center

28/01/2019 to 11/02/2019

 Cuba Passion
Review & Infos
Cuisine & saveurs
hôtels photos and review
Photos de voyage
Cuba Ouest
La Havane
Cuba Centre
Cuba Est