CH 1. Varadero to Playa Larga

Cuba 2015

Saturday & Sunday, March 7 - 8, 2015:

Michael's trip took about 14 people to Havana for a week and then to Varadero, Playa Larga and Cienfuegos and environs for another week. I joined the group, along with 3 other newcomers, for the second week only.  It was an extremely engaging week and I would not have missed the education, adventure, beauty, camaraderie and relaxation of it for all the tea in wherever they grow tea these days.

Here are some pics, videos and a few words about the adventure. Thank you to Michael and to my fellow travelers.

Thousands (millions?) of tourists visit the beaches and all-inclusives of the Varadero peninsula every year, but few ever see the town of Varadero.

Just across the street from my room at Hotel del Fines, there was a lovely little café with a groovy little combo - Ari Son. I bought a CD and used some of their material to accompany the videos I put together for this blog. Many thanks for the great music.

On Sunday morning, we trundle of to the touristy but interesting DuPont estate. A relic of the "good ol' days."

Our superhuman guides, Roberto & Rita, at the DuPont estate. a.k.a. Xanadu.

Circular drive approaching Xanadu.

Inside the DuPont mansion.

Not far from Xanadu, this brand new state of the art marina, Gaviota Varadero, shows that Cuba is readying for the influx.

A beautiful 1st class restaurant, KiKe and Kcho , awaits yanqui dollars at the dock entrance.

Kcho, a Cuban artist of international renown, designed this marine-motif resto.

Back on the bus for a while, and then we stop to see El Patriarcha, a tree-like cactus over 20 feet tall, believed to be the oldest (500 years) living thing in Cuba.

Translation:
THE PATRIARCH
A Living Legend
Admire this enormous cactus as its origin goes back to the time of the conquest [1450].
Known as the avocado Cimarron for the shape of its fruits, this magnificent specimen has witnessed a long history that we invite you to know during the tour.

A gorgeous grizzly old fella.

What kind of a..hole would carve his initials here? It's akin to taking a knife an elephant's leg.

After lunch, we go to the Casa Del Carino, where a broad range of social services are carried out.

Michael Kerman listens intently to what Naczyra (head of Casa Carino) has to say. Very fascinating to speak with someone so pro revolution, who has suffered much and worked hard to keep it alive. The center offers support for people challenged in many ways: old age, mental and physical handicaps, poverty, broken homes.....

Here is my take on this very significant discussion. I'd appreciate any enlightening comments you'd care to share, dear reader. (scroll to the bottom):

As a Christian (Protestant), Naczyra was instrumental personally in speaking with Castro and getting him to actually change his mind about allowing Christians and other religions into The Party. Prior to 1992 (or was it 88?), one was limited if they admitted to being Christian. Not being able to join The Party was just one such limitation. Naczyra also gave the example of filling out an application for college or for certain jobs. The question of religion would be on the form, and if you said Yes to being Christian, you knew you might not get in. As a member of the Student Christian Movement and other ecumenical groups, she would fight cases where it was obvious that an applicant was being discriminated against for being religious. Finally in the early 90s, she and a group of Christians were invited by Fidel to come and explain their case. He was moved to realize the prejudice of the law, then he broadcast a video of the conference to The People, and changed the law so that you could be both Communist and religious.

The reason for the prohibition in the first place was not so much about the Marxian view of religion as the "opiate of the people," but because the Catholic church had been very active in trying to quell La Revolucion. They not only clearly sided with the Capitalists of Spain and America, but took political action against Castro. All Christians and all religions got lumped into the same bag with the Catholics, since the Revolution was fighting so hard in the beginning for survival. For instance, the U.S. had fighters in the hills, and the priests would help to feed, harbour and otherwise protect them.

To me, a Catholic American born in 1950, and an impressionable lad during the Missile Crisis years, this view of the "Communists" was a welcome breath of sanity.  It highlighted for me the difference between who I was growing up and who I have become, and somehow relaxed the tension between the two. Thank you Naczyra!

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Outside Casa del Carino there was a bus parked on the street, covered in anti-blockade slogans. According to Michael, it was somehow smuggled here and left as a memorial by a group known as Pastors for Peace. Formed in the 80s by U.S. citizens concerned with providing aide to Latin America, Pastors for peace would take school buses full of protesters to cities around the U.S, and Canada to spread their message. Please check out the Pastors for Peace website. You might even want to donate a few pesos.

Click to play movie. The music is "Hasta Siempre Commandante," by Los Calchakis



Monday, March 9:

Today, we leave Varadero and head south toward Playa Larga. Through Cardenas and Jovellanos.
Here's what it looks like on the map, if you're interested.
Varadero to Playa Larga

Sugar cane fields turn to citrus fields as we travel south.

From the bus window, Ronalee watches as we pass this long-unfinished bridge.
To me, this is a symbol of how impossible it must be to plan anything while in the economic stranglehold Cuba has known for the last 60 years.

We arrive at the Guama Resort on Lake Tesoro, northeast of Playa Larga. It is on the Zapata Peninsula, largest wetland in the Carribean, and a UNESCO protected biological eco-reserve.

Built in 1962, just after the departure of the corrupt Fulgenico Batista, it was a nose-thumbing message to the Americans: We don't need you to get by. We know how to do luxury, too. 

And indeed they did. Luxury, beauty and spectacular art, attuned to the surrounding natural setting.

Fooled ya. Fooled me, too. This crane was still as a statue.

A boat ride through the lagoon. It was International Women's Day. The driver gave roses to all the women on board, as you will see demonstrated by Ingrid.

Rod, Sam and Sandra enjoy a break in the shade.

Lunchtime, and one of the best treats of the trip. I believe it was our beloved bus driver, Lazaro, a.k.a. Lazarito, a.k.a. The Snake, who found Ristorante Del Orlando, a tiny, family-run treasure.

Ristorante Del Orlando barely has a sign out. You will NOT find this place on the internet.

Cate poses with the grand mama of the Orlando.

Faces like this you don't see every day. The beauty runs deep.

When they heard we were coming, they brought in a band. Sorry, but I can't imagine musicians in a comparatively tiny town in Canada having 1/3rd of the skill and soul of these guys:
Note we are the only patrons in the place.

Some of the folks were beat and wanted to get back to the Villa Playa Larga, but others wanted to see the crocs, iguanas and tree rats offered for display at the nearby "Criadero de Cocodrilos."

Those lumps in the water are not rocks.

Open wide.

Now on to our new digs, the Villa Playa Larga.
See it in next chapter... along with the Bay of Pigs Museum and Laguna de los Peces.
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