Discovering Cuba: Havana, Viñales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and More

The misconceptions about Cuba are astounding from how the Cubans react to Americans to whether it’s a safe place to travel. If you want to go to Cuba, then definitely go. As an American, we are supposedly required to only go to Cuba under certain circumstances. As a solo traveler, I went as part of a tour group with Intrepid Travel therefore where I stayed and what I did were already planned. That worked for me because it gave me the opportunity to be on the ground in the country and just concentrate on what Cuba actually has to offer. 

I don’t travel with fear in my heart. I honestly try to travel with as much of an open mind and heart as possible. That doesn’t mean I travel obliviously and don’t do my research, it just means I look at both sides and then I go…especially if I am led to and I was led to see Cuba. Originally, a friend and I had arranged to go to Cuba on a cruise but the idea of just stepping foot in the country to spend the day in three ports and then sleep on the cruise ship just felt so distant to me. And, now that I’ve been to the country, staying on the island, connecting with the Cuban people and learning about it’s history while taking in its culture and present circumstances, I am so grateful I went this route as my introduction to this seemingly controversial part of the world just 90 miles off the coastline of Florida. 

Once the playground of Americans during the 1950s. Its African, Spanish and even French cultural vibrancy along with its music, dance, colonial buildings and vintage cars have held an eclectic and until recently forbidden world lure that’s packed with an explosion of sensual treats.

Although Cuba’s fight to become an independent country, began long before Fidel Castro and the 1960s missile crisis between the U.S., Cuba and the then Soviet Union, an economic and relations embargo made it illegal for Americans to do business or go to Cuba for more than 50 years. It wasn’t until 2016 that the first U.S. plane could fly into Cuba and as Americans, we can travel to Cuba only under certain stipulations or conditions of travel. And, don’t bring your American bank credit or ATM cards because they can’t be used in Cuba. Only hard cold cash will do the job and that will need to be exchanged for the Cuban Convertible Peso of CUC and although one CUC equals one US dollar, we are the only currency that gets charged a 10% penalty for exchanging our currency for theirs. Welcome to Cuba!

But I obviously wouldn’t let the exchange rate keep me from coming to Cuba. It is a rare find in this modern world so keep your expectations in check and just open yourself up to a country working its way through a slight time warp yet possesses historical hot spots of architecture and lifestyle that will awe you and that are so worth the exchange rate penalty and more.

The Intrepid Travel tour map begins and ends in Havana but includes visiting and staying in three other cities, Vinales, Cienfuegos and Trinidad with stops along the way.
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is one of Cuba’s two official currencies and the one most frequently used by travelers. It’s also the more valuable of the two. The value of the CUC is pinned to the U.S. dollar so that 1 CUC will always equal 1 U.S. dollar. The exchange rate for international currencies will vary depending on whether you use U.S. dollars or non-American currency. For international exchange purposes, 1 CUC = 1 USD, but converting American money into Cuba money will incur a 10% fee. Credit and debit cards issued by American banks cannot be used in Cuba. I was able to change 150 in euros to 163.80 in CUC. Later in the week, I also exchanged 100 in US dollars which turned out to be 87.50 in CUC.
And, these are the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) coins.

Havana

Day 2 of Cuba, Sunday, March 17 – Havana  (Although this is a 9-day tour, Day 1 is for arriving and Day 9 is for leaving so a lot of exploring gets done in 7-days. )

Havana, especially Old Town Havana, is an incredibly wondrous mix of old world run down charm restored or being restored to reclaim its magnificence.  Old Town Havana or La Habana Vieja, the best preserved part of Havana, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.

Today was about tooling around in the very touristy classic American vintage cars, seeing Revolution Square, walking the fabulously beautiful plazas or public squares of Old Town Havana interconnected by alleyways and narrow streets and then learning about Cuba’s fights for independence at the Revolution Museum. Havana is hot, alive, colorful, colonial, historical, restored and getting even more restored. Welcome to Havana!

My first taste of Havana, Cuba, arriving on a pre-arranged taxi from the airport. Havana is a a beautiful city in decay and I absolutely fell in love with it. (March 16, 2019)

Our first official day of our Cuba tour and we get to do the most touristy and fun thing, be driven around Havana in one of it’s glorious vintage cars. These cars were all lined up for our tour group of 13. As soon as you arrive in Cuba, you see these vehicles, not all as pristine as these, but they are a remnant of the trade embargo against Cuba. It’s difficult to believe that some of these vehicles have been on the road since the 1950s. (March 17, 2019)
Driving through Avenue de Reina with its decaying colonial pastel buildings in Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Sights while driving through Avenue de Reina with its decaying colonial pastel buildings in Havana. (March 17, 2019)
El Capitolio, or the National Capitol Building in Havana was modeled on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
(March 17, 2019)
My Intrepid tour mates: Louise sitting up front with Fran and myself sitting in the back seat of this 1950s hot pink convertible while being driven around Havana, Cuba, on our first official tour of this gorgeous city. (March 17, 2019)
Walking over a bridge toward the pictured Revolutionary Square in Havana, Cuba. It is the most important and largest revolutionary square in Cuba where important political rallies, concerts and speeches were given by Fidel Castro. (March 17, 2019)
This iconic piece on the Ministry of the Interior’s police and security building at Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, is of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and below his image reads “Hasta la Victoria, Siempre,” which translates to “Until Victory, Always.” Che Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary allied with Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution. Born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1928, Ernesto “Che” Guevara de la Serna studied medicine before traveling around South America, observing conditions that spurred his Marxist beliefs. He aided Fidel Castro in overturning the Fulgencio Batista government in the late 1950s, and then held key political offices during Castro’s regime. Guevara later engaged in guerrilla action elsewhere, including in Bolivia, where he was captured and executed in 1967. (March 17, 2019)
My selfie attempt at the Revolution Square in Havana with the iconic figure of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in the distance. (March 17, 2019)
This building, toward a distant portion of the Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, is the Ministry of Informatics Communications and the man featured is Camilo Cienfuegos. The writing says: “Vas bien, Fidel,” which translates to “You’re doing fine, Fidel.” Born in Havana in 1932, Cienfuegos was the main commander of the Cuban Revolution along with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He defeated former president and U.S.-backed authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista forces at the Battle of Yaguajay in December 1958, and after the triumph of the Revolution in early 1959 he took on a position of authority in the army. Cienfuegos died in 1969 in an airplane crash after the revolution had come to an end. (March 17, 2019)
The large Plaza de la Revolución or Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, where political rallies, concerts and speeches were given by Fidel Castro. And, across a four-lane street is the other part of the square, the José Martí Memorial and Tower. (March 17, 2019)
The Plaza de la Revolución or Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba is dominated by the José Martí Memorial, which features a 59 ft tall statue of him and a 358 ft tall tower. It is across the street from the other part of the square where the political rallies, concerts, etc. are held. (March 17, 2019)
There are two sides to the Plaza de la Revolución or Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba. This section which includes the 59 ft. statue of Jose Marti and the 358 ft. Tower and across four lanes of nominal traffic is the remaining part of the square which is where many political rallies take place and Fidel Castro and other political figures would address the Cubans. The most universal of Cuban heroes, Marti once worked in the U.S. as a journalist. A man of letters, not war, Marti was killed in 1895 at the age of 42. (March 17, 2019)
After the Revolution Square tour, we got back into our vintage cars and cruised along the Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall along Havana’s coast from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood. Although a number of the buildings are in disrepair, new businesses are appearing on the esplanade due to economic reforms in Cuba that now allow Cubans to own private businesses. (March 17, 2019)
After the Revolution Square tour, we got back into our vintage cars and cruised along the Malecón (officially Avenida de Maceo) a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall along Havana’s coast from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood. Although a number of the buildings are in disrepair, new businesses are appearing on the esplanade due to economic reforms in Cuba that now allow Cubans to own private businesses. (March 17, 2019)
Driving along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Driving along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Driving along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
After our classic car ride, we did a walking tour of Old Town Havana. Here we’re approaching Plaza de La Catedral. Havana was named Cuba’s capital in 1607. (March 17, 2019)
Just down the way from the Plaza de la Catedral in Old Town Havana is La Bodeguita del Medio where American journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and noted sportsman Ernest Hemingway was known to have hung out in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
The Catedral de La Habana in the Plaza de La Catedral in Old Havana. Also called the Cathedral Square of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Concepcion has been restored. This square, built in 1777, was once a swamp. Following the construction of the Cathedral, built of baroque coral reef from the Gulf of Mexico, it became the site of some of the city’s grandest mansions. It is the site of the Museo del Arte Colonial (Colonial Art Museum) and a number of restaurants. (March 17, 2019)
Me standing at the Catedral de La Habana in the Plaza de La Catedral in Old Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Inside the Catedral de La Habana in the Plaza de La Catedral in Old Havana. The Jesuits began construction of the cathedral in 1748 on the site of an earlier church and it was completed in 1777. The cathedral once held the remains of Christopher Columbus transported to Havana by way of the Dominican Republic and then moved back to Spain to the Cathedral of Seville. But even before that, Columbus, and that’s after dying at the possible age of 54 on May 20, 1506 in Valladolid, Spain. (March 17, 2019)
The Palacio del Conde Lombillo at the Plaza de La Catedral in Old Town Havana, is home to a statue of the flamenco dancer and choreographer, Antonio Gades. He was a political activist. (March 17, 2019)
A close-up of the Antonio Gades statue at the Palacio del Conde Lombillo at the Plaza de La Catedral in Old Town Havana. The face on the wall behind him was actually a mailbox shoot at one time. (March 17, 2019)
The Casa de los Marqueses de Aquas Claras, built between 1751 and 1775, is now home to a restaurant in Plaza de La Catedral in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
The Casa de los Marqueses de Aquas Claras, built between 1751 and 1775, is now home to a restaurant in Plaza de La Catedral in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Our Intrepid Travel guide of Cuba, Maggie, explaining the significance of the Mural of Merchants on Mercaderes Street mirroring the Marques de Arcos mansion just across from it in in Old Town Havana. It features 67 outstanding people from Cuba’s 18th and 19th centuries. The mosaic mural was created by Andres Carrillo. (March 17, 2019)
The building in the Mural of Merchants in Old Town Havana is a mirror image of the building it faces, the Marques de Arcos. (March 17, 2019)
The Mural of Merchants on Mercaderes Street in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
The Mural of Merchants in Old Town Havana features Placido Dominguez, the second man from the right, Cuba’s first mulatto poet. (March 17, 2019)
Plazuela de Santo Domingo in Old Town Havana was the original home of Havana’s university, which stood on this site between 1728 and 1902. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza de Armas was founded in Old Town Havana in considered the oldest square and was laid out in the early 1520s, soon after the city was founded by the Spanish in 1519 in the natural harbor of the Bay of Havana. It became a stopping point for the treasure laden Spanish galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World. (March 17, 2019)
The old wooden Tacón Street in the Plaza de Armas is the only remaining wood street in Old Town Havana. It is outside the former Governor’s House. There are a number of theories for this wood street, including the fact that cobble stones were too expensive but the likely reason is that wood was used to repave the original bricks to muffle the noise of passing horses and carts so the governor and his wife could sleep better. (March 17, 2019)
Tourists taking photos with the Cuban women dressed their colorful outfits at the Plaza de Armas in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
The tree lined Plaza de Armas in Old Town Havana was initially established as Plaza de la Iglesia in the early 1500s. During the colonial years, it served as a military parade ground. (March 17, 2019)
A marble statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in the park of the Plaza de Armas in Old Town Havana. He is the man who set Cuba on the road to independence in 1868 and is considered the father and premier president of the Republic of Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
El Templete is a monument erected to honor the foundation of Havana. Built in 1827, El Templete commemorates the site of the first mass and town council of San Cristóbal de la Habana celebrated on November 16, 1519. (March 17, 2019)
El Templete is a monument erected to honor the foundation of Havana. Built in 1827, El Templete commemorates the site of the first mass and town council of San Cristóbal de la Habana celebrated on November 16, 1519. (March 17, 2019)
Inside of El Templete, a small interior house, are three large oil paintings by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Vermay (1818-1833) paying tribute to the first town council meeting, and to the Inauguration of El Templete, the main painting, to the right. The third painting, not seen in this photo, is of the first mass. (March 17, 2019)
Inside of El Templete, a small interior house, are three large oil paintings by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Vermay (1818-1833). This painting pays tribute to the Inauguration of El Templete and is the main painting. (March 17, 2019)
Inside of El Templete, a small interior house, are three large oil paintings by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Vermay (1818-1833). This painting pays tribute to the first mass. (March 17, 2019)
The former U.S. Embassy is now the Museum of Natural History for Cuba in Old Town Havana’s Plaza de Armas. (March 17, 2019)
A memorial for Princess of Wales Diana (1961-1997) in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
A memorial for Princess of Wales Diana (1961-1997) in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Entering Ol Town Havan’s 16th century Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, part of it are still under restoration. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza de San Francisco de Asís first grew up in the 16th century when Spanish galleons stopped by at the quayside on their passage through the Indies to Spain. The basilica and the monastery of San Francisco de Asis were built in Havana, Cuba at the end of the sixteenth century (1580–91) as the home of the Franciscan community in Havana. The basilica was altered in 1730. This church was also used by the English during the year in which they ruled Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Terminal Sierra Maestra of San Francisco Sierra Maestra cruise ship terminal on the east side with the Fuente de los Leones in the center can be seen from the Plaza de San Francisco which underwent a full restoration in the late 1990s. Formerly a small inlet covered by the bay, Plaza de San Francisco dates from 1575. The white marble Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of the Lions) was carved by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Gaggini in 1836. (March 17, 2019)
Me taking a photo with the statue of El Caballero de Paris, a street person who roamed Havana during the 1950s engaging passersby with his philosophies on life, religion, politics and current events. His statue is outside of the church at Old Town Havana’s Plaza San Francisco de Asis. Supposedly if you step on his toe and touch his beard, which as you can see is rather discolored, and make a wish it will come true. I stepped on his toe, but I didn’t make a wish…just another touristy photo opportunity! (March 17, 2019)
Exposed in the center of a cobbled street are two archaeological sites displaying portions of the Zanja Real (Royal Canal)— the original aqueduct that was initiated in 1566 and supplied the city with water before the construction of the Albear Acqueduct in 1835. (March 17, 2019)
Exposed in the center of a cobbled street are two archaeological sites displaying portions of the Zanja Real (Royal Canal)— the original aqueduct that was initiated in 1566 and supplied the city with water before the construction of the Albear Acqueduct in 1835. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana was originally called Plaza Nueva (New Square). It emerged in 1559 as a popular alternative to Plaza de Armas, the military and government main center. In colonial times it was a residential neighborhood of the Criollo plutocracy. Plaza Vieja has played host to an open-air food market, a park, an outrageously misjudged car park built by Batista in 1952 (now demolished) and an amphitheater. However, restoration is gradually re-establishing Plaza Vieja’s original atmosphere; the Carrara showpiece fountain at the center of the square is a replica of the original 18th-century one by Italian sculptor Giorgio Massari that was destroyed by the construction of the car park; and many of the 18th-century residences around the square are now restored with housing on the top floors and commercial establishments, including several small museums and art/photo galleries, on the ground floor. Plaza Vieja was the site of executions, processions, bullfights, and fiestas – all witnessed by Havana’s wealthiest citizens, who looked on from their balconies. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019
Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Viaje Fantastico is the bronze sculpture of a naked woman wearing her stilettos while riding a rooster and holding a fork in the Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
A close up of Viaje Fantastico, the bronze sculpture of a naked woman wearing her stilettos while riding a rooster and holding a fork, in the Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
The modern plant sculpture at the Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Plaza Vieja in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the busy streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
The giant front doors and decayed colorful aging of Old Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
The beautiful but decaying architecture of Old Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the busy streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
The original “Gran Farmacia Johnson” was founded in 1886—but not at the building’s current spot on the bustling Calle Obispo! Rather, the original incarnation of the pharmacy was found on Calle O’Reilly; the business was moved to its current location in 1914.Throughout the first half of the 20th century, business here boomed. Besides offering medicines, the Johnson family also created and sold perfumes, disinfectants, and other varieties of expertly-mixed chemicals. After the Cuban Revolution the pharmacy was nationalized, and it continued to serve the people of Cuba as Old Havana’s primary community pharmacy through until the close of the century.Unfortunately, true tragedy befell the Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy early in the new millennium. In 2006, the historic building suffered a serious fire. In 2012, the Johnson & Johnson Pharmacy reopened its doors, this time as a museum of pharmacy showcasing both a Havana from long ago as well as a glimpse into the past of medicine. (March 17, 2019)
Our first group lunch at the Art-Pub Bar and Restaurant in Old Town Havana, Cuba. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in this trip. From left: Tonya, Lynn, Richard, me, Fran, Gwenna, Amanda, Louise, Steven, Kathy, Lynn and Bart. Missing is Derrick and our guide, Maggie. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba.
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
The Monument to Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes-Placido (1809-1844), a Cuban poet of African descent was executed in Matanzas for conspiring to overthrow Spanish authority on the island. He was framed and sentenced in a trial without evidence. Then on June 28, 1844 Plácido was shot and killed along with ten colleagues. (March 17, 2019)
Statue of Francisco de Albear by Cuban sculptor José Vilalta Saavedra in Havana. As an engineer, his main achievement was the project for the catchment of the Vento springs and their conveyance to Havana for the city’s water supply. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
Walking through the streets of Old Town Havana, Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
A bright yellow house with the Cuba flag draping out in front as we make our way to the Revolutionary Museum in Old Town Havana. (March 17, 2019)
The Revolution Museum is housed in what was the Presidential Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario García Menocal to Fulgencio Batista. It became the Museum of the Revolution during the years following the Cuban Revolution. (March 17, 2019)
A remnant of Cuba’s city wall just outside of the Revolution Museum which was once the Presidential Palace. (March 17, 2019)
Upstairs and inside the Revolutionary Museum in Cuba. (March 17, 2019)
In 1957, the Presidential Palace, now the Revolution Museum in Havana, was attacked by an anti-dictatorship group, the Revolutionary Directorate (DR), whose goal was to assassinate the dictator in his own house. The attack failed and most of the participants were killed. Bullet holes from those events are still visible in the main stairway at the museum entrance. (March 17, 2019)
The courtyard of the Revolution Museum once the Presidential Palace constructed between 1913 and 1920 and used by a string of Cuban presidents, culminating in Fulgencio Batista. (March 17, 2019)
Realistic sculptures of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos at the Revolution Museum in Havana. (March 17, 2019)
A small statue on a curved pedestal at the Revolution Museum in Havana features the trio of the Cuban revolution, from left, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos. (March 17, 2019)
Mural celebrating the victory of the Rebel Army at the Revolution Museum in Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Guesthouse neighborhood on Obrapia in Old Town Town, Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Guesthouse neighborhood on Obrapia in Old Town Town, Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Guesthouse neighborhood on Obrapia in Old Town Town, Havana. (March 17, 2019)
Doorway to our guesthouse, Casa Obrapia in Old Town Havana with Fran, my Intrepid tour mate, ringing the bell and waiting for the door to unlock. This guesthouse, especially from the outside was deceiving because up the marble staircase and inside the building were several bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, a living room area and an upstairs with more rooms and an outdoor dining rooftop. (March 17, 2019)
My room at the Casa Obrapia in Havana, Cuba. The front door of the building is deceiving because it’s such a narrow entrance way to what looks like a small building, but it wasn’t. Entering through the front door is a narrow hallway with 20 marble stairs leading to this open and airy space with four guest bedrooms on the first floor, including mine #4, an office area towards the rear and an open high-ceiling lounge area. (March 17, 2019)
My room at Casa Obrapia in Havana, Cuba, with my own bathroom, albeit small, in my bedroom. (March 17, 2019)
Our last morning in Havana…views from the rooftop of my guesthouse Casa Obrapia. Next stop Vinales. (March 18, 2019)

Viñales

Days 3 and 4 of Cuba, Monday, March 18 and Tuesday, March 19 – On the road to Viñales from Havana and exploring the tobacco and farmlands of Viñales.

We got to meet Mario, our wonderful bus driver, and get acquainted with our very comfortable Transtur bus #5142 as we took our tour on the road to the small town mountainous farmland area of Viñales.

On the way to Viñales from Havana, we made several stops including the colorful mural neighborhood dubbed Fusterlandia, the reforestation project of Las Terrazas and a quick stop to peer onto the Viñales Valley Viewpoint of the limestone cliffs called mogotes, rounded tower-like hills.  After arriving in Viñales we check into our guest house or casa,  enjoy a quick Viñales town orientation walk then head to a scenic organic farm to learn about sustainable farming before having a delicious dinner on the farm’s porch with the beautiful Viñales countryside backdrop as the sun sets.

Our Viñales experience continues the following day with a morning walk to the farmlands just a block or two from the town where there’s this glorious wide open countryside of gorgeous green land of Tobacco and coffee farmers. I’m more of a city girl but every once in awhile, I am awed by the beauty of Mother Nature and the Viñales countryside such a short distance from the town was indeed inspiring along with the people who make their homes and their livings off of this gorgeous land.

Me standing at the doorway to a mosaic home entrance named “Princess Diana,” in a community turned into a lively and colorful series of mosaics, created by artist Jose Fuster with the community known as ‘’Fusterlandia,’ just outside of Havana, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
Another neighbor in Fusterlandia whose home was decorated in colorful mosaics by artist Jose Fuster whose work has created quite a bit of attention for the community. Because it is so close to Havana, tourists visit the area and many of the homeowners have little businesses, like this man, selling coconut water in a cart in front of his home. (March 18, 2019)
The Giselle Medico de Familia is colorfully decorated in mosaics created by artist Jose Fuster within the community known as ‘’Fusterlandia,’ just outside of Havana, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
This is our Intrepid Travel guide for Cuba, Maggie, sitting at what is called the Great Wall of Fusterlandia created by Fuster just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
A close-up of the the art and ceramics on the Great Wall of Fusterlandia created by Fuster just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
The gateway to the home of artist Jose Fuster who created the colorful and lively mosaics seen both at his home and throughout the community, fondly called Fusterlandia, just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
A close-up of the rooster at the gateway to the home of artist Jose Fuster who created the colorful and lively mosaics seen both at his home and throughout the community dubbed Fusterlandia, just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
Inside the gated home of artist Jose Fuster are his colorful and lively mosaic walls and sculptures. His home and community area are known as Fusterlandia and is located just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
Inside the gated home of artist Jose Fuster are his colorful and lively mosaic walls and sculptures. His home and community area are known as Fusterlandia and is located just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
Inside the gated home of artist Jose Fuster are his colorful and lively mosaic walls and sculptures. His home and community area are known as Fusterlandia and is located just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
Inside the gated home of artist Jose Fuster are his colorful and lively mosaic walls and sculptures. His home and community area are known as Fusterlandia and is located just outside of Havana. (March 18, 2019)
At a corner of the Fusterlandia community, a colorful mosaic wonderland created by artist Jose Fuster just outside of Havana, is this mosaic of Commander Hugo Chavez, considered as a friend. (March 18, 2019)
Our Intrepid Travel tour bus, Transtur #5142 with our driver, Mario, waiting patiently for our return from Fusterlandia so that we can move on to our next stop Las Terrazas. The Transtur buses are plentiful in Cuba so knowning your bus number guarantees you’ll get on the correct bus. (March 18, 2019)
Las Terrazas became a hippies-led environmental movement concerned about the ecological cost of 19th century French coffee plantations and heavy deforestation. It has become Cuba’s first eco-village, a thriving self-supporting, sustainable community that uses small-scale organic farming techniques and includes a hotel, a myriad artisan shops and a vegetarian restaurant. The village has since received a UNESCO biosphere listing. (March 18, 2019)
The distinctive and cute blue and white homes that dot the terraces at Las Terrazas in Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
The distinctive and cute blue and white homes that dot the terraces at Las Terrazas in Cuba. The terraces were originally built to avoid erosion (Las Terrazas means terraces in Spanish). All of the terraces spread away from the large lake in the center of the town. (March 18, 2019)
The distinctive and cute blue and white homes that dot the terraces at Las Terrazas in Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
The distinctive and cute blue and white homes that dot the terraces at Las Terrazas in Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
Climbing the terraces to where the slaves would grind the coffee beans at Las Terrazas in Cuba. This is the restored ruins of the Buenavista Coffee Plantation built in 1802 by French refugees from Haiti. These rugged hills at the time had hundreds of slaves who toiled and lived on the terraces. (March 18, 2019)
The former coffee plantation in Las Terrazas was established by the French more than two centuries ago in Cuba. The is the only plantation built on the crest of a mountain. This top portion is where the slaves would place the beans on the huge round platforms on the ground for sun drying.              (March 18, 2019)
The coffee drying platforms of the former coffee plantation at Las Terrazas in Cuba where slaves would pick the coffee beans by hand and dry them on these concrete slab circles. (March 18, 2019)
The gorgeous Sierra del Rosario mountain range as seen from Las Terrazas in Cuba. Las Terrazas was built in the late 1960’s as part of a plan to restore an area devastated by 19th century French coffee plantations and heavy deforestation. Some 8 million trees were planted one by one in an effort to re-forest the area. (March 18, 2019)
Gorgeous and unusual floral can be found throughout Las Terrazas in Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
Part of the creek at Las Terrazas in Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
Our lunch feast at Las Terrazas, Cuba, before getting on the road to Vinales. (March 18, 2019)
There’s a lot of black beans, chicken, pulled beef and rice…white rice and a black bean and rice combo along with fresh fruit for dessert or flan. The fried chips are actually fried tarot root and they are delicious. (March 18, 2019)
After lunch we drove about two hours to this Viñales Vineyard viewpoint deck to check out the limestone pincushion hills called “mogotes” of the Pinar del Rio province in Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
The limestone pincushion hills called “mottoes” of the Pinar del Rio province in Cuba at the Viñales Vineyard viewpoint deck on our way to Vinales. (March 18, 2019)
Our guesthouse neighborhood on Rafael Trejo Street in Viñales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
Our guesthouse neighborhood on Rafael Trejo Street in Viñales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
Our guesthouse neighborhood on Rafael Trejo Street in Viñales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
An introductory walking tour along Salvador Cisneros, the Main Street in Viñales, Cuba, where there are a variety of restaurants, like this one and various little shops. (March 18, 2019)
An intersection in the town of Viñales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
An introductory walking tour along Salvador Cisneros, the Main Street in Viñales, Cuba, where there are a variety of restaurants and souvenir shops like this one. (March 18, 2019)
A statue, on the main street in Viñales, Cuba, honoring Adela Azcuy Labrador, a woman captain in Cuba’s second war of independence that lasted from 1895 to 1898. (March 18, 2019)
The main square in Viñales, Cuba, named after Jose Marti, a major Cuban revolutionary leader and martyr from the second independence war that lasted from 1895 to 1898. (March 18, 2019)
For dinner our Intrepid tour group at at the Organic Farm called Paradise at the National Park in Viñales, Cuba. This is the view of the farm with the park and the limestone mogoto hills in the distance. (March 18, 2019)
he Organic Farm called Paradise at the National Park in Vinales, Cuba, where our group ate an amazing dinner where most of the items, including the roasted pig, are grown on this farm. (March 18, 2019)
This is one of the four farmers that tend to the Organic Farm called Paradise in Vinales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
The views from the Organic Farm called Paradise in Vinales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
This roasted pig was part of our dinner of fresh vegetables, rice and beans at the at the Organic Farm called Paradise at the National Park in Vinales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)
It turned out to be a rainy day during our walk to the Viñales, Cuba, farmlands. But we had enough of good weather to tour the farming area which was just a short walking distance from the town. Vinales, Cuba, has a small town village feel to it even though it has dozens of restaurants, shops, banks and a major square. But walk just a few blocks and this is where Viñales opens up. The tobacco fields, drying house and the limestone mogoto hills in the distance. (March 19, 2019)
Walking to the Vinales, Cuba, valley of farm lands or for those who don’t want to stroll, a horse and buggy can be provided. (March 19, 2019)
The homes along the road leading to the valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands. (March 19, 2019)
The colors of Cuba, even in the flowers, like this Golden Rain, are beautiful and were found on our walk to the valley of Vinales’ farm lands. (March 19, 2019)
I’m not a plant or for that matter a tree person, but this one on our walk to the valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands was intriguing. It turned out to be something I’ve never heard of, a bread fruit tree. (March 19, 2019)
These gorgeous morning glories, on our walk to the valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands, caught my eye because the reminded me so much of my grandfather who grew these gorgeous plants at his home in Long Island, New York, many, many years ago. (March 19, 2019)
A close up of the morning glory with a few rain drops to wake it up in Vinales, Cuba. (March 19, 2019)
A decorative home in the valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands. (March 19, 2019)
A farmer plowing his field in the valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands. (March 19, 2019)
A close up of the farmer plowing his field in the valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands. Working the farms, without machinery, is back breaking work and most of the farmers are older because young people work in town where they can make more money and not have to work quite as hard in the tourism industry. (March 19, 2019)
The valley of Vinales, Cuba’s farm lands. (March 19, 2019)
Our Vinales farmland guide, Alexis, introducing us to 85-year-old tobacco farmer, Antonio, who still makes his living off the Vinales, Cuba, farmlands. (March 19, 2019)
The home of our Vinales farmer, Antonio. (March 19, 2019)
Inside the home of our Vinales farmer, Antonio. (March 19, 2019)
A walk through more farmland takes us to this tobacco curing barn where tobacco leaves are hung and dried for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves. (March 19, 2019)
Greeting us inside the tobacco curing barn and holding a tobacco plant is Rolando, a tobacco farmer in Vinales, Cuba.
Inside this barn is where the tobacco leaves are hung and dried for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves. (March 19, 2019)
No machines are used in the tobacco growing process, which means crops are picked by hand and fields are plowed with oxen.The leaves are then hung in special curing barns, where they dry for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves. (March 19, 2019)
Rolando, the tobacco farmer in Vinales, Cuba, is demonstrating how he rolls his cuban cigars. I ended up buying 10 of these cigars for 20 CUC or Cuban Convertible Peso, one of two currencies in Cuba and the ones all tourists get when their country’s currency is exchanged. I thought I might have a problem getting them out of Cuba, but I didn’t. Then I thought I might have a problem getting them into the U.S., but that did not happen either.    (March 19, 2019)
Our group stopped at the Cafeteria Fernando in the Vinales, Cuba, farmlands to get a refresher fruit drink. Cuban rum, as much as you’d like in your fruit drink, was also available. (March 19, 2019)
Our group being served the various fruit drinks or Pina Colada drinks at the the Cafeteria Fernando in the Vinales, Cuba, farmlands. (March 19, 2019)
The art center in Vinales’ Jose Marti square. (March 19, 2019)
The Vinales people lining up at the Mercado, the grocery store, to buy their basic products with their food ration books. The allotment allows them to purchase the basics, sugar, coffee, beans, rice, etc. at a discounted price. (March 19, 2019)
The Intrepid tour group of 13 was just too big to stay in one guesthouse in Vinales, Cuba, so we were disbursed in groups of two or three into a variety of guests houses. This, the Villa Kati, became my home, with Diya, as our host for the two nights our group stayed in Vinales. (March 18, 2019)
My guesthouse room in Vinales, Cuba, at Villa Kati, had two beds, this one and a double bed with an air conditioning until and my own private bathroom. (March 18, 2019)
My private bathroom, although small, was clean and in my room at the Villa Kati guesthouse I stayed in Vinales, Cuba. (March 18, 2019)

Cienfuegos

Day 5 of Cuba, Wednesday, March 20 – The drive of seven hours, our longest of the tour, to reach Cienfuegos for a night stay. But we didn’t get to really see the city until the morning of Day 6, Thursday, March 21. Day 6 was also the day we made our way, about an hour’s drive, to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Trinidad for its best-preserved colonial old town along cobblestoned streets. 

The thing I love about a long day’s drive is just seeing people from all parts of the world go about their everyday lives. Plus the weather, especially during the early part of the day was rainy so being on the bus, in transit, was just a good place for an onlooker. And, even though it was a long drive, we enjoyed a music and dance performance at a cultural center, had a buffet lunch at what seemed like the only restaurant in town, and for those who cared too…took a dip in the Bay of Pigs, had a spiked glass of lemonade at a palace and got to our guest house in Cienfuegos with enough time to relax before a very nice seafood dinner.

Having been born in New York into a Puerto Rican family on my father’s side and a Curacao-Dutch family on my mother’s side, I absorbed my families cultures with ease and quite naturally assumed everyone lived like this. I heard hints of Cuba from the Puerto Rican side because family friends were Cuban and the feeling I took in was more of a dislike of the leadership but a love of the country. And, then moving to Florida with my family as a teenager, I would say that same sentiment traveled with me. So within me, I carried this dislike for Fidel Castro even though I didn’t really know or understand the whole picture and yes, in school I also remember being taught that Castro made it difficult for the people, he was a Communist and almost caused a nuclear war which is why so many people were forced to leave their homelands. In watching the documentary, “The Untold Story of Fidel Castro,” by Estela Brava, his principle goal was to free his countryman and his country and if that meant fighting bigger, more powerful countries, like the U.S. in order to gain independence, then he would do just that. But one thing that did surprise me from the documentary is how Castro, whose country struggled economically, still gave help and hope to other Caribbean and racially oppressed countries like South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and even Vietnam seeking political, economic and racial freedom. The more I travel, the more I see where smaller countries, just like their sister older and bigger countries, want their freedom and independence. I can understand what Castro was seeking to achieve. 

But that’s enough about politics, let’s check out the journey to Cienfuegos and the colonial town itself which was founded in 1819 and colonized by French immigrants who came from Bordeaux, Louisiana and Philadelphia. Considered the “Pearl of the South” for its distinctly European flavor, with a wide Parisian-style boulevard and elegant colonnades, Cienfuegos became a trading place for the country’s sugar cane, tobacco and coffee production. 

A young Cuban farmer with his ox and wagon on our way to Cienfuegos, Cuba. Machinery to plow is too expensive so farmers still rely on the ox and cows to help plow the fields and even horses and carts to provide them with transportation. (March 20, 2019)
Taking descent photos from a moving bus on a rainy day makes for a gloomy photo, but this was the best way for me to capture these ‘bridges to no where’ as we traveled along the relatively empty highway to Cienfuegos, Cuba. Originally the bridges were meant to connect the villages, but now they are used by hitchhikers. Hitchhiking is legal in Cuba and is a good way for locals to get around. Government vehicles are required to pick up and transport people but sometimes these vehicles can be few and far between so locals will pay a few pesos to other locals to transport them to their destinations. (March 20, 2019)
A beautiful Cuban rainbow as seen from our bus ride to Cienfuegos. (March 20, 2019)
Inside our very comfortable and air conditioned Transtur bus. We’re leaving the Paradero Hato de Jicarita, one of a few places along the highway to Cienfuegos where people can stop to use the restroom. A number of the women’s restrooms don’t have seat covers so my knees had to work a bit overtime on this trip and there’s also an issue with getting flushing toilets. Plus toilet paper is definitely a premium in Cuba. Most of the public toilets don’t have toilet paper but if you need it, a woman at the door is happy to give it to you for a coin or two. (March 20, 2019)
I’ve been very impressed with the food in Cuba. From the information I read, the food was supposed to be bland and with little variety. I found the food to be rather tasteful and although most meals include white rice, beans or the Cuban rice, a mixture of black beans and rice, I’ve enjoyed our meals. This restaurant, Pio Cua, is considered one of a few good restaurants on the way to Cienfuegos, Cuba,  provided us with a buffet of meats, rice, soup, fruits and desserts. (March 20, 2019)
This restaurant, Pio Cua, is considered one of a few good restaurants on the way to Cienfuegos, Cuba, provided us with a buffet of meats, rice, soup, fruits and desserts. (March 20, 2019)
Although it was a brief stop at the Korimakao Cultural Project in Ciénega de Zapata on our journey to Cienfuegos, our tour group did get to see and learn how art is provided even in countryside. Here, our Intrepid Travel guide, Maggie, is interpreting for Yandel, the cultural project director, who is explaining that Korimakao was founded in 1992 to bring theatre, music, and dancing to remote areas of Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
The young dancers at the
Korimakao Cultural Project in Ciénega de Zapata let us sit in on their dance rehearsal during our day-long bus journey to Cienfuegos, Cuba. At Korimakao, which was founded in 1992, artists, dancers and musicians are both students and paid professionals who bring theater, music and dancing to remote areas of Cuba. These young people are selected from around Cuba for their artistic talents, trained, paid and get to live on the campus. (March 20, 2019)
The young musicians at the
Korimakao Cultural Project in Ciénega de Zapata let us sit in on their rehearsal during our day-long bus journey to Cienfuegos, Cuba. At Korimakao, which was founded in 1992, artists, dancers and musicians are both students and paid professionals who bring theater, music and dancing to remote areas of Cuba. These young people are selected from around Cuba for their artistic talents, trained, paid and get to live on the campus. (March 20, 2019)
There are no commercial billboards, at least none that I saw, as we traveled throughout Cuba. Occasionally, we came across these signs, a photo I took from the bus on our way to Cienguegos, Cuba, that shows Cuba’s presidents: Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel with the statement underneath “Unity, Continuity and Victory.” (March 20, 2019)
Although the Bay of Pigs Invasion is the CIA-financed attempt to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro, which failed and there’s even a museum in Cuba about it, the picturesque Bay of Pigs beaches is something else. The attack was an utter failure. This was an opportunity, for those of us who wanted to take a dip in the beach to do so. (March 20, 2019)
Although the Bay of Pigs Invasion is the CIA-financed attempt to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro, which failed and there’s even a museum in Cuba about it, the picturesque Bay of Pigs beaches is something else. The attack was an utter failure. This was an opportunity, for those of us who wanted to take a dip in the beach to do so. (March 20, 2019)
Entering Cienfuegos, Cuba, we hit upon this unusual building, the Palacio de Valle, currently an upscale hotel and restaurant. It was built by an Italian architect, reminiscent of Moorish architecture, from 1913 to 1917. With a 360 viewpoint rooftop and delicious lemonade, that packed a punch, it was a nice place to enjoy Cienfuegos from a completely different architectural style and from up high. (March 20, 2019)
Inside the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Inside the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
The gorgeous tiled floors inside the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
A feet-selfie inside the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Views from the rooftop of the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Views from the rooftop of the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Views from the rooftop of the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Views from the rooftop of the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Views of at the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
Views of at the Palacio de Valle in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 20, 2019)
After a late seafood dinner and a good night’s sleep, our Intrepid Travel tour group began our day gathered at the base house to do a walking tour of Cienfuegos before getting back on the road to Trinidad. The base house, in this case, Lily’s house, my guesthouse for the night, is where our group gathers. In each city/town/village where we spend the night, one place is designated as the base house, a gathering point because with a group of 13, we have to stay at different guesthouses. (March 21, 2019)
My room at Lily’s guesthouse, which also served as our group’s base house, in Cienfuegos, Cuba. As usual, I had my own, refrigerator and for the second time…a television, which I did not watch. Plus the guesthouse had a front porch and a private back porch where breakfast was served. (March 20, 2019)
Entrance to the Bodega down the street from our guesthouse in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Each neighborhood has a Bodega that provides basic products such as sugar, coffee, rice, etc. The Bodegas, opened in the 1960s, during what Cubans call the “special period,” the fall of the Soviet Union and ultimately the fall of the sugar industry which was supported by trade with the Soviet Union. To help the people, who were pretty much starving, the government provided a ration book for purchasing inexpensive staples. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Bodega in Cienfuegos where the locals use their ration books to buy staples such as sugar, coffee, rice, etc. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Bodega in Cienfuegos where the locals use their ration books to buy staples such as sugar, coffee, rice, etc. (March 21, 2019)
Our Intrepid Travel guide, Maggie, showing us the ration book used by the locals to purchase staples such as coffee, rice, beans, etc. inside a Bodega in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking through a neighborhood in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The Paseo del Prado in Cienfuegos, Cuba, more than a mile long promenade with vehicle traffic in both directions, adds to the city being dubbed La Perla del Sur (Pearl of the South) even though the word Cienfuegos translates to “one hundred fires.” Built in the first decade of the 20th century, it received several names until in 1913 when it began to be called Paseo del Prado. (March 21, 2019)
The Paseo del Prado promenade in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The dapper life-sized bronze statue of the famous Cuban musician Benny Moré can be seen along the Paseo del Prado in Cienfuegos, Cuba. The mulatto singer – Cuban of African, the Congo and Spanish descent –
taught himself how to play the guitar. He died in 1963 at the age of 43 from liver cancer and in 2004, the city of Cienfuegos, Moré’s hometown, honored him with this bronze sculpture placed. (March 21, 2019)
The Paseo del Prado promenade in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The Paseo del Prado promenade in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking from the Paseo del Prado onto the main boulevard of San Fernando toward the José Martí, Mayor in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Along the boulevard are a number of shops and restaurants that are both government owned and privately owned. (March 21, 2019)
This clothing shop along the San Fernando boulevard in Cienfuegos, Cuba, is government owned. (March 21, 2019)
Our Intrepid tour group walking along the San Fernando boulevard toward the José Martí Plaza Mayor in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Walking along the San Fernando boulevard toward the José Martí Plaza Mayor in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
This pricey venue is the government owned and refurbished Union Hotel built in 1869 along the San Fernando boulevard in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The pool area of the Union Hotel in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Rooftop views from the Union Hotel in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Rooftop views from the Union Hotel in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 221, 2019)
The José Martí Plaza Mayor in Cienfuegos, Cuba, was built in 1906 and includes this open park area with the statue of José Martí in its center, but is surrounded by the oldest buildings in Cienfuegos. (March 21, 2019)
The statue of Cuban national hero José Martí erected in 1906 in the Cienfuegos Plaza Mayor named in honor of him is considered Cuba’s largest square, or plaza mayor. Martí was one of the central leaders of Cuba’s 1895 revolution seeking independence from Spain and was killed in battle. Born in Cuba of Spanish parents, Martí had lived in exile in the U.S. after having spent several years in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala and Venezuela. He was the most famous writer in the Spanish language and was a prominent journalist in the Americas. After living in New York for 14 years, Martí returned to Cuba And on May 19, 1895, this man who was not a solider but fought anyway, was killed in combat. He is a revolutionary martyr and is also the person who inspired Fidel Castro. (March 21, 2019)
The City Hall, built in 1950, surrounds and faces the José Martí Plaza Mayor in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The Tomás Terry Theater Theater built in 1890, being restored, and a secondary school next to it both surrounds and faces the José Martí Plaza Mayor in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
Our Intrepid Travel guide, Maggie, standing at the spot where in 1819 Cienfuegos, Cuba, was founded by 40 different affluent white French families who came came to settle in Cuba. Supposedly, these families were brought to Cuba to increase the island’s white population. (March 21, 2019)
The guardian lion sculptures were the first statues in Cienfuegos, Cuba’s new park area. Now these lions, on marble pedestals, mark the entrance and exit to the José Martí Plaza Mayor and to the Santa Iglesia Catedral Purísima Concepción (Holy Church Pure Concepción Cathedral). (March 21, 2019)
The interior of the Santa Iglesia Catedral Purísima Concepción (Holy Church Pure Concepción Cathedral) which was built in 1869 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
A close-up of the altar inside the Santa Iglesia Catedral Purísima Concepción (Holy Church Pure Concepción Cathedral) which was built in 1869 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)

Trinidad

Days 6 and 7 of Cuba, Thursday, March 21 and Friday, March 22 – Exploring the beautiful and colorful colonial city of Trinidad with its very rugged cobblestoned streets.   

Tinidad is stoned wild…cobblestoned that is. I loved my guesthouse room and I loved the look of this beautiful colonial city but what I did not love about Trinidad, founded in 1514, were the extremely difficult to walk on cobblestoned streets…even though the cobble stones add to its distinctive look and feel. Thankfully the museums and colonial buildings are worth seeing in this UNESCO World Heritage site where all with close, careful, walking distance of one another. But what helped to make this city even more beautiful was the weather. Yes, it was hot, but it was also a bright and clear sunshiney day.

Only a few square blocks in size, but Trinidad, Cuba’s historic Plaza Mayor or old town plaza area has a small, relaxing park atmosphere but is surrounded by pastel colored colonial-era architecture with wrought-iron grilles. The Palacio Brunet, now the Museo Romantico to the left and the Church of the Holy Trinity to right. (March 21, 2019)
The Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba, is the historic centre of the town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. The Palacio Brunet, now the Museo Romantico to the left and the Church of the Holy Trinity to right. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Church of the Holy Trinity (Iglesia Parroquial de la Santísima Trinidad) in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor, completed construction in 1892. A previous 17th-century church was destroyed during the 19th century by a cyclone which damaged a great many buildings in Trinidad. (March 22, 2019)
Inside the Church of the Holy Trinity in Trinidad, Cuba and a close-up of its large Gothic revival altar dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy (Nuestra Señora de la Piedad). (March 22, 2019)
The Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba, is the historic centre of the town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.The small sloping Plaza Mayor has gardens on a raised platform, with paths dividing it in quarters fenced off by white wrought-iron fences. Cobbled streets surround the square, separating it from the surrounding buildings. Wrought-iron lamp-posts, statues of English greyhounds, and columns with large terra-cotta finials decorate the plaza.(March 21, 2019)
The Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba, is the historic centre of the town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. A close-up of the large terra-cotta finials that decorate the plaza. (March 21, 2019)
The Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba, is the historic centre of the town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. The Church of the Holy Trinity to the left and the 18th century mansion formerly owned by Sanchez Iznaga that is now the Museo de Arquitectura. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Museo de Arquitectura in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor, is located in an 18th century mansion formerly owned by Sanchez Iznaga. (March 21, 2019)
The courtyard of the Museo de Arquitectura, in Trinidad Cuba’s Plaza Mayor, is located in an 18th century mansion formerly owned by Sanchez Iznaga. (March 21, 2019)
While walking through Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor, we entered the Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá, a museum presided over by santeros (priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería). Our Intrepid Travel guide, Maggie, explained that the blue and white altar pays homage to Yemaya, a goddess of the sea. Slaves from western Africa carried with them the worship of gods (“orishas”) representing many aspects of their lives. Forced by Spanish masters to practice Roman Catholicism, they merged their ancestral beliefs with those of Christianity resulting in a religion called “Santeria.” It means saint worship because practitioners worshipped the statues of saints, which they re-identified as their orishas. Many Cubans still call themselves Catholics but practice Santeria at home, some with sacred African images painted on the backs of saints. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá, a museum presided over by santeros (priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería). The altar pays homage to Yemaya, a goddess of the sea. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá, a museum presided over by santeros (priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería). The altar pays homage to Yemaya, a goddess of the sea. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá, a museum presided over by santeros (priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería). The altar pays homage to Yemaya, a goddess of the sea. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Casa Templo de Santería Yemayá, a museum presided over by santeros, seated comfortably on the back porch, are priests of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería. The altar pays homage to Yemaya, a goddess of the sea. (March 21, 2019)
The Palacio Cantero, in Trinidad, Cuba, may look pretty plain on the outside but this palace built in 1828 and combines local traditions with neo-classical. The building now houses the Museo Municipal de Historia with its eclectic collections including Cuban furniture and French porcelain trinkets. And, its watchtower, yes, there’s a watchtower that provides views over the town and towards the peaks of the Sierra del Escambray mountains.      (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba’s spacious entrance hall, with its high ceilings, large open rooms, refurbished original frescos and Italian marble floors was built in 1828. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba, with its high ceilings, large open rooms, refurbished original frescos and Italian marble floors was built in 1828.  (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba, with its high ceilings, large open rooms, refurbished original frescos and Italian marble floors was built in 1828. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba’s bedroom which opens onto the central living room with its spacious entrance hall, high ceilings, large open rooms, refurbished original frescos and Italian marble floors was built in 1828. (March 21, 2019)
Inside the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba, with its high ceilings, large open rooms, refurbished original frescos and Italian marble floors was built in 1828. (March 21, 2019)
The watchtower of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba, is part of the large courtyard. (March 21, 2019)
The courtyard of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The spiral staircase up the watchtower of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
After the spiral staircase up to the watchtower is this ceiling staircase which leads to the rooftop of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba, and views over the town and toward the peaks of Sierra del Escambray Mountains. (March 21, 2019)
Me a top the watchtower of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba. With the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco in Trinidad to the left of me and the Plaza Mayor or old town center to the right of me, the views on this clear day are just beautiful. (March 21, 2019)
The gorgeous views a top the watchtower of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The gorgeous views a top the watchtower of the Palacio Cantero in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The street views of Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
The wide stoned staircase to the Casa de la Musica in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)
My Intrepid Travel tour group enjoying a sunset rooftop dinner in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)

My Day 7 of Cuba, Friday, March 22, was spent checking out the Romantica Museum, enjoying a nice lunch with a tour mate, taking an afternoon siesta and getting some writing done on the rooftop of my Trinidad, Cuba, guesthouse. 

The Palacio Brunet, now the Romantic Museum (Museo Romántico), in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor has been home to various wealthy Cuban families through the centuries. Originally built in 1740 as a one-story property, a second floor was added in 1808. In 1812, José Mariano Borrell y Padrón, head of the wealthy Borrell family took over and added his touches. But the palace gets its name from Count Nicolás de la Cruz Brunet y Muñoz, the husband of Borrell’s daughter who inherited the house on Borrell’s death. The 14-room museum mostly displays objects such as crockery, antique furniture, porcelain, silverware, lingerie and other luxury objects belonging to the Borrell family. The house still features the original marble floor, frescoes, and neoclassical decoration. (March 22, 2019)
The open courtyard of the Palacio Brunet, now the Romantic Museum, in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor was originally built in 1740 as a one-story property, a second floor was added in 1808. (March 22, 2019)
The pink staircase to the second floor living area of the Palacio Brunet, now the Romantic Museum, in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor was originally built in 1740 as a one-story property, a second floor was added in 1808. (March 22, 2019)
The dining area at the top of the Palacio Brunet staircase, now the Romantic Museum, in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor was originally built in 1740 as a one-storie property, a second floor was added in 1808. (March 22, 2019)
The opening living area of the Palacio Brunet, now the Romantic Museum, in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor was originally built in 1740 as a one-storie property, a second floor was added in 1808. (March 22, 2019)
Views of the Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba, from the Palacio Brunet now the Romantic Museum. Check out the four small garden beds separated by white wrought-iron fences. The cobblestone streets surround the square, separating it from the surrounding buildings. Wrought-iron lamp-posts, statues of English greyhounds, and columns with large terra-cotta finials decorate the plaza. (March 22, 2019)
Although lunch at the Real Cafe in Trinidad, Cuba’s Plaza Mayor included soup and a salad, this little ceramic beauty held the real lunch treat. It’s called Canchanchara, a mixture of honey, lemon juice, raw rum, natural water and ice, that packs a slow, sweet punch requiring an afternoon nap.                (March 22, 2019)
I spent the afternoon right here on the rooftop garden of my Trinidad, Cuba, guesthouse getting some writing done. It was a beautiful, breezy place to be creative. (March 22, 2019)
My selfie on the rooftop of my guesthouse in Trinidad, Cuba, as I enjoyed a quiet, breezy afternoon of beautiful views and writing. (March 22, 2019)
My room at the guesthouse of Casa Hostal Orlando y Familia (El Chino) in Trinidad, Cuba. The stairs outside my room led to the rooftop garden.      (March 21, 2019)
I even had a very modern bathroom in my guesthouse room of Casa Hostal Orlando y Familia (El Chino) in Trinidad, Cuba. (March 21, 2019)

Santa Clara on the way back to Havana

Day 8 of Cuba, Saturday, March 23 – Leaving Trinidad to head back to the beginning of the end of this tour, Havana. But stopping in Santa Clara, chiefly known for its revolutionary landmarks including the Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum. And, Day 9, on the less than hour-long plane ride back to Miami, Florida, USA. 

Santa Clara, Cuba, is where history was made and why this city was chosen to house the Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum. It was the site of the last battle in the Cuban Revolution in late 1958. There were two guerrilla columns that attacked the city, one led by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the other led by Camilo Cienfuegos. Their combined battle efforts were able to capture the city. This victory for Fidel Castro’s troops is seen as the decisive moment in the Cuban Revolution when the dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista came to an end with him fleeing Cuba.

This stone staircase led to a viewing platform where we got to see the city of Trinidad surrounded by Cuba’s lush and dense forests. (March 23, 2019)
Under cloudy, gray skies is the city of Trinidad almost hidden in Cuba’s lush, dense forests. (March 23, 2019)
Our hostess, Ilditha, preparing our group’s lunch on her farm in the Jibacoa area of Cuba. This farm to to table lunch stop was on our drive to Santa Clara. (March 23, 2019)
Our tour group enjoying lunch prepared by our hostess, Ilditha (standing to the right) on her farm in the Jibacoa area of Cuba. This farm to to table lunch stop was on our drive to Santa Clara. This trip really is about connecting with the locals from our guesthouse stays to a number of the meals we enjoyed. (March 23, 2019)
Before getting to the Che Guevara’s Monument and Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba, there’s a hillside facial portrait of Argentinian born Guevara who became a major figure of the Cuban Revolution but whose counterculture rebellion has ascended to global prominence. (March 23, 2019)
The Che Guevara’s Monument and Mausoleum is a structural complex that rests on a rolling hilltop overlooking the city of Santa Clara. It houses the remains of the revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and twenty-nine of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during Guevara’s attempt to spur an armed uprising in Bolivia. The full area, which contains a bronze 22-foot statue of Guevara, is referred to as the Ernesto Guevara Sculptural Complex. Guevara, born in Argentina in 1928 was a Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist. A major figure of the Cuban Revolution, Guevara was part of Fidel Castro’s armed revolt against the authoritarian government of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista who was ousted in 1958. (March 23, 2019)
Che Guevara’s Monument and Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba. The complex houses the remains of the revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and twenty-nine of his fellow combatants killed in 1967 during Guevara’s attempt to spur an armed uprising in Bolivia. The full area, which contains a bronze 22-foot statue of Guevara, is referred to as the Ernesto Guevara Sculptural Complex. Entrance to the museum and mausoleum are on the other side of this statue complex and visitors are forbidden from bringing any personal effects into the museum and mausoleum, where photos cannot be taken. The simple museum includes Guevara’s gun, medical certificates, binoculars and water bottle, as well as pictures of the revolutionary smoking cigars and playing golf. (March 23, 2019)
The Che Guevara’s Monument and Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba. Guevara’s statue faces directly towards South America, reflecting his focus and outlook for one united Latin America. Additionally, the 22-foot bronze statue the Cuban Revolution hero carrying his gun rather than aiming, symbolizing that he is “continuing onward.” The sling which Guevara wore during the battle, the result of an earlier broken arm, is also etched into the statue but he’s not wearing the sling to symbolize “a part of his personality, a man rebelling even against himself.” (March 23, 2019)
The Che Guevara Mausoleum and Museum is a memorial in Santa Clara, Cuba, located in “Plaza Che Guevara” (Che Guevara Square) in honor of Ernesto “Che” Rivera. A centerpiece of the memorial is a marble pedestal with the 22-foot bronze statue of Guevera in a heroic posture, dressed in familiar battle fatigues and beret, carrying a rifle. The various carving on the long marble walls show events from his revolutionary career, and the text of a letter he sent to Fidel Castro, shortly before leaving Cuba in 1965. The letter explains why he is resigning his position with the Cuban government and his ideas about the people’s struggle for freedom around the world. The saying “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” translated means “Until victory, always!”              (March 23, 2019)
A close-up of the 22-foot bronze statue of Ernesto “Che Guevara as part of his Che Guevara’s Monument and Mausoleum in Santa Clara, Cuba. The Santa Clara location was chosen in remembrance of Guevara’s troops taking the city on Dec. 31, 1958, during the Battle of Santa Clara. The result of this final battle of the Cuban Revolution was Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista fleeing into exile.(March 23, 2019)
This is what rush hour looks like on Cuba’s highways. I got to ride up front on the bus into Havana from Santa Clara and this is what the traffic has looked like pretty much like since we left Havana at the beginning of the tour. (March 23, 2019)
Back in Havana, gathering at our guesthouse for our last group dinner. (March 23, 2019)
Our Intrepid tour group’s farewell dinner in Havana. (March 23, 2019)