torrie's travels

WHERE WILL I GO NEXT?

Communism November 27, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:11 am

What a long day. This was, by far, the longest sightseeing day. We left our casa at approximately 10:00 am and did not return until 10:00 pm. But it was a great day! We started by taking a cab to Centro Habana and the Capitolio. It is fashioned after the Capitol in DC, but is currently under renovation. Then we walked over to Parque Central and made our way down the Prado (which wants to be Las Ramblas). Then we went to the Museo de Revolucion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I expected to roll my eyes a WHOLE BUNCH at this museum, but I did not expect the amount of propaganda, especially at the end.

It was interesting to read the history behind the coup, er, revolution. I didn’t know exactly how Che fit into everything, considering he was not Cuban. I got to see the stretcher that carried him from where he died. That was a bit creepy. It was all fine and good until the last part of the museum. It blamed the US for everything under the sun. According to the Cubans (or at least the communists in power), the CIA is capable of just about anything. And callous enough to do it. Apparently we took down a passenger plane filled with other countries’ citizens just because there were some Cubans on board. Yeah, uh huh. The CIA introduced dengue hemorrhagic virus, the Blue Mold, African Swine Fever. Man, the CIA was busy in the ‘70’s. *Eyeroll* But right before the exit was a mural (if you can call it that…Mallory, who is quite liberal, was appalled that it was in their national museum), of “cretins”. The cretins were identified as Fulgencio Batista (the President at the time of the coup), and Reagan, HW Bush, and W Bush. They were depicted as caricatures and Batista “helped make the revolution,” Reagan “helped strengthen the revolution”, HW “helped consolidate the revolution,” and W (in a Nazi helmet) “helped make socialism irrevocable.” I find the last one especially humorous, considering the advances toward capitalism the country has recently made. Anyway, I stood there gawping at this “mural”. There is no other word. I was literally speechless. Appalled doesn’t even begin to describe it.

From there we moved on to a better location…the Cathedral. It was small and simpler than most in Europe, but was still pretty. We did some shopping in Habana Vieja, as we hadn’t really done any yet. Then we found a place for lunch and walked along the river down to an extensive bazaar or craft market. It was huge! After more shopping, we took a cab to the Malecon where we finally got on the internet (well, Mallory’s worked yesterday though mine did not but even hers did not work today), and then spent time strolling along the Malecon at sunset. We may or may not have had half a cigar along the way. We happened to see a couple who had had lunch at the table next to ours while we were on the Malecon. Small city!

We then made our way to the Floridita, a bar/restaurant that was frequented by Hemingway and where the daiquiri was invented. It had live music and was packed. Luckily there was an older couple that had two chairs open at their table and allowed us to join them. During a break in the music, we found out that they are Norwegian. We had a great time talking to them. They were adorable. Seriously, everyone we’ve met on this trip has been so lovely. It’s why I love to travel!

After having a drink (that wasn’t nearly as overpriced as I was expecting), we found a place for dinner. Mallory actually thanked me for saying no to couple of places, which caused her to remember a place nearby. I wasn’t thrilled with walking back the way we had come (seriously, so tired), but we went. Oh my gosh. Best. Dinner. Ever. I finally tried the Ropa Vieja, but I also ordered a bread plate, just in case! When our mojitos came in mason jars, it was clear that this place was trendy AF. But the evidence continued to mount. Regardless, it was hands down, by far, not even close, the best meal I had in Cuba. I LOVED the Ropa Vieja. I did not need the bread plate and they were not happy that I wouldn’t eat it! We ordered a second drink and I had a guava daiquiri. Apparently the bartender was having some fun because my daiquiri came looking like a snowman with a head, a face, and a black top hat. It was amazing! I took a picture of it and the waitress came over to ask how we liked it and I said I took a photo. She said she saw and told me to look at the bartender. He was grinning and I gave him a thumbs up. Such a great place, but could have easily been somewhere in the US. Still. Amazing food! And a wonderful way to end this trip. Tomorrow we head to the airport after breakfast.

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Beisbol!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:09 am

Today we started off going to the Christopher Columbus cemetery/necropolis. He was initially buried/interred here, but at some point they moved him to Seville (where I saw his resting place in 2014). It was an incredible cemetery. It is 140 acres, is still active with 40 burials a day on average, and was initially sectioned based on class. So we were told that the main avenue was all the wealthy people. And they definitely had ornate and massive graves.

We then caught the hop on-hop off bus and rode that throughout Havana. It took longer than anticipated, but it was a nice way to see the city and was a welcomed break from walking. It was a double-decker style bus, so sitting up top was nice, except we were frequently ducking for trees!

After the tour, we walked through parts of Habana Vieja and, thanks to a slow and unhelpful restaurant, we had street pizza for lunch. I had heard about it and wanted to have it, but it wasn’t until then that I saw everyone with it. It was a decent sized pizza that cost the equivalent of $.60. That’s right. Sixty cents. Insane. We continued our walk through Habana Vieja near the water before catching a taxi back to our casa to get ready for the baseball game.

The game was amazing. Hands down the most authentic thing we did on the trip. There were very few tourists, so it was an awesome opportunity to see and interact with Cubans doing something they love. And it cost the equivalent of $1 to get in (I think It’s cheaper for the locals). The game was the Industriales (the Havana team) against Granma. Granma is the best team in the league and won the championship last year. It showed. It was a blowout. The gentleman sitting next to us spoke English, so we learned some things from him. He definitely seemed irritated that all the good players leave for the US, but he also lamented the fact that the Cuban teams don’t pay any money for playing. He said it’s basically voluntary.

There was a moment of silence before the game, which neither Mallory nor myself knew what it was for, but we stood for it. Then they played the national anthem and Mallory asked me if I was going to take a knee out of protest for communism, but I’m respectful so I didn’t. At 5:58 pm (the game started at 4) everyone just stopped what they were doing and stood and faced the direction of the flag. It was dark, so we couldn’t see what they were doing. About a minute later, everyone went back to what they were doing. We were so confused. Our new friend told us that they take the flag down at 6pm and people must show it respect. He complained that people talk during it (though I didn’t hear any), which is not showing respect. He did not like this. Mallory and I talked about the NFL protests and what a Cuban would think of kneeling during an anthem to protest the police’s power. Sounds absolutely freaking ridiculous sitting in Cuba and contemplating this. I cannot even imagine what a Cuban would say if we tried to explain that to them.

Anyway, immediately preceding the flag ceremony, our new friend had been arguing with Douchebag #2 (of 3) sitting two rows in front of us. I don’t know what they were arguing about, but Mallory said it was something about players leaving for the US. After the flag ceremony they immediately started up again and this time I could distinctly hear the name “Yasiel Puig”. Several times. I had already discussed Puig with our new friend, so I knew he hated him. Basically said he’s not a Cuban. But our new friend then announced to everyone around us that we were Americans and had had no idea what they were doing with the flag. Awkward.

The atmosphere at the game was awesome. And loud. So so loud. Tons of noisemakers. So many similarities, but yet so many differences. The vendors were smoking cigarettes while walking up and down the stands, for example. (Smoking is ok everywhere here…everywhere.) One of the things they were selling were buns with some kind of shredded meat. I wasn’t sure if it was chicken or pork, but I went to get one. It cost $.20. Yep, a sandwich for twenty cents. They put some stuff on the meat, but I don’t know what. It was good!

We left after the 5th inning…it was 13-3. Industriales had been through at least 6 pitchers. 3 in the first inning alone. Our new friend had told us that there’s basically a 10-run rule. Which was surprising, but Alexis (in Vinales) told me that if the game goes to extra innings, they get to automatically put 2 men on base. Any 2 runners you want. But then if the game goes to the 11th, you have to go in the batting order. At least I think that’s how he described it.

After the game we returned to our casa to freshen up and attempted to get dinner at a paladar, which is a private restaurant run by a family in an extension of their home. It was definitely an experience. Mallory is a vegetarian and it was family-style eating, all of which included meat. So we decided to get two appetizers instead. One of which was “brusquetas”. It had cheese and onions on it. Cheese. That tasted like butter. I couldn’t even eat an entire one. I think I realized the difference today when that was on a menu along with “bruschetta”. Weird. The Sangria was good, though!

We then went to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano. That was real interesting. It is an art gallery/nightclub. Hard to explain. It is enormous. The art varied from fashion and jewelry, to paintings, to photos, to abstract, to music, and to dance. It was so very weird. As we were standing near some guys “rapping”, we happened to see our professor friend from the night before. Random! He said he did not know what was going on, that it was weird, and that no one knew what the “rappers” were saying because it was an indistinguishable language! So funny! We hung out with him for the rest of the time. He knew of a concert starting in one of the “naves”, so we went there. It turned out to be a Cuban classic rock cover band. Yeah, I will let that sink in. We were laughing hysterically when the first song they sang was Billy Joel! Fantastic. We had talked about getting a cab with David, but we ended up losing him. It was a fun night at a place that I felt horribly uncomfortable, so it was reassuring that he felt that way, too!

 

First glimpse of Havana

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:07 am

Today was a bit of a mixed bag. We got up and had breakfast at the casa in Vinales before our taxi picked us up at 9 to drive us to Havana. We got to our casa in Havana around 11:30. After getting settled in, we set out in search of wifi. After we connected online a bit (and I was able to post some pictures finally), we went walking. As I figured, we did a lot of walking today. After the walk/hike in Vinales yesterday, my feet are killing me.

We eventually took a cab to the ice cream shop that everyone talks about and is famous. The ice cream was ok…and a scoop plus some mini-cookies for $.04, I guess isn’t bad! Yes, you read that right…four cents! In order to get that ice cream, we had to change our money into a different kind of money. Cuba has two currencies…one for tourists and one for the locals. They are trying to go to one currency but just haven’t. I heard that oftentimes you will pay with the tourist currency and receive the other currency as change, but that had not happened to us yet. So I had to find a bank, which was interesting, and then change some currency. This was the second time I had to give my passport when it came to money in this country. I guess the government now knows that I changed 5 CUC (basically $5) to 120 CUP. Oh yeah, what makes it more confusing? Both are called pesos.

Anyway, while the ice cream wasn’t anything to write home about, we sat with a Spanish couple. Carlos and Claudia. They were very nice and fun and helped us know what we were doing. But Carlos got on me for not speaking more Spanish. I actually felt that a lot today…that I should speak more Spanish than I do. I mean, I speak a rudimentary amount and I speak it whenever I can. That really ought to be enough. But they were still very nice and we had a nice time eating ice cream with them!

After ice cream, which didn’t take as long as I had expected (there are massive lines and they are controlled by security-type individuals who call you up to a table when one is available), so we decided to sit down for a drink. Again, my feet. I had a Diet Kola…the national brand of pop, but a diet! It was welcomed! After that we walked around a bit more and ended up at the Hotel Nacional and the Malecon. It was dark, so we didn’t walk the Malecon yet.

After looking for something to do tonight, we set on a jazz club, but it was 2.5km away, so we decided to get a taxi (so cheap here, for the most part). We were in luck when an old, ‘50’s pink convertible pulled up to us on the Malecon. That was a fun ride!

We were early for the jazz club, so we decided to have a drink next door and ended up sitting with a guy from Wisconsin! Ok, he’s Cuban, but he’s been in the US for 15 years and is now a professor in La Crosse. We had a lovely conversation with him, but decided not to accompany him to the “transgressive Cuban play” he was going to attend. Instead, we got a late dinner at La Catedral. The restaurant had rave reviews and was super cheap. I had a mojito for 1.20. No joke. The equivalent of $1.20. I ordered a Cuban sandwich, even though I don’t know what is on them or supposed to be on them (except pork), and unfortunately it wasn’t great. Some of the pork was straight fat and the rest was a bit tough. But I tried (even though I know it’s not authentic!). I should have had the ropa vieja, but I will have that at some point.

After dinner we wanted a cab right the 10-12 blocks back to our casa and we took our lives into our hands during that ride. It was legit scary and I am so glad it was on side streets and not far. Though that did not stop him from nearly colliding with a motorcycle. But we made it! And we get sleep in an hour tomorrow! Tomorrow will be a busy day!

 

Vinales

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:06 am

Today was amazing. It started out a little rocky. Even though we slept 12 hours last night, it wasn’t enough. But part of that was likely the very hard beds (like very) and different pillows so my neck was killing me. I woke up with a headache. I thought breakfast would help, which it did a bit. The breakfast at our casa was great. Lots of fruit, crepes, tea, pastries, and frozen mango (or papaya?) juice.

We started a walking tour at 9am into the Vinales Nacional Parque. It was supposed to be three hours, but it was over 4. Our guide, Alexis, was incredible. So much fun! And he is a big baseball fan, which he said baseball is still the #1 sport here, but soccer isn’t far behind. We talked baseball and he was asking me if I had been to the Cardinals’ stadium and he asked if I had been there more than once. When I told him that I had been to 20 of the 30 stadiums and he was impressed. Then he told me that it was his dream to attend a MLB game. He told me this several times on the tour. I hope his dream comes true one day! We also talked Cuban baseball players (in MLB) and the World Series. Apparently his cousin plays for the Tigers’ Triple-A team and used to play against Aledmys Diaz when they both were still playing in Cuba.

Along the tour, we first stopped at a coffee farm. It was run by Antonio Banderas. Or at least that’s what he said! Antonio (definitely his real first name) had coffee beans freshly picked laying out to dry and then a section that were already dried. Then he showed us how to remove them from the shell or husk before roasting and grinding them. We were offered a cup of coffee if we wanted and sat in his house/yard.

Then we moved on to the tobacco farm. We learned all about planting, harvesting, and drying the tobacco leaves before fermenting them. The farmer then let us see and smell different kinds of tobacco leaves before rolling a cigar right in front of us. We were then given our own cigars to smoke and Mallory and I shared one. I smoked my first Cuban cigar!

From there we hiked up a small hill in the park to go down the other side and into the valley. That was a difficult climb for me because the trails were very muddy (both before and after) due to a heavy rain last night (also because I am out of shape). At this point, I was hot, sweaty, hungry, tired, and getting another headache. But the tour was not over! We stopped at a cafeteria where we got to drink a grapefruit. You read that right. We drank a grapefruit! They freeze the fruit instead of using ice and then cut off the top, stick in a straw, and drink! There appears to be very little liquid, but you just keep squeezing the fruit and more liquid appears. You also have to contend with seeds, but those things contain a lot of juice!

After the tour Mallory and I went to lunch and I was not feeling well. I probably could have slept another 12 hours. I truly did not know whether I was going to make it through the afternoon. But I had a cola (caffeine withdrawal was part of my problem, I knew) and some lunch, which I forced myself to eat. I started to feel a little better, so we went to get a wifi card (you have to pay for a username and password for either 1 hour or 5 hours and then find a wifi zone in order to use it). In line for the wifi card we saw Salome, who had been on our tour with us. She was traveling alone and we had told her that we were going to do the hop on-hop off bus after lunch and that she should join us. So we talked to her and she had decided to come with.

On the bus I started feeling terrible again and fell asleep briefly. Thankfully when we got off, at Cuevo de Indio, and started walking, I felt much better. This place was a cave that we walked through and then went on a boat inside the river in the cave. We exited the cave on the boat and waited for the bus to pick us up again.

Once back in town we had tapas for dinner. I tried empanadas! We had another mojito with dinner, but I couldn’t finish it because it was too strong. We had pumpkin custard for dessert because Thanksgiving! Then we went to a bar that was recommended to us, but there weren’t any tables. We asked the server and she checked, but instead of saying no, she just went up to a table of two and asked if we could also sit at the table. Which was super awkward, but we later decided she just sat the four white people together. They were Canadian, so we got along well. We had a great time chatting with them and getting to know them. It was a great night

Tomorrow after breakfast we have another taxi coming to take us to Havana for the next (and last) part of the trip! Very excited!

 

Cuba!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:01 am

Well, we made it! I had to get up at 2am, so the fact that it’s 7pm and I’m going to bed soon shouldn’t be surprising! We are exhausted. We flew to Havana through Atlanta. Once in Havana we sailed through immigration (got the passport stamp…they used to not stamp Americans’ passports because we weren’t supposed to be here…we’re again not supposed to be here, but they stamped it and I didn’t even have to ask!), baggage claim, and customs. We exited customs to someone standing with a sign with my name on it. It felt very fancy!

Our driver showed us where to change money, took a goofy picture with my sign for me, and drove us the 2 hours and 7 minutes to Vinales. He was very precise. He was a very nice guy and tried to be helpful, giving us tips. He also made a stop for us so we could take some pictures.

We made it to Vinales at about 3pm, which the son-in-law of the people we’re staying with said was very, very quick. He said with our flight landing at noon and arriving there at 3, it was very fast. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was still much easier than I expected!

Once at the casa, we spoke with the family, as much as we could with the language barrier, and I spoke on the phone with their daughter who just had surgery. She was supposed to be here to meet us, as she speaks English, but instead she was letting me know that she was sending her husband instead. He was a font of information. It was almost too much to take in given our state of hunger and exhaustion. But we took his information, booked our hiking trip for tomorrow, and ate dinner. I had my first Cuban mojito (in fact I had two of them!), so I am all set!

It is definitely interesting how surprised people seem to be when we tell them we are Americans. They know that the law changed again, so they are surprised to see us. Alex, our hosts’ son-in-law, even asked me when we booked this because he was aware that the regulations went into effect a couple of weeks ago. But so far no one has wanted to “go threre” with us. Alex did mention that the only people hurting from this decision are the Cuban people. And I understand that. Which is why I want to be as generous as I can be on this trip. Already I have seen just how much I have comparatively. I think this is a good place to be for Thanksgiving!