Music Practice…Cuban style

23/10/15

Who knew that Nivea Soft is nectar to a mosquito? We’d inadvertently left the lid off the moisturiser and come morning there was a very dead mosquito lying in the white cream.
Useful Info: mosquito repellent is recommended for Cuba. We can highly recommend Jungle Formula plug in for the room (cheapest bought online from Wilko and collected in store) and we were never bitten; and, for when you are outside in the evenings, Incognito Spray from Blukoo.com. We were actually only bitten once, when we ate outside in the countryside and forgot to use the spray. We then used our super AFTER BITE with ammonia bought from that well known online retailer, so we know that works too.
We went through to the dining area and breakfast was laid out. A  large plate each of delicious peeled and sliced fresh fruit- juicy pineapple, papaya and native guayaba  fruit.
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Javier then brought us a plate of scrambled eggs with two huge slices of avocado and a basket of fresh bread. He poured us some fresh Cuban coffee and we added hot milk, served in a Chinese branded thermos flask.
Bed and breakfast for two for $20CUC!
We were staying one more night so before we went out for the day, we called ahead to the next Casa in Viñales to confirm our arrival time. The guy on the other end of the phone said he’d meet us at the bus stop. Javier had already rung the bus company to confirm that there was availability on the 8.30am bus from Havana to Viñales in the south west of the island and we were to be there an hour before.
Info: there is a very efficient, air-conditioned coach service called Viazul aimed primarily at tourists; although Cubans can use them, they are very expensive in relation to other forms of transport. The coaches are well-maintained and pretty well guaranteed to get you there on time. Cuba is a large island, 1250km long and approx 100km wide – Russian built main roads are sometimes okay but signposts are consistently and woefully inadequate.
I’d advise against hiring a car for a myriad of reasons.  More on that later, when we meet a young German couple who did hire a car.
 We decided to spend our last day in Havana exploring Habana Vieja. , or old town. This is the most photographed and beautiful part of the city and is gradually being carefully renovated. The renovations are being masterminded by Eusebio Leal Spengler, the City Historian who has set up Habanguanex, a state-owned holding company that earns hard currency through tourism then ploughs it back in to both renovation and social projects. His idea is to avoid creating a ‘theme park’ by combining tourism and the living city of La Habana- see the Plaza Vieja below…
La Habana Vieja is full of tourists although pleasantly so when we were there in late October. Apparently it’s wall to wall in high season. (Mid Nov to April)
We left Casa Javier and walked one block to the north end of Habana Vieja where it meets the start of the Malecón in a huge open roundabout and series of parks, the first of which is the Parque de Los Enamorados. An interesting but sad spot where revolutionaries were imprisoned. All that’s left is a cell block and chapel.
We wandered across the roundabout to get closer  view of the  the statue of General Máximo. and heard a trumpet playing.
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It was a guy seemingly practising his scales! So we listened a moment then decided to ask him why he was practising in the middle of the large square on the steps of the General Máximo monument. He said he couldn’t practise at home as he lived in a small apartment over the way. He was a member of a 6 piece band who play twice a day (for 4 hours at a time) at La Mina restaurant in Havana Vieja on Plaza de las Armas. We said we’d try to see him and his band, Madera Blanca, play later.
We thought we’d go see the Museo Del Transporte  which ironically has pristine condition cars from the 50s, many examples of which you see around the streets of Havana! However, despite walking up and down the street where the lonely planet book said it was located, it wasn’t! I went to ask a guard at some government building who, whilst pointing, told me it had been relocated somewhere ‘over there’! We then walked back to the original address and realised it was now a mosque- note the very recent opening date.
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I guess they want to encourage more tourists from other parts of the world!
We then made our way to el Museo de la Revolución. The entrance fee of $8 CUC was quite steep by Cuban standards but all the money also goes to the renovation projects ongoing in the city. The museum tells the story of the revolution from 1953-1959 and through to 1991 when the Russians left and is in the old palace built by Batista. He had the interiors decorated by the house of Tiffany, including one room (unsuccessfully) modelled on the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.
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It was an extravagance completely out of keeping with the national mood. In front of the museum is a tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs.
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We had our picture taken by a nice lady museum employee who encouraged us to step over the rope barriers to get a good shot! She even took one of us both for the album!
The museum only tells the story up to 1991 when the Russians withdrew their support due to the fall in their own economy- interesting in its omissions. We then went outside and saw the old English built plane and land rovers and jeeps used in the battles, plus the leisure yacht Granma,  protected in its own glass building (now immortalised in the daily newspaper published in both English and Spanish!) which was used by Castro to get from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 with the aim of overthrowing the regime of Batista.
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We then took our first Bike Taxi to Plaza de las Armas. He offered a price of $5 to go 1km but my (admittedly 2 years old) guidebook said $1 so we offered $1 but settled on $2 and the rider seemed content. We passed an interesting café menu:
He took us right to the Plaza de las Armas and we managed to find the Restaurante La Mina where our new friend Eric was coming to play with his band.  We sat down at a table outside, ordered two Cuban beers and a salad each  and watched the world, literally, go by.

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Eric and his band turned up and Eric greeted us like old friends and introduced us to his band members. As they played, various people wandered past and sashayed to the music, including one cigar smoking lady who must have been  at least 80 years old who entertained us for some time as she got lost in the music, puffing on her fat Cuban cigar. One band member came round with CDs and we bought two. This happened a lot during the trip- roving musicians start playing and often come round with a hat- it’s worth having coins or a few MNs to give as a little goes a long way.
I plan to post at least weekly from now on (rather than every 3-5 days as I have been doing). If you would like to be notified, please click ‘follow’ to register so as not to miss any!
Next week….dessert in the Chocolate Museum and a ferry ride, Cuban style.
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2 thoughts on “Music Practice…Cuban style

  1. Fabulous! What is it about the Hall of Mirrors?! J and I went to copied version (with palace) in Germany commissioned by Mad King Ludwig. More successful dare I say, although a miscalculation in the Hall’s length meant that the replicated ceiling paintings done on canvas had to be stretched several metres to fit giving the gods and angels an oddly squat and rotund profile. Cuban beer and brass – the perfect evening!

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