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Part 4 - On again, off again

Ok so Monday we do the usual, get up, breakfast, yada yada. I go to find the guy outside the gate with the glue. He isn?t there, but there are several other people trying to sell me cigars. Now we have to find our tour rep to see what's up with the Santiago trip. She's in the other hotel. There are two hotels in the complex, the one we were at, Club Amigo Los Corales, & the other one Club Amigo Carisol (not as nice but close) which was mainly French Cdns. & Russians (Ours was English Cdn.s & Germans). All the signs were in French at the other place. Phhht! I get enough of that crap at home!! In the other hotel there is a guy at a little booth making cigars. I haven't seen the guy at our hotel yet so I make a deal with him for 20 hand rolled Panatelas, (almost Coronas) (about 7?? long, ?? diameter). I'm to pick them up on Friday morning before we leave. Anyway, the tour rep says that the trip is a no-go not enough people have signed up. We can however, get a taxi for $60 for the round trip, and if we want an English speaking driver, for an extra $20 we can have him all day & he can give us the tour. She rips up our pre processed visa slip & we walk back to our hotel & get the front desk to book the taxi. She asked if we would pay her then & we said we would pay the driver (as our tour rep suggested). OK, now that that's out of the way still no glue at the front desk or post office, maybe later they say. Off to the pool for a bit of relaxation. Around the pool we meet some other people who we get chatty with & before you know it it's lunchtime. We all leave at separate times to go to lunch but the grill is on again it seems so we meet by chance at the grill & have a bit of a party. There was table service with wine & it was 2:30 before you knew it. The Cuban staff is kind of looking at us to hurry up, so we leave for the pool again. Another afternoon of deck chair lounging and tasty rum drinks.

The only shortcoming that the pool area had was that there was no Banyo (bathroom) nearby. The only bathroom in the entire place that we could see, other than in your room, was in the lobby near the dining area. So, at some point later on in the afternoon, Nancy went back to the room for obvious reasons & there was a note slipped under the door. Yes the Santiago trip was on now, as they had just had a new group in at another hotel & they now have enough people signed up. Great, we've just booked this frikkin taxi. Oh well, we'll see if the tour rep can cancel for us. By chance we see the tour rep later that day & she says that the trip is apparently off again, as we didn't get enough people again. They now need 12, not 10 or 8. Good thing we still have the taxi booked.

After dinner we happen upon the tour rep AGAIN, & now the trip is back on it seems. We get her to cancel the taxi & we're in the tour bus with a group of other Canadians. Good thing we didn't pay in advance for that cab! At dinner we had some liqueurs, a lethal mixture of rum & some other stuff. They didn't agree with Nancy & she got quite sick that night. I was afraid that we would have to cancel the trip the next day, but after driving the porcelain bus briefly, she was fine the next day.

Filed under Adventures in the Caribbean, Sep 13, 2005
 

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Part 3 - Injury

We wake up on Sunday and decide to go to the beach after breakfast. Our horseback ride isn't until 3 p.m. or so we have almost an entire day to relax. But first, I have an appointment with the black market. I make my way to the front gate (Nancy decided to stay behind) & the guy is off in the bushes waving furtively to me. I follow him to a secluded area where he has a buddy (again I guess to make sure HE doesn't get ripped off). He produces the box of cigars & I produce the cash. There is no gov't tax label on it, but it is inside the box so all I have to do is glue it on (they check at the airport on the way out of Cuba sometimes). Does he have any glue? Of course not, but assures me that he will come back Manyana with some. Sure. Guess who shows up now, that old guy who wouldn't leave us alone the day before. I guess they were all in cahoots earning some sort of commission for the bootleg cigars, because he was kinda pissed I didn't buy them off him. Too fucking bad pal, the other guy got to me first. He was funny in his pitch though, the older guy I mean....You want smokee smokee, you want drinkee drinkee...I no fuck anybody, Canadians number one....if he wasn't so pathetic it would be laughable. In fact in retrospect it was laughable, you just had to kind of keep it in. Poor old bastard, but you sort of lost a bit of sympathy when he wouldn't leave you alone. It stopped becoming a sales pitch & started to become a major annoyance. I felt like I needed a restraining order. Anyway, deal done, I march back into the hotel & start my search for glue to attach this sticker on. None to be found anywhere (next year I'm taking some with me!). OK, so NOW we go to the beach.

On the beach by the beach bar, there was a little souvenir stand that we had noticed the day before. He had this great mask that he wanted $15 for. I figured I could get it for $12 being the cheap bastard that I am & left it alone. We went back Sunday & it was gone. Fuck. The only thing that we saw that was really worth buying almost the entire trip. Next time, act fast I guess. We set ourselves up on some beach chairs & have a bit of a sit down. We decide after a short while to test the waters. I wade in with Nancy & about 12 feet, 4 or 5 strides in (you can't see the bottom in a lot of places because of weeds) I step, with my full weight, on something extremely sharp and painful. YOUCH!! I wonder if I have cut myself. I lift my foot out of the water & sure enough there's skin hanging off it. I hobble out of the water & back to the beach chair. I lift my left foot up & there's blood pouring out of it all over my leg, the ground, everywhere. Of course my foot is covered in sand from the scuttle back to the beach chair from the water. I wrap it in a bandana & gingerly slip it into my sandal. I stagger back to the hotel room & rinse it off in the shower. Fortunately I had brought a first aid kit so had antiseptic creme & plenty of band-aids. It wasn't very long, about an inch, but probably at least that deep. I wasn't sure if it needed stitches & decided just to keep it covered, perhaps have it looked at when I returned to Canada. So I limp back to the beach with a band-aid and a blood stained bandana wrapped around my foot. Sit around for a short while then time for lunch. No grill today, so we hit the buffet. Excellent food again. I tell you, with some of the experiences we've had with Cuban food, this was a very pleasant surprise indeed. After lunch back to the pool. I can't really go swimming as I have a freshly wounded appendage, so spend the early afternoon nursing my wound. In retrospect, I probably stepped on the sharp spine of a Conch shell. I found a perfect one a few days later close to the shore.

At 3:00 we change & go to meet the horse guy for our 2-hour horseback ride. The horses were not in bad shape, and definitely in charge! They were OK when walking, but at a canter every piece of our bodies was being flung around. We'd get at a comfortable pace & then the horse guy (?Vaquero??Cowboy) would slap the horses & they would speed up, bouncing us around again. It must have been funny for him to see the tourist gringos who didn't know shit about horses being taken for a ride. Anyway, he was very nice & took us along this trail to his "casa" where he introduced us to his family. Nancy got a nice picture of the wife & daughter. His house was basically a cement slab with scrap pieces of wood & tin for walls. Clean inside, with a curtain for a room divider for the bedroom. The kitchen was covered, but outdoors & consisted of a fire pit and a few kettles & pots. He did have electricity though, a ton of goats about 20 skinny dogs and a TV and a radio. He produced a cup of strong sweet Cuban coffee and we sat there not knowing what to say, as he didn't Hablo Inglese, & we were "No Entiende" as far as Spanish went. He gave us some green coffee beans, which I asked him "how much" for, & he said ?nothing?, ?Nada? (I hope I didn't insult him, but being so used to hustlers it was a natural assumption on my part I thought), they were a gift, nice. We rode back to the hotel & gave him a $5 tip & a gift of a bandana, toothpaste, soap, and some pens and pencils for his daughter.

Off to the room to check my foot, which by now is throbbing. Blood all over my sock, so change the bandage. A bit of a lie down then off to the lobby bar for a few cocktails before dinner.

The entertainment for the evening consisted of a "Cuban Fantasy" show, which was basically a fashion show. We didn't buy anything & hit the hay after it was over at 11.

Filed under Adventures in the Caribbean, Sep 11, 2005
 

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Part 2 - A Day in Paradise

We get up early Saturday morning to check things out, but first, breakfast. With some trepidation we make our way to the dining room as we've had bad experiences in the past with Cuban cuisine. We are very pleasantly surprised to find out it has all kinds of goodies. Fresh fruit, oranges, grapefruit, some sort of guava or mango, pineapple, all fresh cut right in front of you. Plenty of Cuban coffee (mmmmmm), fresh squeezed orange juice (there is a machine that they put whole oranges into, peel & all & you see them being made into juice), rolls, a toaster for sliced bread, tons of butter (lacking at last years resort) a huge buffet table of hot foods (pancakes, sausage (well sort of, kind of hot doggy), fried potatoes, French toast, all kinds of stuff), and to top it off, there?s a woman at the end of the table with 2 cast iron frying pans making omelets or fried eggs, whatever you want right to order in front of you with fresh eggs. Heaven!!!

A very satisfying breakfast. The dining room has several sections, one slightly elevated section (one or two steps) indoors with open windows, or holes for windows, remember there's no winter there, an outdoor section, and a section near the lobby. It's great. We wander around to check the place out. It's huge. Massive pool, with a swim up bar (I've always wanted to go to a place with a swim up bar), gorgeous palms all over the place, an outdoor grill, lots of buildings (hotel rooms) integrated into the fauna, you hardly notice them. We go to the beach. Not as nice as Varadero, but the scenery is much better. Spectacular scenery, mountains in the background and also behind the hotel. Interestingly enough, it can be raining inland, but where we are, the mountains hold the clouds up & we get sunshine & warm temps. Awesome. It's kind of clammy in the lobby, about 80-85 early on, but a nice breeze, just enough so you don't feel the heat too much. You still know it's hot, & the swimming pool looks very inviting already. We meet with the tour rep at 9:30 & sign up for a bunch of tours. A 2 hour horseback ride on Sunday afternoon, a full day trip to Santiago on Tuesday, a 1/2 day trip to La Gran Piedra (the highest point in Cuba, 1,131 meters above sea level) on Wednesday, and a 1/2 day snorkeling trip on Thursday. We only have a week so have to cram things in. Next year I can see taking the snorkeling trip again but spending the majority of our time around the pool or on the beach. The tour guide informs us that we are the only people signed up for the day trip to Santiago, so it may be cancelled, as they need at least 8 people. We'll have to wait & see.... more on that later.

Now it's time to explore the environs of the local area. We pass the guarded gate to the hotel complex and within moments are accosted by the local "cigar" guy offering us cigars straight from the factory that his brother works in. You know what? I'm convinced that everyone in Cuba has a brother working in a cigar factory! He takes us aside so that the security guards at the gate (they keep the guests from being pestered by beggars & hustlers while in the complex) can't see & we hear his pitch. Between my broken Spanish & his broken English we manage to communicate. I know what I want so tell him & he insists on $40 US. No way, (I've done this before) so get them for $30. 25 Cohiba Robustos (about 5? long, almost an inch in diameter) in a nice wooden cube box (Market price demands about $240 U.S. if they are from the Dominican Republic, real Cubans command almost $400 U.S. for the box back here, really!). We are to come back at 8:15 the following morning & "do the deal". Fine, we continue on our way along the driveway out to the road that passes by the complex, the only road around for miles. It leads into Santiago one way, and I imagine Guantanamo the other. We walk along a hundred yards or so and are accosted by a couple of "chicitas" with their pimp. Rather large older "chicitas", if you know what I mean. They want some clothes or soap. We have neither but promise to see them again if we should ever come back that way (yeah right). Nancy says that I was lucky I wasn't by myself or they really would have wanted something else, LOL. We continue on & come across a nice cactus garden & take some pictures. Time to go back to the hotel as it is very hot by now & we're on a road, making it even hotter. We decide to go back through a fairly open wooded area near the shore and are again accosted by a rather decrepit looking 1/2 crippled older gentleman again trying to sell us not only cigars, but Rum and a guided tour of Santiago. Jeeezus...the guy won't leave us alone, blah blah blah, he follows us & won't shut up. Finally we agree to see his "wares" & he takes us to a fence near the boundary of the hotel grounds, where there is a cop/security guard on the other side of the fence, obviously on the take, keeping an eye out to make sure we don't steal his precious cigars & rum. We make a 1/2-hearted promise to return should we want some & make out way back to the hotel, still followed by this guy continuing on with his non-relenting diatribe.

Once safely back in the hotel, we check out the store. Not much in the way of souvenirs. The rum is cheap though & they have a fridge full of cold bottled water, pop, & Cuban Cristal beer. We changed into our bathing suits back in the room and wandered down to the pool & the beach. We decided on the pool. This is where we met Francisco, the bar tender, quite a character. This guy was extremely animated & we tipped him a lot. When we got home we even sent him pictures we took of him and an elastic bandage for his knee, which was sent off just this morning. We spent a very pleasant morning sipping rum drinks (the bar opens at 10, it's fairly busy from the word go, believe me) alternating between the pool & the beach. At lunchtime we decide to go back to the dining room but discovered an outdoor grill on the way back to the room. Well, screw the dining room; let's have lunch here! It was excellent, except for this weird hamburger type thing that looked under cooked. We left that alone but had grilled fish & chicken, salad, bread & table service with white wine, beer, red wine, whatever you wanted. They burn palm leaves to get it going & then cook on those coals. Awesome. Great flavour.

After lunch we went back to the pool for more relaxation. It was great. We spent most of the afternoon sitting in the pool at the swim up bar. Supper comes at about 7:30. The dining room was busier than the pool or the beach was (where were all these people all day?), but the food was excellent, and table service again once you finished with the get it yourself buffet. They had an area where they would put huge roasts of beef, or chickens, or turkey legs, or pork, or fish & carve great slathering chunks off for you in addition to the buffet. After dinner, time for the nightly entertainment. It started at 9:30, so we had a little time. We went down to the beach for a walk & had a bit of a snooze on a chair. Quite a lot of rum for one day! The entertainment was some ?guess that tune? thing. Nancy was doing very well, running up to the stage & getting quite a few right. Then they started giving out 5 points per answer & this girl who only got 2 or 3 right won because of the skewed points system. What a rip. People even came up to Nancy the next day & said that she should have won. Oh well, it was all in fun anyway. To bed after the show, 11:00p.m. & beat!

Filed under Adventures in the Caribbean, Sep 10, 2005
 

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Ist Arrival at Los Corales

9:00a.m. Friday morning the 10th of January, we leave the house for Cuba. A bit of farting around last minute stuff, then on the highway. We get to the hotel in Mississauga where we will park the car for the week just after 11. We pay for our room (where we will stay the night we return) & catch a shuttle to terminal 3 at the airport. Arrival at Terminal 3 is at about 10 to 12. We take the bags in & decide to check them in right away. No line up to speak of so it only takes a few minutes, Bonus. Apparently my carry on is too heavy so I have to remove my MP3 player and some batteries & put them in my pockets. What's the difference? Go figure. Anyway, we now have 3 hours to kill before the flight leaves. We stop & have a bite to eat (we brought some cold pizza & pop from home) then window shop for a few minutes. Not much else was happening so we decide to go through security & to the departure lounge. Nancy breezes through; of course they want to see her digital camera. I go through and BEEP BEEP BEEP. I go through again, same thing. I take off my belt & go through again, same thing. Then he has to sweep me with the wand. Finally all clear but they want to look in my camera bag. They open every camera & pouch & finally decide I'm not a threat so they let us go. A brief walk to the departure lounge, then what? Well, the bar is open, so why not. We meet several other travelers there & everyone is in a jovial mood after consuming several $6 beers. Our flight is called & we board. That went quick! (It's now 3 p.m.) We cool our heels in the plane for 20 minutes or so & finally take off about 3:20. Over 6 hours since leaving.

The flight is non-eventful, the seats far too narrow & small, incredibly uncomfortable. The movie is a chick flick, Sweet Home Alabama. Corny. I get bored about 2/3 the way through & stop watching. The meal is Pasta, my absolute favorite (dripping with sarcasm here) and we finally land at Cayo Coco at about 6:30p.m. or so for an hour & a half layover. It seems it's a two-stage trip. First to Cayo Coco, where everyone debarks, then we get back on with other people going back to Toronto. At Santiago, we will get off, & other people will get on going back to Toronto, so on the way back we will be direct. The Cayo Coco people were direct on the way down, but have a stopover on the way back. Anyway, we meet these two guys from Chicago in the waiting room at Cayo Coco who are going to part of the same hotel as us. They buy us a couple of beers & the stopover passes quickly. We line up to leave then find out the rest of the plane is already boarded & waiting for us, so we hurry past the line (we were in the wrong line) & there are about 6 or 8 of us who were late so we didn't feel too stupid. I mean, when they announce things all you hear is this unintelligible garbled noise over the loudspeaker system, barely audible over the noise of the crowd. Anyway, another 45-55 min. in the air to Santiago. We land at about 9:00p.m. or so, give or take 10 min. and line up to clear Cuban customs. We breeze through after having our passports stamped and get our bags. We then breeze through the second part (where they can inspect your bags, where I was detained last year) & out to the tour bus. We cool our heels there as it seems someone is having a problem with customs. Guess who? Our American friends, who they completely rip apart & charge one guy $150 US importation gift tax. LOL. Kinda looked good on them. (Snicker) Well, it's only 62 km to the hotel, but the roads are very narrow & twist & wind, so it takes an hour or so. We arrive at the hotel at about 5 to 11.p.m. We grab a couple of rum drinks from the bar to celebrate out arrival & put the 14-hour journey behind us.

Filed under Adventures in the Caribbean, Sep 9, 2005
 

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