Cuba Trip, May 16-26, 2003

I visited Cuba
in May and had a good time traveling and experiencing the culture and meeting with people in the country. 
Following are some of the pictures I took during my visit.

1. Havana Scene
Havana became the capital of Cuba in 1553.  Havana is named after an Indian chief.  Spain is the largest importing country of Cuban sugar.  Beofre the 1980s, most of the country's 56 sugar mills were owned by the Russians. 

          Havana Airport                                                             The National Capitol

  Palm Tree is Cuban national tree               Cigar can be Cuba's cultural and social symbol. 

      Cuba is a nation of classic cars that we ususally do not see in other part of thw world any more.  
      Strangely, parking lots are located in the center of one of the busiest streets in Harvana in front
      of the Capitol.    This is one of the most busy street in Harvana in front of the Capitol,      

         Other transportation include the Camel back bus (left) for the local  people and it costs about
        25 cents to ride on.  Then there are also the  transit train and taxi mainly for tourists

        The horse drawn cart for tourists. Tourist bus on the highway, clean & well taken care of.

     The most fun, convenient, and less expensive transportation should be this Co Co taxi.  It costs
     about $2-3 per pax within the city limit.   The picture on the left is a tourist group of about 30 people
     who rode in over two douze of Co Co taxis to visit the Revolutionary Square.  

2. Trip to Pinar del Rio. 
The city of Pinar del Rio, meaning River of Pine, has the population of 135,000.  Pinar del Rio is about 90 miles east of Havana.  About 80% of Cuban tabaco grow in Pinar del Rio.  Most of the tabacco production is private, but the cigar industry is government own.  The tabacco farmers grow and dry the tabacco leaves and the nsell them to the government at the price of 380 piso/kg (exchange rate, $1=26 Cuban piso).  In the cigar factories, 80% of the workers are women.  Workers are allowed to take home 2 cigar per day.  By the end of the month they would pack the sigars and sell them to the tourists.  They earn $12 monthly salary.   When we visited the cigar factory in Havana (no picutres were allowed in the factory), we saw workers smoking cigars while rolling the cigar. 

           We took a trip to the countryside to Pinar del Rio and passed  by an old sugar plant (left),
          which was financed by the Russians.  A group of particular "pregnant palm tree" (right)
           along the roadside.

         At a lunch stop with pretty scenery (left) in the background.  A tourist site (right) with the
         native paintings on the rock.

       In a private tabacco farm(left), which produces 100,000 tabacco plants annually. 
      It usually takes 4 months to hang and dry the leaves before they sell them to
       the government.  I was trying a cigar smoking (right), not a fun experience.     

    With JoAnn Trail on the trip.                                 Our bus driver is a train cigar smoker.    

3. Museums and Market
Havana has many museums of vaiours kinds, both for propagandar and cultural purposes.  In the Museum of the Revolution, it is dedicated to the 1959 Cuban Revolution when Castro came to power.  Other museums present Cuban native culture, arts and crafts, African arts, stamps, tabacco, colonial culture, National heritage, etc.    The Weekend market near the tourist district is a place to enjoy Cuban tradition and culture.  US$$ is the currency in use.  Local artists and venders are very good barginers with the tourists.  I spent 20 minutes bargaining with the artist for his oil paiting.   Before 1995, owing US$$ was a felony.  Currently, there are three kinds of currencies in circulation in Cuba: Cuban piso, US$$, and the covnertable dollar with the US$ value.      

          The front of the Museum of the Revolution.  Jeeps used by Castro and Cher in the Cuban Revolution.

          The Soviet tanks (left) used in the Cuban Revolution. The American plane wreckage (right) during
          the Bay of Pig fiesco.     

             The Fleet Market that sells all kind of arts and crafts pieces.   I met three nice Cuban
            guys in the market (left).  A Cuban artist (right).  To my left is the oil painting I purchased
            from him for $25.

4. Education
Cuban education is a typical socialist form in which government offers free education and health care.  9 grade school is compulsary.  Military service is required for men at certain age, including the college graduates.   School teachers are paid 260 piso/month, doctors 200 piso/month, and policemen 800 piso/month. 

                 Entrance to University of Havana.                       Statue of the Alma Mater of Unviersity of Havana.      

             University of Havana is probably the only place in the world that has a tank on campus(left). 
            Other than that everything seems to be just the same.                 

       In front of the College of Letters.         Meeting with faculty of Spanish language.

    Meeting with studnets on a break (left). Some of them major in biology and chemistry.       
   Three students (right) just finished their exam in computer science.                                                                                  

5.  Life in Cuba
Travel in Cuba gives you a mixed feeling.  There are international standard facilties, such as Hotel International byt the ocean, and the slums near Chinatown behind the Capital.  Prices for tourists are quite expensive.  Tipping is the worst in Cuba.  Weather the trouists spoil the Cubans by thinking that the Cubans are so poor so we should give them more tips.  Sometimes we have to pay a 100% tip especially in buying only one drink. 

              Havana's best hospital (left).  Hotel Inglaterra  (right) is one of the oldest colonial style
              hotels in Havana.  The hotel is surrounded by 28 palm trees.

            Havana's most expensive hotel: Hotel International (left).  Room rate can be as high
            as $250/night.  The service and the views are certainly the best.

             Havana's Opera House (left).  We watched the Spanish ballet for $10. 
             Havan Cathedral Church (right) only opens in the morning. 

              Inside the Capitol (left).  I took this picutre after noticing the sign that said "No Camera."
             One wing inside the Capitol used for social occasion (left).

             Inside the front entrance of the Capitol (left).  The Statue on the right side of the Capitol
             represents virture and the statue on the left side represents labor.

       Some of us ate dinner in Terraza Cojimar fishing village (left).  The seafood was very good.
   A big glass of fresh Mango juice was $2. One section of the Capital balcony is the drink lunge(right).
   Sitting here I can watch various movements go as I drink a glass of organge juice for $1.5 plus $1.5 for tip.

         Bill Voxman, his wife, Joan, and several other members on the tour went to eat in a restanrant
         called La Bodeguita Del Medio, where one can sign his/her name on the wall.  I wrote down my name
        on the right corner.  

Rick Ardinger purchased a CD from the artists who jsut performed at our table. 
Heminway allegedly invented the famous drink Mohito, which includes lemon,
Cuban rum, freesh mint leaves, sparkling water, and sugar.       

6. Life on the street
The national sports in Cuba include baseball and then boxing.   Some Cubans say the most popular "sport" is drinking rum.
On a Sat. eveining, I took 6 baseballs to find the kids who played near the Capital with sticks and cardboard balls.  I found a groups of kids in a slum corner on the other side of Chinatown.  When I handed over them the baseballs, they first seemed to be dumbfounded, knowing not what was happening.  Then they rejoyed and screamed to grab the balls.  I only regreted that I did not have more to give to them as more kids ran from their house toward me.  I brought two dozens of baseball at an advice of a friend before going to Cuba. 

         Many young Cubans like to play basedball on the weekend (left) in CHinatown about a block
         way from the Capitol. Most of the poor Cubans live in the slum near the Chinatown.  The stick
        in this kid's hands (right) is not a baseball bat.  The ball they played with is made of
        carboard paper.  

           Entrance to the Chinatwon next to the Capitol (left).  Hotel New York (right) by
          the entrance of Chinatown.

       Entrance to the restanrant street inside Chinatown (left).  Envening scence (right).  
       I had my worse Chinese food here.

     This is near the tourist district.  Every two blcks there are a couple of policemen patrolling
     the area.  In the pictrue on the left, you can see one policeman on the lft and another in the
     center far back.  Each morning, bread would be brought to the tourist hotels (right). We stayed
    in Santa Isabel across the park in historic Old Havana.

     Gun store (left) is common and we just walked in to have a look.  There was one security guy
    in the store and this old guy did not seem to care if we took pictures with him of his store.  
    On the right, these are not clay bricks.  They are wood bricks making the floor of the Amay Square
    near Hotel Isabel for several decades.

             School kids are in uniform and in an outing (left).   Guess what this face is on the right? 
            It is the letter drop box on the roadside.

               Che is the popular figure throughout Cuba, more popular than Castro, at least from
               the appearance.   The portrait of Che is facing the monument in the Revolutionary Sqaure.
              Most of Cuban public rallies are held in this sqaure (right) .  Underneath the monument, there
              is a small museum.

7. Sunset in Havana
We went to see the sunset from the Fortree of San Carlos by going through the tunnel across the Havana Habor.  The tunnel was built by the French in 1958 by the Cuban sugar.  It ook the Cuban government 20 years to finalize the payment.   The suset was indeed gorgeous and we also watched the fire of cannon and echange of guards at the fortress. 

         Ship sailing into the Havana Harbor by the beautiful sunset.   Five minutes after the ship was in.  

      Cannons.                                                           With JoAnn Trail against sunset.

8.  Hemingway and Cuba
Ernest Hemingway  first went to Cuba in 1932 and visited Cuba again in late 1959 a few months after Castro's revolution in the country.  He later bought a house in Finca Vigia, (meaning "lookout farm") , for $18,500.   His House in Finca Vigia has been tranformed into a museum that many tourists would visit when they are in Cuba.   Hemingways spent many years of his life in Cuba.  He was allegedly invented the now famous drink known as Mohito, he wrote the well known novel Old Man and the sea.  In his
posthumous novel Islands In The Stream, Hemingway shared his feeling for Cuba: "He got into the car and told the chauffeur to go up O'Reilly to the Floridita.   Before the car circled the plaza in front of the embassy building and the Ayuntamiento and then turned into O'Reilly he saw the size of the waves in the mouth of the harbor and the heavy rise and fall of the channel buoy. In the mouth of the harbor the sea was very wild and confused and clear green water was breaking over the rock at the base of the Morro, the tops of the seas blowing white in the sun. It looks wonderful, he said to himself. It not only looks wonderful, it is wonderful."

     Ernest Hemingway's House in Finca Vigia, now a museum (left).  Hemingway's table (right)
     as it was when he died.

    Inside Hemingway's House (left). On top of Ambos Mundos Hotel (right).  Hemingway stayed in
    Room 511 which has been turned into a small museum.

9. Cayo Coco, Tourists only Island
The last two days on our trip, we stayed in hotel Melia Cayo Guillermo, All Inclusive, on Cayo Coco Island.  There are several tourist hotel on the island but not accessible by public transportation, therefore limited only to foreign tourists.  Tourists checked in the hotel are given a different colored band to identify their hotel.  All the drinks and food in the hotel are free including the bar in the loby that opens around the clock.   Staff members working the these hotels are bussed in.  While enjoying the privilege by paying $100/night, I prefered to be closer to the common people learning more about their life. 

      The hotel is behind me.  THe island was initially a swamp and roads were built upon it. 
      Bikes could be rent for free from the hotel.


      Evening entertainments was loud and free.  It was, however, mostly for tourists, not so many
     traditional dances or music that I would like to enjoy.  A snail crab (right) trying to cross the road.

       While in the loby enjoying various drinks, a tourist walked in bringing a big fish
      they just caught on the sea.   

       The hotel is right by the ocean.  The soft breez, glittering sand, and the warm sun
       make one feel like in the paradise. 

           More on the beach over the sea.      

We went birds wating in the morning.  The mosquitos in the bushes were terrible.
Our two Cuban guides were very knowledgable.

  Bird watch trip (left) in the woods.  The guy was feeding the gigantic turtles (right).