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Archive for the ‘CUBA’ Category

“It was terrible, so terrible, very difficult and a hard time as the people tried to live with almost no economy.  Slowly, everything we had turned to nothing and it was terrible.”DSC_0544 Hector, our national guide in Cuba on the Tauck People to People tour, was explaining about the Special Period, the name given by the Cuban communist government to describe the time when the Soviet Union broke apart and Cuba was no longer supported by the new Russia. Eighty to eighty-five percent of the trade and support was lost. And no other country in the world would support them either.

“One day we had a normal life and the next day the bottom fell out of the Cuban economy”, Hector explained. “Slowly, everything we had was gone and it was terrible. 1991-92 was the worst of the 1989-1995 Special Period.” Then inflation set in for any products remaining in Cuba “and the prices doubled, tripled and went through the roof after that.

Some people killed themselves and others escaped by boat to the USA,” he said. The USA sent food and medical supplies but the prices on them were high. Canada also helped.

With the lack of things needed to live their normal lives, the Cuban people started creating. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Hector pointed out. “We started comforting everyone more than ever, and sharing and uniting with each other. DSC_0543 People in Cuba are highly educated and we found the best solutions to each challenge without affecting someone else.”

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Art by Martha Jimenez is shown in galleries around the world today.

Many people developed their creative art talents to make extra money to entertain the people and to give them a break from the daily struggles of fending for themselves.DSC_0723DSC_0826 DSC_0415DSC_0704

All types of people in need of extra money to make it gathered to create objects d'art and clothes to sell. It was a win-win for all.

All types of people in need of extra money to make it gathered to create objects d’art and clothes to sell. It was a win-win for all.

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Leather sculptor Jose "Pepe" Guiterrez and his very creative leather items.

Leather sculptor Jose “Pepe” Guiterrez and his very creative leather items.

DSC_0720DSC_0188DSC_0048DSC_0629Authentic professional theatre groups, and well known dancers, creative leather workers, experts in pottery, art, acting, sewing, gymnastics and other artist fields emerged from this Special Period.

Hector said they designed different ways to cook after they collected wood for the fire. Cooking oil was needed and Cuba had coconuts so foods were cooked with coconut oil. Ketchup did not exist so pumpkin was used and red food coloring was added to make them think they were eating Ketchup.Tapioca served as flour.

Sheep and cattle lard was used to fry pumpkin skins in the lard and Hector demonstrated how the fried skins would stick to the roof of his mouth and he couldn’t get them off. Meat and dairy was nowhere to be found anywhere in Cuba so some people ate the meat of any animal or bird.

Ladies in need of extra income joined the sewing group and made aprons, dolls and other objects for sale.

Ladies in need of extra income joined the sewing group and made aprons, dolls and other objects for sale.

Making clothes also became creative. “The seamstress was a genius.” Hector explained. “Old clothes, out of style clothes, wrong size clothes, all became Haute Couture designer clothes by a seamstress. We were proud of our new fashion clothes.” Salt was used for toothpaste and ash and lemon was used for deodorant.

Those designer clothes and the body had to be washed and getting soap was a challenge. Soon they figured out that coconut milk and certain chemicals they had would work ok for regular soap.

And for laundry soap, substances of plants with soapy leaves, called maguey, worked. Ash and lemon was also used. “We had water but we also were going through a terrible drought at the time”, Hector said. Often times, the people had to wash their clothes in the river.DSC_0639 The sugar for oil deal ended and gasoline was super expensive and almost non-existent so the people parked their vehicles and went back to the basics of horse and carriage, bicycles and walking. DSC_0947 (3)DSC_0870DSC_0861DSC_0098

The Cuban government made farmers with many hectares of land give some of it to others so they could grow vegetables, grains and fruits for themselves and to get the people to return to the countryside from to the city where they went when the going became difficult.DSC_0487 The people had to learn how to grow crops and be farmers. Gardens popped up on rooftops, in back and front yards and parking lots. DSC_0876Growers set up booths to sell their legally grown products right by their “gardens”. DSC_0864The people were forced to eat what they could grow, catch or pick for themselves. DSC_0975DSC_0539And to make matters worse, Hurricane Elena hit Cuba in 1991 and destroyed many of the crops and caused extensive damage. A black market became a creative way of life for getting objects wanted for living.DSC_0957 Horses and oxen plowed fields, and manual labor returned, As a result, Cubans became healthier because of the high fiber vegan diet. Obesity, heart disease, and strokes all decreased during this terrible time.DSC_0295 Large cargo trucks and 18-wheel tractor trailers were no longer needed for industry to haul products from factories, farms and fields so they were converted to people movers, called “camels” and they still exist in Cuba today, as are horse and carriage for transport of people, food and crops, bicycles, walking and manual labor.DSC_0157 “We always had pride and love through these severe times and we always looked at the glass as half full, not half empty. This attitude stimulated their creativity, and we were constantly focused on solutions to everything without losing our dignity, pride or love. Even through it all, we never showed sadness,” Hector said.

Making tips from tourists for photos for money to live.

Making tips from tourists for photos for money to live.

Cubans made money any way they could so the tourists paid a little to take a photo of these pups in Havana.

Cubans made money any way they could so the tourists paid a little to take a photo of these pups in Havana.

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After several years of these devastating conditions, some countries in Latin America started helping Cuba and the terrible times started to ease a little. Out of every bad comes some good the saying goes. “We have been through war, hurricanes, drought, economic collapse, different governmental rulings, near starvation, and lack of medical supplies and we are still here, ” Hector pointed out. The Cuban people make lemonade out of lemons.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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He entered the barn full of tobacco hanging and drying everywhere and the aroma there smelled like a tobacco shop.

Benito and his Cuban Cigar

Benito and his Cuban Cigar

Dressed in khaki work clothes and a straw cowboy hat, the black mustached rugged looking farmer smelled of a musky macho outdoorsman.

On his knee layed a bouquet of aged tobacco leaves and he offered each one of us a chance to savor the aroma up close. Then, selecting one large leaf from that bouquet, he rolled it up carefully from end to end into a tight cylinder and put it in his mouth.

Now ready to smoke his custom cigar, he cut off one end and lit it, followed by a long slow draw and released a huge puff of smoke up into his tobacco drying-curing barn. This was Benito, the Cuban tobacco farmer of Vinales, Cuba that resembled the Marlboro man.  And his smooth charismatic mannerism of smoking caused the women to swoon approvingly and the men to smile.

Benito, with the toabcco bouquet on his knee, preparing to roll out a famous Cuban Cigar.

Benito, with the tobacco bouquet on his knee, preparing to roll out a famous Cuban Cigar.

With his pocket full of his Cuban cigars, Benito offered us a chance to smoke one.

Benito showed us a trick of putting the burning end of the cigar into his mounth and blowing out the other end, causing a huge stream of smoke.

Benito showed us a trick of putting the burning end of the cigar into his mounth and blowing out the other end, causing a huge stream of smoke.

Man after man stepped up for a cigar and Benito personally snipped off the end and then lit it for them.  The joy of smoking a world-famous Cuban cigar soon revealed many happy smiles and pleasurable signs of approval.

Then it was my turn as the only woman who wanted to puff just once on a world famous Cuban Cigar in Cuba with a “Marlboro Man” Cuban tobacco farmer.

So Benito offered one to me, then cut off the end and held the lighter to it for several seconds without anything happening. “Are you puffing on it?  He asked.”  No, I said. “Well, you have to puff on it to get it going.” So with one slow long draw on that cigar, I got to experience why Cuban cigars are so celebrated and famous around the world.

Benito tells me I have to draw on the cigar to get it going. Photo by June.

Benito tells me I have to draw on the cigar to get it going. Photo by June.

Ah, the taste of a world famous Cuban cigar, another dream come true.

Ah, the taste of a world famous Cuban cigar, another dream come true.

We couldn’t leave his tobacco drying-curing barn until he showed us about a tablespoon of “5, 781 tiny black tobacco seeds” that were each about the size of a dot. From each one, Benito said, grows a single tobacco plant and he showed us his field of perfect green plants as we left the barn.

Benito showing the 5,781 tobacco seeds so we can see how tiny they are.

Benito showing the 5,781 tobacco seeds so we can see how tiny they are.

Explaining the tobacco growing season in Vinales, Cuba, the tobacco growing area of Cuba, we learned why Cuba’s tobacco is so good for cigars. The red fertile soil, the position, angle, and amount of sun and the right amount of rain makes top quality tobacco just like a fine wine. Benito said harvesting occurs around Feb.-March each year as he invited us all into his home for Cuban coffee and Cuban Rum.

Walking around carrying a big bottle of Cuban strong amber rum, he laced our coffee with it and the coffee instantly was much more delicious.

The Best Cuban rum with Cuban coffee, what a treat.

The Best Cuban rum with Cuban coffee, what a treat, as Jean-Roch looks on.

It was amazing that rum could enhance the flavor of coffee to such a degree. And even sipping the concoction fairly fast did not even produce a buzz.

By now, our Tauck World Discovery tour visit was over but before we left, we were invited to tour his old authentic Cuban house and see his photos and tobacco ads of his farm. He showed us his family photos and told us how they have grown tobacco for years.

As we left, we had to pass by that tobacco drying-curing barn one last time

Benito's tobacco drying barn with the tobacco field nearby.

Benito’s tobacco drying-curing barn with the tobacco field nearby.

and the aroma that flowed from it indicated it wasn’t long before selling the dried and cured tobacco to make those famous Cuban cigars for the world to enjoy.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

Benito in his tobacco field.

Benito in his tobacco field.

Benito and his workers cutting the tobacco leaves to hang them in the tobacco barn for drying and curing.

Benito and his workers cutting the tobacco leaves to hang them in the tobacco barn for drying and curing.

Benito, on the right, in a tobacco ad.

Benito, on the right, in a tobacco ad.

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On a recent trip to Cuba, it was “A Blast From The Past” and a fun and exciting experience for Denise and I as we arrived in the Havana airport parking lot. There we entered another time period as old 1950s (plus or minus) Classic American cars passed before our eyes. They were taxis, private hires and privately owned old American cars and they were still in active use. As we toured Cuba, we saw more of these cars. So here, for your enjoyment, is a sample of of those cars we viewed in Cuba.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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 A BLAST FROM THE PAST IN CUBAPart 1

On our recent legal cultural exchange tour to Cuba with Insight Cuba, we remember the following incidents, experiences and moments:

—-  Our first incredible exciting experience of stepping through a time warp into the Havana Airport parking lot and seeing the vintage1950’s Classic American cars working as taxis and private hire.

—–  Learning that the color of the license plate on these old classic cars indicated what the car was used for taxi, private hire, diplomat, private etc.

—-  Eating the same Cuban tourist food of shredded cabbage-sliced tomatoes/cucumbers without dressing, delicious grilled chicken, rice sprinkled with black bean pieces and delicious ice cream/pudding everyday of the tour.

—-  Hearing Cuban music everywhere we went.

—-  Drinking Mojitos, Cuba Libras or Cuban Beer every day.

—-  Riding in the “hard as a rock” back seat of an original 1957 Ford Fairlane convertible along the Malecon (seaside boulevard) for $10 with no seat belts – another “time machine” experience .

—-  Our $5 ride in a yellow “Coco” motor-scooter-tricycle without seatbelts along the Malecón and nearly falling out every time we turned the corner.

—-  Eating every lunch and dinner in open air restaurants.

—- Traveling with Denise, who enjoyed Cuba as much as I did, and who helped with every situation graciously, calmly and intelligently, making Cuba a totally enjoyable success for both of us.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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A BLAST FROM THE PAST in CUBA Part 2

—-  Eating breakfasts that were common tourist breakfasts with non-common delicious Cuban coffee.

—-  Seeing the bright blue sky from horizon to horizon without a grayish layer of pollution anywhere.

—-  Getting to view the engine under the hood that opened from each side of a 1956 Orange Buick Special

—-  Visiting Callejón de Hamel, also called Hamel’s Alley, and experiencing Santeria there, a mix of Roman Catholicism, African Yoruba and Native Indian beliefs, that is integrated into Cuban daily life.

—-  Learning from educators how 98% of the Cuban people now are literate as a result of a mass education campaign of education. Educated people in Havana were even sent to the countryside to educate the people there.

—-   Experiencing the centuries-old ritual of the 9 p.m. Cannon Blast Ceremony at the Morro Fort announcing to all that the city gates were closing for the evening.

—-  Talking with two men who were born in Cuba, came to the USA under different circumstances and now, after 32 years in Miami, were returning for the first time to Cuba, and sharing the very emotional experience returning to the place of their childhood.

—-   Seeing the shock on the Cuban people’s faces when they learned we were tourists visiting from the USA.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

 

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A BLAST FROM THE PAST in CUBA Part 3

—– Meeting and visiting with several  housing project tenants who turned out to be doctors, professors and other professionals and fluent in English. Priceless.

—-  Seeing no computers and few cell phones anywhere.

—-  Experiencing NO traffic jams and fairly clean air.

—-  Learning that rationing still goes on and that the people make and live on very little every month.

—-  Seeing the beautiful homes and mansions that 85% of Cubans abandoned because of the Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution, that now are restaurants, schools, government offices, and other public buildings.

—-  Learning that Cuban products besides cigars, coffee and rum are iron mining and medical doctors.

—– Having lunch at La Torre Restaurant 33 floors high, giving us a 360-degree panoramic view of all of Havana.

—-  Learning that it takes 2 weeks to get a letter from Cuba.

—-  Shopping in the Havana’s Almacenes San José Market in old Havana and enjoying the graciousness of the artists and being thanked profusely by a vendor for buying several necklaces from her, thus making her day, month and maybe year.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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A BLAST FROM THE PAST in CUBA Part 4

—-  Seeing a truckload of 40 Cuban soldiers as our tour coach passed it on the street, when one of the soldiers stood up with his arms straight up in the air and then blowing us a big long kiss with both of his hands. Priceless.

—- Seeing skinny Cuban dogs wandering the streets.

—- Riding in a 1956 Buick Special with WINGS  along the Malecón to one of the top paladars (private restaurant), El Guarida in Havana where the movie Fresca y Chocolate was filmed. And then returning to the 1930-built Nacional Hotel in a spotted gray 1953 Ford Hardtop and the back seats in both cars were like sitting on concrete with no padding on rough, bumpy roads.

—– Having the Farewell Dinner at La Ferminia Restaurant and having dinner consisting of five meats: Grilled Bacon, Pork, Sausage, Chicken and Beef served one at a time to us on a skewer, the most meats we saw on the tour. Priceless.

—– Climbing up 275 steps to see the Villa Soroa Cascada (waterfall) in the Orchid Botanical Gardens only to find the water falls barely running.

—– Enjoying the other 19 members of our tour who enjoyed experiencing Cuba as much as we did.

—-  Having several of those tour members fluent in Spanish and several more that spoke some Spanish. Priceless.

—– Going to a Block Party in the dark to visit with tenants of a housing project and watching the children sing and dance then eating refreshments prepared for us by the adults.

— Getting a shot of seven-year-old Cuban Rum after touring the exhibits at the Rum Museum in Havana.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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