Monday, June 24, 2013


The third day of our trip is Tuesday, February 19th, and we are on the move today.   After the Hotel Nacional breakfast buffet, we assembled outside the hotel to wait for our tour bus.  I am going to assume that the Hotel flies the flags of the nations of all its guests as this morning I was a little surprised to find Ol' Glory on the pole outside the hotel.

The cars continue to fascinate me.  Since Raul Castro has take over the operation of the country, private ownership of cars is now possible.  The color of the license tells a viewer about the ownership of the vehicle.  In the past, the license plates were green for the military and blue for the state but now viewers can see a lot of yellow plates which identify privately owned vehicles.  Taxis like these can have multiple owners and are on the road in three eight-hour shifts to keep the money rolling in.  However, this vehicle, by its blue plate, is still state owned.  

I improved international feline relations by having a morning meet-and-great with the hotel's cat.  Next we are on the bus and on our way to the city of Matanzas, known as the Venice of Cuba which means it is time for more Fuzzy Out the Window Shots.

Today's quote from our guide Eric:  "In Cuba, time does not matter."

The bus trip allows Eric to tell us more about Cuba.  Today we got on the topic of housing.  Three and one-half million people live in Havana and 90% own their own homes.  But in both Havana and in the countryside there is a housing shortage.  During the Soviet period of Cuba's history, their allies built house for the people but they are not popular because they are known as "shoeboxes."  Here are some (for lack of a better word) suburban communities we saw from the highway that illustrate these complexes.

On the road to Mantanzas there is a rest stop to end all rest stops.  Its real intention is to show the Bacunayagua Bridge which is an engineering marvel that lies 360 feet above the Yumuri river.  The bridge was built in the 1960s and someone was doing some maintenance on it the day we were there.

But forget the bridge--the real reason to stop at the rest stop is that they serve PiƱa Coladas and have a live salsa band playing for the weary travelers.

 And our own Catherine Hanson on percussion

Supposedly one out of every eight cars in Cuba are pre-1959 American autos.  Even way out here in the boonies this is what we found parked in the rest stop lot.

Fuzzy Out the Window Shots Volume Two:

Matanzas, also known as the Venice of Cuba, is a city of seventeen bridges over the Yumuri, San Juan, and Canimar rivers. One hundred and sixty thousand people live there. It is a major industrial port that is also the fourth largest sugar export port in the world.

Our goal is to visit the Ediciones Vigia (Ve-hee-a), a unique publishing house that produces handmade first edition copies of books founded in 1983. Only 200 copies of each book are made so each is a collector’s item. The publishing house produces works of poetry, short stories, literary criticism and children's books.  The authors are either famous international writers or Cubans efforts including first editions.

While we are there, the employees are making a book to be taken to the Book Fair.

Each book is designed by the master bookmaker Rolando Esteves and then a mock up is made.  Then, from the template, the employees cut out the design, do the binding and coloring.  The text is simply photocopied and attached in place.  All the books are made from recycled materials, cloth and cardboard.

Many books were on display and I must admit that I bought a few.  (Later it would occur to me that I should have bought one of each because when will I ever get back to this book store?).  Here are the handmade books I bought:

This book is poetry by Jose Marti.

This book is two theater plays and the tree puppet is from one of the plays.

This is a book of poetry.

This is the book that was produced for the International Book Fair of Havana.

A little sight seeing in Matanzas brought us to the central square of the city where we found this stunning statue of Jose Marti.

Here is the local public library.

Lunch was at the Barracon where I had a fine fish entree.

Fuzzy Out the Window Shots Volume 3:

Let us talk about the military and the police.  I have nothing to say.  Although on the road we did see some kind of police presence and a few folks pulled over for whatever reason, I saw less police and military in Cuba than I did when I was in Oaxaca, Mexico.

When we returned to Havana, we headed over to a the Necropolis de Colon (Columbus Cemetery), a 125 acre facility where over 50,000 plots are housed and where there are 40 to 45 burials a day (80% of contemporary burials are held here).  Completed in 1886 by the Spanish architect Calixto de Loira, it is a magnificent place to visit.

Fuzzy Out the Window Shots Volume 4:

As we got back to the hotel, I spotted a street fair being held a few blocks away.  So after the bus dropped us off I went for a walk to the art fair.  I bought a box and some refrigerator magnets with iconic Cuban images on them.  

Then I headed down to the seafront to take these photos.  The walkway along the seafront is called the Malecon and it is always full of people relaxing, taking in the sun and enjoying the sea breeze.  

That night I went to the Monseigneur Restaurant which was across the street from the Hotel with Catherine Hanson, Jennie Stoltz and Kamuela.  This was an old Italian restaurant with gaudy decor. The maitre d sat us right on top of the piano and we found ourselves entertained by Nelson Camacho.  Nelson was wonderful to us.  He asked us what we wanted to hear and we suggested Cuban music.  The odd thing was he would play American show tunes and classical music by great composers.  Then he would lean over, almost whisper to us that the next piece was Cuban, and then play a tune just for us.  

I ate the fish special which was a mixture of different types of seafood.  

Nothing America works in Cuba including cell phones so it was not possible to use the one in my possession to call my wife Denice.  When we got back to the hotel tonight I thought I would ask if it was possible to call a US number.   I approached the desk with the usual "No habla Espanol" but the woman working late that night could speak English.  I asked if I could call to the US and she asked, "What number?"  I told her and she told me to pick up the phone on the counter.  I did and was speaking to Denice.  It was that easy. 

That sort of sums up the day:  a mixture of different things all of which really satisfied.  

For a complete set of all the photos from this trip, please visit me at