Trinidad de Cuba (To see the full Cuba set click here)
Another year begins and another escape from the frigid temperatures of the Canadian prairies. I must admit however our winter here in Saskatchewan has been alarmingly warm. Much to the chagrin of those I left behind my 1 week trip did allow me to dodge the brief cold snap of -40° weather.
From Jan 12th-19th I made my hotel room at the Barcelo Solymar resort in Varadero my base of operations. Traveling with one of my best friends, who is also my roommate, we planned a nice mix of excursions and relaxation (read: partying) during our 1 week vacation.
The day after our arrival we met with our Sunwing rep and booked our tours. We opted for a 1 day Havana excursion and then a 2 day overnight trip through 4 provinces up to the mountains (aka Trinidad + Rambo tour). Prices seemed fair at around $60 and $120 respectively.
We still had the remainder of the day to explore Varadero a little so we paid 5CUC for an all day bus pass on the double-decker bus that cruises up and down the strip. I was leery of taking my 5DMKII along to Cuba so I opted to bring my 2Ti instead which had served me very well in Halifax, Mexico, and Cypress Hills. I also brought along my trusty Canon SD780IS point & shoot and my tiny Golden Half, a diminutive half frame camera put out by Superheadz in Japan.
Like most of the tourists in Varadero we wound up at the various fleamarkets that dot the main drag. While the various tables held treasures for some it was the side streets and photo opportunities that lured me in.
Shot from my Golden Half on the main drag in Varadero, Cuba
The next day after an unintentionally late night (hey the drinks are free) we boarded the tour bus for Havana. Just getting to see some of the countryside instead of the very touristy Varadero was nice.
Scene beside a rest stop on the way to Havana
Throughout Cuba there are people who make their living just posing for tourist photos, the gentleman in the shot below just hung out at this one rest stop where people on their way to Havana would stop.
A "tourist model" poses for a shot at a reststop on the way to Havana
Havana itself was an impressive sight, you could just imagine how crazy it must have been in the 30's with the mobsters flocking there and setting up casinos and nightclubs. Everywhere you turned there were amazing sights to be seen.
Amazing architecture is everywhere in Havana
Having never been to Havana before, or Cuba for that matter, we wound up sticking with the tour group the whole time. This limited the shots I was able to get but I still managed to get some good captures. Street photography is a genre I haven't dabbled in too much but I was very happy with some of the shots I was able to get. The photo one below was actually shot out of our bus and was one of my favourite from Havana.
A Habanero looks down the busy street from his window.
The Havana tour ended with a stop at their Capitol building which looks very similar to another landmark in another country.
Capitol Building in Havana, Cuba
Next we had a few days at our resort, initially we were a little worried because we seemed to only be running into Russian or French speaking people. I like meeting new people but if they don't speak any English its hard to break the ice. Eventually though we found there were lots of other English speaking Canadians and after a few Cuba Libres everyone was a friend. We also met lots of cool people from around the world, Sweden, Russia, Albania, Belgium and I even met a female Italian rally driver!
These group shots are always a big hit, especially with drunk people!
On yet another sleep deprived morning we boarded a bus for our 2 day excursion. Traveling south from Varadero we'd pass through the city of Cardenas, then on to the Che Guevara Museum in Santa Clara. Lunch would be in the city of Sancti Spiritus, followed by a stop in Trinidad de Cuba before heading up to our hotel in the mountains of Topes de Collantes.
Our tour guide explains the ration system at a distribution center in Sancti Spiritus
My favourite city from the trip though was Trinidad de Cuba, this was less touristy than some of the other places we'd been. The town had more of a sleepy laid back vibe and the people were very friendly.
Two girls hang out in front of their shop in Trinidad de Cuba beckoning people to come in look at their merchandise
After the last rays of daylight had faded we boarded our bus and made our way up the mountain to our hotel. After a nice dinner I had what proved to be my only hot shower during my entire Cuba trip. Feeling human again I went to bed knowing we'd have a full day the next day. Eight hours later I fueled up on a light breakfast and a few cups of coffee before hopping aboard an old Russian army truck which was going to carry us further up the mountain. From there a new tour guide was to take us on a 3km hike down the mountain where we'd see various flora and fauna and see a nice waterfall.
Lush vegetation covers the mountains in Topes de Collantes
A bit further down the trail we stop and those who wanted to were free to swim in this mountain pool.
At the end of the trail we broke for lunch, the restaurant was open air and had some very nice flowers and trees around it. The flower in the shot below reminded me of those cheap fiber-optic wand thingamajigs you used to be able to buy at the circus.
A neat flower from outside the mountain restaurant
After lunch we boarded the Russian army trucks again and headed back to our regular tour bus. From here we'd make our way down the mountain then west to our last stop of Cienfuegos, a port city on the Caribbean side of Cuba.
An anorexic cow grazes on the side of the road on our way to Cienfuegos
A windsurfer takes a ride off the shore of Cienfuegos
School must have just let out in Cienfuegos while we were there because the streets were full of students.
Just before boarding the bus to head back to Varadero one of the many street artists I'd encountered during my stay in Cuba had managed to pen my image. I think the hat and goatee are a magnet for caricature artists :) I actually really liked this one but had just spent my last $1.50 on a container of ice cream to help soothe my now burning throat (I had a nasty cold at this point). My buddy, seeing my predicament, quickly hopped off the bus to pay the gentleman and snag what I thought was one of the best caricatures of me I'd seen during the whole trip.