Thursday, November 30, 2006

Los Angeles rocks

We arrived at LA airport after 3 flights and 8 hours in the air at 1130pm and waited patiently for our luggage. And waited. And waited.
We contacted airport staff to learn that our backpacks were in Mexico City.
We left the airport at 1 AM after being reassured that our luggage would be delivered in the morning. We spent the night at the Radisson and in the morning after waiting for several hours and then speaking to the Concierge we were informed that best practice would be to return to the airport to chase the luggage.
Well we finally received the luggage at 1230, all intact.
We have found everyone we have spoken to and even some people we haven't are very helpful polite and in some cases bizarre.
We are half a block off Hollywood Boulevardand have walked its length. We caught the Metro to downtown LA and to Long Beach and did a tour of the Queen Mary and a Russian submarine called the Scorpion.
Train travel is $3 per day.
Internet is $6 per hour, but at least it is fast.
LA is a surprise package. We thought we might not like it much after what we have seen, but it is quiet and there is no pollution and there are not as many people around as there is in Cuba or Mexico. I think all the Mexicans are in LA.
So far we love it. Meeting up with Hin and Niamh on Friday.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cuba Libre... Mojitos, mojitos, mojitos

Cuba Libre means Free Cuba. The next part of our journey for the next 7 days flew past. A new group, new tour leader, taking to about 60 people we have travelled with over the last 3 months. Our last tour leader, Lenin, yes that is his name, is from Ecuador, proved to be very adept at bonding the group very quickly. We spent 2 days in Vinales in a casa de particulare (home stay), with lovely home cooked meals and with hikes through the peaceful mogites, which are limestone hills. This is a tobacco and coffee growing area, so there was the obligatory cigar and coffee sampling, along with the usual smattering of rum. A lot of people carry a bottle of rum with them where ever they go. If they are at a bar it is a large bottle of cola and a bottle of rum, and it keeps you happy for hours very cheaply . The hike we took lasted 3 hours and took us through the fields and a big climb to two caves the view was incredible. The caves were used for hideouts during the Cuban missile crisis. We saw people working , children playing, old men chatting to each other, everyday life. We have managed to really see what people get up to everyday while we have travelled through this wonderful country.

This seems like a nice place to work. I wonder if this old farmer sees the beauty in this tobacco crop. 15000 cigars out of this crop.

One of the many caves that crisscross the area, we were in a boat through this cave.

It was a cold day but yet another beautiful beach on the Carribean. The next day was glorious . Snorkelling was incredible once again off the beach.

Our tour leader and others jamming on a cold afternoon at Maria la Gorda. That afternoon Lenin showed us how to make the popular cocktail Mojito. Boy were they the best we had tasted. We also had to try out the Cuba Libres... rum and cola , as well. Guitar playing as we sang along and salsaed in our room was how we spent this afternoon. It was a highlight of our whole trip.

& The sun sets on our Cuban holiday

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Baracoa...Beautiful beaches

As we travelled to our next destination with our packed lunch courtesy of our host family , we made a surprise stop at a secluded beach on the Carribean. We had the place to ourselves the water was divine. The only thing was the pebbles hard on the feet. We had the best ham and cheese rolls ever. Have we mentioned the standard fare everywhere you go ham and cheese or cheese or ham is the go on pizzas, on fish, in fish . The cliffs were fossilized coral and shell it was incredible. We are lucky to visit such places and we are always pinching ourselves.

The scenery on the way to Baracoa changed to very lush roadsides, flowers, stands of palms, bananas, stunning is all I can say. It is a very small town about the size of our Gawler but it seemed to hold twice as many people quite amazing. We stayed in a fine hotel right on the main street. No getting lost for some members of our group as happened in other places because of the confusing streets. Well this place was the party town of Cuba ... just ask the girls on our tour , hickeys everywhere and I won´t mention names. The weather has been great for us still, especially on our beach days.
Talking about that the day we went to the next beach was awesome. As we walked from the bus through the palm trees with pigs, dogs, and chickens we walked on to the softest and whitest sand we have stepped foot on. The water was so clear and warm that we stayed in most of the day . I learned to snorkel properly with no fear thanks to my ever patient Nick. Lunch was served on our towels made by local people who caught the seafood and cooked it . Yum. Lots of resh fruit and salads so cheap. They bought us drinks , fresh squeezed orange juice. Vendors were selling all sorts of things to us so we got to try all different local food. Fun day for all of us. That was the first time we have swum in the Atlantic ocean.
The next day we hiked and went on a river trip rowed by an old man in a boat that took on lots of water. The guy was so tired from rowing Nick and Toby and our guide had to help row.

They don´t have much wildlife in Cuba he reckons they ate everything. At night we went to sleep listening to live music in the bars . It seems to be so mesmerizing this place. Loved it here. We had to get up early the next day 4.00 am to drive 6 hours to catch a flight back to Havana. Back to reality. To say goodbye to our fun new friends and our fantastic tour leader Claire.. boy can she salsa was sad, but on to our next adventure to the west of Cuba.

Che Guervara is the local hero everywhere in Cuba. He is on Tshirts, coins, hats, and this is a portrait painted on a wall

Santiago de Cuba

Rolling into this place late afternoon was very different to the other towns. Going from cobblestone streets to very crowded roads and lots of pollution from those old cars. I don´t think they have changed to unleaded petrol yet. And there are so many diesel buses and trucks, which use a very smelly fuel.

One way to travel.

We stayed in a Casa for 3 days this time . The owner could speak some English so he pumped us for info at every opportunity. We always stay right in the midst of the towns so no need to take transport but loads of walking. Just as well as all our meals would feed 4 of us .

The place has many squares so lots of people watching. All extremely safe once we sorted out who was on our case to earn extra money while trying to guide us into their friends cafe, bar, lunch spot, gallery all very interesting. We have become very adept at spotting those, it is all good fun.

Picture: looking down one of the streets from the square

Day one we were sitting on a bench in a park listening to live music at a bar across theway when these couple of musos wandered over and asked if we would like them to play for us Hotel California.... standard fare for foreigners we declined but asked for cuban music . Well they let us have it just for us for the next 30 mins. One of the guys on a very old bongo drum was pretty old him self and the most interesting face he had been around a bit. The other on guitar was much younger he had the most beautiful skin. Together they made the best music we have heard in Cuba and that is saying something .. and it was just for us.

We visited many interesting museums , the Carnival museum put on a local dance come gyrating which included us pretty funny . It was the dancing the slaves entertained themselves at night, very enthusiastic leaving nothing to the imagination.

The Emilio Bacardi museum was very good it was the collection of artefacts from his travels around the world and including lots of weapons and equipment from the revolution. He was the founder of Bacardi rum but sold his rights when the revolution took place because it was linked to the U.S.A. In between walking around we tried many cocktails as you do in Cuba, because in most bars live music is playing.

The music is what Cuba is all about and the cocktails. Coffee in the local places was only 2 local pesos equal to about 10 cents and that was great coffee . We drink expressos now .We loved the vibe of this place it was very busy full of all sorts . No racism in Cuba everyone marries, french, afrocubans, spanish, it is great to see how this country works.

The fort protecting Santiago from the pirates and others

Picture Protecting us from Dengue fever. All vehicles were stopped and filled with smoky stuff to kill the mosquitos

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Alive and well in Havana

We have been unable to blog much as internet is expensive, slow and unreliable. The power also drops off unexpectantly, a second before we hit the save or publish button, so we will wait until we have some broad band speed somewhere.
We are having an absolutely great time.
We are back in Havana after 2 weeks travelling east and now are heading west for a week.

Some of the locals dressed up. Tourists pay to be photographed with the ´locals´.

Picture is of a Coppelia, which is an icecream parlour. The locals queue for hours waiting to be served as the ice cream is only a few cents in local money.

It is much easier in Havana as we know our way around a little better and can spend more time at the markets or at the museums or just sitting and watching the passing parade. There are so many tourists here, mainly from Europe and Canada. Last year there were over one and a half million and this year all ready there have been 2 million. The effect of tourism is very obvious as many areas are being repaved and many buildings are being restored. The only trouble is that when we walk down some streets it is easy to forget we are in Cuba, as it feels as if we are walking down any European street in Italy or Spain or France.

And would you believe it. Oreilly´s Bar, but no Guinness

And the old cars are every where.

George is held in high esteem (just kidding)

This is a camello. It is a local bus that the Cubans cram into. It can carry up to 300 people. A bit of a squeeze. And imagine trying to get off at the bus stop

Some buildings need repair, some are restored. It is a photographer and artists heaven.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wowee!! Cuba

Travelling through Cuba on our bus has been a fantastic experience so far. We have been able to stop when we want at interesting places usually without other tourists ... not that there are many around. There are a lot of horse drawn vehicles around , actually most farmers are still using oxen to pull their ploughs. Horses are certainly the main mode of taxis in the country. Their staple crops seem to be sugar cane which was one of their main exports but of course since the American embargo they are struggling ..but that is another story.The feeling here is very patrioticand of pulling together as one people. The scenery is stunning from plains of crops to the royal palms .. their national tree with huge dairy herds grazing always with a white heron on their back or by their side.

On the way to our next stop we visited a very high tower that was built to oversee the slaves bought in from Haiti and other neighbouring islands. Santiago de Cuba home of the revolution in Cuba. We arrived late evening in what looked like a fairly scary place. Throughout Cuba we are staying in Casa de Particulares. A quick explanation of how this works is needed here. We have a mother home that the bus pulls up to. We are talking about huge homes here even if they are rundown on the outside. They are decorated inside just like most of your grandparent´s homes.. lots of fake flowers and china ornaments. The places are usually around some sort of a courtyard. Huge rooms accommodating a lot of family members and of course us their guests. As we sit down our ¨mums and or dads¨come to pick us up to take us in pairs to our host home for the duration of our stay. The other word you would use would be a homestay. This is where we need our spanish because they cook our meals usually breakfast and dinner, so we need to order what we would like and at what time. We have never travelled this way before . It is fun. Our rooms are comfortable ...we have the matrimonial usually with at least a fan which is needed here as it is quite hot and humid though not as hot as some parts of Central America.

We quite often meet up for drink or dancing after and now we know how to salsa after 4 lessons.. I think we actually need another 4 as we are not very articulate.
Nick at a Salsa Lesson. Did he learn anything though?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Mexico , Country of contrasts

Well, we are way behind on our blogging and out of sequence. Ah well beggars can´t be choosers. Mexico for us started in Playa del carmen on the Carribean and ended in Mexico city. In between was some of the best times we have had so far. Our introduction was odd. A beach side resort town was not a true introduction to the Mexican way of life. In fact there weren´t any real mexicans working there and was full of tourists. Once we moved on to the Yucatan Peninsula now that was different. The Mayan cities we were fortunate to see were so much work has been done to restore the old cities and they have done it well. They need more of to come to see so more money can be used to discover rebuild and make available for us to see such inspiring sites such as Palenque. More tourists should go to these places rather than the beach resorts. We saw old colonial towns . Saw many cowboys. The best experiences we had culturally were visiting the villages.To see first hand their living standards and how proud they are of their traditions. Lastly Mexico City. Everyone we have spoke to said not to go there too long . Once again the weather played a huge part in our enjoyment. Well it was a surprise package. From so many museums... we actually did not go to many , to ¨The day of the dead ¨ , what a great experience! we will miss the people the food and the extra ordinary experiences we had there. Hasta la vista baby as the wannabe next president of the states said.


On the bus again and this time we are off to Trinidad. after leaving Havana we are soon motoring down the highway on a 6 lane road. It looks more like a concrete runway.

The majority of traffic is trucks, most of them acting as buses. We have never seen as many different modes of transport. Tractors pulling trailers full of people, trucks filled to the brim with people, people on horseback and in horse drawn carriages and on bicycles and of course walking.

After several hours we arrived in Santa Clara. Santa Clara is a memorial to the Revolution in 1957. The local hero is Che Guevara, who met Fidel when he was deported to Mexico in 1955. The battle that changed the war was in Santa Clara when Che masterminded the derailment of an armoured train sent by the Batistan government, and a week later Che marched into Havana.

Some observations on Cuba. The average wage is about 15 CUC per month. Anyone who wants to work can. Anyone who does not want to work gets no help. The literacy rate is 98%. School is available to everyone, so is free milk for children. The local currency is 1-24th, ie 1CUC is 24 pesos. We can buy from a western shop with CUCs 2 bananas .25 CUC or go to the local market and a banana is 1 peso.
There is music everywhere. Sit on a seat in a square and music surrounds you. It is from groups of people on the street, in a bar, in the square, in a restuarant. It is everywhere.


What a place. It doesn´t matter what time of the day there are always many people everywhere.
Music all day and then the bars keep the dancing and music going until the early hours of morning.
And the old cars are everywhere

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Central America and Mexico

We have had the most amazing 6 weeks together. People ask us what was the highlight. It is a toss up between Costa rica.... the adventure country, to Guatemala and Nicaragua...... volcano heaven or Honduras .....island paradise. and remembering we have only scratched the surface. It is really too hard to choose because so many different events and memories have shaped our feelings on all the countries we visited. We have tried to emerse ourselves in the culture try to get to see as much of the landscape and most importantly interacted with the people of each country as well as our limited spanish has allowed us to. Our experiences with the food have been on the whole been interesting. We have tried all the regional food that we have been offered and there was nothing we would not eat again.The weather has been incredibly kind to us as far as moderate conditions go. That in itself has let us explore from daylight to dusk. Very few times have we felt uncomfortable in any country at anytime of the day. We have met some great people as tour leaders and our fellow travellers on our journey of discovery wich also helps make our travels so memorable. We would definitely recommend the Gap tour that we did to any one. It covered Volcanoes to Mayan ruins. Beaches to awesome mountains. Really old cities and fantastic architecture.It was colourful and joyous. dancing in the streets , kids being kids, making games out of what they have available to them.the six weeks flew by was just the right amount of time and we only spent the whole 6 weeks with 4 others . Kate (our doctor from Ireland )is going to join us for christmas .When we go to L. A. we are meeting up with Niamh (irish) sounds like Neve , she swears a lot , and Hin (german born to Chinese parents ) and now living in Detroit. K short for Kirsten( english )and Rachel (english )soon to be Panamania , courtesy of Julio whom she met on her holiday .We will remember these countries for their very individual reasons.We have really enjoyed sharing our thoughts and our photos with you all. It will be a lasting memory for us. Next instalment will be Mexico which outshone , wonderful place.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


We have arrived in Havana after a very bumpy roller coaster flight.
Internet is slow and expensive $9 US per hour.
Havana is a great place and is very colonial looking.

Photo : The view from our 8th floor room in the morning

We arrived at our hotel in the evening and were a bit unsure of where we were and what the people were like. We didn´t walk far and had dinner next door. The amazing thing about food from restuarants is that you can order the same meal from the same waiter on consecutive nights and end up with 2 completely different meals.
The next morning we travelled on a city tour bus to visit the highlights of the city. Havana is a very large city with 2.2 million people. It was with surprise that we noted the differences in the city. There were modern buildings and so many

colonial buildings sadly in need of repair.

were hundreds of people everywhere and many old cars and many bicycles and many taxis and many horse and carts and many people, walking, gathered on street corners, resting in doorways, queued at shops. Really undescribable.

Photo : View of Havana across the harbour

Photo : How beautiful is this

We rode the bus and stopped at a rum factory, which is a great place to be at 10am. Th guide was extremely funny and talked non stop, filling us in on the details of rum making. He spoke fluently and it was on sentence in Spanish and immediately repeated the sentence in English. Very entertaining and informative. Rum here is 3 to 5 $ per bottle.

We finished the rum factory visit with a flaming coffee. A cappuchino is made with local coffee and then heated rum on fire is poured into it and Yum.

Photo : And the old cars are every where

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Last day in Mexico

We went out to dinner and were entertained by Mariachi singers and dancers, it was a great night. It started with traditional dancing with dancers dressed in early Mayan costumes, then continuing on to the Spanish influence with flamenco dancing, and all the while accompanied by the Mariachi band. It even ended with cock fighting (much to our disgust). We travelled via the Metro, supposedly the biggest in the world. The city is also the largest in population and area, and the Metro works very well. It is the quick or the left behind. We were separated as Gabrielle was not quick enoughto leave the train before
the doors slammed shut and had to go to the next station. Meanwhile Nick was on the platform wondering whether to wait or head to the next station. But with trains every 3 minutes it did not take long before we were reunited.

We travelled on the tourist bus to have a final look at the city. It was a 3 hour trip and was an excellent way to see the city, it was aboard a double decker bus and we were on the top in the open air.

Some of the great architecture, but I can´t remember what it was called

There are lots of things for children to do inmexico City. The Zoo is free, there are children´s interactive museums, a science museum and a huge Luna Park with heaps and heaps of rides. This is part of the roller coaster, called the Russian Mountain that we could see from the bus

Tonight we will be observing the day of the dead celebrations.
This is part of the procession, not quite Christmas pageant style

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Mexico City

The wedding cakes at the bakery

Just a short note.
We are in Mexico City again and trying to see as much as possible.
This place must be Halloween central, and as The Day of the Dead is celebrated on 1st November the whole place is full of ghouls and other things

Note the live iguana on this tourist`s shoulder

The bakery window

We went for a ride on a boat through some canals

There are street demonstrations here regarding the trouble in Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca), but we have stayed clear of any trouble

There is so much to do and see, a couple of more days would be nice

this was one of the flamenco dancers that entertained us

A Mayan dancer at the traditional dinner