Wednesday, August 16, 2017

INDEX

ENJOYING OUR 12TH TRIP TO CUBA AND SECOND TO THE HOTEL COLONIAL IN CAYO COCO. EXPLORING CIEGO DE AVILA. JANUARY 12-26, 2017: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2017/08/enjoying-our-12th-trip-to-cuba-and.html 

THE MASSASAUGA PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO. SEPTEMBER 25- OCTOBER 5, 2016: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2017/08/the-massasauga-provincial-park-ontario.html

HALIBURTON HIGHLANDS-HERB LAKE, ONTARIO. AUGUST 21-SEPTEMBER 1, 2016:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2017/08/haliburton-highlands-herb-lake-ontario.html

THE MASSASAGA PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO—CAMPING AND CANOEING, JUNE 26-JULY 09, 2016: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2016/10/the-massasaga-provincial-park.html

CAMPING IN LONG POINT PROVINCIAL PARK, ONTARIO—MAY, 2016: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2016/10/camping-in-long-point-provincial-park.html


PLAYA ANCON, CUBA—HOTEL ANCON AND TRINIDAD—JANUARY 10-18, 2016: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2016/10/playa-ancon-cubahotel-ancon-and.html

CAYO COCO, CUBA—TWO WEEKS AT THE HOTEL COLONIAL AND THREE DAYS IN MORÓN, NOVEMBER 09-23, 2015: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2016/10/cayo-coco-cubatwo-weeks-at-hotel.html


Camping with black bears and canoeing on the French River, Ontario, Campsite #609, July 27-August 3, 2015: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/12/camping-with-black-bears-and-canoeing.html

 

Canoeing and camping on Franklin Island, Ontario, June, 2015http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/12/canoeing-and-camping-on-franklin-island.html

 

Camping in Long Point Provincial Park and driving/bike riding in nearby areas, Ontario, May 18-23, 2015http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/12/camping-in-long-point-provincial-park.html

 

One week at the Club Amigo, Guardalavaca, Cuba and a trip to Banes—January, 2015: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/12/one-week-at-club-amigo-guardalavaca.html

 

Trips to Santa Lucia, Cuba: two weeks at the hotel Club Amigo, trip to La Boca and three days in Camagüey, October/November, 2014: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/12/trip-to-santa-lucia-cuba-two-weeks-at.html

 

The Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario: canoeing trip and an encounter with the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, September, 2014http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/11/camping-massasauga-provincial-park.html


Temagami, Ontario: Camping in Finlayson Point Provincial Park and Canoeing on Lady Evelyn Lake-August, 2014http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/11/temagami-ontario-camping-in-finlayson.html

Camping on a River, Next to a Bear Crossing-Bayfield Inlet, Ontario-July/August, 2014: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/11/camping-on-river-next-to-bear.html

Camping on and Canoeing Around Franklin Island, Ontario, July 13-19, 2014: http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/11/camping-on-and-canoeing-around-franklin.html

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario—Canoeing & Camping on Carlyle & Terry Lake, June 26-July 03, 2014http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/10/killarney-provincial-park.html 

Cayo Largo, Cuba—One Week at the Hotel Pelicano, January, 2014
http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2015/10/cayo-largo-cubaone-week-at-hotel.html

Camagüey, Cuba: At the Hotel Club Amigo Caracol in Santa Lucia, Villages of Tararaco & La Boca and a Trip to the City of Camagüey, November 22-December 06, 2013
http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/09/camaguey-cuba-at-hotel-club-amigo.html

WHITE PINE SHORES RESORT AND CAMPING IN HALIBURTON FOREST IN ONTARIO, OCTOBER, 2013
http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/08/white-pine-shores-resort-and-camping-in.html

CANOEING AND CAMPING IN RESTOULE PROVINCIAL PARK IN ONTARIO, SEPTEMBER, 2013http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/08/canoeing-and-camping-in-restoule.html

CANOEING IN CHARLESTON LAKE PROVINCIAL PARK AND CAMPING ‘UNDER THE BRIDGE’ IN IVY LEA PARK, SEPTEMBER, 2013http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/08/canoeing-in-charleston-lake-provincial.html

FRENCH RIVER—CANOEING ON WOLSELEY BAY AND CAMPING ON BOOMERANG ISLAND, AUGUST, 2013http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/07/french-rivercanoeing-on-wolseley-bay.html

The Massasauga Park, Ontario: Camping and Canoeing at Blackstone Harbour and Wreck Island. August, 2013http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/07/the-massasauga-park-ontario-august-2013.html

Canoeing and camping at Chutes, Matinenda, Missisagi and Oasster Lake Provincial Parks & Manitoulin Island, Ontario.  July 15-25, 2013 : http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2014/01/canoeing-and-camping-at-chutes.html

Canoeing and Camping in Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, on Carlyle Lake--June 25-July 02, 2013http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2013/12/killarney-provincial-park-ontario.html

Algonquin Provincial Park—Bartlett Lake, May 2013.  Defeated By Black Flies!http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2013/10/algonquin-provincial-parkbartlett-lake.html 


Canoeing on Georgian Bay, South of Philip Edward Island, Ontario--August, 2012:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2012/08/canoeing-on-georgian-bay-south-of.html

Canoeing on the Key River and Georgian Bay, Ontario, August, 2012:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2012/08/canoeing-on-key-river-and-georgian-bay.html

Canoeing on Anima Nipissing Lake and Lake Temagami, Camping in Finlayson Point Provincial Park, Ontario—July, 2012:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2012/07/canoeing-on-anima-nipissing-lake-and.html

Canoeing in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and Camping in Silent Lake Provincial Park, Ontario—June, 2012:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2012/07/canoeing-in-kawartha-highlands.html


Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks.Radio Observatory. Black Bear's Visit on Our Campsite. Ontario, October 04-11, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/10/bon-echo-and-algonquin-parks-ontario.html

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 15-21, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/09/restoule-provincial-park-ontario.html

Emily Provincial Park and Kawathra Lakes, Ontario, September 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/09/emily-provincila-park-on.html

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay) and in Killarney Park, Ontario, August 21-29, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/08/wosley-bay-and-killarney.html

Canoeing south of Philip Edward Island and the Foxes, July 31-August 6, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/08/philip-edward-island-and-foxes.html

Canoeing in the Massasauga Park, Ontario, July 15-22, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/07/massasauga-park-on.html

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, July 03-08, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/07/french-river-dokis.html

Camping in Six Mile Lake Provincial Park and Canoeing on Various Lakes in Muskoka, Ontario, June 18-24, 2011:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2011/07/six-mile-lake-park-on.html

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CARISOL/CORALES RESORT AND BACONAO, OCTOBER 31-NOVEMBER 7, 2010:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/12/in-polish-pywanie-na-kanu-w-massasauga.html

Canoeing around Philip Edward Island, Ontario, August 11-20, 2010:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/08/canoeing-around-philip-edward-island.html

Canoeing on the Pickerel River in Ontario, July 28-August 03, 2010:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/08/pickerel-river-canoeing-july-august.html

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario--Carlyle Lake.  June, 25-July, 02, 2013:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2013/12/killarney-provincial-park-ontario.html

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, around Okikendawt Island (Dokis Indian Reserve), July 14-22, 2010:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/08/french-river-ontario-dokis-july-2010.html

The Massasauga Provincial Park, June-July, 2010:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/08/massasauga-provincial-park-june-july.html


Canoeing in the Massasauga Park and Sharing it with Black Bears, July 07-14, 2009 and September 25-28, 2009:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/07/canoeing-in-massasauga-park-and-sharing.html

Canoeing in Killarney Provincial Park, August 12-16, 2009:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/06/in-polish-weekend-in-bon-echo-park.html



French River Canoeing Trip, Ontario, Canada, August 19-22, 2008:  http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2010/04/my-first-entry.html

ENJOYING OUR 12TH TRIP TO CUBA AND SECOND TO THE HOTEL COLONIAL IN CAYO COCO. EXPLORING CIEGO DE AVILA. JANUARY 12-26, 2017


Blog po polsku/in the Polish language: http://ontario-nature-polish.blogspot.ca/2017/08/dwunasty-wyjazd-na-kube-i-drugi-do.html


After visiting the Hotel Colonial for the first time in November 2015 (http://ontario-nature.blogspot.ca/2016/10/cayo-coco-cubatwo-weeks-at-hotel.html), we had such a great time that at that time we decided to visit it again—and 14 months later, on January 12, 2017, after the shortest flight ever from Toronto to Cuba (3 hours and 7 minutes), we arrived in Cayo Coco.
 
View from our hotel window, room 1642
The flight (Sunwing) was good, although for the first time no meals were included in the price of the ticket (which did not bother me at all). Upon arrival, at the departure area of the Cayo Coco airport, I went to obtain some Cuban money, but the exchange rate was really bad, just 67 CUC for $100 CAN. Unfortunately, the same rate was offered at the hotel’s reception desk. On the other hand, at the bank in Ciego de Avila I got 72.50 CUC for $100 CAN (although the clerk initially made a ‘mistake’, shortchanging me by 20 CUC). Because of the poor exchange rate, we brought with us plenty of US one-dollar bills which were perfect for tipping and no one seemed to complain—well, after all, “pecunia non olet”! Some tourists claim that we should always tip in the local currency—especially because it is difficult for Cubans to exchange US dollars into CUCs (there is a 10% surcharge). I agree—and as soon as the Cuban government stops cheating tourists on the exchange rates, we will tip in CUCs! And at least we did tip, unlike many of the Russian tourists.
Room #1642

The bus ride to the hotel took just over 20 minutes. We immediately saw Viviana and Michael from Public Relations whom we had met during our previous trip. In no time we settled in our very nice and cozy corner room #1642.

Whereas Canadians constituted the majority of tourist, there were also a lot of Russians and some tourists from Argentina. Apparently American tourists had not ‘discovered’ Cayo Coco yet and there were none (save for my friend); even the staff hardly ever had any encounters with them.

ROOM(S)

Our room #1642 was very nice, but unfortunately, the raucous entertainment in the swimming pool area (bingo + obnoxious techno music with DJ yelling) was very bothersome and it often continued till 5:00 pm, causing Catherine to have a headache. After a few days we asked to be moved (thanks, Viviana!) and ended up in room number 3066 which was much better: it offered a great view of both the ocean and the lagoon as well as was located very far from any entertainment area. We could also see the partially-finished canal that was going to connect the lagoon with the ocean. Since the workers’ pick-up and drop-off area was nearby, we sometimes heard the buses blowing their horns and saw latecomers, dashing to catch the last bus home—or risk spending the night in the resort!
Room #3066

Both rooms had a free safe, HD TV, bathtub, two large beds, balcony and a small fridge. Although we do not watch TV back in Canada, we did watch it in Cuba mainly because of the upcoming inauguration of President Donald Trump. Unfortunately, there were no Canadian channels, only the CNN and some English Chinese stations (CCTV). I was shocked at the CNN coverage—it was extremely limited, over 95% of the ‘news’ pertained to the USA and essentially almost exclusively focused on the presidential inauguration, nearly ignoring any other events happening in the world. I pity those whose the only source of news is the CNN!
Building 30

The maid did an excellent job cleaning the room and usually left a bottle of mineral water and we always showed her our gratitude. Once we had an electrical problem and called the reception; in no time an electrician showed up, a very nice man, who quickly rectified it. Another issue with the safe (namely, dead batteries) was swiftly solved by Señor Prado—as well as a plumber fixed the toilet tank which sometimes did not hold the water.

FOOD

As always, we never had any difficulties with finding something tasteful and delicious. Breakfasts were served at the Restaurant Buffet Plaza. Every day I had eggs or omelet—as well as excellent pancakes! In additions, there were plenty of salads & fruits, breads, sausages, cheese and meat slices. One day Catherine ‘discovered’ crepes and from then on had several every morning. The hot buffet also featured, among others, blood sausage, boiled eggs, onions, potatoes and ‘pork sausage of pig’ (!). Since I did not drink coffee, I enjoyed a few glasses of yogurt. We could always count on very nice and efficient servers, who promptly brought coffee for Catherine (in carafes) and removed dirty dishes.

The dinner was served at the Grand Salon Rocamar Restaurant and every evening there was something scrumptious! I loved fried shrimps, served several times during our stay-but unfortunately, we had to come very early and still ended up spending up to 30 minutes lining up to the shrimp/fish station—but it was certainly worth the wait! A few times I had delicious lamb and beef, prepared at the grill station. The cold buffet featured various salads, including good and healthy spinach, snails, peas, cheeses, potato salad, deviled eggs, and lots of raw, shredded & cooked veggies. Not too many tomatoes and very little greens. Assuming this stuff was organic, one could eat very healthy. We always nabbed a table outside where we were visited by a couple of hungry dogs.
Ranchon Hemingway

Although we never had lunch at the restaurant, we often went to the beach bar (Ranchon Hemingway) and got beer, Pina coladas, grilled hamburgers, ham, cheese, tuna, vegetable and chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and French fries. However it closed around 3:00 pm, much too early. Maybe they ran out of food by then as it was a popular spot with the privileged workers. In fact Catherine lined up to get a gardener several burgers after he pulled at her heartstrings one afternoon.

Sometimes we got drinks from the bars, but I usually had my bubba mug filled with cold beer and sipped it while on the beach. The lobby bar served excellent Spanish coffee.

We had two a ’la carte dinners at other restaurants (one was called Caribe); they were good, but we preferred the regular buffet, which gave us more choice in food selection. Felix was our very polite and fast waiter—later he was also working in the beach bar.

Churros, made-to-order in the evening near the 24 hour bar were delicious and we had to use plenty of our willpower not to have too many servings!

I cannot comment on the nightly entertainment as we never attended any performance. We did not like, however, the very earsplitting activities taking place around the pool; once, when they finally stopped, those relaxing around the pool began applauding-finally, they were actually able to start relaxing! Certainly we were not the only ones that did not appreciate this kind of ‘entertainment’.

Some years ago I had purchased several CDs with Cuban music, called “5 Leyendas De Cuba”, featuring Eliades Ochoa, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omar Portuondo and Ruben Gonzales as well as a two-disk set with music of Benny Moore. Quite often I listen to this wonderful music at home in Canada. Yet for some mysterious reasons, I hardly had a chance to listen to this music at Cuban resorts… What a pity!

BEACH

The beach was great! In 2015 we mainly used the stretch of the beach near building #18 and sometimes it became quite narrow during the high tides. This time we enjoyed the section near buildings 30 and 31, it was much wider and very pleasant. One day we saw a bunch of stingrays very close to the shore. Some approached swimmers, but very quickly took off. I did not notice too many bugs on the beach (e.g., sand flies), but one day, when the storm rolled in, the sandflies were horrid. From time to time we did encounter a mosquito. Although I brought a can of anti-bug spray, I never used it and eventually gave it to the staff.

The beach got very crowded when the weather was nice and reserving a favorite spot early in the morning was a must. There were enough loungers stacked in piles, but you had to find the beach guy or drag them yourself to an available location—“early bird got the worm”. There were shade stalls, palapas and some trees. Around 10:00 am some tourists participated in stretching exercises on the beach, but the timing was not very good (right after breakfast) and thus there were not too many participants. Of course Catherine quickly joined them! Lots of people actually went swimming especially the Russians. Large groups of French Canadians congregated at our end of the beach and after a few too many got very raucous.

WEATHER

Because it was January and we were in the north part of Cuba, we were prepared for somewhat cooler weather, but it turned out to be better than anticipated. It was windy for a couple of days, once a big front suddenly moved in early afternoon, the sky turned black and the wind kicked up and it poured for a few hours, but otherwise it was warm during the day and even in the evening I never had to put on a sweater—a long-sleeved shirt was sufficient. It was mostly sunny and we spent plenty of time sun tanning on the beach (when we were in Ciego de Avila, it was almost hot during the day). The room had a working air conditioner, but most of the time we slept with the windows open and curtain drawn, to prevent mosquitos from entering the room.

HOTEL

The hotel, resembling a small Spanish colonial village, was quite charming; perhaps other hotels have better facilities and higher standards, but they cannot beat the Colonial’s unique look! Just across from the main building there were several ‘tiendas’ which sold alcoholic drinks, cigars, clothing, beverages, souvenirs and books. There was also a medical and dental clinic.

The hotel staff were invariably very friendly and helpful. The gardeners were busy cleaning the hotel grounds and always willing to get us a delicious coconut, especially since Catherine gave one of them a big bag of clothes she had brought over for donation. The grounds were natural with nice flora, sculptured benches and lighting. It was possible to do a continuous circuit route around the grounds for joggers, speed walkers and lollygaggers. Several dogs and cats were wandering around the property, but they were not too intrusive—it was the birds that took every opportunity to steal food from the plates! The lone flamingo was still residing near the restaurant; this time he had a company of three lazy ducks that probably were attracted by the food the hotel employees were giving to the flamingo.

There were copies of “Granma” at the reception, some in the English language. On several occasions I chatted with Frank, who spoke very good English. There were a number of taxis at the main square and probably the best way to get one was to just get their phone number and later call them.

There were 2 pools, one large, round, chlorinated at the Tryp side and a serpentine salt water pool with swim up bar at the lagoon side. We did not use either, but enjoyed walking past them at night as they were lit up and looked magical.
Over-the water bungalows at the Iberostar Mojito Hotel-unfortunately, semi-abandoned

One afternoon we walked on the beach, past the Tryp Hotel, and reached the Iberostar Mojito Hotel. The resort had been created by Canadian hockey players and used to be called “El Senador”. Former NHL star and captain of the Montreal Canadiens, Serge Savard, was also part owner. The name "El Senador" was a reference to his nickname "Le Senateur" (The Senator). There were plenty of over-water bungalows, accessible by wooden walkways—they seemed to be awesome places to stay in—except that all of them were boarded up and the plumbing was visibly disconnected! Then we spotted a nice restaurant and started talking to one of the waitresses.
At the Iberostar Mojito

The next day, in the evening, we again walked along the beach to the Iberostar Mojito (it was low tide and we were told that it would be possible for us to return along the beach as well) and had a very intimate dinner there. A few hours later, when we walking back to our hotel, we realized that... there was no beach! Of course, the high tide had arrived and it was impossible to take the same route back to our hotel (although Catherine somehow wanted to still walk there, in total darkness—well, she must have been not only a spectacular swimmer, but also had a ‘built-in’ natural GPS!). So we turned back to the main building and while pondering whether or not to take a taxi back to the hotel, we had a couple of drinks to fortify our problem-solving ability. The drinks certainly helped—and eventually we hiked about 2 km to the Colonial. The road was deserted, but well-lit and we enjoyed the stroll.
At the Lobby Bar

We brought with us a number of new shirts (some still in original packaging from Target and Walmart and with attached price tags from $12.99 to $39.99) which we used in lieu of tips. Some tourists are dead against giving any gifts to Cubans, claiming that by doing so, we spoil them, that such actions are degrading or that Cubans do not really need such stuff.
Gardener at Hotel Colonial

Therefore, I made a point of discussing this issue with several Cubans who spoke English. I explained to them the various opinions on giving gifts, and asked them if they really felt in any way degraded or humiliated by me giving them such gifts. All of them were invariably very surprised at what I told them, did not agree with such points of view and said that they were absolutely grateful for the gifts and appreciated them very much. Well, at least we had a clear conscience!
In addition, I brought a bunch of most recent magazines (mostly “The Economist”), bilingual brochures and Canadian newspapers. Those Cubans who spoke English were quite thrilled to get them. A few years ago, after talking for a while to a hotel employee, I had given him some magazines & newspapers. A few days later he had run into me and started asking questions about some new articles and words—as well as inquired if I had more of such periodicals. 

I brought two books to read in Cuba. The first one, “The Lords of Discipline” by Pat Conroy, was about four young cadets in a military academy, exposed to a totally new environment, new rules and the code of honor—as well as the injustice of a corrupt institution. It was an excellent, compelling story. Considering that the author himself had attended a military academy, “The Citadel”, it can be assumed that his book was based on authentic characters and events. Many years ago I had watched a movie having the same title, but I hardly remembered it—it was certainly mediocre and forgettable in comparison to the book.

The second book was “Kane and Abel” by Jeffrey Archer, the so-called “Special 30th Anniversary Edition”, rewritten by the author (or, as he said, “re-crafted”). The story follows the life of two men, born on the same day, one in the United States, in a very rich family, the other one in Poland, a semi-orphan. Eventually they became sworn enemies while building their fortunes—and their lives became astonishingly intertwined. It was very well written and indeed, I agree that it was “an unputdownable story”. In the 1980s it was turned into a movie or a mini-series which was quite good. In fact, some scenes were made in Toronto and I had even seen an ad in a newspaper—they had been seeking ‘extras of Polish origin’ for this movie and I had considered applying, but for unknown reasons had not. What a pity—I could have been a movie star—or at the very least gotten my proverbial 15 minutes of fame!
The Flamingo and one of his lazy friends

THE HOP-ON-HOP-OFF BUS

We took the double-decker bus twice (5 CUC per day per person), getting off at the Memories Flamenco. Then we walked to the Melia Jardines del Rey and Pestana Cayo Coco, spending a few hours at each of them—by the way, we saw a sizable snake on the road, probably run over by a car. Even though the wristbands we were wearing had a different color from those in the hotels we visited, the bartenders were happy to serve us drink, hoping to get a tip. One of the hotels happened to have the same wristbands as ours (yellow), so we felt like at home and even took advantage of their buffet. I noticed that one hotel had plenty of Polish tourist, but no Russians—I guess it all depends on tour operators and travel agents in each country, which hotels they are marketing there. In the late afternoon the bus arrived and took us to Playa Pillar and then back to our hotel. Even though it kept stopping at numerous resorts along the way, it was a very enjoyable outing.
This Russian tourist wanted to have several photos taken in front of this antique car--and  then hopped on the hood, totally ignoring protests of the driver

The bus also stopped at the nearby commercial center which was basically a handicraft market with some bottled liquors/beverages—I did not buy anything except for a bottle of liquor—I simply did not notice anything really extraordinary and creative. The bus schedule was posted at each hotel, yet it was always a good idea to confirm it with the driver.

TRIP TO CIEGO DE AVILA

Whenever we go to Cuba, we always try to visit a nearby town and spent a couple of nights there. Last time we were in Cayo Coco we had visited Moron, so this time we wanted to see the city of Ciego de Avila. As always, I had spent several hours online, getting information on all the casas in the city, so we had a good idea where to stay.
Casa Yolanda-our room

We hired a taxi (60 CUC each way), whose driver did not speak much English, but spoke… Russian: he had spent some time in Russia/Soviet Union and his wife was from there! We left the Hotel Colonial on January 20, 2017 and as we were heading towards Ciego de Avila, Donald Trump became president of the United States (unbelievable, eh?), so we missed watching his inauguration on TV. Incidentally, while in Havana in 2009, we had watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama on TV in the lobby of the Hotel Ambos Mundos (where Ernest Hemingway used to live). Because he was the first black president, it was an unbelievable event, too!
Casa Yolanda

We had the descriptions and a few photos of about 10 casas particulares and the previous day we called and booked Casa Mari y Gustavo, basing our choice on the information from the Internet and a photo or two. When we arrived there, we got a disappointing shock—the balcony was enshrouded in ugly canvas drapes plus it seemed to smell suspiciously, life febreze. We said, “No, gracias”, got back to the taxi and moved on in search of another casa.

The driver was very accommodating and religiously took us to the addresses we pointed to him. To make the story short—we visited at least 5 other casas: some were nice, but occupied, one had a very peculiar and unpleasant smell, another one was pleasant, in the city center, but there was plenty of raucous construction taking place just next door. Eventually we stopped at a casa that was occupied, but its owner really wanted to help us. He and the taxi driver spent some time talking, made a few phone calls—and eventually we rode to Casa Yolanda (Calle 5ta, No 15, Republica y Hicacos, Rpto Diaz Pardo, Phone: +53 33 214026), located close to the ZOO. The landlady, Yolanda Wong Louis (she was of Chinese ancestry and looked a little oriental) showed us a room on the ground floor (we wanted on the upper floor, but well, you cannot squeeze blood from a stone) which we accepted for two nights. Incidentally, our taxi driver lived just a few houses away!
Inside the Cathedral

It was a nice room, with a full bathroom & hot water, an air conditioner, and there was a fridge in the porch (where we often rested). There was also an enclosed, fenced yard (in case you wanted to park a car). Overall, it was a good casa, despite not fitting the bill of being above ground level with a nice skyward terrace. After unpacking our stuff, we immediately set out to explore the city of Ciego de Avila.
The Cathedral

We leisurely walked to Parque Jose Marti. There was a relatively modern church (Catedral de San Eugenio de la Palma) which we visited and were immediately accosted by a woman (she said she was originally from Haiti) who gave us some religious materials and of course, expected to get in return something from us, not necessarily of spiritual nature (i.e., dollars or CUCs were the best).
Parque Jose Marti and the very ugly building behind Marti's statue

Several nice buildings were on each side of the square—one housed a museum (Museo de Artes Decorativas), but it was closed and we only peeked inside through the door—and another one very ugly, a Soviet-style building on the west side of the park (a 12 floor Doce Plantas edifice). I do not know who built it and when, but it was very incompatible with the city’s architecture!

Then we strolled along Calle Independencia, the commercial artery of the city and a pedestrian boulevard. There were plenty of Cubans (actually, we hardly saw any tourists whatsoever—what a difference in comparison with Trinidad, Cuba, where I encountered MORE tourists than locals!) and they did not bother us. 

The boulevard was flanked by various stores, cafes, ice parlors, restaurants and banks; in fact, I even saw... the Royal Bank of Canada! Well, the least the inscription on the building said so—but I doubt it had anything to do anymore with the ‘real’ Royal Bank… but who know, with the new changes in Cuba, it might reopen under the same name in the near future! Catherine had ice cream and kept getting more and more. For the equivalent of 50 cents a cone, she could not resist. A couple of times I bought cold beer for 1 CUC (although we also used CUPs for some purchases). One store offered plenty of gifts, some of them quite original and I purchased a set of tableware with very imaginative paintings.

I went to a bookstore, where 99% of all books were in Spanish, but I still picked up two books by Polish writers and translated into Spanish. One of them was written by a well-known Polish writer, Tadeusz Borowski. Having spent 3 years in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, he wrote a number of notable stories about this hideous place, based on his personal experiences. One of them was called “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” and it was a required reading at my (final) grade 12 in the secondary school in Poland. It certainly left a long-lasting impression on all students—the genuine horrors portrayed in that book surpassed anything Stephen King had ever conceived in his writings.
Public transport

Let me digress here—there was another reason this particular title had become etched in my memory. It was 1981, I just graduated from Stefan Zeromski High School No. 40 in Warsaw and was soon going for vacation with several of my school buddies. But we faced one problem—we needed a propane refill for our portable stoves. At that time the “Solidarity” movement was at its peak, the Polish economy was one big mess, and buying anything—and I mean ANYTHING—was always a huge achievement: there were line-ups in front of almost empty stores, which often closed their doors because they had literally NOTHING to sell, money was becoming quite worthless and barter was getting increasingly prevalent.

There were propane filling places at some gas stations, but obviously, most of them had not had propane for many weeks or months (and they were quite often out of petrol, too!). Yet one day I found out that there would be a propane delivery the following day at a nearby gas station. I knew that the supply would be limited and that in order to make sure there would be enough for us, we had to get there in the morning, to reserve our place in the queue. At six o’clock in the morning my still very sleepy friend showed up and we headed to the gas station; indeed, we were the first ones! Later we were joined by a couple of our friends and many other people—quickly the line began forming and getting longer. It was an almost a picnic-like atmosphere! At one point a woman approached our group and very loudly asked us,

“Excuse me, are you waiting for the gas?”

Considering that all of us had read through and studied Borowski’s story just months earlier, we were so stunned by her ghastly-sounding question that it took us a few seconds to respond.
The Polish Fiat 126p-or rather its shell

Anyway, turning back to the book and its author: it contained a number of Borowski’s stories in Spanish, including “This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen!” The author, disenchanted with the new communist system and even persecuted by the communist Secret Police, committed suicide in 1951 by breathing in gas from a gas stove, just several days after the birth of his daughter. He was just 28 years old. In November, 1981 (All Souls' Day, when across Poland hundreds of thousands of people visit cemeteries), I was at the Powązki Military Cemetery in Warsaw and lit a candle on his grave…

We went to the bank to change money (there was a long lineup in front of the bank, but apparently it did not apply to tourists—upon spotting us, the security guard waved us in). As I mentioned previously, the exchange rate was quite good, but it took a while to exchange $200 into CUCs and the bank teller made a ‘mistake’ (which I noticed in time), initially shortchanging me by 20 CUCs.

Catherine also went to a supermarket (there are more and more such stores), where prices are very high and Cubans who do not have access to the hard currency probably can only dream of actually buying anything there. Once she wanted to have ice cream in the “Heladeria Copelia”, but the queue was so long that she immediately gave up.

We certainly enjoyed wandering along this boulevard, sitting on benches, observing the city life and from time to time interacting with Cubans.

A few blocks from the Parque was the Teatro Principal. It was built in 1927 and supposedly had the best acoustics on the island. It was closed and we could only admire its interesting architecture. As I was taking photographs of the Teatro at the corner of Calle Joaquin Aguero and Honorato del Castillo, we ran into Mr. Prado from the Hotel Colonial! We spoke to him for a few minutes and then continued exploring the city.

Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016, less than two months before we arrived in Cuba. By the way, he passed away exactly to the day 60 years after the yacht “Granma” was surreptitiously boarded in the Mexican port of Tuxpan, Veracruz (on November 25, 1956) by 82 members of the 26th of July movement including Fidel Castro, his brother, Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos. One week later the “Granma” landed in Cuba—and the rest is history. What a coincidence!

Three months before his passing, Castro celebrated his 90th birthday (August 13, 2016) and there were still posters, wishing him a happy 90th birthday (Felicidades Comandante por su cumpleanos). 

Once I was walking near a building with a sign “CDR”, a local Committee of the Defense of the Revolution (Comité de Defensa de la Revolución). Such neighborhood committees are quite ubiquitous in Cuba and are described as the "eyes and ears of the Revolution." According to an article I had read not long ago, after the Revolution committees were very popular and their meetings were attended by throngs of people; nowadays they had lost much of its past glory and supposedly only the old people participated in the gatherings, which were very meagerly attended. There was also a poster with Fidel Castro saying something like “Happy 90th birthday—and more (y mas)!” As I stopped by the building and the poster, I noticed an old, avuncular gentleman sitting in front of the door. He told me that he was the head of the CDR (considering his age, he could have participated in the Revolution). I stroke up a conversation, using my basic Spanish, I pointed towards the poster with Castro.


Private 'bus' from Ciego de Avila to Moron

No mas”—no more—I said (that there would not be any more birthdays for Fidel Castro).

No mas”, he sadly repeated, “pero Fidel Castro vivirá siempre en nuestros corazones!”: but Fidel Castro will live forever in our hearts!

Another older gentleman was sitting in some kind of office, plastered with propaganda posters on the wall and the de rigueur portraits of Fidel and Raul Castro. I also noticed an autographed photograph—from what I understood, it was “Commander of the Revolution”, Juan Almeida Bosque, who had visited this place many years ago.

Once we walked by a building with large windows; there were plenty of people inside, sitting and standing. At first I thought it was another store and people were just waiting for whatever merchandise it was selling, but after a few seconds I realized that it was a funeral home, called “La Funeraria El Clavel”. There was a big room and smaller rooms, where I could see a coffin. I did not want to encroach on the mourners, so I did not take too many photos.
This man was incessantly screaming, trying to get passengers going to Moron

I wanted to visit the train station and once we saw the railway tracks, we simply followed them. Indeed, there was a small train station and a bus terminal, with a new twist: some private ‘buses’ (just trucks with benches), offering to take passengers to Moron. I believe the price was very low; I asked how much, but the guy would not tell me—I doubt many tourists took advantage of this mode of transportation! One peculiarly looking man was standing near the truck and kept unceasingly screaming something about the bus to Moron, trying to get as many passengers as possible. Well, 'Marketing 101', Cuban style! The area around the station was quite vibrant and while sitting on a bench, we enjoyed observing the passing people and cars. A young Cuban sat next to us and we chatted with him a little—he had a fishing rod and was going fishing with a friend.

We were approached by several Cuban boys.

“How are you? Where are you from?” they asked us in English.

We talked to them a little and I took several photos of them. I told them to hit the books and learn English and gave them small pins with the Canadian flag.
This guy was going fishing

Usually we were walking back to the casa quite late and stopped in a fast-food restaurant (called “Ditu”), which was selling French fries, chicken and beer—as well as there was a small kiosk with my favorite beer, “Bucanero”. Nevertheless there are better beers in Cuba, but it was usually difficult to find them (yet I did buy some other brands in Ciego de Avila).

On Saturday we went to the ZOO, which was just a few minutes from the casa. We paid in CUPs, so the admission cost us next to nothing. The ZOO was small and rather depressing… There was a giraffe, zebras, two or three chimpanzees, an ostrich or two, various monkeys, flamingos, hyenas and other animals. Each time people were approaching the cage with the chimpanzee, the chimp extended his arm through the bars, begging for food or sweets—he reminded me of the homeless and beggars in Toronto… 

Kids were giving bananas and other food to the monkeys and they were eagerly devouring them. We also saw a lion—the zookeeper was rubbing it through the bars and I could tell the lion liked it very much—there must have been a very strong bond between the two. The zookeeper also brought a small crocodile and let visitors touch its skin. For a while I was observing a hippo in his small enclosure. We also saw aquariums with fish.

There were plenty of Cuban families and the kids appeared to have fun. Some of the families were obviously Miami Cubans, one just had to look at the clothes they were wearing. One of the attractions for kids was a transparent ball filled with air—with a kid inside—floating in a small pool. Some kids had plenty of fun trying to maneuver the ball on the water, others were a little bewildered. There was also a simple merry-go-round and vendors, selling toys. We spoke to a guy selling dolls and Catherine purchased a few of them.

We slept quite well in our casa. Each morning the landlady prepared breakfast for us which we had in the kitchen. The last day we asked her to call our driver and he showed up on time and we set forth to the hotel.

On our way to the hotel, on the causeway, we had to stop for a while due to an accident—apparently a truck ended up in the water and they were pulling it. Later we were told the truck had collided with a school bus, but there were no fatalities. A month or so before our arrival in Cayo Coco there had been another fatal accident on the causeway when a Canadian tourist along with his wife had been transported by ambulance to hospital at night. The ambulance had hit something (there had been construction going on along the causeway) and the Canadians were killed.

Certainly, Ciego de Avila is not comparable with Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey or Cienfuegos, but I personally enjoyed the visit very much and I wished I could have stayed another day.

Overall, we had a wonderful time at the Colonial and Ciego de Avila and if we ever decided to go to Cayo Coco again, we would certainly pick the Colonial again!

I would like to conclude this report with the following joke that I came up with—or more precisely, adapted from Polish political humor:

An American tourist arrives in Cuba for the first time and walks into a barber’s shop in Havana. Two big photographs of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro are hanging on the wall. He lounges comfortably in an armchair in the waiting area and looks around the barbershop.

“Excuse me, sir, but in Cuba it is customary to remove your hat in front of images of our leaders”, the barber politely informs the American.


“I’m terribly sorry”, he replies, “but I thought it was part of your advertising, showing a client BEFORE and AFTER having his beard shaved!”