Monday, April 15, 2019

CRAB-AGEDDON 2019!

The Bay of Pigs.

Famous for scuba diving and, oh yeah, a botched CIA supported invasion of Cuba in the 60s.
The only real reminder of that was a museum that I was really interested in seeing in the town of Playa Giron.
A museum that was closed for the few days I was there because it is the 58th anniversary of the invasion on April 15 and they were spiffing it up!
So there were tanks and planes out front we could see.
(In fact there are a lot of places in Cuba where there are tanks and planes to see if you'd like to.
Also a lot of bloody uniforms, and hats supposedly worn by Che or Cienfuegos or Fidel himself!
What's interesting is some of these hats and other items look like they are brand new and have never been worn.
Maybe the guys didn't sweat much back in the 50s? In Cuba... where it's really hot and humid.)

So the fabulous Fabian and Hannah and I came to the Bay of Pigs to do some scuba diving and to snorkel a sink hole.
"The fabulous who?" you ask.

Well, Fabian and Hannah are two totally awesome German's I met while rock climbing in Vinales. They are some of the most fun folks I have ever met backpacking and I hope to see them again somewhere in this amazing world of ours. (Currently they are in Mexico working in a commune, adopting baby possums and playing in drum circles. :)

In a classic bit of traveling I had set up a climbing day for 9am on Monday, the day I returned my scooter. There's one Casa in Vinales that knows the rock climbing, so I stopped by there on Saturday to set up the climb. (One thing I learned about Cuba is you have to be 1 or 2 steps ahead of where you are currently at, planning for what you are doing in the future. Cause if you don't... odds are it won't work out how you planned...
which sometimes is just as it should be.)

So Monday rolls around, and I go to return my scooter at 8:30.
Well, it's Cuba.
It takes a little while to get it taken care of.

Then I had to book a bus ticket to leave the next day to head to the bay of pigs.
There's two options of places to book a bus ticket. Both of them were helping other people.
I waited patiently, but at this point it was 9:10, and I was late for climbing. So I asked if I could come back later,
she said If I was back by 3:30 or 4:00 I should be fine to book for tomorrow, but she can't reserve without making phone calls and collecting money.
Well that will work out. I'll come back...

So off to climbing. Meet my awesome guide, Yaroby, gear up in a shed full of quite a lot of rock climbing gear. All donated from travelers because officially climbing is not legal in Cuba. Even though there are hundreds of bolted sport climbing routes in the Vinales area and they have competitions and it is a favorite place to climb for people from all over the world. But for some reason the Cuban government doesn't see how it can make money?  Or maybe there is something else going on?

Then we pick up Fabian and Hannah from a random outdoorsy restaurant on someone's ranch.
Originally I was by myself, but they had called in last night around 9pm. (Right about the time I was writing in my journal how it would be really nice to meet some cool travel friends to travel with... I'm not kidding. It was at almost the exact same time.)

We spend the day climbing in this AWESOME almost cave.  It was really a crevase between the rocks of the Magote near town. Walls 30 meters tall (that's 99 feet for all us Americans. ).   It was shaded almost the entire day, but for about 15 minutes when the sun shot straight down on us. Fabian did all the leads, and I went up the routes afterwards. I was really happy with myself. As some of you know I used to rock climb all the time, but have drifted out of it and haven't been climbing in 10 years... 12 years... maybe more. Likely more.  It was SO FUN!  I was really happy how quickly the techniques came back. And sure, my forearm strength eventually gave out on the 4th of 5 routes. But it was awesome to be on the rock again.

Yep, I'm way up there!

Meanwhile making friends!

Afterwards we all sat on the guides porch. Talked about climbing, and they invited me for lunch... and as one of my travel guidelines (stolen from "the Beach") is to "Never refuse an invitation". I said yes and off we went...

which means I was not going to get back in time to get the bus ticket.
Which means I would likely stay another day in Vinales.
And that seems like the perfect plan. :)



We ate, we explored caves, walked into this hidden valley inside a Magote that was like Jurassic Park (minus the T-Rex). Though there were PIGS! One mama and 3 or 4 little ones that kept coming up to us as the night fell and we told stories in the dark. We were "attacked" by a strange insect that looks like a cicada with glowing eyes. We thought it was a lightning bug until it flew into my headlamp and landed on the ground next to us. Don't know what it is. But we made up stories about it.



A grand day with some great people.
Traveling done right...




 

So after that day and another exploring caves and riding in the rain, we rode a taxi collectivo to Havana... The car was a beat up old Cadillac with a Jesus gear shifter and eyelids on the lights.  It dropped us in some field next to the highway along with a bunch of other travelers on the south side of Havana. Somehow everyone ended up in other Taxis, cars and these classic old ford buses to get to where they are going. It's amazing that any of this works and that anyone gets paid. But it does... and I guess they do.

Bus Stop, Cuban Style

As our bus rolled down the 2 lane road along the east side of the bay of pigs I noted to Hannah that "It smells like death."
She said "The bus driver just said its the dead crabs on the bus tires."

Apparently the crabs live on the swamp side of the road, and in April they cross from the swamp to the sea to bathe...
then back across the road to get the naughty-naughty on.
Then BACK across the road to lay their eggs.
Then return to the swamp side to live out the rest of the year.
Two months later the babies cross.

And strangely the next month the BIG crabs cross to do the same thing.

It smells pretty bad, but when we got into Playa Giron, a one horse town if there ever was one, the smell had passed.

But the whole place felt like the apocalypse had come.
It was grey, overcast and there was almost NO ONE AROUND.
So Strange.
We even walked to the "resort" to check about diving and there was almost no one there.
Peeling paint on the "bungalows" (which are just cinder block buildings painted in bright colors").
They are building a lot more... but they are almost all empty.
As was the pool area and the lobby.


Well the next morning we go DIVE!
And man... it is GREAT DIVING!
And only $25/dive!
Hannah and I did 2. Fabian isn't certified (yet!) so he snorkeled. And of course there were other folks there...
almost all German or Swiss. (I'm noticing a pattern in Cuba. :)
I haven't gone diving in 4 1/2 years, so I was a little nervous to get a refresher and make sure it was all safe.
Talk about "riding a bike" It all came back really quickly. And the nice thing is, you just climb down a 4 rung ladder into the ocean with all your gear on, and start scuba diving right there. The reef wall is about 30 meters (100 feet) off the shore. So you don't even get in a boat.
You just take a bus... that smells like death cause it is running over crabs.

On the second dive we saw this HUGE soft coral the size of a person that looked like a giant Horn. It was bright purple and swaying in the current.
And also there as a shipwreck! Which you could swim through. So beautiful and amazing. I love it!

Back in town, we enjoy lunch, then rent bikes to ride the 19km to the flooded Cenote to go snorkeling. Because that is what one does.
The bikes were actually pretty good, brought by some random person the Casa owner called up. They cost 5CUC a day I think.
So we mount up, Fabian starts singing "Push it to the Limit" by Survivor (from the movie Scarface) and I laughed out loud. I sing that song regularly!

 

So we pushed it to the limit and rode north out of town.
Along the 2 lane road that few cars drive on.
Past the occasional smashed crab. Or maimed crab. Or crab flipped over cooking in the sun.
There were a number of them, but not toooo crazy.

We stopped to swim at a little beach resort cove. It was a pretty hot day, so it felt great.
And I took some pictures of the lines of dead crabs in the "yard" of the place. I figured I might as well get some pics to remember. I mean, dozens of dead crabs. It's pretty gross and weird.




RIDE ON!
So I put Survivor playing on my iPhone and we're riding free and fast. The road is flat and clear. It's a pretty great day!
Fabian and Hannah were about 100 meters in front of me.
This crab had crossed 3/4's of the road in front of me... safe from harm... good job Crab!

Then the little ass hole turns around and runs right back in front of my bike!
Not wanting to kill him I slammed on both breaks....
The bike stopped...
I did not.

I flew right over the handlebars going pretty fast. Cursing as I went and thinking "Protect your head!"
So I slammed into the ground hands first and rolled over... popping back up to my feet and stumbling back a few feet.

THEN THE PAIN HIT.
My wrists and palms were all cut up. My knee. My shoulder. My finger.
ANd my ribs...

The crab lived and wandered back into the grass.

Hannah and Fabian eventually rode back as I was bent over.
Now conveniently Hannah is a doctor!
So she checked my wrist (that was bruising pretty badly) and my ribs and said that she thinks its just bruised.
"Do you want to keep going? Or head back?"

Oh, if nothing is broken, we keep going. There is a Cenote to snorkel.

At this point you might say: "Craig. Why did you hit BOTH brakes??"
Great question. And it occured to me that the scooter that I'd ridden for 2 days, the back break is on the left hand... and on a bike the left brake is the FRONT brake.
So habit of two days.

Well, the sink hold wasn't much further. Maybe 3 or 4km.
I did NOT hit the brakes if a crab ran in front of the bike.
I did try to avoid them, but if they charged, I will say a few crabs might likely have crunched under the back tire. In fact I guarantee it. It was a nasty sound, but I'm not wiping out again.

We get to the Cenote around 4:45 or so. And the path in has crabs in the rocks all around us.
We get to the largest flooded Cenote in Cuba and jump in. We snorkel.
And collect trash, because there was a bit of trash around. Not India level of trash. But there was some ,and figured we would leave it better than we found it. With Fabian leading the charge to collect bottles and cans.

And on the far side of the Cenote, all along the rocks, coating the otherside in fact... were crabs.
I'm talking hundreds.
Probably thousands of crabs.
Lined up next to the edge of the cenote. I don't think they swim, so they just stop there... thwarted on their way to the sea.




We swam back into the darker passages of the Cenote. Where the water was only 3 feet wide. With this rock wall of crabs next to us. Climbing over each other. Squirming around. It's pretty creepy and gross. And really surreal.

Around 6 we figured it was time to head back. About 2 hours ride and the sun sets at 7:45.
We put shoes on and I notice we are the last people there besides the two people who had closed up the snack shop hours ago and were watching some Spanish language action flick on the tube tv.

As we walk out, we notice the path has quite a bit more crabs on it than on the way in...

Now the silly thing about the crabs is if they feel threatened (or want to be intimidating) they PUT THEIR HANDS UP IN THE AIR!
And they can't walk forward. So they walk sideways really slow, or stumble backwards like a strange child's wind up toy.
Now if YOU put YOUR HANDS UP IN THE AIR... they will respond in kind.
It's pretty hilarious.
So we started singing the Trance song "Put your hands up in the air!" and would put our hands up and the crabs would put their hands up and stumble back...

We reach the road, walk out onto it, and look left towards Playa Giron...

And the ENTIRE ROAD AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE WAS COVERED IN THOUSANDS OF CRABS.

 

Look right... and the same sight.

Um....
Fabian asked the two workers how long the crabs would be there. An hour or two.
Manana. Tomorrow.

So that means we have to right up to 19km down a road covered in creepy, crawly, skittering crabs.

Yes it does.

Oh boy.

So we start... and when they are in mass, the crabs will slowly part if you ride slow and steady.
Sort of.
Because some of the little suckers would charge you. They would attack you.
They would try to claw the bike tires (with their wind up toy precision).
Sometimes they would grab hold and get rolled up and over and down.
Sometimes they would somehow make it THROUGH the spinning spokes of the bike tires safely...
and sometimes they wouldn't.

The CRUNCH of a crab under the tire happened quite a number of times.
It's a nasty sound.

More than one got hit by the pedals and rolled along.
Often I would just lift my feet up in the air and roll straight and hope I didn't hit any.

Seriously, WTF???

Now both Hannah and Fabian are vegetarians... and even they didn't like these crabs by the end of this.
I mean, they are really dumb. They attack bikes... and TRUCKS.

Every 10 or 15 minutes we would hear the sound of an oncoming truck or car or bus...
and here it would come...
SQUISH SQUISH SQUISH, CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUCH just obliterating crabs by the thousands.
And then we would race after it in the wake, trying to cover as much ground as possible before the tide of crabs closed on the road again.

One car creeped past us, everyone inside videotaping the silly gringos bike riding through the crabs.
It was pretty funny.
In truth I shot quite a lot of video too, because the whole thing seems out of this world.




In some sections of the road there were dead and maimed crabs everywhere. One with only one claw and no legs dragging itself across the road.
Others with broken legs.
Some we ran over... and they were fine.
Some crabs were eating their crushed or maimed kin.
And every once in awhile a turkey vulture would enjoy the dead crab buffet.

Now you might ask: do people eat them?
Nope. They are toxic to people. (The big ones next month aren't thought! So feast up!)
In fact these crabs have no natural predators in the area.
And even though they must die by the tens or hundreds of thousands.
Maybe even millions.
The locals say there are WAY more crabs now than 5 or 10 years ago.

Eventually they started to thin out, and then it was just the flattened crabs killed the day before or whenever.
So we could stop and take a breath.
And Fabian looked down and said "Did you notice what the red sand is?"
Because red sand lined both side of the road.
But on closer inspection it was clear it was not sand...
it was pulverized crab shells.

Kilometers of pulverized crab shells lining the side of the road.
Did they die yesterday?
Last week?
Last year?

Who knows?

The sun set before we reached town, and we watched it from this old reef coastline... surrounded by crabs crawling around the old rocks. It was lovely.
The crabs were hanging off the edge by the ocean. We contemplated what it must be like, to just live going back and forth across a road that wasn't always there (But likely has been since before the CIA tried to take the bay of Pigs.).






We did make it back in one piece... mostly.
There was a field in town, dotted with crabs about every 3 feet (1 meter). It reminded me of the shot from the Walking Dead where the zombie wanders through the
grass field. Only there were hundreds of these.

We rode to the beach and met with our diving friends.
We drank beer. Ate. And toasted one mans new grand child he just found out he was going to have.
Life goes on.
For us and for the crabs...

So the apocalypse we felt when we arrived wasn't for humans... it was for crabs.
And yet still they live and grow and spread....
Maybe someday they will spread beyond this little corner of the world...

CraigO

PS:  As I finished writing this, PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT just kicked on. I'm not kidding. :)

PPS:  It's almost 4 weeks later and my ribs still hurt a little bit. I've had it checked after I got back and it is just a bruise. I guess they take 4 weeks or more to heal so I'm right on track.
Everything else was good in like a week. Though it looks like I might have some small scars on my knee. Was it worth it?  Well, I'd double check the brakes before riding ANYTHING again. But otherwise, hell yeah!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

VIVA VINALES!!!

Vinales.
A town. A national park. A landscape of fantastic Migotes. Limestone mountains, with trees and bushes on top. Hidden valleys. Caves. Underground Rivers. The cliff faces were so sheer and beautiful. The whole place was a magical wonderland. It was really cool (and as I've talked to people it is one of the main places people go when in Cuba). Which doesn't make it any less awesome.

The only other places I've seen landscape like this were in Vang Vien, Laos and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.  (Southern China has them as well, or so I hear).  I had no idea Cuba would have them until I got there, and they were awesome.  Awesome to ride horses around, to hike, to climb, to sit and stare at at sunset.

 




To Get to Vinales I went to the Viazul bus station in Havana to buy a ticket the day before I was planning on leaving. A thing about Cuba... you have to be thinking one or two steps ahead of where you are in order to keep any sort of momentum or flow to your trip. Because buses get full, cabs leave early, there may be only 1 scooter for rent in an entire town. And it isn't like you book it on the internet. You have to do it old school style by showing up!  It was kind of awesome :)

So I go to the Viazul bus station and.... its closed for remodeling. No sign. No other information. Just people inside working. Keep in mind this is the PRIMARY BUS LINE that runs around the country. And this is their MAIN OFFICE in the capital city. Ahhhh Cuba. 

There was a helpful Taxi Collectivo (group taxi) dude outside that said you could go to the main terminal somewhere 3 km away, or he would do a collective taxi and take me there for 23CUC, which is basically the same price as the bus. I said sure, signed up. (You don't pay until you are there, so no scam. This is the way it is done). 

Since I was across from the zoo, I went to the zoo. Saw some animals. Spoke with a cool Cuban who used to work on a fishing boat all over the world. He had some amazing stories of searching for Diamonds in Africa and learning fishing in Northern Russia. Now he works with the animals including a 53 year old Chimpanzee who has 50 kids. 

The next day we head out, the Taxi shows up mostly on time. And inside is a dude that looks Jason Statham (I mean, EXACTLY like Jason Statham!) and some other folks. The Cuban music was BUMPING in the cab and we were off. This cab was a classic American car. So cool.

Just travelin with Jason Statham... no big deal.
















We stopped at a (The afore mentioned) Cigar plantation on the way and learned how that all worked. Got to try one. It is one of those things you expect in countries like Cuba, that on the travels you end up being taken to additional coffee or tobacco plantations. They want you to buy something. Jason Statham bought 20 cigars.

In Vinales, the main town has tons of places to eat and drink. It is very tourist friendly. Which some may view as good and some as bad. I'm curious what it looked like 5 years ago. Or 10. Definitely 15. Because Cuban's used to not be able to advertise the rooms in their houses. They could rent out up to 2, but no ads. No Signs. Now pretty much everyone rents a room or two or 5. (The 2 room limit has changed).

I managed to book a sunset horseback ride. It was sort of weird, the guide basically didn't want to give me the full time, it was so strange. I paid for 3 hours, he wanted to end in two. ANd most of the time was spent at a... you guessed it,... coffee plantation!  Ugh. Here was a situation I wanted to just enjoy the ride, the valley and sunset. It was weird, he literally would not ride any further. Even though horse riders were coming from futher in the valley, he said he couldn't go further. I have no idea why. He spoke some English. My Spanish sucks (as will be mentioned repeatedly) and so....

I decided to enjoy it. I bought a Mojito sin Azucar. And sat and waited for the sunset. There were puppies and kittens (Heather  you would have loved it!). And a nice French gal and her guide who rode up. So we hung out. Took pictures. As you do.

 

After eating I headed to the live music bar on the square. There's only one. It's easy to find. It's 1CUC to enter. I enjoyed the music. Was grabbed by a Cuban man who used me as a wing man to dance with some tourist gals. Then a Cuban woman who looked to be around 55 or 60 grabbed me and started Dancing. Some Salsa, but really she was drunk as a skunk and was bootie dancing on me. She'd bend over and rub her butt all over me as her Daughters and sisters laughed and shot video. (she introduced me while bumping on me, just so it wasn't TOO weird. lol).  After the song (and in Cuba the songs are like 20 minutes long when they're live), she drug me to the bar, asked if I liked Cerveza. I said sure. She ordered two, and when I reached for one... she took them both! And told me to order myself one. I did. And of course paid for all 3.  $5CUC total!

The next day I woke up early and went to go rent a scooter. I was given advice in Havana, from some folks who were on their LAST day of the trip, that I should get there by 7:30, even though they don't open till 8:30.  I got there at 7:15. I was the only one who got a scooter and not until 10:45am. But I was chillin and just going with the flow, cause that is what you have to do in Cuba!

 

It was AWESOME! I rode out to a cave. the 2nd largest cave in the Americas. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the only bigger one I think. I almost had a solo tour, but a Cuban couple showed up last minute. And if you can believe it, the guy tried to break off formations THE ENTIRE TIME.  The guide did nothing. Literally nothing. Didn't even say anything.  And my lack of Spanish made it hard for me to do anything about it. (And to be honest, I was so shocked the guide didn't do anything that I just shook my head which did nothing useful). In the end he succeeded in breaking off a 6 inch piece of a curtain like thing.

Ride on.
To the gas station.
Strange thing about Cuba. Gas stations... few and far between. And the one in Vinales... had no gas today. Guess that happens. There's talk of building a bigger one. Maybe it'll happen someday. Maybe it won't.



So 25 km away I found a gas station.
How did I find it you ask?
I had been told before I left to get Maps.Me.  In fact every single traveler I met had maps.me.  It's an offline Google maps. And with GPS you can see right where you are at. It even has hiking trails on it. That's awesome!
I tried to get it... but since Apple is an American company, the app store does not work in Cuba.
Doh!
So I had a terrible tourist map, and had been given vague directions on which way to go and where it would be (and told that I had 1 liter of Gas, with which I could go... 20km? 30km?  The guy didn't really know. )
I found it. I put in 6 liters. Filled it up!
And RIDE!

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to rent a scooter and go. You meet cool people. See things off the tourist track. It's a great way to explore an area.



On the way back I stopped at the LOS AQUATICOS Trail head. These are a few families that learned the healing power of water from a shamen hundreds of years ago or something like that. It sounds fascinating, but I didn't make it all the way there. 

The trail, which was paved with stones and hand carved steps, went up and down over the Mogote's. Gorgeous views of the valley abounded. The hike was mostly shaded since it was late afternoon. So I sat and enjoyed the breeze. Then I came to a junction... the sign to Los Aquaticos lay on the ground. Did it point along the ridge or down?

Looked like down. So I chose down.
(HE CHOSE DOWN!!! (To almost quote Labyrinth!)
Well down dropped me to the valley floor pretty quickly.
It was getting late ish so I figured I'd just walk along the valley floor till sunset.
Then I saw goats.
And then I saw a cliff face... with a cave entrance in it!!!




SWEET!!!
Waterproof headlamp on (yes, of course I have one in my backpack. As you should too :)
And I plunge into the slot in the rock.
It led back, split left and right...
left a dead end. Right leads deeper.
Maybe 2 feet wide.
Slippery mud.
It splits again, with only the left going anywhere....
50 meters back, I found a pool!!! With a wooden structure above it.
It wasn't huge, but it was awesome!!!

And the end of the cave. Or as far as I was going to dare go as I'd have to submerge myself to explore further and as much as I love to explore the unknown, I'm not that crazy.

So I head out and ... hear voices off to the right.

So I head back the way I came and out of sight.... and then I hear they are AMERICAN voices.
So I turn around and walk back and surprise a family, their Cuban guide family (who all spoke English) and the owner of the property.
I made friends and they told me about a BIGGER cave around the corner.
I asked if it was okay to explore (since it was on his property).
He smiled and off I went.

 

The cave was like a tunnel all the way through the Mogote. Maybe 30-50 feet tall, and pitch black until you came around a corner to see out the other side... and a BIGGER POOL!

So I did what everyone would do, right? I got down to my underwear and went into the pool. It was waist deep. I half swam around in it and eventually went back to the side I started on.
What lay beyond....?
I'll have to come back to find out.

On my way out of the cave, I enjoyed a song written by my friend and former Feet Firster, Brandon Miquelon called ROOTLESS TREE.  It's a song he wrote after a multiple month trip through Europe he went on a few years ago. In truth, this was one of the main songs of this entire trip. I love it. He captured the feeling of the traveler so well. So thank you Brandon for the song, if you are cool with it I'll share it with people on the email thread.

I headed out of the cave, up to the farmer's house. Where they offered me coffee and I sat and enjoyed the coming sunset with people who mostly spoke a different language, but it didn't matter. We shared a nice time, looking out at the valley, as the guide drove off in his 1952 Pristine condition car...

 

I've still got a smile on my face as I write this.

Awesome.


CraigO

Friday, April 5, 2019

I'M IN FRICKIN CUBA!!!!

OK in all honesty I am already back. To you say that Internet is spotty in Cuba is An understatement :-)



There are Wi-Fi cards that you can purchase, and they work… OK. Maybe. If there is a connection. As many of you know I actually prefer not having continuous Internet access when on a trip like this so for me it was actually kind of wonderful. People were at restaurants and caf├ęs actually interacting with each other. They were walking around and seeing sites or experiencing the places they were at and the people they were with. I won’t say that the Internet is not in Cuba, and it is kind of hilarious to see people huddled in city parks with their phones out trying to get some sort of signal. This applies to Cubans as well as travelers.



Cuba! The music, the people, the beautiful scenery, the heat, The waterfalls, the crabs (but we will get to that in a future email).   It is not an easy place to get around in as information is often times in accurate or different depending on who you talk to. I showed up at the bus station in Havana to buy a ticket... and the station was being remodeled with no signs or info for where to go. Fortunately there are helpful taxi drivers everywhere and he was happy to set up a Taxi Collectivo (group taxi) to my destination, Vinales.
And it was great! Met some cool people and went to a cigar plantation on the way. And even smoked a cigar for the first time. When in Cuba!

And frankly it was nasty as hell.
It just sort of burns and makes me want to spot a lot. Supposedly this was a good cigar. I bought two cigars for 6CUC each (that is roughly $6). They would cost $150-$200 each in America.
Fear not! I’m not planning on becoming an officionado of cigars. But maybe some investor In the movie will love them and feel like a bad ass with his/her cigar :)

 


FAST FACTS:

Cuba has two currencies.
The Cuban National peso (CUP) which is 25 to $1USD. This is the currency used when you are not in tourist areas. If you are paying with this you are getting things for very cheap at the rate that Cubans pay.
The other is the Cuban Convertable Peso (CUC). Which is roughly worth $1USD.
This is what you use most often. And the notes look very similar so you have to pay attention to what you are paying with.

A quirk of coming to Cuba from America is that you have to bring all of your money in cash. American credit cards and ATM cards do not work here. It was a little worrisome at first but frankly if you are smart with your money and keep it hidden were locked away in your bag at your casa particular things are fine.  The rest of the world, in theory it works like it would at home :-) in Theory...

HAVANA!
This is where I began and where I will end. I had 3 nights. 2 1/2 days at the start and I could have done one less. It’s big and unique. The old American cars really are cool. People say it’s a time machine, and I didn’t feel it so much in Havana... but once I got outside of Havana....

TIME WARP

American cars from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Beautiful cars. Some in immaculate condition. Some not so much. Some with a lot of personal character and touches (like eye brows on a beat up old Cadillac). Horse carts. Bicycles. Motorcycles. Buildings of wood and straw and stone. It really is wonderfully bizarre and fantastic. I never got tired of seeing these bad ass cars driving in the nature.



THE HUSTLE

Compared to someplace like India where the tours are pretty continuous, Cuba was a lot less. Yes, people offered a menu or a mojito to buy. Good price. And there were occasional street hustlers who always started with “where are you from?”
“United States (Estados unidos)” I would say.
And they would respond with “ahhhhh! Cuba and United states are friends!” (They are?)
And I mean every tour had the same line!
Not kidding. In different cities. Same lines.

But in general it wasn’t too bad at all.

IS CUBA SAFE?
The answer is yes... mostly.
I had ZERO issues ... until my final "Cab" ride out. Which in the end turned out to be fine, but was a very strong reminder to be careful anywhere you go.
I use the term "cab" because once I got in I realized this was NOT an official cab. And my instincts told me to hop out, but for some reason I didn't. They asked if I had a mobile phone (which there is no reason to ask.)  I said NO. And then they actually took me to the airport. I had to pay them secretly so the cops wouldn't see. Maybe that was the whole scam all along, but I think if I'd said I had a mobile this story would have ended very differently...

That being said, in Cuba It was safe to walk down dark streets in Trinidad and there were no issues. Just the occasional person on their porch who would just look at me, ignore me, or occasional say Hi. And the ONLY time I felt sketched out was that final morning ride to the airport.  So, keep your travel wits about you if you go and be aware of touts or such, but crime really is VERY low there. And violent crime even more so.

So there will be a few more emails coming in the next week or two. I had some amazing adventures, with amazing people in amazing places. All part of the purpose of traveling afterall.  If you don't want to be on the list, just let me know. No worries, I can take you off.

Otherwise, hope you enjoy the reads and the ride!

Rock on
CraigO-- TRAVELS!

PS:  it's been WAY to long!  Way way way too long. It felt good to be back on the road. Really good.