Cuba

Two and a half weeks is never enough time to give a place a decent $.02 worth, but…

 

From memory Cuba is the one place where I have traveled and spent so much of the travel time digesting what we had seen that day and then falling asleep just as confused as the first day I landed.

 

We started our journey off in the corazon de Cuba, Habana.

Here is a city with style and finesse, but rough around  the edges like an old cricket ball.

A city of old colonial buildings crumbling into cobblestone streets, 1950’s yank tanks that will take you anywhere in Cuba for a somewhat negotiable rate, places to eat from between $0.04 and $25 a meal, and bars where you can dance the night away salsa style well into the morning.

 

But let me cut to the chase.

 

The minute we hit the streets of Habana we were befriended by folks who we eventually learned to be known as jineteros – hustlers.

These guys were nice enough. Patient with our awkward level of the Spanish language, full of info, and they knew a guy in the next street who has space for us to sleep in his casa particular (more on that soon). And most of the time these guys would leave you alone as you politely expressed “no gracias”.

 

The problem was we never really escaped it except for the time out on the eastern edge of Cuba in a great little town called Baracoa.

 

Whilst it seemed that most folks in the bigger cities of Santiago del Cuba and Habana were keen to befriend us, help us lighten our wallets and leave us talking about jineteros for the rest of the day, there were other places and people that were indeed the lovely type that you would really have enjoyed getting to know better, places like Baracoa & Santa Clara.

 

Looking back at the trip we have all decided that Cuba is probably best spent far from the bigger cities, out in a village surrounded by less entrepreneurial types.

 

Ok I’ll stop whinging.

 

In the moments we got over the jineteros we did meet some nice folks, like Roman & Amelia who were a son & mum combo running their casa particular in Habana.

We spent a few days of new year’s eve with them and had a blast. Roman gave us all some salsa lessons and educated us on the history of Cuban music. These guys were so fantastic and friendly. One night we were fortunate enough to get Amelia talking about her life and times in Cuba. Basically she said that she was tired, and hadn’t ever experienced a different way of life, and was extremely sad that her son and husband were living in Italy and that she it would be extremely difficult for her to visit them. When we tried to give her money for the new years day lunch she threw, she politely said “some things are more important”.

 

Basically:

We bicycled around and checked out the limestone peaks of Viñales.

Then we took a convertible taxi east to Santa Clara to see Che Guevara’s statue & sample a $.04 hamburger.

A slow bus journey took us down to Trinidad for more dancing and partying in caves.

Along the coast we dropped into Santiago de Cuba for …. hmmm not sure really, an old fortress and a nice view.

But then we found Baracoa, a beautiful little town (the first capital of Cuba and was where Christopher Columbus landed) on the eastern tip of Cuba, full of friendly people and a somewhat different look & feel to what we had experienced over the previous 2 weeks.

To me Baracoa was a taste of what everyone could have been like in Cuba if we didn’t stand out as foreigners with dollar signs floating above our heads. And we even managed to find ourselves out amongst the nature of Baracoa on top of  the table top hill “El Yunque”.

And managed to do this whilst using both the CUC & CUP money systems (what a feat!).

 

Everything in Cuba pretty much seems very old, and recycled. I met one truck driver whose truck dated back from 1954. He said his Dad had given him the truck 20 years ago, and his father’s father 20 years before that. And the old truck keeps on running (on a slightly more efficient diesel engine).

 

The poverty in Cuba is blatant and is an obvious explanation for the plethora of entrepreneurs. Perhaps it is all to do with the sanctions imposed by the US back in the day, or maybe Fidel’s plan of self sustainability just didn’t work out or wasn’t completely well thought out. Perhaps I should read a book about it all.

 

So, yeah i get it, should you go there (because you value my travel opinions so strongly of course) ?

YES! A big fat YES! I mean NO! I mean… work it out for yourself!

 

We’ve met way too many people with such positive views on their experiences in Cuba that it really must be awesome. We went in fairly unprepared and had to learn the ropes as we went, and especially after our chill time in Mexico we were really just not ready.

(photos coming soon)


Planet Kapow 21 : Tulum to Cancun

The final episode of our Mexican leg on our way to the bottom of South America. Yes, there’s still quite a ways to go! And yes once you feast your eyes on this latest ep you might somehow realise that we are slightly behind on the episodes too!

But, you will really enjoy this one I promise.

We visit Tulum, spend xmas there, and spend a good few minutes talking about our favourite memories of our Mexican experience. Then, we head to Cancun…

As per usual head on over to Planet Kapow, sit back, have a read, and take in all that is our final Mexican PK episode.
Cuba, you’re next!

http://www.planetkapow.com/1641

Planet Kapow 20 : Palenque to Merida

Ruins. Lotsa ruins. But amazing ruins!
THIS. IS. PALENQUE!!!!!!

After the a rather chilled tie in San Cristobal de las Casas we headed north on an overnight bus to Palenque. After Egypt I would say this place is one of the most impressive ancient sites I have seen.
To top off a trip to Palenque we headed north and swam in the blue sinkholes (ceynotes) of Cuzuma. The clarity of the water was amazing, and they fact that these sinkholes exist with swimmable conditions is beyond cool.

Read the adventure, and come experience the awe that is episode 20 of Planet Kapow:
http://www.planetkapow.com/1626

Planet Kapow 19 : Taxco to San Cristobal de las Casas

Smack!

Here it is, Planet Kapow episode 19, featuring such fine places as the mountains around Oaxaca, the beautiful beaches of Puerto Escondido & the colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas!

This episode also features one of our bestest buddies Liam who happens to be celebrating his 30th birthday RIGHT NOW!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMIGO!

Lachie has written up a novella of piece and I requires your eyes for review!

So head over to http://www.planetkapow.com/1622 right, now!

Guatemala: hike around Nebaj (Cuchumatan Mountains)

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Ok, I’m jumping the gun a bit with my backlog of posts I should be getting on top of, but here is an update that I really wanted to get up.

A few days ago we got back from a brilliant 3 days up in the Cuchumatan mountains around Nebaj in the province of Quiché, Guatemala.

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Danielle & I headed of with our guide Asinto from Guias Ixil in Nebaj and spent 3 days hiking 40km up, down & around exploring the small Ixil Mayan communities whilst trying to get our heads around Asinto’s explanations in Spanish about the brutal Guatemalan civil war that he fought in.

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The folks up in these parts, especially the women and children, came across as quite reserved/apprehensive at first. We couldn’t work out why, especially after having found that most people in Guatemala are quite open and up for a chat. Later we heard that there had been a few incidents of foreigners “adopting” children (basically stealing them) which ended up with some unfortunate tourists being murdered after picking up one family’s little kid whilst walking through one of the communities.

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Also, I’d say that the civil war has left a lot of the indigenous people up here quite suspicious of strangers.

Most people are subsistence farmers as far as I could tell and fortunately for us we didn’t come across anyone who tried to sell us anything! There are chickens, roosters, turkeys, dogs, cats, pigs and all the baby versions of these running around the place.

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The women by far have the most interesting garb – purple, green and yellow pom-pommed hair braids, huipiles (blouses/dresses) and rebozos (shawls).

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Most of the dads & sons seem to leave in the morning for work in town, or farm, or head out into the forest to log trees and collect wood.

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The first day was some of the best hiking because we ended up walking from a hot sunny day up in to a thick fog on top of a mountain. It was beautiful.

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The second night we stayed with a family and ended up putting on a bit of show to about 20 kids who had gathered around staring at Danielle and I through the kitchen door.
What to do? I showed them how to make fart sounds with their arm pits, and we exchanged different whistling techniques and sound fx. It was one of the best cultural exchanges I have had! 🙂

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There seems to be a rather massive evangelical church presence up here too.
Both nights we tried to buy a beer or 2 and ended up having to go to the edge of each community to find the one family who sold alcohol. It was a little weird, but a lot of fun to be one of the outcasts drinking in the little watering hole.
With so many people living in cramped wooden houses with dirt floors I couldn’t see how it was ok for there to be so many reasonably sized churches built out of concrete/cinder blocks that had hard floors and electricity (to power the “jam session” that was blasted over the PA across the whole town & valley).
I have no idea what the medical facilities are like up there but we saw/met a lot of people with bad coughs and kids that didn’t look too healthy (one family had 3 kids who were all covered in what looked like hives, red eyes and sniffling noses). I felt really sorry for these little guys (especially when one of them nearly poked his eye out whilst trying to climb a tree).
It just seemed that the little money that is up there is kind of going into the wrong places (but i ain’t judgin’!).

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Our time up in the mountains was fantastic and I’d really suggest to anyone who is going near Nebaj to take a few days and go explore!

The Photos

The Route


View Larger Map

GPS track file (GPX)
http://adamteale.com/gps/Hike_CuchumataneMountains.gpx

Planet Kapow 18 : Mexico City to Taxco – meet the girls!

pk team

After nearly 3 months the girls have made it to Mexico to complete our ultimate Planet Kapow Voltron!

Come meet the girls, read Lachlan’s piece and see what we got up in episode 18 of Planet Kapow.

Mexico.

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I love Mexico.

Upon arriving in Mexico some 4 months ago I really had no idea what we would be about to experience.
The only references I had were from movies like Desperado & Nacho Libre, and I think I had seen The Mexican.

The history? Ha, I had no idea. I remember learning something about a fair chunk of the USA once being owned by Mexico. And maybe Aztecs & Mayans had something to do with Mexico too.

The food? Ha, yep nachos, burritos and Corona beer.

The music? Ha, mariachi of course.

The geography? Ha, desert. But I at least knew it was the country south of the USA, somewhere. Cancun?

The people? Ha, dudes with big mustaches sporting sombreros sitting around playing guitar.

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Mexico pretty much has it all.

When we crossed the border from San Ysidro into Tijuana I was slightly apprehensive after all the warning we’d had from people on the US side. Apparently we were going to either be killed or robbed by the narco folks within minutes. But after entering Mexico the only thing that looked like it was going to kill us was the heat. One day it reached 47C or so and you can see in the 3rd episode of Planet Kapow that we were wasted. We managed to spend a night camping under the stars with some friends we’d made in Ensenada, we swam at some beautiful beaches, and ate some tasty tasty food. Tacos pescados to be exact. Yummo!

There was a lot to see in Baja California but due to the heat it was just too damn hard to make the effort. I’ll come back to Baja one day, once I have learnt to surf, and will spend some months cruising the coastline in search of the perfect taco pescado, and of course the perfect wave.

A month or so in we attempted to reach a farm out in Yepachi, Chihuahua, to work on a farm for a few weeks. We were going to learn about Organic farming and hopefully pickup some Spanish. Instead we spent 24 hours or so lost out in the Chihuahuan’ wilderness getting chased by bulls, drinking water off the sides of mountains, and spooning during the cold night. We ended up walking 40km or so eventually deciding that we would postpone the farming idea until sometime later.

But it all worked out beautifully.

After the farm fail we got on the first bus we could to the city of Chihuahua where our love affair with Mexico started to fire. We befriended some students who took us out for drinks and tried to teach us how to dance in their kitchen until 4am.

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And Mexico only got better.

We found ourselves in beautiful Unesco heritage listed cities in the order of Durango-Zacatecas-Guanajuato, each one somehow out-awesomeing the last one, had coffees and beers around many beautiful city plazas, tried to learn spanish at a Spanish language school, found even more ways to eat cheese and tortillas (my favourite ended up being the quesadillas we had at a street eat in Puerto Vallarta), we road horses up the mountains around Real de Catorce, we climbed volcanoes that had grown out of some poor man’s farm around 50 years ago, we stood awe struck taking in the vastness of one of the biggest canyons in the world Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon), we experienced the spectacle & might that is Luche Libre wrestling in Mexico City, we walked with The Dead during the dia del muerte festival (Day of the Dead), we scaled ancient pyramids and tried to fathom the design & engineering of ancient ruined cities, we froze our asses off and drank delicious hot chocolate up in the mountains of Oaxaca, we got dumped by the heavy world renowned surf of Puerto Escondido and hungout at beautiful seaside villages like Zipolite & Mazunte, and we continued to dig deeper into the history of country with more revolutions than a rotary engine.

And after the whole 4 months or so we never saw one burrito or plate of nachos, and never had any direct run-ins with any of the narcos.

But probably the thing I have enjoyed the most about Mexico has been the hospitality and overall kindness of the people.
No matter where in Mexico we were people would be patient enough to decipher our slowly progressing attempts at the Spanish language, and with a sense of humour, would help us out.

Mexico is beautiful.

Planet Kapow 16 : Guadalajara to Cuyutlan

Hello hello! Welcome back – we have been away from the web world for the past 3 weeks in Cuba – more on that in future posts…

So here it is, Planet Kapow ep 16. Come along and sample some tequila, sit on the beach and watch me spill burning coffee all over myself!

As always head on over to Planet Kapow and read Lachy’s writeup and leave us a comment!