Sunday, 25 July 2010



The winter vegetables seem to have survived happily without me.


I'm back! Well, sort of.


In fact we got back 4:45am Friday before last but I have been playing catch up this last week and blogging has kept being pushed back: tomorrow, tomorrow...

At last (I hope I hear you cry), it has reached 'today'.

It doesn't pay to go away for six weeks - all sorts of things happen. Saint Kevin has joined the pantheon of fallen idols; Queen Julia has grabbed the throne and headed off to an election; the garden has grown even though it is winter and pruning is the order of the day.

I will use the Odd Angry Squawk one for electoral comments.

I hope to be more frequent with my Chemist's Kitchen posts.

And Mr Newbery has a few observations from his travels that will be posted over coming days.

Sort of back? Well, I head off to Sydney for three nights tomorrow for work related stuff. I thought I had done with hotel rooms for a while. Mind you, JCN seems to thrive on solitary confinement so the nights are not entirely lost.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Belfast .. July 12th March.

Temperance? I don't think so.

Breeding the next generation of bigots.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Change of scene....

Currently in Dublin, sipping Guinness.


For those of you who are wondering where JCN is, he is alive and well and also enjoying the Guinness.

Cuba loose ends - Varadero

Pathway to a beach. Nice beach but the slipstream of Hurricane Alex meant it was cloudy while we were there. Hot, humid, cloudy.

Dance lessons in the hotel foyer. Varadero was hideous but fascinating.

Cuba loose ends - Baracoa - Santiago de Cuba

Selling sugar cane juice.


A confectionery of coconut, sugar and orange, wrapped in banana leaves.

Cuba loose ends - Baracoa

No, not on fire. It was being fumigated.

Translates into something like "Revolutionary once, Hospitable now, Heroic always."

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Observations on Cuba

The Country

  • Much bigger than I had realized. 1,250km (780 miles) long.
  • Everything is green. Lush and tropical. I’m told that it’s not that green in winter. A small corner, near Guantanatmo, is pretty dry (lots of cacti) as the mountains stop the rains reaching it.
  • Like being in one large farm – sugar cane, corn, bananas, coffee, cocoa, cassava, potatoes, pumpkin, the main ones. And rice. Every main meal has rice.
  • Livestock = cows, bullocks, goats, horses, pigs, chickens.
  • Lots of horse carts, bicycle rickshaws. Motorbikes too.
  • Lots of old American cars but modern ones about too – VW, Hyundai, Peugeot, Chinese generic. Russian trucks and ‘jeeps’. Some Mercedes taxis and ambulances.
  • Govt owned cars, (blue number plates), can be stopped and told to take passengers by Transport inspectors.
  • Very little mention or sign of Fidel. I don’t think I would have seen more than four billboards with him on it and it was usually a joint thing with someone like Hugo Chavez.
  • Had never heard of Jose Marti before I came here but his picture and statues are everywhere.
  • Internet is patchy at best. Managed to post to the blog occasionally. Never got Skype to work. Gave up trying to look at emails. General population don’t have access to the internet except for educational purposes. Businesses use email, of course. Only major hotels have wifi and it is US$6-12/hr.
  • Mobile phones (cell) about but not sure how wide the network is.
  • Medical service is universal, excellent and free (as Margaret found out.). Apparently they have 70,000 doctors and export them to other countries.
  • There are almost no advertisements. Although, for some reason, most of the large umbrellas covering street vendors have ‘Maggi’ on them.
  • Very clean, very tidy. Almost no litter.
  • Bottled water, an essential.
  • Everyone gets about two weeks ration coupons a month, the rest they have to get by what ever means they can. There is a lot of swapping as, for example, you will get a ration of tobacco whether you smoke or not.

The People

  • Mixture of colours and backgrounds, no obvious classes.
  • Look at the bus impassively but smile if you wave. But not everyone.
  • Beggars are a pain in Havana and Trinidad but not much sign of them elsewhere.
  • Usually friendly, especially if you make the effort to say ‘Hola!’ first.
  • Lots of people ride horses in the eastern areas as well as the universal horse and cart.

The Food

  • Unimpressive and pretty limited. (But see ‘The Truly Weird’, below.)
  • Core local food is rice, black beans, pork and potato.
  • Saw lots of corn and bananas growing but not apparent in the restaurants.
  • Mango season just starting.
  • Shredded cabbage far too common, as a salad.
  • The big international hotel chains did a better effort than the small hotels but with basically the same limited larder. But tasty, wherever. Meat universally tough unless you had one of the shredded beef dishes or minced (hamburger).
  • Dessert of a slice of cheese (soft, mild – bit like Havarti) in a pool of mango jam was tasty, if rather unexpected. Other desserts tended to be cakey and sweet.
  • A burger at Hotel Ambros Mondos (Hemmingway’s room = 511) said it came with onion. It did. One small onion ring.
  • A street dessert is a concoction of coconut, sugar and orange, sold in banana skin ‘cones’. Tastes like coconut macaroons. Name sounded like Cucaracha.

The Drinks

  • Most drinks rum based (surprise!).
  • Mojito = refreshing mix of rum, mint, lemon, sugar & water = universal tourist drink.
  • Beer’s good. Crystal (lager) or Bucanero (maltier).
  • No local wine.
  • Coffee, strong and good.
  • Can’t make a good cup of tea to save themselves. Margaret had one cup of tea that was so dark we thought that they had put the tea bag in a cup of coffee.

The Music

  • Louder than I usually like. And everywhere.
  • Street parade in Camag├╝ey for St John’s Day. Lots of people, drums, trumpets, colour, noise, popcorn and draught beer; finished about 5am. That’s day two of a five-day festival.
  • Rarely have a meal (lunch/dinner) without roving minstrels
  • They usually with a CD to sell.
  • Lots of spontaneous street music down back alleys. Waiters dance to music at times. People get up and dance.

The Truly Weird.

The last few days, after our proper tour of the island, were booked into a beach resort; I thought nothing much of it at the time. But it was so bizarre. It was so hard to realize that we were in Cuba. It was like Club Med, with rum. People would fly in, stay at an ‘all inclusive’ resort and then fly out again, never seeing the ‘real’ Cuba. It had:

  • 1,200 tourists. (And this is only one of a number of similar hotels at Varadero).
  • An enormous buffet room for meals. Good food though. More variety of salads, vegetables, cheeses, everything really. The Brits had chips with everything. One guy got really excited that he had found HP Sauce.
  • Other separate restaurants – Chinese, Italian, Steakhouse. Oh, and a Cuban one too.
  • Daily activity sheets that included Tai Chi, archery and bingo.
  • Masseurs.
  • Computer games rooms for the kids.
  • Nightly ‘cabaret’ show.
  • Some women dressed up for dinner – long dresses, flowers in hair etc.
  • Regular shuttle buses to other hotels so you could visit their shops etc.
  • The slip-stream of Hurricane Alex meant a lot of rain but hot and sunny when a break in the clouds. Topless bathers. Warm on the beach, even if cloudy.


Cuba is a photographer’s delight and a photographer’s nightmare. Every time you take one picture, you look up and seen four other photo opportunities disappearing around the corner. The combination of colourful people, colourful clothes, colourful houses, old cars, horses, and a lifestyle and climate that results in most people living our the front of their houses gives a maximum opportunity for good photos.


I used to wonder why someone would want a ton of Mera but I now know that a Guantanamera is a young lady who was born in Guantanamo.


Chines restaurant INSIDE our hotel complex. This is Cuba? Bizarre.


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