Dr Triolet’s Cuban love affair!

One Frenchman’s love affair with Cuba!

Dr Ernesto Triolet

Go back in time to the late 1800’s. The science of Pharmacy is young and there are many discoveries to make and many ailments and diseases to cure! Dr Juan Fermin Figueroa Velis of Cuba, invites his newly graduated, French Pharmacist friend, Dr Ernesto Triolet Teliebre to visit. The friends decide to set up in practice together in Matanzas and Ernest asks to marry Juan’s sister Maria Justa! The two men dedicate their lives to their pharmacy which became famous and is now open to the public as a museum.


Ernesto and Juan worked together establishing the pharmacy in Matanzas which was famous throughout Cuba in its day. The “Botica la Francesa” as it was then called has today been re invented as the Pharmacy Museum, “Museo Farmacéutico” and it is well worth a visit!


The guided tour can be enjoyed in a variety of languages and the items on display are beautifully cared for and preserved in the manner of a working pharmacy and dispensary. The enthusiastic guides will explain how the medicines were made and you can see the tools and the recipe books for potions and powders administered to the people of Matanzas. Adornments such as a beautiful porcelain vase with portraits of the husband and wife are proudly displayed above the sales counter, as is a statue in marble of the Virgin of Conception protecting the establishment. MuseoFarmaceuticoMatanzasCuba4

Hundreds of labels and boxes are on show behind glass. Original tools and cabinets are still full of medicaments in use at the time of its heyday, and the ancient “on Duty” lamp outside, (which used to indicate when the pharmacy was operational,) is said to mysteriously come on from time to time as a reminder of the past!?


Ernesto kept up to date with pharmaceutical trends and did his own research. His personal library is testament to his enthusiasm and dedication to his profession. He took some of his products to the Paris World Exposition in 1900 where he won a bronze medal, sadly he never returned to his beloved Cuba and his family as he died on December 19th 1900 in France of a heart attack.

Dolores Triolet

Dolores Triolet

Sadly Ernesto’s marriage to Maria Justa was short lived as she died at a very young age, but his friend Juan’s daughter, Maria de los Dolores accepted his offer and became his second wife. Dolores was one of the first Cuban women to graduate in pharmacy in New York and after the death of her husband she continued the work of the pharmacy in Matanzas, outliving him by many years!

The couple had three children and the youngest Ernesto Triolet Figueroa ran the pharmacy until it closed in 1964 and re opened as a museum a few months later. Ernesto the younger continued to care for the museum until his death in 1975.


Why not join us in Cuba this year and explore the fascinating history of this island of immigrants and pioneers that has so many stories to tell!!?

A Cuban Snapshot 7 days tour

Mi Cubita 14 days tour

A shopping revolution in Cuba!

A shopping revolution in Cuba!

New year’s announcements are normal in Cuba but new year 2012 was an unexpected surprise!  It was announced that, along with the cutting of 500,000 government jobs, Cubans would be allowed to register and set up their own small businesses!!!!


The truth is that Cubans had been running their own small illegal “negocios” for years in order to survive. The new laws simply made it possible for them legalise their enterprises and operate freely and for that privilege pay their taxes of 50% ish to the government!!!  Everyone happy!! Except the ones that lost their government jobs!! (but more of that later)


The ball set in motion is gaining momentum. All kinds of small shops are being set up all over the country. People living on ground floor housing can open up their windows and display wears for sale. Food is always a popular commodity, as are illegally copied CDs and DVDs, beauty products, hair accessories, electrical goods, and clothes. The majority of these items imported from China.


Some people with more stock and finances have turned their downstairs room into a walk in shop. People are out and about buying and selling and enjoying what can only be the start of a shopping revolution!!!


Cubans can employ other Cubans, and there is no limit to how much they can earn (so long as the state gets its cut!) There is a state list of allowed businesses, so provided you can fit into one of the state registered categories you need not fear the police!  Curiously, there is a registered business for “gigolo” which must be one of the most lucrative trades on the wake of tourism.

Society is becoming more divided… the people with some money are getting more, and those at the bottom, out of reach of the ladder, will have to get by on their ration card allowances as before!


Visually the streets are changing……dare I say that “consumerism” is creeping in, to shake up the monotony of run down government establishments. Tourists expect more than Cubans suffice with.

The arts and crafts markets have always been abundant are now booming!


As for the loss of government jobs announced?  We are told it didn’t really happen… people were worried and dashed around asking friends and worrying about their income, but down on the ground, people retired and were not replaced and that just about covered the job loss target! Reductions were made! Every government department was over staffed anyway so plenty of people to cover the extra work load!

Why not come and enjoy Cuba for yourself on one of our tours this year?

A Cuban Snapshot 7 days tour

Mi Cubita a 14 days tour

Cuban Soup of the day

“Ajiaco Oriental” is our Cuban soup of the day.

Ajiaco Oriental sopa

“Ajiaco Oriental nuestra sopa del dia!”

This typical Cuban soup is cheap, delicious and nutritious!

Ajiaco Oriental is so named because it’s from the orient of Cuba, down in the region of Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa! It’s so good and popular that it’s made the length and breadth of the island in markets and at home.

Market Havana Cuba

First you need to go to the farmers market and buy your ingredients!

No meal in Cuba is complete without meat and beef is the key ingredient in this dish! There are some standard ingredients and others you can throw in to your taste and budget!

Garlic Havana

**Major supermarket in the UK now  have a general selection of Caribbean foods but in more remote parts of the British Isles some of the ingredients will have to substituted for other similar vegetables. 

Peppers&Onions Havana



Beef of some sort –  Carne de res
Yam –  Yuca
Sweet potato –  Boniato
Pumpkin –  Calabaza
Taro –  Malanga ….possibly not available in UK, it’s a root tuber.
Potatoes –  Papas
Plantain green or ripe –   Plátano verde o madura
Sweet corn –   Maize
Peppers –   Ajies
Onions –   Cebolla
Mexican Coriander or Coriander (fresh)  –   Cilantro o Culantro
Garlic –   Ajo
Lemon juice –  Limon (in Cuba its Lime)
Tomato puree –  Puré de Tomate
Chopped tomatoes  –  Tomate en torsos
+ Plus any other vegetables and flavouring spices and herbs that you like!!!
A little oil + Salt and pepper!

Tomatos Havana

In Cuba the majority of the people have basic utensils and basic cooking facilities, so this is a “one pot soup”

Yucca Yams Havana

Choose a nice big pot with a lid if it has one!

1. Cover the bottom of the pan with oil and add finely chopped onions and crushed garlic and cook gently to extract the flavours and soften the onion.

2. Turn the heat up a bit and add your shredded beef next!

Once the meat is browned, turn the heat down again and begin adding the other ingredients well chopped up into small pieces.

3. Let it all simmer adding more water as needed. As the vegetables begin to soften and break up you will be delighted to find a thick tasty broth!

Cilantro Mexican Coriander Havana Boniato Sweets Potatoe Havana

Join us in Cuba for Ajiaco Oriental this year

A Cuban Snapshot 7 days tour.


Mi Cubita 14 days tour


Calabaza Pumpkin Havana





Lolo: Artists Flourish in Cuba

Food and other commodities can be hard to come by in Cuba but Art is abundant and gives us all hope!


We recently visited a well know artist’s studio in Matanzas. Cuba’s sculptor “Lolo” or Osmany Betancourt Falcón is one of Cuba’s flourishing artists.He is a local to Matanzas and his studio can be found on Calle 97 known as Narvaez facing onto the San Juan river.


He was busy at work when we arrived, up a step ladder on a huge piece supported by various pieces of wooden scaffolding and ropes. In the back ground a radio played some lively tunes and one of his colleagues with whom he shares his studio was working on some glazes. We wandered around admiring various pieces and looking at his array of tools and machinery for moving large works.


We chatted to Lolo when he took a short break to wash the rich red clay off his hands, and we asked him about his studio and his wonderful creations! Materials can be hard to come by in Cuba and so artists tend to work with what is easily available locally. Lolo likes to works in clay, and it is sourced from Pinar del Rio the neighbouring province. Then he likes to casts his pieces in Bronze and wood is another favourite material he incorporates.


For the piece he’s working on now, he plans to send it to the US to be cast in bronze.

Asking Lolo where we could see his works, he told us there was one in the Ceramic Museum in Havana. This is a small museum is on Calle los Mercaderes just off Plaza Vieja, entry is free and it’s well worth a visit!


Lolo has had some recent fame winning first  prize in Matanzas, in the 11th Summer Exhibition 2011 with a piece entitled “Sargento” an installation in enamelled ceramic, metal and wood.

He has won other prizes in the Bianual Amelia Peláez Ceramic Competition and in the Roberto Diago Salón. He has also had pieces of work on show in Canada, Holland and Germany.


The government actively supports “the Arts” and over the last 53 years of revolution, Cubans artist have enjoyed support and opportunities that others have been denied. Art of all types and forms is everywhere and accessible, mainly free of charge or very cheap for Cubans. Tourists pay a lot more. Artists have an almost free expression in music, dance, sculpture, and painting, the resulting works interpreted by the viewer.


Art schools are over subscribed and its a career  that the younger generation are drawn to. The arts attract tourists and sales to tourists bring extra cash bonuses.  If you are talented and produce popular works you might get a chance to travel with a show or get a contract to perform abroad. The young have a thirst to see the world beyond Cubas shores!

Why not book a holiday in Cuba this year?

The Castro days are numbered and change will steamroll this fragile and unique island.

Cuban Snapshot 7 days  http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

Mi Cubita 14 days     http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/




Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”

Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”


Foreign tourists to Cuba either flock to Varadero’s white sandy beaches or give it and its glut of “all inclusive” hotels a wide birth!

For visitors who don’t like beach hotels, Varadero is still worth a visit to see the dramatic lifestyle contrast with the rest of Cuba. This narrow strip of beach lined land is bursting with Hotels, and amazingly, still more hotel giants are being constructed cheek by jowl. You can only try to imagine what it will be like in ten years time! As no Cubans actually live in Varadero, workers are bussed in and bussed out. The only Cubans enjoying Varadero are the ones selling goods on the streets! This is a pricey, tourist only zone!

Varadero beach

So why come to Varadero?? Well luckily there is more to Varadero than the lovely beach if you are prepared to go and look for it. Put it on your itinerary now before it gets completely squeezed out!


If you take the “Hop on Hop off beach tour bus” you can get a few glimpses of the sea and, an almost ariel view of the developments on the peninsula. Among the crowded hotels in down town Varadero, dive centres and fishing opportunities are abundant! There is a dolphin centre where shows are put on and it’s possible to swim with the dolphins too. Still in the down town area you find Jonson Park, originally a private residence now a botanical garden with lake and other family attractions in a 9 hectare site.

Continuing on, up the peninsula, the Varadero Golf Club at Mansion Xanadu is 18 to 19 hole golf course surrounded by lush green palm trees and makes a refreshing break from the built up area! Golf carts and equipment are available to rent and an 9 hole option or a course of lessons can be yours at a price.


Just beyond this and opposite “Reserva Ecologia Chaplin” you find “Boat adventures” a centre offering a range of water bourn tours exploring the mangroves!

Keep going on the bus till you reach the area called “Hicacos” and the “Reserva Ecologia Verahicacos”, our destination today!


It’s a small reserve but it is an attempt to preserve some of the original flora fauna and vegetation currently to be found on the peninsula. At the entrance there are some well presented information installations in Spanish and English describing some of the highlights and aims of the reserve. Pay your entrance fee and a poor map is provided! But it suffices! Underfoot its sharp coral rocks, so good foot wear is advisable. The paths are adequately marked and the whole self guided tour lasts about an hour to an hour and a half! Butterflies and lizards skit off into the undergrowth, while caves, ruins of the salt works and giant cactus are the main physical attractions of the reserve. It’s nice to think about how this part of the island looked before the first building arrived!


Your “hop on hop off” bus ticket last the whole day so there is plenty of time to complete the whole beach tour and return down town for a cocktail!

Why not come and see Cuba for yourself?

A Cuban snapshot 7 days tour


Mi Cubita 14 days tour.