A stroll down Obispo.Cuba

Obispo is Havana’s Oxford Street!

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Let’s take a stroll down Obispo! Turn your back on the central park and head down towards the harbour. Obispo acts as the main tourist route connecting the Parque Central to Plaza de Armas a stone’s throw from the bay of Havana.

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On your right Bar Floridita professes to be “the cradle of Daquiri”  and “one of the seven most famous bars in the world” it attracts crowds and is one of the many places Hemmingway left his mark!  The romance of his novels and the many stories of his years spent enjoying the good life in pre revolution Cuba are legendary.

Take your time! There are many things to delight and surprise the eye, the ear and the nose!

The street has blossomed into a cacophony of bookshops, bars, money exchanges, home goods stores, pets in tiny cramped cages, tacky tourist trinkets, and numerous cafes with musicians supplying the background rhythms.

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A couple of blocks on, the figure of Sancho Panza greets you on his mule and musicians play in the shade of some ruins converted into a restaurant and bar.

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New relaxations in the laws have triggered a fast growth of small business and enterprising Cubans are making the most of their new opportunities. Tourists have become more abundant and more approachable and hustlers who have always been present now have licenses to offer their services! Tourist police patrol the designated tourist areas and Cuba is very safe for tourists.

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If the heat is getting too much you might be feeling a bit thirsty. Why not pop into “Lluvia de Oro” for a coffee or a cocktail and imagine yourself back in the cold war days, a secret agent in Graham Green’s Film “Our Man in Havana”. It’s normally hot and the bars do well! Back out onto the street, music floats into your ears from all directions.

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It’s impossible to walk down Obispo without being approached by someone to buy something, go to bar, visit a restaurant or part with some cash to feed a needy family. The choice is widening and Cubans are learning about competition!

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Museums, tourist information, ice cream sellers, pizza sellers, opticians, artists’ studios/shops, shoe shops, clothing shops, flower sellers and Hotels.

Museums, mainly small, are everywhere! Many free to enter.

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The famous Café Paris is small but great music is usually on the menu, whether you stop for a cerveza or a meal. On the walls are memorabilia and photos of the much loved “Caballero de Paris”

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From here the aroma of baking will attract you in to Pastelaria San Jose and there is sure to be something sweet for a tasty snack.

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You are now on the door step of Hotel Ambos Mundos Hemmingways favourite! The view from the roof terrace is worth a visit in the beautiful old lift!

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Continue on past Mercaderes and you enter the colonial architecture of Plaza de Armas surrounding a park with some lovely Palms and flowering Frangipani trees. This Plaza is where second hand book sellers congregate. Beyond the glint of the sea can be seen below the huge fortifications defending the harbour!

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If you would like to see it all for yourself, why not join us on tour this winter to enjoy Cuba at its best!

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

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

To read more of our Cuban news posts please link to Cuban News Posts

San Lazaro

Cuba’s Favourite Saint

Catholicism came to Cuba with the original Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century and despite efforts to ban religions of all kinds following the revolution of 1959, it remains outwardly the dominant religion of the day. The churches have all reopened and been repaired, the pope has visited twice giving Cubans his blessing, and people are able to freely practice their chosen religion without fear of persecution.

“Santaria” is the name given to the Cuban form of the African religions brought over with the slaves from West Africa. Cuban life is steeped in the beliefs of Santaria which has always managed to survive underground practiced by people in the worst conditions imaginable who gained from it their strength to survive. Although it is now recognised as a religion in its own right and openly practised it is so ingrained into the beliefs and culture of the island that it adopts and transforms the Catholic saints and embodies them with its own deities, and vice versa in a sort of symbiotic relationship!!

The saint most celebrated in Cuba is San Lazaro! He was the poorest of the poor. He ate the scraps from under the tables and even the dogs licked his sores, so the stories tell us. He was famously raised from the dead by Jesus and himself became a saint.

Who can not feel sorry for San Lazaro? He is the saint for whom so many Cubans feel a great sense of empathy.

San Lazaro has a dedicated following in Cuba his Sanatrian self is “Babalu Aye” (ref Rough Guide to Cuba)

December 17th is his saint day and the preceding day, December 16th, is the day of peregrination. The devotees begin their dedications and demonstrations of self sacrifice in Santiago de las Vegas and culminate their 5 to 6 kilometre journey at the Sanctuary of his name adjacent to and in the grounds of the old Hospital on the out skirts of El Rincon, a suburb of Havana.

They are a conspicuous procession, dressed in dirty old clothes or tunics made from old sacks for the occasion. Barefoot or with special rope shoes if not on their knees, some even spread-eagle themselves on the ground face down on the earth. They might carry wooden crosses or other burdens and slowly painfully make their procession to the feet of their saint. On reaching the Sanctuary they make their pledges and promises in return for cures received or hoped for, for themselves, for relatives or friends. Many also renew their promises to fulfil pre existing devotional pacts with San Lazaro for favours done and cures received.

On the streets of Havana there are many devotees who walk the streets carrying small statues of San Lazaro and collecting money for Cuba’s favourite saint!

Join us on one of our tours!

If you have only one week try “A Cuban Snapshot”
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

For those with more time to spare try “Mi Cubita”
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

The sweetest sugar in the world!

Guarapo Frio!

Celia Cruz was not the only Cuban to cry “Azucar” with delight and eager anticipation, but she put the island on the map for many people!

“Azucar” or sugar, is and has been the life blood of the island and an essential ingredient without which Cubans could not survive!

Life is sweet in Cuba and coffee comes automatically sweet…”Sin azucar???” (without sugar) you must be crazy!

The plantations of sugar cane are now much reduced from their peak following the revolution of 1959 when vast areas of land were cut and burnt to boost crops and foreign income. Sugar prices were high as was demand, but markets fluctuate and during the last three decades Cuban sugar industry has all but disappeared! Many of the the “centrales” or sugar refineries, have been closed down or even pulled down, and in some cases only the elegant tall chimneys remain. Workers have had to move on to other industries, and communities have shrunk or moved away. The trains too that were so important for the transportation to the ports are mainly to be found in the museums or abandoned and rusting at the end of the line!

Home consumption of sugar will always be  high as Cubans have a very sweet tooth, and one way of getting your sugar hit for the day is a delicious cup of “Gurapo Frio” cold sugar juice!

Kiosks selling Guarapo are popular all over Cuba and the juice couldn’t be fresher!  A stack of recently cut cane is piled ready and you can watch the machine as it crushes and squeezes the sweet sticky liquids from the stalks. It’s comes trickling out a light brownish colour and is collected in a bucket as it runs from the rollers.

Next a block of ice is pulverised in your mug and the liquid poured over!  Its quite frothy, very sweet and will give you a huge energy rush! Cubans love it!! On a boiling hot summer day what could be better mid morning!!

Holidays to Cuba available now!

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

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

For the sounds of Celia singing “Azucar Negra” you tube link below!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCSAHyvslhU&feature=related

Home Cooking!

Local, Nutritious & Delicious….Home cooking in Cuba!

The fashion these days, here in Britain, is for cooking and eating with an emphasis on “seasonal produce” and even better “locally sourced”! We are asked to appreciate the extra time and effort that obtaining these ingredients necessitates, and we seem to be more than willing to dig into our pockets and pay extra for this privilege!! It’s a big selling point! We will however, quite likely, accompany our meal with a good French or Italian wine and a Costa Rican coffee with a “fare trade” label, the pepper used to season will be imported and the Olive oil in the salad dressing will not be from a British olive grove! Well…these inconsistencies we allow, and we feel we have had a more healthy and nutritious meal that has contributed to our local economy.

How marvellous then to arrive in Cuban and find that the cuisine is 100% seasonal and 98% local produce!  Oh the advantages of island life with a US trade embargo!! You can be certain that your food has come straight from the land and that pig you hear squealing over the wall is going to reappear on your plate as a succulent and delicious meal!

Obviously, living in a country where the season dictates your flavours means that dishes change with the available ingredients and menus likewise.  Your holidays are for experiencing new flavours and we at encompass tours, aim to offer you the chance to eat the best and typical dishes of Cuba. The lovely ladies of the “casa particulars” take a great pride in being able to offer you their best and favourite dishes, and never has it been more true that “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Recipes are passed down the family and any Cuban will tell you his Mamas cooking is the best!! Neighbours help out with ingredients and cooking utensils and food is the major preoccupation of most Cubans.

As a tourist you will be able to eat foods forbidden to local people!!!! Lobster and Beef are for the tourists and the government owns all the cows and keep a check on them!! Occasionally an unfortunate beast might get “hit by a train” and as food is in short supply, there will be no time wasted in dividing up the carcass among the local community.  Fish can be hard to source, which will surely come as a surprise as most cities are a stone’s throw from the ocean. This is because no Cuban fishing fleet exists for fear of someone running away to Miami!  People do however fish from the shore and go out in tiny “rowing boat” type vessels to catch some fish and earn a little extra money. Cubans get their food on the ration card that has existed since the liberation forces ousted Batista in the revolution of 1959. That covers their basic commodities per head of population, but 4 eggs a week do not go far, and last year the Casto regime announced that the rations were to be cut. Getting enough food can be a daily chore for a lot of inner city families.

These days Farmers markets are growing in popularity and your host families will be able to buy the extras ingredients needed to feed tourists. Tasty plantain, sweet potatoes, yucca, cassava, pumpkin, beans, an assortment of “greens”, coconut, garlic, sweet peppers and various herbs will make memorable dishes.  Fruits such as oranges, lemons, bananas, pineapple, fruita bomba (papaya to us, but you can’t say that in Cuba!), melon, guava and lemons make delicious juices for your breakfasts.

By far the best cuisine in Cuba is to be found in the home and not in the restaurants whose menus are repetitive and boring and service…how can I describe it….erratic?. You might find the only dish available from the 20 or so listed on the menu, are the two containing ham, cheese and chicken! If you are a vegetarian or vegan eating in “casa” is really your only way to survive.  Cubans like meat and don’t understand vegetarianism; many don’t eat vegetable at all as they can’t afford them!

A typical dish called “Ropa Vieja” is a stew of shredded meat onion and some sweet peppers with seasoning, and translates as “old clothes”. Rice is eaten daily and the most popular dishes are known as “Moros y Christianos” which could be interpreted as “blacks and whites” as it’s made with black beans, while “Congri” is made with red beans.

Eating in Cuba can be a challenge, but the results are worth waiting for! Join us on tour and taste the flavours of Cuba!
“A Cuban Sanpshot” 7 days tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/
“Mi Cubita” 14 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

 

CUBA – 14 DAYS
MI CUBITA

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Delight in the rich kaleidoscope of countryside and city life aromas and flavours encompassed in this tour.
Mi Cubita Tour Dates

Dec 5th 2016Dec 19th 2016Not Running
Jan 5th 2017Jan 19th 2017Full
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Price £1300 per person.

Starting the tour in old Havana with time to enjoy the old Colonial city centre, to feel and hear the rhythm of the changing face of Cuba.

Learn the secrets of Tobacco production and cigars, Revolution and the islands Colonial past. Travelling on to the southern coast, the old Spanish city of Trinidad never ceases to delight and enchant with its cobbled streets and back drop of the Sierra de Escambray mountains. Relax and swim in the turquoise waters of Cayo Iguana.  A day into the Altiplano Topes de Collantes where you’ll enjoy a countryside hike to the Salto del Caburni waterfall and have opportunity to see and taste the “best coffee in the world” from bush to cup at the Casa del Cafe. Night life and music are a large part of daily entertainment and you can enjoy dancing at the Casa de la musica in the city centre beneath the stars in the open air, what could be more romantic!

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