Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”

Varahicacos Cuba. “the other Varadero”

Varadhicacos

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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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

Mi Cubita 14 days tour.

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

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Public Art Gift!

La Conversacion! The conversation

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A new work of art has proved its own success by exciting much talk among Cubans and tourists alike in Plaza San Francisco de Asisi; one of the most frequently visited plazas in Havana old city.

“The Arts” have always been supported by the Castro regime in Cuba, and many plazas have noteworthy sculptures on display funded or commissioned by the Cuban government!
Plaza San Francisco can boast more than its fair share!
The newest addition to this spacious plaza, was inaugurated on 25th May 2012. It was donated to the city of Havana by one Vittorio Perrota as a gesture of friendship between France and Cuba. The Conversation “La Conversacion” is the work of French sculptor Etienne who was present at the unveiling ceremony along with Vittorio Perrota, the French ambassador and the historiador de la cuidad de la Havana.

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The sculpture itself is a beautiful bronze casting of a conversation between two people in an attitude of serious exchange of ideas! It is mounted on a lovely plinth of Cuba’s finest marble and hidden within this plinth is a box containing French and Cuban coins plus a message for future generations!

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The importance of verbal, face to face conversation in this age of text messaging and social networking needs to be emphasised. That conversation is an important part of Cuban life can be seen as its a theme that runs through many artworks in Cuba where all have been unable to voice their beliefs and ideas freely since liberation in 1959. The figures have parts missing from their bodies allowing a clear view through to the plaza beyond. The spaces are in many ways the most interesting aspect of this intriguing sculpture, like the things unsaid in a conversation that help us to read between the lines and understand what people really mean to say.

Follow this links to read and see some of the other artefacts adorning the plaza San Francisco in Havana.
http://encompasstours.com/2012/04/legendary-characters-of-old-havana/

And for more conversation themed sculpture in Camaguey
http://encompasstours.com/2012/08/meet-the-artist/

Why not join us and see it all for yourself? If you only have a week then we recommend “A Cuban Snapshot”
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

If you have more time to explore then “Mi Cubita” would be our choice for you!
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

 

 

Ferry to Casa Blanca

 

If you are walking down the “malecon” (coastal road fronting the sea wall)  in Havana toward the harbour and Bahia of La Habana, your eyes will be drawn to the lighthouse (faro) standing proud on the cliff edge protecting one of Cuba’s spectacular natural harbours, the bay of Havana!  The lighthouse stands on the end of a promontory strongly fortified with huge walls and battlements, built by the Spanish Conquistadors to defend the city against pirates and other bounty seeking invaders. Opposite stands the old city of Havana, once a jewel of the Caribbean!

A road tunnel now links Havana to the other side of the bay, but locals who live in Casa Blanca (a community on the other side) make the crossing to and fro on the ferry to get to work and school. If you like boat trips then the ferry to Casa Blanca will be one you’ll enjoy, and once there you can walk up the hill to the statue of Blanco Cristo (White Christ) and enjoy the view.

The ferry has a vauge time table…. It starts running around 6.30 to 7am and stops around 9.30 to 10pm and the crossing takes about 5 minutes.

Once you have located the pier, which is opposite the new Russian Orthodox Church you will need to go through the police check point and join the queue which is undercover on the pier. The police will want to look inside your bags and require men to empty their pockets and maybe even do a body search!!!  All a bit strict for a short ferry crossing you might think??

Well NO! In fact two or three ferries have been hijacked and sailed with all their passengers to foreign shores, namely the USA, where all Cubans are welcomed with open arms and helped to settle in! Another victory for the capitalists!!

The story of one famous hijack is worth repeating!

One day as the ferry left Casa Blanca to cross the bay a whole bunch of people boarded in party spirit.  Through the police check with their crates of beer, bottles of rum, pots of food and snacks, tambores, maracas, guitaras, singing,  dancing, laughing & joking. Men, women, children, adolescents, babies etc a big family outing!  You get the picture!! An outing with a surprise! Half way across the bay the ferry turned left and headed out to sea, party still in full swing!! This change of route was noticed by the security police on the pier who notified the coast guard. The coast guard was not quick off the mark as they thought something on the lines of..“well the ferry has hardly any fuel they won’t get far!” How wrong they were! This had been well planned. The crates of beer were full but the bottles were full of fuel not beer and so the ferry partied on to Miami!!!

So if you still want to chance the crossing, join the queue in the line marked Casa Blanca and when the ferry appears pay your peso to the official and jump on board!

The price you pay for the ferry is one peso moneda nacional MN (not tourist money CUC) and before you start thinking this is very cheap, please remember that an average Cuban monthly salary is $20 to $40 US so that is only 500 to 1,000 pesos MN.

Once on the ferry find a safe place to stand and hang on! Bicycles and other small cargo are allowed at no extra cost provided there is space. The journey is pretty smooth and eventless normally but you might want to take note of where they keep the life jackets!

Exit the ferry and the ferry terminal at Casa Blanca and ahead of you a road leads up through a small park onto a road that leads to the statue of Jesus Blanco. For the last few months he has been encased in scaffolding but there is a view point worth reaching and the walk up takes about 10 to 15 minutes from the pier.

Proceedure for the return ferry is exactly the same but if you don’t fancy it or are in a hurry you can always catch a taxi and return by the tunnel. If you have lots of time to spare then why not head up to the lighthouse or visit the old fort which is open to visitors for aprox. 10CUC

It’s a lovely view over the old city and the bay is cleaner now than it used to be before the iron curtain fell and cut of the plentifull trade from this once thriving port!

If you fancy a trip to Cuba and want some company why not join one of our small group tours. No more than 8 in a group with a dedicated tour leader throughout. Read more on our tours pages.

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

If you have more time then “Mi Cubita” covers two weeks
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Read more about Cuba in our news posts.

Humboldt’s Cuban Footprint

Alejandro von Humboldt in Cuba (“the last man who knew everything”)

Alexander von Humboldt (born in Berlin Sept. 14, 1769 — died in Berlin May 6, 1859) visited Cuba for only a few months on two occasions during his many years exploring and researching South America with Aimé Bonpland, a French born botanist. His short visits have left a large footprint on the island, and his writing there have shaped and influenced many thinkers, leaders and scientists the world over.

If you are in old Havana you can visit a house where he stayed in Calle de los Oficios. It has a bronze plaque dedicated to his memory to the left of the main entrance, and another one with his portrait in relief. There is not a lot to see in the small museum house but, it is more than anything a tribute to a man who was an energetic and tireless collector, thinker, scientist, botanist, humanist, educator, philanthropist, explorer and more! He funded much of his own expeditions and died somewhat hard up due to his philanthropic activities, always keen to help young penniless students in the fields he love and made such significant contributions to.

He was undoubtedly the influence for the works of Charles Darwin who described him in a letter to a friend as “greatest scientific traveller who ever lived” Simon Bolivar who was responsible for the liberation of so many Spanish colonies, said of him “Alexander von Humboldt has done more for America than all its conquerors, he is the true discoverer of America.

While in Cuba Humboldt undertook scientific and social research with collaboration of Cuban landowner and thinker Francisco Arrango y Parreño. He visited regions around Havana as far as Trinidad and Matanzas. They conducted a survey of the city and surroundings and on his second visit he completed a mineralogical survey too.  He and his companion Aimé Bonpland made an extensive collection of Cuba’s flora and fauna, and in honour of Humboldt’s achievements and research carried out on behalf of Cuba a national park in the department of Baracoa has been dedicated to his name “The Alejandro Humboldt National Park”

Humboldt’s theory of life and the world was that “Nature herself is sublimely eloquent. The stars as they sparkle in firmament fill us with delight and ecstasy, and yet they all move in orbit marked out with mathematical precision”. He spent a large number of years writing up his findings and his theories of the sciences and the unity of the world we live in. He wrote an essay on the island of Cuba that was banned by the Spanish who felt threatened by it! It was called “Ensayo Politico sobre la isla de Cuba” and pointed great criticism at the inhumane  practice of slavery and all the injustices and corruption of thinking around its practice!

 

Humboldt was considered by Cubans as the second discoverer of the island and we can be thankful that the practice of slavery in Cuba was soon abolished. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes a landowner and lawyer declared all his slaves free men October 10, 1868 and became the catalyst for liberation from Spain and freedom for slaves in Cuba

If you would like to see Cuba and its beautiful flora and fauna, explore the old cities and rural towns, join us on a tour!

Learn more about Humboldt on BBC Radio 4 podcast with Melvyn Bragg http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iots/all#playepisode59

Why not book yourself onto one of our tours this year?

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

14 days tour “Mi Cubita”
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba13-days/