British Cuba!?

Did you know that Cuba was once British????

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Cuba! The very name conjures up a taste of sugar and rum, the smell of fine cigar tobacco and coffee and the sound of music played to the rhythms of the gentle waves lapping on the shores of this coral island paradise! Cuba is the very essence of a Spanish Caribbean Island, or is it???
You might be surprised to hear that “Yes indeed” Cuba was under British rule ….. for a spell!!

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Cuba had been jealously claimed and run by the Spanish Conquistadores who divided it up amongst themselves for cultivation and colonization. Its location made it a perfect stop off for treasures plundered from “New Spain” and South America, heading back to be melted down for the Spanish crown. Goods too made this journey back to Europe and a two way trade developed between Europe and the Americas!

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Cuba the island was flat and fertile a readymade breadbasket of the Caribbean! ! The “west Indies” as they were called were crucial in the trade routes between the Americas and Europe and whoever gained a foot hold of these islands could easily control trade!
SUGAR had become an addiction in Europe and Cuba was ideal for cultivation of this crop, but the local populations had long since perished from diseases and over work and the island had been repopulated by slaves captured along with the booty from neighbouring lands. A new source of stronger workers were needed and Slaves from West Africa arrived by the boat load!

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Greed and the idea that the world was there for the taking, and could be divided up between the crowns of Europe led the British in 1762 to set sail from Portsmouth for Havana, Cuba! This was no tourist trip! Britain had always prided itself on the power of its Navy! An expedition set off with 5 warships and 4,000 troops! They lay siege for two months on Havana bombarding the city walls and blasted their way through the massive fortifications and defeated the Spanish; this battle cost the lives of 560 British soldiers!!
British rule immediately opened up trade after the heavy restrictions Spain had imposed! Trade was mainly with North American and Caribbean colonies and it transformed the Cuban society. Food, horses and other commodities poured onto the island as well as thousand of slaves from West Africa to work the sugar plantations. The British brought machines and greatly improved all aspects of the sugar industry!

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The desire to rule Cuba was all about money and British occupation was short lived! London merchant feared a decline in sugar prices and put pressure on the government to negotiate with Spain over colonial territories! Nine months on with the Paris Treaty the Seven Year War was ended and Britain got Florida in exchange for Cuba!!!! Britain felt it was a poor exchange!!
How sad that hundreds of thousands of Cubans have exchanged their own island for Florida in the 20th and 21st Century!CamagueyEmilio2012126

Read more about Cuba in our Archives Cuba News Posts! If you have a sweet tooth try http://encompasstours.com/2012/05/the-sweetest-sugar-in-the-world/

Why not see Cuba for yourself? Join one of our tours this year!

Our favourite is “A Cuban Snapshot”  http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

If you have more time we recommend “Mi Cubita”  http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Valle de los Ingenios

A steam train adventure in Trinidad, Cuba!

One of the most delightful excursions on our tour to Trinidad is the day we take the train to Manaca Iznaga and old sugar plantation!

We all gather at the tiny rural station of Trinidad which looks as though it has been out of use for half a decade. We are  awaiting the arrival of this amazing old steam train which announces itself loud and clear as it approaches! Steam billowing out of the smokestack and smoke from the furnace.  Everyone is eager with anticipation not believing that this puffing monster is going to take us to our destination and back again!

All aboard!

We get onto the old fashioned carriages and take or seats for the trip. After a short delay we chug out of Trinidad under steam, and with several blasts of the whistle, children, bicycles, grazing horses and dogs flee from the train’s path.

The speed is leisurely and we have a superb view of the rural landscape, passing through rough grazing land and small holdings.  A good pair of binoculars at the ready and bird watches will not be disappointed!

The train comes to a stop in the middle of a small bridge and a wide hose is fed into the  stream below to fill us up with water. This takes a little time as the hose looks as old as the train and several holes make it somewhat leaky!!!  Time to chat and look out the windows.

We are off again and continue uninterrupted until we arrive at Manaca Iznaga station.

The colonial house is now a visitor’s centre and the tower is a vivid landmark and reminder of the unhappy people enslaved to work this land, once producing the best sugar in the world. The bell that rang out the hours of work is no longer in the tower but stands on the ground at the entrance to the house. For a peso or two you can climb the tower on its rickety step ladder and the views from the top are awe inspiring.

Down below there are local ladies selling their beautiful pulled thread and embroidered white table clothes and napkins traditional to this region, plus many other knick knacks from further afield. If you are in need of refreshment or toilets these are available in the house, where you may also find an opportunity to sample freshly squeeze sugar cane juice, in the back courtyard.

Once more we return to the train and continue to another colonial house where lunch or other light snacks can be purchased. A typical musical group plays recognisable tunes by well loved Cuban composers and horses are available for a short ride if you are not hungry. Chickens wander around ever hopeful for crumbs and everyone relaxes in the shaded verandas  out of the blazing sun. What a fabulous way to spend the day and see the countryside.

Our return journey is direct to Trinidad with the no scheduled stops ….

Trains and railways have been a crucial part of Cuba’s history and key to the success of the revolution in 1959. If you are a train enthusiast then the train museum in Havana will be on your list of visits and you might fit in the Hershey train from Casa Blanca to Matanzas if you have a free day! It’s a sad reality that the train system in Cuba has been more or less abandoned due to lack of government interest, but thanks to tourism some of these old machines have been revived and continue to earn their keep!

Why not book a tour with encompass tours and se Cuba for yourself?

“Cuban SnapShot”  tour available in October 2012
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

“Mi Cubita” tour available in December 2012
http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Caribbean Cocktails, Havana Club and ….

Summer is here in Europe despite the rain and our thoughts are turning to holidays. White, palm lined, beaches, and cool refreshing cocktails to sooth the heat of the mid day sun!!

Here in Cuba the cocktails are always at hand, all rum based and plentiful combining locally grown limes and herbs into tangy mouthfuls bursting with flavours!

Havana Club is the local poison and it comes young fresh and white or more mature and dark aged for 3 years, 5 years, and 7 years! The most popular among Cubans is the white rum and “Rum Collins” would be the typical home made party drink in down town Havana. It combines simple ingredients that are fresh and local and can be found in most homes without prior planning. White rum Havana Club, lime juice, ice, sugar

Here’s how!

Choose a long glass or tumbler and squeeze the juice of a small lime into it.

Add a teaspoon full of sugar (more if you have a very sweet tooth) and mix together to dissolve the sugar in the juice.

Pour in a good shot of Havana Club white rum and stir together                                         

Fill your glass with ice cubes and top up with sparkling water!  ……………………………………………...Enjoy!!!!

Most visitors want to try a “Cuba Libre”,  which comes in a tall glass, garnished perhaps with a slice of lime, lots of ice and mixed with Cuba’s  very own “Tu. Cola”.  “Cuba Libre” was the battle cry of the soldiers during the war of independence from Spain in 1898 but Cola from the US did not arrive in Cuba till 1900 brought over my the armed forces. Its certain that the combination of Cola and Rum was quickly found to be delicious in a tall glass packed with ice and garnished with a slice of lime…….so the birth of this drink can be traced to 1900and has been popular the world over ever since!

Mojitos have a much longer pedigree, are 100% Cuban and fun to make, if you can get your hands on some “Yerba Buena”.! This drink needs a little more preparation but delicious and refreshing it will wake up your mouth and set your taste buds tingling! It’s been around for centuries and was popular with the pirates of the 17th century who sweetened the available “aguardiente” (a crude predecessor of rum) with “guarapo” (freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, see our news item “the sweetest sugar in the world” http://encompasstours.com/2012/05/the-sweetest-sugar-in-the-world/ ) Freshly squeezed lime juice was always on their menu to prevent scurvy at sea so adding some alcohol and flavours made it much more attractive!  These days if you can’t get your hands on Yerba Buena then any fresh mint will do, guarapo can be substituted with a couple of spoons of sugar and we have the luxury of ice and sparkling water that the pirates would have lacked!!

Hemmingway’s Daiquiri is world famous but more popular outside Cuba than among the island population! It is totally Cuban in origin and made popular abroad through the maritime connection and trade with the US during the 1940s. Originally a long drink it has evolved into a shaken short with crushed ice, sugar, lime juice and rum!

Drink it cold and short…..

…….time for another?????

Have a party this weekend!  Get your friends around for a taste that is pure Caribbean and get in the mood for summer.

Get yourself a bottle of Havana Club, half a dozen limes, some sugar to taste, a tray or two of ice cubes, big bottle of sparkling water or sparkling cola, a big bunch of fresh mint , if you can’t get Yerba Buena and with a couple of friends have a Cuban fiesta!!
Or why not invent your own!!?
Send us your personal favourites with a foto and we will feature the best one on facbook and on our web site!!!
cuba@ encompasstours.com
Or fill in the comments form below! Don’t forget to leave your name so we can let you know if your recipe is chosen!

Book your Cuban Holiday now!
“A Cuban Snapshot” 7 days tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/cuba/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

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

 

Dulces de Coco: Coconut Sweets

Coconut Sweets and deep fried pasta!

Every country has its junk food and street food and Cuba, despite all its shortages is no exception!

”Necessity is the mother of invention”  so the saying goes, and never a phrase more truly represents all aspects of life in Cuba today. Locally sourced home grown food is no luxury here, is all that’s available, and Cubans make the most of what little they have.

You need not search for pre packaged bags of potato crisps, colourful snack size bags of peanuts nor huge selections of biscuits and cookies in beautiful plastic wrappings!

What you will find out on the streets are snacks made at home by hand, displayed on trays and advertised by voice! Some of the voices are amazing in their volume and your sweet dreams might be interrupted as you wake in the early morning in old Havana to the sound of “Tamales fresco” (fresh Tamales) “Coco! Coco!” (coconut)

Out on the streets, in the popular plazas and especially on the Malecon (the walled sea front where lover go to stroll at night and fishermen spend their days casting out to sea) these are the haunts for the street sellers. Frequently you’ll find old ladies and gents in straw hats carrying a bundle of cone shaped paper packages and ambling along in the sunshine. These old folks will be calling “mani mani” (peanuts) or “chicharrita” (which is a general term for junk food)   Some cones they are clutching are the size of an icecream, others thinner still, and here size matters! The thin ones are mani and the fat ones chcharrita!

If you are lucky the peanuts will still be warm from the roasting, they are small, salty and very tasty!  The chicahrrita is a totally Cuban invention, its deep fried pasta and comes crunchy, crisp and salty in the style of a pasta tube, like penne or macaroni.

For a few pesos MN (moneda nacional) any child or adult can crunch their way through these simple snacks that fill a gap between lunch and dinner!

Younger stronger bodies are needed to carry the trays of “Dulces de Coco” (coconut sweets ) that glisten in the sunshine attracting children like bees to a honeycomb! These street hawkers need strong biceps and walk the streets selling their wears which quickly disappear.

Coconut is the main ingredient and grows abundantly on the island, then you need a generous helping of sugar for which Cuba is famous. The resulting globes of sweet coco gleam like jewels on their trays. Irresistible!!

We can recommend you try a dulce de coco and a cup of Cubas delicious coffee, the perfect partnership!

Why not book your tour today to Cuba today and taste for yourself!

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

Mi Cubita is our 14 day tour
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