A Travellerspoint blog

Cuba

Veradero

sunny 32 °C

I have a confession to make. I have always wanted to stay in an all inclusive beach resort. You know the sort. The ones where you get a fluro wristband when you check in, so you can enjoy the all you can eat and all you can drink, and the sunbeds and paddle boats on the beach not to mention a full board of activities like aqua aerobics and dance classes. The ones where middle age divorcee women go to pick up toy boys (and boys go to pick up middle age women in hope of being toy boys!) Personally, I blame it on seeing Dirty Dancing one too many times! So when I found out that I could have a few days on Veradero beach in Cuba for not much more than the flights would cost alone, I jumped at it! Gill and I booked our flights and 4 nights accommodation (3 in Veradero and 1 in a super fancy four star hotel in Havana) in San Jose, Costa Rica, and were off the next day. Gill felt a little guilty - she was supposed to be backpacking, not livin it up in four star hotels and all inclusive resorts! I had no such qualms, after 7 months of slummng it, I thought we more than deserved it!
We flew with Cubana airways which was an experience in itself. We got our first taste of the Cuban men as the hosts tried to chat us up whilst selling us duty free rum and promptly pouring us a drink!
We arrived in Havana in the late afternoon and were picked up and taken to the fanciest hotel I´ve ever stayed in. The Riviera was built in the 50´s as a casino by the mafia and enjoys a waterfront position on the Maceo (the boardwalk) in Vedado, Havana. It felt like we were going back in time when we walked throught the foyer, it´s managed to retain the feeling of the era and the furniture doesn´t seem to have been replaced either! Unfortunately we arrived too late to fully enjoy the hotel, we lamented not being able to go for a swim in the amazing pool or enjoy a bath in the big tub. But we wanted to enjoy our first Mojitos in the piano bar at sunset so there was no time. After dinner and a few more drinks we headed to bed for an early one in anticipation of our transfer to the beach in the morning.
We arose early and trotted off downstairs for our buffet breakfasts. I love buffet breakfasts - all you can eat pancakes, fruit, bacon, sausages and not to mention the omelette bar! We had to make a trip to an atm to get some money and having been warned about the frustrations of getting money in Cuba, were not suprised by the long queue - luckily Gill is British so I was in good company! We had to make a quick dash back to get the transfer. We were glad when we were finally on our way to the beach.
We arrived at the resort a couple of hours later and were checked in and given fluro green wristbands - very exciting! Our resort was one of the cheaper ones on the beach, but still pretty flash for a couple of backpackers! It boasted nice rooms with balconies, a big pool, a 24 hour bar, a pool bar, a bar on the beach, two restaurants, a poolside snackbar, thatched sunshades on the beach with sunloungers, kayaks, paddle boats and dodgy nightly entertainment!
After our first buffet lunch, we headed straight to the beach...WOW! The beach had the bluest water I have ever seen. The water was truly amazing, with crystal clear water, warm and as still as a swimming pool in the morning and with gentle lapping waves in the afternoons. I think I will be putting it in as No.2 best beach I have had the privelage of being on, after the San Blas. Sure, it wasn´t as idyllic San Blas, in fact, it was downwright crowded on the weekend, but still that in itself has it´s own charms. I like to see people enjoying themselves and nothing screams happy holidayer more than a paddle boat meant for four overflowing with 20 or so people!
So, we enjoyed our 3 days there, mostly sitting on the beach, lots of swimming, eating buffet food (we were storing up our fat cells for when we hit the rest of Cuba and wouldn´t be able to afford to eat!), avoiding seemingly besotted waiters and the occasional dip in the pool, cocktail in hand.
Some people claim that Veradero is not the "real" Cuba, but we met lots of locals there despite the misconception that they are not allowed there and it was nice easy introduction to Cuba. Besides, you only have to go the bus station to witness the jostling queues to see that communism in well and truly alive in Veradero too!
DSC03239.jpg
DSC03248.jpg
Veradero Beach
DSC03252.jpg
Enjoying the paddle boat
DSC03268.jpg
One of my MANY car shots in Cuba!
DSC03275.jpg
Gill
DSC03300.jpg
Sunset

Posted by zedgee 11:00 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Panama to Costa Rica

Bummed in the Bocas

rain 28 °C

I think i´ve been spoiled for life from the San Blas islands. I´m afraid that never will beaches and islands be so beautiful again. Or maybe it was just the weather that put me off the Bocas del Toros islands off the Panama coast. Gill and I headed there after Panama City on the recommondation of some guys we met on our Lost City trek. They raved about this place, but we found it to be overun by American surfers, a bit too touristy and pretty expensive when you countered into the fact that most of the islands and beaches could only be reached by boat and you also have to pay national park fees on top of that. Still, we had a few fun nights drinking cuba libres and cooking some yummy meals inspired by Fredrickos cooking on the boat. And I´m sure the beaches are much prettier in the sun, but we pretty much had three days of overcast and rain, which is not very inspiring.
Before that, we were in Panama City for a couple of days. We stayed on with one of the guys from the boat, Nir and caught up all things western, including some McDonalds, yummy pizza, massive shopping malls and a movie - Transformers - pretty good if not a little too corny in bits ( I don´t like my action flicks mixed with corn.) Of course we had to go and check out the Panama Canal whilst we were in Panama City. The three of us agreed that it would have to go down as possibly the most disappointing tourist sight ever!
Because the weather was getting us down, Gill and I hot footed it San Jose, Costa Rica. We wanted to look into flying to Cuba from here and thought we could check out the pacific coast whilst waiting for a flight. Little did we know that it would be so easy to get a flight and have found ourselves booked to go tomorrow. We got a pretty good deal, and against our backpacking ways, we have managed to include ourselves three days of luxury in an all inclusive resort on the beach. Nor sure how the all inclusive crowd will react to us and our dirty backpacks! It will be nice to have a few days of pampering for ourselves before we immerse ourselves into the culture shock that I think Cuba is going to be. Can´t wait!
DSC03216.jpg
Panama Canal
DSC03219.jpg
Gill, me and Nir at the Canal
DSC03222.jpg
Bocas

Posted by zedgee 17:45 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Moving Continents

Cartegena to Panama City

sunny 32 °C

I have a new ambition in life (for when I grow up of course). It's to get me a dog and a yacht and sail around the world. A couple of obstacles. 1. It seems I have a wee small problem with with sea sickness. 2. Apparently you need a lot of money to buy one of these yachts and I don't have have any! I'm working on both.
Yep, you've guessed it, I've just been sailin'. Two (horrendous) days on the high seas, and then four amazing days sailing around the beautiful San Blas islands off the Panama carribean coast. Gill and I met our captain Fredricko (a nice French/Brazilian man) in Cartegena yacht club and set up to sail from Cartegena to Panama. We got a pretty good deal. We got six days instead of the usual 5 that most other boats seemed to offer as well as drinks (alcohol and soft drinks that most other boats charge extra for). The day we went to meet him, I was feeling unwell and within about 2 minutes of setting foot on the boat, had my head over the side...not a good sign of things to come! The next day we went back to pass over our passports (so he could sort out immigration for us) and a deposit, and he told us he wanted to leave a day earlier than planned. So that didn't leave us a lot of time in Cartegena and meant we had to miss out on our planned mud wrestling in the volcano - damn! Oh well, it meant an extra day for me in Central America.
We met early the morning of departure and introduced ourselves to our travelling companions for the next 6 days. There was the Captain, Fredricko, his Colombian wife Claudia, deckhand Marcel (who we later found out was Claudia's sister), Pedro and Ezequiel from Argentina, Mickael from France and Nir from Israel. Oh, and Reina, Fredrickos tiny little black poodle!
Ok, so the first two days weren't much fun. I have been sea sick before (on a particularly rough whale watching trip in New Zealand) and had heard that this part of the trip can be a bit rough and a lot of people get sea sick. But I was told it was worth it to see the San Blas islands. And having not really been sailing before, I didn't know what to expect. I took some ginger tablets and decided to sleep most of the morning in my cabin. I rose for lunch and that's when the problems began. It appeared that being vertical didn't agree with me and whilst everyone else was enjoying their lunch of salad and freshly caught sashimi barracuda, I was bent over the back of the boat bringing up my breakfast! Nice. Back to bed and then a repeat performance at dinner time. At this point, a storm seemed to be rolling in. The sky was threatingly dark, being lit up with spectacular lightening, and the sea was getting bigger by the second. The only option was to get back to bed and sleep it out.
The next day, I awoke to find the storm gone, but my sea sickness was still very much with me. I decided it would be best to spend the day lying down, but I wanted to lie up deck and as I could only stand up a few minutes before the nausea set in, this had to be done in stages. Get dressed, lie back down, go to the bathroom, lie back down, crawl up deck, lie down...you get the picture! I spent the entire day lying down up deck praying for land, only raising my head to watch the schools of dolphins that came to play beside the boat. We were supposed to reach the islands that afternoon, but as we went to bed (after I actually managed a small dinner), land was still no where in sight.
I awoke the next day to a very early rising, excited Gill, exclaiming "land ahoy!" Thank god for that! We sat up on deck in the early morning light as we neared our first destination in the San Blas, the Holandes islands. They were picture perfect tiny islets covered in palm trees, circled in white powdery sands and ringed in turquiose water. Paradise found.
The San Blas islands, otherwise known as the Kuna islands, are the home to the Kuna indians and have a rather sweet story behind them (and also some rather scary ones about island incest, but I won't go into that!) Originally habinats of the jungle covered coast, they were pushed to the islands by some rather agressive escaped slaves some 500 years ago. They came by canoe and set up homes on the islands. In the beginning of the last century when the US came to Panama, they also discovered the islands and decided they would like a bit of this paradise also. The Kuna people decided, "no more", they had lost their home once before and weren't about to let it happen again. So they declared war on the US and sent out an ambassador around the world the tell of their plight. With international pressure they won their war and declared themselves an independant sovereign under the protection of Panama. (This story was told to me by our captain, so I have no idea how accurate it is, but thought it was a nice story!)
Days on the boat were spent a little like this. Rise early morning to move onto deck, taking time only to change into bikini and slather myself in sunscreen. Go for a swim whilst a breakkie of eggs is being cooked. Get back on the boat for breakfast and jump back into water as soon as finished eating. Take back up position on deck for a little sunbathing before getting into dinghy to head to nearby island for some time on the beach and swimming in the beautiful, crystal clear, warm, shallow waters that surround them. Swim back to the boat for more lounging on deck. Locals would come to us by canoe to sell their wares, some days it was Mola (amazing embroidered peices of cloth that they use to make blouses of, but westerners put on their walls!) or lobsters or octupus for our dinner - this was my idea of shopping! In the afternoon, we'd start having a few beers in the lead up to dinner, where we would have a few more beers and then maybe a couple of rums. Some nights we headed to one of the islands for a bon fire, others we just spent on deck, chatting and listening to music. The food was amazing. Fredricko was a great cook and we had gourmet salads, of papaya and lobster and octupus pasta to name but a couple of his amazing dishes. Now, this is the life!
On day five, I found my perfect beach. I have been looking for this beach my whole life. Coming from Australia, we are a bit spoilt for beaches and I have to say that whilst travelling, I haven't been able to find a beach yet that literally takes your breath away. But on Chichime island, as I walked around it's tiny circumference, I literally did have my breath taken away. This beach was perfect in every way. From it's white, fine powdery sand, to it's lilting palm tree studded shores to the perfectly clear warm waters, I felt like I literally had walked into paradise. I felt extremely lucky and privelaged as I spent the day swimming on this beach.
As day six approached, Gill and lamented our return to the mainland, we really didn't want to leave this paradise we had been so lucky to spend the last four days in. Everything about the trip had been amazing, except of course for the sea sickness, which was already well and truly forgetten. We'd had pretty good weather (one afternoon of rain, which didn't seem to matter as we swam in the sea amongst the storm), an amazing boat and very good company. As we left the boat, whisked away by some locals to the coast, we didn't know that our adventure was no quite over yet. We were pretty late getting away that afternoon and we arrived at the place to catch our final boat to the mainland where we were supposed to meet a car to take us to Panama City, we were told it was too late and we'd have to spend the night in a Kuna village. There was some kind of coming of age fiesta going on in the village, which was basically a bunch of women getting extremely drunk (and I mean extremely drunk, falling over yourself, falling asleep on strangers kinda drunk!) on chicha (alcohol made of corn) and then some dancing later on in the evening. We were introduced to all the important people of the village and had dinner, a few beers and watched the fiesta before heading to bed in our hammocks. We arose early the next day to get a boat and then a 4w4 and then a van to Panama City. After a long journey we finally arrived and said our goodbyes, a great adventure over.

DSC02992.jpg
Cartegena
DSC03015.jpg
Arriving at the islands
DSC03018.jpg
DSC03055.jpg
DSC03067.jpg
DSC03064.jpg
Gill
DSC03072.jpg
Reina
DSC03101.jpg
Swimming with our beers
DSC03083.jpg
Swimming in the rain
DSC03098.jpg
Floating shops!
DSC03109.jpg
DSC03115.jpg
DSC03117.jpg
DSC03142.jpg
The perfect beach
DSC03150.jpg
Me at perfect beach
DSC03159.jpg
DSC03126.jpg
Nir
DSC03161.jpg
All of us on the boat
DSC03163.jpg
having dinner
DSC03192.jpg
me and Reina
DSC03197.jpg
the boys and "wilson"
DSC03194.jpg
jumping off the boat
DSC03211.jpg
in the village
DSC03208.jpg
Dancing Kuna's

Posted by zedgee 07:05 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 8 of 8) « Page 1 [2]