Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor

Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 89
November 1, 1998

Last Update 30 Oct. 98 1800ET

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Trip: December 1998


My  wife Brigitte and I began soon to plan our next holiday after we
returned  from our trip in December 1996, which took us to Nicaragua
and  Cuba.  Because  we  had  really  enjoyed  our  stay in Cuba, we
decided to go there again.

We  looked  through  all the travel catalogues available in Austria,
but  we  only  found  rather  limited offers regarding Cuba. Then we
happened  to find an ad for the German travel agency Vacancia, which
was  able to do all the of the hotel and car rental reservations for

We  also  had  a few troubles finding a suitable flight. Originally,
we  wanted  to  fly with Iberia, but the return flight had a waiting
list  of  300  people  in  July. So we had to take a flight with the
German LTU charter airline.

ST.MARIEN - VARADERO (08.12.1997)

Early  in  the  morning,  at  1:00  A.M.,  we left home and drove on
almost  empty  highways  to  the  Munich  airport. Of course we were
early  and  had  to  wait  more  than an hour until the LTU check-in
counter  opened. The LTU personnel are polite, but very strict. When
a  couple  in  the  line  in  front  of  us  checked  in,  the clerk
criticized  the one kilo overweight of their baggage. When it was my
turn,  he  did  not want to check in my hand baggage suitcase, which
had  flown  many times around the world with me, because he found it
was  too  large  and too heavy. After some discussions, the suitcase
finally  was  given  a  cabin  baggage  tag.  The security check was
really  strict,  too.  I  had  to  shoot  a  picture with each of my
cameras  to  prove that were really cameras and not hidden bombs. In
the  waiting  room after check-in there were only half as many seats
as  waiting passengers. The whole Munich airport is newly built, but
not  very  friendly.  Some parts already look worn out, particularly
the restrooms which are a little bit smudgy.

The  flight  with  the LTU Airbus to Düsseldorf was quiet. After the
landing  we  had  to wait two more hours for our flight to Varadero.
Though  the  Düsseldorf  Airport was reconstructed after a fire some
years  ago,  the  charter terminal was still not very beautiful. The
whole   building   was  planned  cold  and  built  untidy.  This  is
especially  true  of the restrooms which are worse than in Munich, a
real shame.

The  flight  to Varadero on the LTU MD-11 was rather convenient, but
time  did  not  pass quickly. You really felt that LTU was a charter
airline.  The  cabin  crew was really nice and helpful, but they had
some  trouble satisfying the needs of that huge bunch of passengers.
Food  was  served  in aluminum plates with plastic knives, forks and
spoons,  drinks  supplied  rather  slowly, because the crew was busy
with  food  service  and  the lavatories were not cleaned during the
whole flight.

There  was  a positive side though. Now we can really appreciate the
service  on  Iberia  and  British Airways, not to mention the really
outstanding  service  of the Asian airlines, like Thai International
or  EVA  Air.  Vienna Airport is also going up in our estimation and
even Madrid Barachas appears in a better light now.

After  we  landed  in  Varadero,  we  had  to wait some time for the
customs  formalities.  Then  we  grabbed  our baggage, passed by the
masses  of tourists who were looking for their hotel buses, and took
a  taxi  the  ten  kilometers  distance  to  Varadero,  to the Hotel

Varadero  is a peninsula, about 20 kilometers long, and on the north
side  there  is  one of the most beautiful white sand beaches I have
ever  seen.  The  Hotel Internacional is one of the oldest hotels in
the  place.  It is situated besides the sandy beach and you can walk
from  the  hotel terrace directly to the beach. The water is shallow
and the tide is calm.

We  checked  in,  changed  to  our bathing suits and jumped into the
warm  waters of the Caribbean Sea. We swam for a while and then went
to  the  room  for a shower. For dinner we only had a light sandwich
and  a  Daiquiri.  Because  of  the  jet lag, this day was six hours
longer for us, so we were really tired.

VARADERO - HAVANA (09.12.97)

After  we  had  breakfast  from the good, rich buffet we went to the
beach  for  a  swim  and a sun bath, and then we changed our clothes
and  waited  for the bus to Havana. It arrived right on the dot at 2
p.m.,  and  after  a short circular tour through Varadero to collect
all  the  other  passengers,  we  headed  for Havana. We had a short
break  on  the  road  to have drinks and sandwiches, with live Cuban

After   a   ride   of  about  three  hours  through  an  interesting
countryside  and  along the Playas del Este, we arrived at the Hotel
Havana  Riviera.  This  hotel  was built in the fifties by the Mafia
and  it is said that because of that, there is no 13th floor, due to
the  superstition  of  the  Mafiosi.  The  hotel  could use some new
paint,  but  it  is  really  well  equipped,  and  we were favorably
surprised by our room.

For  dinner  we  took  a  Taxi Particular (a private taxi) to the La
Cecilia  restaurant  in  Miramar.  This restaurant consists of three
parts:  a  cabaret,  a  grill,  and  a  Creole restaurant with Cuban
dishes.  We  were  guided  to  the grill restaurant. The steaks were
very  good,  but  not cheap. They were almost more expensive than at
home  in  Austria.  We  finished  the day with some Daiquiris in the
hotel bar.

HAVANA (10.12.)

After  breakfast  we  took  a  taxi  to  the  Jardin  Botanico,  the
botanical  garden  of  Havana.  There  a  biologist joined us in our
taxi,  and  we  drove  around  in  the gardens for about an hour. On
display  are  various  kinds  of  trees of all continents and a very
lovely Japanese garden.

Expocuba  (a  kind  of  Cuban  export  trade show) was closed and we
could not see very much in the Parque Lenin (the Lenin park).

We  went  back  to  the  hotel  for  lunch and then walked along the
Malecon  (Havana's  famous  seaside  promenade) until we reached the
Rampa.  After  our  walk, we went back to the hotel. In the lobby we
met  Mrs.  Wechselberger,  the representative of Vacancia Travels in
Cuba.  She  handed  us  our  vouchers  and then we chatted about the
situation in Cuba and about traveling and about life generally.

For  dinner  we  went  to  the  Chinese restaurant La Muralla in the
Barrio  del  Chino,  the  Chinatown  of  Havana.  Chinatown has been
reduced  to  a  block, but it still gives an impression of the Asian
atmosphere.  At the La Muralla they only had pork on the menu, which
was  rather  fat.  But  prices  were  low,  and  the cooked rice was


We  packed  our  belongings  and  checked  out at the Habana Riviera
Hotel.  We  took a taxi to the Hotel Sevilla in Habana Vieja, in the
older  part  of  the  city, to get our rental car. The Hotel Sevilla
looked  a  little  worn from the outside but inside it was very nice
reconstructed and looked really inviting.

The  representative of Havanautos was under pressure and asked us to
come  back  in  a quarter of an hour. Then he had time for us and we
did  all  the paperwork. We checked the car, put our baggage in, and
off we went.

This  time  we  got an older Daewoo Tico. The seats were worn badly,
the  tires  didn't  have  much  profile,  the steering pulled to the
right,  and  it  was a bit noisy inside. As we would learn later, it
leaked  when  it rained. But for all that, the Tico was really cheap
to rent and economical on gasoline.

We  headed  from  Havana  to  the West by highway, stopping in Soroa
where  we  visited  the famous orchidary. Then we went on to Vinales
using  the street passing by Bahia Honda and La Palma. There we went
to  the  Hotel  Horizontes  Las  Jazmines. This hotel is really well
situated  with  a  great  view  of  the Vinales Valley with its flat
ground  and  the  Mogotes,  which  are single standing rocks looking
like  big  heads. The rooms were simply furnished but useful, with a
fridge,   room   air-conditioning   and   a  private  bathroom.  The
restaurant  isn't  famous  for  its cooking, but food was acceptable
and the buffet was well equipped.

 VINALES (12.12.)

After  breakfast we made the reservation for our trip to Cayo Levisa
the  next day. Then we went off to visit the Cuevas del Indio, a big
cave.  First we had to walk a short distance into the mountain, then
we  reached  small  jetty, from which we continued the tour by boat.
The  boat  took us to the exit of the cave. Of course, there we were
offered  lots  of  souvenirs.  The  warden  at  the parking lot also
wanted some money for having kept an eye on our car.

We  proceeded to the Cueva de San Miguel, a cave with a disco at one
side  and a reconstructed hideaway of former Afrocuban slaves on the
other side.

Next  on  our  list was the Mural de la Prehistoria (the Prehistoric
Wall),  where  a  200  meter high rock wall was painted by an artist
during  this  century.  (The  word  Prehistoric  is  related  to the
Dinosaurs  that  the  artist  had painted, and not to the age of the

Then  we  headed  for  the Cueva de los Portales near San Andrés. In
this  cave the Commandante Che Guevara, with his command staff, hide
for  45  days  during  the  Missile  Crisis  in 1962, protected from
possible military attack of the United States by the cave itself.

Through  the  picturesque  countryside,  with the Mogote hills and a
lot  of  tobacco  plantations, we drove back to Vinales. The Vinales
Valley  is not only famous for fresh air and great scenery, but also
for  the  tobacco  that is grown there and which is the raw material
for the most renowned Cuban cigars.


After  breakfast  we had about a one hour ride to reach the pier for
Cayo  Levisa.  We  had  to  drive  some  distance  through  a banana
plantation,  until  we arrived at the flat buildings of the pier. We
had  to  wait  a while until we could get to the island with a small

Cayo  Levisa is a little island, about three kilometers long and 300
meters  wide.  On  its south side it is lined with mangroves, and on
the  north  side  there is a wonderful white sand beach. The sea was
calm  and  shallow.  We  shared  the whole beach with only six other
tourists.  There  were  also about ten Cubans on the hotel staff and
another ten as staff of the coast guard station on the island.

Cayo  Levisa  fully complies with the advertising slogan "Un Paraiso
del  Sol," what means a paradise of the Sun, but after a few days it
would become rather boring there.

At  five  p.m.  we  ferried  over to the pier again and went back to
Vinales.  As  always there were a lot of hitch-hikers that wanted to
come  with us, so we have some entertainment on the road. On passing
La  Palma, darkness fell and it was difficult to drive, particularly
on  the  side  roads.  On  the one hand you have to take care not to
fall  in  one of the many potholes and on the other hand pedestrians
and  all  kinds  of domestic animals are running around on the road.
Beside  that,  other  vehicles  seldom  have  lights.  Cyclists  are
regularly  on  the  road  without  any  lights.  The same is true of
horses  and  oxcarts  and  even  cars, trucks and motorcycles seldom
have working lighting .


That  night  there was a heavy rainfall. Also when we checked out at
the  Horizontes  Las  Jazmines, it was raining. The right front seat
of  the rental car was all wet, because the rain came into our Tico.

We  soon  reached  the highway to Havana, and our car was soon fully
loaded  with passengers. There are a lot of hitch-hikers, even for a
Sunday  morning.  The  rain was sometimes so heavy that I could make
only  70 km/h. Besides, our Tico was rather sensitive because of its
low  weight and its distorted chassis, and the low profile tires did
their  part in making it even more sensitive to hydroplaning. At the
right  upper  corner  of the windshield, water came in, and Brigitte
had to wear her raincoat inside of the car, too.

We  skillfully  missed the center of Havana by driving a half circle
along  the suburbs. Our last hitch-hiker to Havana, who left us near
the  Airport,  helped us to find our way and pointed us in the right
direction towards the east.

After  we  had  passed by Havana the weather became slightly better,
rain  became  less. The Habaneros lamented that it was horribly cold
and  such a winter was really bad for them. Temperatures were almost
down  at  the 20 degrees Celsius, much to cold a weather in Cuba. We
passed  the  rather  boring  scenery  of  the  Havana  and  Matanzas
provinces,  with lots of sugar cane and orange plantations. We drove
the  Autopista Central (the central highway) to Jagüey Grande, where
we  got  some  gasoline  for  our  Tico.  We  continued  on about 50
kilometers  to  Giron,  the  car  of course fully loaded with hitch-

It  had  not  changed  much  since last year, but this time we got a
worse  bungalow  than before. There was no fridge, no ventilator, no
new  air-conditioning  with remote control and the bathroom had seen
better  days,  too.  The  bungalow  was  spacious  with  a bathroom,
bedroom,  living  room  and  kitchenette,  but  there  was  not much
furniture  inside,  and  in the kitchen there was only a lonely sink
and nothing else.

GIRON (15.12.)

After  we  had  a  disappointing breakfast, we went to the reception
counter   and  demanded  another  bungalow.  This  was  accomplished
without  much  trouble.  We  almost  got  the  impression  that  the
receptionist  had  waited  for  our  complaint.  Maybe  he  knew the

Our  new  housing  was in a better shape, particularly the bathroom.
It  looked  much  cleaner and contrary to the previous house, it had
no ants running through it.

As  the  weather  was still not warm enough for swimming, we visited
the  Cueva  de  Pesces  (the  Fish  Cave,) that is situated half way
between  Playa  Giron  and  Playa Larga. This cave is a natural rock
basin  with  about 50 to 100 meters in size and 25 meters deep, with
an  underground  connection  to  the  sea. The water in the pool was
brackish  and  we  could  easily watch many different kinds of fish.
The  cook of the attached restaurant came out to bring us some bread
to feed the fish.

By  the  way,  we were the only paying guests at this site. However,
in  the  afternoon  we  saw  two buses with tourists standing at the
parking  lot.  Of  course the restaurant staff and some other Cubans
took the opportunity to watch the fish with us and to have a chat.

We  went  on  to Boca de Guama, where we glided in a small motorboat
through  a  canal to the Laguna de Tesoro, a large fresh water lake.
At  the other end of the lake there is a Hotel that is built like an
Indian  village,  with  reed  roof  huts  on  stilts and walkways of
wooden  boards,  plus  some kind of a museum village with statues of
Indians  carved  in  wood.  This hotel is said to be a favorite with
Cuban  honeymooners.  After  walking  around  there, we went back by
boat  to Guama, where we had an excellent grilled fish at the Rumbos
restaurant.  Then  we  went  back  to  Giron  and hung around in our

GIRON (16.12.)

Finally  weather  was  good  enough  for swimming. We headed for the
Buena  Caleta  and  were  the  only guests there for a long time. We
enjoyed  the peace and chatted with the staff. In the late afternoon
two   minibuses   with  tourists  arrived.  We  had  dinner  in  the
restaurant  at  the  Buena Caleta and the grilled fish was good. The
Cubans  wondered  why  tourists,  who  could also afford to buy beef
voluntarily, ate fish which is not very popular as food in Cuba.

The  area  around  the  Buena  Caleta  has expanded since last year.
There  are  more  huts  than before and one building, that was begun
last  year,  is  now  finished as a grill pavilion. Besides, a small
cave  was made accessible with an underground connection to the sea,
and in that small pool there were lots of fishes.


After  breakfast,  we checked out and went to Jagüey Grande where we
refueled  and  then  we headed for Santa Clara. The highway was in a
good  condition  and  we reached Santa Clara quickly. Once there, it
became  a  bit  more  complicated  for  us -- the city is, like most
colonial  towns in Cuba, built in a square with a park square in the
middle  and  the streets laid out in rectangular around it. In Santa
Clara  the  municipal  authorities  have set up an elegant system of
one  way  streets.  We  needed to make some extra circles around the
center  until  we  got  closer to the central square where the Hotel
Santa  Clara  Libre  is  located. The street around the Parque Vidal
seemed  to  be  a  traffic-free  zone.  We  did  not  see any police
officers,  so  we  stopped  in  front  of the hotel and unloaded our
baggage.  The  hotel  guard  sent  me  to a parking lot three blocks
away.  The  robber-barons  over  there  told me they wanted thirteen
dollars  for  24  hours  of parking, an enormous amount of money for
Cuban   situations.   I  had  no  other  choice,  as  there  was  no
possibility  of  parking in the narrow streets around the old center
of the town.

Our  room  was  disappointing,  too.  It was so small that one could
hardly  walk  around  the  bed, the furniture was made up from sheet
steel  and  the  walls had not seen new paint for many years. In the
bathroom  there  was cold water only running from the hot water tap,
what  also  meant that the toilet flush could not work. Water in the
cold  water  pipes  reached  our  room  at about five o'clock in the
morning  and we were lucky to wake up from the noise before the room
was flooded.

In  the  Hotel  Santa  Clara  Libre,  I  saw  for  the  first time a
passenger  lift (elevator) without the usual buttons for the desired
floors.  It was set for manual operation and had an operator who had
a  switch  with  the  three  positions  --  up,  down, and stop. The
elevator  was  called  with  an electric bell, and when it passed by
the floor where you were waiting, you had to knock on the door.

Because  the  room  was so very uninviting, we went off to the Plaza
del  Che.  There  is  a  memorial there, where are buried the mortal
remains  of  the Commandante and his combatants. There were a lot of
police  officers  around  and  it was a really religious mood there.
Neither  in  the  City of Santa Clara nor at the memorial did we see
many tourists.

After  we  had visited the Che Monument, we went to the other end of
the  city,  to  the  railway  station. There a reconstruction of the
Tren  Blindado  (the  Armored  Train)  is  displayed. This train was
dictator  Batista's  last hope and it was stopped and overwhelmed at
the  end  of  the  year  1958  by  Che Guevara's guerrillas in Santa
Clara.  The  loss of this train and the general strike all over Cuba
caused  Batista  to  flee  from  Cuba,  not without taking the whole
public  treasury with him, of course. A Cuban museum guard explained
to  us  the whole story in thoroughly understandable Spanish and was
visible  pleased  that  two tourists found their way to her railroad

The  dinner  in the Hotel Santa Clara Libre was better than expected
and very cheap.

Of  the city of Santa Clara, one could remark that it is situated in
a  strategically  important place in central Cuba, has about 170.000
citizens,  and  has  a  nice, clean colonial old city. In and around
Santa  Clara  there  is  a  lot  of  industry,  particularly textile


Early  the next morning we left Santa Clara, after we had lugged our
baggage  the  three  blocks to the parking lot. Because of our early
departure,  we  only  had  to pay ten dollars. As the roads were not
very  well  posted  with  signs, we could not find the direct way to
the  highway.  Instead  we drove on a parallel road passing Placetas
to  the highway that ends shortly behind Jatibonico. We passed Ciego
de  Avila  and Florida on our way to Camagüey. The scenery is boring
and  consists  mostly  of  pastures  and  sugar cane plantations. In
Camagüey  we  went  to the Hotel Horizontes Camagüey. It is situated
at  the  eastern  end of the city. This hotel had spacious and clean
rooms and the cuisine was good, too.

The  sights  of  Camagüey  were  seen  quickly:  the  Plaza  de  los
Trabajadores,  the  Parque  Agramonte,  the  Casa  Natal  de Ignacio
Agramonte  (birthplace  of  Ignacio  Agramonte.) and the city museum
with  an  interesting biological exposition. Camagüey can offer only
one  national hero, Ignacio Agramonte, the son of a rich family, who
became  one  of  the  leaders  in  the  fight  against  the  Spanish
colonialists  at  the  end  of  the 19th century. The city is rather
large  and  has  about  250.000  citizens  --  and  a lot of bicycle
riders.  Plus,  Camagüey is the stronghold of the Catholic Church in
Cuba.  It  is a neat and clean province capital, but without special
attractions  for  tourists.  On the other hand, the Hotel Horizontes
Camagüey  is  a good choice for a stopover on the way from Havana to
Santiago de Cuba.


After  we  had  a  good  breakfast  we checked out of the Horizontes
Camagüey  and headed for Holguin. We passed Las Tunas, situated in a
countryside,  with  soft  hills.  There  were a lot of cattle around
there  but  fewer  sugar  cane  plantations.  In Holguin, our hitch-
hikers showed us the way to the hotel.

The   Hotel   Pernik   is   a  building  in  best  eastern  European
architecture  tradition  and  seems  to be connected to Bulgaria, as
the  restaurant  is  called  Sofia  and the discotheque Danuvia. The
town  has  fewer attractions than Camagüey, so we decided to stay in
the Hotel and spent the afternoon at poolside.

The  rooms  as  well  as  the  restaurant are a level lower than the
Horizontes  Camagüey.  One  has to comment that food is cheaper, but
the rooms are more expensive and not as nice.


In  the night there had been heavy rain, and during breakfast it was
still  raining  cats  and  dogs,  but  then  it  lightened up and we
decided  to  go swimming. The street lead through soft hills towards
Santa  Lucia  and from there took a left off to the Playa Blanca. We
did  a  short  inspection of the beach at the Don Lino Resort. There
was  no  sign  of  a  sandy  beach.  It  is,  as  pointed out in the
guidebook,  picturesque,  but  rocky. So we headed for Guardalavaca,
about  30  kilometers away. Between the hotels and clubs, we found a
public  access to the beach. We joined the other tourists there, got
two  beach  chairs  for  free,  and  enjoyed  the day. It was rather
crowded  there,  with  many  tourists  around. There are beach bars,
loud  music,  souvenir sellers, a beer seller with donkey - in other
words,  there  was a lot fuss, what we do not like. However, for one
day  we  could  stand it and we enjoyed the sun, and swimming in the
clear sea.


Once  again,  we  packed  our belongings and went off to Santiago de
Cuba.  We  decided  not  to  take  the  road passing Bayamo, but cut
across  the  triangle  and took the road to Baguanos, Alto Cedro and
Mella.  We  went  on rather good side roads in direction to Palma de
Soriano, where the Autopista (the highway) to Santiago begins.

The   scenery   between   Holguin  and  Baguanos  is  a  little  bit
mountainous  and  if  there weren't palm trees, you could believe to
be  in  the  Austria lower Alps. Then the hills became lower and the
road  passes sugar cane fields. In a marshland around Mella the road
was  under  construction,  which  meant  that  on  a stretch of some
distance  the  asphalt  was  torn  away  and we had to climb through
potholes  and  over  rocks  with our little Tico. We were astonished
that  even  on  a  Sunday  the Cubans worked to finish the road. The
highway  to  Santiago  led  through  the  beautiful  scenery  of the
foothills  of  the  Sierra  Maestra  mountains,  and the highway was
maintained  very well. They even had flowers planted on the dividing
strip which looked really nice.

In  Santiago  de Cuba we easily found our way to the Hotel Santiago,
the  best  one in town. It was not really cheap -- 108 US$ per night
for  a  room  without  breakfast  is no bargain -- but the house has
earned  its five stars. The rooms are very spacious, clean, and well
furnished  and  the restaurants have exquisite food and was not that
expensive.  From  outside,  the  hotel  looks  a  bit odd. It is the
highest  building  around and because of the individual architecture
that  makes the steel skeleton of the building visible partially. It
looks  kind  of  like a grain silo. We enjoyed the luxury of a night
in a really good hotel.


In  the  morning we enjoyed all the amenities of the Hotel Santiago.
We  had  a long shower, because who knew when we would have the next
shower  where  everything  worked:  enough water, right temperature,
and the drain worked, too.

Then  we  packed our baggage, checked out, and put our belongings to
the  baggage  room.  We returned our rental car and walked around in
the  part  of the city near the hotel, had a look at the Plaza de la
Revolucion.  This  is where they were already building the stage for
the  Pope's  visit  in  January.  We then went back to the hotel for

In  the  afternoon,  we  took  a taxi to the Hotel Balcon del Caribe
situated  out  of  town,  near the airport, on a high rock above the
Caribbean  sea.  The  hotel  belongs  to  the  Islazul-Group and was
unpromising  to  us.  The  Cabana that was our bungalow was spacious
and  pretty  well  furnished,  with even a huge refrigerator. But we
did not have water until the evening, and then only cold water.

Finally,  at  11  p.m. the group with the German participants of the
round  trip  arrived, which came by plane from Havana and of course,
that plane was late.


At  9  a.m.  it was breakfast time for our goup, but at that time we
found only Paulino, our Cuban tour guide.

Later  in  the  morning,  we  went  to  town  to  visit  the Moncada
garrison.  Then  we  went  some distance to the east to the Granjita
Siboney,  an old farmhouse, where Castro's Movement of the July 26th
was hiding when they planned the strike to the Moncada Garrison.

For  lunch  we  went  to  a  Paladar, a private restaurant, but food
there  was  neither cheaper nor better than at the hotel. We went to
the  city  of  Santiago  again,  where  our German friends wanted to
visit  the  old  part  of  the  town  while  we sat leisurely at the
terrace  of  the  Hotel  Casa Granda. It is situated directly at the
central  square  and  we  had  some  Mojitos  and  listened  to  the
wonderful band playing Cuban traditional music for the tourists.


This  day,  our program was really tough. We visited a kindergarden,
called  Circulo Infantil, a family doctor's place and in the evening
we had a meeting with veterans from the revolution.

The   kindergarden   and   the   doctor's   house  served  the  same
neighborhood,  a  small  quarter of the town. The doctor has to look
for  about  800  people  and  had two nurses to assist her. They not
only  care  of  their  ill  patients,  but  are also responsible for
health  care,  education and advice. Patients that cannot be treated
in  the  consultation room of the family doctor are passed on to the
outpatient department or to the hospital.

The  kindergarten gave us a hearty welcome, the children performed a
short  play  and some songs for us. Later we were, together with the
doctor  and  her  nurses  and  the local Delegado (the deputy of the
town council), invited to a buffet consisting mostly of fruits.

We  exchanged  our  mailing  addresses  and  promise  to  send  them
letters.  They  particularly  wanted  to get copies of the photos we
made  at  our  visit.  Other  goods  would  be welcome, too, but the
transportation  from  Europe  to  Cuba is rather expensive, slow and
not always reliable.

The  meeting  with the veterans was very interesting, too. They were
not  just  some  combatants  of the revolution, but rather prominent
ones.  We  talked  with a professor for publicity, a retired general
staff  officer, and two other combatants, as they called themselves,
three  of them Members of Parliament. Particularly the professor and
one  retired  woman  that  fought  in the underground at the time of
revolution  gave  very  interesting  statements,  but the discussion
suffered from Paulino's slow translation.


After  the  usual  waiting time for the whole group to get together,
we  left  the  Hotel  Balcon  del Caribe and went to Guantanamo, the
capital  of  the  province  of  the  same  name.  Arriving there, we
stopped  at the provincial office of the ICAP (Instituto Cubano para
Amistad  de  Pueblos,  the  Cuban institute for peoples friendship),
where  we  got a warm welcome with coffee and music. Then we went on
to  the  hospital, where the head physician, another doctor, and the
head  nurse  were  waiting  for  us  and  were  ready  to answer our
questions  concerning  the  Cuban health care system. We also made a
short  round  tour  through the hospital. The equipment is not up to
European  standards,  but Cubans are very proud of their health care
system  which enables every citizen to consult doctors and hospitals
for free.

After  that  we  met  again  in  the  Casa de la Amistad at the ICAP
office,  where  the  head  of the ICAP in Guantanamo welcomed us and
gave  us  some  facts  but  also  some phrases about the province. A
vital  discussion  developed soon. I talked to him for a while about
sugar  cane  and  about  sugar,  which  is  still the most important
export product of Cuba.

The  Islazul  Hotel  in  Guantanamo  was, as we expected, a slightly
worn  out  prefab concrete building where many Cubans stay and where
it  was  rather  loud,  of course. The positive surprise of the day:
they had warm water and the shower worked like a charm!


In  the  morning we headed for the US Naval Base Guantanamo. The bus
went  through the military prohibited zone around the Naval Base and
then  climbed  up  a  narrow  mountain road. After walking through a
short  tunnel and some steps we finally reached a look-out platform.

The  United  States  have claimed the territory of the Naval Base at
the  entrance  of Guantanamo Bay since 1903. The Cuban point of view
is  that  US  had  annexed  it illegally. On their territory, the US
Navy  has  built  two  airports and a harbour, and about 7000 people
are  stationed  there.  Cubans say that US planes likely enter their
airspace  to  provoke  them.  Supply  of the Naval Base must be very
expensive  as  it  has no backyard. Everything must be brought in by
plane  or  ship, even drinking water is said to come in tanker ships
from Puerto Rico.

In  the  evening we went to a meeting with a local CRD (Commite para
Defensa   de  la  Revolucion,  Committee  for  the  defense  of  the
Revolution)  in Guantanamo, that turned out to be a street party for
us  and  for the people there. We got a hearty welcome and plenty of
food and drink.


This  day  we had scheduled an approximately four hour bus ride from
Guantanamo  to  Bayamo.  After we had our welcome drink in the local
Islazul  Hotel,  a  part of the group went to take a ride in a coach
while we preferred to stay in the hotel to relax.

The  coach  ride is almost obligatory in Bayamo, if only to hear the
song  "A  Bayamo  En  Coche,"  which  means  "Riding  To Bayamo in a

BAYAMO (28.12.)

We  visited  an agricultural Contingente and talked for a while with
the  heads  of  this  agricultural brigade. These Contingentes where
founded  in  the  first years of the Perioda Especial -- the time of
economic  crisis  after the breakdown of the eastern block states --
with  the  aim  to provide enough manpower to cover the Cuban demand
of  agricultural  products,  since  the  supply  from Russia and the
eastern European countries subsided immediately.

The  employees  that came to the Contingentes voluntarily are living
almost  like  in  a garrison, get well paid, and have to work almost
without  the use of machines in areas that were not fully used up to
that  time  or  areas  that  were not fertile before. When the areas
become  productive  after  some  years  and  can  be cultivated with
normal means, they are given to small farmers or to cooperatives.

After  some interesting discussions we got a cold buffet and then we
went  on to the botanical garden of Bayamo, that was like the one in
Havana consisting mostly of trees.

The  Hotel  in  Bayamo  was one of the better Islazul Hotels. It was
rather  quiet, food was good, and they had warm water sometimes, but
not  always.  But  the  rooms  are a bit worn out and the mattresses
have holes in them like a hammock.


With  the  obligatory  delay  we  left  the  hotel  and  arrived  at
Manzanillo  about  an  hour  later.  Here we had our first look at a
monument  for  Cespedes,  one  of the leaders of the war against the
Spanish  colonialists at the end of the 19th century. Then we headed
for  the  local  Islazul  Hotel called Guacanayabo. While we had our
welcome  cocktails  consisting of beer with rum, the manager told us
that  the  planned visit to the fishermen on Cayo Perla could not be
done  because  the  pier  over there was out of order. After some of
our  fellow  travelers  had  complained heavily, we took a boat trip
and swam in the sea, but did not land on Cayo Perla.

The  Guacanayabo  Hotel  is  one of the worst Islazul Hotels that we
have  seen  --  there  was  loud music from the pool area, even when
there  was  nobody listening, everything was a little bit dirty, the
walls  were  smudgy,  the  mattresses defied any description and the
phone  was  defective.  They  even  left  out  a light near the bed.
Reading  in  the  room was almost impossible because where there was
light  you  could not sit and near the beds it was totally dark. The
shower  looked  nice  at the first glance but it turned out that the
tap  was  defective and the water could not make its way through the
old hose to the shower head.


The  bus ride from Manzanillo to Bartolome Maso took about one hour.
There  we  changed  to  an  old  Russian  6x6 truck, and our bus was
parked  there,  because  the mountain road to Santo Domingo was said
to  be  too  steep  for  a  normal bus. With us standing on the open
platform  of  the  truck,  we  drove  up  a  really  very  steep and
curvaceous  mountain  road to Santo Domingo. There we stopped at the
village  hotel  with  the  same  name,  unloaded our baggage and got
served fruits and drinks.

We  rode in good old "Liz," which was the name of the Russian truck,
about  five  kilometers  up  the steep hill. Then we climbed off the
truck  and went about three kilometers to the former headquarters of
the  guerrilla  army.  We  made our way on slippery, rocky and muddy
ground.  At  an  old  farmhouse  we  had a rest and had to leave our
cameras  there,  because  taking  pictures  in the region around the
former  headquarters was not allowed. We climbed up to the buildings
in  which  the  leaders of the guerrillas, like Fidel Castro and Che
Guevara,  found  shelter and from where they fought against Dictator
Batista's army, beginning with only 200 combatants.

After  we  walked  back to the truck and got down to the Hotel Villa
Santo  Domingo,  we  got our bungalow and had to clean our shoes and
clothing from the mud of the Sierra Maestra Mountains.

For  dinner  we  had  about a 110 pound pig roasted on a stick, that
had  been  prepared  very patiently over an open fire by some Cubans
since  noon.  We ate a lot, the pig tasted great and we were hungry,
too.  The leftovers, which was more than half of the pig, were eaten
by the hotel staff and the people from the Santo Domingo village.

For  entertainment  they  had  engaged  the  Quinteto Rebelde. These
musicians  had  made  music  during the guerrilla time in the Sierra
Maestra  mountains,  later  in Angola and Nicaragua, too. They still
played  very  well  and  in  spite of being from 58 to 62 years old,
they  played  regularly  for  the  Cuban  TV  and  for the Bosses in
Havana. They were all unpretentious, nice and easy guys.


We  had  breakfast  with  Quinteto  Rebelde  live  music.  Then when
finally  all  members of our group had found their way to the truck,
we  went down to Bartolome Maso again. The musicians that lived near
Bartolome  Maso  came with us, and during the ride they told us that
this  valley  was very poor before the government had built the road
in  1968.  Back  then,  they had had no shops, no bakery, and so on.
But   with   pride   they   pointed   out  their  school  and  their
kindergartens that were built since that time.

>From  Bartolome  Maso  we  went  in  our  tour bus along Bayamo, Las
Tunas,  Camagüey and Florida to Ciego de Avila, where we went to the
local  Islazul  Hotel,  of  course.  The one in Ciego de Avila would
almost  have earned an upgrade to a Horizontes Hotel. The rooms were
a  little  bit  more  spacious,  they  even  had  bedside lamps, the
mattresses  were  convenient,  and  the  rooms were clean and made a
friendly  impression.  What  still was missing was a working shower,
as the shower hose was broken and there was no warm water.


After  the  activities  of  New  Years Eve, we all were a little bit
tired  at  breakfast, and of course more delayed than on other days.
Finally  we headed for Varadero, made a quick stop in Santa Clara to
visit  the  Che  mausoleum  and the Tren Blindado, but only from the
outside,  because on the national holiday on January 1st, the day of
the victory of the revolution, all museums were closed.

In  Varadero we went to the Hotel Villa La Mar, of course an Islazul
Hotel,  too.  Our room had mold spots at the wall, but we were lucky
and  the  shower worked somehow. The restaurant had all the charm of
the  waiting  room  in a railroad station and food tasted like that,

VARADERO (02.01.)

We  decided  that  we  had seen enough Islazul Hotels for that year.
Since  the Hotel Varadero Internacional was booked out, we could not
move  to there a day earlier. We therefore did not hesitate to go to
the  Melia  Varadero,  one  of the best and most expensive hotels in
Varadero.  It  was  not cheap at all, but the building and the lobby
were  really  impressive. The room was very nice and comfortable and
the many restaurants offered superb food.

In  the  evening,  we  met  our  group once more and had some drinks
together, and then we said good bye.

VARADERO (03.01.)

We  had  bad  weather  the whole day, even some rain. We checked out
from  the  Melia  Varadero  about  noon  and then moved to the Hotel
Varadero  Internacional,  where  we  had  to wait until our room was

The  Internacional  is  a  good  old hotel that was built before the
revolution  by  DuPont  and  it  is  well  maintained. The rooms are
spacious  and equipped comfortable, with two king size beds, a chest
of   drawers,  a  table  with  seats,  wardrobe,  refrigerator,  air
conditioning  and  a  brand  new satellite TV. The value you get for
your money is surely better here than at the Melia Varadero.

VARADERO (04.01.)

Weather  was better than the previous day, so we spent the whole day
at the wonderful white sand beach directly at the hotel terrace.

THE LONG WAY HOME (05. and 06.01.)

We  checked  out at the Hotel Internacional, tossed our baggage into
a  taxi  and  went  to  the  airport.  There was a presentable queue
waiting  for  us at the LTU counter, and the Cuban LTU employees did
not  let  them  move  faster  by allowing the still growing queue of
passengers.  After  we finally had checked in our baggage and passed
the  passport  control  --  customs did not work really efficiently,
too  --  we  had  to  wait  a while for our plane to start passenger
loading.  First,  some  passengers  got lost in the airport building
and  had  to  be searched for -- until they were discovered in a bar
drinking.  Then,  in  the  meantime  other planes had queued for the

The  LTU  MD-11  plane was full to the last seat and accordingly the
flight  wasn't  that  pleasant.  They  managed to place the seats so
tight  together that you could not cross your legs. Being seated for
about  ten  hours  without  much  possibility  for moving was a real
pain.  Food  was not famous, too, and the cabin crew had to struggle
to  serve  that many passengers. There were steady waiting queues at
the lavatories and they soon got dirty, too.

After  we  had  landed in Düsseldorf, we had to wait a while for our
connecting  flight  to Munich. After a short flight, supplied with a
dry  sandwich,  we arrived, grabbed our baggage, went to the car and
drove home.


Trip 9/98

The  first  thing  we  noticed,  flying  over  Curacao,  was that it
appeared   to   be   more   industrial  than  many  other  Caribbean
islands....  but  still  with lovely towns and architecture, beaches
and  clear  waters. I couldn’t wait to jump in the water! The second
thing  we  noticed,  as  we  exited  the  plane,  were  the  hot dry
tradewinds.  American Airlines got us there on time, and with all of
our luggage. :-))

We  arrived  at  the  Princess Beach Resort, which looked quite nice
from  the  outside.  We were not disappointed. The lobby is cool and
elegant,  and  from  where we checked in, we could see the casino, a
lounge,  a  gift  shop,  and a tour/information desk. Check-in going
smoothly  and  quickly,  we  headed  toward  our  room  which was in
another  building,  about  a five minute walk through lush, gorgeous

We  were  extremely  pleased  with  our room, on the third floor and
very   spacious,   complete   with   a  large  beach  view  balcony.
Housekeeping  did  a  great  job of keeping it spotless all week, as
well.  There’s  a  coffeemaker  in the room, and when we returned to
our  room,  later,  after a little exploration, we found a bottle of
wine and a welcome note from he hotel manager. Nice touch.

The  dive  shop,  Princess Divers, run by Peter Hughes organization,
was  efficient  and  helpful all week, as well. The shore diving was
excellent,  and  they  were always happy to point out where we might
find  this  or  that critter hanging out. Snorkeling in front of the
hotel  is  great, too, as the reef starts in about 15 feet of water,
and  drops  off deeper than 90 feet further offshore. Princess beach
Resort,  like  other  hotels  and  beach  areas, has a wall of rocks
protecting  its  beach  from much of the surf, so it’s excellent for
swimming  wading  and  snorkeling,  too,  especially near the rocks,
where  just  about  every  variety of common Caribbean fish could be
found,  especially  huge  schools  of Blue Tangs. Another species we
found  abundant out by those rocks is the Trumpet Fish, some of them
huge!  Near  dusk,  though, watch out, as the Spiny Sea Urchins came
out  of  hiding  then.  Some  of the largest urchins I’ve ever seen,
too.  One  looked  twice  the size of a basketball. Another sight we
saw,  inside  the  rocks,  and  “just”  snorkeling,  was a school of
squid.  Fifteen  of  them,  we counted. They came pretty close, too,
checking us out. I wished I had my camera right then.

Outside  the  rock  wall, the reef was awesome, too. Healthy corals,
abundant  fish  and  great  visibility!  And the reef seems to go on
forever.  We  did several shore dives, and figured we could probably
have  done  shore  dives  there  all week and still not seen it all.
There  was  pillar  coral, fire coral, smaller heads of staghorn and
elkhorn  corals,  and  huge, huge heads of star and brain coral, and
huge gorgonians, all in great shape.

The  boat  dives were great, too. We dove mostly on the East side of
the  island, and each site had something great. I particularly liked
a  site  where we found a huge bunch of pillar coral. It was said to
be  Peter  Hughes’  favorite  dive site off Curacao..... In general,
there  were a bunch of morays, both spotted and green, but we didn’t
see  any  sharks  or  rays  on  any of our dives, shore or boat. One
site,   Tugboat,   orange   encrusting   sponges  were  particularly
abundant,  practically  covering  the  small wreck. Another wreck we
dove,  Superior  Producer,  was  nice.  It  sat in about 110 feet of
water,  and  was pretty wide open for exploration. I’m not much into
wrecks,  but the guys who requested we go there were *bubbling* with
enthusiasm when we surfaced.

On  our  night  dives,  we  spotted  the  usual lobsters and shrimp,
octopus,  and  for  only  the  second  time,  what  I  thought was a
horseshoe  crab.  My  husband  pointed  out, though that it differed
slightly  from  a  horseshoe crab, and upon describing it to a local
Marine  Biologist,  he  said  it was a “Spanish Lobster”. I’ve never
heard  of  that,  and  I  couldn’t  find  it in any of my books. I’m
continuing  the  research,  though. Unfortunately, I was out of film
by then and didn’t get a picture of it.

I  came  down  with  a  little cold while we were there, interfering
with  a  day  of  diving.  The  last  day  we dove from the boat, we
stopped  back  at the shop after our first dive, to pick up a family
who  wanted  to  snorkel  on our shallower dive. Mom, Dad and little
girl  of  about  4. They were Dutch and spoke no English, so we were
not  able to chat. However, I could see their looks of horror when I
got  back  on  the  boat  after the second dive. I wondered what was
wrong,  as I settled my tank into its spot and removed my mask. When
I  did,  I  realized  why  they  were looking horrified. My nose was
bleeding,  and that only happens when I am getting over a cold. When
we  started  moving,  “Dad”  started to barf, and I don’t know if it
was  because he was squemish about blood, or if he was seasick. They
didn’t look like they were having much fun.

Seaquarium / Animal Encounter

The  Seaquarium  was  nice,  but  I  think some of the animals there
could  be given more space.... We did the Aminal Encounter, and were
lucky  enough  to  be  the  only two signed up for the time slot The
Animal  Encounter  is  open  to  divers and non-divers alike, but if
you’re  certified,  you  don’t  have  to  go  through  the hour-long
briefing  on  how  to  use  scuba  equipment. The Seaquarium doesn’t
offer  a  discount  for  using  your  own  equipment,  so  we  saved
ourselves  the hassle of carrying all our stuff and just brought our
masks.  The  equipment they gave us to use was practically brand new
and  functioned  beautifully. We entered the water with our drums of
fish,  and  as  in  any animal feeding environment, were molested by
various  fish and stingrays upon entry. The sting rays came right up
and  swam  over  us,  under us, between our legs and under our arms.
Quite  strange.  The reminded me of marine cats, brushing up against
us,  and found that if you rub their underside, they will hover over
you  for quite awhile. There were also turtles and sharks (lemon and
nurse)  to  feed,  however  they  were  behind  barriers.  There was
plexiglass  with  holes  in  which  you  push the fish through. That
experience was better than I expected.

Restaurants on site at Princess Resort

Good to Excellent.

The  Floating  Market  Restaurant served a full “American” breakfast
(the  works,  eggs,  meats,  omelets,  waffles,  fruits,  beverages,
breads,  name  it....)  which,  when we ate that, we were not hungry
again  until  dinner,  even  when we dove. Across the way in the bar
area,  a  Continental  Breakfast was available, with breads, coffee,
tea,  and  juice.  The days we did that, we ended up snacking in the
afternoon,  or  having  a  light  lunch. This restaurant also served
lunch  and  dinner,  tex-mex  style.  They  made a worthy attempt at
tostadas  and  fajitas,  but  some  of  it  tasted  strange..... not
strange  enough  not to eat it, though. I ordered a dish with shrimp
in  it,  and  I  was  quite surprised that they used the tiny canned
shrimp.....  disappointing to say the least, as I expected fresh....
The  Bar  &  Grill, open from 11:00-5:00, served up grilled fare and
snacks,  and  an  extensive drink menu. I had a tasty chicken filled
pita  and fries, which was really enough for two. My husband had the
vegetarian  pita,  which was also quite generous, and judging by the
way  he  devoured  it,  must have been quite good. There was also an
Italian  restaurant  on  site,  called  Don  Luigi.  We  dined there
several  times, trying everything from appetizers to pizza to pasta,
everything  great,  and  really enjoyed the decadent desserts on the
menu!  The  Oriental  Grill was excellent, too, serving a variety of
grilled  fresh  fish (the tuna was great) and meats. I tried ostrich
for  the  first  time, in a sesame glaze, and found it to taste much
like  steak. Soups, salads, and desserts were quite good there, too.
The  prices  were  a little higher than I would see here in Chicago,
for  food, but not too drastic. The sandwiches and snacks at the Bar
&  Grill ranged from (all in U.S.$) ranged from $5.00-9.00. Imported
beers, $5.00, local beer $2.50, mixed drinks..... varied from $3.00-
$6.00.  At the Floating Market Restaurant, dinner cost anywhere from
$8  -  $20 per entree. Don Luigi, entrees went from $7.00 for pizza,
to  $11  -  16  for  pastas,  a  and up to $25 for various steak and
seafood  dinners.  The  Oriental  Grill  ranged  from  $16  - 35 per
person, but included soup salad a drink and dessert in the price.

There  was  nightly  entertainment  at the resort, and a happy hour,
where  a  different  drink each night was on “special”. Some nights,
snacks  were  available,  too.  The service was great, and the staff
friendly  and helpful. The guests were from many parts of the globe,
too.  Many  Dutch  &  German, some British, some South Americans and
Americans,  and I commend the employees of Princess Beach, they were
able to communicate with *everyone*!


Trip 9/98

We  stayed  at  Couples  Negril  two  nights. I took 8 of our agents
there as we visited 22 resorts in 3 days.

Our Detailed Findings:

 Elegant, Art Deco Decor, Dramatic Open Air Lobby

  The  rooms are all large and nicely furnished with bright hues and
Caribbean  Art  Deco  Furnishings....many  handmade  in Jamaica from
Intuitive  Artists. The Oceanview One Bedroom Suites are HUGE with a
bathroom  the  size of a typical hotel room! Jacuzzi tub with a neck
massager,  and a rain shower from the ceiling of the enclosed shower
adjacent to the Jacuzzi.

  Decadence.  I  could  live  in that room. Even the basic rooms are
beautiful.   All  have  hairdryers,  king  size  beds,  safes,  A/C,
Satellite  TV,  good old CNN, balcony or patio. 24 hour food service
available. Room Service at Breakfast only, limited menu.

  The gourmet restaurant, Otaheite was exceptional for a resort that
just  opened  6  weeks prior. The GM there was formerly at La Source
in  Grenada  and  has  high standards which are apparent at this new
property.  Caroline Cousins, an 8 year veteran of SuperClubs is head
of  Sales  and  come  with lots of experience. The resort sits on 25
acres  and  some of the room blocks are far away from the main area.
Blocks  4  and  5  are  a long walk and if there is rain there is no
coverage.  You  could  get  stranded in your room in a downpour. The
new  au  naturel  area  is  near  blocks  6-9  they  are considering
building  a  bar  there,  at  the moment there is a somewhat private
beach and natural Plunge Pool.

  The resort has a wonderful tennis program with clinics starting at
8:00  AM every day and also at 4, then a Round Robin at 5 every day.
The  Fitness  Schedule  is  packed with Powerwalks, Stretch, Massage
Class,  Gym,  Step,  Butts, Guts and Thigh, Aquasize, Yoga, and Body
Sculpting.  They  also  have  a  scuba  program  and even offer PADI
Courses  Open  Water $350 Rescue Diver $400, Dive Master $600, Night
Dives  $60  Single  Tank  Diving  included  for Certified Divers and
Beginners course. Double Tank on Saturdays.

  The  Spa  at  Couples  Negril  is  very professional. The staff is
highly   trained   and   use  excellent  products  for  aromatherapy
massages, etc. I always check out the products!

  The  Spa  has  many services available for an extra cost: Facials,
massage,  Body  Wraps,  Scrubs,  waxing,  manicures  and Hair. Other
features  at  Couples  include  Wedding Gazebo, basketball court and
when  the landscaping fills in with growth, this place will like the
Garden  of  Eden, I am sure. They also have a huge gym with fine new
equipment,   Beach  Bar  and  Restaurant,  Cardio  Fitness  room  in
addition  to  the  regular  gym!,  Game  room,  Huge  Restaurant and
entertainment  stage  area.  The  Beach  Party  was  great  and  the
entertainment  with  fire  eater,  dancers, singers was superb. They
even  served Lobster that night. There are a few gift shops near the
beautiful lobby.

  The  main  pool  is very large and has a swim up bar. Also another
Bar  is  next  to  the pool with a Restaurant, Italian, I think. The
beach  is  a cove type beach, calm and relaxing, you could float all
day long.

  The  service  problems  associated  with a newly opened resort are
apparent,  but  will  improve  on  a  daily  basis with training and
experience.  The  room  service  in  the  am was slow to arrive, but
management  was  even helping serve, they are fixing the problem. It
is probably fixed by now.

That  about  sums  it  up. We didn't want to leave. Then, we went to
Sandals  Negril  for  a few nights. I will detail that report on the
Sandals Board when I get time, this week.

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