Rice, Oranges and Whale Bones

Rice, Oranges and Whale Bones

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Old bones lie, it would seem, washed ashore by the sea. A graveyard, carcasses picked clean and now bleached by the sun. Smooth and sharp they criss-cross into infinity. A whale struggles and breaks free jumping into the air from the little water  which remains, crystal clear, dangerously blue. Perhaps the fish found themselves stuck here that time when the river overflowed. Many died, so channels were diverted. Trees now grow, people run and children play on a giant man, where water once gushed and cooled the city’s banks. Yes, this is how these creatures came to be here, I am sure.

The sea is close, sometimes I think they can smell it. But the plains between the graveyard and the water are dry. There is no return for these poor creatures now. Passed the port and out of the city, we travel along the sea front.

Behind us is the earth, where the farmers toil and the trees grow ripe with fruit.

All I see now is water, on both sides. The lake to the right and the sea to the left. Little boats and reeds. A girl wears a traditional costume. Further on we go. Here there are fields, but they are not dry, not these ones. These ones are are flooded. Must we walk on water? Little white triangles appear on the horizon. It feels like I have traveled to the end of Valencia, to the end of the world. Passed the Cathedral and the ancient fish, the fields and even over the sea itself.

We have found it, and what humble beginnings for such a source of fame. When the men cooked in the open air of their orchards near lake Albufera, could they of known? That it would be you, la Paella, you, who would end up conquering the world?

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A trip to Playas del Este

A trip to Playas del Este

IMG_6695Culture, culture, culture, museums and buildings. If you want to go to the Caribbean though you will want at least a few days at the beach! Perhaps Havana isn’t the right place for us to go? Perhaps an all inclusive resort would be better to get the sun and enjoy the sea!? Don’t be fooled, Havana really does have the best of both worlds!

IMG_6726Havana’s sea is rocky and there is no way you will be able to swim off the Malecon. Instead, take an air-conditioned public coach from Plaza Central to Playas del Este. The  coach comes every half an hour and the journey last approximately 15 minutes. There are different stops at numerous different beaches. Some are more lively with musicians and bars, others very secluded. IMG_6739

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We opted for the more picturesque beach called Playa Santa Maria del Mar. Don’t forget to keep your ticket that cost 3 CUC because it is also a valid return. Once you have had enough tanning, just go to the other side of the road and the coach will come passed and take you back to the centre of Havana. See! I told you, no need for a resort! IMG_6802  IMG_6753

Playa Santa Maria del Mar was beautiful. The fine granules of sand were white and made up of tiny little shells. Coconuts lay washed ashore. A little hut served fresh fish and food in front of the sea. We were allowed to take the tables and chairs and place them wherever we wanted to eat, closer to the water or further away. The meal cost next to nothing and was delicious. I had a mojito which I had to chuck into the sand because it was throat burningly strong and it was here that I had my first fresh water coconut.

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It started to cloud over, so around 4pm we walked 5 minutes back to the road where the coach had dropped us off and waited with the others. Soon enough the coach arrived and there we were back in the heart of old Havana. We walked down to the Malecon and watched a magical sunset. Paradise beach, a stones throw from a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

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Hemingway’s Cuba- The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway’s Cuba- The Old Man and the Sea

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At the little fishing village, I see no boats and I see no fishing. They say it used to be a hub, a hive of activity but now the waters are mostly fished out. Cojimar, an abandoned lover, wild with loss and stricken with grief. A bronze bust is erect, was erected and still stands, heavily upon white talc pillars.  One harsh storm and it might all get swept out to sea. The wooden shacks rustle and our hair blows wildly in the wind. A lone fort grows out of the sea. Writing, at its best, is a lonely life and if a man is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

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Long were the days when the old leathery man captained and the white haired man with blue eyes walked up the hill and ate his catch in a room filled with cigar smoke and laughter. The sea doesn’t remember, it is cold.’I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.’ But I am not cold. I will indulge Cojimar and I will see the flowers that blossom in the rocky gardens and the trees which grow in the yards of the old grand buildings and I will see him. I will see the Old Man and the Sea.

Hemingway’s Cuba, Cuba’s Hemingway

 A great way to visit the little town of Cojimar is to go to tourist office at the Hotel Seville. They will organize a private taxi for you from the Hotel and will drop you off at Cojimar. There the taxi will wait for you whilst you wander around. We did this on our first morning in Havana. It is a good way to get a sense of Havana’s location and to get to see the sea and surrounding towns. Cojimar is very small and its influence and literary significance should be borne in mind – it is not itself particularly impressive.  On our journey back the taxi took us to a great lookout point, the Parque Morro y Cabana (an extra 2cuc), one of Cuba’s most important historical sites- a complex made up of forts and battlements across the Harbor Channel. The whole trip cost around 25 cuc. However, if you only have only a short time in Havana, I would not recommend that you do this trip.

The Old Man and the Sea is a novel written by the American author Ernest Hemingway in 1951 and published in 1952. The novel is based on the fishing village of Cojimar and it is said that the captain of Hemingway’s own boat Pillar, was the inspiration behind his main protagonist. This was the last major work of fiction to be produced by Hemingway and published in his lifetime. It was awarded the Pullitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.

Next stop…Punta Cana

Next stop…Punta Cana

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The airport is built in the traditional style, thatched buildings with no glass or windows. When it rains, an elaborate system or points and overhangs channel the water down to the ground.The palm trees swayed and the sun warmed us. Welcome to the Caribbean! Our journey had been long, more than 24 hours, with three stop overs, delays, compensation vouchers and finally although we had arrived, our bags had not. Somehow however, this was all forgotten as the warm sun kissed our faces and we disembarked from the plane.

The hotel was magnificent. After driving through tropical gardens, we pulled up in front of the hotel. Don’t forget to book your taxi from and to the airport through a local company like we did. Email and talk prices with jennymelob@hotmail.com  for a local service, at more than two thirds off the hotel price.The staff were awaiting our arrival. The dark black wood sparkled, inner fountains trickled away relaxingly. We were whisked into the VIP lounge, where our coconut bracelets were sealed around our wrists. This gave us access to all the seven restaurants, the pool, the spa, all the on site bars, sports facilities…Our week would clearly be very busy.

The campus was huge. I personally loved the walk through the tropical gardens, passed the white buildings housing. Our suite was on the sea front, it was paradise and everything felt very safe.

The perks of jet lag – after room service breakfast, I popped onto the beach to capture the sunrise.

The hotel at night turned into a fairy wonderland, with lights, music and performances.

If you are not planning on spending most of your time in an all inclusive resort, then Punta Cana isn’t the place to go. The activities offered, although enjoyable are very much for tourists. We chose to do the tour of the surrounding countryside in a motorized quad-bike/buggy. The fun part was driving through muddy, pot holed roads, and watching others and ourselves get soaked in mud! Yes, it was that sort of trip! If you don’t like dirt, avoid this one, or else opt for the VIP Buggy like we did, and come out relatively clean – i.e. you won’t have to throw your clothes away on return to the hotel.

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The trip to the plantation, although interesting, was fairly staged, and had clearly been built for the purpose of the tour. I was disappointed, as I had done a similar tour in Cuba which had been far more authentic, interesting and where we had visited an actual working farm. The stop off for the swim in the cave was short and lots of time was spent waiting and on sales.  The surrounding towns and countryside very poor. I hope that some of the money that was spent on the coffee, hot chocolate and flavored cigars managed to make its way to the children and local school as promised. The Dominicans had tried their best to show us the region, and what we had seen was very beautiful, but it just seemed that there just wasn’t a lot for them to work with. Needless to say the final stop, Macau Beach, was my favorite part, and very beautiful. The whole trip was really made 100% better by the great Dominican guides humor, fun, laughter and interesting information about the island and its people.