Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Rest of Cuba

I presented my last three posts in themes because I took so many photos and saw so many things that I couldn't figure out a better way to share my eight-day adventure with you. In doing so, I failed to include a few scenes and moments that I will fill you in on now. Enjoy!

I rode a horse, led by a dog in a small animal circus. I have heard that a video exists of this also, but I have not seen it. The lesson here is that whenever someone gestures for me to get on a horse, I oblige.
One of the days we went to a forest for a tour of local plants, trees and flowers. I loved this "shaving brush" tree, which I have been unable to positively identify online. It grows in white (like this tree) and red. Both were spectacular.
We took a ride on this sweet old steam train. We sat in an open car full of benches while the soot and ash blew back in our eyes.
Okay, back to the animal circus for a second. The best part was the tiny apparatus that the owner built for each and every act. There were tiny see-saws, hoops, little jail cells, dog-sized soccer goals and beds, and about fifteen other inventions.
In addition to the government ration bodegas, which supply a pre-set amount of grocery items that each person can purchase for their household (5 eggs, a pound of salt, etc.), there is also a government store that provides inexpensive necessities. There were blue patent leather shoes for women, black leather shoes (with and without laces) for men, laundry soap, and light bulbs.
There were so many beautiful churches, with amazing vintage cars parked outside.
Part of the reason I wanted to get to Cuba as fast as I could, was because as "progress" happens, people may to want to change it into a pristine and shiny version of other places. I love the look of the weathered buildings, next to the brightly colored buildings. I hope some balance is struck over time to maintain the beauty of the old and new. I hope you can get there soon and enjoy the wonderfully rich offerings this amazing country has to offer.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Culture of Cuba

The thing that has always fascinated me about Cuba is the culture. The history and people are striking, but the art, music, and dance are memorizing. As I went through the history and culture class last semester, I realized how little I knew. I had no idea just how much influence Cuba has had globally, especially through writing, music, film and art. I couldn't get enough of the sidewalk bands, the hotel lobby dance performances, or the art in its many forms. There was so much to see and experience. Here's a peek at a few of the things I enjoyed.

As I'd mentioned in my first post about Cuba, there is a man who has shared his mosaic art all over his neighborhood, including this building.
Although it's a bit dark, this mural almost glows. It was painted by kids and their teachers at an adjoining community center that helps mentor and teach art to children.

We had the immense pleasure of watching this group in a museum one of the days. This sextet plays their own take on traditional and modern Cuban songs. They were truly a delight to watch and listen to. However, the speech at the beginning was my favorite part.

Many items in Cuba seem to be upcycled, recycled and reused over and over again. This concrete egg pays homage to this resourceful culture, as you can see.
Another element of the culture I loved was the ability to weave in whimsy. This take on a seahorse at our hotel was an excellent example (which being life-sized, had to be ridden, of course).
Our "good game, high-five line" after a friendly game of baseball. Each of the Cuban athletes wore orange pants to unify their team and the hat and jersey of their favorite American baseball team.
Each year, from December 16 until Christmas Eve, the town of Villa Clara splits into two halves for Parrandas Remedianas. Each half designs huge floats that soar above the streets, along with elaborate costumes and headpieces to compete with each other. They now declare no winner, unlike in years past, but still celebrate the end of the festival with a huge fireworks show in the streets.
This amazing pencil drawing was done by one of the high school students at the local art academy in Cienfuegos.
These oil paintings were done by one of the visual arts teachers at the school. Luckily, they were for sale and I bought the one on the top left to bring home.
Even the Spanish tiled floors (this one was in a museum) were too beautiful to ignore.
Combining history, art and culture, was the Che Guevara Mausoleum. You were only allowed to take photos of the front, however, the mausoleum (located underground) was one of the most beautiful memorials I've ever seen.
Unfortunately, every picture I took of dancing was too blurry to share, but you can imagine brightly colored costumes, fast rhythms and lots of hip action, right? Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Flavors of Cuba

I was a bit surprised to find the most exciting flavors of Cuba to be in the cocktails. The food was good but not spicy like I had expected. We had one meal with some peppers that had a little kick to them but that was about it. Lots of salt, rice, beans and plantains. Here are some of the flavors I found.

As far as street food goes, the crispy flour tortilla chips covered in sugar were as yummy as any. How this guy kept them so fresh in the humidity was beyond me.
With the notoriety of the Cuban pork sandwich, I was wondering how easy I would find my pescatarian diet. It wasn't very difficult. Most meals offered a fish option, like this one with red snapper, along with veggies and fried plantains.
Cuban coffee is very strong. Similar to Italian espresso, the traditional way that makes it Cuban is to add sugar directly to the espresso pitcher as the shot is being pulled. This iced version above was delicious. 
Like most tropical islands, fruit was abundant. The pineapples grow small but sweet and coconut is used for drinking and flavoring things like ice cream.
After our visit to the Hemingway House, it reminded me that I hadn't had an authentic daquiri yet. This "natural (not frozen)" version at our hotel bar in Cienfuegos was tasty.
Since we were traveling in a large group, most of our meals were a set menu with your choice of drink and main course. Most meals came with salad and bread to start and dessert at the end. The majority of the time dessert was ice cream, except for when we had flan or guava jelly with gouda cheese on top (pictured). I was not a big fan of the latter.

The traditional drink of Trinidad is the canchanchara (and it is very strong). It's made of honey, lime, rum (of course) and ice -- and is typically served in a pottery cup like this one. They say it was invented to withstand the difficulties of the 10 Years' War.
While everyone else ate their pork filled plantain patties, I enjoyed these cabbage and cucumber filled ones.
The Cuba Libre is another traditional cocktail found everywhere. Just cola, lime and rum and you're in business!
One night I was served a veggie omelet with root vegetables and rice.
The mojito was hands down my favorite. You just can't beat fresh mint, lime and rum - yum!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Colors of Cuba

I was originally bummed to not be able to update you on my Cuban adventures in real time, due to the lack of internet and the high cost of cellular data rates. But, upon returning to the frigid, grey landscape that is now Kansas City, I am happy to be reliving my time there as I try to warm myself up with tea and blankets. I bring you my first post in a broad overview of colors.

I couldn't get enough of the bright, vintage cars. How they keep the chrome so perfect is beyond me. These beauties were lined up in a square in Havana, waiting to taxi tourists around town.
Mojitos being prepared in bulk, always with brightly colored straws, and sometimes a swizzle stick.
At the top of a three story tower, sits Ernest Hemingway's writing room. The tower sits beside his former home, a large in-ground pool, and his wooden boat. Click here for an up-close shot of his typewriter.
We visited an eco resort called Las Terrazas on the San Juan River. I liked the bottle lights strung up in the trees.
We visited an artist who lives in the mosaic house he made himself. Outside his two story home, complete with pool and underwater treadmill, his mosaics line the street.
While there are sandy beaches, a lot of the coastline is coral and rock.
Cobblestone streets and individually painted (but attached) living quarters.
This was at a stadium where we played some baseball with a team of Cuban athletes (although many of them played sports other than baseball like judo and boxing). Their bicycles lined the walls and I liked this one in contrast to the bleachers.
Apologies if you already saw this on my Instagram feed, but I am just in love with this color
The government-provided rations do not include fresh fruits and vegetables. For these, you must visit a market like this one.
Every square we visited held another color combo that I couldn't stop photographing. The contrast of fresh, bold paint alongside worn and weathered buildings was perfect to me.
Thanks for stopping by for my first installment. I look forward to bringing you more very soon!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

All the Food

While I may not be a plating genius, the welcome dinner poolside (and on a wooden surfboard) did not disappoint. All the sashimi, poke and sushi you could eat. Yum!
We headed to Imari for a work team dinner at the Hilton Waikoloa Resort where we stayed. I had a watermelon mojito and Brian and I shared the Agedashi Tofu, Sashimi Sampler, the Lava Tube (spicy ahi roll topoped with seared ahi and spicy ponzu sauce), and the Tiger Shrimp Roll (shrimp tempura, cucumber, spicy aioli and tobiko rice).
As soon as we left the resort, for our vacation time, we headed straight to a local spot, Broke da Mouth Grindz. I had this yummy calamari steak with kimchee fried rice and Brian had their signature Garlic Furikake chicken.
After settling into the treehouse, we headed to the Ohelo Café, about a mile away. It was a rainy night, so a four cheese pizza sounded perfect, to go along with my yummy blood orange martini.
Our Airbnb host left us all the fixings, and instructions for, this delicious papaya, key lime yogurt with toasted coconut and macadamia nut granola treat.
As mentioned in my last post, one of the owners of the Inn we stayed at is a chef and you have the option of adding dinner to your stay (a no brainer!). Everything Kenny makes is locally sourced and expertly cooked, like this amazing salad with lemon pepper fish.
The breakfasts at the Inn were also scrumptious - and I LOVE breakfast! From the homemade English muffin to the local fruits and veggies, it was pretty perfect.
At the end of our trip we raced the clock (and our returning flights) to have one last island meal. We headed to the beachfront, Huggo's on the Rocks for fish tacos that were as awesome as being able to watch the waves and have our feet in the sand.

There you have it, all the food highlights from The Big Island of Hawaii. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Petroglyphs & Green Sand Beaches

After breakfast in the treehouse, we headed back to Volcanoes National Park to check out the petroglyphs (see above), Devil's Mouth (a giant hole in the ground, so, not pictured), and some winding roads that led down to an expansive, ocean view (30 miles long, so impossible to picture).
We finished up at the park, had some lunch, and arrived at our next destination, Kalaekilohana Inn & Retreat. This charming, four-bedroom inn seemed like the perfect place to end our trip. One of the owners is a chef and the other is an artist and musician. They built the property themselves and every detail has been thought of - from a fridge full of local beers to access to laundry (mom, you know how delighted this made me) to delicious and healthy breakfasts and dinners.
The rain came almost as soon as we checked in, so we skipped checking out the Black Sand Beach in favor of showers and relaxing on this amazing lanai (I NEED this porch).
Beautiful bouquets of local blooms adorn the tables throughout the inn.
After a great night's sleep and yummy breakfast, we headed out to the Green Sand Beach for some hiking (7 miles roundtrip) and swimming. I took this photo from above and it's a bit deceiving how high we were. If you look to the far right edge of the sand, you'll see two tiny humans for scale.
We then headed down the road to the southern most point of the United States. I was a bit bummed that there was no official sign (like at the Equator and the end of the Florida Keys) but according to the map and the locals, we were on it. I was worried about being photographed at the very point, so as not to end up as a news story about people swept away to sea due to a photo op, so we settled for one a little ways in.
The lava rocks and the colors of the ocean had us both snapping as many photos as we could in an effort to capture waves and splashes. I was thrilled that our last full day included some sun! As soon as we made it back to the inn for showers, the rain rolled in. Thanks for stopping by, and I promise 'all the vacation food' in my next post!