March 26, 2017 Guardalavaca/Gibara

Giber Beach From the Fort

Gibara Cuban Dancers

Gibara Trio

Artesans Display

Gibara Restored Hotel

The town of Guardalavaca is located on the northeastern shore of Cuba and has a secluded shallow bay connected to the open sea by a narrow inlet. The name Guardalavaca in Spanish means “guard the cow,” although it is uncertain where the name originated. Some believe that the word was mistaken with Guardalabarca meaning “guard the ship” due to the large number of pirates in the area at one time. Others believe that the name is correct in that when a pirate ship was spotted the locals would call out “Guardalavaca” to alert others to watch their cows so the pirates would not take them.

Gibara located on the northern coast of Cuba and west of Guardalavaca was founded in 1817 and has a population of about 75,000 inhabitants. Christopher Columbus’ first ship reached this area and said “it was the most beautiful land that human eyes saw. ”The town is referred to as the Villa Blanca or white village due to the number of white historic buildings in town. The main square called the Calixto Garcia was once famous for its splendid replica of the Statue of Liberty, erected in 1915, although we did not see it today. The square is undergoing much renovation work and it may have been removed for construction. It is said that a young Gibara woman was the model for the statue’s face.

Our first stop in Gibara was at an old fort where we were treated to a Cuban folkloric show. The show had about a dozen or so men and women in a variety of costumes performing for about thirty minutes. During the show they served us one of the national favorite drinks, the rum and coke. The show was very nice and the dancers were well rehearsed.

Next, we visited with a retired fisherman to learn about the types of fishing boats, fishing gear and the life of the local fishermen. The government grants licenses to the fisherman in exchange for a percentage of their catch which is used to feed people in local hospitals and the needy. The remainder of the fish is sold to local restaurants and hotels for a profit. Most of the fishing boats are very small and are manned by two men who row them up to five miles a day to fish in the local waters. Some of the local fish include swordfish, sea bass, red snapper, halibut, mahi-mahi, dover sole, cod, bonito, barracuda, shrimp and lobster.

After meeting with the fisherman we walked into town where we visited the Casa de la Cultural or cultural center. Here people of all ages are encouraged to participate in all sorts of arts including playing an instrument to fine arts like painting. They had a small exhibit of paintings by local students on display and we also heard the music of a trio of women who have been performing and singing for more than 40 years. Two of the women played guitars, one played the sticks and mariachi’s while they all sang.

Across the street from the cultural center was an artisans’ collective where artists displayed and sold their local arts and handicrafts. They had everything from wood carvings, to dresses, jewelry and paintings to car license plates.

For lunch we drove a short distance from the town center to the La Cueva del Indio Paladar where we saw a demonstration on the making of the local drink, the mojito. The mojito is made from sugar, rum, lime juice, mint leaves and sparkling water. For lunch we were served family style at one large table a huge amount of food. Bread with a mayonnaise and garlic spread, fried plantains, banana chips, rice with black beans, a shrimp dish, seafood paella (rice with lobster, shrimp, fish), salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots, stuffed crab in the shell, tuna steaks and French fries, another crab dish and flan for dessert. Too much food, but we had to try it all.

After lunch we made the hour or so drive back to the resort where people could have a nap, enjoy the pool or other activities. The countryside along the way is scattered with small villages of homes and lots of open space. Animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys and dogs roam the fields. Roadside fruits and vegetable stands can be found along the way, as well as many small stands selling beef laid out on a table under an umbrella.

By late afternoon the rain had started to come down fairly hard making it difficult to navigate the huge complex without the use of the covered golf carts. The rain lasted several hours before clearing. In the evening there was an interactive Salsa dance lesson at the resort’s disco, which we chose to skip. Dinner was at one of the resort’s specialty restaurants called the Romantico. The food included a wide variety of items you could order from a menu but nothing outstanding.

March 25, 2017 Miami/Holguin/Guardalavaca, Cuba

Playa Pesquero Resort Pool

Playa Pesquero Resort Beach

Print Shop Typesetter

We had to have our luggage ready for pick up at 6:30am and our departure from the hotel to the airport was at 7:30am. Our short flight from Miami to the Frank Pais International Airport in Holguin, Cuba, was scheduled at 10:25am, arriving about 12:05pm. The flight ended up leaving late at about 10:55am and arrived about 11:50am, before our scheduled arrival. The town of Holguin was founded in 1545 after its founder Captain Garcia Holguin, a Spanish military officer, and has about 370,000 inhabitants. The town of Holguin is made up of mostly single or two story homes built of concrete blocks and plastered with stucco. Many of the homes sit just a sidewalk away from the street and have no front yards to speak of. We saw all types of transportation being used, from old American cars to horse drawn buggies and bicycle taxis with a side car, to flat bed trucks with a box on the back where people stand up to be transported about town.

From the airport we were taken in a new looking large modern coach to the Royal Paladar (small restaurant) in the downtown part of Holguin for lunch. The word paladar refers to a privately owned restaurant often in a private home. It was very nicely appointed and seated about 30 guests. For lunch they served us a nice bowl of vegetable soup, a green salad, a plate of chopped beef in a rich sauce, a plate to share of rice and black beans, a plate to share of dried banana chips and dessert of a flan and ice cream. It was a very nice lunch and there was more food than we really needed.

The local area landscape is a mixture of rolling hills with lush vegetation to areas that look quite barren and dry. The vegetation includes many mango trees, palm trees, bougainvillea, pine trees, variegated croton plants, grasses and more.

After lunch, we walked a short two blocks to a printing shop called the Casa Editora Cuadernos Papiro for a demonstration on how they make paper from recycled paper and print books and art. The printing presses that they use were mostly built in the U.S. in the 1800’s but they still work today.  When they stop working they make parts for them to keep them working.

Our next visit was at the Yuri Urquiza Shapovalov Artist Studio. Yuris is 30 years old from Belarus. He came to Cuba to study painting at a local university where he met his wife, who is the daughter of the most famous artist of Cuba and now resides in the U.S. Yuri’s art is mostly of nudes in a very traditional/classical style with flowing fabrics, cherubs and scenes with lots of trees and flowers. The art was not particularly appealing to us but was it was evident that he is quite an accomplished painter.

By late afternoon we arrived at the Playa Pesquero Resort in Guardalavaca where we will stay for two nights. The resort is an enormous all-inclusive resort with multiple restaurants, several bars, multiple swimming pools, a sports club and fitness center, night club, ice cream bar, theater and so much more. The rooms are located in two story buildings with clusters of rooms on both levels and sprinkled throughout the property. The grounds are lushly landscaped with trees, shrubs and flowering plants. It reminded me of something that you might find in Mexico with brightly painted rooms with tiled floors, wooden furniture and murals on the wall.  Tonight we ate too much at one of the many buffets, then headed to the ice cream bar about 8:30pm before bed!

March 24, 2017 Miami, Florida

About 1:15pm we were picked up at Jim and Phil’s by a car service that took us to the Marriott Hotel at the Miami Airport.   It was $72, but more convenient than renting a car for $47, having Jim and Phil take us to get the car, filling it with gas and checking it in.  With traffic, it took us about an hour to get from Ft. Lauderdale to the Miami Airport Marriott.

This is where we met our Globus Tour group at 6:00pm for an orientation and welcome cocktails. Our Globus tour leader is a gentleman by the name of Daniel Ferro from Boca Raton, Florida. There are 25 people in our group traveling to Cuba. The majority of the group are older and retired with the exception of one couple that are traveling with their adult daughter from Indiana. The orientation lasted about 90 minutes, including filling out the required visa and immigration forms required to enter and exit Cuba legally. They say that by law we are required to keep our authorization letter for five years in the event that the US government questions our visit to Cuba. Unauthorized visits can lead to a $10,000 fine.

March 21 – 23, 2017 Miami, Florida

Jim and Judy Meeks

Bonnet House Courtyard

Jim and Phil

On March 21, 2017 we departed early morning about 7:00am from San Diego bound for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We had a short stop in Dallas to change planes before arriving in Ft. Lauderdale about 4:30pm. Our friends Jim Gill and Phil Farnsworth picked us up at the airport and took us to their lovely new townhouse nearby.

On the 22nd we met up with Kent’s childhood friend Jim Meeks and his wife Judy at the Cheesecake Factory in Boca Raton. After lunch we came back to Ft. Lauderdale where we visited the Bonnet House, Museum and Gardens.

The Bonnet House was designed by Frederic Clay Bartlett, an American artist from Chicago. The house is built on 35 acres of ocean front property given to Frederic and his wife Helen as a wedding gift from her father, Hugh Taylor Birch in 1920. Construction of the estate continued for more than 20 years, due to the death of Helen, and Frederic’s second marriage to Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Evelyn came form a wealthy family and was previously married to Eli Lilly and had received a generous divorce settlement in the millions.

The house is built around a central courtyard garden comprised of large covered veranda’s, a fountain and lush landscaping. Each room surrounding the courtyard is casual and comfortable as this was a beach house and not their main residence. Art from both Frederic and Evelyn, as well as others, is found throughout the home. They painted on canvas as well as on the walls, ceilings and floors when the mood suited them.

The home sits near a man-made lily pond filled with Bonnet Lilies, which is where the name of the house comes from. The main house consists of a drawing room or living room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, music room and gallery. The upstairs is not on the tour, but houses the bedrooms and bathrooms for the owners, guests and staff of 15. In addition to these main structures, there are several out buildings used for Evelyn’s shell collection, an orchid greenhouse, the caretakers’ quarters, an island theater where home movies were shown and a pavilion on a lily pond used for relaxing and visiting with friends.

The gardens around the property are lushly landscaped in a variety of styles from local vegetation to a desert garden of cactus and succulents. Small monkeys, majestic swans, wading birds, iguanas and an occasional manatee can be found enjoying the grounds.

Evelyn lived here until she died just shy of her 110th birthday and had donated the property to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation so that it would be preserved just as she left it for future generations to enjoy.

On Wednesday evening, Phil and Jim hosted a dinner party for a 90-year-old friend and his two friends from England. Jim was responsible for preparing the dinner while Phil set the table and served drinks. It was a fun evening and we enjoyed meeting these new folks.