Entering Santiago de Cuba

We were a little nervous about going to Santiago due to its reputation for having large numbers of jinateros which translated means hustler. The lonely planet guide even suggests that people will either love or hate the city. So far, for us we haven’t had that experience, except for our first 20 minutes in town.

Per previous posts, driving in Santiago de Cuba is a nightmare with the added twist that the land in Santiago de Cuba is very hilly, making the narrow streets even more treacherous and navigation more difficult. After an uneventful drive between the cities we pulled into town and tried to follow the verbal directions from Carlos the owner of our next casa particular, however they were impossible to follow. After driving toward the centre of town we ended up in Plaza de Marti which turns out to be only 8 blocks from the house. We stopped at a light and multiple people started to call to us, some even walking out into traffic to talk to us. With visions of jinateros in our minds we booked it out of the square directly away from the casa. Eventually we stopped at what was a defunct gas station.

Leah by the this time is flustered and I am unhappy with being stuck and lost. Enter the only jinateros that has actually hustled us. I tried to ask directions but he kept saying that the it would be very hard to get to because the streets were closed, instead he offered to lead us to the casa for 5 CUC. We’ve found out is an outrageous price considering the motorbike taxi cost about 0.5 CUC. Anyway true to his work he flagged a motorbike taxi down and we followed him back to Plaza de Marti without further incident and then the 8 blocks to the casa. The best part was that he was wearing a bright orange shirt which made it easy to see him as he bounced along on the back of the motorbike.

This casa was completely different from the last one we stayed at… first was the owner, Carlos was super fluent in english which made everything better. Secondly the casa was two floors with the ground floor split down the middle length wise giving four bedrooms with attached baths. The half is split into a living room, an office (with dial-up internet!!!), dining room, a courtyard with no ceiling and the kitchen. As we have two out of four rooms and the rest are empty or only occupied at night we have the run of the place with has been great. Carlos is eager to fulfil our needs and available nearly around the clock for anything we might need. He is a great host.

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Every morning we get up and have a simple breakfast of bread/toast, ham, cheese, fruit platter, freshly blended juices and coffee. The boys also have a hot chocolate with their breakfast. They don’t like the blended juices so we have been buying orange juice for them which is almost as expensive as beer which is 1CUC per can. 1 CUC is a little more than a canadian dollar.

After breakfast if everyone is feeling energetic we head out into the city to view the sights, usually after 45 minutes Ethan breaks down as he is over heated and tired of walking and looking at stuff, carrying him gets us another 20 minutes than we need to stop. Getting lunch and/or drink will reset the clock but he only can last so long in the heat here which is in the mid 30s.

I really like interacting with the locals, whether it is shopping, arguing about parking fees or asking directions. My favourite part of the day is after we have returned home from our outing and I have errands to run like getting more beer, water, snacks, juice, finding internet or picking up lunch or dinner. This usually takes at least an hour while Leah hangs out at home reading and the boys play lego or lately soccer in the house. After six days I actually feel like I know my way around the centre part of Santiago at least when travelling on foot.

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