Friday, 26 February 2010

Leaving The Caribbean

Finally my long trip is almost over. The bags are packed and everything is prepared for my leave tomorrow. Today there was no wind and also no people on the beach. It is really surprising here at "kite beach". Usually nice beaches in the Caribbean are packed with people. Here it just depends on the wind of the beach is full or not. Yesterday more than 60 kites where out in the water and a lot of spectators, instructors and friends on the beach. Today: not more than 10 people over the whole beach on a nice sunny day.

Leaving Cabarete is now a welcomed change for me. I love the Caribbean but I must admit that I prefer Bali over all. Maybe I start once a rum and cigar business there to adopt it too my needs ;)) Kitesurfing turned out to be quite nice but not overexciting. Its just the same bunch of people that preferred windsurfing a while ago. Surfing in the Caribbean is challenging but only to find some bigger waves. The surf beach Encuentro is truly a nice spot for surfing and relaxing. There are just a few people and mainly surfers and affiliates. The surf is as mentioned not too big and pretty shallow because of the coral reef. Several surf schools are lined up along the beach and also rent out all kind of surfboards in various sizes. It's a good idea to rent a surfboard there because the waves are usually not very high and you could end up bringing an own board and just have a few rides during your stay. It is also a wise idea to check the additional fees for surfboard transport on the plane. The prices are 100-200 USD per board!! Of course one-way.
One of the latest attractions here is the new circus that is currently setting up at the backyard of the gym. It's a trapeze!! Everyone who is willing and has no fear of height is invited for lessons. It's too bad that they are just finishing it now. It would have fun giving it a try.

Tomorrow, Friday, I have my big travel day. At noon I have to go via guagua (local minibus) to the airport from Puerto Plata. Then to San Francisco via Atlanta where I am happy to meet Joke and Will on a short stop-over. After that just straight to Frankfurt and from there to Graz where I'll arrive at Sunday afternoon. Of course if there are no delays and hopefully my luggage arrives as well. It's great to arrive at the last day of February so I can get started on Monday the 1st of March with my new plans :))

Monday, 22 February 2010

Cuba – A Trip Back In Time

The two weeks in Cuba have been a very special experience for me. It was just like a travel back in time! Crumbling buildings aside to fresh painted facades in pastel colours surrounded by old, classic US cars. It’s astounding how much contraction and renovation is going on. There is literally everywhere someone in charge to do small repairs, sweep the floor or do other necessary things to bring Havana back to former glory.

Travelling through Cuba is not so difficult but rather expensive. Life for Foreigners has some similarities to the Cuban life. It is difficult to find something you need and when you finally found it the price will surprisingly high. Even for public transport foreigners have to pay in CUC – The convertible peso exclusively for Foreigners to buy imported or “luxurious” goods. There are plenty of shops around where only the CUC is accepted. Many Cubans are in desperate need for the CUC because they can only buy things in Foreigner shops with CUC. The national peso is good to buy things for daily life including food and drinks.

To keep the costs down it’s wise to live in a “casa particular”. That is a private house that is entitled to rent out a room to foreigners. It’s usually much cheaper as a hotel and in addition much more comfortable. Another bonus is the close contact with the locals! In Santiago de Cuba, The first capitol of Cuba before relocated to Havana, the landlord of the casa particular was working in the famous “Canay” distillery. It was well known as the Bacardi headquarter before the revolution. Now many different brands including Havana Club are produced there. On his birthday he served me the finest 30 Year old rum I ever had.

In two weeks time it was easy to explore many cities and sights in Cuba. Many of them are recognised by the UNESCO and the Cubans are really proud of them. After the first days in Havana it was time to explore one of the many national parks: Viñales. It is a picturesque valley surrounded by high mountains. The soil is rich of minerals and agriculture has been practiced there since the Stone Age. Of course also a visit to a cigar factory was on the list after passing by endless tobacco fields.

The second trip was a road trip through Cuba. Beginning in Havana and visiting the cities Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara before heading to Santiago de Cuba. All cities have their own charm and a large amount of fresh renovated buildings. The highlight for me was lovely Trinidad with the cobblestone streets. It was really peaceful there. Santiago de Cuba was great for all the music I’ve heard. Compay Segundo also is from this city and the people really love music. It can easily happen that people stop by when they hear music and start to dance on the street. I just was a little upset that I didn’t have my audio recorder with me. I had a lot of opportunities to capture great music. It seems that i have to come back again. Maybe after the next revolution ;)

After all it was really great to visit this special country. There are so many interesting little things like empty highways, old cars, cigars, well educated and warm people and a good sense for culture and music. Cuba is doing well now in tourism, environmental issues and sustainability. Of course on the downside the lack of basic human rights is also evident as press freedom, the right to speak a repressive political system and much more. I have visited many countries in Latin America and walked through many slums. Compared with these countries Cuba is miles ahead and still far behind. It only depends on the point of view.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

La Próxima Estación: Cuba


Today I have prepared my entire luggage for the trip to Santo Domingo tomorrow. I leave all my sport equipment and other stuff I don’t need here at the extreme hotel for my return. The journey will be 5 hours with the late afternoon bus to Santo Domingo and from there to the international airport. I hope to find a comfy bench to spend the night on because the flight will be in the early morning over Panama to Havana. It’s for the same price as the direct flight from Santiago to Havana with the national Cuban airline. The reason I didn’t get the direct flight is that there was no possibility to book the flight online. Copa Airlines has a nice reservation system and I could manage to get the cheapest tickets.

The travel to Cuba will be for roughly two weeks and then I return back to the “extreme hotel” for a final week here. It has been a long time in the Dominican Republic and I am happy to be on the road again. December and January with tropical rain, power cuts and poor Internet connection left often only one combination: rum and cigars! Sure it was fun but after some time it gets really boring and with no alternatives it’s difficult not to get crazy. When I have talked with people that I plan to go to Cuba their response was: why? It’s the same there as here but much poorer!

I personally think that it will be quite similar. Both countries are pretty poor but Cuba will for sure suffer a lot from the long term US-embargo. People love to enjoy life on both islands and are happy even they are poor. I will also adapt to the situation on Cuba and will be off the Internet for two weeks. What a strange feeling not to be connected. But that should be a good experience as well.

On Friday the 19th I will be back in Cabarete again and ready for the final week. After that I’ll be on the long way home to Austria: Puerto Plata – Atlanta – San Francisco – Frankfurt – Graz. This long flight should cure me for a while from travelling – Lets see!