Monday, July 24, 2017

Day 6: Getting Lost

March 20: Amanda and I had no real plans for the day. Just do whatever.... Amanda slept in late and we didn't hit the streets of Viñales until about 11:00 in the morning. The first order of business was to exchange more money because after tallying up the expected costs of our lodging and the taxi ride back to Havana, we had no money for anything else. No food, no drinks, no taxis or buses around town. We needed more money!

I stand in line, waiting my turn to turn 50 euros into 52 CUCs.

The line to exchange money had a dozen or so people and took the better part of a half hour to get through, and I exchanged 50 more euros for Cuban dollars. It was probably more than we strictly needed, but I figured whatever leftover we had by the time we flew out at the airport could be used for lunch or souvenirs for friends and family while waiting for our flight out of the country. Better to have too much than not enough! =)

And at that point, Amanda and I parted ways. She planned for a leisurely afternoon swimming at a pool while I intended to hike around the south side of Viñales --an area we had yet to cover. Check out some new ground.

I saw Amanda off on a bus that would whisk her on an air-conditioned journey around the area--including a stop at the hotel with the pool--while I followed large roads out of town that petered out into smaller roads.

A couple of young German women, fresh off the bus, asked if I was familiar with the area hoping I could direct them the correct way. Alas, I could not, but they were maybe a minute's walk from their destination and found it without my help.

I had a very rough map of the area. Some would call it a terrible map, but that's being somewhat complimentary. It was much worse than terrible. I'm convinced it deliberately tried to mislead me at every turn. It didn't help that the intersections I arrived at were unlabeled and left me with nothing but my wits to guess directions.

I knew, roughly, that I needed to travel south and west, so I tried to pick roads leading in those directions, but they invariably petered out to dead ends which required me to backtrack and try the other direction which split again before leading to another dead end.

Amanda would be whisked away in an air-conditioned bus while I tromped through the heat of the day.

Each day we were in Cuba seemed to grow warmer and warmer and today was no exception. The sun was brutally hot and the narrow streets and roads I followed provided almost no shade. I wasn't having fun and was finding myself somewhat annoyed at the poor maps and lack of signage.

Finally, I reached a hotel listed on my map--I knew where I was!--but I should have veered off to the west before reaching it so I wasn't in the correct location. Unsure of where or how I missed a trail leading west (I thought I tried them all!), I finally threw in the towel and decided to call it quits. I was hot and sweaty and didn't have enough water anyhow. (I hoped to get a cold drink after reaching my destination so didn't fill up my water bottle.) I turned around and headed back into town retracing my steps. Well, I refrained from retracing them down the multitude of dead ends that I had tried and bee-lined back into town.

Not entirely willing to give up my walk, I started walking down the busy road to my original destination, but I didn't make it far before I gave that up as well. I didn't get lost this time, but the road was narrow and busy and had little or no shoulder to walk along and was just plain horrible for walking along. I did it for ten minutes before deciding it wasn't worth the effort and turned back.

I still wasn't ready to give up on my walking plans however, and decided to hike north of the town, making a small loop that would merge with the trail I had followed the previous two days. Even approaching previously traveled terrain, however, I managed to get lost again somehow crossing over the track I had followed twice before and winding up on the east side of town. To this day, I still can't figure out how the heck I got from the west end of town to the east end of town. I had to have crossed over the trail I took the previous two days, but I totally missed it.

And after that, I finally called it quits with my walking around. It was too hot for hiking. I was done.

View overlooking the town of Vinales.

I headed back to our room at the casa particular to trade out my hiking shoes with more airy and comfortable crocs then walked up to a bar and restaurant nearby where I agreed to meet with Amanda a couple of hours later. I tried to order a cola--I didn't really care if it was a Coke or the local TuKola, the but waitress shook her head and said no, they didn't have that. (Which made me wonder, what do they use for someone ordering a Cuba libre?) I wound up ordering a glass of mango juice instead which was probably healthier, but it would cost three times more.

I was also a little peckish not having eaten lunch yet. I didn't want a big meal, however, waiting until Amanda returned when we could order dinner. Looking through their menu, however, the only appetizer type of thing I could find were "papas fritas"--French fries. I was a little disappointed about that. That was it? Well, so be it. I got the waitress's attention and tried to order that, but she shook her head no again. They didn't have it available either.

Well, shoot. The only things left to eat on the menu were about half a dozen entrees, and I had a sneaky suspicion that half of them probably weren't even available. I decided to pass on food. I had some snacks in my pack I could subsist on until dinner.

So I drank my mango juice and read my Kindle for the next couple of hours until Amanda arrived all bright-eyed and cheery from her time at the pool.

I told her about the disappointing menu and that we ought to go somewhere else for dinner, so I paid my bill and we headed off. Amanda wanted to stop at our room to change clothes first, so we did that, then wandered back into town and found a new place to eat.

I ordered the ham and cheese pizza. Amanda ordered the grilled lobster. (Amanda wants everyone to know that she got a huge portion of the grilled lobster for just $8. It's an expensive meal--my pizza cost a mere $3.) Life was good.

And that was it for the day. We lounged around on the outdoor patio of the restaurant for an hour or two reading books and watching the traffic go by before eventually paying our bill and heading back to our room for the night.

Tobacco farm
Horse drinking from a water trough made from a large tire
Tobacco leaves that had been set out to dry in the sun.
While I tromped around the countryside hot, miserable and getting lost, Amanda enjoyed her time at the pool eating a ham and cheese sandwich, drinking a beer and reading a book. =)
Dinner at the end of the day! =)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Day 5: Searching for Amanda

March 19: Amanda and I woke up and ate the breakfast provided by our casa particular which included fruits, bread, ham, cheese, juice and scrambled eggs enough for an army. After brushing our teeth and getting ready for the day, we headed off--in different directions.

Amanda would take a taxi to Indio Cave while I would walk there on a network of walking trails until reaching a paved road I'd follow the rest of the way. I figured it would take me at least an hour to walk. Amanda said she'd wait for me at a restaurant by the cave until my arrival.

The walk, at first, followed some of the same trails we covered yesterday and the number of people riding around on horseback astounded me. I must have passed a hundred of them! And I did, in fact, pass them, as the horses seemed in no particular rush tromping down the trail. Much of the trail had split into two so I took whatever path the horses weren't using to get around them.

Eventually the trail veered off into new territory for me. I didn't have a good map of the area--just a very rough one with many smaller trails and landmarks not listed at all, but I knew I had to eventually come out at a road to the east so as long as I only went north and east, I'd eventually get to the correct place. I wasn't too worried about getting lost.

The only obstacle of note that I came across was a small creek with no bridge. Not really inclined to get my feet wet, I walked upstream a bit to where the creek narrowed and leaped across to the other side, then followed a barbed-wire fence back to the trail.

The trail eventually led out to the main road, which had more buildings, people and animals to see, but I didn't much care of the narrow or non-existent shoulders on the road and the busy traffic passing by. I intersected the road much earlier than I had expected and still had another 3 kilometers of walking to reach the cave entrance.

At one point, a man being pulled in a cart by a horse offered to give me a ride to the caves for a fee--which was tempting since at this point I was on a fairly miserable road walk and it might shorten the wait Amanda would have, but we were running low on Cuban currency and I decided to pass to stretch it out a bit.

Oxen pulling karts was a common sight! =)

About 80 minutes after I left, I arrived at Indio Cave but looking around, Amanda was nowhere to be found. Perhaps she stopped to use the restroom? I took a seat on a bench. It was hot out, and I was sweaty and needed a rest. After about 10 minutes, my bathroom break theory was starting to deteriorate. Where the heck was Amanda? Taking a taxi, she should have beaten me here by an hour! I wasn't concerned about her... just a little annoyed that she wasn't where I expected to find her. I had no way to contact her. I couldn't call, or email, or leave any other type of message. Had she gotten here and left for some unknown reason? Or maybe she went shopping in town thinking she had plenty of time to meet me at the cave then lost track of time?

I ended up waiting for about a half hour, and still there was no sign of Amanda. I had another theory about what might have happened to her. I thought we had agreed to meet at Indio Cave, but maybe she thought we were meeting at an earlier cave that I passed about a kilometer back? I saw it on the side of the road as I walked by. This area is littered with caves all over the place. Perhaps we had gotten our signals crossed?

The cave was maybe a kilometer away--not terribly far--so I decided to walk down there and check things out. I didn't know what I'd do if she wasn't there, though. How long should I wait at Indio Cave before giving up?

I didn't make it to the other cave, however, because halfway there, I ran into Amanda walking up the road from that cave. Turns out, Amanda never took a taxi at all and had walked all the way in from town! That was one theory that had never even crossed my mind. She said she couldn't find a taxi in town, and she didn't have small bills in any case. I'm not sure why it mattered if she had small bills or not since the taxis would most likely be able to provide change.

I walked back the rest of the way to Indio Cave with Amanda who sat down for a much needed rest. While she was resting, I went ahead and used the bathroom because--why not? Fortunately, everything went well. =)

Then I got in a line to get a number, which was then called out about 10 minutes later which I turned in so I could buy us tickets for the cave. The process seemed strange. I had to take a number just to buy a ticket?

I stand around waiting for my number (40) to be called in order to buy us tickets.

Anyhow, with tickets firmly in hand, we arrived at the cave entrance to wait in another line before they finally let us in.

The most remarkable thing about this cave, in my opinion, was how incredibly warm it was inside. It was a comfortable temperature, but I'm used to caves being cool--cold enough that I usually wanted to add an extra layer to stay warm. In this case, however, the inside temperature was only marginally cooler than the outside temperatures--and that's probably only because outside we were in direct sunlight.

From a natural perspective, the cave was in sorry shape. It was dry, and what used to obviously be magnificent cave formations were broken, dirty and not particularly impressive. They didn't even bother putting up "no touching" signs because really, at this point, touching everything in sight wouldn't cause any undo damage.

The cave wasn't particularly long and included one tight squeeze that large people might have trouble navigating. I had trouble ducking through the low opening.

The main highlight of this cave was the river running through it. Large enough for a couple of small boats to pass each other side by side, we queued up in yet another line for the underground boat ride. We were in that line for probably 15 or 20 minutes. While waiting in line, I took off my long-sleeved shirt. I wore it to protect me from the sun--not to keep me warm, but in the cave, the sun was not a concern, and even in the cave I was a bit too warm with the shirt. So I took it off while waiting in line.

Inside Indio Cave....

We unexpectedly got moved to the front of the line when they were looking for two people to fill the last two seats in the boat. Turned out, none of the dozen or more people ahead of us were a party of 2 (or smaller), and Amanda and I gladly cut in front of everyone to score our seats in the back. =)

The boat driver pointed out formations on the cave walls and what they supposedly looked like--in Spanish, of course, but even if we didn't understand the Spanish, we could usually figure it out based on the formation itself. He pointed to the rock formations with a laser pointer and if we didn't understand it, made educated guesses about what it looked like.

The boat ride lasted for all of about five minutes before exiting the cave and ending our tour. It wasn't particularly long or exciting but for $5 (each), we agreed it was worth it.

Amanda wanted to check out a pool at a nearby hotel to visit tomorrow, so we did that, then decided to walk back to the other cave we had passed a kilometer before--El Palenque. It had a bar set into the front of the cave, which was shaded and wonderfully scenic, so we sat down and ordered drinks. Amanda was in serious need of a good long rest--she had walked here all the way from town, after all! And this was such a wonderful place to rest!

We lingered around for over an hour, then finally paid our bar tab and entrance fee for the cave ($3). The cave wasn't really anything to write home about. It too was warm but had only a few people in it when we entered rather than the large hordes that went through Indio Cave. There was no boat ride at the end, although there was an optional horse carriage ride from the exit back to the entrance for an extra $1 each. We decided to pass on that.

Drinking inside the Palenque cave.
It took all of about five minutes before we made it through the cave, then followed a road around the mountain back to the entrance and continued walking down the road. We were prepared to negotiate a taxi fare, but none of the drivers in the few taxis we passed seemed to even look our way so we never bothered and started walking back to town.

We stayed on the road all the way into town--it was the most direct method into town and Amanda definitely wanted direct. We stopped for dinner at a small, Italian restaurant while live music was playing in a nearby plaza.

Afterwards, we headed back to our room at the casa particular, but only for an hour until just before sunset when we headed out again to watch the sunset. We found a decent vantage point for the sunset at a baseball field where Amanda and I watched four separate groups of kids playing soccer and baseball. Amanda got really excited whenever one of the kids made a good catch played really well, even going so far as to hollering out at them, "Good job!" Keep in mind, we were the only people in the bleachers. They probably thought we were those "crazy Americans" they always heard about. =)

After sunset, we retired back to our room for the night. The day was done!

Lined up and waiting to get into Indio Cave
While waiting to buy our tickets, we were entertained by these fellows and their animal props.
Inside Indio Cave
Even inside the cave, there was another line we had to wait in... the line to ride the boat through the cave! But we should skip ahead a dozen people or so when they were looking for two people to fill up the boat and everyone else ahead of us were in groups larger than two. =)
The exit from Indio Cave
Outside of Indio Cave
Amanda watches, wondering if one of the boats would go over the weir!

View from inside the bar/cave looking out.
Watch out for snakes! I almost missed that one! =)
Escaped slaves supposedly hid out in these caves, so the decor was themed around those. Here, I'm defending myself from an attacking former slave. *nodding*
Exiting from cave number two, we find... another bar/restaurant!
Okay, I'm going to say it: That's a seriously weird mural! Decapitated naked people and dead babies in a bowl being pecked at by birds? What the hell?!
Tobacco leaves drying

Dinner! (I had lasagna.)
Watch out for dinosaurs in town!
Sunset over a mogote

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Great American Eclipse!

One month from tomorrow, an event will take place. It will stretch across America from sea to shining sea, slashing across the country from Oregon to South Carolina: a total solar eclipse of the sun!

Map of eclipse path

As many of you might already know, I'm something of an astronomy fan and have had this event on my calendar for over TWENTY YEARS when I first heard about the "great eclipse" in high school! It's the first total solar eclipse to touch the US mainland since 1979. That's how big of a deal this is. But you don't have to be an astro nut to appreciate this event.

This isn't my first total solar eclipse. I've been lucky enough to see two other total solar eclipses (off the coast of Bulgaria in the Black Sea in 1999 and in Zimbabwe in 2001), so I can tell you with some authority that it will be the most spectacular natural wonder you will ever witness. You'll probably be hearing a lot more about this upcoming event in the during the next month. You'll hear all sorts of superlatives thrown about. Amazing, jaw-dropping, whatever.... None of them will do it justice. No matter how incredible you can imagine such a spectacle can be, increase it by a factor of ten and you'll still come back saying it's not even a close approximation of the real thing.

It's that good. Seriously. You don't even have to just take my word for it--anyone who has witnessed totality will say the same thing. (Don't be fooled by "pretenders." They'll tell you they have seen eclipses and it was interesting, but if they aren't throwing around superlatives left and right, you can be certain of one thing: They've never seen a total solar eclipse.)

I'm sure you've seen pictures and videos of total solar eclipses, and think "yeah, that looks pretty." But remember this: Film does not capture what the eye can see. You hear the phrase "pictures can't do it justice," but that's especially true with a total solar eclipse. For most of you, it will be the first time in your lives that you'll be able to see the sun's corona--the plasma that extends millions of miles out from the sun. Corona is Latin for "crown," and a better word couldn't be used to describe it. It's the crown jewels of the sky.

Everywhere in the contiguous United States will see an eclipse varying from about 50% covered (at the extreme southern part of Texas and northern parts of Maine) to 100%, so it'll be interesting to watch no matter where in the country you are. But make it a point to get to the path of totality if you can possibly swing it. Sell your grandmother if you have to! (That's totally a joke--don't sell anyone, except maybe a kid if they're causing you lots of grief.)

And don't think that seeing a 99% covered sun means you get 99% of the benefits of totality. Portland, Oregon, for instance, will be just outside the path of totality with 99% coverage. You get ZERO benefits at 99%! It's the difference between night and day!

During the partial phases of the eclipse, you'll need eye protection from the sun. You'll find eclipse shades in the AQ Marketplace if you still need some. (Don't wait until the last minute to order them, though--if you try to order them a couple of days before the eclipse, they probably won't arrive in time!)

Just before totality, the sun turns into a very thin crescent, then breaks up into what are called Baily's beads. These are the last remnants of the sun peeking through valleys on the moon's uneven surface. Every break between each "bead" is a moon mountain blocking out the sun. As the eclipse progresses, the beads will wink out one by one. When there are only a few left, it's probably safe to take off your eclipse glasses and look directly at eclipse. (If it hurts your eyes at all, , though, put the glasses back on immediately!) You'll hear everyone say that you can't look safely at the sun with the naked eye unless it's totally eclipsed, but the few seconds immediately before and after the eclipse are perfectly safe to check out and you'll miss the dazzling diamond ring if you don't!

So when there are a few of the Baily's beads still showing, take a peek at the sun with the naked eye. This is when the magic really starts to happen. I dare you not to gasp! =)

When there's only one of the Baily's beads left, it has a special name: the diamond ring. You'll understand when you see it. *nodding* (And again, photos don't do it justice! All those photos you've seen of the diamond ring are a pale imitation of the real thing!)

Image result for total solar eclipse
The diamond ring.... looks absolutely nothing like this in real life!
But film can't capture the spectrum of colors that the human eye can.

Depending on where you are in the eclipse path, you'll have about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes of totality along the center line. Most people will try to get as close to the center line as possible since that's where the maximum length of the eclipse occurs, but don't feel pressured into it. There are advantages in being closer to the eclipse edge (which I did during eclipse in Zimbabwe in 2001--no regrets!) Technically, the length of totality is shorter at the edge, but you can safely watch the eclipse with the naked eye for as long as a minute or two before and after totality and your total viewing time isn't really all that much off from the center line!

My best piece of advice: DON'T TAKE PHOTOS! Seriously--don't do it! Your photos won't do it justice, and you have such a very short time to enjoy the view of a lifetime. Soak it all in! You can download other photos that professionals have taken from the Internet later in the day (and you'll smugly think, "Yeah, that's not even close to what I saw.")

A more interesting idea, if you want to save the memories of your eclipse experience to film, is to videotape it. Set up your camera pointing at you and your group of friends or family about ten or so minutes before totality and let it run for at least five or ten minutes after totality. If you can lock the exposure level when you start it, that would probably be a good idea so you can actually see everything get darker during totality. You don't want your camera to automatically brighten the image to compensate for the darkening view!

I'll probably post more about the eclipse in the upcoming days. I want to create a checklist of things to look for when the eclipse happens. It moves so fast, it's easy to forget to look for specific things. The temperature will drop noticeably during totality. Just before or after totality, you might see shadow bands skimming across the ground. You might see birds suddenly come out of napping and freaking out. You might see a huge, giant shadow on the western horizon traveling between 1,500 and 2,500 mph and enveloping you. You might see a sunset 360 degrees around you along the horizon. You might see Venus twinkling in the sky. You might look for tiny sun crescents under trees as each hole between the leaves turns into a pinpoint projection of the eclipsed sun. And at the height of totality, you might not have time to remember all of this stuff without a checklist!

My other piece of advice.... wherever you go to watch this eclipse--get to the location early. It's going to be popular! The path of totality averages about 65 miles wide, and there will likely be millions of people trying to cram into that narrow path. Gridlock will certainly be common as small towns suddenly see their populations grow 10 times their normal sizes! Bring lots of food and water so you don't have to depend on nearby services that may be strained beyond capacity. Get to your location early and hang out. Bring something to read or load up your portable devices with your favorite Netflix shows. Keep in mind that cell phone reception could be spotty if you're way out in the woods, and the sheer number of people in small towns could overload their systems so even normally reliable service might not be so reliable.

You'll have an hour or two to watch the partial phases of the eclipse before totality, and another hour or two to watch it again in reverse. Hang out and enjoy the whole show. Based on the other total solar eclipses I've seen (and two annular eclipses too--which have the same congestion issues), almost everyone will try to leave immediately after totality ends. I'd suggest hanging back for a couple of hours and just enjoy the eclipse in reverse. It's not as exciting as totality, but you've already blocked out the day for the event anyhow, so why not? And by the time you leave, traffic probably won't be so bad anymore.

Several people have asked where I'll be for the eclipse. Surely I'll have an event for it! And, well... I find myself not really wanting to commit to a specific place. I want to see what the weather forecasts will be the day or two before the event before committing to a location. But for the time being, Amanda and I are leaning towards a location in western Nebraska--maybe around Scottsbluff--so if you find yourself in that part of the world for the eclipse, you're certainly more than welcome to join us for the festivities! I'll have my telescope with a solar filter so we'd be able to get a very good look at the eclipse during its partial phases! I might not share it during totality, though. ;o) Actually, I'm not sure I could get the solar filter off and back on without messing up the aim of the telescope in the short time there is during totality, so I probably won't be using it at all then!

Solar Eclipse Interactive Map: Use you can use this to learn exactly when the eclipse will start and finish and how long it'll last at anywhere in the United States.

Image result for total solar eclipse
This is probably one of the best photos of what
the eclipse looks like--after being pieced together
from a dozen other photos at various exposures.
But it's still a terrible representation of the real thing!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Day 4: Careening through Cuba

March 18: Amanda and I took our time getting up and ready. We had nothing planned until 9:00am when a taxi would pick us up and whisk us out of Havana for the first time. Destination: Viñales!

Most of you have probably never heard of Viñales before, and I hadn't either until this trip. It's about a two hour drive, west of Havana, way out in the country and allegedly has some of the most scenic views in the country. Mogotes dot the area--limestone mountains with sheer, vertical cliffs and full of holes and caves. The rest of our Cuban trip would be spend in Viñales and if rumor is to be believed, three days would not be enough--but that's all we planned for.

The taxi ride wasn't particularly noteworthy. This vehicle was in the best condition yet and even included fully-working seat belts. Yeah, for seat belts! The driver was aggressive at times making me a bit nervous, and the lines painted on the road seemed to be treated as gentle suggestions rather than law as we often drove straddled between two lanes or, on the one-lane roads, over the center divider line--wherever the potholes were smallest.

Most of the drive took place over a three-lane highway (three lanes in one direction, six lanes if you include both directions), hurdling through the air at a 100 kilometers per hour. In the immediate vicinity of Havana, traffic was heavy but not to the point of congested. As soon as we left the city, the traffic was light and we rarely saw more than a few cars ahead of us on the road. On the side of the road, many people stood with money out, trying to hail a ride and at one place, several people walked around carrying grilled chickens, flapping in the breeze. It was like an outdoor Costco selling rotisserie chickens!

The last half hour of the ride took us off the main highway and onto smaller, narrow, windy country roads. The speeds were slower, but the obstacles on the road more numerous--both in the form of live farm animals that often darted out into the road, people walking near the edge of the road, and considerably more and larger potholes than the main highway.

But we made it to the small town of Viñales without any trouble and our taxi dropped us off at our new casa particular. Our room wasn't ready yet, however, so we waited outside on the patio until it was ready while our host served us fruit drinks.

Our room for the next three nights. =)

After our room was ready, we dropped off our bags then immediately headed back out deciding to make a loop around a mogote and checking out Viñales National Park.

We got our feet dirty on real, dirt trails. Horseback riding was common--at times it seemed like we passed more people on horses than on foot. While the mogotes themselves weren't developed, the land around them is farmed heavily--especially tobacco as this area produces more Cuban tobacco than anywhere else. A small dog followed us a bit, and we passed multiple pigs, bulls, goats and other assorted farm animals.

The trail was hot and largely provided no shade and Amanda seemed slower than her usual pace, but that was okay. We weren't in any particular rush.

Field of tobacco with mogotes in the background.

At one point, the trail split and our map showed a dead-end to the left. I wanted to check it out, but Amanda decided the extra steps weren't necessary so we split up. I'd check out the side trail then catch back up with her later. It took me a bit longer to explore the side route because the trail split several times, each time dead-ending at one of the limestone cliffs of the mogote.

Eventually I returned to the trail and stopped when I reached a large pig wallowing in the mud with several piglets eating lunch. As I approached, I took photos and videos, but the large pig seemed bothered by my presence eventually pulling itself up and out of the mud and facing me. While admiring nature in action, a Frenchman caught up with me and we maneuvered around the pigs then started walking together for a bit swapping Cuba stories. I also told him about some of my adventures on the Camino de Santiago in France. Good times!

I caught up with Amanda again at a giant prehistoric-themed mural painted on a limestone wall--a god-awful, tacky thing that looks like a giant piece of graffiti. This was also where our trail ended and the road walk back to town would begin.

One of the ugliest, tackiest tourist attractions I'd ever seen! Disgraceful!

We stopped at a nearby restaurant for a rest and a snack, resting in the shade and enjoying the nice breeze on the outside patio before hitting the 5-km road walk back into town.

We only made it two kilometers when a fellow in a cart pulled by a horse asked if we wanted a ride into town. I was inclined to pass on the offer but Amanda was thrilled at any excuse to reduce the amount of walking that was needed--especially over a paved road. The cost was $3. Even if Amanda wanted to walk, I knew she'd have taken the deal. She just liked the idea of being pulled by a horse. We boarded our horse taxi and started the slow gallop towards town.

The man dropped us off just a short way outside of town and we spent the rest of the afternoon looking through shops, buying postcards and finally stopping for dinner at a restaurant called 1920 where we whittled away the evening until after sunset and headed back to our casa particular for the night. It was the good life! =)

I have to imagine that this area would be a rock climber's paradise!
Pineapple! And, for those who don't know any better, pineapples do not grow on trees!
The mogotes seemed eerily unnatural to me, but so beautiful! =)

Pigs, wallowing in the mud. The little piglets were so adorable! =)

Lunch time!
By the time we hit the road walk section of our loop, Amanda was ready to call it quits!
So we hired this guy to take us most of the way back into town for a mere $3.
Lots of billboards promoting Cuba, Fidel and the Cuban way.
Amanda's describing how big that fish she caught was. Just kidding.... I think she was about to take off her hat. =)
All sorts of cute contraptions made out of soda cans, such as these cameras.
You'd see these exaggerated black statues everywhere which kind of bothered me because they look so racist. I don't really know what the story behind them is, though.
Amanda admires her dinner at the 1920 restaurant.
I perform a magic trick with my can of TuKola hovering above the glass and pouring out, without even touching the can!
The shower in our room kind of looks like a potential electrical hazard, doesn't it? =)