Saturday, 13 September 2014

Santiago de Cuba

Streets of Santiago
After 4 challenging days dealing in Havana, we took a 12 hour overnight Viazul bus to Santiago de Cuba. Alex’s brother, Charly and his wife, Damaida, picked us up from the bus terminal. After a cheese&bread breakfast in a local cafe, we visited Damaida’s family, and had a beautiful welcome.

The average salary of a Cuban is around $20 a month. Many families live together as a community because they can’t afford to rent or buy a house. A couple of years ago, it wasn't even possible to buy because everything belonged to the government but now things are changing slowly. People who work with tourists are making a good living in Cuban standards. Charly and Damaida moved to Cuba from France 2 years ago to start a transport business when they finish fixing up their cars.

Charly fixing his Jeep
Cuba definitely takes you back to the 50's. It seems like not much has changed after the revolution done by Fidel Castro (1953-1959). You can still ride the old American cars from that era, visit historical buildings and experience a magical culture. It is a total contrast of a capitalist economy. And that makes Cuba a unique tourist destination. Imagine a country without McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coca-Cola!

During our time in Santiago, I started to take Spanish classes from a lovely lady, Ines. She used to be a Russian teacher before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1990, she got retrained to become a Spanish teacher as Russian wasn't taught at schools any longer. It was a great pleasure to study with her and it certainly makes a big difference if you speak the language as many Cubans don't speak much English or any other language. Great friendships can be made instantly if you can communicate in Spanish.

El Castillo del Moro
We also visited a couple of beaches around Santiago. It is possible to have a lobster or great fish for a bargain when you hang out with locals and pay the Cuban price. The sea food is very fresh and delicious. We also went to a nearby waterfall and visited the Castillo del Moro.

The nights were vibrant, energising and joyful in live salsa cafes and bars which we visited with our Cuban friends and family. If you are ever in Santiago, you can contact Charly and Damaida through Cubacontigo for an authentic Cuban experience. They can help you with finding accommodation, salsa & Spanish classes and excursions.

Alex kept having more misfortunes in Santiago. She burned her leg on a motorbike exhaust 
when she was coming off it. Due to heat and humidity, her wound got infected and we had to take her to the international clinic for a couple of times.

Our relationship crisis was also escalating and she was thinking about staying with her brother in Cuba for a while rather then continuing the travels. I felt very sad that our journey together might be ending soon. We still loved each other but regular fights were affecting us dramatically.

While the early months of a relationship can feel effortless and exciting, a healthy long-term relationship requires constant work and compromise from both partners. If a couple ignores difficult topics, the relationship can end up in crisis. An interesting article in Psychology Today by Jay Dixit addresses some of most important issues a couple can face.

We all come from different backgrounds and have developed certain patterns during our upbringing. Often, we are not even aware of these internal patterns and can easily get triggered by our partners’ behaviour. Effective communication is essential to shed light on each other’s behaviour patterns which helps us to develop empathy and understanding in a relationship. As for us, the end was not there yet. We decided to work harder to save it.

Our last days in Santiago were full of joy. Damaida's brother, Enriquito, had his 30th birthday and we were invited to celebrate with them. Wow, what a fiesta. There were around 30 people in the small family house. There was a lot of food, beer and of course Cuban rum. I got offered to try a 15 year old rum by Damaida’s father that was superb. A couple of hours later, most people were quite happy with the flowing drinks while dancing salsa and reggaeton. This great atmosphere lasted until the early morning hours. We thanked Charly, Damaida and her family for the perfect Cuban hospitality during those 2 wonderful weeks in Santiago before heading towards Trinidad.

Enriquito's 30th Birthday Party

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