Sunday, August 30, 2020



















Camping with black bears and canoeing on the French River, Ontario, Campsite #609, July 27-August 3, 2015:


Canoeing and camping on Franklin Island, Ontario, June, 2015


Camping in Long Point Provincial Park and driving/bike riding in nearby areas, Ontario, May 18-23, 2015


One week at the Club Amigo, Guardalavaca, Cuba and a trip to Banes—January, 2015:


Trips to Santa Lucia, Cuba: two weeks at the hotel Club Amigo, trip to La Boca and three days in Camagüey, October/November, 2014:


The Massasauga Provincial Park, Ontario: canoeing trip and an encounter with the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, September, 2014

Temagami, Ontario: Camping in Finlayson Point Provincial Park and Canoeing on Lady Evelyn Lake-August, 2014

Camping on a River, Next to a Bear Crossing-Bayfield Inlet, Ontario-July/August, 2014:

Camping on and Canoeing Around Franklin Island, Ontario, July 13-19, 2014:

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario—Canoeing & Camping on Carlyle & Terry Lake, June 26-July 03, 2014 

Cayo Largo, Cuba—One Week at the Hotel Pelicano, January, 2014

Camagüey, Cuba: At the Hotel Club Amigo Caracol in Santa Lucia, Villages of Tararaco & La Boca and a Trip to the City of Camagüey, November 22-December 06, 2013





The Massasauga Park, Ontario: Camping and Canoeing at Blackstone Harbour and Wreck Island. August, 2013

Canoeing and camping at Chutes, Matinenda, Missisagi and Oasster Lake Provincial Parks & Manitoulin Island, Ontario.  July 15-25, 2013 :

Canoeing and Camping in Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, on Carlyle Lake--June 25-July 02, 2013

Algonquin Provincial Park—Bartlett Lake, May 2013.  Defeated By Black Flies! 

Canoeing on Georgian Bay, South of Philip Edward Island, Ontario--August, 2012:

Canoeing on the Key River and Georgian Bay, Ontario, August, 2012:

Canoeing on Anima Nipissing Lake and Lake Temagami, Camping in Finlayson Point Provincial Park, Ontario—July, 2012:

Canoeing in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and Camping in Silent Lake Provincial Park, Ontario—June, 2012:

Bon Echo and Algonquin Parks.Radio Observatory. Black Bear's Visit on Our Campsite. Ontario, October 04-11, 2011:

Restoule Provincial Park, Ontario, September 15-21, 2011:

Emily Provincial Park and Kawathra Lakes, Ontario, September 2011:

Canoeing on the French River (Wolseley Bay) and in Killarney Park, Ontario, August 21-29, 2011:

Canoeing south of Philip Edward Island and the Foxes, July 31-August 6, 2011:

Canoeing in the Massasauga Park, Ontario, July 15-22, 2011:

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, July 03-08, 2011:

Camping in Six Mile Lake Provincial Park and Canoeing on Various Lakes in Muskoka, Ontario, June 18-24, 2011:


Canoeing around Philip Edward Island, Ontario, August 11-20, 2010:

Canoeing on the Pickerel River in Ontario, July 28-August 03, 2010:

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario--Carlyle Lake.  June, 25-July, 02, 2013:

Canoeing on the French River, Ontario, south of Lake Nipissing, around Okikendawt Island (Dokis Indian Reserve), July 14-22, 2010:

Canoeing in the Massasauga Park and Sharing it with Black Bears, July 07-14, 2009 and September 25-28, 2009:

Canoeing in Killarney Provincial Park, August 12-16, 2009:

French River Canoeing Trip, Ontario, Canada, August 19-22, 2008:



More photos from this trip:

Blog in Polish/blog w języku polskim:

GPS Tracks of our trip and our day trip around Boom Island

In 1995 I discovered this beautiful region of Ontario and since then I have frequently been coming back to canoe, camp, fish and just enjoy its extraordinary scenery and serenity. 

My last trip (July, 2018) was not really that pleasant—it was very hot & humid, fire ban was in effect, hordes of mosquitoes mercilessly attacked us every evening, and to add insult to injury, we were eventually forced to immediately evacuate from the park due to the raging forest fire (“Parry Sound 33”) which ultimately destroyed 11 thousands hectares. Obviously, I hoped that this trip would turn out a little better.

Our campsite on Boom Island

Bülent and I departed from Hartley Bay Marina on July 28, 2020. Because of COVID-19, no valet parking was offered. I also found out that Mr. Mike Palmer, the marina’s owner, had passed away in February, 2020 in Hartley Bay. 


After 30 minutes of paddling, we reached Wanapitei Bay and checked out a few vacant campsites on its east shore (#612 & #613). They were OK, but we decided to cross the bay and take a look at other campsites on the opposite shore. The campsites at the ‘intersection’ of Main & Western Channels (#617 & #618) were occupied, campsite #616 was nice, but required a short hike up a steep rocky hill and campsite #611, which I had wanted to camp on in the past, also was occupied. Finally we found a somehow secluded cove/inlet with two campsites and one of them appeared to be very pleasant, with plenty of space for tents, a spot to set up a tarp in case of rain, cool rock formations and four (!) fire pits. The campsite also offered a nice view on the inlet’s rocky shores and islands on Wanapitei Bay with two vacant cottages (since 70% of all cottages on the French River are owned by Americans—who cannot cross the border due to the corona virus—many cottages were unoccupied.). The campsite also made a good fishing spot.

View from our campsite

There was a ‘thunderbox’ (a.k.a. a toilet) back in the forest, yet I noticed that not all previous campers had used it—there were pieces of toilet paper scattered all over the campsite. I do not understand why some people are so inconsiderate and not only aren’t they using the latrine, but cannot even pick up after themselves. There was some glass here and there and semi-burned beer cans in the fire pits. By the way, we did not bring any glass containers and religiously collected all the garbage/recyclables, which we took back to Hartley Bay Marina.

Our food was always secure
We spent almost one hour setting up three contraptions to hang our food containers and the coolers. I again came to appreciate the bear-proof bins, provided in the Massasauga Provincial Park! Before going to sleep and each time we were absent from the campsite, we consistently hanged the food barrel and our coolers, but no animal ever attempted to steal our food.

Typical scenery on the French River

Our campsite—along with 10 others—was located on Boom Island (approximately 4.5 x 3 km). The island’s west and north shores were surrounded by the Wanapitei River. For some reasons I had never had an opportunity to explore this part of the park, so one day we departed before noon, headed south, turned right into Western Channel and then north just before Attwood Island. Near the mouth of the river we admired a large beaver lodge. 

A very solid beaver lodge at the mouth of the Wanapitei River

Even though we were paddling against the current, it was hardly noticeable. Around the Forks we caught a pike—several minutes later we found a perfect picnic spot on a rock, cleaned & fried the fish and enjoyed a tasty shore lunch. 

A quick shore lunch; the fresh pike was delicious!

We proceeded north, until we reached the chutes (Sturgeon Chutes). There were 3 campsites (#604, #605 & #606), but I would not like to stay on them for more than one night—two pontoon boats were docked there and a bunch of people were enjoying their day-trip there as well as several fishermen tried their luck around the chutes. In addition, a 240 m portage was very close to the campsites. 

Sturgeon Chutes

After taking several photos and paddling as close to the chutes as possible, we started heading back to the campsite. At the Forks we made a left turn. We passed one campsite on the right (#603) and as we reached Kentucky Club Island, we made a sharp right turn and now headed along the eastern shore of Boom Island, passing several campsites. I stopped in front of campsite #609 and took a few photos: I had camped on this very campsite in 2015 and on a daily basis enjoyed the company of 4 black bears—one of them had eventually caused a lot of damage to some of our supplies. Well, this year we did not see any bears, supposedly the blueberries were plentiful and bears were not interested in devouring campers… I mean, campers’ food! Overall, we covered a distance of 23 km. 

Carrying the canoe over the beaver dam

Just meters from our campsite was a small lake. Upon a closer examination, I realized it was a beaver pond, separated from the French River by a solid beaver dam. It was too good an opportunity to pass—we carried the canoe over the dam and spent almost 2 hours paddling on this enchanted pond! 

Canoeing on the beaver pond

There were several beaver lodges, plenty of dead trees and stumps sticking out form the water which was mostly covered by water lily leaves and flowers. At one point we saw a magnificent Blue Heron—it splendidly flew off and gracefully landed nearby on a tree’s branch. We did not see any beavers, but at night we heard splashing sounds coming from the beaver pond as well as mysterious thuds, resembling a woodpecker pecking at trees.

Canoeing on the beaver pond

One day we went on a hike in the bush behind the campsite, navigating among fallen, dead and rotting trees, thick undergrowth and many rocks. We had to watch each step and overall covered just 2 km in as many hours. Considering that literally all the trees had been logged in the area some 150 years ago and the current forest was relatively pretty young, I could only imagine how difficult—well, basically impossible—it was to traverse in the forest before that time! That was why rivers, especially the French River, were the only possible routes to explore the new country with a relative ease. During our short sally we did not spot any animals save for a small garter snake. We saw plenty of deer (or moose) droppings, but no bears’. Blueberry bushes were abundant, but I guess the blueberry season was almost over—besides, it was very dry and whatever berries we did find were tiny.

Our campsite on Boom Island

The only animals we saw on or around the campsite were ubiquitous sea gulls, green frogs, a chipmunk, a busy squirrel, a large garter snake that I found in my tent’s vestibule and a bunch of snapping turtles, emerging from the water and hoping to get some of our food. As we were paddling towards campsite #616, we saw a family of minks frolicking on the rocky shore. But we were in for a special treat the last day, while heading back to Hartley Bay Marina—we saw a Bald Eagle flying just above our canoe, its distinct white head clearly visible.

No doubt, a curious and hungry snapping turtle at our campsite

Since it was very warm, yet not too humid, we liked the weather—at least there was no fire ban. It rained on a couple of occasions, including the whole Sunday. We spent most of that rainy day sitting under the tarp, drinking hot tea and reading books—I managed to finish John Grisham’s “The Rooster Bar”, which was a perfect camping book—light, but not too dumb.

Wanapitei River

Miraculously, there were VERY FEW mosquitoes! They became active at about 9:15 pm and were mostly gone at 10 pm. One evening, when it became cooler than usual, we did not even have to apply any bug spray, as there were hardly any mosquitos. Upon coming come, I discovered one black fly bite—although the black fly season ‘officially’ should be over at the beginning of July, it’s still possible to encounter black flies in August and September.

Canoeing on the beaver pond

Almost every day we caught a fish or two (bass & pike), enough for ample dinner or lunch. In fact, Bülent caught the first fish, a relatively large bass, which was delicious! Nevertheless, I was disappointed with fishing: it was the first time on the French River that it took me more than one hour to catch a fish (sometimes considerably longer) and despite our persistent casting and trolling in ‘our’ cove and other parts of the river, neither of us succeeded in catching even one fish on Saturday and Sunday. We did not see any fish jumping out of the water either. The campers at the adjacent campsite were fishing from shore and from their canoe, but did not catch anything.

We spent one night in Grundy Lake Provincial Park on campsite number 419

After canoeing & camping on the French River for one week, we decided to spend our last night in this park. Because of COVID-19 most Ontario parks were almost 100% booked over weekends, but since it was Monday, there were still some campsites available, at least for one night.

View from our campsite

The staff at the office was very efficient and quickly found a site for us, as well as we bought a bag of wood. We got campsite #419 in the Red Maple campground (radio and pet free) which was not bad, adjacent to Grundy Lake and the beach. There were some people canoeing and fishing on the lake. The bathrooms were clean, but there were no showers due to the corona virus situation. Unfortunately, there was a noticeable whiff apparently coming from the toilet, located behind another campsite. We were told there were no black bears sightings in the park this year. Our campsite was also a home to a number of rather friendly chipmunks, which were constantly looking for food and often chased one another. Amazingly, we were hardly bothered by mosquitoes in the evening. There were many families with children and perhaps because of that, around 10 p.m. the park became very quiet as most campers went to sleep—and soon we followed, too.

COVID-19 sign on Parry Sound's wharf. However, I have to disagree with the 'canoe' sign: according to this sign, 6 ft is half a canoe, so a canoe should be 12 ft long. Well, most two person canoes are from 14 to 16 ft long, and mine is 17'. Or perhaps canoes in Parry Sound are smaller? As to the length of goose or moose, I think it would be too risky to take the actual measurements... 

Just in front of the park’s entrance is Grundy Lake Supply Post, offering canoe rentals, ice cream and plenty of various camping supplies and souvenirs. Also, there is an LCBO store and grocery/butcher store (“Lemieux Meat and Grocery”) in the town of Alban, about 20 km north from the park. Last, but not least—my canoe, purchased at the Grundy Lake Supply Post in 2010, just turned 10 years old and it has been one of the best investments I have ever made! 

If you are adventurous, from Parry Sound you can take a scenic flight over Georgian Bay. I did in the late 1990s and it was awesome!

Later I found out that just a couple of days before our arrival, a horrible accident had taken place in the park: a 2 year old girl accidentally fell into a campfire and sustained severe burns. Eventually a chopper landed in the park’s parking lot and transported her, I presume, to the Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. 

Parry Sound

On our way back we stopped in Parry Sound, had coffee under the train trestle and as we finished, we saw the Island Queen Cruise depart at 1:00 pm for the sightseeing tour. At that very moment we heard the news about the horrible explosion in Beirut which destroyed part of this city. Then we walked along the docks, observed a floatplane take off and land as well as took a look at the Charles W. Stockey Centre, which was unfortunately closed.

Float planes are quite a common sight in Ontario

A visit to Parry Sound is never complete without visiting the “Bearly Used Book” store (in my opinion it is the best used book store between Toronto, Vancouver, Alaska and Ellesmere Island)! I was completely enthralled with both the quantity and quality of the books. In my favorite section I quickly browsed through so many unique non-fiction books on history, wars, China, espionage, foreign politics, communism, travel… In no time I purchased 6 really fascinating books and had to discipline myself to leave the store within one hour—after all, I had to drive to Toronto. I had an opportunity to chat with the bookstore’s owner and congratulated her on this amazing undertaking. I was glad to hear that the bookstore was doing well and I was told that soon its size would significantly increase.

Bearly Used Books store. No wonder he is so tired, he had just finished reading all these books!

It was a very relaxing trip. For me, French River Provincial Park has always been and will remain a very unique place. I would love to visit this area soon!

More photos from this trip: 

Blog in Polish/blog w języku polskim:


Blog in Polish/blog w języku polskim: 

More photos from this trip:

It was our 15th trip to Cuba since 2009 and third to the Hotel Carisol los Corales, so we knew what to expect. We paid $1,295 CAN per person for 2 weeks (from Toronto) for a junior suite in the Carisol Section.

Junior Suite C-3

Before our January 8, 2020 departure (from Toronto to Santiago de Cuba), we had booked our Sunwing seats online 24 hours in advance and got the boarding pass. We thought it was a great idea—until we got to the airport (Pearson’s Terminal 3). We had to deal with the kiosks to print luggage tags and figure out how to put them on our luggage, which was not as easy as it looked, there were plenty of confused tourist and two employees were quite busy helping them. Then there were problems with placing our suitcases on the conveyor belt, somehow they were not ‘recognized’ by the scanner. We had to carry our baggage and line up to another conveyor belt and airport employees had to help us a lot. Overall, we spent more time than in the past checking in the luggage.

Club Amigo Carisol

We were told to go gate B26 and get on the bus. On the BUS? I thought she meant the PLANE? Actually, we did get on the bus and after a 10 minute ride, we ended up at the Infield Terminal, which I had no idea existed! Later I found out that this overflow terminal was rarely used, but in December, 2019 Sunwing Airlines moved their operations there. It is also frequently used as a location for major motion pictures and TV productions.

We also enjoyed the company of various animals, grazing just in front of our room

The plane was leased from the Czech Republic (hard to believe now, during the coronavirus situation, but at that time there was a shortage of planes due to the Boeing 737 Max airliners grounding) and it had bilingual signs—in Czech and English. The take-off was late due to deicing. Dinner was no longer served onboard, just coffee and other drinks, but it was possible to buy or pre-order extra food. The flight lasted 3 hours and 41 minutes and we landed in Santiago de Cuba. Two weeks later we flew back home, no problems, and again landed at the Infield Terminal. Overall both flights got us from point A to point B, no complains.

The Sunwing plane

Because of TripAdvisor’s Cuban forums, I knew that unexpectedly the US dollar had become a hot commodity in Cuba—and we happened to have plenty of US dollars anyway. Within minutes of getting on the bus we exchanged $200 US and got 200 CUC—more than enough for our whole stay. I also ran to the nearby kiosk and got 2 cans of Cuban beer (Cristal). It turned out that I bought the last 2 cans—and that was the only Cuban beer (in cans or bottles) I had during my whole trip. Some tourists also discovered that their luggage was not on the plane and it was supposed to be delivered the next day(s). It took us over 1 hour to get to the hotel. Our very nice and personable rep on the bus, Sahidy, told us a lot of interesting things on Cuba.

On the beach


We got the Junior Suite C-3 (upper level). We were not very thrilled with the room (or rather the location of the building), but decided to stay—we liked better the Junior Suite H-4, where we had stayed previously. We had the same maid as 2 years ago, Martha.

The staff was overall nice and helpful, although I saw a lot of new, young people working at the reception and most of them barely spoke English—and I had a feeling they were not too eager to practice their meager linguistic skills with tourists.

Inside our Junior Suite C-3

The two-level room was nice, but there was cold & hot water, although the pressure was bad in peak hours. Otherwise everything else worked (A/C, TV, fridge, hairdryer). There was no phone in the room. We had to ask for the safe a few times—eventually it was brought (!) to our room and bolted to the wall (2 CUC per day). Both the safe and the room use traditional keys, so bring a lanyard.

Some outlets in the room were 110 V, others 220 V and they were NOT clearly marked, so ASK the maid before using them or you might damage your electronics! We brought a small coffee maker (and coffee) along with a surge protector bar—2 year ago, due to a spike after a power outage, we had lost our coffee maker. 

Sunset at the beach

There was no Canadian channel on TV, only the CNN, which I never liked watching. We tried to watch the 6 pm news, but sometimes such ‘momentous’ news like the story about the royal couples announcing their intention to step back as senior members of the royal family took up the first 20 minutes, relegating other ‘inconsequential’ news items as the Ukrainian plane disaster, Iranian Crisis or the coronavirus outbreak in the background! That was why we spent just minutes watching TV. 

Ruins of the old hotel buildings, destroyed years ago by a hurricane

From our balcony we could see the ocean and, mostly covered by vegetation, the ruins of old hotel buildings (disco), destroyed years ago by a hurricane. There were always various animals grazing the grass around, mostly horses and donkeys (with cattle egrets hanging around them), which gave this place a very rustic look. Cats and dogs were not as numerous as in the past.

The beach was nice and the beach guys quickly brought us loungers. The coco bar served cold beer and other drinks—Frank the bartender did a great job and I especially loved the piña colada. There was a massage place on the beach and Catherine had a massage every day. I hoped to do snorkeling, but every day was quite windy and there were relatively high waves near the reef, making snorkeling there too risky. But closer to the shore I did see a lot of colorful fish and even a moray eel, luring from an opening in a rock.

I brought a relatively new book by John Grisham, “The Reckoning”. It was certainly NOT a typical legal thriller that one would expect from this author. The story was set in Mississippi, in the 1940s, and in addition to some courtroom drama, it contained a lot of other elements, such as family matters & secrets, life on a cotton plantation and race relations. And from the flashbacks to the Second World War I learned a lot about the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the surrender of the U.S. forces and the Bataan Death March.

We had the best January weather ever in Cuba: every day was sunny, about +30 C and it rained a few times, but by the time we reached our room, the sky was blue again. Because of the wind there were no mosquitos or other bugs.

Exposición Mesoamericana close to the hotel. Apparently it is genuine fake pre-columbian art!

The Carisol section (where we stayed) was much quieter than the los Corales section, where all the entertainment took place—and it was one of the main reasons we decided to stay in the Carisol part of the resort.

On the bus to the resort we ran into a couple from Streetsville that we had met at the hotel two years ago and during our stay we frequently enjoyed dinners together. We also (finally!) met in person two well-known TA members, Cubacarol and CoralQueen, whose posts I had read for many years and often relied on their valuable advice. In fact, it was CoralQueen who had recommended our casa particular in Santiago de Cuba in 2010! We met Karen from Quebec, with whom we had gone biking two years ago to the Jardin de Cactus and whose excellent Spanish greatly enhanced our outing! Besides, we often intermingled with other tourist from Canada and exchanged a lot of interesting stories on travelling in Cuba and in other countries.


The food was average, but tasty and I had no complains. For breakfast I always had fried eggs, coffee and yogurts. Most of the time we skipped lunch, but a few times we went to the Ranchon Restaurant for excellent ribs and fish. Dinners offered a lot of various dishes. I loved grilled pork at the cooking station, it was delicious—unfortunately, twice I tried beef and it was tough & stringy—well, at least the local dogs enjoyed it… We brought several salad dressings which greatly enhanced the taste of salads. Yet after a week I did experience some mild stomach problems—there was nothing wrong with the food, but I guess the greens did not agree with my gut flora. Although we never noticed any beer or wine shortages in the resort, the wine was ‘rationed’—the servers poured only half a glass of wine and never left a bottle of wine on the table.

The (very noisy!) Cuban band

Every evening a Cuban band would provide musical entertainment while we were dining. I had really mixed feelings about them: on one hand it was nice to listen to one or two songs and admire their artistic talents, but after a while they kind of overstayed their welcome, making it literally impossible for us to conduct any meaningful conversation at the table. The performers were standing very close to our tables and were very deafening! Even if Frank Sinatra were singing like that, I’d say, “Get lost, Frankie, and pop up somewhere else!” We were often relieved when they finally went elsewhere in search of other victims... I mean, tourists!

During our stay a painter created this mural


For the first time in 11 years it was impossible to buy any Cuban beer in the hotel stores! What’s more, on the second day after our arrival I purchased one bottle of mineral water and 2 bottles of Cuban liquors—it turned out that from then on there were no liquors and no mineral water available at the store! I brought tabasco sauce, hoping to make a Bloody Mary—but there was no vodka and no tomato juice in the store either. Well, I’m glad that there was draft beer at the bars. By the way, during our two trips to Santiago de Cuba, it was impossible to obtain Cuban beer and I only managed to get Heineken. At Plaza Dolores two restaurants had no beer and the third one eventually got some. I could not even find mineral water and I got very thirsty.

Catherine with a broken bike. As you can see, despite any predicaments, she is always smiling! After all, 'es Cuba'...


We had been looking forward to renting bikes at the hotel and exploring nearby attractions. This year there were only 4 bikes available for rent. We rode to the blow holes (past the aquarium) and then Catherine’s bike got a flat tire—it was literally peeling off the wheel, so it was impossible to even walk the bike. She rode my bike to the hotel and sent a horse carriage to pick up me and the broken bike. 

The blow holes several kilometers from the hotel

We got another one and the next day in the morning rode to the village of Baconao—just in time to see the start of the elementary school at 8:00 in the morning, where students were reciting some revolutionary stanzas and singing. Later we toured the small school and spoke to the teachers, giving them several bilingual periodicals. Since we were supposed to return the bikes at 10 am, I was already at the rental place at 9:45 am, but it was still closed. I waited for over one hour (in the meantime, two people wanted to rent scooters and another tourist was impatiently waiting to return one), but the rental place remained closed, its sole employee nowhere to be seen. Just before 11 am I dragged the bikes to the reception and in spite of the protestations of the reception clerk, I placed them in the storage room. I suspect that the hotel is going to be very pleased when the remaining bikes finally break down—one less issue to deal with!

School in Baconao village

In the morning we walked around the hotel and twice explored the nearby caves along the coastal cliffs with indigenous cave art from Central and South America (Exposición Mesoamericana). On a couple of occasions we spoke to the gardener working there—he showed us bats (“murciélagos”) attached to the caves’ walls. We also noticed that the restaurants that we had seen two years ago now were gone—a tourist told us that they were private and too successfully competed with nearby government establishments…

Start of the day in elementary school in Bacono village

The hotel offered a free trip to Santiago de Cuba, which was leaving at 10 am on Saturday and we took advantage of it twice. The first time the bus was full, the second time there were two buses and there were still some empty seats on the second bus. Each time Julio, a very entertaining man, was our guide on the bus and kept regaling us with a lot of interesting stories. The bus dropped us off—and later picked us up—from Plaza Dolores. 

Monument of Francisco Vicente Aquilera

There were many restaurants and the old church of Dolores, converted into a concert hall, as well as an impressive monument of Francisco Vicente Aguilera (1821-1877), a Cuban patriot, mayor of Bayamo, Vice President of the Republic and insurrectionist.

Calle Jose Antonio Saco, a.k.a. Enramada

Just steps from the plaza was Calle Jose Antonio Saco, a.k.a. Enramada, closed off to traffic, always full of pedestrians, shops, restaurants and other businesses. We walked along this street several times, bought several delicious ‘churros’ (paying with CUP, or “Moneda national”) and also visited a number of casas particulares, some were quite nice and offered a great view of the city. There was even a shop offering “Las Mascotas”—yes, it was a pet shop!

An antique vehicle on Plaza Dolores, which I was not supposed to photograph, according to one funny Cuban fellow!

There were plenty of Cubans at Plaza Dolores—indeed, some tried do beg and asked for money, but most of them did not bother tourist. Two years ago I had taken a video of an older Cuban gentleman who was playing the guitar and singing, which I later posted on YouTube.

With a guitar player

Later, as I was taking photos of surrounding buildings, I spotted a beautiful antique car which I commenced to photograph. All of a sudden an agitated man showed up and, while hurriedly waving his arms, was shouting that I was not supposed to take photos of the car without paying (him?). Of course, I totally ignored him and continued my business. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone—and to make the story even more amusing, the car did not even belong to him!

This Cuban girl was so adorable!

While waiting at Plaza Dolores for the hotel bus to pick us up, we sat at the outdoor patio of the Restaurante Don Antonio and ordered a couple of drinks as well as cold beer—it was the only establishment in the vicinity that had beer, the other ones had none. There was a Cuban family sitting nearby and I took a series of amazing photographs of their adorable daughter! The servers were quite nice and I am grateful that they managed to find beer—who would have ever guessed beer would become so difficult to find? 

Festivities at Plaza de Marte

Twice we walked to Plaza de Marte, where some kind of festivities were taking place there, the surrounding streets were closed off to traffic and there were plenty of various booths/kiosks selling food. Of course, the plaza was teeming with Cubans, who were strolling, sitting and checking out the attractions. Unfortunately, it was impossible to purchase any Cuban beer anywhere nearby and only after searching several stores I managed to buy German-made beer “Heineken”, created to commemorate Havana’s 400th anniversary. Very close to the Plaza was a Communist Party of Cuba Provincial Head Office—since there were a lot of photographs hanging in the lobby (most likely related to the Cuban Revolution), I asked if it was possible to take a look at them, but the guards did not let me in. I wonder why?

Los Angeles Hospital

On our way to the Moncada Barrack, we made a shortcut through the Los Angeles Hospital grounds. Built decades before the Revolution, it was quite impressive. On our way back we also wanted to cut through the hospital’s grounds, but that time a security guard said ‘no’ and was very adamant not to let us through. The only explanation is that between certain hours tourists are not allowed on the hospital grounds…

The Moncada Barracks, with bullet-pockmarked walls

The highlight of the trip was the visit to the Moncada Barracks. In fact, we went there, albeit briefly, during our first bus tour to Santiago, but only during the second bus trip to Santiago we spent over one hour inside the building and saw the exhibits.

The Moncada Barracks, today an elementary school and a museum

I had seen the building numerous times on TV, in books, magazines and propaganda materials. Indeed, it is called the cradle of the Cuban Revolution. It was here that on July 26, 1953, the 26-year old Fidel Castro, along with a band of 111 ill-armed men attacked the Moncada Barracks. It was a total failure—some 60 men were shot or tortured to death, the rest, including Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, fled. Later Fidel Castro was captured by Lieutenant Pedro Manuel Sarria Tartabull who, instead of executing him on the spot, as ordered, kept him alive. It was during his trial that the uttered the now famous words: “History will absolve me.” He was sentenced to 15 years, yet released after 2 years. Soon Fidel and Raul Castro left for Mexico, where they befriended an Argentinian doctor, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. On November 25, 1956 Castro (incidentally, he would die, to the day, 60 years later), along with 81 revolutionaries, left Mexico on a decrepit boat called “Granma” and landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956. The landing, like the Moncada Barracks attack, was another disaster—62 of the rebels were killed or captured. After a 2 year guerilla war, Batista fled into exile on December 31, 1958 and the next day Castro proclaimed the victory of the Cuban Revolution. That is why the number “26” has become a symbol of the revolution and can be seen everywhere in Cuba.

In front of the Moncada Barracks

The building has this very distinctive mustard-and-white color. Part of the building is a museum, the other part a school. The museum exhibits plenty of photos, uniforms, maps, torture devices and photographs of Castro’s men who took part in the attack. At the entrance to the barracks there were a number of photographs depicting various dignitaries visiting the Moncada Barracks, often guided by Fidel Castro himself. I immediately recognized Henryk Jabłoński, head of state of the People's Republic of Poland between 1972 and 1985, who paid a visit in 1979. Unfortunately, all the descriptions in the museum were in Spanish, not in English, so I was not really able to comprehend and understand much. It is quite puzzling—after all, I believe that it would be in the interest of the Cuban government to inform tourists about its revolutionary history.

The bullet holes on the Moncada Barracks' facade. Not as authentic as one would think, though--yet Catherine's smile is 100% authentic-she's happy that the Cuban Revolution eventually succeeded and we can enjoy visiting Cuba!

One of the most prominent features of the building’s façade are the bullet holes, allegedly made by the rebels’ inadequate weapons. Recently I found out that they were not real! According to an article by Stephen Hunter from “The Washington Post” (2003), as well as according to Dr. Antonio de la Cova’s presentation on his new book, “The Moncada Attack: Birth of the Cuban Revolution”, the original bullet holes had been eradicated by the Batista regime after the attack. It was only after the Revolution the holes were re-created by the new government. Besides, Dr. de la Cova said that the holes had NOT been made by the rebels, but by the soldiers.

The Moncada Barracks

I also discovered another interesting bit of history about the Moncada Barracks attack. According to Dr. de la Cova (a native of Havana and an assistant professor of Latino studies at Indiana University), in July 1953, more than a dozen soldiers killed during Fidel Castro's attack on the Moncada garrison were interred in the Cuban Constitutional Army pantheon at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago. After the rebels seized power, they cleared out the pantheon of the remains of their former enemies and incinerated them, added the word "Revolutionary" after "Armed Forces" at the entrance, and interred Communist soldiers in it. 

I would also like to mention the Siboney Farm, where the rebels had been preparing for the Moncada attack—and it was from this farm that they left for Santiago to carry on the attack on the Moncada Barracks. After the attack some of the rebels returned to the farm. The same day soldiers discovered the farm and eventually sprayed the façade of the house with a machine gun—the bullets holes are still visible. Since the Farm is just meters from the road between Santiago and our resort, we passed it many times.

No roof? No problem, the umbrellas will protect you from rain! I remember a Polish song by Maria Koterbska, appropriately called "Umbrellas, umbrellas"; its refrain goes like that: 
Umbrellas, umbrellas for adults and for children!
Umbrellas, umbrellas – they won’t let through a single drop!
Umbrellas, umbrellas, very cheap umbrellas!
Umbrellas, umbrellas – please buy them, ladies and gentlemen!
On the last day of our stay the weather took a turn for a worse and supposedly stayed that way for a while. At the Santiago airport it was impossible to pay with CUC, only CUP and US dollars (and probably other currencies, too, but then there was some kind of surcharge). I quickly bought two bottles of rum. Some tourists were quite upset at the new regulations.

Comandante Juan Almeida Bosque, Fidel and Raul Castro

The flight home was uneventful, we again landed at the Infield Terminal in Toronto and had to take a bus to Pearson Airport’s Terminal 3. Incidentally, that very day (January 22, 2020) a man in his 50s arrived from Wuhan, China at Pearson’s and he became the first case of the new coronavirus in Canada.

Salud! And to our next trip to Cuba!

Overall, we experienced less problems than 2 years ago, the weather considerably better and we had a very good time. Of course, we always travel to Cuba with a very open mind and do our best to overlook as many flaws as possible—after all, we come to enjoy our vacation, NOT to complain! Yet it’s obvious that this resort needs a lot of renovations and enhancements—thus, I’m not surprised that some tourists are disappointed. Unfortunately, given the current economic problems in Cuba (furthermore exacerbated by the unexpected coronavirus situation), I’m not very optimistic that any significant improvements will take place any time soon. So if you go, just focus on the positive and have a great time!