Thursday, April 27, 2023

CUBA BABY: Havana Day Seven, Tobacco Farm and more

Last day in Cuba, up for an early morning walk...

Before the fruit vendor can set out his produce, customers start lining up.

Cuba is very clean, people take care of their neighborhood. Many buildings are falling down as no one there owns any interest in it, i.e. no skin in the game. 
But that is no reason why your front yard cannot be clean.

Some people take pride in how their front yard looks..

In a nearby plaza, the PE teacher was testing students on soccer dribbling skills.

The older the car, the harder it is to find spare parts.

Or try to fix it yourself. 
"I can see clearly now"

A well cared for '57 Chevy to be envied...

That Chevy cannot transport a bed frame, but a tricycle can.

Rounding the corner, spotted this artist at work.
His drawing was not the scene in front of him, but a herd of horses.  
He said the morning shade was a pleasant working spot, better than being indoors.

The next street up was a small outdoor flea market, 
with artwork similar to what the artist was drawing.
Was this market for the few tourists walking by or who...? 

On our last day in Cuba, we drove three and half hours out of Havana 
to a tobacco farm in the valley near Viñales. 

We wanted to get photos of cigars being rolled, the old fashion way. 
In Havana there are several large government-owned cigar factories with numerous employees 
manufacturing well known brands of cigars. The worst cigar I had this trip was from one of those factories.

In Viñales I hoped to once again experience the rich flavor and smooth easy draw 
of a hand rolled cigar made by an artisan.

Leaving the city, we headed west.

Nearing the valley, we saw something that is not seen in the States anymore, a team of oxen.   In the distance was a team of ox pulling a plow turning the soil. Too far away to photograph.

Note the snapped off trees in the background. Hurricane Ike came through here last fall, 
wrecking havoc far and wide.

Most of the tobacco drying sheds were destroyed by the hurricane
 as they are not sturdy structures. Their purpose is to provide shade and to keep the rain off the drying tobacco leaves.

We saw numerous new drying barns being built in the valley. When finished they will have a palm leaf thatch roof that keeps the rain out but also allows good air circulation.

Worker using a chainsaw to trim the longer poles.
Notice no pre-cut lumber being used. 

Another Oxen team pulling a cart came into view. 
Note the wood harness and nose rings used to manage them.
Their horn tips have been bobbed as a safety precaution.

At the farm, the farmer gave us a tour, explaining the cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, drying and grading before selling the tobacco leaves. He explained the government
 agents inspect the dried leaves, grades them and tells them what they will pay for 90% of their crop. 
From planting through harvesting to drying, then finally selling the leaves takes almost two years.

The farmer is allowed to keep 10% of his crop to sell on the open market or roll his own cigars. 
Roll their own is what they do here. 

Then he demonstrated how he was taught to roll a cigar by his grandparents. 
Detailing many little techniques his family employs to make the best artisan cigar they can.

Their secret ingredient to the final wrap was a touch of honey
 from their hives to seal the edges so it does not unwrap. 

Trimming the end, he dipped the cigar in honey, lit it and puffed away.
All the while explaining the best way to smoke and enjoy a good cigar.

His mother then demonstrated how she rolls her cigars.

And of course, Alan had to try one of the cigars he had just witnessed being rolled.
He gave it a double thumbs up for smoothness and flavor.

After having a typical Cuban lunch in the valley, we returned to Havana, 
exhausted but satisfied with what we learned.

That my friends, wraps up our trip to Cuba. Tomorrow we fly back to Texas.
Thank you for following along, hope you learned something new about Cuba and its people. 
Maybe even consider making your own trip to the island.

Don't let anyone discourage you from going there. 
Today it is legal for US citizens to visit Cuba. A year from now... 
who knows where we'll be.

Cuba is safe, the people are very friendly and the cost is very reasonable.


Upcoming, Sidecars in the Smokies Rally at the end of April, 
then the East Texas sidecar gathering in May,
followed by the USCA National Rally in June.

2023 is shaping up to be a great year to own a sidecar rig.

Ride safe, ride far.


p.s. Once again credit goes to Alan Wilson for all the color photos you have seen in this Cuba story.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

CUBA BABY: Havana Day Six, URAL Club Outing

Day Six in CUBA
Outing with the Ural Club

The Ural Club of Cuba had a planned birthday party for two of its members at a relative's home in the country. After they met Alan and me, the group decided we were okay, 
so they invited us to join in the festivities. 

Osmany, the Club President, met us at midday on Monday,
 to lead the procession out of the city.

Several other members provided a three-wheel escort.

Of course, we had to stop and take a group photo. This was the first wave of the Ural group, 
as more members joined in throughout the day. Last count was 30 some persons at the party.

In the background is the monument El Cacahual, commemorating a major battle fought to gain independence from Spain in the 1890's.
 It is now a military parade grounds.

From another angle...

We left the main road, following the rigs down country lanes.  Each driver was dodging potholes and washouts, seeking their own line.

Keep in mind, these are all former Russian Military 650cc, kick-start Ural machines.
Some of the modifications made to keep them running are innovative. Rebuilding the complete front end to include a timing chain with tensioner and a deeper cover was one that amazed me.

When cars or other vehicles saw us, they yielded to allow us to stay together as a group.

Arriving in the small country village of Bejucal, 
we snaked our way through the narrow streets.
Note the power lines going everywhere. 

Finally reaching the home where the festivities were to be held.
Again note the power lines, no transformer.  

Our electrical engineer friends will have to explain the advantages of this system.

Immediately, everyone retired to the back porch, looking for a shady spot to sit down.

The crowd grows larger as others arrive. Conversations or should say male banter,
 among the members grew louder. All are having a great time.

While some clean and prepare the fish for frying...

The lady, who they say is the First Lady of the Ural Club, 
served fried cheese appetizers

The matron of the house proudly introduced us to her grandson.

From the states we brought LED headlamp bulbs that fit the older Urals, 
something hard for them to find locally. 

The original founders of this Ural Club were recognized.
Three years ago these five men decided to organize to help each other maintain 
and ride their rigs. 

More recently under Osmany's leadership, they have organized several civic activities to help the community. After the hurricane that battered Cuba last fall, they carried supplies and necessities to a devastated village. Next month they are hosting a party for children without families.

After the presentation of LED bulbs and a few USCA rally shirts,
attention turned to a most serious sport in Cuba... Dominos.

Friendly banter arose as teams competed against other teams. 
Is the first I had heard of Team Dominos.

Osmany and our doctor friend Rafael (with the straw hat) get in on the action.

As losing teams were replaced with new players, the volume of voices and laughter rose.
Chris here has an infectious smile and easy laugh.

When a misplay happened, a major discussion ensued, explaining 
why one could not do that in Cuba Team Play.

As the men enjoyed the cold beer, a more serious, sober group of players 
took control of the table... the ladies.

The intensity and focus on what was happening in the game changed, 
the vocal volume dropped. Their concentration was evident. 

Am positive this was not their first time to play dominoes.
The ladies quickly took control, dominating the table, no loud voices, no drinking, no misplays, just straight up tile slamming and smiling as they scored points.

I would not play against those ladies for money.

Late that afternoon we said our farewells to the club, knowing they might be here till the late hours. We had to return to the city to prepare for a long drive the next day to a tobacco farm.

The Ural Club of Cuba members send their greetings to sidecar riders everywhere, saying when you come to Cuba, let us know, so we can show you around.

By profession, the members range from mechanics to doctors, from tour guides to business managers. They are a great group of guys who love their sidecar rigs, work hard to keep them running, enjoy riding together and giving back to the community.
They set an example for all sidecar clubs worldwide to follow.

Osmany, President of the Ural Club of Cuba, 
 is now the Cuba Country Rep for the USCA.

Thank you for your spirited hospitality.

Ride safe, y'all

p.s. Many thanks to Alan for sharing his color photos from the trip.  
Tomorrow the home of the Cuba cigar, a tobacco farm.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

CUBA BABY: Havana Day Five - Final Photo Workshop Day

Looks to be another hot sunny Sunday in Havana. 
Was over 92 degrees yesterday, is expected to reach 94 today.

This final day of the photography workshop, we focused on using natural light 
to create dramatic casual portraits.

Holger from Berlin is our model.
Determining the right camera settings is a challenge 
when working with both strong bright light and deep shadows. 
The tropical sunlight is Cuba is strong and bright,
creating those contrasting heavy shadows.

A second shot, working the light.

Then it was, let's take a walk. 

The streets were not as busy or crowded like on Saturday. Could be since today is Election Day in Cuba. The schools were polling places with students in school uniforms working the process. Decided to not try photographing the polling places, best to stay low-key and away from
 any "official government type" of activity. 

In the middle of the day, a lone lady drags a shopping cart uphill in the empty street.

We stumbled across an abandoned Provincial Courthouse built in 1910. 
The gate was unlocked so we explored the inside.

Old deteriorating buildings like this make for interesting photos,
just watch your step.

A roof-less courtyard allows light to stream in.

These do not look like an original stairs,  were added later?

Down the block were two split window sedans waiting for restoration, or to be stripped further for parts.
Could not determine the age or manufacturer of these vehicles.
Does anyone recognize them?

The steel bodies appear to be good candidates for restoration, 
finding working running gear might be the bigger challenge.

These neighborhood kids wanted their photo taken. They asked which magazine their picture would be found. Informed them, they would be famous in the world of sidecars.

Here you go Lila, Alex and Raul, you are now published and famous.

We wind up this slow hot lazy day with a photo of a bouquet...
 a bouquet of Montecristos.

Apropos for Cuba don't you think?

In the evening we dined at the home of our Doctor friend Rafael. His daughter and I bonded immediately. 
Doc told her Grandfather was coming for dinner.
Carmen is five years old.

Maybe it was the small bag of candy I brought for her that won her over?
I know, suspicious looking old men handing out candy to babes.

Tomorrow we join the Ural Club for a ride out into the country for a social event.
We are looking forward to getting out of the city and meeting the club members.

Till then... ride safe.