Early in the morning before catching the Viazul bus from Trinidad to Santa Clara, I dashed back up the hill to the terraced steps to check wi-fi – a great message from my Bro awaited me – he had sent me the money to the Western Union office in Santa Clara! What a great start to the day!
And to top off the happiness, upon arriving at the Viazul bus station early, there were my two favorite bus drivers that I had enjoyed so much from Vinales to Cienfuego! They remembered me and we had a joyful hug and cheek-kiss reunion, as is the tradition in Cuba. But sadly, they were not the drivers for my bus today. They were driving a different bus to Havana.
My bus was almost an hour late in arriving to pick us up for the 3 hour ride to Santa Clara. The journey passed through beautiful interior mountains, valleys and along lake sides.
Upon arriving in Santa Clara, my new Casa host was there waiting for me with a sign! What a relief! Jorge had a taxi waiting which we took to his place and for which I had to pay 4 CUC. Very lovely Casa, even nicer than the last one in Trinidad, and again 25 CUC.
Jorge offered to assist me in any way he could. He is a very genuine, helpful, thoughtful person as is his lovley wife, Louisa. They have a little Dachshund, Rocky, that they love like a child. So precious!
Jorge knew about my Western Union transaction and told me where their office was located. I walked on down to the central plaza – Parque Vidal – which is only four blocks from his house – to the WU office and presented my passport along with the secure transaction number, only to receive my FIRST big shock – Americans cannot receive Western Union money wires in Cuba! All other nationalities can – but not U.S. citizens! U.S. money must be wired to a Cuban!
I had Jorge’s phone number with me so the WU ladies quickly called him. He said he’d be down in a few minutes, which he was. We all agreed he would be added on to the transfer as a recipient. Fortunately, Jorge is well-known in town and even these two lovely ladies at the Western Union knew him, so I was automatically in good company. Jorge and I walked back to his house and FORTUNATELY he had what I had not seen before in my travels in Cuba – an international land line phone! We called my brother who answered – what luck! Gave him Jorge’s two names – the only names he said he had, and then I headed off for a little lunch in town.
In my restaurant-searching mode I met two lovely Germans who not only gave me the name of a place they liked but also showed me pictures of it on their smart phone. Found it, ordered the fish salad, and was most impressed! Delicious, large, and with the tip the total was 4.25 CUC! Excellent place – Restorante & Cafeteria Sabore Arte.
When I returned to the Casa, Jorge told me my Bro had called but he couldn’t understand what he was saying. I returned his call and found out he needed Jorge’s middle name (Jorge insisted he didn’t have one), his birth date and the name of the province he lives in. About an hour later Jorge and I walked to the Western Union Office where they proceeded to process the wire transfer again.
This is where I got SHOCK NUMBER TWO! Jorge had two MORE names – his surnames – that he had not realized needed to be given! Surnames are very rarely used in Cuba, apparently, and he’d never done a transaction like this before, so he hadn’t realized they were necessary.
Once again, the transfer could not be completed. We walked back to the Casa, called my brother and left a message with Jorge’s full four names, and then walked back to Parque Vidal to email Bro again with the information as well…just in case! I was hoping he would have a chance to go one more time this evening to the Western Union in Seattle – he was three hours earlier than where I was so there might still be time to get this whole transaction accomplished by early tomorrow morning. I did not want to spend more than two days in Santa Clara. At least Parque Vidal was beautiful – nice fountains!
The next morning a delicious breakfast was waiting for me on the table – Thank you, Jorge! I needed that!
Walked to Parque Vidal to check wi-fi – a great email from my Bro with the new transaction number was there! Thank God! He told me that a 48-hour ‘hold’ was almost put on this transaction because it had gone through so many changes! Fortunately, the Western Union person in Seattle had explained via phone to their security the extraneous details of the case and the ‘hold’ wasn’t processed! PHEW! His email said I SHOULD be able to get the money now… I went back to the Casa and waited a bit for Jorge to come with me. While waiting I watched their flat screen TV. Telesur, Cuba’s news provider, shows more news from around the world than I’ve ever seen on any American news channel! Wild!
Jorge and I walked down to Western Union. It was 9:20 a.m. and WU was supposed to open at 9 a.m. However, NO ONE WAS THERE! After about 15 minutes the blond woman arrived (she had been at breakfast!) and greeted me with their traditional cheek-kiss.
NOW THE SCENE GETS REALLY WEIRD!
We all go into her office, she turns on her computer…and… It will not work! She keeps trying to get it to open. It won’t. Ten minutes pass. I mention to her that she might need to reboot the modem. She leaves the office to find someone to fix it, continually reassuring me not to worry, that it will be alright. After another ten minutes Jorge decides to return to his Casa as he is a very busy businessman with many other projects that need tending to. She returns and asks me to step outside the office, locks the door, and goes to find a computer technician. Finally, about 15 minutes later, she returns and goes into the office. A couple minutes more and she calls me in. Two minutes after that, MIRACLE of MIRACLES, the transaction is finalized! Relief flooded over me! I was floating!
I headed back to Jorge’s Casa to give him his ID card, then back to Parque Vidal to send my Bro an email that said ‘Success!’ in the subject line, and ‘Cuba to Seattle Control, we have lift-off!’ in the content. What an ordeal!
So, everyone, the lesson here is if you’re an American, take at least DOUBLE the amount of money in cash to Cuba that you think you will need. Otherwise, you may have to go through all this craziness yourself! Don’t exchange all your US dollars for CUCs at the beginning of your trip, only as you need them. When I learned early on that WU wouldn’t be giving me U.S. dollars in the transaction, only CUCs, I had my brother send me less than what I originally asked him to send, as transferring CUCs back to U.S. Dollars is another huge loss.
Now that THAT’S behind me, let’s visit the sights of Santa Clara! Caught a bicycle rickshaw ride to the Plaza de la Revolucion to see the monuments built in 1988 in honor of Che Guevara. The complex has a museum, a memorial and the grave of Che Guevara’s ashes. There was such a long line to enter the museum and the Eternal Flame grave site that I went instead up to the memorials. Pretty impressive! Hard to comprehend that Che was only 39 when he was killed in Bolivia by U.S. CIA operatives!
On my walk back to the Parque Vidal the amazing wall murals and their messages along the street were so impressive I had to snap them.
Back at Parque Vidal I asked the two Western Union women if I could take their picture. Their kindness, diligence and constant reassurance during that transfer ordeal was greatly appreciated!
Headed out to see Che Guevara’s statue of him holding a child. Along the way there is an artistic little coffee shop-museum – Revolucion Cafe-Museo – created by an artist who looks remarkably like Che Guevara! He came over from Spain when he was young and ended up staying. His personal art works and items he’s collected throughout the years of Cuba’s revolution history are amazing and unique! His coffee counter offers several kinds of delicious coffees, one of them called Russian coffee, which I tried. It’s Cuban coffee with some kind of incredible white ice cream (maybe rum?) – Delicious! Met his beautiful wife and got to see his personal art studio, also.
Further down the road sits the Train Blindado in a well-kept green park area. It was at this spot that Che Guevara and his soldiers derailed an armored train during the critical battles for control of Santa Clara in 1958. There are five train cars and a small museum in this pleasant place that sits alongside a small river with a child’s playground on the other side.
A few blocks further down the road stands the amazing statue of Che Guevara holding a child. It’s so well done it looks almost life-like. Cuba LOVES Che Guevara almost more than it loves Fidel Castro. Che’s pictures are everywhere throughout Cuba!
On the return walk the variety of various modes of transportation all sharing the same road were incredible…but this is true everywhere in Cuba.
Only one block distant from the central plaza of Parque Vidal lies a street called Boulevard Independencia which is pedestrian-only – YAY! – no stinky black exhaust-belching cars! Restaurants, shops, fountains, statues and more line the calm, quiet area.
Along one of the Boulevard’s side streets a group of children overseen by adults were competing in a basketball dribbling contest.
Back at the Casa, Jorge gave me three great maps of the entire region. In studying them I was drawn to Remedios, a relatively small town to the northeast of Santa Clara that is considered to be one of Cuba’s colonial highlights. Beyond it to the northeast stretch the islands of the Villa Clara province. Marinas, some of the best beaches in Cuba, snorkeling and scuba diving are all available there. I was lured by the lulling thoughts of a relaxing time lying on warm white sand listening to the fizzing sounds of the crystal clear blue ocean’s waves as they gently lapped along the beach. Jorge made me a Casa reservation in Remedios and also a reservation by phone to the Viazul bus! He’s well known even at the bus station! Awesome!
The next morning I enjoyed another excellent breakfast at Jorge’s and Louisa’s Casa. If you go to Santa Clara, their Casa is called Hostal Manuel, named in memory of their beautiful son who died young. I HIGHLY recommend them!
No problem getting my bus ticket in the morning, then I was off for the one-hour ride to Remedios. I was totally ready to relax and unwind. But Nature – wouldn’t you know it? – Nature had other plans!