Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Criteria to be met...... NOT!

So anyone that knows me even slightly know that my likes and interests are basic and simple and as all that applies to criteria for travelling, it's made a fair bit easier.
All that really is required is in basic terms, A Hard Rock Cafe, a pint (at least) of Guinness and where possible a Cirque du Soleil show!! Also any (vague) connection with Disney and of course the sights and vistas that will allow me to take 1,000 pictures in half an hour!! Well at least one, but where possible one obviously leads to another!! So the way it goes - travel to Las Vegas primarily to see 5 Cirque shows! In the process of course visit HRC and have a pint of Guinness - yes in the HRC!! The taking of pictures is a given!! But is Las Vegas off the list? No!! There are new Cirque shows and a new HRC as well! Also of course, my camera has changed!!
It works excellently with the touring (CDS) shows as well. It's heaven sent when they visit cities with Hard Rock Cafes. Amsterdam, next week Paris and so on!! In most places despite it not travelling so well Guinness is available in the countries version of draught but nearly always in cans or bottles. The Guinness experience is usually followed by a tirade of 'poor' language regarding it's quality and on investigation of named can or bottle find that it was additionally "bottled in Toronto" or wherever unDublinish!! But Dublin of course also has a Hard Rock Cafe plus the added advantage of having a pint at the brewery!!
No trip to Niagara Falls is complete without a trip also to the potentially 2 Hard Rock Cafes, one in New York state USA and the other in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. Or the CN Tower without now only the one in Toronto but there used to be a HRC actually at The Skydome below the tower.
But I digress!! That was then, this is now......
Let's just examine my latest travelling....the saga continues. Only one of those criteria apply and that is of course the camera and the pics!!
Having said that on two occasions, the National Monument in Havana and the underground boat trip at Vinales I had to pay (extra) to take my camera in to take pictures and because begging and busking in Cuba is illegal any picture you take of people they think should be paid for. I posted this picture on Facebook with the following caption.."Every band has its groupies but her vigilance cost me a peso just to take the pic!! They were better visually anyway!!" 

Possibly the worst pic taken in Havana
Would have been deleted if it hadn't been
the Colibri, the worlds smallest bird!!
However there is absolutely doubting that on the picture criteria CUBA fits the bill.... The 'old town' of Havana is indeed a UNESCO World Heritage site and the island is the home of the world's smallest hummingbird and numerous other feasts for the eyes, both natural and man made. Also a justifiable story, not necessarily true about every last little thing that you see. Explained always vividly in very poor English! Cuba was always the "best", "largest", "first" at whatever and everything. Sometimes not strictly true but we tourists love the idealism. Reality this is the last bastion of true Communism in the entire world and it has a complete 100% trade embargo with (arguably) the world's largest trader. (USA)

Ok Hard Rock Cafe was originally started in London and went through its biggest increase in outlets under British management before transferring to American management which opened hotels and casinos under the Hard Rock banner. The easiest way of describing what happened next is simply to say they bit off more than they could chew and were forced to sell the whole enterprise. Hard Rock Cafe is now wholly owned by a native American tribe based in Florida, The Seminole Indians.
The stories connected to both Communism and Cuba's trade embargo with the United States are quite often exaggerated and sketchy however whichever way you look at it, the Cuban government would have an extremely hard job justifying a native American owned company setting up a brash Western capitalistic bar in Havana, the only place in Cuba that it would stand a chance! Even if the regime were just to finish over night it would be at least ten years before as large an American enterprise as Hard Rock Cafe could/would ever ever open in Cuba. The fact that Florida is a mere 93 miles away from Cuba does not make the slightest difference.
The only American thing that you see in the whole of Cuba is Coca Cola and  there were years of negotiations and a huge expense to Coke to keep the brand in Cuba. Coca Cola had to guarantee that they would only use Cuban sugar and had a complete canning plant in Cuba using only Cuban workers including management, unheard of anywhere else in the world. Without Bacardi, a Cuban company it is very unlikely that Coca Cola would ever have been allowed to trade in Cuba and under Communist competition rules Pepsico that traded on the island until the revolution and the trade embargo had to leave, like all other American companies.
So El Rapido at the sign of the silver arches!!
The argument rages constantly but big business, never wins out. A rather bland alternative to MacDonalds has been set up by the government to partially satisfy 'visitors' demand for fast food 'El Rapido'. Now I saw about 8 of these around Havana and they were all double fronted like this one pictured. Now ask yourself as indeed I did, is that or is that not similiar to a golden arch? No of course not, he answered sarcastically!!

Cirque du Soleil are the largest French Canadian owned entertainment company in the world as well as being the third largest by turnover French Canadian company in the world. Cuba is perfectly happy with the French and the Canadians but two reasons prevent Cirque from ever touring there. First as far as poverty goes only a tiny percentage of all Cubans could afford to go to any Cirque show so they would struggle to have the 87% that they need of bums on seats at every show. Those that can afford to go can equally afford to catch Cirque shows as they tour Canada and South America or of course if they are not Cuban in America. The second equally important reason is that the international flavour of Cirque du Soleil would not go down too well with The Department of the Interior. This would see American cast members, about 10% of all shows, treated differently to most other nationalities, which would of course be unacceptable to all governments and companies involved. Let us not forget that the Department of the Interior is the most important government department and Che Guevara, himself not Cuban was the minister of that department immediately after the revolution in 1959. 

This is the Ministry of the Interior now, still with Che's 'influence'!

Guinness is really a far simpler story. Cuba is an island and only food and drink stuff available from Cubans on Cuba is available. This covers a huge amount of products and companies of which Guinness is just one! There may of course be people on the island that import Guinness and sell it but needless to say it would be black market and the cost would be prohibitive to all but the very rich of the non Cubans on the island. 

Cristal and Bucanero are the main and just about only Cuban (light) beers available. In general in Cuba beers are classed as soft drinks and therefore will be amazingly 'cheap' to Cubans and not even extortionate even to visitors! Anyway when it comes to drink Cuba is the without dispute the world's rum capital!! With all the sugar, berries and fruit, homegrown some of the most varied and different spirits are manufactured in small 'factory' units across the island. Havana Club in all its five varieties being the top selling brand of Rum to all of the America's. That more or less covers drink!! I'll leave tobacco until another time I think!! There is however a link between the two. On tobacco plantations across the island once the tobacco leaves are hanging to dry all the concentration of work is transferred to the making of spirits!! Sugar, guava and Guayabita, literally 'little guava', grow alongside the tobacco and all have  different seasons so spirits are hand made by the workers when they can't produce cigars! Certain amounts of these spirits are allowed to be consumed by the workers to add an extra incentive to the harvesting of the tobacco. Simply the way it has been since the end of the 19th century.

A bowl of guayabita ready to produce the local spirit,
described as a liquer of strength which is neither a whiskey or a rum.
It is simply called after the region it is made,
Guayabita from Pinar (del Rio)


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