Saturday, 20 May 2017

La Boca & Playa Ancon, Cuba

Just a five minute drive (on a road full of super-sized baches) from our accommodation in Trinidad, was the little village of La Boca at the mouth of the Guaurabo River. 
La Boca is a fishing village with a pebbly beach.

There's not much there - no restaurants or hotels. 
But their are plenty of casa particular's to stay in and one lonely beach bar.

But it was a very peaceful spot to enjoy a beer with a view of the Caribbean, watching the sun set over the water.

The banks of the Guaurabo River

La Boca's pebbly beach
We followed the road around the peninsula towards Playa Ancon.
Touted as the 'finest arc of sand on Cuba's south coast', however these two Australian travellers were not particularly impressed. 
It was magic to dip our toes in the Caribbean Sea for the very first time in our lives, but it's hard to find beaches anywhere in the world that are more impressive than those we enjoy at home.

A couple of places along the way have become 'civilised' in the hope of making money off tourists.
With parking bays, pathways, beach umbrellas and snorkelling gear for hire, these little spots were still 'under construction'. 
After chatting with one of the young men fixing the frond roof on one of the umbrellas, we remained unsure if this was local initiative or a government directive.

Finally some sand!

Panorama shot - click to open a larger version

We were just coming off the back end of three days of cool weather in Cuba.
A few people were swimming, but it wasn't quite warm enough to tempt us.
So we drove back to La Boca for the beer and the sunset.

Our holiday Instagram tag is #bronandpaulgetaway - you can see our pics here.
This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mirador de La Loma del Puerto, Cuba

On the road between Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad is a fabulous lookout over the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills).
It's a 192m above sea level and includes a sweeping panorama of the whole valley.

There's a cafe/bar at the top but you don't need to eat or drink there to enjoy the view (but you do have to pay the parking attendant to 'look after' your car).

You can also partake of a zip line experience across one of the closer and smaller valleys - the latest craze that Cubans seemed to have embraced wholeheartedly!

Panorama shot - click to view in larger format

On the other side of the mirador was the car park and this rather bizarre desert like area.
There was no explanation for this unusual environment and no one (friendly) to ask (the car park attendant didn't invite conversation!)

It was one of the many things that puzzled me in Cuba.

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Iznaga Estate, Cuba

Iznaga Estate is situated in the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of Sugar Mills) between the towns of Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad.
The brothers Pedro and Alejo Iznaga y Borrell were land and slave owning sugar producers in this area.

The 45m high tower was built in 1816 by Alejo to oversee the slaves.
It is still standing and is now open to climb.

Iznaga Tower

The stairs were a little rickety, but the 360 degree view was worth it.

The Valle de los Ingenios is actually three connected valleys - San Luis, Santa Rosa and Meyer - surrounded by the mountains of Sierra del Escambray.
Once a sugar growing hub, the valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The old Colonial home is now a restaurant.

Relaxing on the verandah swing after all those stairs!

The old tower bell now rests in the yard.

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Cheesemaking at Cornersmith

Last weekend I made cheese.

My friends have called me the Dairy Queen for decades. 
My love of cheese and cheese dishes is legendairy!

So a cheesemaking course at Cornersmith was always going to be something I had to do.
I just had to find a free weekend.

Kristen Allan is the cheesemaker; ricotta, yoghurt and labneh are the cheeses we learn to make.
Slowing cooking is the philosophy; sustainable, ethical food production is the aim.
And good times are the name of the game.

The course begins in a relaxed manner.
A platter of homemade cheeses, pickles and bread are provided for us to sample as we get to know each other over a glass of wine (or homemade cordial).

After a discussion about what type of milk we should use and the various processes involved we get stuck in.
We don our aprons, pick up tools and begin to slowly heat a pot of milk, lemon juice and salt.

Kristen told us lots of amazing facts about curds and whey, including the uses of whey to wash your face and to water your pot plants.

After the appropriate cooking time, it's time to separate the curds and whey.
Ricotta is born!

Kristen then showed us how to make our own yoghurt before providing us with enough of her homemade yoghurt (made earlier as it takes a day to make yoghurt from scratch) for us to start our own labneh.

I have since made my own yoghurt at home and another batch of labneh. 
Kristen provides a cheese hotline so that we can contact her with any problems.
My second batch of labneh ended up tasting quite different to the first - it may have been the milk I started with or not enough salt. 
I'll add some herbs and olive oil to see if that improves the flavour.

It's all very, very fascinating & I can't wait to have more time over Easter to make another batch!

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot and Weekend Cooking.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Guaimaro Hacienda, Cuba

The drive between Sancti Spiritus and Trinidad has several interesting stopping points to check out.

If driving in a foreign country is not for you, most of the casa particular owners in Trinidad or Sancti Spiritus would be able to put you onto a driver that you could hire for the day to visit several of the sites dotted around the Valle de los Ingenios (valley of the sugar mills).

Near the village of Caracusey is a hacienda built in 1859 by Jose Mariano Borrell y Lemus. 
Borrell was a wealthy sugar merchant who lived in Trinidad with his family.
The Guaimaro hacienda was his 'bachelor pad'.
It is said that he had over fifteen illegitimate children with several of the slave women on his property. Little wonder, perhaps, that his wife and eldest son, plotted to kill him at one point!

Their family tree was full of early deaths, curious marriage arrangements (including one aunt and nephew pairing off) and crazy children. 
Lots of wealth and power did not a happy family make!

Borrell commissioned Italian painter Daniele Dell'Aglio to paint the stunning frescoes that adorn the main rooms here (as well as his home in Trinidad).

Guaimaro was recently restored (2014) during the 500th anniversary celebrations in Cuba.
Prior to this, the hacienda was home to several families that had been relocated there after losing their own homes in a hurricane. The frescoes had been painted over when they moved in.

The restorers did a tremendous job, to bring them back to what we can see now.

The chapel (below) is the only one of it's kind in Cuba.
It is attached to the side of the main house and contains an original jewel-encrusted book stand and bible. Only in Cuba would this amazing relic be allowed to sit out in the open with no protection!

Various remnants of the sugar making industry are dotted around the yard. 

Our guide only spoke Spanish but a very helpful German couple translated the guide's spiel into English for us (how useless did we feel?)

A sheet with an English version of the guide's talk was provided (that we found out later was translated by our Australian host in Trinidad) which was useful, but basic. It was obvious that the guide had much more to say about the house & it's history than was on the notes.

It was a fascinating glimpse into Cuban life past and present.

The power and privilege of the Spanish landlords and their use of slavery to make it all possible. Followed by modern Cuba commandeering these spaces for practical purposes, until the promise of tourist dollars and a growing sense of pride in their own history prompted renovation and restoration.

This post is part of Saturday Snapshot.