Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gibara (Pronounced Hibara)

Posted by Alexander, Sara and Scot.  Written Jan. 9, 2014.

Fishing boats in the bay at Gibara.

As we drove into Gibara we saw the Silla de Gibara. It was a huge lone mountain, shaped like a saddle, that rose out of the countryside. I wish we could have seen more of it but as we zipped past it was already gone. Gibara lay just ahead. The taxi dropped us off right at the Casa Particular that we were going to stay at. It was supposed to be better than the last one we stayed at and I prayed it was. My pillow had felt like it was made of lead and I slept very uncomfortably. As we entered we got a good look at the place and I instantly liked it. There were pictures of the owners family all over and a shaded garden in the back. After mom peeking at our would be rooms we were told that we could come back at three  The people staying in the rooms would be gone by then. And so leaving our bags in the Casa, we embarked on an exploration of Gibara.

We strayed around the town keeping a watchful eye out for a place to eat. We wandered along the sea wall, saw the center of town and finally went the way I wanted to go. We had heard there would be a good restaurant at the top of a hill overlooking Gibara. It was supposed to be right next to the remains of an old Spanish fort. It was where I was interested in going because as unusual as it seems, I was hungry. While we plodded along the streets I noticed many positive differences between Gibara and Holguin. It was a smaller town and the streets were less crowded. The activity was less frantic and you weren’t about to be run down by cars and bikes at every street corner. It was just, in general a quieter place.

The tour guide, reading from Lonely Planet to teach us a bit about Gibara.
Horsepower?  One.
El Centro, Gibara.
On our way to the hill we saw a building taller than all the others and nicer looking. We went in and saw it was the best hotel we had seen since Nassau! Mom checked to see if we could eat there but the desk person said that they would have to check with the chef because another group had reservations. We sat in the lobby while this exchange went on and I knew everyone was wishing we had come to stay here instead.

We decided to go see the hill anyways. At the top of the steps Christopher and I sat and watched some huge birds of prey glide along the winds. Katie joined us while Mom and Dad still climbed. Annoyingly, we got approached by some guys peddling little wooden toys. As funny as the toys were we said “no, gracias”, but of course Cubans aren’t turned down so easily. Dad managed to shake them off when he showed up. The restaurant up there was a disappointment along with unremarkable crumbling tower and wall that was what was left of a Spanish fort. 

Relaxing in the Hotel Ordono in Gibara.  This was the nicest place we had seen in months.
At the top of the stairs, overlooking the windblown Malecon in Gibara.
We decided to eat at the hotel and it was worth it! My spaghetti was delicious and we were offered to be shown some rooms. As we went through I could see Dad and Christopher wincing at our choice of room and board. These rooms were up to par with good first world hotels, the food was no more expensive than the common Cuban fare and there was an amazing view from the rooftop lookout.

Fancy lunch in the Hotel Ordono (cost about 6 or 7 dollars per person).
At that point we wandered back to the Casa Particular to learn that the people who had our rooms still weren’t back. We waited a while and when they finally came back they took ages to leave. We leapt at the chance. We said we needed to rest and we were going to the hotel instead. The owner seemed to understand.

Waiting for our rooms in the casa particular in Gibara.

While mom registered us at the hotel, a hostess came and gave as all cool fizzy drinks and damp cool cloths to cool us off. It was heaven. Our rooms were awesome and dinner was great! (aside from taking quite a while because of a large German tour group that was eating at the same time as us).  There was a band of three women with guitars and castanets. They were really good and I was glad we got a taste of Cuban culture like that.

Live entertainment with dinner.  Pretty much everyone in Cuba seemed to either play an instrument or dance.  There was music everywhere.

After a peaceful night in the luxurious rooms, we went back to the restaurant for the Cuban breakfast, included in the price of the hotel.  We were alone in the restaurant in the morning.  The woman in charge of PR for the hotel came by our table to see how we were doing, and we started to chat with her about regular Cuban life.  She told us all about the hotel, which had just been restored and was less than a year old.  It had originally belonged to the wealthiest family in Gibara (pre-revolution), who had lived on the third floor where our rooms were.  It was now run by the government, like all hotels in Cuba.  The restoration had tried to be true to the original, and the murals on the walls in the bedrooms, and the fancy woodwork on the ceilings had all been  returned to their original state.  The lookout on the roof had been built by the original owner after his wife died, so he could see her grave.

Restored ceiling in one of our hotel rooms.

The central hallway outside the floor with the rooms.
Poster, showing the restoration of the Hotel Ordono.
The PR lady also told us a bit about her life.  She told us that, while Cubans were free to stay in the hotel if they wanted, the reason we didn’t see any was because of the cost.  For example, she said, the workers in the hotel all made a wage of about $20.00 CUCs (about $23.00 Canadian dollars) per month.  So a night in the hotel would cost 3 or 4 months salary for them.  And that is without eating in the restaurant.  She also talked about Cuban education, telling us that her English was so good because she had a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public relations, and had studied a lot of English in University.  She had previously been a teacher, but working in the hotel, for $20.00 CUC per month, was a better wage, so that is what she did now.  She hitch hiked back and forth to work every day, since she and her husband didn’t have a car.

View from our luxurious hotel room out over the rest of Gibara.

Mom asked her about buying some groceries for us to take back to the boat, and she offered to take Mom around to the shops and help her buy some things.  The shopping was “European style”, with different stores for different kinds of food.  The first places they went were two stores that were similar to corner stores like we would have at home, looking for snack food.  The supply of food was limited, but they managed to buy some cookies in the first store, and some small pre-packaged muffins in the second.  They then went around the block to the bakery where there was a 20 minute lineup for fresh bread.  Our hostess bypassed the line to buy us 4 baguette type loaves for a total of about $0.25 CAD.

After that, they walked a couple of blocks to pick up eggs from a farmer who had brought them into town that morning.  A block later, a man was selling vegetables off a cart in the street.  After a lot of searching, it became clear that there was no cheese available for purchase in Gibara.  We rounded out our grocery shopping by stopping at one of the roadside fruit stands on the way back to our boat.

Fruit stand, on the highway to Guardalavaca.

Enjoying the fruits of our journey, back at the boat!

All in all I got a really good impression of Gibara. If anyone is ever there they should stay at the Hotel Ordono. I would love to stay there again if I got the chance.

Gibara malecon.

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