Fuente de los Leones — Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Open Topic

This is our entry in Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Open Topic.

This Carrara marble lion is one of four on the Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of the Lions,  formally named Fuente del Conde de Villanueva) in the Plaza de San Francisco in Havana, Cuba.


This photo was taken on May 8, 2016. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/800 sec, 18mm

Lights on Obispo Street

This is our entry in Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Lights.

This photo was taken on Obispo Street in Old Havana, Cuba. Dating from 1519, this street is only four years younger than Havana itself. Leading straight to Plaza de Armas, it is lined with shops, hotels, and government buildings.  Extremely photogenic at any time of day or night, it is popular with locals and tourists.


This photo was taken on May 12, 2016. It was converted to black and white using Silver Efx Pro. A little grain was added to increase the moodiness. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 800, f/3.4, 1/13 sec, 9.6 mm

Hung up to dry in Old Havana

At the corner of Amargura and San Ignacio in Old Havana, Cuba, is a health food store called Mercado Bethania. We didn’t go there. We stood on the corner to take a photo of the building across the street, because someone had hung their laundry on a second-story balcony to dry. The colors of the laundry items echo the colors of the window frames – blues and white – with just enough red accents for interest. The next time you are in Old Havana, take your eyes off the vintage cars and look up – to find ordinary everyday life.

iBallRTW-Laundry Day-1
Laundry Day in Old Havana


This photo was taken on May 10, 2016. Stats are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/8, 1/160 sec, 4.5 mm

Worlds Apart

This is our entry in Lost in Translation’s THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: JUXTAPOSITION.

When we visited Cuba last May, we had dinner one evening at Restaurant Moneda Cubana on the corner of Mercaderes and Empedrado Streets, near the Cathedral Square. We had a table for two on the rooftop, at the edge, with a beautiful view of the fort across the Bay of Havana and of the surrounding buildings and the small park below where boys were playing. Beside our building was another building being renovated, with signs all around the building showing what it would look like when completed.  While we were in Old Havana for a week, we never saw any actual work in progress on that building, or any indication that the renovated building would look like the imagined building.

From our table in the restaurant, we had an excellent view inside one room of the building under renovation. The room, with bricks propping open the shutters on either side, was empty except for a man who stood in the window periodically, probably because it was cooler there. He was dressed too well to be a worker and it was too late in the day to be working. Was he a foreman, a squatter, or someone else? We never knew.

From his perch in that window, the man observed the tourists walking beneath him. They never looked up. From our higher perch at our table, we observed the man. He never looked up. We were in almost the same place but worlds apart.

Worlds Apart


This photo was taken on May 12, 2016.  Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 500, f/4.5, 1/80 sec, 15.41 mm

Terra Worma

This is our entry in The Daily Post Photo Challenge Earth.

In May, 2016, we visited Organoponico Vivaro Alamar (OVA), a community-based urban organic farm in Alamar just outside Old Havana, Cuba.  Isis Salcines, the daughter of one of the founders, explained the work done by earthworms on this farm.  In short, they make dirt.


Earthworms are used to create fertile soil from animal manure (pig, cattle, and oxen), rice husks, and sugar cake (left over from sugar cane processing). This mixture is matured in troughs shaded by netting and kept at an optimal humidity. The mixture is added to a trough in layers, with a new layer every few days. Each new layer is separated from the lower one by wire mesh that allows earthworms to migrate upward to the new layer. The topmost layer is then moved to a new trough to become the bottom layer, and the earthworms continue their journey upward. The layers left behind in the original trough are ready to be used in the gardens. Producing this rich soil requires hundred of thousands of earthworms.  The earthworms here have long lives at 16 years, which is about two to four times the lifespan of ordinary earthworms.

This photo was taken on May 9, 2016. Specs are:

Olympus TG-4, ISO 100, f/3.2, 1/250 sec, 5.5 mm

Why is this post called “Terra Worma”? “Terra firma” means “solid earth” or “firm ground,” while earth that has been processed by these earthworms is aerated and loose.


Tuesday Photo Challenge – Silhouette

This is my entry in the Dutch goes the Photo! Tuesday Photo Challenge – Silhouette

Entrance to Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana

This is the entrance to the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabana in Havana, Cuba. We and the persons silhouetted in the photograph are entering this fort on the top of a hill for the 9 o’clock cannon firing ceremony. El Canonazo is a 200-year-old ceremony to announce the closing of the city gates. The ceremony was carried out by a group of young men in white uniforms, who do this as part of their mandatory military service. They were quite serious, and, as far as we could tell (not understanding a word they said), the exhibition went off without a hitch, ending in a satisfying, loud boom.

Eight Days in Cuba: an Introduction

We have just returned from a week in Cuba. We have always wanted to visit Cuba to experience and understand the culture and, yes, to see the cars. We traveled with CubaExplorer on their Cuba Introduction Tour, described by them as “The trip Americans pick to witness authentic Cuba.” This tour is centered in Havana, with one excursion outside the city. It would not be possible to experience all of Cuba in one week.We wholeheartedly recommend this tour to any American wanting to experience Havana before the tourists (who will be coming in droves, due to the warming of relations between the U.S. and Cuba) overwhelm the city. The maximum number in any group taking this tour is 24, and our group had 13 members.

Our experiences will be posted as a daily diary for the eight days we were there. Since our usual pen names in India and Southeast Asia (Pati and BeeBee) didn’t seem appropriate in Cuba, we will be Lazaro and Caridad (Cachita to her friends) for Cuba. And, who knows, maybe they will travel with us to other places.(We thank our tour guide for suggesting these names as authentically Cuban.)

Although we were traveling with a small group, we will not identify anyone else by name. This blog describes what we (Lazaro and Caridad) did and saw, and the other group members will have their own, additional and/or different memories.

The rest of this post provides some practical observations about money and costs that might be interesting to anyone considering a trip to Cuba.


There are two types of money in Cuba: the “regular” peso (National Cuban Peso, or CUP) for those who live here, and “convertible pesos” (Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC) for tourists. “CUC” is pronounced “KOOK.” At this time, the CUC is worth 24 CUP. An internet search will show pictures of each type of paper money; they are easy to distinguish between.  We saw 1, 3, 5, 10 and 20 CUC notes. In addition, we saw  CUC coins of denominations 5 ,10, 25, and 100 centavos (but no 1 or 50 centavo coins).   These coins are similar to American coins, e.g. a Cuban CUC coin marked 5¢or 5 centavos (cents) is worth 5/100 of a CUC.

The 1 CUC note is hard to get, but is the most often needed note for tipping. It is a constant struggle to collect 1 CUC notes. The most valuable coin is the 25 centavo, used mostly (and frequently) for toilets in restaurants, museums, etc., anywhere but in your own hotel room. (Bathrooms are serviced by mostly women for whom this is their livelihood.)

In selling CUCs for US dollars (USD), the Cuban government collects a 10% fee and hotels collect a 3% fee, resulting in an effective exchange rate of 0.87 CUC per 1 USD. (Banks do not charge the 3% fee, but they have limited hours, are not open on weekends, and the actual passport must be presented.) Other currencies have much better rates. The European euro is supposedly almost on par with the CUC; we experienced a euro exchange rate of 1.02 CUC per 1 euro.

Before we visited Cuba, I read an article that suggested converting US dollars to euros before getting to Cuba, and then buying CUC with euros (to avoid the 10% fee). Here is the math, using exchange rates we experienced.

Exchange rates:

100 USD buy 87 CUC

100 euros cost 121 USD

100 euros buy 102 CUC

To buy CUC with USD alone:

100 CUC cost 114.94 USD

To buy CUC by converting to euros first:

100 CUC cost 98.04 euros which cost 118.63 USD

Therefore, using the exchange rates available to us, it is cheaper by 3.69 USD to buy 100 CUC directly by using USD, or cheaper by about 4 cents per CUC.


The tour price was $1659 per person (double room). All expenses were covered except for two dinners, taxis for personal transportation, shopping (souvenirs), and tips.

The tour suggests bringing 100 USD per day each for personal spending, but we did not spend anywhere near that much. It is necessary to bring enough cash money, because charge cards do not work here.

We spent conservatively, and the total amount we spent in Cuba was 549.45 CUC. Of this, the major categories of expenses were food and drink (212.20 CUC), tips (197.45 CUC), souvenirs (77.75 CUC), and taxis (40 CUC). In USD, this is roughly:

Food and Drink:   $250

Tips:  $230

Souvenirs:  $90

Taxis:  $45

Total:  $645

Airfare on American Airlines charter flights both ways between Tampa, FL, and Havana, Cuba, totaled $1138 for the two of us.The charter cost included the Cuban visa, health insurance, and the $25 departure fee. The rules and fees for luggage for our flight were (per person):

  • 1 personal item (free to carry on)
  • 1 carry-on bag (luggage) not exceeding 20 pounds
  • 44 pounds of luggage (checked plus carry-on) free
  • $20 fee per checked bag
  • $2 fee per pound beyond 44 pounds of luggage

Luggage fees are collected only  for the (inbound) flight to Havana. We think this is because Cuban citizens regularly bring in large, heavy items such as tires, engines, building supplies, and other items scarce in Cuba. (We saw tires wrapped in heavy plastic.)

Since we each had one personal item and one carry-on bag weighing less than 17 pounds, we paid no luggage fees.

We flew to Tampa a day early and spent the night in a hotel there, in order to be sure to be there early enough for the flight to Havana. These flight, hotel, and meal expenses are not included here.

The total costs for both of us are therefore:

Tour price:  $3318

Flights:  $1138

Personal expenses:  $645

Total:  $5101

And now, for the next set of posts, Lazaro and Caridad will be telling you their experiences in Cuba.