Robaina's plantation

Monday 27 July 2015

San Luis (Pinar del Rio)

                  I've been coming to this sleepy little town for about 8 years and it hasn't changed...I'm sure it hasn't changed for a lot longer than that. It's a quiet spot in the middle of the best cigar growing land in the country and the reason why I first visited. On my first visit to the Robaina Farm (when Alejandro was still alive) I met a man who was leading a band that was playing music on the property. We became friends and have been so ever since, he lives in San Luis. Every subsequent visit to the area after that included a visit to San Luis and my friend's house for a home cooked meal.
                  I searched the internet for a bit of history on San Luis but there's hardly a thing but once I went into the Cuban sites I was able to find a little more information. San Luis is not only a town, it's also a municipality in the Province of Pinar del Río that's in the westernmost part of the island. It is primarily a tobacco region but also grows rice, fruit and raises stock. The municipality is divided into various barrios: Barbacoa, El Retiro, El Corojo, Santa Maria, Buenavista, Barrigonas, Llanadas, Palizada, San Luis and Tirado. The town was founded in 1827 and San Luis was established as a municipality in 1879, when it split from San Juan y Martínez. In 2004, the municipality of San Luis had a population of 34,085 within a total area of 765 sq km (295 sq mi). In 1808 Don Nicolas Iglesias, who was living in Havana at the time, was given legal ownership of two farms in what would become San Luis. In 1817 the Hacienda San Luis (one of the Don Iglesias farms) was demolished and various properties built on the site, the humble beginnings of a town. Then in 1827 a pine forest was cleared to make way for more properties and the town was formerly established. Finally in 1829 a modest chapel was built with the construction of the church beginning in 1835. Upon completion in 1845 it was the largest church in the province at that time. Something I didn't know is that San Luis has a movie theater. Even though they didn't have electricity at the time, they started showing movies in 1909 by getting power through a generator, a battery and even a steam engine. The town even has a Masonic Temple.
                The rest of the information that I was able to find was more in general about the municipality on a whole rather than the town itself. I have zigzagged my way across one side and the other along the main road of this town and walked off a couple of the ends. Once you pass the last building on any road exiting San Luis, all you see are farms, mostly tobacco but also nurseries and co-op farms growing vegetables.....and tobacco curing barns as far as the eye can see. Sometimes you find more horses than cars on the roads as they're made to pull buggies and carts for a wide variety of a bus. During peak hours there seems to be a lot of pedestrian activity which makes for a very colourful experience. Everyone is super nice, I have never felt uncomfortable during any of my visits. I know I'm a bit of a curiosity at times and get more than a fair share of stares from the locals but nothing more than that. I have interacted with many people through the years and nobody has ever made me feel the least bit disrespected or have I ever felt in danger...and I tend to wander. I even get a shave from an old man with a straight razor at the local barbershop whenever I get the chance. I have yet to be here during harvest time when the plants are over 6 feet tall. The scene when you walk outside of the town in any direction during that time must be incredible. Just imagine the pictures below with the open fields, imagine them being full of tobacco plants 2 meters high, one day soon.

Iglesia de San Joaquín

Any Spot is Good for a Siesta

Barber Shop

My Barber

Edificio del Poder Popular

Sede de la Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas y Federación de Mujeres Cubanas

Masonic Temple

Visiting Some Locals

Tobacco Curing Barns as far as the eyes can see

Country Bus

Sunday 26 July 2015

Hotel Telegrafo (Habana Vieja) Havana

                Considered Cuba's oldest hotel, it's caught my eye since the first time I set foot on this part of the city. It's pretty, in a central location and beautifully decorated....on the outside anyway. The few times I've entered to have a coffee at the bar on the ground floor, I have to say it's nicely decorated on the inside as well. However, I can't tell you how the rooms are, I've never stayed at this hotel.
                  The hotel originally opened in 1860 but not at this location, it was on Amistad Street. It wasn't until 1888 that it came to the spot where it stands today and just a few years after that it was rated as one of the better hotels in Latin America. In 1911 it became one of the few hotels to have telephones in the even had them on the restaurant's tables. I had read that the Caballero de Paris, who has a statue erected in his honor in front of the Iglesia San Francisco in the Plaza of the same name, worked in the restaurant as a waiter before he went a little off and began wandering the streets of Havana. But that was years ago and since then it had fallen into disrepair, like many of the old buildings in the city. After being closed for many years the building was given a complete restoration and the hotel with it's 63 rooms (and 9 junior suites) reopened it's doors to the public in 2001.
                    As I said, I have not stayed in this hotel but there's all kinds of information on the internet regarding these lodgings. You will find no end of pictures, reviews and agencies that can reserve a space for you in this place. Just punch in the name of the hotel and havana and several pages of information will pop-up on google. The pictures below were taken on a couple of my visits when I stopped in for a coffee. The pictures inside are of the lobby, restaurant and bar.

Hotel Telegrafo
Prado 408 esq Neptuno,
Habana Vieja. Ciudad de La Habana.
Phone:+53 47 483647