Sketching Cuba. Travel Sketch Tour April 15th - 25th 2019

April was the last month to visit Cuba before the rains begin they said
So our dates worked perfectly and throughout the 11 days we saw only a scattering of rain.

There is so much to show and tell about this absolutely amazing tour. To start, we had some of the most professional Tour organisers I’ve worked with for a long time. For us it meant we could relax and know that in a country like this with such history, different languages and politically disadvantaged, we knew that in any situation we were always clear on what was expected. We had Omar our incredibly knowledgable Tour guide and Arian who drove our 20 seat bus and both with us the whole tour.

We started in Havana (known as Habana) and stayed in Casa Particulars or B&B’s. All were so fascinating. All quite different and always spotlessly clean. The format was similar in each. A refreshment on arrival, a key to your room (with ensuite bathroom) and a lovely breakfast in the morning. Decor varied from very fancy bedspreads and curtains to one we had completely in candy pink, including the chandelier. Some were gracious old mansions owned by the family and others revealed a whole elegant world once you negotiated the marble steps and held tightly to the iron railings. A faded elegance was always part and parcel. But always a delightful experience meeting various family members.

We knew that food had been a bit limited in choice in the past, but there seemed more choice these days, although a restaurant wouldn't always have everything on the menu. usually there was a meat or chicken choice, salads and rice plus bread. We even found ‘our local cafe’ which served excellent coffee and Virgin Mojitos which I could make last for hours. We’d go whenever we could. They loved us.

Below, starting in Havana, are some of our first days which covered many of the wide variety of locations we visited. Sketches to come.

On our days in Havana we really saw and learned an amazing amount about the time line in Cuba. Definitely had coffee and sketching time though. You know us!
We’ve been impressed with the very gracious city that it is and how much has been restored. Yes you’ll see many buildings waiting for repair but it is happening. So many old mansions formerly owned by incredibly wealthy folk are still magnificent, as are the public gardens, squares and museums.
We discovered a perfume shop where they make all from natural ingredients as opposed to laboratries where the major brands emulate from. Love the one I have called Tobacco.
Our first morning sketch was whatever was on the table in an excellent cafe followed by a sketch of typical Havana Architecture in Square Cristo. Whew. Here are a few pics and sketching.

Next town/city was Vinales, with its very pretty colonial style architecture in candy colours.

Our evening sketch was of the very Cuban designed Church on the square. Salsa was happening nearby and the rhythms fill the air. Music and dance is everywhere. Enjoyed a high mountain visit where we could see the tree regeneration that has gone over millions of acres since the Spanish chopped all the hard wood out years back . Hearing and seeing the birdlife was very calming. We so enjoyed getting to meet the locals who’ve been making and doing their work for generations. One was the farmer who showed us how roll a cigar - takes lots of experience - then everyone took a puff. Very pleasant. You only take it into your mouth rather than into your lungs. Rather liked it. Mmm. Maybe that’s my new ‘thing’.

We swam at the Bay of Pigs. We had a sunset dinner at a property where hundreds aof plants are grown and the animals are reared on the best food without a chemical in sight. There are no chemicals in this country so everything is natural - the way we’re all trying to be.

Sketches from Vinales and Bay of Pigs next.

On to Cienfuegos. Walking tour as always in each new town. Then us trying to remember how to get back to our casa homes! We always want to stop and sketch into the evening so we’d tell Omar not to worry about escorting us. Haha!

Trinidad was prolly the most beautiful and sketchable town. It does have the advantage of being on world heritage lists so does have lots of upgrading and restoring that some towns may not get. So pretty with it’s beautiful main square with the pastel colours we sketchers love. They all have history going back 500 years so everything everywhere has a story.

On our first day we did the most marvellous walk through natural forest - all uphill I might tell you, and onward and upward to the swimming hole and waterfall. Some of us swam and we certainly threw in a sketch. Once our legs had recovered we had a Salsa lesson in the afternoon. Woohoo. I think we got it. We just have to learn the sultry hip swaying. Mmmmm.

In the evening we had an amazing experience being driven by horse and cart to George’s farm along a rough track to see the property, the animals and have dinner under a portico with a red table cloth set up just for us.
This man hand milks 25 cows twice a day, with a little help from family. Goats and kids stared at us, as did the piglets and their moms. Cows and calves came to the fence to greet us. The puppies gambolled and played near their various mothers. Hens roosters and chickens pecked away all around. So marvellous seeing animals not penned up but living as they should.

The meal was wonderful. Milton said the pork was the best he’s taste anywhere in Cuba. The family children were fascinated with us and constantly smiling but always very polite.

As the tour came to a close, we luckily had another day back in gorgeous Havana. Our Casa home was in a very gracious mansion and we all had very high ceilinged rooms with the traditional dark antique Spanish styled furnishings. here we could sit on a chair on the terrace and sketch the old railings and plants with a view beyond. Dinner together was at a special restaurant with all the trimmings. We’d become very bonded and the idea of being apart was going to be difficult. However we still saw a few next morning who hadn’t had to fly at a ridiculous hour. For a last leisurely sketch we wandered up to Nacional Hotel which is now beautifully restored but is very grand inside with it’s enormous ballrooms and porticos. Peacocks, beautiful views, elegant seating and restaurants on the lawn.

What a marvellous time we had. All a little bit changed wih all that we’ve learned seen and experienced. Luckily every time people visit Cuba, it helps their economy a tiny bit more. We were very happy to contribute and share their wonderful country. They deserve all the support we can give.

Thank you for sharing our fabulous Sketch Tour to Cuba and we’d love to have you along again. Get in touch anytime.

Erin Hill