Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Spanish... you know it makes sense.


I can’t speak Spanish, but since visiting Cuba, I would love to learn. It’s easy to start something like that, but not so easy to keep it going. But… I’ve made a start. I looked up Spanish lessons on Google and it came up with lots of lessons, including the BBC. You can sign up for a twelve week course for free. They send you a lesson a week by email, to work on, with lots of tips etc. At the end of the 12 weeks you can take an assessment, which to you and me means a test! One good thing about this is that you can ask a friend to join you. As it happens, Sally is keen to learn Spanish, so we are going to do it together. The first lesson is about taking a taxi ride and booking into a hotel, both of which I did in Cuba without speaking the lingo. I’m going to have a go at it later.

First, I’m going down to the running club to see if I can run. I’ve had a problem with my Achilles since I got back from Cuba. It’s very annoying because I was getting fit and enjoying my running before I went on holiday. I had good intentions of doing some running over there, but it was so humid that I just didn’t do it and drank pina colatas instead. I’ve been nursing the injury along and for the last two weeks and I have given the tendon a good massage with my special massage roller. I want to be able to run because I am down to do the third of the Borders triathlons at Hawick on Sunday.

Gatwick is crap… full of stressed out people, especially on Friday evenings. Here's a couple of sketches I filled my time with when I was waiting for my delayed flight back to Edinburgh

Monday, 28 June 2010

Cuba Calling

Yesterday was hot enough for Harvey and me to have our first swim of the year in the North Sea. It’s not as warm as the Cuban Atlantic, which was 25 + Celcius, but once you get in, it is quite invigorating.

How much do you know about the Caribbean and Cuba? If it's as much as me before my visit, then it's not a lot. Here are a few things I found out on my trip.

• Cuba is the most incredibly lush place I have ever been to. Everywhere is green with palms and banana trees growing all around. This may be to do with the climate. During my stay an average day was 93 degrees of humidity and 32 degrees of heat. That's hotter than my green house on a hot day. These conditions lead to tropical storms of thunder, lightening and huge amounts of water dumped in a short period. It's no wonder that everything you can think of grows here and it grows quickly.

• On my first day, I went for a cycle and melted. I looked up and thought oh, oh that’s a vulture. It landed beside the road, so I got off the bike to take a look. It was not at all bothered by me and started on a nice meal of unidentified dead animal. Then I heard some chirpy sounds and yes, there were vulture chicks and guess what, they are just as ugly as their parents. I was really wilting in the heat and I looked up at a tree, to see another half dozen (turkey) vultures looking down at me. Time to get out of here, I thought. I later found out that the turkey vultures are a protected species with a big fine for killing one.

• On a trip to the island of Cayo Saetia (more later) we were told about a sea animal which is endangered and being protected in Cuba. Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. They are noted for their friendly nature, their large size (up to 3.6 metres (12 ft)), and paddle-like flippers. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning 'breast.'

• Cuba is an agrarian society. There are animals all over the place. A Cuban taxi in the country side is a horse drawn cart. There are cows, goats, horses and pigs all over the place. A lot of people live in the countryside. If they are not on horses, you often come across people standing by the road side, waiting for some sort of transport.

• Like most Latin American counties, the people speak Spanish. It’s a good idea to have a smattering of it. I got a few phrases off when I was there, but Hola and buenos dias does not get you very far. I’ve decided that learning some Spanish would be a good idea, and the good old BBC, do a 12 week course on-line for free. So I booked in and my first lesson arrives today!

• I went on a snorkelling trip to Cayo Saetia, which is a beautiful island at the mouth of a huge bay on the eastern side of Cuba. It was a great trip with lots of colourful fish to look at (although there were no octopus, which our dive leader had promised us.). The coral was not so good due a typhoon a year or two before, which had dumped a lot of dirt on it. The island has only been open to the public for fourteen years. Prior to that Fidel and his pals used it for hunting – how’s that comrade? Quite incredibly the island is home to zebra, water buffalo, antelopes (which are very tasty – had some with our lunch,) and other African animals. The island is beautiful and puzzling… like a lot of other things in Cuba.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Went on a bike ride today and got to see a bit of authentic Cuba. The first discovery I made was a group of vultures... yes, vultures which live just outside the hotel complexes. It doesn't take long to leave the fairy tale world of the hotel and see the way people live. There is a small, 1970's communitst style villlage just nearby. It's quite a contrast to the hotel!. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the 'real Cuba.'
There is a routine here, (I can say that even though I have only been here, two days,) The mornings are hot and humid, so you lie around the pool and drink, Margarittas or other cocktails, the sun continues to beat down in the afternoon, and then the black clouds assemble and before you know it there is a tremendous thunderstorm. It beats the north east winds of Scotland any day.
Tomorrow, I'm off on a cattamaran, we are  going off to an island to do a bit of snorkelling...

Cuba... Arriva!

Here I am in sun drenched and rain drenched Cuba. It is my first day here and it had been really humid, even the Cubans are saying so. We had an incredible tropical storm this afternoon.
I am not keen on hotel living, but this place is very good, lots of music and entertainment and the beach is just outside.
Tomorrow I am going off to the interior to meet some real local Cubans. Apparently we will be driving a jeep, riding a horse and tasting some coffee straight from the farm. I don't know if this will get through becauce the Cubans only have narrow band, the US does not allow them broad band.

Burnoes noches.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

East Lothian

I live in East Lothian, which has a border with Edinburgh on it's east side. There is also a coast line of about 45 miles with many fine beaches. To the south, the county is bordered by the Lammermuir hills. East Lothian is mainly an agricultural county with the big town of Mussleburgh on the west side. There are some old mining towns of Tranent and Ormiston and towns with a fishing and trading history at Prestonpans, Port Seton and Dunbar. In the middle of the county is the market town of Haddington (where I live.) The rich people live in the East of East Lothian in the Biarritz of Scotland at North Berwick.
East Lothian is not too far from the border with England, and there is a history of invasion and battles between the Scots and the English... so there are a lot of castles in the county. One of the most dramatic is Tantallon Castle on the coast road between North Berwick and Dunbar. Castles and the sea make a great subject for painting. Here is a painting of Tantallon, I did at the end of last year.