Dry Season in Darwin

The dry season has arrived in Darwin and fun events are filling up the calendar! The Mindil Sunset Markets are held twice a week and we’ve had a few wonderful one-off events like the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival and an Opera Gala with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra on the Darwin Waterfront. The wet season afternoon tropical downpours have stopped and the oppressive humidity has significantly reduced. What a relief! The early mornings are gently cool and the evenings are the perfect temperature for a stroll.

A few weeks ago, the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival was held and it stretched along the striking Nightcliff coastline. It was stunning to see the colourful coastline and feel the ocean breeze as we perused the food stalls and watched local performers on multiple stages. It’s really heart-warming to see a lovely community events where you can see a diverse cross-section of the Darwin community enjoying themselves.  This cross-section includes the whole bunch of happy dogs in attendance too!

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Nightcliff Colourful Rocky Coastline

We made a yummy food discovery during this festival. It must be a Darwin creation! It’s the roti wrap. We had the beef rendang wrap. Tender, flavourful beef rendang, crunchy fresh carrot slivers, satay sauce all wrapped up in a giant roti paratha. It was filling, tasty and portable. Perfect festival food! (Sorry, too busy eating for a photo!)

Tree Roots

Tree with Exposed Roots

Check out this picture of a tree on the Nightcliff coastline. How often do you feel like that in life? Like the very roots anchoring you have become exposed and you may collapse into the crashing waves and rocks below. I have to return to this spot. I think the tree is probably still standing straight and tall because it’s roots actually go much deeper and it can withstand much more. (I hope so anyway, to make my life analogy more inspiring!)

Last night, we had a magical evening of opera under the moon and stars at the Darwin Waterfront and only for the cost of a gold coin donation. Some of the big names from Australia’s Opera community sang some operatic highlights whilst accompanied by the Darwin Symphony Orchestra. What a cultured event made totally accessible to the average person!  Nothing better than laying on a picnic blanket with a few delectable nibbles and being treated to a display of amazing musical talent. To put the cherry on top, there was a glorious fireworks display to finish off! What a great event!

Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the Darwin Waterfront

Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the Darwin Waterfront

People relaxing with their picnics ready to watch an Opera Gala.

People relaxing with their picnics ready to watch an Opera Gala.

Twice a week in the dry season, the Mindil Sunset Markets are open and the best thing about them in my opinion is the Sunset Oyster Bar. You can get a dozen natural oysters for only $20 and oysters with all kinds of delicious toppings for a tiny bit more. They’re such an indulgence and so good! I might go again tonight just for the oysters!

There are lots of other aspects of the Mindil Sunset markets which are lovely. The stalls are lined up under a whole bunch of big, green, shady trees. When you get your delicious food from the stall, you can cut through the dune and sit on the beach or you can lay your picnic rug down on the grassed area and consume your delicious finds whilst listening to some local performers. If you are looking for an unusual souvenir, this is the place! There are lots of interesting, unusual and unique things to buy. It’s pretty crowded but that’s sign of how good it is. Locals and tourists rub shoulders and enjoy the evening together in this relaxing location.

Cute little Dutch Pancakes on the BBQ

Cute little Dutch Pancakes on the BBQ

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Colourful Paintings at Mindil Markets

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Picnic at Mindil Markets under the Trees

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Peruse the stalls in the shade of green leafy trees.

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Beach Volleyball on Mindil Beach

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Jerky made from all kinds of exotic animals!

Blue Extraction Fan

This blue extraction fan sucks the smoke from the spit roasting meats below and direct it to the leafy tree canopy.

Croc Hot Dog

Crocodile Hot Dog anyone?

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You can even try out your new whip at the market!

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Didgeridoo display

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Interesting, colourful jewellery

 

Cuba – A Waste of Human Potential

I have been a capitalist since my teens and my recent to Cuba has cemented my views that capitalism is the only way to ensure the advancement of the quality of life for people. I think it is in human nature to work for themselves and their families. Ensuring that each person has an incentive to strive and work for their profit feeds entrepreneurship, initiative, passion and drive. Unfortunately, due to the socialist regime in Cuba, there is little incentive to strive and as a result this beautiful country is stuck in the past and the Cubans struggle with the menial needs of every day life and the magnificent human spirit is worn down and wasted in this country.

Following is a general overview of the various aspects of Cuba from my point of view followed with some pictures from 2 weeks in Cuba.

Buildings and Vehicles in Cuba

When I got to Havana, the first word that came to mind when I was in the taxi from the airport to Old Havana was decrepid. The buildings are old and the cars are old. Cuba has been stuck in a time warp. Everything has been made to last out of need. And yet, when we returned to Havana from the countryside, I was struck by how much more well-off and built up Havana is compared to the other towns. It says a lot about the state of the other towns.

Capitolio Building, Havana

Capitolio Building, Havana

A lot of the nicer looking buildings, I would consider refurbished, renovated or extended. There are no really new buildings at all. The age of the cars vary significantly, with old vintage cars from the 50’s still in use. On major roads we often shared the space with horse and carts. How is it that the horse and cart is a mode of transportation for people and goods in 2015? Whilst another person may find the vintage features on buildings, classic cars and horse and carts quaint and charming, this is the sad reality of a Cuban person’s life in 2015. A life where with everything, they have to just “make do”.

Horse and Cart on the Road in Camaguey

Horse and Cart on the Road in Camaguey

Ox and Cart in Baracoa

Ox and Cart in Baracoa

Accommodation in Cuba

During our 2 weeks in Cuba, we stayed mostly in Casa Paticulares which are homestays. These Cuban families apply to the government for a licence to house foreigners in their own homes. This is allowed because there is a shortage of state run hotels. The accommodation was better than expected in that every room we stayed in had air-con, albeit incredibly old and noisy units. The hot water and water pressure was hit and miss and the hosts were professional but not particularly welcoming or engaging.

We were led to believe that staying in Casa Particulares or homestays were a good way to interact with local Cubans and to see how they live. I don’t think that these homestays were really representative of the home of the average Cuban. These people are significantly better off than the average Cuban.

Food in cuba

The food in Cuba is boring. It did get much more interesting in Baracoa, which is on the eastern side of Cuba, but this is because this area developed in isolation to the rest of Cuba for a long time. The Baracoan cuisine is totally different and much more interesting and creative.

We had some tasty food in Santiago de Cuba in a Casa Particulares or homestay. I think that home cooked food by an enthusiastic cook/eater always tends to be tastier and more wholesome.

The rest of the food we had however, unfortunately, was uninspired, boring and repetitive. I was really surprised because sometimes the struggle for life leads to the best and most creative food. I thought that food shortages would result in creative, ingenious and delicious dishes. This was not the case. There is no use of marinades, interesting sauces, herbs etc. It felt to me like the struggle of life sucked the joy even out of the food. It’s probably not true because in general, Latin American cuisine does tend to be quite plain compared to Asian cuisines.

Shops in Cuba

The shops in Cuba are a shock for those of us from western, developed, democratic, capitalist countries. The shelves are often empty. There no different brands to choose from and there is often shortages. One afternoon, a member of our group had to try 8 different shops before she could buy some bottled water. Our guide was suffered for days with a blister on his foot because band-aids were hard to come by. A beggar on the street had a sign – he wanted pens or body lotion. A restaurant manager was complaining to me about how from day to day, it’s hard to get the stuff he needs for his restaurants like serviettes or various ingredients. On the days we were in Baracoa, no one seemed to have any chicken breast to serve. It’s really sad that there is no reliable supply of these basic items. It makes just every day living a struggle.

Ration Shop in Havana

Ration Shop in Havana – note how empty it looks

Famous Johnson Pharmacy in Old Havana

Famous Johnson Pharmacy in Old Havana

Meat Stall in Farmers Market in Camaguey

Meat Stall in Farmers Market in Camaguey

People of cuba

Foreigners have so much more wealth than the average Cuban that it seems like the foreigner is constantly being “milked” for money in the form of payments, tips etc . It can get tiring and raises up your defenses because no interaction feels genuine. Just some precursor to an excuse to ask for money.

I felt many of the statements and stories we were told by the Cuban people were quite despondent, defeatist and negative. I guess 50 years of socialism will wear down the spirit of any population. There is no incentive to strive at all. I do think though that things are looking hopeful in Cuba due to the influx of American tourists that will be allowed to visit soon. They will bring a lot of money to Cuba but I suspect they will bring a host problems as well. Currently, Cuba is quite safe for tourists but with a lot more American tourists, the bad elements of touts, scammers and petty thieves will be out in force.

I did find the people in Baracoa kinder and more genuine and less opportunistic than those in other parts of Cuba.

The Revolution is Invincible

The Revolution is Invincible

Life in Cuba

It’s a struggle. Cuban people are so much poorer than in other countries. No one is starving in the street, everyone is well dressed, there is free education and health care but people have to work long hours to make ends meet. We were speaking to a local whose wife is a lawyer. She works as a lawyer and her husband works as a tour guide and yet she needs to take on extra work as a manicurist on the side to make ends meet.

A educated man, trained as an English teacher waits every day at a obscure tourist look-out point because he makes a better living spouting a few facts for the loose change out of a foreigner’s pocket than he does teaching the children of Cuba.

The average wage for the Cuban is about $15-20USD/month. They are provided rations of basic items so no one is starving but life is tough. As a result, it feels to me like the agenda of our tour guide is often to help himself and his Cuban network of homestay and restaurant owners and local guides at our expense. It’s understandable but sometimes it’s a bit hard to take being viewed as a walking ATM. An example of this was when he booked taxi’s for some of the group for the airport. He said it costs $30CUC (approx $30USD). On the street, without any bargaining, a taxi would quote $20CUC and with some bargaining, could be convinced down to $10CUC. A tour guide who has his group’s best interests at heart would try to get the best price for us but he prefers to help the homestay owner and the taxi driver friend and get his tour group to pay the high price. I know the extra money makes a big difference to them but I don’t appreciate being treated like an unlimited source of money because I’m not.

Cuba is blessed in so many ways. It has the beautiful coastline on the Carribean sea with that vividly beautiful blue waters. It has wonderful natural areas and in most parts is very, very fertile. It is also in close proximity to America. They could be doing so well. It’s a tragedy that Cubans have to live in a situation where those that are doing well due to their own initiative and hard work have to sneak their new TV into their homes under the cover of darkness in a sack for fear of the gossip and jealousy of neighbours.

I have some additional photos following. The thing to remember is that Cuba is very pretty but sometimes the truth of the situation is hard to capture within the frame of a photo.

Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba

Swimming Hole near Bay of Pigs, Cuba

Swimming Hole near Bay of Pigs, Cuba

Beach at Bay of Pigs, Cuba

Beach at Bay of Pigs, Cuba

Sculpture by Camaguey Artist

Sculpture by Camaguey Artist

Using a Mended Split Helmet

Using a Mended Split Helmet

This is a photo of 2 men on a motorcycle. Note that the guy on the back is wearing a helmet which has obviously been in a serious accident before and has a big split. This guy has fixed his helmet with some wire so he can continue using it.

Playa Ancon near Trinidad

Playa Ancon near Trinidad

Street in Old Havana

Street in Old Havana

Street in Havana with Vintage Car

Street in Havana with Vintage Car

Sculpture in a Square in Havana

Sculpture in a Square in Havana

Coconut and Beach in Baracoa

Coconut and Beach in Baracoa

The Operational Baracoa Baseball Stadium

The Operational Baracoa Baseball Stadium

The Luxury of Choice

Today, I awoke to the news that Dave Goldberg, the husband of Sheryl Sandberg died of a head trauma while working out at the gym. How quickly life can change! One minute, he’s a healthy, relatively young man working out at the gym whilst on vacation and shortly after, he’s dead. It’s a reminder to never take life for granted and to make the most of it because things can change in an instant.

I feel for Sheryl Sandberg. Her book, Lean In really resonated with me. Thank you for putting yourself out there and writing that book and inspiring us. I’m thinking of you. These are dark days. It is with your hard work that you have given yourself the luxury of choice for rainy days like these. Whatever you choose in the days, months and years following Dave’s passing, I respect and support your choice as you support choices for women. Thank you Sheryl. Take care.