Organic Farming in Alamar, Cuba

On the outskirts of Havana, Cuba organic farming is thriving.  Called Organoponicos we visited Vivero Alamar.   The day we visited, it was raining.  Rain and farm mean mud.  We were given plastic bags for boots,

Zeb the duck on a bag boot

Zeb the duck on a bag boot

to protect our shoes, the farm, the bus and the restaurant preparing our lunch.  Organic farming was begun as a necessity.  After the break up of the Soviet Bloc, Cuba lost all economic support and many were in danger of starvation.  With no chemicals and no machinery available, organic farms with human labor seemed to be the only choice.  Now, this farm is world famous and a leader in demonstrating organic farming.

To conserve time and space, 90% of plants start in greenhouses.

Greenhouse

Greenhouse

This farm was started by Miguel Salcines and three others in 1997.  Beginning with 8,611 square feet Vivero Alamar now encompasses 25 acres.

The farm has only 2 machines and hires 180 employees to do most of the work.

Much work is done by human labor

Much work is done by human labor

They were leaders in hiring women and the elderly.  The farm pays more than usual state salaries for 7 hours daily, 6 day per week.  Because of the higher salary employees are happy to work here.   This farm is also teaching people to eat more vegetables, even cauliflower, beets and broccoli.

Preparing sedlings

Preparing plants

Vivero Alamar began growing vegetables

Vegetable field

Vegetable field

but has now added animals, fruits, herbs and medicinal plants.  They are also growing Moringua.  This Asian plant is reported to have wonderful health benefits.  October 24, 2012 Fidel Castro praised moringua for nutritional benefits and encouraged the moringua plant in Cuba.  Visit en.cubadebate.cu to read more of Fidel Castro’s opinions.

Our group benefited from a very nice and knowledgeable guide through the farm.  We liked her a lot and she wore a Woodstock shirt.  They even sell organic tomato paste in sterilized, recycled beer bottles.

Fields are well kept

Well kept fields

Well kept raised beds

and Vivero Alamar annually plants 3 million seedlings, harvests 300 tons of vegetables annually and sells to 50,000 customers each year.  In addition to our visit, some information comes from www.farmcuba.org a fantastic website developed by 6 students in Elon University’s Interactive Media Master’s program over 3 week in January 2013.  If you are interested in this organic farm, I believe that this is a great resource.  We also liked www.elonpendulum.com

I, Zeb the duck enjoyed this visit and think all of you would also like to visit this organic farm.  It was fun and we all want to learn to eat and live healthier.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba–Military Museum

This hotel, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, is in the Vedado district of Havana.  The hotel is on the north coast of Cuba, overlooking the Malecon and the Caribbean Sea.  Havana is 90 miles south of Key West, Florida.  I, Zeb the Duck, am reminding you of these facts, to partially explain the small museum here and the historical importance.  In October 1962 the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States reached what is often considered the worst moment.

Missile crisis??
Missile crisis??

In the United States we call it the Cuban Missile Crisis and in Cuba it is referred to as the Missile Crisis.

This is part of what I saw in the lawn of my hotel.

Entrance to underground bunker
Entrance to underground bunker

The Cueva Taganana is the underground bunker on the grounds of the Hotel National de Cuba.

Cueva Taganana
Cueva Taganana

Our last morning at the hotel, the cave was open while sweeping out excess rain.  The gentleman said we could go inside.

Inside Cueva Taganana.  Map and posters
Inside Cueva Taganana. Map and posters
The Soviet position
The Soviet position
Fidel Castro's position
Fidel Castro’s position

This is serious stuff.  Even ducks know this.   This Cueva Taganana is now a museum and here is another reminder of past trouble between Cuba and the United States.

Bay of Pigs
Bay of Pigs
Near the underground bunker
Near the underground bunker

This cave has been an important symbol to Cuba since the 16th century when it served as a refuge for an Indian named Taganana.  The cave has been changed to tunnels for the defense of Havana.  In 1885 15 cannons were placed on the grounds as part of a Spanish artillery regiment.  This is a big cannon!

Wow!  This is big especially for a small duck
Wow! This is big especially for a small duck
Still tension between the United States and Cuba
Still tension between the United States and Cuba

Our hotel is near the Hotel Havana Libre.

Hotel Habana Libre, former Hilton Hotel
Hotel Habana Libre, former Hilton Hotel

This was a new Hilton hotel but in 1959 it was taken over by Fidel Castro, nine months after opening.  Fidel Castro renamed the hotel and ruled Cuba from the 24th floor for a few months.

There has been many problems between the United States and Cuba and several still exist.  Ducks don’t best involved in politics, but the people I met in Cuba were very nice to me and I was very nice to them.  The people and ducks can get along; maybe the governments will one day.

Let's all sit down and talk about peaceful relations

Let’s all sit down and talk about peaceful relations

The hotel offers tours of the hotel and grounds daily.  We were on other tours during the scheduled time, but I would recommend taking the tour of Hotel Nacional de Cuba if you have the time.  This is a fascinating place and the amount of history is astonishing.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba Havana Cuba

I, Zeb the Duck and my group of humans are staying at the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana.

Our hotel.  The Hotel Nacional de Cuba

This hotel opened in 1930 when Cuba was a prime tourist destination from the United States.  The location and the manicured lawns of the hotel are stunning.

Many famous people have stayed here and many pictures adorn the walls in the bar and other areas of the hotel.  This jukebox is part of a tribute to Nat King Cole (according to Wikipedia).

In our hotel bar area

In our hotel bar area

Here is a statue honoring a musician,

Musician and Zeb in Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Musician and Zeb in Hotel Nacional de Cuba

and maybe me, Zeb the Duck?

Here I am with another friend, Bif.

Zeb and Bif overlooking the Caribbean Sea

Zeb and Bif overlooking the Caribbean Sea

We are in the bar area overlooking the Caribbean Sea.  One day in the bar area, mom and her friend put me on the bar with these colorful drinks. The bartender saw me, smiled and said “Ducks are welcome here.”

Ducks welcome here!

Ducks welcome here!

I feel so happy at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba has the Parisien nightclub.

This club and show are in our hotel.  Let's go!

This club and show are in our hotel. Let’s go!

One evening we saw the cabaret show.  These photos just don’t do justice to the show,

The show

The show

but view these and use your imagination.

We liked this show

We liked this show

The show was very nice and we enjoyed it completely.

The manicured lawn and location of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba make it a popular location for weddings.  This is a happy couple.

Wedding at Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Wedding at Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Here I am on a table overlooking the water.

Zeb waiting for refreshments

Zeb waiting for refreshments

As we walked around the grounds, I met this peacock.

This peacock is my new friend.

This peacock is my new friend.

He has beautiful colors and is friendly.  Next time I want to show the military museum at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

Cristobal Colon Cemetery in Havana, Cuba

We are going to the cemetery today.  This cemetery is named for Christopher Columbus.  The 140-acre cemetery has more than 500 major mausoleums, chapels and family vaults.  It is one of the greatest historical cemeteries of the world and the second most important in Latin America, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I stayed on the bus.

Zeb the Duck's view from the bus

Zeb the Duck’s view from the bus

Mom didn’t think I should be posing on these monuments.  Here is some of what we saw.

Monument

Monument

Another monument

Another monument

One of the most famous tombs is for Senora Amelia Goyri or popularly called La Milagrosa.

La Milagrosa

La Milagrosa

When approaching, one must knock 4 times with the iron ring and when leaving, walk backwards.

This tradition was started by her husband and is continued today.  The senora and baby died during childbirth and were buried.  When the bodies were later exhumed, the baby was in the mother’s arms.  The baby had been buried at the mother’s feet.

This is main chapel for the cemetery.

Main chapel

Main chapel

Near the chapel this lady was restoring some other monuments.  Very slow, tedious work, but very important.

Restoration in progress

Restoration in progress

Many of these sites have been neglected as many of the families now live outside of Cuba.

In this cemetery there is a 75 foot memorial to firefighters.  Also two monuments to baseball players.  There is one bartender buried here.  He was Hemingway’s bartender.  Here are more photos.

Monument

Monument

Monument

Monument

Space in this cemetery is a a premium, so after three years remains are removed from their tombs, boxed and placed in a storage building.

A family vault

A family vault

And here is the bat.

The bat

The bat

This was not the cemeteries I see in Colorado.  I hope you see this soon.  It is beautiful.

Cigars made in Cuba

Today Alejandro told us we could be real Cubans.  We went to Casa de Habano.

Entering Casa de Habano

Entering Casa de Habano

I, Zeb will be a real Cuban duck??

First we watched this lady roll a cigar.

She is ready to roll

She is ready to roll

She has been rolling cigars for many years and is very good.  She put different varieties of tobacco leaves in her hand and arranged them just so.

Blend of tobacco leaves to form bundle

Blend of tobacco leaves to form bundle

These leaves, or bundle, are then rolled in the binder.  The original hand full of leaves makes the blend.  The binder is to hold them together.  Her hands are very busy and she knows exactly what to do.  The binder is held in place with a very small amount of vegetable paste.  The cigar is placed in a mold.

Cigar remains in mold for hours

Cigar remains in mold for hours

This is a wooden form of two parts, which is then placed in a press.  The mold properly shapes the cigar and helps allow proper airflow while smoking.

After several hours in the mold, the cigar is rolled again.  One of the best leaves will be the wrapper.

Cigar rolled into final wrapper.

Cigar rolled into final wrapper.

The wrapper has a good flavor, complementing the blend of tobacco inside the cigar, and the wrapper gives the cigar a good appearance.

After the cigar rolling demonstration, we look around the store.  Several famous people have purchased and smoked cigars here.

Famous former patrons

Famous former patrons

Casa de Habana sells many kinds of cigars, cigar accessories and Cuban rum.

Cedar cigar holders

Cedar cigar holders

We leave the main store and enter a shopping mall courtyard.   These girl musicians entertain us.

We enjoy listening to these musicians

We enjoy listening to these musicians

Alejandro tells us that this is time for us to be real Cubans.  We sample Cuban rum.  Very good but we don’t drink much.  Soon we receive small cups of strong Cuba coffee.  This is also good.  Mom doesn’t usually drink coffee but she liked it.  Did not have a bitter taste to her.

Our third step to being real Cubans is smoking a cigar.  A gentleman shows us how to light a cigar.

Light cigar with a burning strip of cedar

Light cigar with a burning strip of cedar

Use thin strips of cedar to light the cigar.  Cedar has no resin, so the flavor of the cigar will not be compromised.  Cigar lighting is not easy.  But tourists are persistent and the cigars are lit and being smoked.  These four cigar-smoking ladies are friends of Zeb the Duck.

My friends are cigar-smoking ladies.  Wow!

My friends are cigar-smoking ladies. Wow!  Deborah, MaryAnn, Susan and Alex

They look good with these cigars.  So Cuban!

After smoking and drinking, we explore a little of this mall.

Ready to climb stairs and visit stores

Ready to climb stairs and visit stores

There are three levels of stores.

Looking don to smoking and drinking area

Looking down to smoking and drinking area

Looking down the smoking and drinking area is pretty.  We spent some time and money in this paper mache store.

Lots of paper mache.  Zeb on top shelf

Lots of paper mache. Zeb on top shelf

I like this store.

First paper mache shoe for Zeb the Duck

First paper mache shoe for Zeb the Duck

Soon it is time to return to the bus and head for our hotel.  This was a great stop.  We had fun here.

Back in Havana with Zeb the Duck

My humans and I returned to Havana.  We are staying at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

Our hotel

Our hotel

I have so much to tell you about this hotel, but it must wait until another day.  Today we visit a senior center with a childcare facility.  The seniors come here for day activities.  And they are an active group!  Then we will walk to an elementary school.

Santos drove us to an older section of Havana.  Walking to the senior center, this is some of what I observed.

Havana street

Havana street

Older area of Havana

Older area of Havana

It rained last night, so we still have some water in the streets.

Arriving at the senior center, we entered this room.  The people were dancing and talking.

A Havana senior center

A Havana senior center

There was music.  It was like a party.  Some of the humans in my group joined the dancing and

Senior center

Senior center

some visited with the senior Cubans.

After awhile, we climbed the stairs and talked to other people and saw the children from the daycare.

Day care at senior center

Day care at senior center

From the second floor we enjoyed the view

This is a beautiful building

This is a beautiful building

of the interior of the building.

Leaving the senior center,

Leaving senior center

Leaving senior center

we walked to the elementary school.  On the narrow streets, we saw cars, bicycles and horses.  You can see that Havana, like many old cities, has some restored buildings and some that are crumbling and falling apart.

Old buildings are difficult to maintain.

Old buildings are difficult to maintain.

I liked this man and the cart with fresh vegetables.

Fresh vegetables available here.

Fresh vegetables available here.

We were able to visit Escuela Primaria Carlos Manuel de Cespedes or Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Elementary School.   We saw these students playing in the courtyard.

Kids playing

Kids playing

Photographs of national heroes were on the wall inside the school.

Cuban national heroes

Cuban national heroes

We saw these students being tutored.

Tutoring

Tutoring

These girls loved posing for photos.

Children posing

Children posing

They loved to see the pictures of themselves.

After lunch, we walked toward the Palacio del Teatro Lirico Nacional.    Along the way, we saw the former Bacardi headquarters.

Former Bacardi headquarters with bat on top

Former Bacardi headquarters with bat on top

Bacardi rum was started in Cuba in the 1800s.  They moved the headquarters to Hamilton, Bermuda after the Castro regime took some assets.    On top of the building is the Bacardi bat.  The bat became the logo because the bat is good for sugar cane growers.  Also one of the first buildings had bats in the rafters.

Our private concert at the Palacio del Teatro Lirico Nacional was on the second floor.  Mom and I loved these stained glass windows near the stairs.

Beautiful windows

Beautiful windows

They are beautiful.  This group sang for us.  We all enjoyed the music.

We enjoyed the concert

We enjoyed the concert

These talented singers perform in many countries around the world.  We are happy they were in Havana when we were.

Most of the humans brought gifts for the senior center and for the elementary school.  They were happy to receive our gifts and we were happy to help them.  I like the people of Cuba.  Check back to see more of my Cuban experience.

Fusterlandia near Havana, Cuba

Near Havana, Cuba we were speechless at Fusterlandia.  This is the home of Jose Rodriguez Fuster,

Entrance to Fusterlandia

Entrance to Fusterlandia

affectionately referred to as Fuster.  Fuster, a Cuban from a small fishing village, is an artist.

About 30 years ago Fuster started remaking his home and his neighborhood.

First view entering Fusterlandia

First view entering Fusterlandia

He spent time in Europe and was inspired by Gaudi in Barcelona (La Familia Sagrada and Casa Batllo) and by Brancusi in Romania.  I want to share some photos of Fusterlandia with you.

Looking down at pool

Looking down at pool

Big guy

Big guy

What a clock

What a clock

All this artwork exhausts me.  I am just a little duck

All this artwork exhausts me. I am just a little duck

According to www.havana-cultura.com more than 80 neighbors have allowed Fuster to use their homes as his canvas.

He puts his art everywhere

He puts his art everywhere

This is an unforgettable neighborhood.

Mom and I saw some little boys with their moms.  We asked the moms if we could give them small high bounce balls and butterscotch candy.  Moms said yes and the boys were happy.  One of our friends had a baseball to give the boys.  Cuban people love baseball.  Making people happy  is fun!

Fuster sells much of his work and much of that money he puts back into the neighborhood.

Fuster's art throughout his neighborhood

Fuster’s art throughout his neighborhood

We were amazed and really liked Fusterlandia.  We hope you will visit Fusterlandia when you are in Havana.  It is really a place to see.