A Travellerspoint blog

January 20th 2019

Bayamo

overcast 70 °F
View Cuba 2019 on carolinea's travel map.

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The overnight bus from Sancti Spiritus arrived in Bayamo at 6AM, and despite sleeping a little on the bus, we were exhausted. Our cousins in Bayamo were nice enough to meet us at the bus station to ensure we make it to our AirBNB okay. We got to meet Beatriz, Betty and Esteban. Luckily the Airbnb is only a five minute walk away from the bus station, and our cousins helped us with our bags. The Airbnb was very nice, with two rooms directly off of a large second story terrace overlooking the street.

The Airbnb was booked from the night before, so we checked in at 6 AM. The cousins had everything planned: lunch at their apartment, a tour of the town, dinner at a nearby restaurant. We agreed to meet them again at 10:30, and we snuck a few hours of sleep in before another busy day.

One of the first things we noticed is that the horse and carriage is the dominant form of transportation in Bayamo, although many people use bicycles and moto-taxis are also available. From our rooms at the Airbnb, we could hear the constant sound of hoofbeats, with the occasional whoosh of a car going by. Although we were offered a ride in a carriage, we decided to stick with moto-taxis and walking.

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At 10:30 Esteban came to meet us at the Airbnb. He had arrived on his bike, so he hailed a moto taxi for us and then raced us to his apartment in our moto-taxi.

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The cousins have a very nice first floor apartment with an entry directly onto the street. We sat and chatted for a little while. There were some language challenges, but by and large we had very few issues. Before lunch, the cousins wanted to take us to the main pedestrian promenade in the center of town, and visit the Museo de Cero (wax museum) before it closed at noon.

The main promenade, Paseo Bayames, is beautiful, with a surprising number of stores (at least in contrast to Havana). The street itself is stone, with mosaics and islands of grass mixed in. Colorful pieces of public art pop popped up every few blocks.

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On left, Betty, Beatriz and Patricia. On right, Ytan and Esteban.

We headed to the Museo de Cero. I had read about this and checked out the photos on Trip Advisor before we went, so I was excited to see what it's like. Although it was supposed to be open, it was closed that day for "fumigation". Very disappointing, and also very typical for Cuba. We got a good photo in front though.

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Left to Right: Beatriz, Patricia, Myself, Betty and Esteban

We also stopped by the Casa del Queso for fun, but it wasn't very exciting on the inside.

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We also visited a small archeological museum, with some exhibits about the early massacres of the aborigines.

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and saw some work by a local artist.

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Estaban (left) and Ytan

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We headed over to the main square at the end of the Paseo. Bayamo is the birthplace of Cespedes, and the central square features a large statue.

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Next door to the main square was another plaza with a cathedral, Catedral del Saltisimo Salvador de Bayamo, the second oldest church in Cuba.

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Next up was the Bayamo "Malecon", which had a distinctly different character than the Havana version.

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But it did feature some beautiful views of the Sierra Maestra mountains.

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At that point we were looking forward to lunch, so we headed back to the apartment. Patricia, Ytan and I brought regalos (gifts) for the family; clothing, a set of new bath towels (pretty much gold in Cuba), and some kitchen knives. The cousins were very generous and gave us homemade sugar candies, honeycomb, raw sugarcane, and a bottle of Cuban wine.

Beatriz prepared a beautiful and tasty lunch, and we got a chance to learn a little more about the family. Esteban attended school in Santiago, and works as an electrical engineer in the field, and Betty is in school to become a dentist, a very in demand job due to the shortage of dentists in Cuba.

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On left, Myself, Betty, Beatriz, Esteban, Patricia and Ytan. On right, Patricia and Ytan.

After lunch, we talked a little bit about Cuban baseball. The playoffs had just ended and we found out that Esteban is a big baseball fan, and watches games at the local stadium. Ethan has spent the last few years looking for a Cuban baseball fan in Cuba, so he was very excited to talk baseball.

We also got a chance to meet Esteban Senior who had been out visiting his mother. He was very friendly and also a baseball fan. We would have liked to get to know him better (and we forgot to get a photo!), but we were glad that we got a chance to meet him.

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After lunch we took a long walk around town with the cousins to see Bayamo.

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There was one street where a large tree had fallen many years ago. Sculptors had come by and carved the tree up into a number of animal sculptures. The sculptures were beautiful, but had obviously spent a lot of years open to the elements.

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Next we visited the Plaza de la Revolución. It's not quite as large as the Havana version, but it definitely has the same feeling of ridiculous amounts of open space for no apparent reason.

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On the more whimsical side, they have a "Cuba Va" sign reminiscent of the I Amsterdam sign.

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On one side of the plaza there is a large monument, the Monumento Plaza de La Patria.

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It's a general memorial featuring many of Cuba's "heroes", including Jose Martí, Camilo, Cienfuegos, Che and Fidel. It is notable for being the only monument in all of Cuba featuring Fidel.

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After leaving the plaza, we realized that the baseball stadium was visible within walking distance. Esteban offered to take us to see the stadium, which was empty since the season had just ended. Ytan, Esteban and I headed over to the stadium while the rest of our group took a break. The stadium was mostly deserted, and the guard at the front wearily nodded us in on Esteban's request.

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From Ethan Kaplan, Guest Columnist:

The Bayamo stadium was like the baseball equivalent of a Roman amphitheater: a single level of back-less concrete bleachers all around. During games, people party on the rooftops of the apartment buildings beyond the outfield, like the Wrigley Rooftops in Chicago.

The team plays for the Granma province. Their mascot, “Los Alazanes” (“The Stallions”) is taken from the horse carriage industry that powers the region’s economy. The team is colloquially known as “Los Caballos” (“The Horses”), the same way savvy sports announcers refer to the Miami Dolphins as “The Fish.”

Local hero Alfredo Despaigne (“El Caballo de los Caballos,” or “The Horse of the Horses”) holds Cuba’s single season home run record with 38, set in 2012. The record had previously been held by the Jose Abreu, who now plays for the White Sox. Despaigne had also held the record before Abreu. He now spends most of the season playing in Japan.

Yoenis Céspedes, currently of the New York Mets, played 8 seasons for Granma before defecting to the United States in 2010.

The Mártires de Barbados Stadium looks like a stadium from the 80s or 90s and holds about 10,000 in a single tier of seating. The six story apartment buildings nearby must have a decent view of the game. The seats are simple bleachers, and on a game day it's first come first serve. We asked Esteban about games. He said he tries to make it over as often as he can. It's incredibly cheap to attend, the championships don't cost any more than the regular season games. But, a popular game will almost guarantee an entire day waiting in line for any fans that actually want to make it into the stadium.

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We reunited with the rest of our group and headed back into town after a round of sodas. It was a few hours before dinner, so we headed back to the Casa Particular to rest a little and change for dinner. We had made reservations at Meson La Cuchipapa, one of the most popular restaurants in town, earlier that day.

After leaving early to avoid traffic (ha!), we of course arrived early as well. The restaurant is off of a small square, several in Bayamo, and we debated finding a bar to pass the time, but eventually decided to sit in the square and take advantage of the perfect weather. The square is not huge, and dominated almost exclusively by restaurants, bars and churches. One of the churches was bustling with people, Sunday evening mass seemed to be ending and people streamed out into the square. Despite all this, the square had a surprisingly calm atmosphere.

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Finally we were ushered into the crowded restaurant. A very energetic band played in front, and the menu was written on the wall on chalkboards. We had a large table right near the door.

The menu was fairly large, and had a separate set of prices for "Al Bayamés" (people from Bayamo) and another price for everyone else. The prices were not drastically different, but a significant discount, a CUC or two per item. Naturally we asked the cousins how they distinguished Bayameses from other Cubans (clearly telling the tourists apart is not difficult), and they of course said "The accent".

The restaurant had an old fashioned tavern look, with brick walls and imposing wood tables. A large antique map of Cuba took up one wall, and the decorative lighting pendants were made of empty rum bottles.

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Lonely Planet had recommended (with caution) a cocktail known as Frucanga, which consisted of firewater and ginger. I ordered one, despite the concerned face of the waiter as he cautioned "muy fuerte". The rest of the table decided to stick with Cristal beer.

The Frucanga arrived in a small round wooden cup. It also included a small pot of honey on a small wooden cart, to add to the drink as needed. The presentation alone was worth the price of the drink. It delivered on its promise, but it was also very good!

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We ordered, but about half of what was requested was unavailable, including, tragically, the Na Tomasa, the malanga fritters. This is a fairly common occurrence throughout Cuba, where supplies are often unreliable. The food was good, but it definitely did not compare to the homemade lunch!

Most importantly, we got to spend time with the family, and despite the loud atmosphere and the (minor) language barrier, we got in some good conversation. Our next stop was Santiago de Cuba, and Esteban explained that he had attended college in Santiago and gave us some good tips on restaurants and things to do.

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After dinner and finishing the Frucanga, we invited the family over to the Casa Particular to watch the super moon eclipse from the terrace, and we were glad they took us up on it even though it was getting late. Luckily the fridges our rooms came stocked with beer and we watched the eclipse over beers and a few cigars. No one else around seemed to notice the eclipse, the horse drawn carriages continued their way along the quiet streets.

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Around 1AM we were all getting sleepy and we said goodbye to the cousins. Even through we were only there one day, we saw so much and we really got to connect with our cousins. I can now proudly says that I have cousins in Havana AND Bayamo. :)

The cousins completely surpassed all expectations, they were so gracious, welcoming, friendly, generous and a lot of fun. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. It is Cuba after all.

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Posted by carolinea 17:20 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

January 19th 2019

Havana to Sancti Spiritus

sunny 70 °F
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Our first bus trip and the most packed day in Cuba began by waking up at 4AM, packing our suitcases, and heading downstairs to meet Patricia in a taxi to go to the bus station. The Viazul bus station in Havana is fairly small, and definitely sleepy at that hour. We remembered to take a few sleepy photos before getting on the bus to Sancti Spiritus (the bus was on time, a fairly rare occurrence).

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The bus was a fairly comfortable coach bus, and the driver summarized the trip in very clear Spanish. The bus would ultimately be going all the way to Santiago. The bus left at 6 AM and pulled into Sancti Spiritus at 11:15 AM. It was a sunny clear day, and the countryside outside the window was beautiful, with small towns coming into view from time to time. There are no highway bypasses in Cuba, so driving through every town made the view much more interesting.

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The main reason for stopping in Sancti Spiritus was to visit a dog sanctuary in Las Yayas, run by a friend of cousin Betty, Yoanne. We arrived at the very busy bus station and Patricia called Yoanne. We really didn't know what to expect, whether we would need to hire a taxi and find our way, what we would do after visiting the sanctuary. We were very happy when Yoanne arrived on her motorbike and offered to give us a full tour of Sancti Spiritus, starting with the dog sanctuary of course.

Since most of our time in Cuba had been spent in Havana, it was our first time seeing the moto-taxi, an ATV with a "carriage" in the back, which featured sides and a top but no back. It turned out to be the dominant form of transportation in the city, with cars being a rarity.

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Yoanne arrived at the bus station, found a stray dog and immediately rescued him. Dog rescue in action. He was a medium sized black and tan mutt, who generally seemed pretty chill about about being rescued. We attempted the Herculean task of loading our bags and the dog into the moto taxi. At one point the dog managed to leap out of Patricia's arms and run onto the highway. After a few slightly terrifying minutes, we were able to grab him again, at which point he got his name, Suerte.

Patricia was brave enough to hold Suerte while we rode out to the sanctuary, and Yoanne rode her motorbike alongside the moto taxi.

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The sanctuary, in an area called Las Yayas, was a large finca (farm) with a single building in the center, and a large yard filled with dogs. There was a sheltered area in the back where the dogs are fed. The sun was shining and the dogs were having a great time, playing with each other, lounging on the ground and saying hello to us. We sat for a while on the front porch and had coffee, chatting about the sanctuary. At the time we visited, they had 65 dogs, all of whom had come to stay there in the past year or so.

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We meet Claudia, Yoanne's partner, who thankfully speaks a little bit of English.

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Claudia (left) and Patricia (right) with Gorda on her way to her new home.

We had brought a few supplies for Yoanne to use, medicated shampoos and skin creams.

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(left to right) Patricia, Myself and Yoanne

It was getting pretty late in the afternoon, so we headed out to a late lunch at a Chinese paladar in town, run by a friend of Yoanne's.
It was a true paladar, with a private dining room and the kitchen right next door. Many of the items on the menu weren't available, but I ordered some fried fish which turned out to be quite tasty.

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The grand total for lunch, including seven beers and six main dishes, came to 22.50 CUCs, about $24. Like most of the restaurants in Sancti Spiritus, the prices were all in Cuban pesos, and although I paid in CUCs, I got change in pesos.

Afterwards, everyone was feeling an afternoon sleepiness, so we stopped in Yoanne and Claudia's favorite coffee shop, with surprisingly modern decor and very affordable coffee.

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Afterwards we strolled into the main square, surrounded by colorful buildings and a statue in the center. Although there is one main street designated for pedestrians, there are so few cars that the streets are dominated by kids playing in the streets, stray dogs and people sitting on stoops.

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We picked up some very heavy dog food at the Paladar and visited a nearby house where Yoanne was attempting to rescue a dog. Unfortunately the dog was quite unfriendly, so we give her some food and Yoanne eventually decided she will need to come back another time.

We headed over to the Casa de la Guayabera, a factory/museum where they claim to have invented the Guayabera, a well known (though not widely worn) men's fashion statement in Cuba. The actual factory and store was unfortunately closed, but Yoanne banged on the front gate for a while and someone let us in to sit in the park next to the store. There was a little wifi there (wee fee), so we all spent a little time on our phones, but mostly we enjoyed the view of the river as the sun started to set. Claudia is an art student, so she shared her new logo and name for the sanctuary, El Hogar de Babalu.

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The river was so still it almost looked like glass, and we took some pictures as the sun set.

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We headed over to Puente Yayabo (the main bridge in town). We had some time before we needed to catch our bus, so we decided to stop for some drinks at La Taberna, right next to the bridge and recommended in our guide book.

One of the small balconies was available, so the five of us squeezed in and admired the river as the sun set. Lonely Planet recommends a drink here called the Cunyaya, so we ordered a round for everyone. The drinks were delicious and came in their own signature cups.

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Eventually the time came to head over to the bus station for our overnight bus to Bayamo. We picked up our bags, dropped off some regalos (gifts) with Yoanne's family and headed over to the bus station in a MotoTaxi.

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the extremely warm welcome from Yoanne and Claudia, and impressed by the dog sanctuary and everything they have done in only a year. We had no idea what to expect from Sancti Spiritus, and it turned out to be a really fun (but exhausting) day.

The bus was very delayed, but runs smoothly once it arrives, and we all managed to catch a little sleep before our day in Bayamo.

Muchas gracias a Yoanne, Claudia, y la mama de Yoanne por su hospitalidad!

Posted by carolinea 03:06 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

January 18th 2019

Havana

sunny 70 °F
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Our only full day in Havana. We've been to Havana before, so we decided on a mix of old favorites and a few new things. We started off with breakfast at Cafe La Esquina in Vedado (near the Trendy Apartamento).

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Patricia came to pick up up at the apartamento. We drove around Havana for a little while, stopping at the local synagogue.

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A new cuba sign has been added next to the Malecon. Patry told us it's for the quincentennial of Havana.

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One of the things we do every year is bring a "caja" (box) on behalf of Spanky's Project, an animal rescue organization based in Canada. We drop it off at a pottery studio in Habana Viaja. The caja was filled with important supplies, we also brought some additional supplies. This year the biggest request was for kitten formula. Once we arrived we found out why.

Spanky Project
Pottery Studio - Terracota 4

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We also visited a firefighter museum in Habana Viaja and saw some stilt walkers in the street.

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We drove over to Plaza Vieja. We tried to purchase some coffee in bags but we were told it was too late in the day (11:40AM). We wandered across the square to the Camara Oscura, which we had wanted to visit last year. The Camara Oscura is the only one in all of Latin America and the Caribbean . It is a purely mechanical reflection system, projecting a perfect image of all of Havana onto a concave surface. In addition the Oscura is located on a high rooftop, which gave us some pretty incredible views.

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Camara Oscura - Trip Advisor

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The tour guide at the Camara Oscura had mentioned the Capitolio renovation, and we decided to check it out. The building is still closed, but the steps and entry area are now open, a change from the year before. We were caught in a crazy rainstorm, which gave us plenty of time to check out the elaborate brass relief sculpture on the Capitolio doors. The bronze images of President Machado were scratched off during riots in 1933.

Washington Post Article about the Renovation

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Ytan, Myself and Patricia in front of the Capitolio

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After the rain subsided we head to La Lamparilla, one of our favorite spots in Habana Vieja. It is famous for elaborate daiquiris, although the menu doesn't mention the elaborate piece of art that each daiquiri is.

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Patricia headed back home to Miramar to help prepare dinner, and we decided to visit the Museo de La Revolucion, mainly because we wanted to see the inside of the Presidential palace. The palace was impressive, but the exhibits were not well maintained, and it was some very obvious propaganda. The outdoor area, with various vehicles from the "revolution" was a little more interesting, although the GranMa yacht was impossible to see through dirty glass.

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We headed over to Casa Betty for a very delicious dinner, including malanga fritters (our favorite) and mojitos.

After dinner, Patricia invited us to the nightly firing of the cannons at El Murro. We drove over and we were very surprised to see hundreds of cars, all parked festival style on a large lawn. After walking a long way and paying admission, we witnessed the (Very Loud) firing of the cannons from a distance. After the cannon firing, we wandered around El Murro by night, with some beautiful nighttime city views.

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After visiting el Morro, we returned to the Trendy Apartamento for a little bit of sleep before our early start the next morning.

Posted by carolinea 18:57 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

January 17th 2019

New York to Havana

sunny 70 °F
View Cuba 2019 on carolinea's travel map.

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It's our third trip to Cuba, so packing and preparing for our trip has become a lot easier, although you never know what will happen.

We arrived in Havana with all of our bags intact and sailed through customs and bag pickup in five minutes flat. We will be traveling a lot more than usual, so we had duffle bags and small suitcases.

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Our cousin Patricia was waiting for us at the terminal as always. We loaded all of our bags up and headed over to Casa Betty (Betty's house in Miramar). We unpacked a few suitcases full of regalos (gifts), some shoes and clothes for Rodrigo (our little cousin), and had a little Cuban coffee.

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Rodrigo was still at school when we arrived, so we went to pick him up after fútbol practice.

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After stopping by the trendy apartamento to drop off our bags, we all headed to Cocinero for dinner. Everything was delicious as usual.

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After dinner we headed over to the main event, a visit to the Fabrica Del Arte. The Fabrica Del Arte is a multi-disciplinary space which changes exhibits every few months. There are bars all over the place, live performances and a number of different spaces. Some of the art was very cool, some strange, but the drinks were strong and we enjoyed ourselves.

Fabrica Del Arte

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Posted by carolinea 09:50 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

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