ItchyFeetTraveler

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Saint Augustine

At a nearby coconut extraction factory, a small group of women used machetes to crack the hard outer husk from the nut. The nut is then split in half with the machete to get to the soft sweet coconut. If the meat is moist, it goes through a lengthy drying process to produce copra which is then pressed to extract coconut oil. The oil is used in cooking (it takes about ten coconuts to make one quart of oil) and in cosmetics including soap and for various other purposes. If too much moisture has been lost before the coconut is harvested, the meat is fed to the chickens and pigs.

The shells are used to make high grade charcoal briquettes which are used for cooking, distillation of rum and to make utensils. Coconut husks are also processed into coconut fiber, or coir, which is used for mattresses, cushions, door mats, etc.
Because coir fiber is extremely resistant to salt water, it is widely used to make ropes for ships. Baracoa ships tons of coconut husks to Spain each year to be used in these and other products.

The growth of coconut trees is closely monitored by government inspectors. A farmer cannot cut down an old coconut tree unless he plants a new one. New trees mature in five years then produce coconuts in all seasons for about 35 years.


During my brief stay in Baracoa, most of my meals were prepared by the owner of the casa particulares (a type of Cuban bed & breakfast) where I stayed. Breakfast consisted of really fresh fruit, juice, omelet, fresh bread, and butter. The food was well prepared and generally very good.


I dined only once at a local restaurant, El Talisco. Even though the restaurant’s menu offered a number of entrees, I soon learned from the guide that fewer rather than more of the menu items were actually available. At El Talisco, as at many Cuban restaurants, it is better ignore the menu and ask what the kitchen actually has that is available to order. On the evening we dined at El Talisco, the menu listed pork, chicken, fish, and sausage as main entrees. The kitchen had only pork. Our small group of four ordered ajiaco (a spicy stew that is Cuba's national dish - quite good), boiled bananas (yes, boiled), scrambled eggs, rice, and green salads with tomatoes. We paid in local Cuban pesos rather than the Cuban Convertible pesos used by tourists. For the entire meal, we paid one local peso each – less than five cents American. 

Even though getting to Baracoa can be a challenge, it's worth the trip. The streets of the city are busy and require your full attention to get from one side to the other especially in the mornings. But even with all of that busy-ness, the usual city noise is missing mostly because cars are not the predominant mode of transportation in this city. 

Also, everything is a little simpler in Baracoa. It’s almost like stepping back in time. The casas particulares that accommodate tourists are clean and comfortable. So unless you stay at the Hotel la Castilla, Hostal La Habanera (pictured below) or one of the other few modern hotels, you’re not likely to find Western style lodging or food in the city. Personally I delight in experiencing the culture by staying in local bed & breakfasts, eating local food even if, in some cases (like the boiled bananas), it isn’t to my taste. Even though sometimes it’s a challenge to get through an entire day without a single news report from CNN, I am richer for the experience.

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