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Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure
Fantastic report! Can't wait for the rest... How close was the nearest landmass?

Thanks.

South West Cay is around 0.8 miles away, Utila is 1.1m, and some other cays even further. Most of those are visible on the horizon (especially SW Cay), but all are far enough that you can't make out anything but treetops. Even with a 300mm lens, I couldn't see a thing. So yes, true and absolute privacy.


July 11, 2017, 04:02:10 PM
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Re: The New DDMS! Aside from looking horrible, it should say DansDealsForums, not DansDeals.

IMO.

July 12, 2017, 12:34:46 AM
2
Re: Viva La Revolución! Time-traveling to Cuba with Something Fishy, whYME, and CITH [Something Fishy] So we went to sleep at 11... and were up at 12:30. Grabbed our gear, some food, and went downstairs hoping against hope that Elvis is there for us.

Lo and behold, he was.

We packed into his '53 Dodge and were off. The camera gear in the trunk, whYME and CITH in the back, and me upfront because it supposedly has more room. Ha! I spent the rest of the trip scrunched up, with my knees hitting the stick shift whenever I moved .

In any case, the car was epic. Side-view mirrors? Seat belts? Meh, who needs those? But a color TV playing non-stop Salsa music videos, jerry-rigged into the dash, that we had. The seats were covered in plastic like your grandmother's old couch, but that was not an issue due to the ice-cold AC.

Until, of course, the AC died, and before long we were sitting in a pool of sweat. What now? We roll down the windows of course! Elvis pulls off to the side of the road, unloads half the trunk, and emerges with a pair of pliers in hand. Opening the passenger door, he sticks the pliers into a hole on the side and starts turning like mad. Slowly, agonizingly, the window begins to lower. The entire process is repeated on whYME's window, but on CITH's no amount of turning makes the glass budge a millimeter. Poor CITH is still sweaty to this day.

Leaving Havana:




According to Google, the ride from Havana to Vinales should take two and a half hours. Problem is of course that Google doesn't know that the transport in question is a jalopy from 1953, so we ended up put-putting along for over four hours each way.

But regardless of all this, the ride was a ton of fun. Elvis was fantastic and kept up a constant prattle. It wasn't long and we got seriously overtired and were attempting to sing along with the Salsa on the top of our lungs, to Elvis' great amusement.

So there we are, driving down the highway in the middle of absolutely nowhere, not a light or car to be seen for miles around, when Elvis lets loose an incredible collection of Spanish profanities. The weak beam of an ultra-cheap LED flashlight was shining in his face, and we could just make out the silhouette of a blacked-out police car on the shoulder.

Uh oh.

This is not good. Not good at all.

The officer orders Elvis out of the car and warns the three of us to remain inside. The two of them go off to the side, and ten minutes go by... Fifteen... Twenty... Every now and then Elvis comes in to rummage under his seat for a different document.

Elvis is now hauling our camera bags out of the trunk, one by one. Long minutes tick by, as the officer closely examines every item in our bags.

In the meantime us hapless Americans are left to ponder our fate all alone in the dark. Would they send us to Guantanamo? The gulag? Would we get to call our wives? I had promised mine to stay out of trouble!

And then all of a sudden Elvis climbs back in the car with a huge smile:

"Eh, only 20 CUC!"

And off we went.

Turns out that we were about to be hauled in for questioning, under charges of "suspicious activity". (I mean, three Americans and a local guide out in a place and time where tourists really have no business being, and loaded down with $10k worth of camera gear... is that suspicious?) Eventually Elvis realized that this is not going to end well, so he decided to finish this in the typical Cuban fashion: a nice little bribe. Apparently what amounts to a cop's full month's wages was enough to "prove our innocence" and convince the law that we were on the up and up ...

This little adventure meant that we were running even later than we had already been, but before long we found ourselves in Vinales.

"Vinales" itself is a broad term for the entire region. The Vinales Valley is a large and very rural area where lots of Cuba's famous tobacco is grown; everything around here is even more primitive than Havana. If the capital is stuck in the 1950's, Vinales is still in the 1800's. Also in Vinales are a collection of stunningly beautiful karst formations called mogotes, which are basically tall, steep hills rising right up from the valley floor. These hills and the area around them form Vinales National Park (Parque Nacional Viñales). And to top it all off, the local village is also called Vinales.

It was around an hour before sunrise and on the outskirts of the village, when we had a very bemused Elvis pull off the road and position his car very precisely in some bushes. He had a good laugh watching these crazy photographers pull out cameras, set up tripods, and use their headlamps to light up his car. He had never seen anything remotely like this...

[whYME] I don't think that's why he was laughing . I'm pretty sure he was laughing at me and CITH bumbling around still trying to figure out which way was up meanwhile Something Fishy had set up, taken his shot, packed up his gear and was all ready to move on to the next location .

Eventually we all managed to get our shots and were thrilled with the results.


Photo by Something Fishy:



[Something Fishy] Crossing the road to get a shot of the Milky Way rising over some of the mogotes:



I can't say I'm very happy with this picture, but some errant cows and the ever-closer sunrise meant that we couldn't spend as much time here as we would have liked.

A little bit further on we stopped yet again; the sky was really getting brighter now.


[whYME] To be clear, we stopped in middle of absolute nowhere. There was already enough light in the sky that we were able to make out that there was absolutely nothing around to take a picture of. With no foreground and no background and the sky seemingly too light for decent star shots, CITH and I were sure there was no shot to be had and didn't even even bother trying. Something Fishy, however, insisted that there was a shot to be had and set out prove us wrong.

It was about this time when I learnt never to question Something Fishy when he insists there's a shot to be had:


Photo by Something Fishy:



[Something Fishy] While setting up this shot a number of farmers passed, heading to the fields on horseback. We got some odd looks (from the farmers; the horses didn't seem to mind us).

It was now time to head to our sunrise spot. I had done a ton of research and found the perfect spot, except for one detail: I had absolutely no idea where said spot was. Information was so scarce at the time we went, that there was literally nothing online about this other than some isolated pictures. My usual scouting tools were useless in this case; with nearly nothing to go on, and satellite maps of the area being very low-resolution, all I was able to figure out was a general direction.

But no worries! We had Elvis. I described what I was looking for, and he claimed he knew where it is. He led us through a maze of tiny, twisting roads for nearly half an hour before stopping... at a resturaunt.

"We're here!", he exclaimed cheerily.

Um... are we? There was nothing to see except for the slightly run-down restaurant and some trees. Where was the grand landscape I had ordered?

Meekly, we followed him around to the back of the building, onto a deck and into a little outdoor sitting area.

And... Boom! Unbelievably, this was the exact spot I had been looking for! I couldn't believe my eyes, and Elvis couldn't have been more smug. This guy was worth every penny .

We were up on the edge of a hill, and the entire valley was spread out in front of us. Fields, mogotes, palm forests, little farmhouses. Nothing stirring; only the first rays of the sun beginning to break through the morning mist.


Photo by whYME:



Photo by whYME:



















CITH and whYME shooting:



Group shot with Elvis:



Call the Cuban patent office! Here's how to weatherproof outdoor lighting:



What a lovely setting for a meal:



Once the sun was fully up we left the restaurant and headed back to watch the village wake up.

Our car waiting for us:




Red-legged thrush:



On the road into town, farmers off to work:



Huge grass chicken coop:



Photo by CITH:



A typical road scene: some random chickens, a stray dog, and an old man cutting grass with a scythe:



Seriously terrifying chicken:



The family out for a morning stroll:





Off to market. Photo by whYME:



2-ox power engine:



First view of town:



Some really pretty-looking houses:





Quiet moment:



Main street traffic:







All of the above pictures were taken out the window of the car while driving. Elvis, our ever-loyal guide, was making sure to point out every good photography subject: namely, girls. "Pretty girl over there! Take nice picture! No, no, no! Why you take picture of old horse, look other side! Girl!" After a while he realized that we weren't going to listen to him, so he resorted instead to shaking his head sadly and mumbling under his breath, "And they take picture of old horse!" every now and then.

Before long we had crossed through the entire village and were heading back into the fields. Suddenly... a police car on the side of the road. The officer gets out and motions us to pull over.

You have got to be kidding me.

Once again, cursing like a sailor, Elvis steps outside. This time however, he was back in two minutes later and laughing out loud. Turns out the cop had run out of gas, and wanted to know if we were able to spare some for him to siphon off. Being that our car ran on diesel and the police car on gasoline, it was a no-go from the start and so we were off the hook.

More than anything this little episode brought home how impoverished this little corner of the world is. The government here has so little money that police officers have to literally beg passersby for gas. And of course the officer had no radio nor cell phone... Simply unbelievable.

Between the village and the national park:












Welcome sign for the national park:



The park's visitor center :


(Excuse the terrible GoPro quality...)

A farmer and his "tractor" (or in CITH's immortal words, "pulling oxen through the nose on a sled with no wheels"):








Photo by whYME:



It was about now that Elvis declared that we have to check our fuel supply, and can we please help him unload the trunk? While this question didn't quite make an ounce of sense to us, we nevertheless humored him.

With the trunk empty, Elvis rolls back the carpet, produces a dipstick, and sticks it into a hole in the floor. "Quarto centimeters? Perfecto! Enough till Habana".

So that's a fuel gauge, Cuba style.

Elvis. Photo by CITH:



Stopping in a lovely section of the national park among the mogotes:




Photo by whYME:



Much of the mogotes are hollow, riddled with caves and caverns. Sometimes there would be these huge openings on the side of one, taking all sorts of fantastic shapes.

Angry face. Photo by whYME:











Elvis then took us to see the world-famous Mural de la Prehistoria, or Mural of Prehistory. This enormous monstrosity is painted on the side of Mogote Pita and is over 200k square feet in size. Rumor has it that Fidel himself dictated to the artist exactly which scenes should be painted.

It is difficult to describe it any better than Lonely Planet did, who've condensed their review into a single succinct sentence:


Quote
The huge snail, dinosaurs, sea monsters and humans on the cliff symbolize the theory of evolution and are either impressively psychedelic or monumentally horrific, depending on your viewpoint.

Photo by whYME:



These guys aren't having a very good day, I'm afraid:



On the outskirts of Vinales we came across a propaganda billboard. There are no advertisements in Cuba to be seen; any and all space is reserved for promoting the revolution.

This particular sign points to a memorial for the first revolutionary militia, comprised of local peasants (Malagones). The top half features Fidel's immortal (and nonsensical) words: "If you triumph, there were militias in Cuba".

Whatever it was he was smoking at the time, I'd sure like some.




And with the Glorious Leader's words ringing in our ears, we left Vinales behind and began the long trek back to Havana.

Tons of people loading into a truck, heading to work in the tobacco fields:




Hauling tobacco:



Another propaganda poster: "The Revolution is the Daughter of Culture and Ideas":



"With your permission, it will be easy!" Photo by whYME:



Aaaand then we were back in Havana. We stopped at Elvis' house for a moment so he could pick up something or other, and for us to stretch our legs.

A curious neighbor:




Photo by whYME:



Patina:



I'm not sure I want to know exactly what's happening here - looks like a nurse sitting against the column, while the guy in the background is doing something to his leg while surrounded by a bunch of bug-spray canisters:



Driving back to our apartment:



Yep, Havana has a Chinatown. Go figure. We had wanted to visit it but hadn't had time; it wasn't until I looked over the GoPro footage after getting home when I realized that we had in fact driven right through it. We were simply too tired at the time to notice, having been up for nearly two days now:



Nearly home - there's the Capitolio on the right and the government cigar factory on the left (past the turquoise building):



Elvis dropped us off at the front door, where we said our goodbyes and made up for him to pick us up tomorrow at 6 AM for the ride to the airport.

We were bone tired, but there's no rest for the weary: we wanted to get to the cigar shop before it closes, so we couldn't take a nap just yet.

The official government cigar factory and shop was just down the block, so we walked over. We figured we'll pay their inflated prices instead of buying on the black market for two reasons: supposedly these street cigars are of lesser quality, and we wanted an official receipt for US customs.

The store was dark, cool, and inviting, and sold both cigars and alcohol.






Famous Cuban rum:



Only $950 a bottle? Meh:



$1700 or bust:



The average Cuban makes $18.66 a month, so it only takes about eight years of work to be able to buy this bottle. Memesh a bargain!

My cigar haul:






The US customs allowance was $100 worth per person at the time. Considering that I don't smoke (to be honest these fancy cigars stink just as bad as regular cigarettes in my opinion), I didn't feel the need to buy more and figure out a way to smuggle them in.

My total however came out to slightly more than $100, so the clerk happily took my money and wrote me a "kosher" receipt.


Cigar store ledger. Photo by whYME:



Back outside we ran into a guy who apparently follows the DD main site deals  :



If I was attracting attention yesterday with my shoes, that was nothing to what was happening today. Wherever we went in Havana people were calling out "Fidel and Che!" and running over to take a cellphone picture with us. Turns out that me in my Fidel cap, whYME in his Che beret, and with our height and beards looked pretty darn close to the real thing and the locals were getting a kick out of it.

Of course, this was tons of fun for us and we had a great time interacting with lots of different people. And we didn't even charge them a CUC for the picture, how very magnanimous of us.

More patina:




Stopping into the saddest electronic store I have ever seen:



YO:



Yet another crumbling building:



Having finished our shopping, we then returned home to prepare for the rest of our afternoon.  Alex had offered insisted that he just had to give us a tour of the Morro Castle (and of course take us to someone who would sell us cheap, "authentic" cigars). We had finally relented and agreed to do his tour that afternoon. There was just one slight problem: having barely slept in three days we were utterly exhausted. We sat down on the couch and began to discuss whether to go or stand him up. Turns out it was quite an easy decision; apparently when you sit on a couch after not sleeping for a few days you don't stay awake very long .

We woke after a couple of hours nice and rested. By this time it was dark outside, so we had dinner and began packing up our stuff for the flight out tomorrow.

After a bit we went out again for a short walk, to get one last good look at this wonderful place.

A pedicab waiting for customers:




Photo by CITH:



Photo by CITH:



We got a beer at the same pizza shop we had stopped by the night before, where the guys got a kick out of something on CITH's phone:



We also paid our respects to what is likely the saddest burger in the universe. Photo by whYME:



On the way back home we bumped into a bunch of drunk Irish tourists, who were apparently incredibly happy to meet us. One of them grabbed whYME and began singing some Irish ballad or something, and before we knew it they were singing and dancing, trying their darnedest to get us to dance along .

So there were are at 1:00 in the morning, on a dark and bustling (even at this hour) Havana street, singing and dancing with a bunch of drunk Irish guys. Suffice it to say it was quite the weird ending to our trip .









Unfortunately for you, I had to trim the real juicy parts of that video out .

Eventually we broke free and off it was, for one final sweaty night sleeping on the floor of a crumbling Havana building.

July 13, 2017, 01:58:46 AM
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Re: Something Fishy's Trip Reports Thread New Cuba segment posted:

July 13, 2017, 02:05:40 AM
1
Re: (Live at 4pm Eastern) 10 meal prep containers for $0.45! Got mine delivered today, thanks.
July 13, 2017, 08:56:20 PM
1
Re: Get a free Echo Dot when you create a free business account "Welcome to Amazon Business. The information you provided has been verified and your account registration is now complete."

My code is still listed as inactive though. They say it can take up to 24h from the time you get verified to work, so we'll see what happens later.

July 14, 2017, 09:34:48 AM
1
Re: Private Island Paradise: Something Fishy's Anniversary Adventure
Haven't been on DDF in (gasp) a couple weeks and just read through this whole thing.

First off, wow, wow and WOW...I can't wait for the rest!

Just to defend Davidmal for a sec, I guess I'm kinda JAPy but I think he brought up some good points because I'm so ignorant that it never occurred to me that there wouldn't be AC at the place!  ;D

And then in your whole inevitable Halacha discussion you mentioned having to activate a pump just to flush the toilet and that pretty much sealed it that as much as I think this trip is AMAZING it probably isn't a couple's trip that would work for us....I showed this TR to my DH and told him we should do it as a stopover on our next trip to Panama and he was like "No way, don't even think about it"...lol.

Seriously, can you do a segment of the TR going through some of the details of what kinds of things are different because you are so isolated and not on the grid?  Electricity, gas for cooking, did you just have a burner or what was actually in the kitchen, where does the waste go (into holding tanks?), etc.

I think people will find it interesting and helpful (like once I learned about having to attach sewer lines to an RV I realized my family would not be renting one...totally OT but husbands of two close friends who rented them independently managed to spray their toilet refuse all over themselves and their surroundings)!  Can't wait for the rest and especially to know if your flight times worked out so you were able to get your killer hamburger again at Pita Plus in Panama!  :P

It depends on your priories, as I've said upthread. If you need pampering and a fancy place, this simply isn't for you. But if you want an adventure, absolute privacy, and beaches and snorkeling all to yourself, run and book it.

I'll discuss all the points you mention about the facilities in the next segment, hopefully to be posted very soon.

About that RV snafu ;D... I've emptied plenty of holding tanks with nary an issue. The connections are designed to keep you clean and away from any gunk.

And - spoiler alert :P - I did make it to Panama and my burger.

July 14, 2017, 12:36:04 PM
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Re: The funny/strange/interesting/random pictures thread
Impossible.



I'm pretty certain this strip is in color in my book at home ;D.

July 14, 2017, 02:09:40 PM
2
Re: Get a free Echo Dot when you create a free business account Order confirmed, $0.00 total.

Thanks OP!

July 15, 2017, 11:12:29 PM
1
Re: Get a free Echo Dot when you create a free business account I wasn't targeted and yet it worked fine.

Updated the title though.

July 16, 2017, 10:59:24 AM
1