On arrival in Havana, there are a few things you need to be aware of:
- This might seem obvious, but any teeny tiny bit of Spanish is an advantage. If Barry hadn’t gotten to 25 % fluency on Duolingo, Anita and I would likely have been married off to a Cuban by now. It’s not like I’ve had the past 11 months to learn it or anything.
- Say bye bye to telecommunications via your mobile. I could recieve texts, but not calls and don’t even think of returning that text – imposible! There are plenty of payphones around to contact people in Cuba though.
- Slow down. Unless you’re crossing a busy road, you go at half the Irish pace here. Unnecessary queuing and general inefficiency is a national pastime (Renors words, not mine!)
- Wifi is a commodity. The Cuban public are new to the world of Wifi – just over three years new. In order to avail of this, you need to find a shop that sells wifi cards (remember what I said about queuing), present your passport and then find a wifi hotspot. These aren’t sign posted, but if you come across a collection of people stuck to their phones, you can be sure there’s wifi in the area. The cards cost 2 CUC per hour. My Samsung S4 had a bit of trouble picking up the signal, but the iPhone wankers (Anita and Barry) didn’t have any bother.
- There are two currencies in Cuba – Cuban Convertibles (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP). 1 CUC is 25 CUP and equivalent to 1 USD. Contrary to what I had read, both are available to tourists. CUCs are dispensed from ATMs, but to get your hands on CUPs, you’ve to exchange them at a currency exchange – some more queuing. Having a few CUPs are worth the queue though as some of the less touristy places accept CUP only, or could possibly round up and charge you in CUC – we’re on a budget!!
- Leave your USD at home. To use it, you need to exchange it in a bank – there’s some more queueing, your passport is required as identification and you will get approx 0.68 CUC for 1 USD. We just went to ATMs and got CUC.
Luckily, our casa owner, Eric, and majority of his ridiculously nice staff, Melissa, Renor and Maria also spoke English. They filled us in on points 2 – 6 and laughed at our naivety of point 1.
Travel Days: 1-3
Location: Havana, Cuba
Accomodation: Erics House, 109 Oquendos, Animas y Virtudes, Centro Habana. 30 CUC p/n for the room
Our first impressions of Cuba weren’t fantastico. In actual fact, I wasn’t going to get out of the taxi at Erics House only for he was waiting at the door for us. The streets are lined with Mediterranean style houses falling / fallen into complete disrepair. Rusted cages or rotting planks of wood were in place of window panes and doors. Electricity wires are knotted from house to house and junction to junction. It wasn’t what I had read, nor what was advertised. This was the real, no holds barred, Centro Habana. Once we accepted that, it just became another city and I can honestly say I didn’t once feel unsafe.
Eric set us up with a drum of drinking water and breakfast for 2 CUC and 3 CUC each, respectively. Breakfast was fruit based with a mixture of pineapple, banana and papaya (yock.), followed by eggs with bread all washed down with guaba juice. It was just what we needed and Maria, the cook, learned pretty quick – more banana, less papaya! Totally worth the 3 CUC.
Melissa and Renor were organised to give us a tour around Old Havana and Vedado on our second day. Old Havana is what you see on the posters – colourful chevvys are parked up against a backdrop of even more colourful Spanish colonial buildings. This part of town is really beautiful and sets a scene of what times were like pre US embargo.
As we toured, similarities between Irish and Cuban cultures became apparent – we both love to point out the failures of our past. Our guides pointed out the old city walls that took generations to build – too slow for the city expansion, so slow, in fact, that it was only used for a few months before it needed to be dismantled as the city outgrew the walls. Dismantling the wall took equally as long as building it. The Presidents house (pre revolution) looms over the remainder of these walls. This magnificent building has since been converted into a revolution museum as the Fidels didn’t fancy the public knowing where they lived, post “liberation”. Fidel also parked up a tank used during the revolution right in front of it for an added reminder! They brought us to the old fort that was built too far from the estuary to protect the city from pirate attacks, something that wasn’t realised until after it was finished.
We stopped at an unsuspecting wee pub off one of the streets that turned out to be where the mojito was first made, so we naturally had to stop in for one. And sure look, Ernest Hemmingway used to drink there. I wasn’t inspired from my mojito, but maybe you need a few to get going and we didn’t have the time. There was a wee man punching away on his wee typewriter though – he must have had loads.
After 5 hours of roaming through the spaghetti streets of Old Havana, we moved back to Central Havana where Melissa set us up in a local cafeteria that served traditional Cuban food – Moros y Cristianos (rice and black beans) served with your choice of chicken or pork with a side of avocado and cucumber if you’re lucky. All for a grand total of 45 CUP (1.80)
After filling up we head west to Vedado, which is distinctly less colonial and considerably more soviet. High rise square concrete parliament buildings loom over the cityscape. We first landed in Revolution Square where Fidel once rallied over 1 million people for 6 hours straight – nowadays he apparently only stays 30 mins to groups of 200,000 or less. Melissa and Renor weren’t sure if that was a sign of the times or changing attitudes or both.
Nevertheless, the square is vast. It’s boxed in by a José Marti monument and the Cuban star to the north and parliament buildings with murals of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos to the south. You used to be able to get an elevator to the top of the tower for a view of the city, but it was closed for maintenance and has been for a while apparently. There was also a military presence in the area, but neither Melissa or Renor knew why – which seems to be a common trend in Cuba!
Next up was the Havana City cemetery, which seemed an odd choice of tourist attraction to me. We went along with it anyway and had a look through the fence. The cemetery is filled with white tombs adorned with white angel statues and crosses. There is one tomb that stands out that has a statue of a woman holding a baby. The story goes that the woman and her baby died during childbirth. As was done back in the day, she and her child were buried together side by side. Her body was exhumed some time later and found that she was now holding the baby. It was deemed a miracle and, as such, has become the local saint for pregnant women who pray to her for a healthy baby and pregnancy. Even more interesting is why her body was exhumed though. Melissa explained that this isn’t so much a final resting place as it is a stop over. You’re laid here for two years, after which your friends or relatives come back, take you out and clean you off (your bones that is). You’re then reboxed and sent elsewhere – we didn’t quite understand where “elsewhere” is and were too distracted by the act of cleaning the bones to ask.
We didn’t dwell too long on what seemed like an odd burial custom too long before heading towards the restaurant on top of La Torra building with 360 degree views of the city. Renor advised us to pretend to neither speak English or Spanish (not like that was hard) or they’ll try to make us eat there. We duly headed straight for the windows, cameras in hand, without making any eye contact with the waiting staff. Melissa pointed out two hotels (hotel Capri and hotel Nacional de Cuba) that were built completely with mob money and are now the two most expensive hotels to stay in – up on 800 CUC a night according to Melissa. Fittingly, there were quite a few vultures circling these buildings.
As we were taking our millionth photo, three rather rotund men exited the elevator. With a PVC door separating us from them, Renor whispered; “If you speak really quiet they can’t hear us… They’re really fat, eh?”. Sure that was the end of us – we were all in skits and had to leave.
To end the day we went for milkshakes in a café around the corner. The sky’s opened up, just after we finished our drinks, with the first rain of the trip – pretty good considering October is rainy season. Once it passed, it left the sky the most beautiful pink with purple rippling through it. It was mesmerising and I took far too many photos of it.
That night, we took Eric up on his offer to go to see a jazz band back in Vedado. He was like a teenager talking about how beautiful the girls in the band were – and just wait until we saw the trumpet player!!! Needless to say he was devastated when an all male band arrived on. They started straight into it and so did the dancing. One couple in particular were ridiculously good. It was basically foreplay (sorry Mam!!) on the dancefloor.
Just as we got the hay that night, I noticed my chest was a little pink with a fine white stripe where my bag strap was resting. And so it begins.
The next morning, Eric organised a casa and a colectivo taxi to Santa Clara. It cost us 25 CUC each.
Travel Days: 3 – 4
Location: Santa Clara, Cuba
Accomodation: Tatianas gaff – I lost her address. Oops. She’s emigrating to Canada in December anyway! 25 CUC p/n, 5 CUC each for breakfast
Santa Clara is much smaller and cleaner than Havana. As a result the tourists were more concentrated and food prices increased (negligible in the grand scheme of things, but an increase none the less). The town is centred around a park (wifi hotspot) and had shops, market stalls and restaurants galore for tourists. The wider your radius went from the square, the cheaper the food became, with the selection of sandwiches dwindling to a choice between chicken or pork and Cristiano y Morrez – the trick is to find one that locals are actually eating in, something we were always too hungry to commit to do.
Tatianas house was in a residential area with gardens and bungalows and not a sign of rotting wooden planks for window shutters! Her house was also painted Barbie pink, so we knew Eric did us well! We opted in for breakfast with her also after Marias feast, but there was a lot more papaya and less banana so it felt kind of wasteful.
Up to this point we have always had someone to converse with in English for directions to town centre. Tatiana hadn’t a word of English and apparently hadn’t ever seen a map before either. When I tried to find our location on MAPS.ME she couldn’t recognise Santa Clara from the north pole which left us with some very elaborate hand gestures and a crash course in learning directions in Spanish.
After taking a walk around the main part of town, we settled down for a drink and a bite to eat just off the square. Like Havana, it was clamy, so we sat outside under an umbrella. We saw some dark clouds rolling in that spelled rain, so said we´d wait it out and treat ourselves to another daquiri. The clouds got increasingly dark, then the thunder started to roll in, followed by a bit of rain and lightening that lit the entire sky. The rain got increasingly heavy and before we knew it, the street was now doubling as a river. Then the wind joined the party. It was at this point everyone sitting under the umbrellas ran inside for shelter, after which the waiting staff shut up all the doors and windows as the place was being washed out. About 30 minutes later the windows were safe to open again and we could get a glimpse of just how close the lightening was (unfortunately I wasn’t patient enough to get photos of the lightening forks, but they were ridiculously close!). The street river was now had a well established fast flow. Another hour saw the rain die down enough for us to make a burst for it and get totally drenched in the process – it’s at this point you really appreciate how luxurious hot showers are.
The next morning it was like nothing happened – the baking sun removed all evidence. After breakfast we headed for the Che Guevara Memorial, not even 10 minute walk from our casa. The memorial is similar to Revolution Square in that it’s a vast open space for government speeches. The massive bronze Che overlooks the square with a broken arm, as he had when he and his column took Santa Clara from the Presidents army in December. The memorial underneath Che is exactly that – a memorial. It is a collection ofsome of his belongings and that of his family and comrades in battle, ( e.g his inhaler, his grandmothers dining chair, a hat he wore in the Congo ). Again, because our Spanish is quite limited, we couldn’t take much from the diary entries on display, other than he had nice handwriting. Unless you’re an avid Che fan, you’re not going to spend much longer than an hour or two there. There wasn’t much else to do in Santa Clara so we packed our bags and headed for Trinidad.
We learned the hard way that you should plan your day around the bus schedule or get a collectivo taxi. Tatiana organised a private taxi for us that was going to cost 70 CUC between us. The bus we missed cost 8 CUC each. We decided we’d fare better trying to get a taxi at the bus station and succeeded in getting a taxi for 50 CUC between us.
We loaded into the world’s smallest car and hit the road.
Travel Days: 4 – 6
Location: Trinidad, Cuba
Accomodation: Yaniris & Marlen, Frank Hidalgo Gato (Santiago) # 39-A, Maceo (Gutierrez) y Francisco Cadahía (Garcia), Trinidad, 20 CUC p/n for the room, plus 5 CUC each for breakfast
Trinidad was totally different to both Santa Clara and Havana. The undulating streets are cobbled in the old part of town and ridiculously clean in comparison to Havana. The colonial buildings on the streets are manicured and brightly coloured. Central Park of Trinidad is a park overlooked by a Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad – a Catholic Church, with a set of steps for public meetings and dancing area just off to the east of it – and guess what, it’s a wifi hotspot!
We spent the what was left of our first evening chilling out on the steps and weighing our options for the few days we had there. Keen not to get caught out again on the taxi/bus situation, we went venturing for the Viazul bus station (tourists can only get Viazul buses between cities). We must have arrived at the exact wrong time because no one behind the counter was interested in helping us find a timetable as they were glued to the TV – It turns out the national soap opera was on! On the way back we got taking to a taxi man who promised to give us a good price to Cienfuegos – he held his promise as there was only 2 CUC in the difference. Instead of Barry negotiating, he let me take charge and get some practice in with my Spanish. In my head I wanted to say “We need a taxi for the day after tomorrow”, but being totally inept in Spanish I decided saying “taxi tomorrow tomorrow?” would suffice and proceeded with “Taxi manzana manzana?” – anyone that’s completed the first lesson in Spanish Duolingo will know that was totally incorrect. Queue total confusion on the man’s face, to which I was none the wiser the reason why until Barry tapped my shoulder and whispered “You just asked for taxi apple apple“. Búla bos Yvonne! After having a good literal ROFL the taxi man told us to come back tomorrow (mañana!!!) to book.
As we only had one full day in Trinidad we decided to spend it on Playa Alcón – a beach on the peninsula south of Trinidad. After wasting yet more food because apparently papaya is more abundant in Trinidad, we rented bikes for 5 CUC each and made our way south with directions from the bike rental shop. It turned out the bike rental shop was as good with directions as Tatiana, because we ended up going the scenic route through a little fishing village called La Boca. We eventually made it and parked our bikes for 2 CUC at Club Amigos and hit the beach. The white sand (not quite Ireland white though!) and blue water spans the length of the peninsula and was very inviting after the cycle. We spent the morning chilling in the water and basically just enjoying our first day in the sun.
Coming to lunch time we decided to head back for a bite to eat as the hotel was for guests only. We had heard there were bars and restaurants in the beach, but honestly we were bored and wanted to get back to the town. We stopped in to the village of Casilda for a water break and possibly food – considering only tourists eat out there, it was quite expensive, but from what we could see you got what you paid for – pity we could afford it! We tucked into our waters and then Anita and I realised we were a little redder than normal. I wasn’t keen on getting burnt on top of burn so we hopped onto a cart with our bikes (queue ‘lazy tourist’ looks from the locals). Note to self: always bring long sleeves in the event of getting sun burn!
The following morning we packed our bags again and loaded into another dodgey car. This one had velvety seats though so we were high flyers. That morning we asked if we could detour via El Nicho – a waterfall between Trinidad and Cienfuegos. It’s supposed to be quite beautiful and you can swim in the base pool. It turns out our taxi wouldn’t have been able for the hill climb so we couldn’t go.
Travel Days: 6 – 8
Location: Cienfuegos, Cuba
Accomodation: Dalila, Ave 54 No, 21 y 23, Cienfuegos, 25 CUC p/n for three of us
Yet again, Cienfuegos was totally different to any of the other Cuban cities we visited – apparently because the French were responsible for the original city planning. It has a more American feel with quadrante or blocks, the streets and paths are much wider and there are people everywhere. And by people, I don’t mean tourists! The sense of community is strong here and as a tourist, the majority of the locals welcome you into it.
We landed relatively early due to the El Nicho mess up, which was a blessing in disguise as we actually had time to do something that day instead of eat, wander and sleep. Dalila, our ridiculously happy casa owner set us up in two rooms – something we were all grateful for. Barry was delighted with his own room, complete with a collection of Latin Americas hottest men posters! We decided to opt out of breakfast as we were all sick at the sight of papaya, but we did opt in for dinner on the first night.
We head to the main square to get our bearings and make a start at seeing the city. Similar to Santa Clara and Trinidad, the main square is a wifi hub, surrounded by brightly painted buildings. The difference here being majority of the buildings are public buildings for arts and culture – the theatre sits to the north, museums to the south, a community hall for dance, art and day care on the west and a church to the east. One building in particular, Mirador Palacio Ferrer stands out from the others for its elaborate architecture – obviously someone got notions!
We head for Laguna del Cura, about 3 km from town centre, as it was recommended on another blog. It’s basically a marina with rickety wooden docks and old wooden sheds – nothing you wouldn’t see on a lake in Ireland – the blog author must have been a city slicker. It wasn’ta total waste of time though as it was right beside the old yacht club that looks like it came straight out of The Great Gatsby. For the pleasure of entering the grounds you have to pay 1 CUC, but drinks inside are the same price as everywhere else and you have a fab view of the city and bay. And I can say I had a margarita in a yacht club!!
Back at the casa, Dalila had prepared an absolute feast – soup, vegetable platter, prawn/veggie/chili/rice concoction I couldn’t get enough of, followed by a dessert of a brown fruit topped with cheese (not a highlight). She spoke pretty good English and sat with us for a while recommending where to go and what to do. She also attempted to teach us some Cuban phrases – the only one I could remember is “Applulu”, which is basically used like Irish people use “grand”.
We rose early the next morning to catch the 8am ferry to Castillo de Jagua. It’s only 1 CUC for the hour long trip across the bay. The castle itself is pretty cool – they’ve restored it to its original state and have furnished it with historical artefacts from the area. It was built as a fort to protect the bay from pirate attacks (at least I think that’s what it said!). The view from the roof out to the Caribbean Sea is glorious. It’s also the finest example of Cuban Health and Safety – the drop from the roof to the moate was easily 15m, with not a railing in sight. They’re all for Darwinism by the looks of it and it’s refreshing!!
Other than the castle, there isn’t much else to do on the peninsula, so an hour was plenty of time – if you knew Spanish, maybe you’d stay a little longer and read up on some military history. There are only two returns to Cienfuegos, one at 10am and the other at 3pm, so we opted for 10am!
Back in the city we decided to make a second go at the lagoons and hitched a taxi to Laguna Guanaroca ( another, but more promising, lagoon ) for 20 CUC return. We arrived just in time to miss the 12pm tour so settled in for a two hour wait with a piña colada – we’re getting good at waiting. Anna, our half guide, collected us from the bar and walked us to the lagoon. On the way she gave a quick overview of the local ecological system which was actually quite interesting – did you know maracas are specifically grown for instruments? No? Now you do.
We arrived at the lagoon with an old dock where our boat was waiting – about the same size as the one in your bath. We squeezed on and set off. The Captain of our ship was the strong, silent type – that or he sensed or Spanish was less than adequate to hold a conversation. El Capitan rowed to the other side of the lagoon where a flock of flamingo were tucking into some lunch and gestured us to get out. It turns out the lagoon was actually only 2ft deep in that section. Anita and I declined the offer, but Barry hopped in and waded closer to the flamingos. It obviously wasn’t graceful enough though because they took flight at the sight of him – they’re not so majestic on take off, but once they’re up it’s a sight to see.
Our return back to the city led us to dinner and a few cans on the Malecon (sea wall) with the locals who were more than happy to trade Spanish lessons for English. The people are so friendly there. That evening Dalila organised our taxi for the following morning to Viñales.
Cienfuegos was most definitely my favourite city in Cuba.
Travel Days: 8 – 11
Location: Viñales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Accomodation: Villa Maria Antonia y Eduviel, Carretera al Cementerio No. 12, Viñales, Pinar del Rio, Cuba – 30 CUC per night
The taxi to Viñales started out pretty uneventful. We loaded into the back of another old Russian car with a timid elderly driver and hit the road. Upon arrival on the outskirts of Havana we swapped cars with a younger man – early 20s in his sky blue chevvy. This is where things got interesting! He was driving like an absolute maniac, beeping at everyone and anyone that looked like they might set foot on the lane he was driving in. The back window I was sitting beside didn’t close, so to stop getting wind burn from the speed he was driving at I took the opportunity to nap across the back seat beside Anita. I had nodded off just in time to miss our very professional taxi driver start a drag race with his equally professional taxi driver friend with an overloaded back seat of terrified tourists! Anita and Barry were loving life!
I woke up just in time for him to pick up another woman and her daughter, after which his driving seemed to calm down significantly. He was later pulled by the Cuban police, who searched his boot filled with our bags, but weren’t bothered to take them out – he did look suspiciously relieved as he was pulling away though.
As we drove through Viñales, it was clear this was a small town, rather than the cities we had visited previous. There is one main street with all the tour agencies, bars, restaurants and signature church with a square (wifi hub) infront of it. It’s an agricultural town flung into the growing tourist industry as the tobacco industry diminishes.
We pulled up to our casa who greeted us with open arms. She showed us to our room, which was in independent of their house. We agreed we didn’t need any food from the casa at this stage, but the casa owner didn’t take to that too kindly. In the end, we told her all we want is eggs and bread and we agreed 3 CUC each would do the job in the mornings. She then started to push dinner on us, which we politely declined. She then proceeded to tell us we would be sick from the restaurants in town – I was going to take my chances. Then she pushed tours she could get us for a good price. Even now, as I’m recalling it, I’m feeling annoyed!! After speaking with her salsa instructor son, Barry and I did accept his offer to teach us basic salsa that afternoon for 5 CUC each.
After not becoming ill from eating some top notch food for a reasonable price in the town and booking horse riding through the horse riding company, we arrived back to our salsa lesson in the back yard of the house. It was a funny kind of set up because it wasn’t so much their back yard as it was an outdoor kitchen/corridor between four or five other dwellings. They explained that all of the houses in the yard were actually family – siblings, cousins, parents and grandparents in their own little village in a village!
I haven’t much to say on the salsa dancing other than I’ve learned a valuable life lesson – it’s much easier to be the lady and just be flung about the dancefloor by someone that knows what their doing than it is to be the man that needs to lead himself and the none-the-wiser lady or be the lady that needs to lead the man without him knowing. Salsa, it would seem, is not for me!
As a reward for not crushing each other, the salsa instructor let us in on where the locals go to dance in the village and promised to let us practice our new moves. It wouldn’t be like us to pass up a drink anyway, so we head to the little club sitting neatly beside the church on the village square. It cost 2 CUC as an entry fee (gringo fee!), but the entertainment was very good. They had local dancers and singers come in to show the gringos how it was done. It wasn’t quite as good as the jazz club in Havana, but it was still quite good!
The next morning we snuck out of the house bright and early so as not to get in trouble with our casa owner. We met our stong, but silent, Cuban cowboy man and went to his stables to pick up the horses. He looked all three of us up and down and chose our horses accordingly – my horse, Pedro, was the smallest of the three. He was also the most persistent to be in front of the group, which meant that we galloped a lot. Pedro wasn’t as fit as he would like to be, as after every two minute gallop he needed to rest setting us back to the middle of the group again. Unfortunately for me, what he lacked in fitness, he made up for in persistence. We toured around the Pinar Del Rio province taking in the sights and sounds, right up until Pedro walked into a tree and nearly hopped me off of him. This was the first stop – a Cuban tobacco farm.
There was tobacco leaves growing for Cuban cigars in the surrounding fields. We walked into the hut, where a man was eagerly waiting to show us how they process the leaves and roll the cigars. He cut a previously rolled and dried cigar and gave us each a puff or ten, depending on how much you liked it! Next came the marketing bid – basically, buying direct from the farmer is much cheaper and cuts out the middle man. The man was impressively good at English, French and Spanish, however his marketing skills were lacking a little bit. One of the guys on our tour asked to buy two, but the farmer wouldn’t sell in anything less than 10, so he lost the sale.
I was flung around by Pedro for another 40 minutes before we reached the cave entrance, where another man came to guide us through the cave to the pools. We were handed some dodgy flash lights and were led over some small streams into the edge of the water. At that stage, my whole torso was in pain from Pedros incessant need to be at the front of the group, so dipping my feet in the water was enough – Anita was in the same frame of mind! Barry led the rest of the group down the pool into the abyss. While they were gone, the guide told us the cave was actually 40km long, something he failed to mention to the group hoping to get to the end. 20 minutes later the group reappeared after being blocked by a boulder of sorts! Thank God, because we were getting bored.
The ride back to the town was worse than the way up. Pedro got a burst of energy and went for it. I could feel my vertebrae rattling in my back. Note to self: learn to horse ride. We caught up to a Kiwi group of three, who Pedro was happy to trot beside. They were just as in control of their horses as I was. One of the girls horses decided he didn’t like the route and took a detour that caused a traffic block for a farmer pulling a cart with a pair of cows. At least Pedro was better than him!
Back at the village we stopped in for a bite in “Appalulu” – in my head it was serendipity from our casa owner in Cienfuegos. We were pleasantly surprised by the prices and the inclusion of actual chips as part of the meal! The pleasantries stopped there for me, because when my chicken landed, it was practically still breathing and my chips were swimming in a red juice… In my broken spanish I managed to tell them I couldn’t eat it, to which they seemed genuinely surprised and offered to put it back under the grill for five minutes. I suddently wasn’t hungry anymore and declined the offer.
The next day we decided to give the beach a second go. Armed with multiple bottles of factor 50 sunscreen, we got a collectivo to Cayo Jutias. The collectivo was filled to the brim, with the tallest people shoved into the smallest seats and the smallest people (me and a Spanish lady) getting the front seat with all the legroom anyone would ask for! The taxi had a mini TV right in front of me playing the music videos to whatever song was playing on the stereo – this was luxury! The roads out to the beach were in such a bad state that the 50km or so drive took over two hours to get us there. He was spaghetti-ing around potholes the entire time. Luckily all the traffic was going towards the beach, so us being on the other side of the road didn’t matter so much! We did eventually arrive at the shore, where the driver directed us over some forestry to get to the actual beach.
Similar to Playa Alcon, it was a beach of white sand and the most inviting blue water. There were a few bars and eateries to get Coco Locos and a sandwich – the price of which are all negotiable. There are also little unsuspecting thistle weeds growing in the area. They’re horrendously sore to stand on and even sorer to get a needle left in your foot from. Take my word on this one and avoid at all costs.
We got about 4 hours at the beach in total, and that was plenty, even for the sun worshipper Anita. We got back to the taxi just in time for some rain to start rolling in, which made for an interesting drive home. The group decided to better lay out the seating arrangments ourselves, letting the super tall Scandanavians get the spacious seats and sending Anita and I to the back seat with Barry – at least Barry could take the extra leg room we didn’t need without it being awkward. The taxi driver decided his return journey wouldn’t be pop music and the music videos, instead he opted for 80s ballads and some LED lighting instead. Needless to say time flew! The whole car was singing along and laughing and just being good craic. Then the heavens really opened. The car roof was leaking around the rear view mirror in the front, and water was gushing in the window on Anitas side. The same side happened to have a broken window…! Between herself and the French guy/MacGyver sitting in front of us, they managed to wedge it closed with a towel, which all just added to the hilarity of the situation.
We did eventually leave the rain behind and arrived back in a relatively dry Viñales just after sun set. Our bonding with MacGyver led us to organise a few drinks later that evening. We got some much needed showers and food and head back out for a few drinks after our venturing for the day. The cave party starts at 11pm every Saturday night, but it’s recommended you get out there earlier for a table and/or seats. It only costs 2 CUC in a taxi out there (not walkable!) and 10 CUC in for foreigners. It wasn’t so much a party as it was similar to the entertainment in the town from the previous night, but with one difference. This was in a cave. It was also the weekend, so there were a lot more locals around! The entertainment yo-yo’d between a local singer, breakdancers, a magician and a tattoo artist, who actually tattooed some mad yoke on stage with the club logo. Only in a cave in the back and beyonds of Cuba!!
Our night ended relatively early due to the whole taxi and flight to Cancun the next morning. Just as we rocked into the house, feeling a little merry, the electricity cut. The whole area was out, except for the ridiculously bright moon! It was at this point we realised just how much we were taking air con for granted in the rooms we were staying in. It was a very sticky night.
The next morning our taxi arrived to bring us back to the airport for the next leg of our journey. We had a bit of miscommunication and apparently told him we were in terminal 2, when in actual fact our flight was leaving from terminal 3 – about 5km from terminal 2. By the time we had realised the error, our taxi had left and we had to pay another 10 CUC to drop us to terminal 3. A lot of money for 5km!! It turned out to be not worth it too as gate closure times written on your flight information is actually the gate opening time in Cuba. We’ll know for next time!!
I would like to return to Cuba and do the east side, where there aren’t quite as many tourists. Also, I wouldn’t come back until my Spanish is a little better!! The culture here is fascinating and the people are amazing. Until next time Cuba!