Saturday 30 January
After a relaxing start to the day we headed to the airport. Once again old cars puffed out black fumes while drivers and passengers alike draped arms out open windows or rested elbows on sills, just like you used to see in NZ prior to aircon in cars. Sylvia has a long trip in front of her via Cancun, Houston and London to Singapore. We have had a wonderful time in Cuba so it is as always hard to say goodbye.
I finally caught up with AJ and Cam at Hostal Italy in the old town after they couldn’t find me at the airport. Casa Hostal Italy is clean and well presented with a lounge and dining room as you enter from the street. We have arranged by sign language a large room with 3 single beds and a bathroom.
We took a stroll into town visiting several bars where bands played easy listening local music. We enjoyed dinner at Dona Eutimia. After a visit to Bosque Bologne in Obispo St we strolled the kilometre or so back to the hostal.
As we approached the hostal Cam realised he had left his phone at the bar. A fast stroll back to the bar and the phone was handed back by one of the bar staff. On the return to the hostal we stopped at the Alegria for a celebratory drink. At this family-run, rather basic but patriotic bar, apparently visited by Castro, we had a good chat and a fair bit of banter with the locals turning what was going to be an early night into a very late one.
Sunday 31 January
From the Central Square we took the same tour Sylvia and I had done last Wednesday, this time in a 1958 Oldsmobile. With its original motor the oil fumes were pretty strong.
The rest of the day we spent looking around the town with visits to the markets, some shops and old buildings. We stopped at Restaurant America on the way home where we shared a large dish of pork, beef, chicken, lobster and rice. Including a water each it cost 19 locals for the three of us.
The area on our route home is dominated by prostitutes in very short skirts and tight fitting tops. They try hard to strike up conversations as we stroll past. On Concordia the street where our hostal is there are a few basic food outlets, some just a window with a cafe sign above it. Here also you can still get your fan or electric pot fixed.
Monday 1 February
At breakfast we met Ignoe, a lady from Spain, who works for a research foundation who work with other international agencies to improve living conditions in Cuba. Ignoe was telling us that after the iron curtain came down the flow of Russian money to Cuba stopped. They had no fuel, no cars on the road and very little food and clothing. This is referred to by the locals as the “special period”. It is with the help of these international organisations parts of the city have been restored.
Next I rang Cubavanalustaxi.com. The plan was simply to confirm our car for tomorrow. Here nothing is simple. I ring the number – they hang up. After four times of that they ring back. “We have no record of your email!!” Asking if we can get a car anyway we get the response “we will find out and ring back”. I explained we were going out. “Just ask anyone to for their phone, ring once and we will ring back”
After checking emails at the internet place and trying the car company again on their phone, we got a cab over the river and took a stroll around part of the Three Kings of El Morro Castle, a fortress on the headland built in the mid fifteen hundreds.
Slightly upriver is San Carlos De La Cabana. Built between 1763 & 1774 it is one of the largest forts in the Americas. With river to the south and multiple moats to the southeast and west, it must have impregnable. As mentioned a few days ago this place has a tobacco shop that houses an 81m cigar. We paid the 6 locals and took a stroll inside.
This place at 700 plus meters long has a mass of what we presume would have been barracks storage and cook houses. It is well kept with internal stairs running down to the moat in places. It now houses a couple of restaurants and the odd coffee shop. There are a lot of people in uniform walking around. The women, like others in uniform, wear fishnet stockings. Wide ramps lead up onto the walls and roofs so you can walk from one end to the other.
After we took a look at the cigar in the shop, where a guy dressed like a waiter stood perfectly still the whole time we were in there; it was only his eyelashes moving that gave him away. There are lots of these people around town staging themselves as statues etc.
A closer look at the outdoor military museum revealed some innovate weapons. One in particular was an old Mig that had been turned into a rocket. There is also the remains of a US plane shot down during the 62 missile crisis era. We went to the buildings next door believing they were the museum but they turned out to be the admin buildings.
Back across the water at the internet place (no internet “broken”) I called the car company again but still no luck in finding us a driver that spoke English. I had earlier said we would accept one with no English but no luck there either.
After Cam called a friend of a friend we had a beer or two then went to try a couple of rental car companies. They had nothing for today. We said we wanted a car tomorrow, “can’t book come back tomorrow”.
Back at the hostal I rang the car company again: “we have a car with Spanish speaking driver”. We leapt at it job done at last.
We headed back into town to Europa in Obispo St for a good meal followed by a drink and cigar at a local bar.
Tuesday 2 February
The stay at Hostal Italy Concordia # 462 has been fantastic. Sergio and Anya along with son Alejandro who run the place keep it spotless. They are friendly very helpful providing a tasty and filling breakfast.
Our driver Miguel with an almost new BYD (better your life) Chinese made car was on time. After a petrol stop we were soon heading east then southeast through farm land. This part of the country is very fertile with mobs of cows and pigs. As we hit the bottom of the Bay of Pigs we continued around the coast a little. We stopped for a map check to find we were on a road to nowhere. Communication with our non-English speaking driver was a little difficult in spite of AJ’s good Spanish. We turned back and stopped at Playa Giron for a very tasty lunch. The area is the site of the US-backed 1961 invasion which was over in 72 hours. With some sandy beaches, a pretty coastline, very blue water and a couple of small towns it’s all very picturesque.
After lunch Miguel once again headed off in the wrong direction. Eventually on the right road we headed through some jungle, then into rich farmland. Old tractors worked the fields among large irrigation units. We came across big bags of what looked like grain lying on the edge of the seal. Then a trail of what turned out to be rice spread hundreds of meters along the edge of the road with people scooping it up and bagging it. This is apparently how the dry their rice.
Arriving in Cienfuegos, famous because of singer-songwriter Benny Moore, a French built town in the early eighteen hundreds with wide streets and avenues, we were soon settled in a local Casa. We strolled up the street and along a mall we found a roof top bar where we tried out their unreliable WiFi. The fiery red sunset from here was well worth the visit as were the eight flautists who began to play with great skill just on dark.
We stopped at Te Quedaras for dinner. This upstairs ‘rip the tourist off’ restaurant turned out an overpriced, poor quality meal.