Cuba: Heading East

Wednesday 3 February

After breakfast at Casa La Mar 3719 we strolled off down the road to La Punta Gorda, a peninsula with some rather ostentatious buildings situated amongst the local houses shops and restaurants. In the distance we spotted what looked like an observatory but turned out to be a nuclear power plant that has never actually functioned.  An Australian lady spotted us and came over for a chat. Marnie had sat beside Cam on the flight to Havana.

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After a bit of banter we finally accepted a lift from the local tricycle taxi. These guys peddled us off down to a local bay where thirst was quenched with a 3L vessel of beer. Our taxis then stopped by our Casa where Miguel had finally turned up with the car. He was supposed to meet us at 0930. It turned out he had driven to Havana and back last night to drop off the money we had given him. A nearly 800km round trip hardly made sense to us. The bike taxi guys peddled us to an old cemetery famous for its artistic statues (in the guide book). It turned out to be a rather run down with a lot of damaged tombs.

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Miguel picked us up and after dropping Marnie off in town we headed for Trinidad.  We stopped at La Covacha, situated slightly above the road with a thatched roof and no walls on a concrete pad. Chooks wandered around amongst us as if waiting their turn for the pot. A ring tailed lizard also put in an appearance. The food was great.

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Soon we approached the sea, driving east along the coast through a few little towns and beach resorts. Trinidad is an old town with relatively narrow streets.  Arriving at Hostal Onidia we again found one double and one single bed, in spite of AJ’s instructions to Miguel. The hostess was rather pushy trying to make us order breakfast while the husband tried to talk us into a box of Cohiba cigars for 50 locals. Two turtles swam in a small put waiting to be cooked.

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A stroll up the road to the local park revealed lots of tourists and locals on phones and computers soaking up the local Wifi. We chatted to a few people then headed up to the old part of town, which hosts numerous shops filled with art, carvings and expensive restaurants.

Thursday 4 February 

We relocated to Casa Yanelis just around the corner with 3 single beds. Miguel was late again but not by much as we got the Casa man to go and get him. He has now been given the message. Once by me in sign language, once by Cam in a version of Spanish he may not have understood and lastly by AJ in Spanish.

Next we ventured to the Museo Historico Municipal, once a stately home, now a museum with a few, in some cases badly kept, artefacts from the local area. The climb up to the tower was entertaining as we squeezed our way up a spiral staircase. The view was well worth it. The city is a lot smaller than I expected with no modern buildings. Batsista, Castro’s predecessor, declared the town a heritage site in the fifties.

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Brunch was enjoyed at El Taco Local.

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A visit to Peninsulas Ancon revealed a stunning beach with thatched umbrellas and white coral sand.

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Back in the old part of town we spent the afternoon listening to music and chatting to people. One couple from Denmark had their 18-month old son and five-year old daughter with them. They had spent three weeks in NZ last year with their children.

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It is dark here before seven. On the way home we stopped at Fruty Fruty Horario for dinner. This three table restaurant fed the three of us with a tasty pork and rice meal and a drink each for thirteen locals.

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Friday 5 February

An early morning stroll out to the east and west side of Trinidad revealed a tranquil beauty. With no cars buses or trucks about apart from the odd tractor the clip clop sound of well-shod horses was all one heard.

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A man with a large bag of bread rolls went from door to door, as did another man with his string of onions and garlic stretching from almost the ground over his shoulder and back again. Horses and carts laden with building materials made their way at a good clip towards the centre of town. Others laden with fruit and vegetables stopped in the street with locals gathered around. Children made their way to school on foot in tidy uniforms, some spinning large string powered tops on the cobble stones as they went.

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People often leave their front doors open. Even rough looking houses are clean with nice looking old furniture inside. Riders lead teams of unsaddled horses through the streets. Saddled horses wait patiently outside houses feeding from large bowls.

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The 260km journey to Camaguey was an interesting one, driving alongside the valley of what were once the sugar fields that established Trinidad some five hundred years ago, then through the hills into central Cuba before heading northeast through Sancti Spiritus, famous among other things for its old English style Punto Yayabo bridge.

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As we turned east the land became even more fertile with paddocks full of stock and large sugar plantations. Chimneys from the sugar mills pumped out black smoke while harvesters in the foreground reaped the cane from the fields.

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At our destination we discovered a city built 500 years ago with streets designed to protect it from pirates such as Morgan and Bligh. The streets are at all different angles which makes the city really interesting.

After settling into our Casa we took a stroll to the nearby square where we were entertained at a bar by a really cool band. As well as the musicians they had a young singer/dancer who was brilliant.

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We strolled a few blocks further and found another square with a band setting up as locals sat around logging on to the local Wi-Fi. A few hundred meters on through a flash mall type street we found another square with another band and more Wi-Fi. It looks like the retail sector is still learning when it comes to window displays! There were many police and security people present here, something we have not seen before.

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Saturday 5 February 

The early morning stroll saw the city awakening, the last of the street sweepers finishing their shift in grey overalls, cleaning both footpaths and streets with small brooms. This town too is very clean; even as I reached the outer suburbs with dirt streets the foot paths had been swept and little or no litter lay about. I spotted a team of men lined up with what from a distance looked like weed eating machines. They turned out to be spray machines for killing mosquitos. Interestingly we have only seen one of since we have been here.

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A small factory was making furniture – like one used to see in NZ in the nineties. Louvers are on many windows here.  Horses and carts line up like trucks waiting to go about their daily business.

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Obesity seems to be a big problem here with both sexes. It is surprising as there is definitely no fast food here, (in fact the service makes it slow food) no coke and few fizzy drinks.

The petrol stations are stocked with beer, rum, spirits and a few food items. It’s usual to see people sitting drinking beer in a cafe at nine am. We have yet to see anyone showing signs of intoxication. Buildings are being restored, the facades held up by timbers and in some cases small trees.

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Miguel is two hours late. We had paid him 500 locals last night. The whole deal is dodgy to say the least. This is how I think it works!! We organised the car through Taxi Vinales Cuba; they organised the driver; he rented the car from Cubacar. He had to pay them in stages as he obviously has no money. We pay, he pays. Last night he went all the way back to Havana to make the payment – a round trip of over eleven hundred kms.

Finally on the road we headed east through farmland and a number of small towns and a couple of cities.

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The sugar cane harvest was well underway here with large plumes of smoke appearing in the distance from the burning of stubble. Most of the harvest seemed to be done by harvesters. In one place we spotted a team of bullocks carting manually harvested cane. We stopped to take photos. As we watched the team was unhitched from the dray. I took a stroll down to see the bullocks. The driver suggested I mount one of the beasts. As I swung my leg over the bullock took a few steps. I had visions of the beast doing a runner leaving me sitting the ground. He was just steadying himself and stood still with me on his back. We donated the drover a part bottle of rum I had taken from the Tropicana Show.

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All the horses and bullocks we have come across on this journey have been extremely well broken. We have never seen one shy even as big trucks pass close by puffing out large plumes of black smoke.

As we head south there are mandarin stalls on the roadsides. Strings are threaded through the centre so they hang in neat lines.

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As we are closing on Santiago de Cuba Miguel is tiring so we watch and chat to him to ensure he stays awake. The city is quite big with lots of propaganda signs about the revolution. Castro started the first revolution here. The town dates back to the early fifteen hundreds. Eventually we find a Casa after many we try are full.

We head into the main square where a religious ceremony is taking place at the huge cathedral built in 1515. Hundreds of people watch from the square. We enjoy a meal on the balcony of the Hotel Casa Granda opened in 1915. From there we have a grand view of the proceedings.

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We then took a stroll up a busy pedestrian street to another square where music played and young children were given rides on carts pulled by goats. Young men sat around drinking beer and run. Pre-teen girls roamed the streets in short skirts and shorts many with smart phones.

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Finally we settled into a local bar where a super salesman spent twenty minutes selling Cam a box of 30 assorted Cohiba cigars for just 30 locals.

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