12th November, 2013
Touring Cuba, the way we have, reminds me of when I walked across burning coals.
At the time you are so overwhelmed by the experience it is difficult for it all to sink in. It's only once you climb onto the Virgin plane to go home do you start to comprehend what an amazing journey it has been.
Trinidad is a stunning town, a UNESCO world heritage site with the most magnificent buildings, stuck in between a 400 year old heritage and coming to a grinding halt in the '50s. There are no regulated standards for accommodation, which is all priced between 35-40CUC per room (R3-400). You may be lucky and stay in a well-furnished place with nice linen and cutlery or....not. Food has little variety and the menu is stuck on pork, chicken and seafood accompanied by salad (cucumber, tomato, grated cabbage and sometimes avo), rice with black beans, bread and fruit - guavas, papaya and white pineapple. (Be careful as papaya in Cuban has another meaning and you may be asking for female genitals!)
Up to this point we believe we have seen Cuba at it most 'native' with hardly any tourists, which is probably why our red number plates have been drawing such interest. Trinidad on the other hand is seething with tourists, bringing along with them the need to tout, push up prices, litter and a plethora of souvenirs and Chinese crap.
For the seasoned African driver self-driving in Cuba is not difficult. It is run on a horse and pedal power, with a few motorbikes thrown in (side cars are popular in the towns and cities). Between them and pedestrians they have the right of way and they are not intimidated by large trucks. Overtaking on the bumpy roads can be hair-raising. At the onset of our trip it was decided that Rob and Llyris would drive, assigning them the two front seats. Joan and I happily settled in the back and we were frequently 'shushed' when we chirped with any driving instructions or contributions to directions. When the driving became hazardous Joan would embryonically wedge herself between her seat and the door, curling herself into a foetal ball small enough to fit back in her mother's tummy! We knew things were getting bad when Joan started to wedge.
Our hosts were Rita and Pepe. Llyris and Joan stayed with a doctor and his wife about a block away. When we arrived Pepe stupidly handed Llyris the keys to his bike and off she and Rob went on the cobbled road. I am not sure who was more surprised Pepe or me. Couldn't believe he could be so stupid!!
The next day we drove into the Topes de Collantes to hike to the waterfall, along with hundreds of others (sadly). I was under the impression that it was an easy walk. Bah! So not. A 5km round trip, admittedly in a beautiful lush forest, but descending steeply to the falls and a pool. What goes down must come up and if it wasn't for the refreshing swim in the pool at the bottom, I don't think I would have made it back.
We drove down the Peninsula Ancon and swam in a better version of the Caribbean (Santiego de Cuba having been hugely disappointing). It was after 4 but a lone fellow still insisted on hiring out goggles for 3CUC (R30). When he wanted 1CUC for parking we all barked at him! We drove a little further down the beach to a bar and had 'the best mojitos' in town watching the sun set (everyone claims to make ‘The best mojitos).
Dinner was at our house and whilst 10CUC is excellent value the precious lobster was over cooked. Rob and I walked around the buzzing town after dinner following the sound of live music. The square was writhing with tourists fawning over the local talent, desperate to move their salsa hips to the infectious music.
Robert dining under the brassier - literally!!