26.2.14

Cuba - the story… days 1 and 2

Pio Cua, Australia!

It all seems like a vivid dream, now I'm back in Blighty, but I did get there, and endured the long tedious flights there and back. It all started when Amanda won the holiday on Facebook (but she had to pay for the flights). I said I'd always wanted to visit Cuba, let me know the dates, and next thing I was booked up. So were Mick and Anne, and finally Rob. So up on a cold Brighton morning, Thursday 13 February, I met up with Anne and Mick on Gatwick station and Rob and Amanda in Cafe Rouge having breakfast. It was a 737 to Madrid, then a 3-hour delay waiting for the Havana flight - and there's no bar in Madrid airport, just a Starbucks and Burger King - and finally a 10-hour flight in an Air Europa Airbus 330/300. Bumped into Mandy and Nigel Heslop in Milan, also en route for Cuba, going through security yet again (belt off, shoes off…)

Air Europa Airbus 330/300

It seemed like an eternity, with two films I couldn't really see and two meals (the first being pasta, when I had a lentil dish waiting for me! Anne liked the sound of that, but too late)! Finally we arrived at Havana in the middle of the night, through immigration (I followed Anne and Mick to the 'handicapped and children' queue and a guard kept putting families before me), and the sight of our first American cars. It was a short minibus journey to the huge Hotel Occidental Miramar and although it was about 5 in the morning UK time, I just had to have a mojito (only had a couple of cans of beer on the flight) so the barman took a €10 note and Rob and Amanda joined me - 3.50 CUC, about 2 quid.

View from bedroom

Day 2: Friday 14 February 2014
I awoke at 7am local time to a view of the sea and with the Brutalist Russian embassy dominating the skyline. The Breakfast was chaotic - it was a matter of first find a plate and cup! But there was plenty of choice, including salad and fruit at this big buffet. Then it was downstairs to our coach 1849 and to be introduced to our tour guide Tony, mechanic Ricardo and driver Eglise (?). The seats on the left hand side of the coach had been taken out to make room for the bikes. Checking out the rest of the group, they all looked a bit fit! So it was through the old town, along the Malecon where waves were crashing over the sea wall and out into the country. There were far more American cars on the road than I'd expected. Our first stop was a photo opportunity for the Australian couple, David and Di, to pose by a sign that said Australia! Then we pulled up at Pio Cua to get the bikes sorted and have a coffee with sugar cane stirrer. This was also the first encounter with the stern women who sit at a table outside toilets selling bog roll and demanding money!

Inside the coach

After being told off by Tony for not bringing helmets, we set off down a long straight (but flat) road. The bikes were Trek and mine was S1. I still had my cords on, not yet believing how hot it would get! The coach stopped generally about every 10km, and first stop was by a pool full of crocodiles, though we didn't see any. We did see lots of American cars parked up though. Then it was onward, stopping at the odd revolutionary poster, to the Bay of Pigs and Playa Larga for a picnic lunch by the sea. Some of the group paddled!

Paddling in the Bay of Pigs

Next stop was a bathing beach - but no sand, just razor-sharp tufa. I think it was on the next stretch that Rob and I gave up the 'practice ride' and retired to the coach. No hills yet, just a relentlessly long straight road in the heat. At Giron we visited the Bay of Pigs museum, and I spotted a lizard under a tank and several humming birds by the entrance.

Cueva de los Peces beach

Then it was into Cienfuegos for a quick look round and an encounter with people after your money. I bought some Che Guevara 3 peso coins for 1 CUC each, which turned out to be a good deal. But when we got mobbed by beggars we retreated into the Teatro Tomas Terry (not Terry-Thomas) for a mojito! We stopped for the night at Hotel Rancho Luna, an all-in (yes, the beers and mojitos were free!) Butlins style hotel with a huge pool. Dinner was buffet style and we were sat next to a pianist who'd probably accompanied Frank Sinatra in his time. We were then treated to an operatic song and dance extravaganza with light show. I sat watching it on a recliner by the pool looking up at a full moon in a big sky, sipping yet another mojito (albeit a bit weaker than usual)!

Rancho Luna pool

Many more photos on Flickr.

Cuba: days 3 and 4 - By the sea to Trinidad! 

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