Cuba: days 8 and 9 - Havana and home

John Lennon statue attendant

Day 8: Thursday 20 February 2014
The breakfast at Hotel Occidental Miramar wasn't as chaotic as on the first day, when there were no plates or cups, maybe it was the late start that worked in our favour. Today was the walking tour of Havana's Old Town, but first a detour to John Lennon Park. Now this is what I love about Cuba: People (tourists?) kept nicking John Lennon's spex so they employed a guy to put them on him every time someone wants their photo taken. This guy must be the richest man in Cuba. Every 20 minutes or so a coach full of tourists arrives and each tourist tips him say 1 cuc. Now a cuc (convertible tourist peso) is worth 60p to you or me but 24 times that in local pesos! So he must make at least 20 quid for every coach arriving… Simple pricing in Cuba: 1 cuc buys you a bottle of water, 2 cuc a beer, 3 cuc a mojito!

Loco museum outside Central Station

We then headed to Central Station, where in the park outside are several retired locos and a herd of wild cats. We also passed three other locos on the way and I'm not sure whether this was a treat for me, or a regular part of the tourist trail. Anyway I had a quick peep inside the station too and spotted a big old diesel loco. Not much in the way of train activity however.

Loco museum outside Central Station

The coach dropped us off at Plaza de San Francisco and immediately we were surrounded by caricaturists and women in national costume, all wanting our cash. Rob very kindly forked out 5 cuc for a drawing of me done surreptitiously by a woman with gold teeth and Mick got nabbed by the ladies.

Mick gets nabbed by Havana ladies

We saw the President's railway carriage, but didn't go in - you had to pay, and the restored Plaza Viega, with its giant cock statue and the only microbrewery pub in town, Factoria Plaza Viega, sadly it was too early to get a drink - it opened at 12 noon.

Rob and Amanda at the giant cock

At the cigar shop I bought the cheapest they had, a Romeo y Julieta No. 2 at 6 cuc.  We had lunch of tuna toasties and mojito on the roof terrace of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernie Hemingway lived, transported upwards by an ancient iron lift complete with wise-cracking attendant. We then had some free time and I bought some space stamps in the Plaza de Armas, where there was a market of booksellers all around the square. At the allotted time, we headed to the cathedral to meet up with Tony, our tour guide.

Tony at Havana cathedral

I was intrigued by how many cannons there were used as bollards (in Trinidad too), and the strange 'green man' letterboxes everywhere.


Then it was back to the hotel to say goodbye to those travelling on the earlier direct flight with Virgin, those staying on, but in Old Town casas, and our tour guide, mechanic and driver. At 6.30 we got a taxi to the airport to be greeted by mayhem at check-in, with people pushing and shoving to get in a queue, but once through security the departure hall was pleasant enough. Had a beer and bought a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Especial for 5.95 cuc, then it was the long tedious Airbus flight back - only 8 hours this time cos the wind was behind us!

Cuban space stamps

Day 9: Friday 21 February 2014
At Madrid, we ran to catch the connection - a rather more pleasant flight in a Brazilian Embraer 195 (EC-KRJ), which felt more like a private jet, whose route took us over Brighton. Back at Gatwick we discovered that our cases had stayed in Madrid, so after some form filling, came home on the train in the freezing cold in just a short-sleeved shirt and shorts! My case was delivered the very next day, door-to-door!

Tons more photos on Flickr.

Cuba: days 7 and 8 - back to Havana >


Cuba: days 7 and 8 - back to Havana

American car

Day 7: Wednesday 19 February 2014
After a buffet breakfast at the Hotel Hanabanilla it was all in the coach for the long drive to Santa Clara and the Che Guevara Mausoleum. This huge monument is placed in a big plaza; photography wasn't allowed inside the museum, but we saw Che's Zenit camera, dental equipment and all kinds of other stuff. No gift shop, but i bought a postcard in the bookshop. Then we were allowed to snap away at the outside.


Onwards to Havana, passing a dead steam loco by the side of the road. The Cuban houses are mainly small cubes, quite Modernist in appearance, made out of breeze blocks, sometimes rendered and painted, other times not. No windows, just slats. I was amazed how many horses were still used, and there are chickens everywhere. Lots of improvisation too when it came to water towers. Shame they can't all have solar panels! We had lunch (a half buffet for me - but there was meat in the bean stew so just salad) at Pio Cua where we had started our epic journey.

Loco graveyard

Back in the Capital, we stopped at El Capitolio to stretch our legs and were immediately besieged by hustlers, one toothless old lady taking a shine to the pen in my top pocket! Nigel from the Wirral always said I carried too many pens, slowed me down! After a walk by a big tree with Anne and Mick I spotted the loco graveyard and quickly took some photos - just as well, because we didn't return there the next day as promised by Tony.


We then drove to a huge car park with star-shaped monument one end, Che and Fidel murals and loads of American cars and yellow Coco cabs. It was then back to the Hotel Occidental Miramar, where we stayed the first night. For our last night in Cuba we were offered the Tropicana show at 95 cuc or the Buena Vista Social Club at 30 cuc - no contest, although the main Buena Vista club was fully booked, so we got the Reserves at the Guajirito. After much negotiating, me, David and Di and Nigel got an American car into town (a Chevvy Belaire '53 maybe?).

Taxi to Guajirito

The food at the Guajirito was really very good (most meals worked out at 20 cuc), the best cooked fish all week, and we got three free drinks with our ticket to see the band. It was a backing band of youngsters, with the old boys and girls taking a turn out front. Must see the film! Then it was another American car with big fins back to the hotel.

Taxi back to hotel

Once again, more photos on Flickr.

< Cuba: days 8 and 9 - Havana and home

Cuba: days 5 and 6 - by catamaran to Iguana Island and up into the mountains >

Cuba: days 5 and 6 - by catamaran to Iguana Island and up into the mountains

Day 5: Monday 17 February 2014

Brekky at the casa

Vania, our landlady at Hostal Manaca made us a huge amount of breakfast and, as it wasn't a buffet for once, we had to try. We got two boiled eggs on sauerkraut, a cheese and ham roll (!), lots of fruit and a few extra bread rolls. But she did my washing, for which I was charged 8 cuc; I also has a beer (not for breakfast) and a bottle of water from the fridge. It was a rest day so I opted for the optional 30 cuc catamaran trip to Iguana Island, but first had to find a bank to repay my debts and the PO to post my postcards. Some of the hardier types, including Anne, opted for extra cycling, but it was apparently hard and mainly uphill! See Anne's write up of the trip on the Clarion website.


At the marina, we took off our shoes and climbed aboard the boat for a brief trip to the island of Cayo Macho. The bar opened almost immediately and was hard to resist a Cuba Libre - Rob was first in line! At the island, Rob and I plus the Australians David and Di disembarked, while the others went off snorkelling the other side of the island. We saw just one iguana, which eventually ended up under a table, but many hermit crabs, scurrying hither and thither. The lunch, when the others got back, was paella, which I'm pretty sure had chicken in it! Ah well.


Dinner that night was at the Restaurant Paladar Malibran, off the main square, which was the best so far. A huge platter of lobster appeared at one point (I had about three halves) after the rice and beans. There was also fried plantain, and cassava, though it wasn't as popular!  The cowboy band was great too and the chef came out of the kitchen to do a couple of numbers. Elise the driver also spring into action to join in, then it was Rob's turn. This was the only time I was without my camera. Afterwards we paid a cuc to enter the Casa de la Musica, where Rob had discovered an old rum cost just 1 cuc! We saw two bands, then it was off to bed.

Paella at Iguana Island

Day 6: Tuesday 18 February 2014
It was cock-a-doodle-do and wakey wakey at the casa. This morning it was an omelette, plus the usual cheese and ham roll, etc.

Hostal Manaca breakfast area

Soon it was on the coach again and up to the mountains. Eglise negotiated some hairy hairpin bends until we reached an observation platform and lots of steps leading up to it. I stayed at the foot of them. It was onwards to a small settlement on the plateau and it was out with the bikes. I cycled most of the way to the lunch stop (tuna sandwiches) but at the thought of a big hill (down then up) gave in. Amanda and Anne were peeved that they gave up just yards from the end of the hill, and the ride.

Viewing platform

Hotel Hanabanilla was another Soviet style hotel, but with stunning views of the lake beyond the pool. We spent the afternoon by the pool drinking beer; Anne and Fran even had a dip in the lake. For dinner we crossed the dam and ate at a paladar, whose name I forgot to take, suffice to say it had a sleeping cock in a tree!

Hotel Hanabanilla, in the mountains

The food was fine, more fish! And I finished off Rob's plate of thinly sliced tomatoes with an interesting dressing.

Paladar with cock in tree

Lots more photos on Flickr.

< Cuba: days 7 and 8 - back to Havana

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

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

Villa Islazul Yaguanabo, Cienfuegos.

Day 3: Saturday 15 February 2014

Omelette maker

After an omelette at Rancha Luna, we cycled a few km to a gas station where the day's 'undulations' would begin. Although now wearing shorts, I retired to the coach and Rob was picked up near the summit of the first hill. We motored on to a bus stop at a junction to await the arrival of the others. Our group comprised: the five Clarionettes, three couples from Guildford, a young couple from Cardiff, a couple from Australia and three single chaps, including Brooks from Canada.

Rob and Amanda

After a photo opp of a revolutionary poster and several horse-drawn taxis, we all set off again, with a 10km stop at a giant Indian, where we had bananas and water. We pulled in at a paladar La Vegas where I had another omelette (the rest had shredded beef) while we watched chickens, a turkey, and ox cart and misc kids on horses, sitting beneath a shady verandah.

Octopus woman

And on to Villa Islazul Yaguanabo, the one with the octopus woman statue outside, right by the sea, where I had a chalet with sea view. The afternoon was spent on the sandy beach, paddling in the sea and taking photos of pigs and chickens. Dinner was in the hotel and if I'd stayed up I'd have seen the Haitian chef do some fire walking and lifting a table with a kid sitting on it, with his teeth!


Day 4: Sunday 16 February 2014
At breakfast we had a fine array of delights, including rice pudding and creme caramel, with the welcome addition of HP sauce, as well as the mandatory tropical fruits and reasonable bread. Rob was particularly taken with the two jams on offer.

Rob tries some rice pudding

Then it was onto our bikes and over the bridge for a 35km ride to Ma Dolores, the only full day's cycling I managed, with a little help from Ricardo up the hills. Although it was still technically morning, a beer was in order. There are two beers in Cuba: the lighter Cristal and the slightly stronger Bucanero, both coming in at 2 CUC a pop. Then it was the coach into Trinidad where Tony gave us a walking tour, including an art gallery, a Santería temple and the cathedral.

Santería temple

Lunch was a buffet at the Plaza Mayor where the usually bland white fish was livened up by a drop of soup as sauce. I also enjoyed the black beans and rice. Left to our own devices, we explored the bell tower of the Bandit Museum and I got hassled by two of the women guards for tips, one trying to sell me a Che banknote (I did buy a crisper one later in Havana).

Lunch at Plaza Mayor

Then it was to the Casa Osmary Alberto where we were introduced to our casa landladies who led us down the street to our B&Bs for the next two nights. I was with Vania at Hostal Manaca up a spiral staircase in the back room; Simon the osteopath was in the front room with balcony and two rocking chairs. After a fruitless search for a bank (but I did find the PO) it was back to Osmary Alberto for supper of lobster (yes!) and fish (why?), serenaded by a trio of singers!

Fran with Old guys

The rest went up to the Casa de la Musica for more drink and salsa music, but I was knackered so retired to bed.


Many more photos on Flickr.

< Cuba: days 5 and 6 - by catamaran to Iguana Island and up into the mountains

Cuba - the story… days 1 and 2 >


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! 



Cuban Highlights Ride with Exodus February 2014

Air Europa Airbus pasta lunch

Just wanted to get the itinerary sorted before a proper blog posting! Seems like a dream now, but it was only last week. Cuba was fabulous, but sandwiched between two tedious journeys, with delays and aircraft food. The cycling was hard, as I expected, but I did manage to cycle every day and did one full day on Day 3, with a little push from mechanic Ricardo on the 'undulations'. Thank goodness there was an air-conditioned coach acting as sweep wagon.

Our coach  1849

Lots more photos on Flickr:

Day 1: Thursday 13 February 2014
Lunch: pasta on Airbus (see above)
Sleep: Hotel Occidental Miramar, Havana, after first mojito.

Hotel Occidental Miramar

Day 2: Friday 14 February 2014
Breakfast chaos: Hotel Occidental Miramar, Havana.
Coffee and bikes out at Pio Cua, Australia
Lunch: picnic on Playa Larga, Bay of Pigs
Buffet dinner: Hotel Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos.
Sleep: Hotel Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos.

Rancho Luna pool

Day 3: Saturday 15 February 2014
Breakfast: Hotel Rancho Luna, Cienfuegos.
Lunch: La Vegas (cheese omelette)
Buffet dinner: Villa Islazul Yaguanabo, Cienfuegos.
Sleep in chalet: Villa Islazul Yaguanabo, Cienfuegos.

My chalet

Day 4: Sunday 16 February 2014
Breakfast: Villa Islazul Yaguanabo, Cienfuegos.
Beer at Ma Dolores
Buffet lunch: Plaza Mayor (battered fish and black beans)
Dinner: Casa Osmary Alberto (lobster and fish)
Sleep: Casa Hostal Manaca (with Simon next door)

Casa Hostal Manaca

Day 5: Monday 17 February 2014
Breakfast: Hostal Manaca (two boiled eggs on sauerkraut)
Lunch: Iguana Island (paella, with chicken in it!)
Dinner: Restaurant Paladar Malibran (lots of lobster! best meal of trip, and cowboy band)
Sleep: Hostal Manaca

Hostal Manaca, Trinidad, Cuba

Day 6: Tuesday 18 February 2014
Breakfast: Hostal Manaca (cock a doodle do omelette)
Lunch: tuna sandwich in the mountains
Dinner: Paladar with cock in a tree
Sleep: Hotel Hanabanilla, in the mountains, by a lake

Hotel Hanabanilla, in the mountains

Day 7: Wednesday 19 February 2014
Breakfast: Hotel Hanabanilla, in the mountains
Lunch: back at Pio Cua, Australia (half buffet, meat in bean stew)
Dinner: Guajirito (excellent fish) then Buena Vista Social Club (reserves!)
Sleep: Hotel Occidental Miramar

View from bedroom

Day 8: Thursday 20 February 2014
Breakfast: Hotel Occidental Miramar (less manic than first day)
Lunch: Hotel Ambos Mundos roof terrace (tuna toasties and mojito)
Dinner: boring veggie meal of rice, broccoli and carrots on Airbus

Day 9: Friday 21 February 2014
Breakfast on Airbus, leave bags at Madrid, pleasant trip back on Embraer 195 EC-KRJ over Brighton.

Cuba - the story… days 1 and 2

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

< Cuba: days 5 and 6 - by catamaran to Iguana Island and up into the mountains

< Cuba: days 7 and 8 - back to Havana

< Cuba: days 8 and 9 - Havana and home