Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Monday, March 25, 2013 15:40:56|
CUBA 2013: 1 - Preparations & airport to Camaguey
As it turned out there was no internet in Cuba that we could use I'm sending this in installments after returning home.
The planning for this trip was fairly simple - rent a car for two weeks and wing it - no plans, no reservations. The flights were booked through our in house travel agency, and the visa process a pleasure. I went to the Cuban Embassy where I pressed the buzzer and was let in - no guards of any kind, just a room with seating and a secretary. I presented the online forms plus $15 each, chatted to a pleasant fellow for 15 minutes about driving times and things to do and the visas were done. Well before we left I was pawing the ground - it has been 7 months since I've travelled and after the long hours of work we were both more than ready to get away.
The 2 hour flight was smooth and arrived on time. The immigration lines were slow, but there were several officers. We had been told that we must purchase compulsory medical care for $3 each per day, but there was no one to ask where to buy it until we were through immigration, and then we were told it was before immigration and we couldn't go back, so decided not to bother.
The prepaid rental car was ready, road maps purchased at information, a SIM card purchased for the cell phone and money changed. It turns out we paid 11 Euros per day more to book online than if we rented at the airport. We needed to put a $500 US deposit on the car, but found our Costa Rican International credit cards were rejected.
We left the airport on the wrong road, but through dead reckoning ended up close to where we were supposed to be. The idea was to stay at an airport hotel or a hotel on our route east. It turned out there are no airport hotels, nor are there any hotels within hundreds of kilometers of the airport on the National Highway east.
We had been told there were homes where we could rent a room along our route, so after asking we were directed to a small dirt road where there was one of these houses. There were two rooms adjoining with private bathrooms, matrimonial beds and full sized fridges with beer in them. They also had a lock up garage for the car, so we took it for $20. We were advised these rooms were for Cubans -- the cleaning standards fell well short, and my sheets had interesting red rust coloured spots and yellow spots.
We found a small (1 table, 2 chairs) restaurant where Marilynn had a pork chop and I had a pizza accompanied by beer purchased across the street. We met a number of the locals who dropped by, and everyone was very friendly, but the poverty is certainly evident. We did get a very important lesson in economics from the honest lady who was looking after the restaurant. Each CUC peso (tourist currency) is worth 25 local pesos - we would have over payed 25 times!
The lady told us things were improving in Cuba, that they could now get food on a regular basis where before it was scarce, and that some private enterprise was permitted. Lack of care and maintenance that goes with collectivist economies was evident everywhere in rundown or abandoned buildings and apartment blocks.
Back at our rooms we tucked the car away in the garage and retired to our separate rooms, Marilynn to read, and me to write. When it came time to sleep, I put the somewhat clean top sheet over the bottom sheet, left on my pants, socks and T-shirt, put a table cloth on top of me and my travel vest over that. It was a very on and off night sleep wise, not improved by the owners dog that barked regularly until about 1 AM then the 3:46 AM rooster went off and took over from there.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
The lady of the house served us ham, scrambled eggs and crackers at 7 AM, after which we got lost again trying to find the main highway. We asked for the road to Santiago, meaning the one in the far east of Cuba, but there is another closer Santiago in the opposite direction so we were sent there. It took me about 15 minutes to figure out from the sun that we were going the wrong way, so I turned around and trusted my Google Earth printouts. We eventually found the Havana Ring Road which connected to the 4 lane National Highway.
There was very little traffic, so I maintained a pretty steady 120 KPH. Rough spots in the road could be avoided by changing lanes. At Santa Clara, about halfway to our destination, the road narrowed to four lanes, then eventually to one lane in each direction. Driving is made interesting by the variety of traffic. I found dodging bicycles sometimes travelling three abreast, large numbers of horse drawn carriages, tractors, buses dating from about 1946, trailer trucks and pedestrians walking hand in hand with their backs to oncoming traffic an interesting challenge. The countryside was flat and dry with the odd palm tree.
We reached out destination city, Camaguey, at about 3 PM. This good sized city dates back to the 1500s, with twisting, narrow streets heading off in all directions. A cyclist who noticed our confusion had us follow him to the Gran hotel, built in 1939, and well maintained. We were glad to have him leading, as we would never have found our way through the maze of one car wide streets. Unfortunately, they were full, but a fellow said his mother had a guest house, so we followed him there. It turned out to be very clean with an indoor garage, big bedroom, large bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen with kitchen table and chairs for $25.
A bicycle taxi took us into the central area of town, stopping so we could buy toothpaste and shampoo. There was one brand of toothpaste and a couple of types of shampoo, but no one had heard of conditioner. The bicycle then dropped us at Bar El Cambio, where he charged us an outrageous price for his services - lesson learned, don't get in unless you have a price first.
The bar is noted for the best mojitos in town - certainly the best we have had. The decor was right out of an old movie and it looked out on a beautiful plaza. After a couple of mojitos we were feeling pretty good, so decided to walk around a bit. It is a wonderful old city, with beautifully maintained Spanish buildings and treed plazas.
We ended up back at the Gran Hotel, where the main bar was standing room only as locals watched a football match between Barcelona and Milan, cheering on their favourites uproariously. We opted for the open air rooftop bar which has great views of the city in all directions. Marilynn asked for peanuts, but the bartender explained that only street vendors sell them, however he headed off and soon returned with freshly roasted peanuts.
After negotiating a sensible price for a bicycle taxi we returned to our abode where a cook had been hired to prepare the dinner we had ordered earlier. I had shrimps, & Marilynn pork chops, and although the meal was not gourmet it was more than we could eat. The cook, a jolly fellow, was interesting to talk to. We were in bed early to catch up on sleep lost the night before.