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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.

Journal Entry:

Saturday, March 30, 2013 08:51:15

CUBA 2013: 3 - Pilon to Santiago de Cuba

Friday, March 15, 2013

After breakfast we headed along the coast road to Santiago de Cuba. We'd been warned the road was bad, but that was an understatement. Much of the road had been washed out by hurricane Sandy, so between that and landslides from high cliffs it was a slow, but interesting drive. I'd like to have had my 4 X 4, as we were dragging the bottom on stretches where driving on the gravel beach was necessary. The distance was about 190 Km, and for the first 150 Km the only other vehicle we saw was an old dump truck. There were several large tunnels along the way that it is said were built by the Russians when they were bringing missiles to Cuba in 1962.

At one place the road was crawling with good sized land crabs, which also scaled the roadside cliff. The other main user of the road was goats. Two large bridges were in state of collapse - in both cases an entire concrete section had lost supports on the landward side, and were held in place only by the other side. The bridge was radically tilted but we managed to get across by crowding close to the high side. The only other alternative would have been to turn back, something I'm not good at.

We had been advised strongly by the rental car people not to pick up hitch hikers, but did several times along this stretch of road, as it was a long way between places and no other vehicles. It gave us a great chance to learn about the area and the people. One fellow was a school inspector, and he told us teachers are paid $24 per month in Cuba.

When we reached Santiago and pulled in for gas, a self appointed tourism guide joined us in the car to guide us to the 1914 vintage Casa Granda hotel located on the main square. It was full, and so was another two blocks away, so he found us a nearby house to stay in and secure parking for the car a couple of blocks away.

Once settled we walked back to the Casa Granda for drinks and to look at the view from their rooftop bar. A taxi got us to a restaurant, billed as the best in town, where we had really great lamb stew with mashed potatoes. The food was the best on the trip so far.

We tried to flag down a cab to get back into the centre of town, but there were none. A fellow was working on his car in front of the restaurant, so we asked him how we could get a taxi. It turned out he was someone else's driver waiting for the people to have dinner, so he drove us to the Casa de Trova where we listened to great Cuban Trova music. It was only about 3 blocks from our guest house.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

We walked to the main plaza and hired a 1953 Chevrolet taxi and guide for $40. More than half the cars on the road are still from the late 40s and 50s. We went first to El Moro, a large, well preserved fortification at the mouth of Santiago harbour. Santiago was established in 1515, and sacked regularly by English, French and Dutch pirates, so El Moro was part of the defence against them.

We also saw the original Bacardi Rum factory, now producing under another name by the government, and the Bucanero brewery, also government. Neither have tours, so it was from the outside only. We stopped at a large, ornate cemetery where a burial service was in process, and then on to San Juan Hill, site of the US victory that ended the Spanish American War.

Dropped back at our home plaza we walked a shopping street, where once again it seemed the shops pay as many people to keep people our as to serve them. Only so many are allowed in a shop, so someone must leave before the next person can enter. Line ups are outside. Marilynn did get into one place to buy a blouse, but there is little selection.

After a good lunch of pork chops we retreated home for a siesta. We have been trying for internet, but so far without success. We thought we had it at the Pilon all inclusive, but while they had internet they had run out of the cards that must be purchased to use it!

In the evening it was drinks on the Hotel Casa Granda balcony. There was a cabaret at 10 PM but bed sounded like a better option. The plaza in front of the balcony was lively, with a band playing and lots of people enjoying themselves.