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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:

Tuesday, April 02, 2013 08:21:00

CUBA 2013: 4 - Santiago de Cuba to Cienfuegos

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The fellow from our home stay helped me find where we had the car parked, and then we headed north along the coast road. We gave a lady & her daughter a ride and she was able to give us all sorts of information. We passed a place with dinosaurs and other prehistoric sculptures, plus a couple of resorts. Most resorts along the coast were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

After dropping off our passengers we continued to a place reputed to have dolphins, but to see them required hiring a boat and hoping they might be there so we didn't. They also had crocodiles and flamingos, but we were the only people there other than staff. A short distance later we came to an army checkpoint. Several people had said that as long as we have documents and are headed to Guatanamo they will let us through, but the very unfriendly soldier who didn't look old enough to be out of school said there was no way. In the end we had no option but to drive back to Santiago and take an inland highway. We later found out that the locals are permitted to use the route, but not foreigners.

We took a side trip to see what is supposed to be a spectacular rock on top of a mountain. We twisted and turned up the 12 km road, gaining 1,224 meters in altitude in the process. It turned out that to get to the big rock there was a climb of 454 steps, so we passed on that, had lunch and drove back to Santiago to find the highway to Guatanamo.

The City of Guatanamo was a surprise. We walked around the large, clean, historic town with a pleasant plaza after finding the first hotel that had a room. We also bought internet cards (2 hrs $12) from the communications company in the hope this may get out tonight.

We drove north along Guatanamo Bay and out to the coast past many Cuban army bases. They completely surround the US Guatanamo base A dirt road took us up a hill, from where we could see the whole of Guatanamo Bay, including the US section, which includes only a narrow strip on each side of the mouth of the bay. US soldiers are not allowed into the city - it must make for a pretty boring posting.

Back at the hotel I tried our internet cards, but they were rejected. It seems we got wrong information - only cards purchased in the hotel would work in the hotel, and as with the hotel at Pilon, the hotel had no cards to sell. This is apparently normal, so hotel computers sit unused.

We drove to the office where we purchased the cards, and it was confirmed that cards can only be used in the specific office where they are purchased - contrary to what I was told when we bought them. There were a few minutes before the office closed, so I logged on only to find the system completely controlled. No Gmail, Google, no access to flash drives - only very controlled portions of the 'C' drive. There were 6 program options which did not include any form of text or search program, making it useless to us. We got $6 back on an unused card and I gave the one I tried to the guard. There will be no email this trip!

There was a fiesta in town, with about 6 blocks of food stalls set up on the streets. Four of them were roasting full sized pigs over hot coals. A couple of stalls had beautiful table arrangements in roped off areas, so we sat down at one where we the napkins in the wine glasses, cutlery and plates were promptly removed from our table. We were told it was prohibited to use anything from napkins to plates - it was just for show. Only eating with hands was permitted. We waited a long time for pork to come to our bare table, but we were ignored while a street lineup was served, so we eventually left pigless to drink in one of the bars.

There are people bumming in all the Cuban cities we've been in, and some bars let them in. Few people make much money, and many make none in this "Worker's Paradise." I'd really like some of those who work hard for a socialist system in other countries to take this trip so they could see one of the last socialist paradises in action.. (There are lots of billboards and signs reminding people they live in a socialist paradise.) Many people who are bumming are not asking for money, most asked for hand soap or pencils.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When we couldn't get served by the one woman on duty in the hotel restaurant we finally left and bought a ham & cheese sandwich along the road. Ham and cheese seems to be a staple, and the cheese is very good. It was a long driving day - about 450 km, mostly on narrow, cluttered roads. We made a stop at a roadside restaurant for lunch that advertised roast suckling pig, but it was tough and dried up - perhaps a very old suckling pig.

We finally reached our destination for the day, Ciego de Avila, where as usual the hotels were full and the reception people knew a house we could say in. It was very near the centre of the city, so once settled and the car put into a garage we walked to town where we had drinks at super lively bar called Pina Coladas, and then walked up and down the several block long, beautifully done, pedestrian shopping street. Dinner at a suggested restaurant was definitely unremarkable, and as we were both tired we headed back to bed.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

After being served the best breakfast of the trip we hit the road for Trinidad, a 16th century world heritage site town on the south coast. We encountered the heaviest rain of the trip as we entered the town, where we found several bus loads of tourists unhappily slogging through cobbled streets that had turned into raging torrents of muddy water.

That didn't look like a lot of fun, so we headed for the Ancon Peninsula about 12 km away where there are four beachfront hotels. We checked out a couple, and settled on Las Brisas, an all inclusive that is twice the price of Pilon. There is a stunning white sand beach here, but the water is colder than Costa Rica and there was a lot of sea grass floating around.

On the other hand, there were lots of bars, including one the beach, so we drank, swam, snoozed, and caught up on writing, reading, and laundry. The snack restaurant, even in a large government owned hotel, had neither mayonnaise nor ketchup. Marilynn got hit up on the beach by an English speaking hotel employee cleaning up garbage to see if she had any shoes or cloths she could spare. Wages are so low people can't survive.

Dinner was at one of the sit down restaurants in the hotel where they had wine but it was pretty awful. They did have real Amaretto to finish with, though.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I walked to the beach in the morning to find most of the sea grass on the beach and the water quite clear. We had a huge buffet breakfast before driving into Trinidad where we hired an old fellow to watch the car while we checked out the museum, an African religion place of worship and Marilynn happily shopped as the prices were quite good. It was sad, though, to see the desperation in the eyes of people in street stalls trying to sell the same thing as a dozen others for survival money.

After giving our parking guard a bar of soap and $2, which earned us enormous hugs and heartfelt thanks, we drove in the direction of Cienfuegos, stopping at a small roadside restaurant to get cold drinks. A fisherman was at the counter having just sold them huge prawns and lobster, so we settled in for a great lunch. It was superb!

A couple from France came in while we were there, and in conversation we learned that most accommodation was booked up in Cienfuegos - they had to take a home stay about 3 km out of town, so we decided to check out the beach where I'd seen Hotel Faro Luna on Google Earth a few kilometers before Cienfuegos, and several km off the main road. The beach was great but the hotel was on a rocky point past the beach. We we took the last room available instead of chancing a shutout in Cienfuegos. Our balcony was located over the cliffs where we could watch waves crash against them - it was a superb view, and the price was reasonable.

We found a dirt track that led to the long golden beach where, surprisingly, the water was far warmer. The explanation is that there are two currents on the south coast, and we had moved to the warmer one. We declined the hotel buffet dinner, preferring to test the skills of the bartenders on mohito preparation. They put on quite a performance! We were served ham & cheese sandwiches at the bar where we talked to Danish and Dutch tour people, and Marilynn danced with the bar tender. All in all, a good night.