Sun, sea, sand and salsa … Varadero style 😎💃

Tuesday 22nd – Monday 28th October 2019

This week has not been so much about rambling and exploring but instead languishing on the golden stretches of Varadero beach. It felt good to get a break from city life … and we felt we earned a break!!!

The journey from Santa Clara was a scenic one and with a wonderful driver, Franco. His English was little but enough to give us a guided tour all the way – all 3 hours of it. And he was so jolly, when words didn’t come then actions kicked in and so we had great rapport. Cuba is very flat so you can see miles and miles of countryside. We passed oxen working in the fields, sugar plantations, pineapples, mangos and bananas being grown. I love seeing the buffalo in the fields, each one supported by its attendant upright egret. We passed through numerous villages and towns, all of which they seem to call cities. Franco pointed at a brewery and a prison with explanations – it was better than a fully paid up excursion.

The roads in this part of Cuba (reaching tourist land) are 100% better, a little bumpy in places but nothing like the potholes we encountered further south. Franco was a sensible driver and we had seat belts so not a shred of anxiety! It still seems strange though speeding along at 70/80 mph on what is the equivalent of our motorway and then suddenly (and quite regularly) having to slow right up as you come upon a horse and cart!

We reached Varadero by early afternoon and got settled into this week’s self-contained apartment – again, not the Ritz but it has plenty of space – as well as bedroom and bathroom we have a sitting area, a kitchen and a roof terrace. The host is Marguerita and she seems very easy going and helpful. We would absolutely love to be able to self cater but unfortunately it’s impossible to buy the essentials here – the ‘mercados’ do not sell bread, eggs, cheese, ham, any meat, fruit or vegetables … it’s so weird – the local people must get it from somewhere!!? So, it was still a case of finding local cafes and restaurants to eat, and this week that included breakfast.

Marguerita’s Beach House

But it’s been a fabulously lazy and chilled week. The 20km stretch of white sand and palm trees that is Varadero beach is the epitome of paradise – the warm turquoise sea is the most stunning I have ever experienced. I definitely get this Caribbean thing now! And really there is nothing of much cultural interest here so we maxed out on beach time. Some days we would float around in the millpond like sea, other days it was quite big waves, so fun to splash around in. Lifeguards were on hand though and liked to use their whistles at frequent intervals, keeping us under control. The water is unbelievably clear – literally see through … and up to today no visible sea-life. But in our very last swim this afternoon I said to Steve ‘look some little fish’ … ‘oh some bigger fish’ … ‘ahh some really big fish!’

Steve playing in the waves

On the weekend days, the locals like to come to the beach in huge groups – families and friends – and they like to party. They often bring large music systems and bang out loud music … and they sing, dance and laugh loads. They also gather in the sea, fully clothed, and drink from bottles of rum – Dads mostly but some Mums join in too, while the kids sort of just amuse themselves.

The only variation to beach time has been an open-top bus tour which took us down the whole strip, from our end (which is more for casual travellers in rented rooms) down to the more salubrious end where the huge all inclusive hotels are situated. Our part of town definitely has more local life going on – some of the resorts are so set back that I doubt that the guests get much opportunity to wander outside of the complexes. But I guess they have private stretches of this wonderful beach …. and I hope their food has more variety than Cuba’s average restaurant.

Oh and Steve got his haircut …. including his ear and nostril hair!!

It’s definitely been a little easier on the food front this week, we have certainly hit a tourist area – we’ve even indulged in lasagne, hamburger AND … had some bacon for breakfast! But mostly we’re still chomping through chicken & rice, pork & rice, seafood & rice …. and fried bananas! One cafe we’ve been going to does generous portions of ice-cream so that’s a new treat. Plus it’s been a bit of a cocktail week – mojitos, sangria and margaritas – it really feels like a holiday now.

We’ve been doing a fair amount of walking, just along the strip, but it’s probably a good 3-4 miles each day and in this heat & humidity it feels like a good work out. Steve’s also started a bit of running, taking it easy, just trying to build up.

The strip has taxis of all sorts cruising up and down – as well as the traditional cars it has some classy American cars in stunning condition (so different to the others we’ve seen in previous places), smart vintage cars, horse and carts (again in good condition for tourists) and these zippy little high tech tuc tucs. They’re collectively quite a spectacle – have yet to use their services, despite regular beeping.

We pushed the boat out on Friday and walked up to the posh end of town where the first lot of hotels are. Had a great meal in a fancy restaurant and even heard some English being spoken – Americans and Canadians however. After dins, with lovely wine, we moved on to a salsa bar and enjoyed some sangria whilst listening to the music – and then we moved next door to The Beatles Bar. This was incredibly lively – an American band were playing outdoors and there was much singing and dancing going on. Once we had shaken a friendly but very drunk traveler from Chile who wanted to know everything about us, we mingled in with the movers and groovers. We certainly saw more people out tonight than we’ve seen all week – but not one English person as yet – I think they must be hiding from us!

And a little more head banging this week – in the form of low lying bus mirrors and road signs – Steve’s been sporting yet another graze on his head!

If you’re a beach person you couldn’t fail to love Varadero. However, we popped into a Cubatour office today to enquire about transport to our next destination … Guanabo. The girl was quite puzzled as to why we would possibly want to go there – her face was a picture. So after much consideration … and I guess needing a bit of home comfort … we have decided to make our way straight to Havana on Tuesday instead. We’ve booked a ticket on the local bus (cheap and cheerful) but will be staying in an actual posh hotel – am dreaming of a comfortable bed with proper pillows and crisp sheets – to end our 6 weeks of travelling.

And we won’t be lying around on beaches – too much to see and do in Havana, can’t wait. 😎

‘Che’… the man of Santa Clara

Tuesday 15th October 2019

Our last day in Trinidad had been a quiet one due to a poorly Steve. I had spent the afternoon alone at the pool and had dinner alone too … really looking forward to him being back to his old self.

Tuesday was our transfer day to Santa Clara and still he was struggling. He managed a little breakfast and then went back to lie down – our taxi was arriving at 11.00am. I had a little wander around the village and popped into the local school to give them some books and crayons I had brought over from England. Our taxi arrived on time – different car, different driver of course …. but this time it all turned out well. His name was Frank and his English was great, it was the same car as we have back home and in perfect condition … with seat belts. We loaded up, Steve with emergency sick bag tucked in his pocket. It was a scenic route with mountain backdrops, through the old sugar plantations and miles of cattle ranches. The countryside is perfectly lush. Frank’s driving was first class and the difference it makes in (1) having suspension and (2) feeling the security of seat belts is indescribable.

It was only a couple of hours drive in all and we arrived safely at our new home … Villa Adelaida Anastasia. No building site this time but the road in front is being resurfaced so lots of machinery buzzing around. We met our new host, Santiago, who is an absolute delight … he lives upstairs in the property and his son, Santiago Junior, lives in an annexe in the garden. The house again has some old worldly charm … heavy dark furniture, antiques and beautifully framed family photos – feels like staying at your grandparents. We have the run of the place including the kitchen, the conservatory and once again the piece de resistance – the garden and pool. We don’t even have to share the sunbeds!

Steve had managed the journey without any ‘stops’ … but he slept for the rest of the afternoon. So I luxuriated in the grand four poster sunbed with occasional dips in the sunken pool to cool off. All this with peacocks roaming around me … what’s not to like!?

We managed to summon up the energy for a short local walk a bit later, to find a ‘mercado.’ As typical in Cuba there were very few items on offer but we managed to rustle up enough to make a simple pasta dish. Bought a few cans of cold beer too. We both ate small amounts and unfortunately the beer turned out to be no alcohol very sweet stout – yuk!

So it was a film and early night … to enjoy some ultra comfy pillows…. a rare find in Cuba. 😗

Wednesday 16th October 2019

Steve was definitely feeling a bit chirpier today – a good night’s sleep although woken up by several local cockerels, dogs barking, schoolchildren and traffic noise that could compete with the M25!

Our breakfast was beautifully laid out in a shady part of the garden – cooked by a very sweet young lady and served by the gardener! As always there was plenty to choose from – fruit, scrambled eggs, toast, juice and coffee etc.

Always plenty of guava and papaya … and the juice to match 😘

Diva the dog is our latest breakfast companion – we’ve had quite a collection along the way – Beethoven, Susy, Paul and now Diva. Santiago checked in with us after breakfast and provided us with some useful local information, including the fact that the immigration office was literally about 4 houses down the road!

We’d planned another restful day to aid Steve’s recovery but by late morning we couldn’t resist getting the immigration bit out of the way …. what could go wrong, it was SO nearby. So off we wandered armed with passports, documents and the required stamps – went into a room to find just loads of people sat around with no-one official to ask. Once again luck struck, a REALLY friendly Brazilian lady and her husband took us under their wing – she spoke some English and guided us into another room where she asked various people and we were told to sit. The sitting lasted for two hours as it came to light that it was their lunch hour … turns out they have amazingly extended lunch hours in Cuba. The room with its pink-washed walls, dim lighting and no air-conditioning was not the best recovery room for Steve – the sweat was pouring. When they did all return to their posts, it still took another hour to be seen and processed (including having to nip back to our accommodation for one piece of forgotten paperwork) – they must only get about 4 visa extensions done in a day … everything takes so long!

Jumped into our fancy swimming pool to refresh ourselves and couldn’t help but laugh at the contrast to where we had spent the last 3 hours just 50 metres away. A bit later we had our first walk into the centre of Santa Clara which took about 20 minutes. The streets are not particularly salubrious – you don’t find sewage or horse poo in many of our English city streets do you!? Using our faithful Lonely Planet guide we found Parque Vidal which is where it all seems to happen. There are some fine buildings in the square, from days gone by. We picked out the cleanest looking hotel and had wine and tapas … and most importantly made the most of the decent toilet facilities and the Wi-fi. Think Hotel Central is going to be our safe place in Santa Clara.

Thursday 17th October 2019

We decided to walk into the centre early today before it got too hot. Managed to nearly get run over on the way – an American car swerved into a petrol station from nowhere as we were walking across the forecourt, literally missed us by inches … cars here just don’t seem to stop for pedestrians – you have to have your eyes about you all the time. It’s the same as walking along the pavements, no-one gives way, young or old … we’ve learnt to step off the pavement every time now, watching out to not get run down by a horse!

We sat in Parque Vidal for a while just watching the bustling city life. There was a stage set up and a dance company were rehearsing routines. An elderly Cuban gent came and sat next to us on the bench and his English speaking was remarkable – he said he had attended lessons. He chatted away and explained that these dancers were practising for tonight’s show in the square. As well as using the stage, dancers were positioned all around the square, some on stilts – it looked great so that was a definite plan for later. Our new friend went on to tell us that his wife died a month ago and he missed her so much … and that today was his birthday – so we made a fuss of him and sang him ‘Happy Birthday’ …. and then of course the inevitable, he asked for money. For some reason that made me so sad because he seemed so genuine – but I guess it’s the way.

So rest over, our next quest was to find the ‘Telepunto’ shop to get some internet cards – always a joy. It was getting hotter and hotter by now but we searched through the streets and found some interesting places but just not what we were looking for. Eventually resorted to my best Spanglish/charades (Una Stubbs would be so proud of me) … and managed to get directions. The inevitable crowd was outside so we lingered amongst them – by a stroke of luck a local lady pushed us through, indicating that we would be seen first and despite the grumblings of the queue we were whisked in by the doorman. It was still another 20 minutes wait inside this stifling office – Steve was literally creating a pool of perspiration on the floor – he’s definitely still unwell. But great success on the internet card front – we came out with 20 hours worth – we felt like bank robbers!

We treated ourselves to some lunch indoors at the Central Hotel – soaking up the air-conditioning! For 1 CUC we were allowed to wander around the Theatre, a building captured in time. We then found a less busy route to walk home, stopping off to admire a church – plenty in town to choose from.

Managed to fit in some pool and relaxation time, watching the peacocks roam and enjoying visits from the next door’s chickens … before the rain started.

There are no restaurants in the local vicinity, so if we want to eat we have to walk back to the centre. Santiago had recommended a new restaurant so we thought we’d give it a go. The staff were absolutely lovely and air-conditioning was a treat. The food unfortunately was same same … sadly we’re not huge fans of the Cuban food. The meat is generally highly favoured with a sort of tang to it … hard to describe – and black bean rice and fried plantain gets a little repetitive after a while. We’re such moaners aren’t we!?

Friday 18th October 2019

A quieter day today – chilled at the villa, got some blogging done. Tried a new restaurant in the evening but same gastronomic disappointment! Wine good though … there’s always an upside!

Saturday 19th October 2019

Today we thought we’d have an early start and find the Che Guevara Mausoleum & Museum. ‘Che’ is definitely the man of Santa Clara, having lived here for some time – his face is everywhere. Santiago recommended we get a motor-taxi but Steve had found it on the map and felt sure we could walk there. And so off we trotted, map in hand. Discovered lots of different residential areas, crossed the railway line, through an industrial estate …. and still could not find this gigantic statue of ‘Che’ as described in Lonely Planet. After almost an hour of walking we came across a building that had a different statue of Che outside, holding a child. Despite entering the building we still came away with no clue as to what it was … but it definitely wasn’t the mausoleum. The receptionist did indicate however that we should carry on up the road and turn right. We did this and picked up signs for ‘National Monument’ … and so the walk continued, taking quite an uphill turn. And of course, mad dogs and all that … it was approaching midday as we started the ascent of 100 or so steps up to a Che Guevara monument … but it still wasn’t the mausoleum. There was a great view of the city from the top though and as we looked down we saw just near the bottom a road with roadworks … Steve jokingly said “that looks like our road!” (Subsequently found out we had walked two hours to somewhere we hadn’t planned to go to … and in fact was about 15 minutes away)! How we laughed !!!!!!

Being hot, sticky and soaked in perspiration, we headed for some refreshment in the centre. Whilst there we tried the supermarket for some foods that we could possibly eat at home, rather than coming in again later – the best we could do was crackers, biscuits and a tin of peaches. Sitting outside the Central Hotel everyday is a pink Cadillac which we admire … today we booked a ride in it to the mausoleum … it turned out to be in a completely different area but at last we got there … and we enjoyed cruising the Santa Clara streets in style. The memorial statue is remarkable and worth a visit – unfortunately the mausoleum and museum were closed …. no clear explanation – just closed!

And so we spent the rest of the day and evening back at the villa. Steve enjoyed his peaches with evaporated milk – said it was the best thing he’d eaten since leaving home!

Sunday 20th October 2019

Our host, Santiago, has another hostal in Caibarien which is on the North coast, an hour’s drive from Santa Clara. He was going there today to meet up with family and offered, for a reasonable amount, to take us there too. It was a perfect opportunity to get out of the city, even though it involved two hours scrunched up in a ‘not so new’ Peugeot.

There were some beautiful views along the way – countryside scattered with palm trees, rivers and eventually the sea. We sort of shared some ‘Spanglish’ conversation along the way but Santiago kept us entertained with his English and American artist compilation CD. Steve and he shared the international language of artist recognition …. a defining moment of this trip for me will be the memory of Steve and Santiago belting out the lyrics of Barry Manilow’s “Oh Mandy ….!”

The area we pulled into late morning was not too promising … Soviet styled housing blocks and unkempt roads … and then at the end we pulled into the drive of this amazing hostal with ocean views.

Steve and Santiago

And so we spent a relaxing day, using the facilities and enjoying lunch at a local fish restaurant – and the food was SO good – we ordered a feast of fish, prawns, chips and avocado. Santiago’s family were incredibly friendly and keen to practice their English with us – all interesting people – doctors, university lecturers – we were made to feel very welcome.

We were home at the villa by 5.00pm and so walked into the centre later just for a drink. And, we actually met an English lady – the first English person we have met and talked to in 4 weeks! Sadly, Hilary has been out here on holiday with her two daughters, as a celebration of her 70th birthday, and one daughter has had to have emergency gallstone surgery and is in intensive care here in Santa Clara. The other daughter has had to return to the UK so Hilary is left here alone until her daughter is well enough to fly home. We all appreciated each other’s company for a while.

Monday 21st October 2019

A quick walk into the centre this morning – ATM, supermarket for shampoo and of course Wi-fi. Stopped off for a cappuccino at The Central and bumped into Hilary again as this is where she is staying. Was able to give her some chocolate biscuits which I had bought for her daughter who is craving chocolate (can’t exactly get Cadbury’s here).

Then some success. Managed to negotiate a good rate with a yellow taxi to take us to our next stop tomorrow – Varadero. I know we’re supposed to be supporting the Cuban people, which we do with all things local, but these Government taxis are the only ones with seat belts (not to mention an element of comfort, safety and reliability) and my anxiety so needs this on longer trips. So we’re all fixed up with Franco to pick us up at 10.00am tomorrow morning.

Now, we’re enjoying a bit of a lounge for our last day in Santa Clara before heading to the more tourist renowned area of Varadero …. bring it on.

Trinidad de Cuba … we love it ❤️

Monday 7th October 2019

Woke up in good time, ready for a hearty breakfast whilst waiting for our taxi to arrive at 9.00am – for our onward journey to Trinidad de Cuba. Yes, it was the dreaded transfer day again.

We’d enjoyed our last night in Camaguey – dined at our favourite restaurant and had made sure we had wine, just in case we don’t see any again in Cuba. We decided to have a night cap in Plaza de Soledad (Wi-fi spot) and chose the Hotel Santa Maria. Turned out to be a great choice as we met up with two absolutely lovely ladies from Miami, Betty and her niece (whose name we didn’t catch but she was the image of Angelina Jolie). We had an hour of lively chat … so great to be able to converse in English.

The taxi turned up on time … and it was the actual car and actual driver we’d booked! So all good. Steve sat in the front so he had a chance of unraveling his legs … complete language barrier of course but there was a sort of exchange from time to time! I tucked myself safely in the back and tried my best to sleep through the road chaos, but to no avail. Naturally no seat belts – that would be such a luxury in Cuba.

The first couple of hours weren’t too bad to be honest, the roads were slightly improved on last week’s journey and there was some beautiful countryside to view – a great deal of cattle farming and mountains in the distance. The driver was chirpy and smiley, and chatted away in Spanish … and we smiled back, nodded and said OK, even through we didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He did drive very fast at times, way above the speed limit and often nose to tail with the car in front. For Steve to mention that it must be bad!

Unfortunately about midday, the heavens opened and the rain came down in sheets. Not only did it affect visibility but the roads became like rivers in places – it’s no wonder the cars here are such rust buckets. But that didn’t seem to slow him down at all … he seemed all the more intent in getting us there as quickly as he could. His mood did change somewhat – I guess it wasn’t exactly ideal driving conditions. We reached Trinidad in 4 hours … then when we confirmed with the driver that we were staying in Casilda, a village just out of town he seemed a wee put out. His displeasure heightened as we spent the next half an hour trying to find the hostal we were booked into. We had the name, the address, a location map …. we just couldn’t find anything to match up. Although we couldn’t understand him, his body language was suggesting he just drop us off – but we weren’t buying into that. We stopped to ask some locals and eventually found our destination, Hostal del Los Palmas.

Well, I think even the taxi driver was shocked and felt sorry for us at this point. We had arrived at a building site! Not even a sign to indicate the name of the place. But he wasn’t going to waste any more time and speedily unloaded our suitcases from the boot.

Hostal Las Palmas

Luckily a young lady came out and confirmed we were at the right place, her English was good and she smiled warmly. She proceeded to lead us down a side alleyway, where tucked at the back of the building site is a beautiful hostal. As it turns out, they are rebuilding the entrance – you think they may have pre-warned us.

And from there the day got better and better. We were shown to our room which involves walking up a wrought iron spiral staircase – we had been given the deluxe room as we were booked in for 8 nights. Good size bedroom, fairly basic but OK … but a grand bathroom, with a massive bath …. am going to so enjoy that.

The sun was now shining so we wasted no time in finding the pool area – we needed to chill. And what a pool it is, great to have a good swim and relax for a couple of hours. And just for us, we were the only guests booked in.

The hostal dinner was great too – vegetable soup, chilli con carne, rice, salad, fried plantain followed by chocolate and coconut ice-cream. Plus a few beers (no wine)!

During the evening we met George, the German hostal owner and his lovely wife and baby. He was able to give us some good local knowledge and can arrange a driver to take us around. Trinidad is apparently a great place to visit as is nearby Playa Ancon. So we went to bed full of hope for the week ahead.

Tuesday 8th October 2019

A great night’s sleep – the bed’s a little soft but it’s huge … we had the A/C on as it’s not noisy like most of them are – this meant we used the quilt and it felt so comforting. Fab breakfast too, the usual fayre but it included home-made crusty bread still warm and fresh from the oven. Mango marmalade too.

Before it got too hot we had a walk around the village of Casilda – pretty place, buzzing with life. There are two schools near our hostal and they sounded so lively, in fact one of them had very loud Cuban music blaring out – guess it must have been playtime. Walked up to the where the fishing boats are moored and had our first glimpse of the sea. Lots of horse and carts ferrying people around and the locals just getting on with their everyday lives.

Our street in Casilda

Chilled the rest of the day by the pool – George has told us he’s fully booked from tomorrow so enjoying the peace while we can.

We had dinner at the hostal again – a whole red snapper just for the two of us. A little surprised that we were just left with the whole fish and a carving knife – we’re not too experienced at filleting but we did our best … and it was absolutely delicious.

Wednesday 9th October 2019

This morning we took a taxi into Trinidad. The hostal’s usual driver was away today so a jolly chap in an old American car showed up. Very luxurious inside with it’s white leather upholstery but how it all holds together is a mystery … no suspension and incredibly loose steering – the driver was having to turn the wheel all the time, even driving in a straight line. And of course the roads are covered in potholes so the cars drive to avoid … this means you drive on the wrong side and sort of dodge back when something comes the other way – it’s like playing ‘chicken.’

Love Trinidad – it’s definitely the most stylish place we’ve visited so far. Bars, restaurants, shops all very appealing. But it’s the architecture that stands out – the area we first explored is where the wealthy sugar plantation owners settled and the buildings are magnificent. Lots of churches and museums too. As we walked along one street, we were invited in to meet a kindergarten class and encouraged to take photos … and then off course the begging pot came out! We went to visit a model village of the city and were given an overview of its history and how each part evolved. This has been so useful in our further exploration as we understand the significance of the different parts of town. And yay, I managed to buy a sunhat.

We spotted a new looking yellow taxi sat outside a tourist centre and so took the opportunity to negotiate our onward destination to Santa Clara – so hopefully that’s sorted for next Tuesday.

Came back to the hotel mid-afternoon to find all the beds at the pool had been taken – the Germans have landed. Literally, all the other guests are German. But they are lovely and two of the younger ones actually gave up their beds for us – so polite. And today was the first day since arriving in Cuba that it hasn’t rained at all – so we chillaxed till the sun went down.

It was lovely to have company over dinner that night – we all ate out in little courtyard. They were happy to chat to us in English … you feel so guilty and inadequate though as they switch between their German, English and Spanish!

Thursday 10th October 2019

Had a leisurely breakfast and tried not to race to the pool – many previous experiences of German tourists, in various holiday destinations, laying their towels to claim beds. But we arrived to find that all the beds were free – in fact we had the pool to ourselves for the majority of the day.

A lazy day followed by an active evening. Renzo, our local driver, picked us up at 5.00pm, in torrential rain, and drove us in to Trinidad, by which time someone had switched the heat on again. It had been so dark with black clouds when we left the hostal, both of us had made the same mistake … no hat, no sunglasses, no suncream! And we had planned to follow a ‘Lonely Planet’ walk. So there was only one thing to do … sit in the shade and drink beer! Once it had cooled we set off on the walk and discovered some different parts of the city … some simple houses and cobbled streets, beautiful pastel colours and family lives being lived out on the pavements. Children playing old games like marbles (not a PlayStation in sight) and men huddled over their domino tables. It still looks like something off a film set to see the horse and carts and also Stetson clad men riding bareback with their legs dangling – you expect to see Clint Eastwood stroll into town in his poncho!

We checked out a few restaurants – unlike Santiago and Camaguey, there are so many to choose from. We finally settled on one and enjoyed a tasty meal, with wine and live music.

About 9.00pm we returned to the Plaza to listen to some more live Cuban music – there was some amazing salsa dancing going on … we didn’t trip the light fantastic this time, choosing to more modestly sit and sip mojito and spectate. Renzo came to pick us up and we were home by 11.00pm – a wild night out for us.

Friday 11th October 2019

No eggs for breakfast today – we came to comprehend this through a charade type explanation of clucking chicken and eggs from bottom!

We were up and out early anyway as today was one of those horrible admin days – we have to extend our visa as we’re in Cuba for 6 weeks and they only provide 4 weeks up front. We thought we’d get it over and done with as we’ve learnt the process and the layout of the city. We first had to go to the Banco to buy stamps and once you have these you can start the immigration office bit. Renzo dropped us at the Banco and said he would wait and then drive us to immigration. And so the most horrendous queueing began … or Cuba’s version of queuing. Apart from the lady in front of us being able to confirm that we were in the right place, we had no way of understanding how you actually managed to get into the bank and how all the different lines of people worked. Why were some people being allowed in and others being refused? So we waited and waited, getting hotter and more stressed … but it just had to be done. All sorts of people were trying to push in – you get so defensive about your place in line … we’re no pushovers! An hour and a half later we actually managed to get through the door and were asked to take a seat. The next bit happened quite quickly, although we got shouted at for two of us standing at the counter … after several times of shouting in Spanish, the teller finally said in perfect English “only one person allowed.”

Renzo had so patiently waited for us outside and dutifully drove us to the Immigration office – only to be told that we should come back at midday. He dropped us back in the centre and we said we would sort ourselves out. We had a wander and some early lunch and then headed back to Immigration. We had fully prepared ourselves for another long wait but had a surprisingly positive start – a young Cuban Immigration officer greeted us and looked at our passports as soon as we walked through the door. He then escorted us to his office … and proceeded to tell us that the system was down so he was unable to do anything. He suggested that maybe by 3.00pm it would be back. Aargh!!! We gave up. It will have to wait for another day.

Chilled at the pool for the rest of the day to recover from our trauma and enjoyed another delicious hostal dinner in the evening.

Saturday 12th October 2019

Said our goodbyes to the German family today as they were leaving for the next part of their trip. And then set off for our first trip to the nearest beach – Playa Ancon. It’s about 10km away, only two parkruns, but too far to walk in this heat, so a taxi it was.

Can’t believe this is our first beach day since arriving in Cuba. And it really is one of those dreamy type beaches. Fine golden sand, palm trees, clear blue sea (and so warm), sunbeds with palm shades and a beach restaurant to hand. We spent a few hours swimming, walking and relaxing before lunching on grilled shrimps and cold beer. Perfecto.

We had asked Renzo to pick us up at 3.00pm – he wasn’t in the car park but he had sent his ‘amigo’ – whose car was practically identical except maybe a couple of decades more past its sell by date. He was really jovial and drove very fast down the heavily potholed roads – with a pretend police siren going!

We went into Trinidad in the evening to eat. On our way to the restaurant we spotted a small supermarket … in particular Steve spotted tubes of Pringles. So we excitedly purchased some sour cream and chive Pringles and some chocolate biscuits – you can’t imagine our levels of excitement – we even got excited about being given a carrier bag! Also passed a salsa dance lesson in full swing – am desperate to have another go but they were all young glamorous people and I had yet to have a drink!!

Enjoyed a pork and rice dinner (the usual) at a restaurant overlooking the main plaza with its Cuban music – it was fun watching the evening comings and goings in Trinidad. There are so many tourists here compared to where we are staying and where we have been in Cuba before – still haven’t come across any English people yet though. There was live music in the restaurant too … and so we have another CD it add to our collection.

We tried to find a coffee bar afterwards but they’d all closed … so another bar it was … and another Bar Yesterday (a Beatles tribute venue). Had a nightcap whilst listening to the band playing covers of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. We’re so versatile.

Sunday 13th October 2019

I went straight to the beach after breakfast while Steve got dropped off on the way to do a bit of birdwatching/photography. He got some amazing photos and just about managed the long walk in the mid-morning heat. In the meantime I made a dash for those warm waves – I could swim for hours here – and then just settled into some solitary kindle time until he joined me.

Steve had the beginnings of an upset tummy today but he soldiered on – he skipped lunch but came down for dinner in the hostal – a whole roasted chicken between us! Even some chilled white wine went down very well too.

Monday 14th October 2019

Unfortunately Steve’s ‘loose tummy’ situation has well and truly kicked in – he’d had a bad night. i ventured down to breakfast alone – I was sat on the next table to a solo German chap who’s very lovely but we have no language in common. So, apart from the initial pleasantries we both just sat there staring into space, waiting for our food to arrive. Steve in the meantime was resting up, giving the Imodium a chance to kick in!

We had to go to Trinidad this morning – to get money from the ATM to settle our hostal bill and to confirm a taxi ride to Santa Clara for tomorrow. So, armed with Imodium supplies we set off in a rusty old Chevrolet to the city. Not only did I graze my leg on the rusty metal getting into the car, but Steve hit his head a cropper getting out! It was going to be one of those days.

And then, as we walked along the street, a young Mum was perched on the edge of the pavement with her toddler – and just as Steve walked in front of them, the young lad proceeded to wee into the gutter … and onto Steve’s leg! It was one of those side-splitting hilarious snapshot moments for me …. but clearly not so for Steve. It just wasn’t his day!

On the positive side though, we couldn’t spot our original taxi driver but found another with an even bigger, more comfortable looking car … and we booked him for tomorrow. He drove us back to our hostal in Casilda so we got to see he was a good driver too. AND … it’s actually got seat belts! So, at this stage all’s looking OK for our next transfer day. Lots of prayers tonight.

Steve has been laid up the rest of the day and so I have been languishing pool side. Am now enjoying a beer and some Pringles (heaven) whilst finishing up this blog. This is our last night in Casilda/Trinidad …. we have really loved it.

And we’re half way through our Cuban adventure. 😎❤️

A culinary blast … and wine too 🍷

Wednesday 2nd – Saturday 6th October

Walking the streets of Camaguey/ places of interest

On reflection, a week has been a little too long to spend in Camaguey – there’s really not a whole lot going on. When we researched there were plenty of excursions mentioned – to cattle farms, to the nearest beach, to see crocodiles etc. However, firstly there are hardly any tours running due to the fuel shortage and secondly, they’re all quite a journey from here and after our last experience, the less time spent on these inter-city roads the better!

Instead we have spent our week walking all around the city and trying to find points of interest. It is largely the plazas where any life goes on, this is where you find cafes, restaurants, hotels, bundles of large statues, greenery, benches for musing … and most importantly the Wi-fi!! To get to the numerous plazas we’ve negotiated our way around many streets with the aid of a city map. What an eye-opener that’s been. No fancy MK grid style for Camaguey, but rather a warren of side streets, so designed apparently to baffle invaders. Well it’s had us baffled many a day! And the only way to describe them is a mixture of Dickensian London, in their scruffiness and back street vendors … and the Wild West with horse and carts racing along the cobbles at break neck speed, ferrying the locals. Still the clapped out old cars too – you look twice when you occasionally see a vehicle that looks like something manufactured this century. What is modern is the abundance of electric motor bikes – but they creep up behind you with no sound … and when you mostly have to walk on the road it’s sometimes a little precarious.

The local cops

Our house …. in the middle of our street

Then of course there’s the many bike taxis who call out to you at every opportunity. We’ve used them just a couple of times. Once when it was raining on Thursday night after dinner and again on Friday when we decided to visit the zoo (which the information centre had recommended). We ended up being ripped off on that ride … made the schoolboy error of not negotiating in advance … Steve left him clearly understanding that he was a bad man!! I prefer to walk everywhere myself … the exercise is great but I also feel weird about a person having to cycle our weight around … and I certainly wouldn’t encourage the use of horse driven travel.

Bike taxi outside the local optician

As for our trip to the zoo, well, we both said it was the saddest thing we had ever seen. The animals were in such small cages and enclosures … lions, jaguars, zebra, monkeys of various types, hyenas … it was absolutely tragic to see them pacing around in boredom! The birds were the only ones that had any freedom. Definitely wouldn’t recommend.

So the streets are such a mixture – from plazas with grand colonial hotels to modern(ish) shopping streets, to back streets that appear so poor. Our street even looks run down and yet inside the house is bordering on palatial. I say palatial … the last few days it’s rained so heavily that the water is literally coming through the roof – we have to negotiate our way around buckets and dripping ceilings … but we keep smiling. Steve has enjoyed taking photos from the roof terrace – you can be so much more discrete and capture life along the street without the people seeing you with a huge Nikon camera slung around your neck.

Cuban folk

On the whole we have found the Cuban people really friendly. You get the odd officious types, particularly in the telepunto shops where you have to queue and then negotiate through a Spanish Inquisition to be able to buy a few hours of internet.

This week our hosts, Mario and his Mum Maria have been so welcoming and helpful. Naturally, one of the first priorities was to get some assistance with our onward travel. Maria kindly organised this and got the driver to come round to show us his car … it’s not exactly new but it’s in a much better condition than last week’s banger … and he seems a lot more switched on too. We decided to give it a go and so we will see him on Monday morning (hopefully).

Mario’s English is superb so he has been able to answer a lot of our questions … he’s very busy though so we only see him occasionally … I did manage to get a glimpse of him in his very skimpy Y-fronts one day, he came down the stairs and wasn’t expecting me to be sat in the lounge – not sure who was the most embarrassed …. nothing was said!! Anything seems to go here though – Maria’s husband is not a well man – he’s clearly had some brain surgery as he has a large scar on his head … he spends a lot of time in bed and then shuffles into different rooms and sits in rocking chairs, always ready with an ‘Ola.’ The oddest thing though is that he is always accompanied by his colostomy bag which when moving he proudly holds up high to carry … not so great when you’re eating breakfast! Maria is always ready with a smile and a hug when we arrive, when we leave, when we go to bed … she is just wonderful. Sadly, Maria and Mario have flown off to Mexico for a few days on a buying trip. They have left us in the capable hands of three ladies who cook and clean well but sadly speak no English … back to the hand actions. There is a young gardener here though who speaks good English and a young female guest too who has come to our aid a couple of times.

On Wednesday, whilst sat in a plaza and Steve was busy making phone calls due to plumbing problems at home, I met a young lad called Angel. He opened up the conversation by asking me my views on Brexit – can we never escape it!!! He was so lovely to talk to – clearly wanted to practice his English. We went on to talk about all sorts of things including Cuba’s politics and the communist regime – later Steve had me terrified in suggesting that I should be careful talking about such things – I’d been gaily probing about what the young people thought, had they considered further revolution … he could have been tricking me!! The great thing was though that he didn’t ask for any money – a first in Cuba.

Food and drink (oh so important)

After an unproductive start, things took a massive upturn on the culinary front. Yay!!

Having had no dinner for two days, on the Wednesday, we booked for Maria to cook for us – this is a recommended thing to do in Casa Particulars – often the food is better than restaurants. We were still daunted though – what if we were expected to eat with the family, how do we chat without the language and would the food be edible. We were relieved during the day to spot that the table had been set in the dining area … that was one question answered. The next bit of planning was to bring two plastic bags with us so that we could discreetly dispose of the food if completely inedible, and so not to cause offence. Walking from our room into the dining area, we walk through the utility room … and we stopped in horror to see a tortoise in the sink. Maria saw my face and pretended this was our dinner … “chicken” she said “do you not eat this is in England?” Were we relieved to be told this was the family pet! Well, we had no reason at all to be worried – the food was absolutely delicious – great hearty home cooking. Vegetable and noodle soup, followed by roast chicken and potatoes in a tasty sauce, rice and black beans, pickled red cabbage and avocados – we were in heaven. We booked in again for the Friday and enjoyed another sumptuous feast all wrapped up with the biggest and most delicious bowl of chocolate ice-cream.

On Thursday night we wandered a fair old way to a plaza we had come across during the day … it’s in the artist area of town, a number of small galleries display their wares. There were 3 decent looking establishments so we opted for the middle one … and bingo, we chose well. Not only was the food first class but they had wine too, actual drinkable wine … and all at bargain prices. So after prawn cocktails, steak and perfect red wine we felt well and truly replete. No more moaning!! We returned to the same said restaurant on Saturday night and enjoyed an equally perfect meal, and good wine.

And being the weekend, we even went out afterwards … to a place called ‘Bar Yesterday’ – a sort of homage to ‘The Beatles.’ They have live music on a Saturday but, being the old codgers we are, we couldn’t manage to stay late enough for them to arrive … we’re talking 10 o’clock! We did enjoy a couple of drinks though and watched some great old music video footage on their large screen. Such delights as Tina Charles’ ‘Dance little lady dance,’ Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz,’ Bee Gees ‘Staying Alive,’ Anita Ward’s ‘Ring my bell’…. all so our youth dancing era! For some reason, Steve got terribly embarrassed at my chair dancing!

Breakfast at this casa has not been as great as our previous stop. Oh there’s plenty of it but not quite as tasty. We’ve got ourselves into a little routine though – Steve eats the fruit but I’m not a lover of mango or guava so I skip that. Then we have slices of cheese with a sort of solid fig jam on it which make for good nibbles. Then we have omelette and baguette followed by a cheese and spam toasted sandwich. Our little routine involves removing the spam (which does not taste nice) and inserting some cheese and fig into the roll … then we wrap in serviettes to take out for our lunch. It’s not that we’re being thrifty, it just guarantees us having something edible at midday and also lessens the embarrassment of leaving too much food on the table … I mean, how can you eat so much at breakfast!?

So, all in all, the week has improved a hundred fold in terms of ‘not starving.’ It’s hilarious how excited we get at little offerings though – in a cafe on Wednesday we were given a square of chocolate with our coffee and today we got a shortbread biscuit in the Gran Hotel … our faces lit up. There is just nothing like this to even buy in the shops … and a complete absence of crisps …. lots of popcorn but what I’d do for some Kettle or Walkers right now!


I’m presuming it’s due to the Communist state that there is SO little to buy in the shops. Sometimes you see queues of locals outside a shop window … we’re guessing that they must have rare supplies arrived. Camaguey has a street of decent enough looking shops but they’re practically empty inside, mostly rows of the same item. We did manage to find fly killer however – we were well chuffed with ourselves. What we can’t find anywhere is sun cream or, for opposite reasons, an umbrella. I’ve had to give up on the sunhat searching too – I’ve taken over Steve’s panama.

Around the other streets, people sell odd things from their homes, I guess whatever they have that can provide income. A jolly man rides around on his bike too expressing very loudly in Spanish that he has eggs for sale!

The lack of material things is a great re-thinker for us … we have to maximise what we have and be inventive. We have one piece of cling film which we re-use every day for our sandwiches. We have one carrier bag with us (Sainsbury’s) which multi-purposes as a linen basket, a camera cover and a beach bag! Today I needed to make some notes and in the absence of a pad of paper I used a serviette – going back to basics is no bad thing.

The internet

Never ever again will we complain about the internet at home. And how did we romantically imagine that 6 weeks off social media and the airwaves might be cathartic – it’s really not. After all I have to get my blog done (I’m a busy blogger), there’s Facebook and instagram to catch up on, emails, messages and WhatsApp to read (especially when you have plumbing problems at home), keeping in touch with family, particularly Tom and Alice. We had a great chat with them both on Friday evening – Tom was up in Manchester with Alice and Marc for the weekend – they were all in a bar before going to an Alice Cooper concert (with The Stranglers supporting) – tickets which we’d bought for ourselves before realising it clashed with this trip … a great cultural experience for them.

The weather

How very British to talk about the weather I know. But boy have we seen some rain this week – when it comes it buckets. We generally have a couple of hours of pleasant sunshine in the morning when we make sure we grab some time at the pool. As the week’s gone on, the pool resident peahen has taken a great liking to Steve … unfortunately it’s not reciprocated. Today sadly it has rained ALL day but it’s given me the opportunity to sit up on the covered part of the roof terrace writing this blog. Steve keeps me company, snoozing in his rocking chair listening to his pin up – Bruce Springsteen.

Steve’s new friend 😁

In the morning we’re making our way to Casilda, near Trinidad. Always exciting to imagine what our next experience will entail. Keeping all fingers and toes crossed for a non-eventful journey.

Bye bye Camaguey, it’s been a blast.

Getting to know Camaguey 😘😎

Tuesday 1st October 2019

A marvellous sleep (no tailboard so particularly wonderful for Steve) and a delicious breakfast served up in the dining area. Maria and her staff make us feel so welcome and nothing is too much trouble – it is a house of smiles.

It’s certainly a house with a difference … and so hard to describe. It’s huge to start with and sort of last century elegant … quirky, eclectic, bright colours, every space filled … but so homely all the same. I think the photos describe it better.

And then there’s a fabulous roof terrace with wind chimes, plants and four poster recliners. You get a good view over this part of the city but it’s also great for getting snaps of Cuban life without being conspicuous.

But, best of all is the garden … all designed and planted by Mario. A long planted lane takes you down through overhanging evergreen to a magical pool area. Comfortable loungers are provided as well as table and chairs. Coconut palms grow at the edges of the pool and the water is a perfect temperature for cooling off. Making it even more exquisite is having the company of wandering peacocks and a parrot and lovebirds (caged but seemingly well looked after).

After breakfast we walked into the centre – it’s good to be staying nearer to the action this time, we won’t have to rely on taxis – most of it is manageable by foot. Stopped off at the nearest Plaza for some internet time … no Wi-fi in our house, the plazas are the Wi-fi spots here. Some beautiful architecture in this part of the city. Camaguey seems slightly more up to date than Santiago … and I mean slightly!!

Moved on to Plaza de la Soledad which seems to be the main centre – most of the large hotels are here. Stopped off for a ‘cafe con leche’- and it was like a real cappuccino – heaven! Yes, we felt we’d arrived in civilisation!

Walked onwards down the main shopping street. Not only did I leave my sunhat in a taxi in Santiago, it also seems I dropped my suncream out of my bag during yesterday’s traumatic journeying! So, on a bit of a mission to replace them … proving to be a difficult task. It’s so laughable, but sad at the same time, to see the shop windows and shop shelves. They have such little stock that they put loads of the same things in there, maybe about ten items repeated about 50 times. And a mixture of things too – clothes and household shops may have some tinned vegetables and pyramids of shampoos in the windows to fill up space. There really is so little on offer to buy.

We decided on an OK looking bar/restaurant to have some lunch. The waiter brought us an 8 page menu and we settled on some tapas. When the waitress came to take our order she said they had no tapas, no sandwiches, no pasta and no pizza. Just the main meals … oh and they had no pork or chicken!! So off we wandered and found another establishment that managed some passable sandwiches and a few soggy patatas fritas.

After popping into the information centre for some local information, we went back to our casa for a while to enjoy the pool and relax. Then we scrubbed up and headed out for the evening. Much walking later we had been unable to find any of the restaurants recommended. These private restaurants that they advise you to go to are sort of behind closed doors and difficult to locate. So, we ended up back in the main plaza and tried La Piazza – we’d noticed it had been busy during the day. We ordered drinks which were fine but when the food came it was completely inedible. We are really not fussy eaters and will try most things but we’d only ordered Napolitan Spaghetti and Pizza and couldn’t even get one mouthful down us – the cheese tasted like vomit! We had to explain and leave. The hotel over the road is where we’d had lunch so just thought we’d have a beer and think again …. but they had no beer!

Really we were still struggling emotionally from the previous day but it’s the closest we’ve come to giving up on Cuba and coming home. We abandoned our search for food and walked back to our accommodation – Maria and Mario were on hand to hear our woes, giving us further advice for the rest of the week. So, another night of no dinner – it was cake and beer instead supplied by Maria. Tomorrow night Maria is going to cook dinner for us and Mario has offered to show us restaurants around the city.

Think we need a good night’s sleep tonight and some decent food in us tomorrow and the world will seem brighter again. 😆

😟 A Cuban day best to forget ☹️

Monday 30th September 2019

Another great night’s sleep. Up bright and early this morning to have an early breakfast and finish packing … to be ready for our trusty steed arriving between 8.30 and 9.00am. Looking forward to travelling in transport that resembles something from this century. After a few phone calls had been exchanged, our taxi finally showed up about 10.30am. And I say ‘our taxi’ – the car parked outside was nothing at all like the car or driver we had made the arrangement with. Apparently this was a substitute and to make matters worse, they requested some additional money as we were to be the only two passengers. Alarms bells rung but after lots of questions about fuel, tyres and the general road worthiness of the car we made the decision to accept. They managed to squeeze our two suitcases into the boot and we settled into the very uncomfortable back seat of this old Fiat Uno. For some reason two drivers had been provided … a couple of likely lads but pleasant enough. Obviously no English but that’s our fault.

Lots of hugs and farewells exchanged with Aunty and Grandma – we had loved our stay at Casa Susy.

The first stop just down the road was to fill up with petrol (you think they may have done that before)! On pulling out from the garage the car engine cut out and we were coasting … alarm bells ringing once again but we kept the faith … the car got going. Then the driver struggled to find the road out of town – we began to doubt that he knew the way at all …. in fact I began to wonder if he could even drive!! So within 15 minutes he was stopping to ask for directions … and this was repeated at several points during the journey, in what they had estimated to be a 5-6 hour drive.

They managed to find their way on to what is their nearest thing to a motorway – you have to see it to believe it. It’s a wide road with no lanes but, with potholes just about everywhere, the method of driving involves swerving in and out of the dangerous spots. Fortunately there’s not a great deal of traffic, presumably due to fuel shortage. But for a major road linking their national cities it was hysterical, like something out of the Wild West …. with passengers being transported in horse and carriages, tractors and carts, fully enclosed people trucks as well as local jeep like taxis bursting at the seams. I’m a terrible passenger at the best of times but, despite several travel sickness tablets to try and keep me calm, I was pretty much struggling from the start … but compared to be being in an packed open-cart attached to a tractor, I guess I should have felt lucky.

But then things took a turn for the worse, we broke down. We’d only been on the road about an hour and the car packed up – dead as a dodo. Steve and I tried to keep each other’s spirits up as we waited and paced around on the side of the road … for over an hour, while the two ‘lads’ fiddled with the engine … taking bits off, adding bits, fiddling around, seemingly not having a clue. It went from being pretty hot to raining heavily so we had to get back into the car, which equally freaked me out as we were parked in one lane of a two way road. Finally something happened and lo and behold the engine started up … and they were SO pleased with themselves. So, off we headed – the rain pretty torrential by now, but at least the windscreen wipers worked. And after another 20 minutes we watched their faces change from smug to concern as the engine faltered again and we ground to a halt. We kept our cool very well, considering, and this time it took about half an hour before we were on our way again. But it wasn’t sounding good and the car felt very hot.

It had been 4 hours since leaving Santiago by this time and, to put it mildly, we just weren’t enjoying the ride! When we saw a sign that said it was another 260km to Camaguey we knew that we just couldn’t endure another 5 hours of this torture – our lives were at stake. So we asked to be dropped off at nearby Bayamo instead – this of course involved a heated argument and so we ended up being practically dumped in the town and we still had to pay the full money, even though we had only covered about a third of the journey. No tip obviously! Stupidly we had left ourselves short of money, thinking we were going from door to door … we didn’t envisage having to fund further travel or possibly overnight accommodation. And of course, there are no card transactions here. So, leaving me to mind the luggage, in the pouring rain, Steve set off in shorts and flip flops to find an ATM or a bank. It took him about 40 minutes during which time I imagined all sorts of things … but success, the pot had been filled. And we found the bus station.

Then a whole new chapter of chaos began. It took ages to figure out who to ask, no-one seemed particularly helpful, lots of pointing and talking loudly but nothing we could understand. Eventually a helpful passenger came to our aid and escorted Steve to an outside office that apparently dealt with buses (well, one bus a day) to Camaguey. But Steve returned having had no joy … he hadn’t been able to make himself understood and the ticket officer had no positives to offer. We sat there at a bit of a loss, considering taxis, finding a hotel for the night … !? I decided to give the ticket office a go myself so went armed with phrase book and put on my brightest smile (find it works wonders in these sort of places) … latched on to a very friendly and smiley member of staff who spoke no English but offered some reassurance in his body language and saying ‘wait’ indicating to a chair in this waiting room. So I waited for a while and got the feel others were waiting for the same thing … I went and fetched Steve and the luggage and we did as we were told and waited…. and waited… and waited. Eventually we were called into the office and a ticket was issued and our luggage labelled.

After 3 hours of waiting, the bus arrived and we joined the pushing crowds to get our luggage safely loaded. By the time we got on the bus there were only 2 seats left and they were right at the back. We managed to negotiate 2 seats together by asking a nice Cuban chap to swap. At least this meant we could eat our dinner together – a cheese and ham sandwich which our casa hosts had provided for the journey. We realised fairly soon that we had drawn the short straw in our seating – the elderly couple in front had their seats pushed so far back, even though as Steve put it “she was only 3 bl***ing feet tall!!” I literally had a few inches of leg room, my circulation was almost being cut off at the knees. After enduring a couple of hours of this, Steve stuck his legs out into the aisle so that I could free my legs up into his side. It was a bumpy 5 and a half hour ride in all – we tried to manage some sleep but I had a rattling window at my side which was like having a cicada in my ear hole, torture! We were travelling in darkness by now so I couldn’t see the road ahead and it definitely felt safer than being in that excuse of a car. So mustn’t grumble!

We arrived at Camaguey bus station just after midnight and readily agreed to a taxi price to take us to our Casa Particular. Although it was late, we were cheerily met at the door by Maria, our wonderful host. We had a little chat as she speaks some English and then we said we were just ready to collapse into bed. We turned down her offer of food even though we had only eaten two rolls since breakfast but we did accept 4 ice cold beers and iced glasses to help us unwind. Maria’s son Mario came to say hello when he came in shortly afterwards and he seems very friendly too, well educated, has travelled a bit and speaks excellent English.

The house we’re in is quite magnificent – looking forward to exploring it further tomorrow.


And so, we sat up in bed and enjoyed our cold beers and talked and laughed about the absolutely horrendous day … but felt so lucky to have (1) survived it and (2) actually managed to get to Camagüey…. and we’ve certainly learnt a few lessons along the way.

A little restoration of faith in Cuba required right now!

* obviously it wasn’t a day for photos! Just a few of our new home for this week 😊

Santiago de Cuba … ❤️ Salsa 💃

Friday 27th September 2019

Today was a day of HEAVY rain – a sort of non-starter day. Every time we made plans to do something it would start to pour again, so we just muddled our way through the day – reading, blogging, listening to music etc. Getting a blog done here takes the patience of I don’t know how many saints!! Especially with photos downloading … it’s like watching paint dry! So far we have been using the internet through our ‘Casa’ and it’s unbelievably slow, hoping to find alternative methods.

Luckily the weather improved in the evening so we set off for the city to meet our friend Odelquis who was to take us out on a music trip around town. We stopped for some pizza and chips first at the Hotel Casa Grande – lining our stomachs. Our friendly guide arrived and joined in with our mojito round – then whisked us off to the first music venue which was quite smart. A great Cuban band and more beers/mojitos. Odelquis got me up dancing – he was amazing at leading me in salsa dancing, quite the expert – I loved it.

It was fairly quiet in this venue however so we moved onto a more popular lively club – a line up of young talented Cuban musicians, singing and dancing and lots of audience participation. Both Steve and I were led into the salsa experience – Odelquis for me and a young Cuban lady got Steve up on his feet. More beers, more mojitos, more fun! We got chatting to a couple of the American musicians who had been on our plane out – they’re in Santiago on a musical trip. We had a great night all in all but spent an arm and a leg … everybody wanted money from us and sometimes it’s so hard to say no, especially when you’ve consumed too many of the local cocktails!

Saturday 28th September 2019

Immediately realised that 7 mojitos is a couple too many – it was to be a bleary day ahead! Our casa host, Susy, has had to go to Havana for a couple of days which has left us with Aunty and Grandma, who speak no English – this is going to be fun! A beautiful blue sky day so we spent most of it lounging in the sun, dozing, swimming and just generally recovering from our wild night out!

With lots of hand gestures and google translation we can make ourselves understood – we got through breakfast, ordering coffee, ordering lunch and taxi request with ‘Aunty’ and with ‘Grandma’ we just smile lots and say ‘Ola’ and ‘Esta Bien.’

At 3pm we headed off by taxi into the city again. It had cooled a little so we wandered around some different parts, trying to find the music venue that the Americans were playing in this afternoon. After 3 or 4 miles of walking however we still hadn’t found it … we did however find the telephone shop where you can buy internet cards, so naturally stocked up. We’ve finally cracked it …. you buy these scratch cards and then find a Wi-fi spot, normally the plazas, where you log in the code provided to access an hour’s internet time – it’s easy once you know how! After a bite to eat we got lured into a truly authentic Cuban music experience – rows of upright wooden chairs and they insisted we sit right at the front … and apart from an old lady (who kept nodding off) we were the sum total of the audience. The band were hilarious, all old chaps, so passionate about their music and singing and trying desperately to entertain us. We sang and clapped along and smiled lots as way of encouragement … and naturally we bought the CD! We even got up and danced when they played ‘Guantanemera’ especially for us. Luckily they took a set break and we were able to slip off without too much protestation to find our taxi.

Sunday 29th September 2019

Santiago de Cuba is known for its love of music, especially at weekends … last night it seemed to go on till the early hours! And then we woke up to church music … quite the contrast. Felt refreshed however, having stuck to water last night.

Had a chilled out morning, hanging out with Beethoven the dog and the cat, who’s name we’ve not quite grasped.

They’re clearly loved these pets but sadly when the cat bothers us at breakfast he gets the wash basket put over him with a bucket on to weigh it down! Had to take a photo though – he looks so put out!

Steve has read in our Lonely Planet guide that you should always have a Plan B in Cuba. And so it is that we go to the bus station, again, to try and buy a ticket for travelling to Camaguey on Monday …. even though we have booked one of the smart yellow taxis. We manage to buy two tickets and so our back up is in place, in case the taxi (as yet unpaid) does not turn up. ‘Be prepared’ is our motto!! From there we take a ride up to the Santa Ifigenia cemetery, a recommended place of interest. We watched the changing of guards on arrival which was quite a spectacle – can’t beat a good old goose-step! We were led first to the burial spot of Fidel Castro, the man himself. His request for no headstone or monument has been abided by … he is in fact buried under a rock and his name sits on discreet signage. We were then left to walk freely around the cemetery with its spectacular graves, headstones and monuments (our friend Jeff would love it!) – evidently no expense spared at the end of their lives! Vultures circled low overhead adding to the ethereal atmosphere.

And after that spot of culture it was time for culture of another kind … music and beer. We made our way to the Plaza del Dolores where our American friends were playing. Even had our portrait drawn by a very shaky old local chap – his eyesight clearly needed some attention!!

Sat and chilled and appreciated the trumpets, trombones, saxophones and flutes for a couple of hours until our tummies were calling out for food. Found a nearby restaurant and actually managed to successfully order and enjoy the food – pork and rice for me and seafood paella for Steve.

As it was our last day we left enough time for a final drink at the Hotel Casa Grand which had become our safe spot in the city. On nearing it however, we bumped into Odelquis who was out with his father. He was so excited to see us and introduced us to his Dad and of course we all went for a drink together. They readily tucked into mojitos at our expense but we did have a few laughs … and then it was time to go.

Said farewell to our taxi driver who had looked after us most of the week (he reminded us of our friend Warren)!

And took some photos with ‘Aunty’ and ‘Grandma” before we settled down for our last night of sleeping at ‘Casa Susy.’

It’s been an interesting week – a bit of a culture shock for sure but on the positive, our Casa Particular has been great and the music and dancing a wonderful experience. Let’s see what the rest of Cuba has to offer.