‘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.

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