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.
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!’
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. 😎