These are the diaries transcribed by Graham from iPhone Voice Memos made on a tour of Cuba. The tour was organised through Cuba Direct (more...) and specifically Liam Craig-Best who we (Lawrences, Swansons and Whitelocks) all met at their Crystal Palace office/café on 9 January. The tour leader was Jennifer Lawrence. Cuba is deficient in internet connections so Graham took his iPhone and not his computer which he normally takes to create a diary. When recording the diary entries he should have used words for the pronunciation marks but he didn't so speech to text translations were useless. He'll know better next time.
For all the photos click here and for where the photos were taken click here. Instructions are here.
|Monday, 3 February - Arriving in Havana
Tuesday, 4 February - A Walk Round Old Havana
Wednesday, 5 February - The Rum and Revolution Museums
Thursday, 6 February - Las Terrazas
Friday, 7 February - A tour of Vinales
Saturday, 8 February - A walk in Vinales
Sunday, 9 February - The road to Cienfuegos
Monday, 10 February - Cienfuegos
|Tuesday, 11 February - Transfer to Trinidad
Wednesday, 12 February - A Walking Tour of Trinidad
Thursday, 13 February - Playa Ancon
Friday, 14 February - Valle De Los Ingenios
Saturday, 15 February - Parque El Cubano
Sunday, 16 February - Trinidad to Havana
Monday, 17 February - Havana to Gatwick and beyond
At about 7:30am we drive up the A3 to the M25 and down to Gatwick and make our way to the Cophall parking area to park the car and get into a minibus which takes us to the South terminal. We arrive there about 9 o'clock. We check in and then go to the departure lounge. Jane sends Hugh a text message telling him where to meet us. Jane and Hugh, having spent the previous night with son Tom in Hampton and got into the flavour of Cuba with mojitos, collected Bill and Mary and met us for coffee and and to buy gadgets for loading photos onto iPads. We go to departures and the plane leaves on time. It is a jumbo jet from Virgin Atlantic, takes off at about 12:30pm and lands at 5:30pm local time (5 hours behind UK time). We find our luggage after a bit of chaos and meet our Cuba Direct guide who takes us to a coach where we wait for an hour. Apparently somebody had a problem with their luggage being tampered with. We are taken into central Havana and the first stop is the Parque Central Hotel. Just across the road is the Hotel Telegrafo where we are staying. After 10 minutes of unpacking we meet down in the lobby and walk across the road to the El Gijonés restaurant on the top floor. We all have starters as we are not hungry but we are a bit thirsty. We have several bottles of beer and some bread dunked in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Jane and Bill have octopus. Hugh has a ham salad and Jane and Mary have some tomato concoction. Graham has barbecued ribs. We are serenaded by a group of men playing an Elton John number though we are not really interested. We return to the hotel and retire for the night.
We get up at about 7:30am having woken several times during the night thanks to jet lag. We go for a short walk down the main street towards the sea but never get there as we talk to a young couple, one of whom is in charge of security at the hotel. They tell us that Havana is a very safe place to be in. They also show us their ration book. Everyone in Cuba has a ration book. The rations are not enough to survive on and any extras need to be bought on the open market at much higher prices. Soap is no longer rationed. We meet Bill and Mary who have managed to get to the sea and walk back with them to the hotel. Hugh had also managed to find an ATM opposite the hotel. We all meet up for breakfast. It consists of a mixture of fruits and fruit juices (orange, mango and pineapple). We also have an omelette. We wash it down with very weak coffee. Two girls play a guitar and a saxophone while we eat. At 9:30am we are met by Conrado who will take us on a walking tour of old Havana. The first stop is an ATM near the restaurant we ate at last night. Some CUCs (pronounced cooks) are withdrawn. They are equivalent to a USA dollar and are what the tourists have to use. The locals use Pesos. We admire the old American cars. There are a lot of new Geely cars from China as well as old Russian Ladas and Polish Fiats. Our friend Frank in Guilin had a Geely. We stop at the back of the Museum of the Revolution where in the middle of a grassed plaza are placed various vehicles and tanks used during the Revolution. Housed in the middle of the plaza in a glass cage is the yacht called Granma (more...) in which Fidel Castro returned to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 to start the overthrow of Baptista, the President of Cuba. We wander through various squares and have coffee or beer in one of them. We walk to the Rum Museum where we will go tomorrow. On the way back we watch a very colourful group of people on stilts. We make our way to the Ambos Mundos hotel, where Hemingway stayed and wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls (more...). We go to the top floor in an iron cage lift which reminds us of the Old Windsor hotel in Cairo. We say goodbye to Conrado and have lunch. There are good views over the harbour and of the fortifications on the other side of the bay. After lunch we return to the hotel for a siesta. In the evening we go out and meet some friends of the Whitelocks called Ian and Sue Donovan. The rendezvous is a corner bar called the Floridita, another place frequented by Hemingway. We have Daiquiris, which Hemingway declared as the best in the world, and Mojitos and munch plantain crisps. We wander down Obispo and find the Dominica restaurant where we all have lobster. It's a crayfish really and actually it is a set menu which starts off with a sort of a vegetable salad with a lettuce followed by lobster and spaghetti with tomato sauce. This is followed by crème caramel and coffee. It costs 20 CUCs and we consider it jolly good value. We walk back to the Parque Central and say goodbye to the Donovans who are travelling with Audley Travel and staying at the Saratoga Hotel, a hundred yards from us. Graham has a whisky with Bill.
For a pre-breakfast walk Bill, Mary and Graham walk up around the Capitol building which is being restored and then visit a train restoration site which looks more like a scrapyard. We pass the Chinese arch and look up at the tower above the telecommunications centre and then return to the hotel. After breakfast we walk down Obispo street towards the cathedral but it is closed so we walk all the way round it and then undertake a free viewing of an old colonial house which overlooked the cathedral plaza. We were entertained by some large buxom fish-netted ladies from Havana who manage to wheedle 10 CUCs out of us for their pleasure. We make our way to the Rum Museum where Hugh hands over an email from his son Tom, who markets Havana Club in the UK. We have a large welcome drink of rum and fresh orange juice served in glasses. Normal tourists have plastic beakers. We are shown around the museum and Bill learns to become a train driver as he was asked to stop the model train. All the exhibits were very interesting. We sample a seven year old rum and buy a bottle in the shop to taste later. We begin to wander back to the hotel. On the way we buy some small sweet bananas and the two Janes take a bicycle taxi back to the hotel. The rest of us go to the Saratoga hotel for beers and return to the hotel for a siesta. In the afternoon we visit the Museum of the Revolution which is housed in what used to be the Presidential Palace. There are a lot of photographs with a few English words describing the period from the early 50's to a couple of years ago. It explains how 82 revolutionaries arrived on Granma, how all but 17 (12 according to some sources) were killed shortly after landing. Today only three are alive (the Castro brothers and Ramiro Valdés). The Cuban economy was badly hurt by the collapse of the Russian Bloc in 1991. You only have to look out of the windows of the museum to see the effects of Communism. We tour around the Granma yacht in the 'gardens' of the museum. Granma is also the name of a province of southern Cuba and also the name of the Communist party paper. Near the yacht are armoured vehicles, tanks, a fire-engine, and a piece of the U2 plane shot down by a missile in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. We return to the hotel and after an hour all except Jane W, who felt unwell, get into a large open top American car and are driven to the La Guarida restaurant which is set atop an apartment block where the film Strawberry and Chocolate was shot. We started with carpaccio of snapper or veal or ravioli followed by most of us having grouper while Hugh has pork and plums. Most end with ice-cream whilst Bill and Graham have a fortified coffee. Jane and Graham take a Lada taxi back to the hotel whilst the others walk. A whisky nightcap is partaken by a few.
Five of us venture out for a pre-breakfast walk. We go down to the sea and turn northwards towards the Nacional Hotel where we will stay for our last night. After a couple of hundred yards we cross the road and walk up a side street. Whilst Hugh takes Jane to the La Guarida restaurant the rest of us return to the hotel. We have breakfast and then pack up, check out and wait in the lobby. At 10:30am we are met by Doris who speaks very good English although she normally guides French tourists. We climb into a Mercedes minibus and are driven by Tony through the area of Havana where the embassies and the rich are housed. We are driven west on a dual carriageway towards our next stop at the Las Terrazas nature reserve. About five kilometres from the reserve we stop at a wayside café and have a beer and a coffee. We get back into the minibus and Doris gives us small sweet bananas. We make our way to the remains of the Buena Vista coffee plantation site. We walk over it, try the coffee mill wheel, and up a 1.5 kilometre track up a hillside to a view point. The views are magnificent. Bill takes a photo of a Cuban Trogon, the national bird of Cuba. We are too early getting to the resort, the Hotel Moka, so eat the Moka Salad for lunch. After lunch the Whitelocks and the Swansons decide to take the Canopy Tour. It's a zip wire but it does not appeal to Mrs W who returns to join Jane and Graham who watch from the hotel balcony. When all return from the zip wire with their certificates we are allocated rooms and go and unpack. All except Graham go for a swim in the swimming pool. At 6:30pm we meet in the bar for a drink and then go into the restaurant where most of us have battered shrimps while Mary has a spatchcock chicken and bacon. It looks delicious. We drink beer and then retire to bed.
We are late for breakfast. Apparently we had agreed to meet at 8:30am but we are half an hour late. After breakfast all except Jane L go for a walk to find a river and a waterfall. After 45 minutes of going up and down the narrow road we decide to return to the hotel. Near the hotel Bill takes a short cut whilst the rest of us have a beer in a local bar. We pack up and board a minibus and are driven further west to Vinales, where we are taken to a bed and breakfast house called El Coral. We are greeted by Danay, her mother, Manuela, and her husband, Mario. There is a double bedroom on the ground floor and two double bedrooms and a veranda upstairs. The Lawrences opt for the downstairs room. Normally its bathroom is shared with the mother's room but for our stay it is ours. Upstairs we have an orange peeled by Danay and a beer. There is an honesty system for taking drinks from the fridge. There is a pad for each of the rooms. We opt to do a tour of the area. As there are six us we need two cars and it will cost 40 CUCs for the two cars. Mario is a taxi driver so we will use his as one. His friend Robert drives a Plymouth so the ladies (who he calls his princesses) pile into his and the men go with Mario in his red Peugeot. We drive to the cave of the Lost Slave but are told there is a better cave to view so we just take a walk around it. We are taken to the Indian Cave where we pay our entrance fees of 5 CUCs each and walk into the cave. Eventually we join a queue of tourists waiting to get on a boat to take us out of the cave. We wait for about twenty minutes before climbing into a twenty-seater open boat which takes us on a river out of the cave and stops just before a weir. We climb out and walk through souvenir shops back to the waiting cars. We are driven to a farm and greeted by the cowboy-hatted jovial farmer who walks us around his farm showing us all the various crops he grows - avocados, guavas, tobacco, sweet potatoes, yucca, bananas, limes, pineapples, coconuts. We enter a large barn full of drying tobacco. The farmer shows us how a cigar is rolled and lets us all have a puff of it. Farmers may keep 10% of their tobacco crop whilst the rest goes to the government. Some allege it's more like 30%. At the entrance to the farm is a flagpole with five flagstones at the base each inscribed with the name of the Cuban Five (more...) who are five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the US - one has been released. We leave the farmer and are driven to an organic farm where we sit on a veranda, admire the views which remind us of Yangshou and drink fresh fruit juice cocktails. We swap cars. Our next stop is at a balcony next to a hotel where the views are very good. We drive to what we were told would be a giant pine tree only to find it is a cliff face with a large painting on it depicting in garish colours the evolution of man. It was commissioned by Fidel, painted between 1966 and 1970 and touched up each day. We return to the house. It is dark now. At 7:15pm we go upstairs to have some beer with the others. Fifteen minutes later we go downstairs to eat the meal prepared by Danay and her helpers. The table was set with everything we were going to eat - the black bean soup and rice, the vegetable salad and the fruit cocktail. When we have eaten the soup the main course is brought in. For three of us it is a huge amount of lobster and for the others it is fish, all freshly caught from the sea. After the meal we drink coffee which is so much better than that provided by the Telgrafo Hotel. We play a game which Hugh has brought called Bananagrams (more...). Hugh explains the rules and we have two rounds. It turns out that Hugh has not given us the correct rules so we stop playing and retire to bed.
We slept with the fan on all night and get up at 7:45am to go for breakfast. The table is laid with fruit salads of guava, pineapple and orange. There is toasted bread, butter, honey and mango marmalade. To drink there is mango juice and coffee with hot milk. We also eat omelettes with sliced tomatoes. At 9 o'clock Ernest collected us. Ernest is a 28 year-old Cuban with a wife and a one year old child. He has just bought a 30m x 15m plot of land for 6000 CUCs on which he will build a house. He takes us on a hike over farms and we see lots of birds and farmers ploughing fields with bullocks and tending to tobacco crops. Vinales is the main growing area of tobacco in Cuba. Cockerels and stray dogs abound. Turkey vultures fly above us. We cross two brooks, one by a rickety beam and the other on a rusty frame - no health and safety concerns here. We stop at a cafeteria in the middle of nowhere where some of us have fruit cocktails and others have beers. Ernest has a sandwich for lunch. We watch a man roll a cigar for us and Mary buys one for a friend. After nearly three hours we reach a road where Ernest phones for a taxi. A blue Lada arrives and takes the ladies. It returns and picks up the men and drops us at the La Ermita hotel which has wonderful views over the valley. Ernest leaves us and goes to a cock fight near the hotel. Ernest will collect the remains of Graham's whisky from the casa later. We stay at the hotel and have sandwiches for lunch. We walk back down to the main street in Vinales and look in at a restaurant we plan to eat at tonight. Bill and Mary visit the botanical gardens and the rest of us return to the casa for a shower and a siesta. At 5:30pm we gather together and watch Danay make us our evening cocktails - cuba libres, pina coladas and one mojito. Whilst drinking on the veranda upstairs the heavens open. It rains stair-rods which is unfortunate as we are due to eat in the main street tonight. The rain dampens the black beans which have been drying on the flat roof behind the upper bedrooms. Bill and Mary say they will walk to the restaurant whilst Mario drives the rest of us to El Olivo. We sit outside under an awning protected from the elements. Bill has rabbit, the Whitelocks have lasagne and the rest have excellent wild duck. This is followed by Bill and Jane L having octopus and the rest of us have a sort of sweet cakes with light custard on top. The rain has stopped so we walk back down to the casa. On the way back Bill Mary and Hugh meet Ernest who tells them that the cock fight was disappointing. At the casa we settle the bills for last night's meal - 54 CUCs for the meal and the cocktails and fridge drinks cost another 46 CUCs. We retire to bed.
We get up early for breakfast at 6am. The breakfast is similar to yesterday's. Mario takes our cases and the two Janes up to the plaza whilst the rest walk up the road which is still wet from last night. The Transtur coach which is a Yutong from China is on time. We clamber aboard having handed over our vouchers. It has seat belts and movable arm rests. The journey lasts seven and a half hours with two stops. After reaching Pinar Del Rio we travel on dual carriageway via the outskirts of Havana to just north of Cienfuegos. The countryside is hardly cultivated. There are the occasional cattle, goats, sheep and horse and no signs of the agricultural reforms. We stop at the same wayside café we had stopped at on the way to Las Terrazas. The second stop is at 12:30 pm when we get off the dual carriageway. It is like a glorified children's zoo with scattered bars, toilets, souvenir shops, coffee shops and a cafeteria where we have toasted ham, cheese and pork sandwiches and Bucanero beers. Cuba imports all the wheat required for bread and anything else. We re-enter the coach and it drops off some tourists in the centre of Cienfuegos at the Union Hotel. We continue further down a peninsular and are dropped at the Casa Verde Hotel (more...). Our room on the first floor is large with a big bathroom. BBC, CNN and CCTV are available on the television. Next door is a balcony overlooking the bay and a somewhat uninviting swimming area for the hotel. At 3:30pm we wander out of the hotel and visit the Palacio de Valle situated by the Hotel Jagua. We climb the green iron stairs to the roof to admire the views and quench our thirsts. A band started playing, inevitably, but we prefer to admire views without music. We walk to the end of the peninsular and enter the Lagarto restaurant. We book a table for six at seven. We amble around the nearby park but don't buy any of the 3 CUCs mojitos being sold. We meet the English girls from Manchester who had travelled on our coach from Vinales and had been on the zip wire at Las Terrazas. We stroll back to our hotel. At six we convene in our room to drink cuba libres. Hugh has obtained some ice from the bar. Whilst we drink it is raining. When it stops we walk to the restaurant where we find we are surrounded by a coach load of Americans representing the Washington State University Alumni. We choose our main course from the pictorial menu. Some have shrimps whilst the others have pork in various forms. The meal starts with a vegetable salad, followed by a vegetable soup and a tomato bruschetta. The main course is next and this is followed by a banana liquor and a crème caramel for most and an excellent fruit salad for one. The meal ended with a coffee and the bill came with four cigars. It was the most expensive meal we had had. It cost 128 CUCs. We have a rain-free walk back to our rooms.
We get up at 8:30am and learn that we can have breakfast at the Jagua Hotel across the road and also use its facilities. We walk into the hotel and find a round table in the restaurant amongst all the Americans staying there including those who went in a coach to the Lagarto restaurant last night. We have a typical Cuban tourist buffet breakfast. After returning to our hotel we arrange to be taken into the city centre on tricycle taxis. Mary and Graham get in the first one followed by the two Janes and then by Bill and Hugh. There is a bot of jostling for places as we travel up the boulevard to the centre square. When we arrive there Hugh realises he has dropped his camera so the Whitelocks retrace their steps to see if they can find it. The rest of us look for an ATM to get some money. Debit cards are accepted in Cuba and we are grateful to Lloyds for texting Jane to check if the use of the card is expected. We wander around the shops which do not have much on display. Mary buys a wooden cigar holder for a friend and has his name burnt into it by the seller. We look in at a hairdressers where about a dozen people are having their hair cut in a large room. We walk back to the square to meet the Whitelocks who have not found the camera. We have a drink and then visit the Terry Thomas Theatre. It is in its 1888 original form and magnificently occupying four floors. We walk back down the peninsular road to a pizza restaurant where we have drinks and sandwiches. Bill and Graham visit a nearby emporium to replenish the supplies of rum and coke - 10.90 CUCs for a litre of Havana Club rum and 1.50 CUCs for a litre of local Tu Kola (Coca Cola is imported from Mexico). The others reconnoitre a restaurant for this evening. Whilst Jane swims with the others at the Jagua Hotel, Graham reads Graham Green's Our Man in Havana on the balcony but in the shade. At 5:45pm we met on the balcony to eat nuts and pre-dinner drinks. We then sauntered up the road to the Finca Del Mar restaurant. It overlooks the sea. It has a collection of video DVDs which are played - Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees making a change from traditional Cuban music. Amongst us we have lobster, shrimps, and fish. Some have ice cream whilst the others have coffee. It is the most expensive Cuban meal we have had costing 140 CUCs but it was delicious.
After having breakfast in the Jagua Hotel, Jane and Graham rested and then went for a swim at 10 when the pool opened, whilst the others walked into the city centre and saw some acrobats practising. Bill lends one of his spare cameras, which he hopes is not of the disposable variety, to Hugh. Graham manages ten lengths whilst Jane does twenty. We check out of our hotel at noon and leave our luggage behind the reception desk at the Jagua Hotel. We found a place to drink where Jane can have a PIna Colada, which she seems to be very partial to, and Graham has a Bucanero (beer). Whilst having our drinks the others join us having taken a pony and trap back from The Union Hotel and we have toasted sandwiches – cheese and ham, ham and cheese or just cheese. We gather in the hotel entrance just before 1:15pm as that is when our coach will arrive to whisk us off eastwards to Trinidad. At 1:45pm we text Susana in Havana (the lady with the bandanna eating a banana) who texts us back saying the coach is on its way. It does turn up and our names are on the guide Giselle's list. There is a slight altercation as an ignorant pigtailed American with earrings and a flashy camera refuses to move his seat forward in front of the Whitelocks. After Giselle's intervention the Whitelocks move further back in the coach to sit behind some friendlier tourists. Apparently the coach was an hour late leaving Havana. We are driven along a narrow country lane and arrive at Trinidad at half past two. We are dropped off and espy someone holding a notice saying 'Jane Lawens' which we correctly assumed as being us. Three men took us with our luggage tied on in tricycle taxis to the Hostal Santander in Frank Pais street and are greeted by the owner Joslaine and her husband Jorgio. We may call her Yola. We pay 2 CUCs to each taxi driver. We are allocated rooms. The Whitelocks are allocated a room with one double bed but no windows. The others are allocated rooms with windows and two double beds. After a welcome lemonade drink a discussion ensues. The double bedders agree to toss and whoever looses will take the Whitelock room. The Whitelocks don't agree and text Susana instead. After unpacking we wander out towards the historic centre of Trinidad along the cobbled streets. Bill buys a four-pocket cotton shirt. We end up in a bar close to the Romantic Museum in the Plaza Mayor and have some drinks. We return to our accommodation. We have pre-dinner drinks. Joslaine provides us with beer, Tu Kola and ice so some can drink beer and the others can make cuba libres. We sit in the courtyard drinking whilst listening to the pig snorting next door (not the American). When the table is laid we are called to dinner. We start with a small tasty pasta dish followed by a clear vegetable soup. The main course is pork and the vegetable called yucca. Other names for yucca are cassava, yuca, manioc, mandioca, yucca root, casabe, and tapioca (and tasteless). There was a vegetable salad followed by crème caramel and coffee. It was a jolly good meal and after it we retired to bed.
We have a typical Cuban casa breakfast at 8:30am - guava juice, fruit salad, cold sausage and cheese, toast, honey, mango marmalade, biscuits and coffee with warm milk. We walk to the Municipal Museum housed in the Cantero Palace. It tells the story of the history of Trinidad with its sugar cane factories and slaves and rich colonial owners. All except Graham climb up the tower for magnificent views over Trinidad. The museum also contains sets of old Royal Worcester and Arthur Meakin porcelain. We walk anti-clockwise around the Plaza Mayor and enter the parochial church of Santissima where there are wonderful elaborately carved wooden altars and chapels. We stop at the bar we'd drank at last night and had a libation. We tour the Romantic Museum next to it and then continued past the Convent of St Francis of Assisi. We made our way to a plaza containing three crosses used as the end point of an Easter procession. We are now in the poorer part of town. The houses are colourful, the streets are cobbled, people ride horses and the ladies wear curlers. Jane falls over and is immediately helped to her feet, not by her husband, but by a strapping young male Trindadian. We found a place to have sandwiches for lunch on a terrace atop a building. On our way back to the casa we are lucky to find the owner of the restaurant where we would like to eat tonight opening his door. We are shown around and book a table. The head chef, who is the owner, spent some time in Quimper, France so we are hoping for a good meal tonight. Outside the restaurant, he shows us the risqué picture on his scooter saddle. We have a rest in the afternoon. At 6pm we have pre-dinner drinks and finish the bottle of rum. After a short walk we arrive at the Davimart restaurant (more...) at 7:30pm. The door is opened by a smiling young lady who takes us past the bags of cement and piles of bricks to the rear of the restaurant where a table has been laid for us. Here you pay one price for the whole meal depending on what main course you choose. We start with a prettily laid out salad on a plate, followed by pumpkin soup. Some have lobster and others have lamb while Mary has fish. For desert we have a warm chocolate sponge with crème anglaise whilst watching a video of the restaurant and its owner. The restaurant is very quiet with only two other customers. For 100 CUCs it was a very pleasant meal.
It poured with rain throughout the night. There are large puddles outside so we have breakfast under cover but it has stopped raining. We walk to the Trinibus terminus at the Cubatur office and pay 2 CUCs each for a return trip to the beach at Playa Ancon which is 10 km away - what good value. We arrive about 9:30am. We stroll along the beach to find a shady spot under a tree. There are sun loungers in abundance so we move six into a group. We all have a swim in the Caribbean sea. Graham bangs his head on the tree and is advised by Nurse Whitelock to go back into the sea and dive into it which he obediently does. We have a sandwich lunch (cheese and ham, ham and cheese or cheese only) served from a nearby snack bar and pay 2 CUCs each for the sun loungers as they belong to one of the several hotels bordering the beach. We all have another swim after lunch and manage to get onto the 3:30pm bus back to town. It is extremely crowded. There are obviously no limits to the number of standing passengers in buses here. We return to the casa along flooded streets as they have had rain all day whilst we escaped it except for a couple of spots. On the way back we purchase a bottle of rum and Graham uses his debit card to make the purchase. This is the first shop where plastic can be used. However the person on the till doesn't know what to do so leaves it to her supervisor. No PIN is entered but a signature is required. Lloyds Bank sends us another text message - an excellent service. Jane and Hugh go back to a tourist company they found the day before and make a booking for a guide and driver to take us on a tour of the local area tomorrow. At about six we have pre-dinner drinks. Jane L has a pina colada. The other ladies have a Cristal beer and the men have cuba libres. Hugh announces that he's developing a liking for them. We eat at the casa. We have a small spaghetti starter followed by vegetable soup. Some have plentiful shrimps whilst others have slightly spicy lobster. For desert we have guavas stuffed with cheese. It certainly improves the tasteless guavas. This is followed by coffee and liquors. The men have rum and the ladies have a coffee liqueur.
Yola has a top with L O V E embroidered across the top and tells us that it is the day of love - Saint Valentine's Day. The juice at breakfast today is papaya and a new fruit is produced called a nispero (more...). It is very sweet with large black pips. We walk into the centre past the expensive 5-star Iberostar Hotel and turn left to walk to the Havantur office where Hugh and Jane arranged for us to hire a minibus with driver and guide to take us to some disused sugar factories. We are driven north-east of Trinidad to a view point overlooking the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugarmills) (more...) which stretches for 45 km. Our excellent guide, Able Perez, points out where once stood large colonial houses and Bill takes photos of the birds. We return to the minibus and go to the dilapidated San Isidro sugar plantation. The main colonial house is being restored but the three-storey lookout tower has been restored. Able takes us around the site showing us the remains of the barracks where five hundred slaves lived five per room. When a slave escaped and was captured they were put in manacles or had a ball and chain to carry. We are shown the remains of sugar boilers where the cane is turned into molasses, honeys and sugar, and the rum distillery. We got back into the minibus and are taken past the site of the Buena Vista plantation to Manaca Iznaga where we park by the railway track. The train is in the station and we admire it. We were advised not to go on it as it is unreliable. There is a kerfuffle at the entrance to the plantation. A man in a red tee-shirt is throwing large stones at a man with a cowboy hat. The man in red is being restrained by others. He calls the cowboy hat a cuckold, according to Able. Apparently he is mentally subnormal and was being teased. We walk up the track bordered by souvenir stalls mainly selling cotton tablecloths and napkins. In front of the restored mansion we admire a large bronze bell which hung in one of the lookout towers on another plantation. Whilst Able and the Lawrences adjourn to the bar, the others climb the 45 metre tower constructed in 1816 by Mr Borrell, the same person who built the Cantero Palace in Trinidad. The group are driven to an old ranch where we meet the train again. We clamber over the train and visit the ranch and have a drink but do not eat. We return to Trinidad and visit a pottery factory (more...) run by Chichi Santander, the brother of Yola's husband, Jorgio. We admire the Model T Ford parked inside but don't make any purchases. Able drops us at the Don Pepe coffee bar near the convent and we have another sandwich lunch. We promise to send Abel a copy of the book Cuba Libre. Several of us have iced coffees. They are very slow at bringing the cheese sandwiches for the Whitelocks. Jane and Graham visit the casa where we will stay tomorrow night. No English is spoken. There is a swimming pool with algae. We are shown two of the rooms but the third is still occupied. We can leave our stuff there tomorrow morning. We saunter home and have a siesta. At 6:30pm we have pre-dinner drinks in the back yard and Yola presents us all with a bracelet made from pottery beads produced at the factory we had visited earlier today. Yola also brings the ladies a canchanchara cocktail served in a red clay bowl from their factory. It contains honey, lemon juice and rum. In the kitchen we meet Chichi's son. We walk up Simon Bolivar street, past the Plaza Mayor, to the Estela Restaurant. We have home grown avocado from the tree growing in the terrace. This is followed by tomato and cabbage salad and cooked bananas. For the main course most of us have shredded lamb whilst Bill has fish. The lamb is excellent. For desserts we have chocolate and coconut ice cream. For this meal we pay only 90 CUCs. We walk back down the hill to our casa whilst the others stop to dance and sing.
We have breakfast and then pack up and settle our bill for the drinks and meal. We give Yola a hug and a kiss and traipse up the street dragging our suitcases behind us. We arrive at our next casa at 317, Jose Marti street. We let the Whitelocks choose their room first. It has three beds in it and a balcony. The Lawrence's room is next door and has a double bed and a single bed. The Swanson's room is across the rooftop and has just a double bed in a recently decorated room. They can descend to ground level using a yellow iron spiral staircase. The owner of the casa summons a large American taxi which will take all six of us for 15 CUCs for the morning. It is a green diesel Chevrolet Bel Air. Bill and Hugh sit in the front and the rest squeeze into the back. We drive to the western outskirts of Trinidad, onto a dust track, and, after several kilometres, arrive at the entrance to the Parque El Cubano. We pay 9 CUCs to enter and walk under the canopy of trees for an hour up to the waterfall. On the way we pass a cliff covered in hanging wasp nests. Hugh, Bill and Mary have a swim in the pool whilst the others watch. The temperature of the water is 22C according to the local who will take a photo of you for a fee. On the walk back down Hugh and Bill see a snake. We return to the entrance and give our driver, who has been sleeping on the back seat, a bottle of water. We are driven to a restaurant called Vista Gourmet for lunch. We pay the driver 20 CUCs and enter the restaurant. Unfortunately it does not serve sandwiches so we have a beer instead. The views are good. Pedro the waiter explains to us his different rums and shows us the wine list which is stuck to the sides of a four litre bottle of wine. We wander down to the Don Pepe coffee shop but it is closed so we cross the square and have lunch in the snack bar. There is a long wait for sandwiches which apparently are very tasty. Graham is not feeling too good so only drinks one beer. We return via a bank to the casa. We meet at 6:30pm for drinks by the swimming pool. As Graham is not 100% Jane cancels his order for lobster. We start the meal with very tasty black bean soup. This is followed by lobster for Jane L and Bill. Graham has rice. The others have shrimps. The dessert is crème caramel.
We have breakfast at 7:15am, pack up and check out. We trundle our luggage to the square opposite the Iberostar Hotel where we are due to get on a coach at 8:35am. Well we hang around with other tourists and at 8:55am the coach arrives. It takes us back to Cienfuegos and stops at the Union Hotel where some disembark for a pee stop. We are driven to the Autopista Nacional where we stop for a sandwich lunch. After a somewhat boring ride we arrive in Havana at half past two. The coach stops at various hotels on the fringe of the old city and eventually drops us off at the entrance to the Nacional Hotel (more...) and (more...). Bill and Mary are booked into room 806, Graham and Jane have room 608 and Hugh and Jane have a wonderful sea view in room 612. These room numbers are given in case they are needed to enter onto the list of rooms where famous people stayed which can be inspected at the reception desk. We unpack and wander out to look for tonight's restaurant, the Laurent. After Hugh questions various people we find it atop an apartment block, give it the once over, and reserve a table. We wander along the streets to find the Coppelia (more...). the largest ice cream parlour in the world sitting like a flying saucer straddling a park. There are long queues outside. We bypass the queues and are ushered to a small parlour where we have very tasty small ice creams sitting in an area lacking atmosphere. We learn later that we paid tourist rates whereas those queuing pay much less. We amble back via some tall dilapidated Russian-built apartment blocks and purchase a large bottle of Tu Kola on the way. A bride and groom are having their photos taken in the back garden of the hotel. Jane has a pina colada. We have pre-dinner drinks in Room 612, finish the rum, and dine at the Laurent where we have a view of the city lights. Some have fish and others have shrimps and lobster. We each give our three highlights of the holiday which are:
Graham has had a very disturbed night and taken some Imodium. Breakfast is taken in the basement Veranda restaurant. We meet in the lobby at ten for a historical tour of the hotel. The lady guide was quite quiet and spoke in English to half the group and Spanish to the rest. It was not very satisfactory so we broke away and went into the gardens where there is an underground photographic exhibition giving the story of the Cuban missile crisis. We eavesdrop as an English speaking guide explains it to his two clients. Another guide takes along all the tunnels constructed when the site formed the Santa Clara Battery. We vacate our rooms at noon and leave our luggage at reception. Whilst Jane and Graham find a seat under the cloisters in the hotel garden the others go on a voyage of exploration. Jane has a pina colada and a ham and cheese sandwich whist Graham has a medicinal Tu Kola. At about 3pm the others return from an abortive attempt to climb the Jose Marti tower in the Plaza de Revolucion as it was closed. We have sandwiches and then loiter around until 4:40pm when we get a coach to the airport. There is only one other passenger on the coach. He is an Englishman who is teaching paediatrics at one of the universities in Cuba. At the airport we check in and then pay 50 CUCs for the two of us to leave the country. Having paid up, Jane recognises the Donovans in the queue for the cashier. We go through security and spend our last CUCs on two litres of rum and a sealed plastic bag to export them in. We take off on time at 8:10pm and land at 9am at Gatwick having had very little sleep. We call for the minibus to take us to our car park and drive home in the rain. Oh to be back in England! We arrive home at 11:30am to find our house still above water.
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