And so we bid a farewell to the Cayman Islands for our week
in Cuba. Why do you panic about leaving
for the airport so that you get there in time even though you know it is only
30 minutes away from your accommodation, security won’t take forever and you
are already checked in? Because you
think – I can take some pictures of the aircraft – no there is a mesh fence all
around the building. You can go to the
lounge for a drink and snacks from the bar – No the lounge has been removed
whilst building work goes on. Security will take an age – No you are the only
people in the line (therefore they do a really thorough job). It will take ages to offload the heap of
rubbish we hired from Budget cars this week – No its just across the road. So now we are sitting at the departure gates
– think Newquay airport but this one has 7 gates, with seats that are the same
as Newquay (so hard on the butt) the only difference really is that the aircon
is working really well, the staff are really happy, the coffee tastes better
and doesn’t cost as much and the destinations are much more exotic. Its only 2.5 hours till departure.
Only a minor but major mishap which could have been
disastrous for the next 3 weeks. We got
to check-in (my case gained 5Lb between the flat and the scale but they let me
off – phew) and we needed to pay for the visa for Cuba (cash only). Went for the purse to find that it wasn’t in
my hand luggage – I had used it just 10 minutes beforehand to buy petrol so
reckoned I had left it in the car. I
legged it back to the happy helpful ladies at Budget to find that the car had
already departed for cleaning (amazed!) Fortunately there was one lady who was
happy to help, she made a call and the chap brought the car back. So relieved when he got out of the car
holding my purse as it has my credit and cash card in it as well as cash. Panic over.
So we are off to Cuba where the temperature is expected to
be similar to Cayman thankfully. But no Wi-Fi although like last year I will
buy an hour long card and eek it out over the week. Not getting many Facebook updates anyway but
we do need to be able to keep in touch with what is happening back home. If only to find out whether there is a deal
or no deal, what MPs are in jail and what the weather is doing.
Oh Cuba how soon you forget the previous years arrival at Havana
Jose Marti Airport. A quick dash to the loo soon reminds you that you should never
leave your room without a packet of tissues and hand sanitizer in your bag.
This goes for the hotel too. Toilet roll
is not always provided (unless you pay
the lady or man for a single square as you enter) and water doesn’t always come
out of the taps. The first time I saw a
toilet without a seat I was horrified but you soon realise it is normal out
here. Onto the booth which passes for
immigration and passport control. Glasses off, look straight into the
camera. No chit chat and only a small
smile as they release the door catch and let you out the other side. Almost like Orlando airport but more
friendly. Then you get your bags scanned before you collect your baggage –
security is pretty serious here. Go to
the carousel to collect your suitcase and then it comes onto the belt marked
Newark whilst the other passengers luggage came on the belt marked Cayman. Thank
heavens my multi-coloured belt made it in one piece this time. And straight through customs and out the
There is something nice about being met at the airport by a
man waving a placard with your name on.
Makes you feel quite important.
Our taxi driver tried a couple of words in English but soon stopped
trying as neither of us understood the other.
It was great to see the old cars still working hard at the airport and
even nicer to see them outside of Havana city.
Our drive down to Varadero enabled us to see a little more of the
countryside. Lots of chickens and goats
at the side of the road, we could have been in Cayman or Jamaica. And much as I like to listen to Cuban music we
both lasted about 10 minutes before we put our headphones in to listen to our
own music. Although mostly unspoilt
countryside the urban areas are very run down with chimneys belching black
smoke into the air next to the ocean and a small town. And so interesting to see oil derricks working
at the side of the road, although the area has an overwhelming smell of oil.
And so to our luxurious abode for the week. OMG what an awful place (but it could be us just
being snobby)Our hotel is an ‘all inclusive’ resort in the tourist town of
Varadero (purpose built for tourists apparently back in the late 80s and
updated many times since then). Just 24
hours in and we wanted to pack our bags and leave for somewhere a bit quieter. The ‘bungalow` we have been assigned has a
double bed only and much as I love my sister I really don’t want to sleep with
her. Bungalow number 2 had a shared
living space – really not ideal. But
third time lucky!!! Twin beds and a separate
and personal living area – Yippee. Our
gourmet dinner (buffet style) had to have the worst quality food there is. Lots of it but unless you like ham or fish in
all of your pasta, eggs, rice, potatoes etc you don’t stand a chance. Abandon all hope if you are a vegetarian or
Coeliac. But there are some very clever
chefs working here – I have seen the wonderful fruit and vegetable sculptures
they decorate the salad bar with, its just a pity the cleverness doesn’t spill
over to the hot (not)food. Apparently
the heated food lamps don’t work so the food is always cold.
I wonder what has happened to my sense of adventure. I think I must have lost it between reception
and our assigned accommodation on check-in .
It is possible that this happens to the majority of holiday makers. But I
have to say that the pool area looks lovely as we can see if from our balcony.
The sun loungers which are spaced out in perfect symmetry and the blaring disco
music pumping out don’t know how many decibels for hours on end. We have come to the conclusion that the all
inclusive resort thingy is definitely not for us as we can’t drink as much as
all the gorgeous young things around the pool shouting and screaming at all
hours of the day and well into the early hours.
Hell on earth! No, we were there
last week – got the stamp in my passport to prove it. (and it was so much
We found a second, smaller pool and once we had plugged our
headphones in and turned the volume up we were able to drown out most of the
other noise. It did keep conversation to
a minimum though but we have read lots of kindle books between us. But you can only do this for a short time (3
days actually) before you lose the will to live and decide you really don’t
like Cuba as it has nothing to offer and you could be in any beach resort in
Europe, UK (although it is very warmer here) the world etc. The hotel information doesn’t give you any
and reception really aren’t helpful.
There are some organised coach trips available (Yuk!) our saviour came in the shape of the security
man at the front door. He knew a tour
guide. One quick phone call and day four
was organised with a day trip with a taxi.
Enter Dainyris (her real name, who has long blond hair but
has never seen GOT, although has heard the name Targaryen) our tour guide, and
Franklin our driver for the day. We even
got a classic taxi which was an unexpected bonus, a 1959 Chevrolet Belair.
We had decided that we wanted to see a bit of the ‘real’
Cuba as it was supposed to be fantastic.
And we did and it was. Our car had
open windows as the aircon and dodgy door handles which meant that Franklin
always had to open our doors to let us out, but oh so comfortable once you were
sitting on your towels to prevent you from sticking to the plastic seat
protectors. We bounced our way along
roads without direction signs or much in the way of road markings and no sat
nav. I wondered how they find their way
around and apparently they just learn. I
have to say that car could motor. Up to
70mph without effort along those roads. Loved
it. We found out later that is has a
Toyota engine in with we don’t know how much horse power.
We headed down towards the Bay of Pigs as we were in need of
an educational or cultural fix. Dainyris
speaks 4 languages fluently and is a great tour guide. I would certainly recommend her services if
you need accommodation/tours/information etc sorting before you go. She will be happy to help. The locals have just been given data/Wi-Fi/internet
services which we take for granted and her website and facebook page is still
in its infancy but contact her before you go for a great service www.recorriendocuba.com
When speaking to the Cuban people you soon realise that they
are proud of their country. They have
free education, free healthcare and are given basic food rations each week
which supplement their wages and ensure that nobody is hungry as the majority
are on a basic minimum wage. One of the
leftover gifts of Fidel. He also built
hundreds of schools to ensure that the nation was educated. They are also a pretty healthy nation without
the same weight problems we suffer in the UK.
There are no fast food take-away outlets (yet) that I have found, either
here or in Havana, which obviously helps.
They don’t import a huge amount, so if the food can’t be grown, caught
or killed then it isn’t readily available.
Forget having an orange in January if there aren’t any in the
shops. The season ends in October or
November. And they accept this as a
matter of course.
I had very little knowledge about the Bay of Pigs uprising
and always assumed it was led by the Americans against the Cuban people. A quick trip to the museum at Giron (landing
beach for the invasion) and also a documentary (maybe some propaganda) film
about the invasion soon had me educated – I think. At least I have a better
understanding now. The film is fairly
graphic even in black and white and shows some of the action. Really was worth a visit. The names and photos of the heroes and
martyrs are shown here as well with fresh flowers as a tribute. Then onto Giron beach itself. This beach is the paradise beach you always dream
about. Pure white soft sand and warm
Caribbean waters with tropical fish swimming around the shallows. Absolutely fantastic. We were shown another couple of beaches used
by the local people and not known about by tourists. Our idea of heaven. Then it was off to lunch and a local
restaurant which served lunch for 17CUCs each.
No choice but the lunch of the day was a selection of freshly cooked
chicken breast, lobster, crab and white fish served with rice and beans, salad and
banana chips (salted and not like the variety we have at home). Real Cuban food cooked at the rear of
someone’s house and one of those little places that only a local will know
about. The best meal of the week. Divine. And it was hot and we didn’t have to
fight for it.
As we are 7 day residents we are able to have 2 a la carte
meals which are available on specific days throughout the week. We opted for
Mexican (hopefully next weeks Mexican food will be a bit different) and also
Spanish. They do import olives and they
have been really lovely. These are life
saver meals which bring you back from the brink of food despair. They are ok and hotter than the buffet bun
fight. But they are not A la carte as we
know it. You can choose your main course
from the menu with a choice of about 3 items.
No sides but the salad buffet starter is generally nicer than the main
I have focused a fair
bit on the food available here. But with
a Coeliac it really is fairly important for a good choice. I am also a fussy eater as I don’t eat pig or
fish so will find myself with just some potatoes on a plate. We did have roast beef one night but the
slices put on the plate were still mooing and no way could it be eaten without
causing some vile stomach upset. It is
sad that the ingredients available aren’t finished to a better standard which
is such a shame. None of the staff are
aware of what gluten is or how it can affect a person who has a serious allergy,
but I am sure this will change in years to come as Cuba becomes a more popular
Today we walked into the local town. We managed this with a few stops on the way for
coffee, cold drinks etc. Our final
refreshment destination was at the Pullman where we (r only really stopped to use the loo but
ended up staying for 2 Pina Coladas. OMG
they have to be the best I have tasted yet.
Freshly made by a barman who knew how to make a drink. So different from the poolside drinks we have
had over the past few days at the poolside in plastic cups. We finished off with a ride back to the hotel
in another classic car taxi – a 1927 Model T Ford, bright yellow in
colour. Well it just has to be
done. We only have one more day left
We couldn’t face a final day poolside or on the balcony so decided
to go in search of some caves we had spotted on an information board. (We just
assumed they could be visited) We called
Eileen our driver with the model T and asked her to take us. First to Matanza which is approximately 35Km
from Varadero. An open top Model T is
possibly not the best option for a long fast drive( not sure what engine she
had in hers but it certainly motored although it sounded like one of the cars at
the Tomorrowland Grand Prix at Disneyworld).
The Matanza Caves are amazing.
Totally unspoilt although a little damaged. It is inexpensive 5CUCs each but then you pay
an additional 5CUCs for a phone or camera if you wish to take photos
inside. Mine really don’t do the cave
justice but after climbing through such narrow spaces (no hard hats here) I
have the greatest respect for the Chilean cave rescuers and the wonderful job
they did in 2018.
And it is finally the last day. Our taxi to the airport still hadn’t arrived
45 minutes after the agreed time so it was down to a local taxi to take us on a
2.5 hour drive back to the airport. I
just wish we could use the lounge as these seats are pretty hard to sit on.
Would I come back to Cuba?
On the face of it, it looks like a resounding no but with our day trip
to Giron and escape from the hotel to find new sights I would say yes
definitely. Cuba does have a lot to
offer once you get away from the all inclusive nightmare and speak to some of
the local people. Havana is amazing if
you love old buildings, history, art and sculpture and the countryside is
fascinating with its history and landscape.
Just find a local guide, negotiate your price and get away from the bustle
of the tourist towns with the usual souvenirs.
Although there are people in our hotel who have been coming for the last
13 years and love it. But they are from
Canada where their home temperature is -47 apparently. So they escape to here every
year. Me – I would choose a better hotel
or AirBnB (check it out) been told that
you can live like a local in some wonderful homes (and that comes from a Cuban).
Finally, I think the Cuban mosquitos are the most vicious yet,
which I have encountered on this trip.
Multi bites in one day (I counted 15) including one on my face. They
hurt like hell after the itch. I have
abandoned the witch hazel I bought as it has no effect and have resorted to the
wonder cream which is sudocrem. Sadly white and red splotches are not a good
look. And I also really love real Cuban
coffee which we had for the first time on our escape day, so smooth I was able
to drink it without any milk or whitener. I always liked strong coffee and this really
does hit the spot. Decaf doesn’t quite
cut the mustard but it also doesn’t keep me awake half the night.