Day 5 & 6 – Topes de Collantes

20 Mar

If you’ve stuck with the blog so far, congrats … Please read on.

Two days have now been spent walking in the hills in the centre of Cuba. Averaging 800m, we stay in two different haciendas with the option for camping. Unless the Germans got there first. Each has a bar – and some other facilities, I’m sure.

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To get there we boarded Russian army trucks and drove into the hills passing many cyclists taking their bikes for a walk up the hill.

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We met a local guide – Alberto / Fernanda / Alfredo – and headed off for an 8km walk to the hacienda that we would be staying at and to have lunch.  Along the way he tried to point out the various birds. Those with an ear next to the quietly spoken guide would have been able to follow the pointed finger. For the rest of us mere mortals, we mostly saw some leaves move or heard the birds calling. The occasional emerald hummingbird was a bit more photogenic. No sign of the smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, though.

Mostly downhill we all made it to the hacienda at Guanayara for lunch and some welcome shade. A welcome drink awaited – with or without copious amounts of rum. Our bags had already been offloaded to the veranda.  A lunch of cheese and ham followed. Very different from the expected ham and cheese.  Rusks seem to be the only kind of bread here.

Another 5km in the afternoon took in a waterfall and time for swimming in a pool. Chancing only my feet to the water, I received an unexpected fish pedicure – with tickle reflexes restrained. Others were more adventurous in the bracing water – a welcome relief from the hot and humid conditions.

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Fish pedicure

Back in the hacienda we had a delicious meal of chicken and rice, followed by cheese and jam.

Many conversations followed with Irish, English (well, Yorkshire) and Scottish views on the UK political situation.  Following a trip or two to the bar conversation turned to travel bucket lists and before I knew, it was well past midnight.

Unpacking my silk liner and fleece liner I settled down under the stars for a brilliant night sleep – only to be woken by “el gallo” – the rooster at 4:57am. We think it had been trained to visit each tent and verandas in turn.

Managed to resist the urge to get up and then was pleasantly surprised to find that the male shower was free and hot.  Unlike the previous night – although turning the lever the other way might have been what helped.

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We packed up the Russian truck again and headed to a coffee house where we were shown how the coffee is processed and had a chance to purchase some to drink.  A very nice banana liqueur combination set me up for the morning walk. 

This time we were heading “ariba” – up!  Thankfully along a mostly shaded forest path. We crossed fallen mahogany trees until we reached ” La Batata” a pond/cave with crayfish. Some rock climbing skills were required to reach the inner caves without getting wet.  A via ferrata style rope was in place to help. Some swam upstream instead.  I managed to keep dry.

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Two ladies from Lancashire on a private journey managed to get an eyeful of the men drying off. Charles seemed to be longer than the rest.  Not saying nuffink.

After a couple of “only 30 minutes” we arrived at the next hacienda – Codina – and another welcome drink this time with ginger, honey and lemon.

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A lunch of soup and rusks meant we didn’t have the choice of jamon o queso for the first time.

We retired to the rocking chairs on the veranda to the strains of New York, New York and other such classics being blasted out.  A cool 24 degrees. The old folks home was in session.

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Rocking chairs on the veranda

We mustered for a walk around the hacienda. This took in some orchids, trees, a cave that the braver of us managed to walk through and a lookout platform from where we could see the Caribbean Sea.  Also various varieties of huge bamboo which was swaying and creaking loudly in the wind.  We finished the walk underneath a cliff where a pig was being spit roasted for our dinner. The smells were fantastic.

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Back at the ranch and the local cocktail was sampled – citrus juice, mostly orange, and of course rum.  There then followed a 3 hour period where those in the rocking chairs were paranoid about loosing control and various items were left, German style. The rest of us managed to survive on cold showers and sleeping mats.

Following our fantastically roasted pig with a hint of orange, the chef gave us a description of how to cook the rice and beans together – conchi (sp?)

We then retired to the bar although everyone had gone to bed by 9:15pm. Mick, Damien and I survived a bit longer and we tried a few games of cards, whilst the locals were engrossed in their dominoes behind. Mick was too good, so she was sent to bed. Damien and I survived until Yata, a former Cuban champion boxer turned barman, called time.

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We bedded down, with the smell of the toilets wafting through the air, on the hacienda veranda. Being last to setup my bed I managed to use all the remaining mats and almost had to step up to them.

Hopefully I’m not going to be the snorer.

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