Day 7 – Sugar Cane, Spiritus Sancti & Camaguey

21 Mar

Woken under a starry sky by the local rooster at 5:11am was almost a relief as I was roasted.  Quite unlike the previous night. Damien was then also woken by a flea ridden dog having a doggy nightmare and then trying to climb into/onto his bag and then bed.

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Russian truck

Following a cold water shower we managed to scoff some scrambled eggs, bread and honey before leaving the nature behind and heading back to Trinidad. This involved the Russian Army truck again and we headed down the mountain, passing some more cycle pushers on the way up, with the rather brisk air in our faces.

Stopping only to transfer into the bus we continued on a long journey from the central to the eastern parts of Cuba – over 400km on mostly single carriageway.

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We moved on to the Valley of the Sugar Mills and stopped off at a UNESCO world heritage site where a seven storey tower could be climbed. This was originally used as a lookout to control the slaves on the numerous sugar cane plantations. Combinations of two bells would be rung if a slave tried to escape or to signal other things.

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Ernesto gave us a brief talk on how the sugar cane was processed.  We then ran the gauntlet of the tat sellers (mostly tablecloths and hats) to climb the tower and then sample some pure sugar cane juice. The sugar cane was quickly run through a press to extract the liquid.  Green and very sweet.  We were able to chew a piece of sugar cane.   Also available nearby was deep fried fish on a bap, with the local dogs all congregating for leftovers.

A train arrived at tbe plantation – Cuban railways only run between the old sugar cane plantations and processing plants and not between the main towns, oddly. This one was carrying tourists. Sugar cane production is much reduced due to the decline in global price. However they still find the odd use for it in the rum – much more productive as a major export.

We stopped for lunch at Spiritus Sancti where the waiter came onto the bus to take our order, before we were able to take a brief walk in the midday sun around the main areas.  The Charlie Chaplin movie theatre was a strange sight, but overall a lot of effort was obviously being made to make the place attractive to locals and visitors alike with restoration of the main square complete.  This was far less touristic than other places, and many shops were thronged with locals going about their daily lives. One “fast food shop” had a permanent hanging sign above an opening but was no more than a man handing out warm cheese and ham sandwiches.

Chinese and Japanese food appeared popular in a pedestrian precinct together with large shops selling all sorts of home goods.

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Stopped off at the cathedral – obviously Catholic as there was a shop at the back of it – for a guaranteed respite from the heat.  Out the back lots of people were queuing for goods at another shop.  I think this was a government issue / ration shop as there were stacks of family staples available.

Lunch of chic pea soup and a speciality beef sandwich was then only interrupted by the continual band playing live. Cubans don’t believe in recorded music – everything is live – and you are expected to tip the band every time.

Moving on, I managed to catch 40 winks on the bus having found the reclining switch. Just after a brief driving tour of the chimneys of a sugar cane processing plant. This was definitely not in a tourist area and the old decaying grandeus colonial buildings in the village surrounding it are probably the truest picture of Cuba that we have yet seen .

Woke up 2 hours later at a town called Florida and a truck stop cafe where I purchased a large marzipan cake.  Apparently it was meant for 8 servings. There goes the diet.

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Another hour later and we arrived at Camaguey, a town quite far from the coast that was designed with a complicated street pattern to help repel pirates. Inland pirates I guess. Oh arrrgh.

Parking the bus opposite the train station we were warned that early morning trains rather than dogs or roosters would be the biggest problem tonight.

After the much needed 3 S’s of male hygiene were completed, I had time to repack my bag from the confusion of the days in the mountains and find a map of the town from reception.

Evening meal was a bus ride away in an open air square with an indoor unlimited buffet available. Our daily “Guantanamera”  hit was duly played as were several by the Beatles  We were warned that items such as showy jewelery were not a good idea as it would be easy for thieves to escape in the maze of streets.   Another three drops of rain fell. It was still 27°C when we got back on the bus at 10:00pm.

None had much energy for the 24 hour bar, although Mick did ask for help to change rooms away from the noise.

Found that the hotel had CNN and WiFi. Used the first but not the second.

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