Archive | Central America RSS feed for this section

Day 13 – Cayo Levisa & Carnival

27 Mar

Today started with a bus ride to the beach. Then a long wait in the sun, with a Belgian couple. Then a ferry to the beach – stupidly on the sunny side. A partially sighted group managed to skip the queue. Then a walk to the beach. By then I was sweating buckets again.

image

Ferry across to the island

The pier for the ferry had seen better days – it looked like at least one boat had been too fast approaching. Life jackets were available but not within reach.

The island of Cayo Levisa was set on the Atlantic north side of Cuba and the beach was on the north side of that.

image

Cayo Levisa

We were met by a two man band. Well, one woman and a man who could do a good impression of a trumpet with only his mouth.

Most of the resort seemed to be under rapid expansion, but we were offered a welcome drink and then made a dash for the sun loungers in the shade.

I survived for an hour doing the sun lounger salsa, keeping it in the shade, and even read some of my kindle travel guide to Cuba, before giving up and retiring to the bar for lunch.

Ernesto introduced me to rum y limon. Very strong on both counts – I had to water it down several times.

Lunch buffet consisted of fish soup followed by deep fried fish and rice and then an orange jelly like substance with guava sauce. If I’ve made that sound appealing, I’ve done it a disservice.

Went for a walk along the boardwalk to identify where the massage parlour was. When we first stepped off the boat I was accosted by a large hairy man who asked if I would like a massage. Booked in for 4pm hoping that he only took the bookings.  As it turned out, he didn’t just take the bookings.  However he was mediocre.  My sweat managed to miss his toes.

image

Massage parlour

Whilst waiting for this event Mick won again at cards and I found an ice cream sales point that didn’t just do tubs.

Literally nothing else happened all day. Although we did sample a few of the cocktails – the brightly coloured Sol de Levisa being the favourite.

Not being a beach group we survived it pretty well.

image

Machete para mama

The boat back was much faster. Some of the group almost didn’t make it. I didn’t get killed by the machete wielding woman on the boat and we made it back to the bus and Viñales in time to revisit the restaurant from the previous night, this time a la carte.  Lobster, pork, chicken, tuna, beef, lamb, or anything that we could point to.  The lamb with bread was fantastic.

image

Some of the more adventurous headed into Viñales with Ernesto to sample the carnival that was taking place. Lots of kids rides, tattoos, drinks and food were available. The music was far more Western with a hint of reggaeton.

image

For the under 40's only

I found an unattended bouncy castle meant for 6 year olds and proceeded to collapse it. Made friends with a lady selling piña coladas that got stronger and more colourful as we built up a regular customer relationship.  Tried to work out if all the 10 year old customers were getting the same alcohol content. Anything goes in Cuba.

image

All of them please

Mick did get a devil tattoo on her chest, sprayed on and she hopes easily removed.

image

Devil tattoo

We staggered back to the bus after several more laps of the party and fell asleep quickly.

Certainly a different day, and one that was full of contrasts – mostly temperature related.

Day 12 – Ernesto Che Guevara, Orchids & More Rum

26 Mar

After a sumptuous buffet breakfast in the tourist hotel, we headed into Santa Clara and had a wander around the main square, including a theatre for charity and a man painting a plank of wood bright yellow in the main road.

image

Painting in the main road

A statue / water feature of a small Victorian looking child hold up a boot with water coming out reminded me of some of the better showers I’d had here.  Certainly the water fountains get more plumbing attention than the hotels. Apparently there is a similar statue in Birmingham. Who knew?

image

Also in Birmingham?

We were sent on a walk by Ernesto through the town with the scantest of directions.  By some miracle we arrived together at the site of an armoured train derailment.  This was the turning point in the revolution and resulted in the president and dictator Batista leaving Cuba three days later on 31st December 1958. I wandered around the displays trying, successfully, to avoid paying the photo tax.

image

Armoured train derailment

Back on the bus we headed to Che’s mausoleum.  He and 38 others are interred there. No cameras were allowed and we had to check them into a left luggage kiosk – with a long queue.
We were ushered silently into the mausoleum with hats being removed as requested.  Each person had a sculpted image of themselves together with a fresh red carnation. The very tasteful wood and jungle plants were used to remind visitors of the reason for the commemoration.  A flame, lit by Fidel Castro, burns eternally. There are spaces left for 5 more people who are not yet dead.

We exited into the rather more noisy museum filled with pictures and items from his life. 

Che was Argentinian and had a father of Irish descent – surname Lynch. Ernesto was his first name and “Che” is an Argentinian term of greeting – roughly translating to “Hey” in English. As he was constantly saying Che Fidel and Che Raul, it became his nickname.

He was responsible for the bank of Cuba and his signature is on some notes from the period.  He was also the ambassador to the UN. He resigned from all offices and traveled to Bolivia to start another revolution but died there.

We had time to take some pictures outside of the commemorative stones that were in place before he was interred here. His remains were only found in Bolivia in 1997.

image

image

A quick trip to the toilet – the worst ever. And some ladies with an American accent complaining about everything!

The shop was full of guidebooks but not much else.  They were building a large complex of replacement toilets nearby.

Back on the bus for another 500km, we thankfully stopped off for another ham and cheese sandwich in a place hotter than the literal hell. I think the heat affected me as I fell for another tat seller. He packaged it nicely but I don’t know if it will survive the ride home.

image

Bocadillo de jamon y queso con limon refresco

140km on the highway, skirting Havana, we headed west to the orchid garden in the rainforest of Soroa.

I shunned those that wished to just sit in the bar, for the excellent guided tour of the botanical garden where the many varieties of orchid and other plants, trees and birds were pointed out.

image

Gherkins taste like rhubarb

I was able to taste a gherkin, which surprisingly to me, grows on a tree.  Without the pickling all so common at home, they were actually very nice – tastes like rhubarb.

We stopped at the top of the garden for a refreshing fruit juice of our choice – mango, star fruit, tamarind, guava and mini pineapple. I tried the tamarind and the star fruit – both very nice.

image

Pure fruit juice of choice

Wandering back, we came across a baby elephant foot tree with a bad hair day.

image

Baby elephant foot tree

We still had another 80km to go, so settled back onto the bus, making sure we needed no “pi pi” or “ca ca” stops.

Arriving at the hotel we had to negotiate the main road as the reception was on the other side to the accommodation.  I was placed in the lone cottage in the woods, next to the ruined devil worshippers chapel.

We visited a local house which served excellent pork, taro and banana crisps and cheap rum-filled cocktails.

Afterwards three of the English couples persuaded me to have another mojito and we talked about the Viz, Broons and Oor Wullie and then fondled pussies and bitches until almost midnight when we retired and almost instantly experienced another power cut.

image

A young cat

Day 10 – Santiago de Cuba

24 Mar

The day started with a city tour.  Initially on the bus we stopped off at the Plaza de la Revolution, with 23 huge machetes and a man on a horse (Antonio Maceo).  Posters of Fidel were a bit more evident here.  As were trucks crammed with workers. Parasols were a popular sunshade.

image

Antonio Maceo

Off then to the scene of the ill fated attempt by Fidel and 118 others on 26th July 1953 to storm the barracks. The bullet holes are still there although they had originally been covered up until Fidel “took a flaky” and they were restored.  All barracks are now either schools or hospitals and this particular one was now a school, with a small museum.

image

Bullet ridden barracks

Fidel ended up in jail for this, but it was a missed opportunity for Batista not to get rid of him for good.  It inspired the country to rally around Fidel and the “26 Julio” movement was born.

Off then to the cemetery Santa Ifigenia – the home of the national hero Jose Marti. Our tour guide, Jose, showed us around with perfect English after we had safely negotiated the photo ticket seller with the longest nails in the world.

image

Emelio Bacardi tomb

Despite having bought our photo tickets, the guides were quite intent on us not taking photos. Jobsworths with nothing else to do we think.

Several notable tombs including Emelio Bacardi (died before the Bacardi family left Cuba and Havana Club replaced it as a brand – with the same recipe). Also Cespedes who had a couple of flags on his tomb. I’ll figure out why eventually but I think there was a national competition to create as many flags for Cuba as possible – and he lost.

Many of the tombs had the red and black of the revolutionaries flying high and there was a whole space reserved for any yet to die.  Most likely including Fidel himself.

Another tomb was that of “Compay Segundo” – not his real name – one of the original five members of the Buenavista Social Club. Marked with a hat on a guitar.

Cuban marble was everywhere, with the occasional Italian marble thrown in for the rich people.

image

Jose Marti tomb

The monument to Jose Marti was high in comparison to any or the others.  He started the first (failed) war of independence from the Spanish in the 1860’s. Changing of the guard happens every 30 minutes and we managed to get a good view of this from the small crowd that had assembled. Afterwards our guide explained the symbolism of the tomb and the representations of all the provinces of Cuba. Two holes in the tomb allow rainwater to create two rivers around the casket. All very clever for a poet who wasn’t a soldier but obviously inspired people very well.

Some of his poems were used as the inspiration for the words to Guantanamera.

The tour continued into the main square of Santiago – the scene of last night’s chess playing. It seemed a lot quieter today.

With the temperature display showing 35°C and it feeling at least double that, Ernesto gave a brief description that we should not visit any of the streets we had last night and left us to explore further.

image

Cathedral

The cathedral was an instant target for me as it it normally the coolest place. However it is still being restored and was full of scaffolding. A trip to the rum museum proved slightly better although all the displays were in Spanish. There was a man with a bucket of rum from a leaking barrel which filled the place with a pleasant odour. One small sample and a swift exit to the roof terrace of the Casagrande Hotel. Excellent all round views of Santiago from here. The Barrel Proof rum and the tuna sandwich were almost as welcome as the cool breeze.

image

Bus from the roof terrace of Casagrande Hotel

image

Balcony from which Fidel declared the revolution a success

image

Expensive rum doesn't need a mixer

Back in the hotel I had time for an afternoon nap which almost caused me to miss the bus to the Castillo del Morro (fort).

As a UNESCO world heritage site, I’m glad I didn’t. Cannons, castillations and a history of piracy. Alexander Selkirk got a mention, but the rest will require further translation from the hundreds of photos I took.

image

image

We waited on the roof for sunset which, as normal, was interrupted by a low cloud. It was worth the wait.

image

The rest of the group joined us at a nearby restaurant for one of the best meals of pork, prawns and fried fish ever. Paul McCartney had visited and his name was everywhere.  Shame he’s vegetarian.  The knife and fork he used was on display.  Despite the restaurant closing at 4:30pm, we left at 9:00pm.

Just in time to pack our bags for the early morning start.

Day 9 – Fidel’s House, Chess & Chickens

23 Mar

We all started off from the villa at some ungodly hour – having been woken at 6:30am by a knock on the door. Breakfast of scrambled eggs was consumed with both eyes shut.

We crammed 11 people into a Ssongyang again and headed up the steepest road in Cuba – on average 45% gradient. That means at least half of it was near vertical.

After thankfully only a few minutes we reached 700m higher than we started, at 950m and the entrance to the Pico Torquino national park.

image

Misty mountains

We started walking in the cool of the morning with the misty mountains of the Sierra Maestre all around us.  I had thankfully chosen not to carry a rucsac today but was carrying only a bottle of frozen water and a towel.

We headed down the rocky path and through mostly shady forest until we reached the family home of the Medinas – one of two families who helped Castro and the rebel army by allowing them to stay on their land and helping with supplies.

We then paid a photo tax, without a receipt, to the family.  I wonder if that will go to the government.  Hmmmm.

Several muddy arribas later, and we arrived at checkpoint number 1. Or so the post said. Looked like an empty shack to me.

image

Improvised Fidel beard

Shortly thereafter, someone had gone wild with a lawnmower and got rid of half the forest to allow a makeshift helicopter landing pad to be made for visiting dignitaries.  The museum close by was closed, so we got distracted into bird watching with our local guide, Miguel. He carried recorded bird songs on his mobile which seemed to have zero effect in attracting others.  Perhaps he was playing the mating call of the turkey vulture.

Further on we arrived at the hospital shack, also used as a press room by Castro to publish a newspaper. Che Guevara was the doctor who didn’t fix anyone there.  They were transported for miles to get here and were basically dead without the facilities for blood transfusions. There was a cemetery nearby.

Only 12-13 of the senior commanders lived here.  350 others survived in hammocks in the jungle.

image

Me outside Fidel's hideout

Walking on to Fidel’s house, we saw his double bed – for him and his rifle – and his bullet ridden kerosene fridge. The 2 room house had 7 exits and a trapdoor. Paranoid or what.

image

Fidel's fridge

Shortly after, Fidel’s throne was still available for use. 

image

Fidel's throne

After several other buildings, we headed back to the family house and received banana and coffee as a much needed refreshment.  By this time the heat of the day had come and sweat was beginning to appear everywhere on everyone.

Four hours after we had started we were back waiting for the cars to take us down the mountain to the villa, where the shower once again dribbled on me.  After lunch (the same as yesterday’s tea) we packed ourselves and our bags into the cars for a 25 minute trip back to the bus, to continue to Santiago de Cuba.

Ernesto gave some personal details of the Castro family and a bit more background to some of the main figures, but it all went over my head, as I was sitting trying to catch up on much needed sleep.

The bus took 3 hours to get to Santiago and our hotel next to the zoo. Not roosters or dogs we have to worry about waking us up now! I managed to sleep most of the way.

This was a very touristy hotel and quite a contrast to the previous few days.

Damien and I decided to skip the group meal and headed into town in a Lada taxi – old car, new stereo system.

Driver was very friendly and decided not to rob us on this occasion. He dropped us in what we presumed was the central square. 

image

National Orchestra

The national brass band were playing some classical tunes, whilst lots of locals and tourists mingled in the square.

Within minutes Damien had been offered a taxi back and we perhaps should have taken it. It was impossible to walk unaccompanied in the square without someone trying to get you to eat in their restaurant, take a taxi, go to a disco or other music venue, or look at pictures of prostitutes that were available.

We did several laps of the surrounding block to try and orientate ourselves and escape the peddlers. We did find the Adidas and Reebok shops.

Back in the square, we tried to find a seat to appreciate the music.  At that point the third best chess player in Cuba just happened to be passing and challenged me to a game.  How could I refuse? Only a few minutes later and several pesos lighter he was trying to persuade me to buy some milk for his 4 year old twins and a chicken for himself. He was also quite desperate for me to visit his house so that his wife could cook a meal for me. Muy loco.

After shaking him off, I found Damien swapping phone numbers with a scantily dressed, yet somehow buxom local – and rescued him.  Actually I think I rescued her.

We agreed that the best option was to avoid the square and headed to a local restaurant that also did food. Eventually.

Two ham chops later and we were full without needing to visit a cash machine again.

We briefly met the chessnut again and he bought peanuts for us – obviously not needing money for that chicken after all!

After briefly trying to find a suitable music venue down some back alleys, we gave up and found a lada taxi to take us back to the hotel, where hands were disinfected after the numerous people that continually took hold of them.

Well off the beaten track today!

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

Day 4 – Trinidad, Tat and Salsa

18 Mar

A respectable sleep in our homestay finished with the prearranged breakfast cooked by mama of ham and cheese omelette, strong coffee and guava juice.  Every piece of bread here is lightly toasted and crisp. There was a sacrificial teddy bear in the breakfast shack at the back of the house.  Obviously no marmalade was available – just honey. My Spanish is being put to use as the couple have even less than me.  We left with “cena a siete” – dinner at 7pm ringing in our ears. We better not disappoint mama!  Chicken it is.

image

Trinidad, Cuba

We then joined the group for a walking tour of Trinidad with a lot of conversations from Ernesto regarding the slave trade and living conditions in Cuba today. It doesn’t appear to be very far removed from life in the UK. Except that they still have shops where rationed goods are distributed. This to ensure that everyone has enough to live on.  Everyone pays taxes on private enterprises, but not if you work for the government. I like that idea.

image

Ration shol

image

Low supplies in the ration shop

Only about 15% of Cubans are practicing Catholics. A lot of churches are falling down or complete ruins, but they are trying to preserve as much as possible for historical purposes and I’m sure with an eye on future tourist dollars.

We continued the walking tour with Ernesto pointing out the bullfinches kept in cages for the illegal fighting. They were everywhere. Small enterprises selling fruit and veg or beans, or cakes, shining shoes or repairing cars. Lots of horses / mules being used.  Some with traps, as taxis, or hauling all manner of items. Tractors – noisy and dirty with not a polished John Deere in sight – were used to transport rattling things over cobbled streets creating a humungous din. Also saw a sword sharpener plying his trade in the street.

Some of the cowboys were kitted up as real caballeros with the chaps, spurs, hat and all that. Lots of people just sit in the windows looking out on the world from behind iron bars, smoking cigars or holding their cock rooster in their hand. Rocking chairs are everywhere.

Worth mentioning that all the ladies here wear tights of a heavily patterned black nature. Most disturbing – would be reserved for the sleeziest prozzer in the UK, but perfectly normal here.

Arriving back in the main square we found a donkey with a sign tied to its head asking for 30p per photo.  Blackpool it was not. The man with the spurs on its back didn’t understand the concept of zoom lenses and seemed to be wandering forever without getting paid.

Even the 15 year old female, dressed in all her finery didn’t go near him.  It is tradition for these girls to be photographed at popular places on their birthday and to create a family album that they obviously then use at their wedding to embarrass them.

A quick trip into the cathedral was a bit disappointing.  Painted all in white, with any statues covered in purple cloths as it was Lent meant there was very little to see. On the plus side it was an escape from the searing midday heat.

image

Back with the group, Ernesto had arranged a tour of the romantic museum next door. This showed a lot of “priceless” French, Italian and some British house furnishings. The thunderbox had a well ventilated room to itself. Opportunites for tat buying galore. Settled on some postcards and stamps. Overly optimistic I suspect.

After a group lunch, which for me was a pork sandwich and chips, we headed our separate ways, with Mick and I heading to the bank.  Efficient service was provided for cash, although it was more difficult for cards – especially Mastercard.

An ice cream on the way back helped chill the insides – Fresa y Chocolat – not to be confused with the Brokeback Mountain type film of the same name.

image

1 2 3, 5 6 7

Ten of us had signed up for a Salsa dancing lesson, thankfully 5 and 5. Loads of laughs but not sure we are ready for public performance. Juliet was unlucky enough to be paired with me but took control of the driving!  Sue was accused of having a murderous look about her, which Nick will be reminding her of on a daily basis. Mick and Dave were at contrasting ends of the ability spectrum and remedial action was required. A video was made of the steps so that we can practice at home.

Left to wander ourselves, I braved the tat stalls and succumbed only twice – once for a fridge magnet and once for a cocktail recipe board. Don’t ask.

Met up with Mick in the main square and managed to find the time for a couple more rum based drinks.  Heading to the mountains tomorrow, so need to keep the blood alcohol levels up just in case of scurvy setting in.

image

Too many choices

Getting back to our “casa particulares” proved more problematic. Four taxi drivers standing in the middle of a busy crossroads examining our address cards – which contained a full address and map, complete with arrows, showing the exact route to take – unable to make a decision as to how to get there. Not exactly rocket science my friends. Eventually one thought he’d give it a go – so we drop off Mick. As he goes to reverse out of her uneven road a police car pulls in. Our car stops – the driver not keen to move at all – and didn’t move again until the police were out of sight.  Either he was an illegal taxi or he wasn’t allowed to reverse onto a main road. I’m hopeful it was the latter.

With another hot shower I was then ready for the meal.  Disappointingly, the family didn’t actually eat with us. Chicken noodle soup followed by a huge fried chicken with rice, salad and some yuca type thing. The quantity was so big that none of us finished – not even me.  But more was still to come – dulce  – sweet. Can’t describe it more than that.  And coffee.

Mama thankfully wasn’t up for the promised salsa dancing but we did entertain 4 year old Dina with paper,  pens and some origami (black belt I am), whilst Ray sampled his first Cuban cigar, and tried to teach her some bad words.