¡ Viva Cuba !

Friday 8th Janauary 2010

 

Today was our last day in Havana.

We were a little disappointed that our time here was coming to an end especially when we saw the brilliant sunshine but at least it was looking good for the beaches of Varadero to where we were going later today.

We were up in time for a decent breakfast, which was a warm omelette and two boiled eggs for me.

Finally dining al fresco as it was suppose to be.

Back in the room we packed our suitcase then spent twenty minutes licking stamps onto envelopes to post home to my father. By the time I licked the last one the taste of gum was making me feel quite sick. The eggs kept on repeating on me. There's nothing less attractive than a man having eggy burps.

Our pick up was scheduled for 12pm so we only had two hours to spare.

Our first port of call was to find a postbox. In Plaza de la San Francisco where we originally bought the stamps there was a gloriously dramatic postbox in the shape of a lion's head.

We fed the brass lion our six envelopes wondering if we'll ever see them again.

With that done we now had one hour and fifty minutes before our pick up.

We didn't really know what to with ourselves. We couldn't go too far so we just went for a walk along the waterfront, up to standing opposite the Christ of Havana statue.

We then returned back into the streets of the old town and decided to stop for a drink at a local coffee shop on the corner of Mercaderes and Obrapia. It was quite an experience.

The bar was full so we just waited our turn to reach the front. When we did Julie managed to bag a stool, although she gave it up for an elderly gentleman a bit later on.

We knew nothing about the protocol so we just went with the flow. Prices were listed in Moneda Nacional the local pesos not the convertible pesos.

Two pink confused tourists handed them $1 CUC each (which was 25 times the value but we didn't mind over-paying. It was still a reasonable price) and we watched as they collected the used cups from the counter, rinsed them quickly in cold water, then replace the saucers in front of those customers who had paid.

They then placed the cups in a row beneath the spouts of the coffee machine and then like an espresso fountain turned them all on. Once filled the cups were plonked onto the empty saucers. It turned out to be the best coffee in Havana!

We wandered about for a while trying unsuccessfully again to enter the Chocolate Museum on account of the queue outside.

With thirty minutes to go we returned to the lobby of Hotel Ambos Mundos and decided to wait seated on the comfy chairs in the bar. It was almost justifiably lunchtime so we ordered a cheese toastie to share. We enjoyed it so much we ordered another.

Right on time our pick-up arrived. A very official looking gentleman with a clipboard came up to us just as we were stuffing the last morsels of the deliciously comforting toastie.

We followed him across the cobbled Plaza del Armas past the second hand bookstalls to where we thought our coach would be waiting to transport us with everyone else leaving Havana today with Virgin.

It turned out we had our own private taxi transfer to Varadero. The driver, a woman, was quite a character as we squeezed the largest suitcase into the boot of an old Lada with the smaller one having to sit on the passenger's front seat.

She was laughing and joking to herself. We soon realised that all her nervous energy was the result of not having a clue where she was going!

She kept it a secret for a while as we confidently left Havana in the right direction, eastwards along the coastal road but after stopping for petrol the other side of Habana del Este she said "We are going the right way" letting slip that she had just asked for directions.

Varadero was 140km from the 25carat diamond embedded kilometre zero in the Capitolio so it wasn't very far. The scenery wasn't anything spectacular but even the most standard items were a new experience making it intriguing.

Having driven through East Havana the most interesting feature of the landscape were probably the numerous billboards, several with the images of Che or Fidel, all with a revolutionary slogan.

At home billboards aren't an alien concept and their use for political propaganda are prevalent during elections but here in Cuba what purpose did they serve?

"Tu ejemplo vive tus ideas perduras" ( Your example lives, your ideas endure) and "Patria o Muerte" ( Your homeland or death ) They were certainly there to inspire the people to continue along the socialist path and not to loose faith.

An unique example of this social collectiveness was the peculiar concept of organised hitchhiking. A result of the period especial when times were really hard.

We drove past several official pick up points where state cars (those with blue number plates) are obliged to stop. There was even an official in a beige uniform organising the hitchhiking.

We didn't have to stop as the yellow plated taxi was a privately owned vehicle.

Before long we caught our first glimpse of real sea and sand. It was at Playa Jibacoa.

It looked wonderful, all palm trees and white sands, enough to make me admit "I'm actually ready for a day or two on a beach".

We didn't see much more examples of beautiful beaches after that.

In fact much of the coast had been given over to oil production as the area was littered with those nodding donkey oil pumps. We could even smell the crude oil in the air.

We past one refinery where next to the Cuban flag hung the Chinese flag proudly publicising the collaboration between the two communist nations.

Our attention instead turned to the lush interior, a beautiful green tropical forest flanked by low lying mountains to the South.

One view was especially picturesque but whizzing past at 80kmph didn't give me much opportunity to photograph the two small lakes perfectly positioned in the middle of all the palm trees.

When it first caught my eye it reminded me of Jurassic Park and I was half expecting to see some dinosaurs at the watering hole.

We continued on our way along the coast road.

One feature of the car was that it merrily whistled when it reached its top speed.

All the windows were open and the wind created a two note alternating tune, an optional extra we found funny at first but became very annoying for prolonged periods.

When we reached the outskirts of Matanzas we released a sigh of relief as the piercing noise stopped because we had to slow down for the suburbs.

There wasn't much to the town other than a large urban sprawl around the bay.

It's often referred to as the City of Bridges and we crossed over three of them spanning the Rio Yumuri, Rio San Juan and the Rio Canimar. They weren't particularly attractive bridges just normal functional ones but every town needs something to sell itself.

When it came to leaving Matanzas our driver was getting a bit fidgety, scratching her head and muttering "Oi, oi, oi"

She soon pulled over and asked for directions, again!

Happiness restored she continued with confidence along the coast road up the eastern side of the bay, still some 35km from Varadero.

When we reached the "Welcome to Varadero" sign she was besides herself with glee. She was so excited and amazed that she had found her way admitting "I have never been here before!"

Varadero is a small town but is essentially the name commonly given to a long thin peninsula some 20km in length and only 1.2km at its widest. Its north coast, facing the Straits of Florida, was a haven of all inclusive resorts. The further down the peninsula the greater the reputation for luxury.

The further down the peninsula we travelled the more excited our driver got. She couldn't believe that we were still going.

"Ooh, this must be right at the end. Oh my God. Wow!"

When we finally arrived at Princessa de la Mar she literally took her hands of the steering wheel and clapped like a child.

"Yay!!"

She was so sweet. After we off loaded our luggage we wished her good luck for the journey back. We felt like giving her a big hug as we'd grown quite fond of her.

Walked inside the large open planned reception area where we were checked-in and were handed a map of the resort to orientate ourselves.

We were then taken to our room on the back of a battery operated golf buggy! What a faff, what was wrong with walking? Anyway, we pootled off at 2mph from the front, around the corner, then hurtled down a slope at a rapid pace like some Fantasy Island theme park ride. "De plane de plane"

All the accomodation blocks had been given a name of a Cuban province.

We thought it was hilarious that we were staying in Guantanmo!

The name will always be synonymous with the American detention centre in Guantanamo Bay at the South Eastern tip of Cuba. "Maybe we'll have orange jump suits instead of robes!" joked Julie.

The room was wonderful with two queen size beds, a sofa area and a patio area as our 'balcony' opened out onto the ground floor.

Once we were settled we explored the resort with our trusty map in hand.

The first place we wanted to check out was the beach and in under two minutes of walking we had reached the lovely sandy shores.

There was game of beach volleyball underway and there were a few Frisbee throwers but most of the sun deprived hotel guests were making the most of the sunny day lying on the loungers. It looked rather odd though as the sea was to the North and they were all pointing South away from the water and towards the sun.

We walked up and down the beach briefly before realising we were hungry and made our way back towards the centre of the resort to find the food hall.

The temptation to over indulge was so easy. There was a huge selection available. My vegetarian choices were a little limited but if it was volume that I was after there was plenty. It was our first ever stay in an all-inclusive and we were determined not to stuff ourselves stupid like we usually do at Eat As Much As You Like buffets. I've even turned up to some wearing elasticated waistbands ready to expand.

We both chose a light salad lunch but we couldn't stop ourselves from going back for a second helping. At least we didn't go for the third.

We soon settled in to the all inclusive lifestyle crawling onto a vacant day bed by the pool and not too far from the bar.

With our moderation motto still ringing in our ears we actually only had one drink all afternoon. We spent the whole time lying down being gloriously lazy.

In between Julie had visited the resort's health spa to have a French manicure.

Of course the spa treatments were extra to the all inclusive package but they weren't too expensive.

By the time we decided to leave and head back to our room the sun was setting.

We then spent a few hours lying in bed flicking through the TV channels ending up watching half a Denzil Washington film on the HBO channel.

When we began to feel a little hungry again we got up and walked back across to the foodhall for our supper.

Keeping it light I went for a pasta dish which was freshly made in front of me. I pointed to ingredients, red peppers, chillies and the tomato sauce and then the chef chucked it all in a pan with the spaghetti.

Julie went for a few slices of beef which was cooked as she likes it nicely pink but somehow it was almost impossible for her to cut. I don't know if they had carved it against the grain but it was too tough to even chew. She wasn't having much luck with her potatoes either as the only ones on offer were smothered in a creamy sauce.

So, more through bad luck than will power, we didn't over eat again. The wine served at the table was also free and with a drink as much as you want policy we were proud of ourselves when we did use our will power and only have one glass.

We couldn't believe how tired we felt. All we had done since arriving here was lie down!

We made our way back to our room past the pool. In its centre was a very attractive Venetian style bridge looking stunning reflected in the water and illuminated against the blackness of the night sky.

We reached Guantanamo block and went straight to bed.

After the excitement of Havana of new discoveries and experiences today was the exact opposite. Whilst we felt very relaxed and chilled we wondered how we would cope with another four days of doing nothing.

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