¡ Viva Cuba !

Monday 11th January 2010

The sunshine was streaming in through a gap in our curtains. Could the shocking weather be over? I buried my head into the pillow and went back to sleep. We were far too hung-over to care.
We were so late getting up we missed the buffet breakfast. Fortunately the resort had a few other eating options and we found the Racket Club which was open 24 hours a day.

We toyed with the idea of a game of tennis, reminiscing about the time when we played once on holiday in a Centre Parcs resort in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire.

I told Julie that I used to be good having received some coaching as a child. Half an hour later we had to stop playing because I had launched all of our tennis balls into orbit not realising my own strength and my tragic loss of technique.

We sat down and were pleasantly surprised that they had a breakfast menu on offer. Once again I went for an omelette and Julie was really pleased as she went off-menu and ended up with a bacon butty.

We squirted some ketchup on our plate and were completely surprised that the tomato sauce was called Bangor. That's where we're from; Bangor, North Wales!

Breakfast here was a far more civilised occasion. Waitress service, fresh warm coffee, relaxing cafe bar atmosphere. We'll be coming back.

It was a lovely sunny day but instead of heading for the loungers on the beach or the day beds by the pool we decided instead to break out and leave the resort in search of a little tourist attraction that was near by.

We asked the staff behind the reception desk for directions to the Cueva de Ambrosio caves but they looked at us as if we were stark raving bonkers for wanting to leave the comfort of our 5 star luxury.

Undeterred we walked out through the gates armed only with a simple map in our guide book. It wasn't long before we came to the conclusion that the map bare no resemblance to the roads along which we were walking.

There was a marina and another resort to the west as well as some sort of depot but no caves. We turned around and started walking back eastwards, past the front of our resort and onwards.

We spent about half an hour wandering around with no sign of any caves and were ready to throw in the towel. We had already returned to the hotel's gates when Julie spotted a taxi parked outside.

"Let's take a taxi" suggested Julie.

What a splendid idea. Within a few minutes and for just $5 we were delivered to outside the little roadside attraction.

There wasn't much outside. Most caves don't! There was just a little makeshift entrance gate made from a long wooden pole resting on two "teepee" arranged poles and a sign swung low with the name Cueva Ambrosio painted on it.

A guy with a large torch popped out of a little hut next to the entrance.

"Hola. Welcome. Bonjour. Bienvenuid."

With our nationality established we chatted for a while. He impressed us with his knowledge. He knew Wales was a mountainous country. He asked if I spoke Welsh and that he had read how the popularity of our indigenous language was on the rise.

We followed him inside through a narrow channel roughly hewn through the rock. A few steps in something brushed the side of Julie's cheek and she suddenly stiffened up. "What was that?!!" she squealed and reached for my hand.

Shuffling our way like Indiana Jones minus his flaming torch, crouched quite low despite the ample headroom, we entered a large chamber where our guide began to explain to story of the caves. He had go back to the beginning of his tale when another couple joined us. Again he established their nationality, Neil and Eileen were from Scotland.

"ah, fellow Celts" he said further impressing us.

Anyway back to the caves. Cueva de Ambrosio was discovered in 1961 by two Cuban archaeologists.

They couldn't believe their luck when they stumbled across several pre-Columbian drawings. It was cause for great excitement. These cosmic illustrations made from vegetable pigmentation were over five hundred years old.

Apparently the cave was also used more recently as a refuge by escaping slaves from the sugar cane plantations which accounts for some African style drawings.

I have to admit that there was a little sceptical part of me that wondered if it was an elaborate hoax, that the "crop circle" patterns were a result of rum soaked American sailors influenced by fifties sci-fi films.

Cueva de Ambosio, Varadero, Havana

Didn't that portrait bare an uncanny resemblance to Ming the Merciless?

After our guide finished the history spiel we followed him a little further into the network of tunnels leading us away from this central chamber.

One tunnel in particular ended up in a dramatic pocket of light where the roof had .... well.... caved in.

Standing there in the dim light with our eyes drawn to the end of the tunnel he then brought our attention to a cluster of fur above our heads.

We all struggled to make out what it was but he was quite excited by it. "Woah, there must be over twenty bats in there" he said.

"Did he say bats? Oh my God. Shit" Julie didn't know where to put herself.

We stepped away cautiously as not to disturb the group. A colony of bats flapping around the cave getting tangled in Julie's hair would have completely freaked her out.

As we moved away we came across another bevy of bats all huddled together hanging upside down. (What is the collective noun for bats by the way?) I decided to try and photograph this smaller band of ugly rats with wings.

"You shouldn't have used your flash" said Julie "you will have blinded them!"

Sensing Julie's rising anxiety he cranked up the suspense telling us that the tunnel ahead of us that disappeared into the darkness was known as the snake cave.

I'm surprised that Julie didn't spin on her heels and run out screaming at that point.

Eileen almost did. At one point, when one or two of the bats fell out and swooped away she jumped out of her skin and grabbed onto Julie's arm for support.

We continued to another part, a bat-free snake-free area much to Julie's relief. Although she still wasn't at ease and couldn't wait for the tour to finish.

We left Cueva de Ambrosio and decided to walk back to the resort. We thought it was a good day for a walk, dry and sunny but with a cool breeze.

It turned out to be not quite the best weather. We spent most of our time either taking our jumpers off as we were too hot or putting them back on again because we had got too cold.

At least it wasn't raining!

A very short distance away was the entrance to the Sendero a Cueva Musulmanes, a park reserve with another cave of interest.

Within half an hour we were surprised at being back at the Paradisus Princessa de la Mar. It wasn't that far in the end.

After lunch we wanted to laze by he pool but it was the busiest we had seen it.

All the day beds had been taken.

So we rushed to the beach in search of somewhere to lounge.

We needn't have hurried because the beach was totally deserted.

It all looked very idyllic, clear blue skies, empty beach but not one soul was brave enough to endure the polar offshore breeze.

They're going to have to rephrase this "Global Warming" term and use something that better captures the fact that the Earth's weather is pretty screwed.

Anyway, not one's to give up easily we decided to see if we were hard enough to sit outside in the cold. We're British after all, we should be used to this kind of weather.

So we turned two loungers to face the sun to get the maximum warmth possible. Five minutes later we were both curled up in a ball, shivering, wrapped in a beach towel trying to reserve some body heat.

I broke first.

"This is just ridiculous" I snapped but Julie was right behind me.

We threw in the towel and left the beach.

As we made our way back towards the resort we noticed a small cluster of people on loungers set up on the grass some distance to the right. I don't know how we didn't spot this small colony on the way to the beach earlier?

We decided to join the group and found ourselves a great spot. Sheltered from the cold sea breeze it was the perfect suntrap. After half an hour we were actually complaining it was too hot and had to move our loungers into the shade of a palm tree.

To cool us down I went to the Cuba de Tula bar which was the nearest one to the beach. I was getting some funny looks from the guests. The sort of looks an Eskimo would give a camel. It was like I had stepped into a different continent.

I had stripped down to my shorts, with my Calvin Klein boxer short rim fashionably showing, struting in bare chested wearing my shades whilst they were all looking thoroughly miserable dressed in jumpers and hats shivering in the cold wind.

I did think of telling them about our discovery of a Caribbean microclimate just 200 yards away but thought I would just let their intelligence work it out for themselves.

We stayed another hour in the sun sipping our rum cocktails before heading back to our room. It was around 5pm when we got back for our afternoon nap.

All we did this evening was watch another film, P.S. I Love You, which we had seen before and enjoyed as much again. We then popped out to the buffet hall for our evening meal, followed by a quick night cap in the piano bar before bed which was at the most earliest of times ... 9pm!

We were still tired after last night's late show but also we knew we had an extremely early start in the morning for our Tres Cuidad tour which I was so excited about.


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