Walking in Colourful Cuba – November 7th – November 22nd
I had heard that Cuba is an interesting country to visit so I booked for the Colourful Cuba 16 days holiday which left Gatwick Airport for Havana on Sunday 7th November 2010. Although our flight did not leave until shortly after midday I found it necessary to stay overnight on the Saturday and chose the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, First Point, Buckingham Gate, South Terminal, RH6 0NT. This cost £76.32 (overnight without breakfast) and, whilst I could undoubtedly have found somewhere cheaper, it was very convenient being only about 15 minutes walk from Gatwick Airport, South Terminal. There was a bus between the airport and the hotel every 20 minutes, I assume at modest cost, but I did not use it. I was able to obtain an evening meal at the hotel.
Next morning I was off in good time to the airport and checked in very quickly before the computers broke down! I then enjoyed an excellent breakfast. It did not seem too long before we were airborne arriving at Havana at 1700 or possibly later after putting back our watches 5 hours. Although it was a long flight, Virgin Atlantic was generous with complimentary food and drink several times during the journey.
On arrival it seemed an age before I finally located my case on the carousel and met up with the Ramblers Holidays representative and other members of our party. Our coach was waiting for us and, after putting our luggage on board, went off to change some English money into pesos; it would also have been possible to withdraw money from an ATM.
We then went off by coach to Vinales, where we stayed three nights. It is probably a good idea to take a fair amount of English money as ATMs are not so frequent as in UK but there were quite a few places where money could be withdrawn using one’s debit card. A stop was made en route to buy bottles of water.
Besides our excellent Ramblers guide, we also had a very knowledgeable Cuban guide as well as a local Cuban guide everywhere we went. In Vinales our local guide was employed by the Vinales Country Park. The trees, bananas, coconuts etc and other plants were so very interesting as were the crops, tobacco, sugar, coffee. We also saw pigs and piglets, oxen drawing loads, donkeys etc. When passing through towns and villages we often saw notices concerning the five heroes who are being held in the USA without trial.
Whilst in Vinales we had two country walks and I would recommend boots as my shoes fell apart. After this I wore my Brasher superlight boots for the country walks, and was able to purchase an excellent pair of trainers at a shop in Vinales to wear in the hotels and for the sightseeing walks. We went on an incredible boat journey through a cave which came out the other side.
I cannot now be sure whether it was after this but, at some point, we had a boat trip to a beach on the Atlantic Ocean. It was incredible the way the tide came in so quickly. It was really sensational. During one of our walks we visited a barn where tobacco leaves were being dried and a man was rolling cigars. The visit to a sensational Prehistory Wall which has been painted fairly recently on a rock face was followed by a delicious drink, which included some rum.
Our next night was spent at Saroa, where we had a guided tour of the botanical gardens close to the hotel. Besides the incredible plants and flowers we also saw some birds. The humming bird is small and not easy to spot but quite lovely. This was followed by a country walk to a waterfall high up and at the top it was possible to buy a necklace.
The next three nights were at Baracoa, which meant going by coach back to Havana and then taking an internal flight. At Baracoa we were taken on a walk around the town where there is a large statue of Christopher Columbus.
The next day a coach took us to a high point for a country walk. As there was a delay in our leaving for the walk, I took the opportunity to pop into the internet café to look at my emails. On the walk we saw an excellent fence made of succulents. Very good at keeping out straying animals. We now had a different local guide and the local guide interpreted for us.
There were many wonderful paintings on the hotel walls and, when I enquired about them, the artist was sent for and I decided to buy one which displays a boy with a palm tree, bananas etc. It should shortly be hanging in my sitting room.
The next day we went by coach from Baracoa to Santiago de Cuba where we stayed one night. We stopped for lunch at Guantánamo. There is no contact between the town and the US Naval Base. The US government sends a cheque each year for the rent but they are never cashed as the lease has expired and the Cuban government does not want them there.
On the way we visited an interesting fort. There were pirates and buccaneers listed, including some English ones!
The next day we had a long drive to Camag?ey. On the way we stopped at Bayamo, a very delightful town where I was able to draw some money on my debit card from the Bank. Stupidly I had only brought one fairly small memory card for my camera, which was now full, but our local Cuban guide had it transferred to a disk for me so I was able to use the card again. We went to a bar where traditional music was being played. Afterwards we visited Las Tunas where we saw a church before arriving at Camag?ey. The next day our coach took us to Trinidad where we stayed three nights.
Trinidad is a very pretty town and is mostly pedestrianised. We visited a former residence of a plantation owner with many beautiful artifacts and furniture, and had two excellent country walks. Being taken to the start of the walk in smart Russian lorries was ideal for the rough terrain.
A view of Trinidad is depicted on the 25 cent coin.
There was the opportunity to swim on one of the walks, as had been possible on one of the earlier walks, and on one of the walks we had a very enjoyable meal at lunchtime. We now had another guide who was very knowledgeable of the local area. We visited a reconstructed building where coffee beans had been ground by slaves in former times, and we saw some orchids, although this was the best time of the year to see them.
The next day we were off by coach to Havana, but had a very full and interesting day on the way. After a stop for lunch we had an incredible boat trip across the Bay of Pigs, where there had been an unsuccessful attempt at an invasion. This took us to a holiday village where there were sculptures of various figures. Nearby was a memorial to those who had died in resisting the invasion.
In Havana we were taken on a tour of the town where we saw some beautiful hotels and it was later left to us to visit those museums etc which most interested us. I went to two museums concerning the revolution and two art museums. The hotel was absolutely delightful with turtles swimming in a pond on the ground floor. Lunch was at our own choice and I went twice to the Café Paris where I had a sandwich and a beer. Three of us took the opportunity to go to a ballet on the last night – ‘Dracula’ – which was a little gruesome in parts but really wonderful and we had excellent seats.
One of the first things that Fidel Castro did was to outlaw racial discrimination and the Africans (descendants of slaves) and Spanish mingle naturally with many of mixed race. All Cubans have ration books so are able to buy the basic requirements from special shops at a reasonable price. We saw one of the shops.
The climate was very pleasant and I wore shorts and a short sleeved shirt during the day and sometimes it was warm enough also in the evenings, although I normally wore trousers in the evening and at times a jersey was required but not always. The food was very reasonable and I particularly enjoyed the breakfasts where something cooked – omelettes. Sadly the time came eventually for us to go to the airport for the flight home. Fortunately it was not too cold on arrival, although subsequently it turned very cold.
And so ended a fantastic holiday which I would certainly recommend.