Published: February 19th 2006February 19th 2006
After cycling down to a small port town, a local happily demonstrated his palm-climbing skills to retrieve coconuts for us.
To the inexperienced, two weeks in Cuba seemed like more than enough time to explore this stunning and unique country. In reality, it has merely given us enough time to scratch the surface. But what an amazing surface to scratch; and at least we have a reason to come back again in the future.
Given Cuba´s deceptively large size (its over 10 times bigger than its neighbour, Jamaica) we decided to focus our attention on the western half of the country.
After flying into Havana (actually Habana - don’t know how we managed to anglicise that) on Sunday 5th February, we made our way to a casa recommended by a friend in Habana Centro. To those not acquainted with casas, these are basically privately run hotels by Cuban residents. But hotel is using the term very loosely. Cubans are legally allowed to rent out a maximum of two spare rooms per house, so us travellers are essentially staying in their homes. It’s a brilliant way to really get to know the country, the locals and discover how life in Cuba truly is. It’s also at least a third of the price of staying in the Government-owned hotels which is a
Pinar del Rio
Smoking the obligatory cigar over drinks in Pinar del Rio. Sorry Mum!
Our first casa was great, but jumping into things head-on. The owners spoke no English (and us no Spanish), so the phrase book was our only way to communicate. Such fun though - it was fantastic!
We spent our first afternoon in Habana wandering and getting our bearings, to acclimatise before heading down to Trinidad the next morning. We decided that after the best part of a London winter, we deserved some time to simply relax on a beach, drink cocktails and while away the days. Trinidad was the place we chose to accomplish this, and it was perfect.
A UNESCO heritage site, Trinidad is a beautifully preserved colonial city on the southern coast. We also stayed in a recommended casa here - in absolute luxury with our own baño (bathroom), which was great. It was located a few metres from the main square, so our days were spent wandering the cobblestone streets to and from the local cafeterias for mojitos and piña coladas.
In preparation for our cycling tour, we decided to hire some bicyclettas to use as our daily transport to the beach. After asking around, we managed to rent some privately
Pinar del Rio
The stunning flora kept me constantly photography-mad!
owned bikes (pretty old, not quite the right size, but hey - better than nothing!) and it wasn’t until after we took them back to our casa that we discovered why the hirers were a little nervous - its actually illegal to rent them out… so we were pretty glad we managed to secure some for a few days.
The cycling went well, except for on day two, where I kind of sort of crashed and had to be carried across the road to a lovely local couples´ home. We were on our way back from the 30km round trip to the beach, in the heat of the day, coming up a hill, when I was distracted by a noise at my wheel. Being ever so coordinated, I looked down, overbalanced, and fell off into a ditch! Luckily I wasn’t badly hurt, but the culmination of dehydration, heat exhaustion and the fall meant that when I tried to stand up, it was just not going to happen! Very smart indeed. As mentioned, a lovely Cuban couple came racing out of their home (I was quite embarrassed that I had an audience), carried me onto their front veranda and fanned
Pinar de Rio
I caught a boy hiding in the tobacco plantations to avoid doing his work!
me until I regained semi-consciousness. Needless to say that did make me a little nervous for the upcoming cycling tour… but in the end I only ended up falling off once more (completely stupid again), without any severe injuries. I do have plenty of bruises and scrapes at the moment though, which I am quite proud of actually.
On around day 4 we ditched the bikes and took a trip out to the Tops de Collantes National Park, about 20km outside of Trinidad, where we hiked through the forest to a gorgeous waterfall. This made a great activity away from the sun of the beach (much required for our pathetically sunburned skin), and was a great, challenging hike.
After our week of relaxing, we bussed our way back to Habana, to start our cycling tour on Sunday 12th February.
This was a six day cycle (and bus - we aren’t that fit), through the western tip of the island. We spent most of our time around the Pinar del Rio, Viñales and Las Terrazas regions. Viñales is noted for its ´pincushion´ limestone hills and green scenery. Pinar del Rio is the tobacco growing region of Cuba, and
We made a pit stop during one of our cycling adventures at a roadside stall. For $1 each we ate as much pinapple, banana, coconut, and oranges that we could - all freshly cut for us on the spot.
Las Terrazas is a UNESCO National Park with lush rolling hills (although hardly enjoyable when trying to ride up them!).
Our tour was generally a mixture of taking cycling trips to various towns and sites, and admiring the scenery of the region. It was definitely a wonderful way to get out and see the country from a different perspective, whilst combining a bit of activity to help get us fit.
Very briefly, we visited a tobacco plantation and a cigar factory. We took a boat tour through a cave, and visited the cave site where Che Guevara commanded his army from during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We visited an orchid garden within the Las Terrazas National Park, went to the beach, and relaxed at hotel pools. We took a walking tour of Habana and visited the Havana Club rum museum… I’m sure there are many things I have missed, but my mind is unequivocally in holiday mode now, so that’s about all I can manage for a Sunday afternoon!
We flew out of Cuba on Sunday 19th February (this morning) for Ecuador, where we begin the next part of our adventure…
There are more photos below