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Published: February 13th 2014
Vinales – UNESCO world Heritage Site - The Town of Rocking Chairs & the Land of the Cuban Cigar
It’s early to rise; breakfast at 7am, as we have a bus to catch and Pepe takes us in the Taxi laid on by Chez Nous (possibly the family car) to the Viazul Bus Stop opposite the Zoo – which takes about 20 mins for C10. We are grateful & he says he’ll pick us up on our return if we can call him – good service we think.
Viazul bus line seems to us to be very efficient, comfortable (reclining seats), has a good baggage handling system to give you peace of mind and starts bang on time at 9am & gets us to Vinales 10 mins late (12.45pm). Partly this is due to the detour it does to La Terrazas – an eco-village an hour from Havana where some passengers get on and some get off. Also a good comfort break stop – however, one has to avoid the scourge of Cuba – mainly at the ladies where women (sometimes in 3s) sit outside with a toilet roll awaiting unsuspecting ladies to pay for using the facilities –
most just say they have no money and walk away after using the toilets – which are generally pretty clean. The going rate we find out later is 1MN (Moneda Nacional) if you have any – most people don’t. So get some small change in the local currency.
As we get into the countryside, the landscape changes and this could be a scene in any tropical country – green fields, grass, small houses, palm trees, banana & mango trees etc. The Autopista route is in good nick and we speed along till we get nearer Pinar Del Rio (PDR) – the commercial centre of the region we are going to visit. Suddenly there are cows around, bulls helping to plough the fields, horses a plenty, many horses and carts taking folks places, the landscape is flat with red fertile soil. After a brief stop at PDR for 10 mins we make our way the last 26 kms to Vinales – a UNESCO Heritage listed site – famous for its Tobacco plantation (Cuban Cigars are from here!), however due to horse drawn carts on the way it takes us a little longer to get to Vinales.
Vinales is so
different from Havana and gives us a real feel of rural Cuban life. The bus is met by the owner of the Casa – Villa Pitin y Juana, not far from the bus station – along with about 20 or more folks with placards trying to get passengers to stay at their B & B. It seems to be the main game in town other than agriculture & selling cigars of course! The room rate C25 per night + C4 each for Breakfast. We realise that in the Caymans we pay in one night more than we pay for 4 nights here – scary!!
It’s really sunny & hot here so after checking into our Casa which is quite nice we spend the afternoon orientating & getting info on what we could do and what it would cost. There’s a really good and helpful Infotur office in town where the lady speaks good English..
The area is very rural & even though it’s referred to as a town it’s more like a village – tractors and horse drawn carts everywhere with the odd old American ‘smoking’ Pontiac operating as a Taxi. The town is very colourful (there are
about 3 main streets that run parallel to each other – the houses (in every colour of the rainbow – each with at least 2 rocking chairs outside in the veranda. They are all bungalows that operate as Casa Particulares - B & Bs Cuban style - all within walking distance. The town is surrounded by farms on all side within a large valley.
The town square is small & lovely with the church at one end. Catholicism seems to be the main religion in Cuba – apart from the Revolution that is. The square has a small craft market next to it.
We decide to walk the 3km to La Ermita, which is a fancy hotel at one end of the town area on a hill where we hear that the view of the valley is good from here as is the sunset. On both counts we’d disagree - though the walk did us good.
We checked out the deals on what to do including a possible trip to Maria La Gorda – a famous dive site which will cost a bomb as its about 3 hours’ drive away – however, Cags’ has had a bad
dose of glandular trouble and may not be fit enough to go so we’ll see. Trips are only possible on Tues & Thursdays.. Thankfully the Pharmacy here (unlike in Havana) have cough sweets and we get some.
We decide to eat in at the B & B at night as it gets great write ups. Dinner starts with a lovely pumpkin soup, we get a mixed salad & then the mains that we had requested a) fish fried with peppers (slightly overcooked for our taste), Chicken in Salsa which was awesome, with par boiled potatoes fried in the sauce accompanied with the standard Rice & Black Beans in Cuba which are fantastic. This was followed by a fruit salad to finish. Wow we didn’t expect all this but it seems to be standard in Vinales. Good news - we seem to be getting healthier with all this fruit, though the Cuba Libres clearly don’t help. Cags goes for a House made Mojito which M finds a bit strong.
After what seems like a long day we get to bed at about 9.30pm (we must be getting old) but the air is filled with Music from the street somewhere
– great Cuban sounds, which we will check out tomorrow.
Breakfast as usual includes, fresh fruit juice, local coffee from the area, great omelette, bread & butter + fresh fruit platter and an assortment of jams etc , (we are definitely eating well and being slightly healthy given all the walking we are doing). By the way eating in the Casa is voluntary and on request.
One thing we aren’t quite used to is that shops only stock certain items and some of this may have to do with the rationing system they have here and spreading the opportunities around. So you can go to a liquor store & get rum & coke but may have to get water elsewhere, or you can get biscuits and sweets in one place but soap, shampoo & toiletries in another.
The Town runs a Hop on Hop off bus through the valleys during the day for C5 each, or you can take a taxi for C20. Given that the bus wasn’t working the day we arrived – it had broken down!, we decide to take a Taxi tour of the Valley in the morning arranged via the B & B.
Chico is our driver in a really old – 35 years old Fiat. We visit the Valle Ancon which a bit away from town where the community cultivate coffee & we take a stroll through the fields. The area is definitely a bird watchers dream – they are all over in various colours, shapes and sizes & not afraid of humans surprisingly.
We visit the Cueva del Indio (underwater caves which includes a boat ride) , the Mural de la Prehistoria by the Mogote Dos Hermanos (limestone hillock). It’s apparently a painting of something prehistoric being recreated in 1991 by a local artist inspired by Diego Rivera (who’s work we saw in Mexico). Somehow, something got lost in the translation as the painting on the cliff face (which you have to pay to go into see even though it is quite visible from the road) is an insult to Diego Rivera who must be puking up in his grave at this crap – kids do better at playschool. So save your money and time and give it a miss.
We pass the various caves (some cafes and bars now), ranches, a colourful funeral, and stop off at a
strange looking straw farmhouse to take some pictures as the outside looks like a face, to find it is actually the drying area for the local farm’s Tobacco crop before it is made into Cuba’s finest. Surprisingly the owner comes over and gives us an impromptu lesson on what’s going on – all in Spanish off course. The farm hands all wear cowboy hats and look like Guachos from Mexico or Argentina – some smoking cigars.
We head off to the Hotel Los Jazmines – a bright pink colonial building with a pool you can use for C7. However, the views from here over the nicest part of the valley and is well worth the trip –4 kms from town – you can walk here. We eventually finish our trip at the Balcon de Valle Restaurant a km from Hotel Los Jazmines. It has balconies with tables looking over the valley and is well worth the trip if you get a table. Sit and sip a beer or Cuba Libre and listen to the sounds of the countryside and enjoy the view – awesome. This is worth the trip. We have a lunch to share as lunch includes 6
dishes – and not small portions all for C10. We then walk back the 3km to the Casa – passing small farms along the way. We do this walk the next day to check out the sunset and it was quite nice.
We try out dinner at some local places – Olivo on our last night – a Mediterranean place run by an Italian chef doing mainly Italian & Spanish dishes – a new experience. On the last 2 nights we spend listing to music at the Patio del Decimista which has a programme of artists playing a variety of local and Cuban music – great entertainment for a small town. And boy do people love to get up and dance. There’s a dancing school in town. We are impressed by the style, grace and sensuality of Salsa when danced properly - it’s so joyous and fun. No wonder the Cuban people are so chilled out, cheap Rum, great Salas Music, fab dancing to the rhythms (and any guy can ask any girl to dance!), revolution or religion if you are feeling up for it – with a good cigar and you got it made!!
On our last
day the square has speakers blaring out nice Cuban music so we grab a beer or two by the corner bar – definitely a government place given the prices and they do a mean Ham & Cheese Toasted roll C1.30
Unfortunately the only blight on this lovely place are the many stray dogs very poorly fed (they are pretty much skin and bone) around town and the main square. Sad really.
The area seems very tranquil as do the people who are very friendly – everyone says Hola and Que tal? There are rocking chairs in all the front porches and they get used every day – chilled or what. The main activities other than the tour around are taking one of many hikes, cycle around (hire very cheap), or get a scooter (again very cheap and by the hour. Horse-riding is also quite popular, and many a gaucho will ride into town spurs, lasoo and Stetson (no pistols but some did have very large knives in pouches slung from their belts worn like holsters. Quaint!
It was our intention to arrange a day trip to Maria La Gorda to go diving as it’s a spot for
some great dives over black coral etc. A bus can take you to Maria La Gorda for C45 each (2 to 3 hours away) then the dives are C35 +C17 for equipment & the instructor each per dive. However, C has had a bad throat infection for about 4 days and it looks like she will not be able to dive so we give it a miss. Maybe another time when we can try the Isla de la Juventud as well – which is supposed to have some of the best diving in Cuba & the world? Habana – 2nd time around – a very brief stopover
The trip back to Havana starts at 7.30 (ish this time) by Viazul bus. We leave our B & B at 6.45 am and have bought some bananas for breakfast on the bus. The bus gets there at 10.50am as advertised by the Website though we had been advised by the Viazul office in Vinales that we would get to H at 11.15am. So we have to wait for Pepe from Chez Nous to pick us up. However, he doesn’t show at all – which is a piss - so we
get a Cab for C8 – cheaper than the C10 he was going to charge us.
As Chez Nous did not have room for us for this one night they had arranged for us to stay a block away at a place run by an old dear called Nancy at 207. Cags had been to see her and confirm things before we left. However, more drama, she forgot and is full. She then recalls C’s visit as we have her hand written note and after being very apologetic & many phone calls she gets us a place about 5 blocks away in Leonor Perez street – which is nearer the rougher part of the Old City and we are warned to wear our cameras around our neck etc.
After all that we head for booze – we need it & it’s off to Europa – a Havana Government Institution that we love and can’t understand why it is not in the LP book. It’s a gem of a place – so cheap and in a lovely building with live music and great atmosphere. We go for the works, Lobster tails C11, Fish C3 and Crème Caramel C1 –
really great meal for the price and Cags managed to get the Barman to put less ice and more rum in our drinks C1.5 each. We were then ready for anything Havana had to throw at us.
We make our way via Harris Brothers (for the night’s drinks) to the Museo de Revolucion. It’s in 2 buildings – one old and stately and under renovation which has all the pictures of the revolution – which is ok if you are interested in the history of some of what took place under the Batista regime before Fidel & Co took over. It’s on 3 floors and could be a lot better & more updated. But for C2 each it’s ok. The next building is newer and holds the ship that Fidel & Co came to Cuba from Mexico (The Granma), the Tank & remnants of the Bay of Pigs fiasco by the US and some mercenaries in 1961 + a few planes used in various battles during the revolution.
We then pop into Sloppy Joe’s which is a sort of institution reinvented. It was a bar that did some food and was visited by many famous Hollywood celebs over
the years (Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Noel Coward, Rock Hudson to name but a few) and was another one of Ernest Hemingway’s drinking haunts though it doesn’t get as much publicity or tourist visitors as the La Floradita which we will visit on our last day here for the famous daiquiri, or the La Bodeguita del Medio - near the Cathedral.
As we had a late lunch and are pretty full & the weather is threatening to rain we get back to our B & B for a night cap and an early night. We have to meet our cab guy at 7.30am to catch the Viazul Bus to Santa Clara early tomorrow. Santa Clara - 'El Che' Town
Cab at 7.30 am. It's light outside and lots of folk are about getting ready for the day. He arrives bang on time and we get to the Viazul station in 15 minutes - we'd forgotten it was Saturday so no major traffic. After checking in we head to the cafe for breakfast; good hot coffee, a huge roll of ham and cheese each (which is actually one portion!) and a glass of papaya juice and
The bus leaves a few minutes late and at first the music is ridiculously loud. We're in luck though. They have the boss man on board doing a customer survey so we feed back that it's too loud and down the volume goes. They play a couple of videos but with limited success. The first one is an updated story of Leon de Ponce, a Cuban hero for breaking the French prostitution cartels(!). It's based in modern Habana and looks quite gritty. Unfortunately the video packs in part way through so they switch to an American gangster film with Spanish subtitles which seizes up all the time.
The Viazul (Yutong Buses from China) can be booked online, which we did in the UK before we left. This is especially helpful for all the busy routes as we see some folk turn up at the bus station only to be turned away. The only downside is that the time stated on our tickets and the real time for the service to depart or arrive can be very different. Once we are alerted to this though we just check the next journey time whenever we arrive
There's a quick stop en route but we soon find ourselves arriving in Santa Clara some 40 minutes early. As we've told our CP what time we thought we were due to arrive this is an bummer. Especially as finding ourselves without a "greeter" we become the ping pong in a battle between 2 taxi guys to win our business. Even M's suggestion that they "****off" (in English – his Spanish hasn’t developed to that level yet!) when it all gets too silly doesn't succeed. We try calling the CP but no success and then just as we are about to get a cab a bici taxi guy arrives, seems to know where we are heading for, calls them to confirm, and we're on our way. The cost is C2 and given how much he is sweating by the time we get there about 10 minutes later, we got a good deal.
Hostal Autentica Pergola is in the centre of SC and resembles one of the huge Spanish houses we saw in Seville, with an open central courtyard full of plants, with the rooms off the veranda around it. Carmen who runs it is most
helpful, calling ahead to our CP in Cienfuegos and checking with Viazul the time of our bus tomorrow as she thinks we may have the wrong time. She also speaks good English which is a bonus. As it gets a good write up for food in LP we decide to eat in for dinner.
After a quick coffee, we head off to explore. SC is mostly famous for its association with Che Guevara - he is buried here and this was the place for one of the revolution's earliest successes against the Batista government - derailing an arms train.Che led the team that succeeded. It's also a University town and from the LP description C had been expecting something more akin to the Vedado area of Havana. In fact, it's just a small provincial town, with little to offer other than Che history - without his heroics this place would not be mentioned on the tourist trail & a few hours here are enough.
First stop is the site of the train derailment which features the actual carriages and bulldozer involved, a photo museum within the carriages, and some concrete shards that fairly accurately represent the
destruction on site at that time. We also see one of the few trains that operate in Cuba going through with the station being close by.
One doesn't normally think of Cuba as a train destination - however they do have a reasonably extensive system but one that has a pretty poor reputation so is little used by visitors - more by locals who are used to its vagaries. We come across a few relics of the steam era on our travels - rusty engines abandoned mostly. While at the site a train actually goes by (the first and only train we see operating in Cuba in all our time there – though we hear them a lot in a few places we visit).
Next it’s the monument of Che with Niño (it’s only a few blocks away) - the child is supposed to represent future generations. The statue is very good and has tiny carvings of soldiers on Che's belt which are supposed to be the rebel army he joined in Bolivia (and with whom he died in 1967).
Back in town we go to Parque Vidal, the main square in town which
is busy with families. It's not much to write home about though. The buildings around it are an eclectic mix of Art Deco and European, and there's a fountain the centre.
Resisting the temptation to stop at Europa bar for a beer, we head off to the main event - Che's mausoleum at the Plaza de Revolucion, some 2kms from town. It's not signposted and the road is non-descript, passing through what looks like an estate of social housing. When we get there however, the monument and mausoleum are pretty impressive in scale - and would be great to photograph if there weren't busloads of day-trippers there!!
There's a huge sculptured stone depicting aspects of his life as a rebel fighter, an enormous statue and a recital of one of his speeches carved in stone. There's also a museum of his life which has some interesting personal memorabilia and many photos of him at various places in the world post revolution (and pre Bolivia) and the actual mausoleum where he is buried along with those he was assassinated with in Bolivia. His remains were shipped back to SC in 1997, some 30 years after he was killed.
By the time we come out from the museum, the day-trippers have gone and we manage to get some clear shots. ('Scuse the pun!)
Returning to town we pass a small bar packed with young folk enjoying large vats of beer delivered out of old bubble gum machines! Looks fun and cheap but a bit too much for us. Instead we call at a local fruit & veg stall for a lemon to go in our Cuba Libre later. He doesn't have any on the stall but very kindly picks one from his tree and gives us to us gratis. It's the small touches like this that make Cuba so enjoyable.
Feeling we've earned it, we finally do hit Europa for a beer and prepare to watch the world go by in what is supposed to be a bustling, vibrant city. We see a few hookers on the make, some locals having a beer, listen to a not so good guitar player and decide to call it a day. We also realise this is the first place we've been to in Cuba where music isn't everywhere. One night here is definitely enough and even
that's too long (lovely Casa aside) if you aren't into Che.
Back at the Casa dinner is served on a great roof terrace. It's pretty good. A shrimp & pasta starter, then lamb which is excellent but the pork a little dry. We decide to try a glass of local wine - the first we've seen. Only after he's opened the bottle does the waiter tell us its cheap Spanish plonk bottled in Cuba!!
Next morning we are assaulted by the biggest breakfast ever. The usual fruit, bread basket and omelette are accompanied by cake, biscuits and fab French toast, plus great coffee. We set off for our next stop, Cienfuegos, feeling stuffed. We're also pleased that Carmen, the CP owner checked the bus times for us. It actually leaves 30 minutes before the time shown on our ticket! Surprisingly the bus is nearly empty - or maybe lots of folk missed their ride! Cienfuegos - the not so 'French City'
After an hour on quieter local roads through fields of sugar cane and palm trees, we enter a large town, and realise we have arrived. The journey is supposed to be
1 & 1/2 hours according to our ticket! There are very few folk here touting for business and none of the hassle we experienced at Santa Clara. However, once again our Casa host hasn't turned up despite assurances that they would. Not a great start. So we grab a cab (5C) and get to our Casa, Vista al Mar, right on the sea front (with a small beach in the garden) in Punta Gorda to be met by Gertrudis. She is very surprised to see us as her husband has just gone to pick us up - they were expecting the bus to arrive later too. Cuban Standard Time obviously !
This Casa is much more of a family home than the others we've stayed in, which we like. As usual dinner is on offer but we decide to eat out tonight and try the home cooking tomorrow. It’s back yard fronts the bay so breakfast in the yard is fun.
We head out to explore. Cienfuegos is supposed to be heavily French in its architecture and layout, and it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was founded by a Frenchman from Louisiana who then invited
40 French families from New Orleans, Philadelphia, & Bordeaux to join him - hence the Gallic significance. We look hard for the evidence of the French influence, and to be honest don't find it very evident bar the odd establishment.
Punta Gorda is a spit of land 1 km south of the main town area that was occupied by the rich merchants in the 1800s. Most of the houses now are bungalows from the Art Deco period (some really nice) but there remain a few incredibly ornate and ostentatious mansion houses that are now hotels or restaurants. One, Palacio de Ville looks like a cross between an Indian and Moroccan palace! Another, Palacio Azul, is French chateau style. But there are also houses that wouldn't look out of place in Deep South USA. At the end of the spit is Punta Gorda point - a public park with a small cafe bar in the grounds where we find a guy enjoying a rum at 9-30 am in the morning! (By the way locals tend to drink the rum neat in Cuba.)He doesn't look like a wino; obviously it's just a part of life here. You can pretty much
buy rum anywhere at any time in Cuba. Even the smallest kiosks have bottles for sale. It's cheap too (at least for us) - 6C for a litre of Havana Club. You can get brands we haven't heard of for much less.
As we wander we find a small cafe that sells two types of happiness. Bubble gum dispensers of beer and good ice cream! Nestlé are the big company here and they sell big size pots of Almond ice cream for 1.75C; makes a perfect lunch on a hot day. There's also an interesting sculpture park with an eclectic mix of items; a metal rhino, and huge hammerhead with nails, a hand mincer, and other random shapes. Not sure why it's here but it makes for a good photo opp.
The sea (which is enclosed in a very large Bay with a small outlet) is quite clear and calm but doesn't smell good enough to swim in, and we don't see anyone in the water. There are some huge yachts though moored in the marina at one of the mansions - Club Cienfuegos, which we go to one evening to take sunset photos from. It
seems all the fancy places are open to anyone and either it's the "Look as if you belong" phenomenon or maybe as all hotels are in state ownership perhaps there's a sense of communal ownership so no-one's excluded.
The walk into town along Calle 37 takes you along the Malecon (sea wall) which comes alive at night with canoodling couples watching sunset. It makes a pleasant walk especially with all the old American cars that rumble along. We had thought these were only to be found in Habana but in fact they are all over Cuba. The ones here don't seem to be such fume belchers though thankfully.
At the end of the Malecon, Calle 37 widens and a central pedestrian walkway opens up in the road, lined with trees and benches, a common feature in many towns. The buildings along the road side are very typical Spanish with large shuttered windows, large wooden doors and colonnaded frontages. Many of the houses in Cuba have small wooden cages with song birds in them hanging in the windows (though usually the windows have no glass - just wooden shutters) and it's not unusual to see folks taking
their birds out for a walk. After the Benny More statue along the way (and more of him later), we turn left onto the Boulevar which leads to the square - Parque Marti.
Again it's a typical Spanish square with a bandstand, statues, trees and surrounded on 4 sides by grand government buildings (some falling apart & closed for renovation) and museums plus the Cathedral. At one end is the Arco La Triunfa - built to mark the success of the Revolution. It's a feature unique in Cuba though obviously, no-one told the tour bus drivers this as they insisted on parking in front of it making it impossible to get a decent photo.
Close to the square is La Union Hotel the fancy place to stay in town. Inside it's very similar to homes in Seville, with rooms off a central patio, and has a lovely swimming pool though at 10C charge to use it we decide to give it a miss.
The best find is on the square itself - El Palatino bar which is perfect for watching the world go by while enjoying a Buccanero beer or two and a sandwich
(it's also pretty cheap).
We've read about La Reina cemetery, west of town and although it's reportedly under renovation we decide to walk there, passing a locomotive museum on the way which has lots of rusting old steam engines outside. As we walk a guy with a horse & cart offers us a lift there and back (for a fee of course - 2C). This seems to be a common form of transport here - both for tourists and locals. It gives the place a sense of rural charm that is essentially Cuban. The carts are painted and decorated so look attractive too. The cemetery isn't really anything special but the supervisor there gives it her best shot at being a tour guide (and earns a few pesos for her efforts). There is a section for the rich & one for the poor where some of the Spanish killed in the war of Independence are buried.
We also try to do a boat trip to the Castle at the entrance to the Bay, Castillo de Jagua. Unfortunately the only trip running that day is just a bay cruise, not stopping at the Castillo so we decide
to give it a miss. It does seem to be a bit hit & miss in many places whether advertised tours will run; possibly not enough tourists to maintain regular services?? Who knows?
Cienfuegos is also home to the famous Cuban singer, Benny More, and we pass a statue of him on the main road into town, plus a local dance and singing joint & night club with his name. His is an interesting story of a really poor mulato guy made good after struggling for years in Havana then winning a radio singing contest & the rest is history. He was feted in the US as well and the rumba & chachacha were his thing. Although there is plenty of music played here interestingly it's not the salsa or son of Havana. This seems much more like middle of the road ballads etc, plus there's more reggae and English/US music heard here.
We are surprised to find many places are closed here on Sunday, unlike other towns we've been in, and this includes some of the restaurants. We have a look at El Tranvia, mainly because it has tram carriages for a roof top restaurant
and all the staff wear Guard uniforms. It looks good but we settle on Florida Blanca 18 which gets a good right up in LP & after the recommendation of a few Canadians we bump into while checking the menu - Gary, Steve and Winston, one of whom has spotted our cameras and is hoping we might be able to recharge his battery as he left his charger behind (we do).
They have been coming here for years (15 plus) and one of them has just bought a house here which is being renovated. They have all married young local women and have kids - similar issue to what we see in Thailand and the Philippines with UK men. Canadians can spend 6 months per year here at a time as they have special relationship with Cuba - neither is keen on their "mighty" neighbour! The Cuban side of the family stays here except for short holidays in Canada. Winston apparently has a Yacht in Toronto (he's a champion sailor) and invites us to join him when we get there. Definitely an offer we can't refuse.
At the restaurant we get mixed meat and lobster
brochettes and a huge meat and shrimp paella plus drinks for only 17C. The food is good and we're so full we can't face more than fruit for breakfast the next day. We decide to go back there the next night rather than eat in at the CP as it's so good and cheap. Though this time we go for a more manageable fish and shrimp in cheese sauce (tastes much better than it sounds) with the brochettes. At the end of the meal we get tempted to try an Italian (!) brandy, or two! It's not bad until we get up next morning feeling slightly hung-over.
As we walk back along the Malecon on Sunday evening we pass El Rapido, a fast food chain which has a long string of cafe's along the roadside. They are packed with families eating out and lots of music playing. It's definitely a great family event and somehow seems to sum up Cienfuegos. It's a place where folk seem to enjoy life.
Next morning we decide to catch a local bus to town for the bus station. On it C gets chatting to a charming older local guy who
has excellent English, learned from speaking to visitors. He observes that there are much fewer visitors now than there used to be and seems genuinely pleased that we have visited his country. It's a nice way to finish.
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