We arrived in Havana and hailed a cab. That was easy enough and we soon found ourselves weaving through the early evening streets dodging overloaded trucks, motor bikes and pedestrians alike. Potholes the size of craters punctuated the road like full stops. I guess you get used to it. A leisurely fill-up at a station and we were on our way. The journey would take us several hours.
As darkness fell on the island darkness was just that. The sky was black. Once in a while a cluster of roadside houses, each lit by a single fluorescent bulb, cast flitting blue shadows. The only signs that life was anywhere to be found. We smelled the oil refinery long before we saw it. The air was thick with fumes. We held our t-shirts to our faces to mask the over-powering stench and pitied the unfortunate people who lived nearby. Shifting blue shadows.
Havana to Varadero is about 85 miles. At an average speed of 30 miles an hour – that’s about 3 hours, give or take, in the back of a hot old cab. Our driver didn’t speak much English and our Spanish was almost nil at this time so it was a quiet ride. We gawped as a car weaved drunkenly on the wrong side of the carriageway heading uphill straight towards a truck that was bearing down at speed. The drama unfolded until just before impact a drunken swerve. Survival.
We arrived at our hotel and tipped our driver handsomely. He would pick us up when we wanted to return, he said. No-one else was having this fare.
Mrs. Monkey has to work hard to keep the SMM in the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed – so I let her rest a while. But having rested – we had to see what we could of the island.
We opted for a guided Jeep Safari through the villages and sugar cane fields of the surrounding area. It was as close as we were going to get to the countryside on this trip.
This is a green island. Royal Palms wave from forest to forest while green rivers curl silently to the sea. Much of the cane fields have been ripped up now due to the fall in world price and sugar is no longer the staple crop it once was.
The Jeep drive took us through fields, darting between canes into more canes, and then into villages well off the beaten track. Our drivers, two Canadian guys, stopped occasionally to give away toothpaste or pens to children who played and stared in the streets as we went by. Some essentials being subject to the US economic embargo. Thanks, Mr.White House. Thank you very much.
When you travel to new places you pick up a vibe. You can feel how it feels. There was no tension here. Everyone we met out in the countryside seemed laid back and happy to see us. And of course, wherever we stopped….there was music.
Hotel resorts are much the same anywhere I guess. You have a pool, a beach, a bar or several, a restaurant or several, and so on. Our first Cuban home was excellent….the perfect rest before a return to Havana…and more exploration.