Leaving Havana to explore the rest of Cuba, starts with a good shot of rum at our first stop! The Forbidden Fruit tourists seek, along with cigars, is produced from sugar cane introduced in Cuba by Columbus. And while the sugar cane production is now heavily reduced there is still sufficient to produce the famous rum!
We did manage to crunch on some cane to savour the succulent juice in the Valley of Los Ingenios ( near Trinidad) and see the ruins of the sugar mills, slave quarters and watchtowers now an area with Unesco Heritage status.
On the way, rather caught by surprise to see bales of rice lining the road ready for loading, the rice having spent the day spread out along the road for drying. The mind boggles to think of how the traffic manoeuvres in one lane….they must drive like Italians!! Let alone the flavour the asphalt may give to the rice!?
From Havana, our first stop was the Bay of Pigs – Playa Girón, and the museum dedicated to the disastrous invasion by USA of Cuba. An interesting video of the invasion from the Cuban point of view and other artefacts associated with the Revolution – the uniform of the volunteers teaching illiterate farmers, and the white shoes – symbol of what the Revolution brought to a teenager, whose mother was shot dead while protecting her during invasion.
Photo credit: Aniorland Garciá – Our guide
After that, a moment of relax, swimming at the nearby waterhole and in crystal clear water at the coral beach.
Cienfuegos our next stop, a colonial town with neo classical architecture and wide avenues where we were treated to a cocktail on the roof terrace of the rather bizarre Palacio de Valle, an ornate Spanish, Moroccan, Italian mix.
On to Santa Clara the next day, to be immersed in the dramatic story of Che Guevara in his Memorial and Mausoleum. Documents, photos and various memorabilia makes it a fascinating visit but unfortunately no photos allowed inside.
The next base is Trinidad, the most touristic of the cities outside of Havana and with good reason. A perfectly preserved Spanish settlement built on the wealth amassed in the past from the nearby sugar cane fields. Colonial mansions and cobbled stone streets lined with multi coloured houses. Salsa music every evening on the steps beside the Cathedral and traditional African dance performances. A noteworthy Art gallery in the main square and women in garish lycra chat in the streets or saunter past more classic car beauties or stray cowboys.
A local hike to the waterfall in lush countryside provides a welcome break from the tourists on another day.
Camaguey instead had a much more local feel and a sweet grandma ran my homestay. Known as the city of clay pots for water collection and easily visited in bicycle rickshaws to see more colonial mansions, artist galleries and the local market with food stalls and herbal medicines. Yet again Nightclubs and salsa venues for locals and tourists to add pizazz to their evenings.
On to the chaos of Santiago the second largest city in Cuba and our home stays bounce to the blaring street music that only ceased with the electricity black out! And if you can’t beat’em it’s best to join in!
A more sombre moment in front of Fidel’s tomb.
Travelling on through beautiful lush terrain and velvet mountains, bring us to the chocolate capital of Cuba – Baracoa, for our last few relaxing days. We can still see the damage left by the hurricane of November, with skinned Royal palms sprouting new growth and some roofs still to be replaced.
The atmosphere is layback, as is the music, and the place is exotic in both artwork and people.
Our cacao plantation visit is a highlight as we pile into another classic car ( a little less chic than those of Havana) with an erotic gear stick change that had to be photographed to be believed and a mad driver who has us laughing all the way!
The cacao plantation is a women’s cooperative and they are proud to explain the plant and process to produce some mouth watering chocolate that we are able to sample, oddly wrapped in leftover alfoil from the pharmaceutical company!
There is so much to tell about Cuba, a simple blog post cannot do it justice. 17 days of continuous stimulation and enjoyment, I loved it!
My head is still full of the music, the colour, the warmth, the vibrant atmosphere and fond memories of great laughs with wonderful travel companions.
For those interested, I found the tour via www.responsibletravel.com which linked to www.locallysourcedcuba.com and am very happy with both agencies.
Cuba just do it….before it’s too late!