We’d decided that Trinidad would be next on the itinerary. Although we knew roughly which places in Cuba we wanted to visit in the time we had available, we’d not pre-booked transport in case a hurricane was going to hit. Late October is at the end of the hurricane season but Cuba is such a big country that we could easily bypass any risk. In the event, the hurricane risk was low so that avoided that problem. Also, it gave us total flexibility and although all the media warned of low accommodation availability, there was no problem at all. I recommend asking for recommendations on arrival or ask your Casa to recommend the next host.
Lift-sharing is popular; I had previously asked Maqueira if he knew anybody to drive us to Trinidad. We didn’t fancy the all-day trip by bus, leaving at 6.45am, taking 9.5 hours and costing $37CUC pp. He said to leave it with him and, sure enough, he had a friend who had a car and would be going to Trinidad on Monday. His friend, Orlando drove over to introduce himself to us and show us his vehicle. It’s definitely worth checking out what you are expected to ride in before agreeing a price – some Cuban cars would not make 10km let alone the 500km to Trinidad. Orlando wanted to leave early the next morning but we requested an 8am start and he agreed.
Monday morning, the car arrived with 2 Austrians – a large gentleman who, fortunately, sat in the front as he was quite large and his partner heading to Ciénfuegos, 150km before Trinidad
. We said our goodbyes with many hugs and requests to return and we left at 8am.
Just 1 kilometer later we stopped for the driver to have a coffee! The Austrian couple were somewhat miffed as a) we drove past their house and b) they had had to get up really early because Orlando wanted to leave early….?!
The next stop was a further 5km as we drove up into the hills where the Austrians wanted to take pictures.
This was starting to feel like it was going to be a l-o-n-g journey!
However, we then got going and reached the autopista (motorway, or what passes for one in Cuba- we saw horses and carts and a couple of small groups of road cyclists as well as a selection of vehicles of all conditions, some belching the blackest diesel fumes I’ve ever seen) and drove at 110kph or often a bit slower when behind other vehicles.
After 2 hours we stopped for a quick toilet break at a gas station on the opposite side-
we drove across a break in the grassy central reservation 100m ahead and turned on to the other carriageway- there really isn’t much traffic so quite safe!
We went to the loo- managed by a middle-aged lady who, between each customer, washes the floor and flushes the loo! She hands you some loo paper and a bar of soap or you can opt for a squirt of liquid soap afterwards to wash your hands. We left 3MN notes for the two of us- equivalent to 1p each. Most just leave coins so she was pleased with our generosity.
To rejoin the opposite carriageway we pulled to the edge of the road…..waited for a gap in the traffic……and headed up the wrong way in the outside lane to cross at the same part of the central reservation. The Austrians said he was a ‘Geisterfahrer’, roughly translated as a Ghost driver. I said we had no equivalent in English because we don’t do that!
It was quite scary BUT I gauged that, although our lives weren’t especailly valuable to him, his car was, so I guessed that he wouldn’t take unnecessary risks if it meant he might wreck his livelihood.
We travelled via Havana as there is no decent road along the south of the country, adding quite a lot of time. There is also no ring road around Havana so we zigzagged our way along the southern edges of Havana to get to the road to Trinidad.
The journey continued and it was fascinating just looking out of the window:
Some guys tree felling – tree trunks and huge branches taking up one complete lane of the dual carriageway with no warning, let alone any cones to cordon off the section of road!
Old guys pushing their bikes next to the central reservation with cars passing at 110kph.
Occasionally Orlando slowed down for no obvious reason, then we went over a large ridge on the highway- he obviously knows these roads like the back of his hand plus his new Chinese made car is his livelihood – only 12,000 km on the clock.
Every bridge (even those going nowhere!) had at least one person under it waiting for a ride. The busier intersections had a guy with a clipboard who was the organiser. (I wonder if he has to pay commission to the state?)
At one point we were pulled over by the police but as we slowed, they looked into the car and for no apparent reason waved us on. Orlando didn’t know why- the police do what they please.
At one point, once off the motorway, we came across one half of the road covered in something yellow- rice!
The road is hot, flat and a great place to dry rice. I asked what happens if a car is coming the other way….Orlando said you simply drive on the rice. Further along we saw men sweeping the rice into piles, then shovelling it into white sacks
which were then taken away by an ancient tractor.
We stopped in a small town for Orlando to purchase a top up for his mobile from a state-owned gated automatic machine. It then took him a few minutes to scratch off the code- his fingernails didn’t do the job so he used a bit of broken metal fencing nearby and voilà, he entered the code and we got back in the car, glad of the opportunity to stretch our legs, albeit briefly.
We eventually stopped for fuel – only diesel or leaded
available at 90c per litre (75p). Extremely high considering the amount they earn- no wonder that we later see Orlando fill up with bootleg fuel! Fuel is also limited so at this gas station, Orlando was only allowed to put in 10CUC
We travelled along the edge of the Zapata Nature Reserve for some 75 km, home to crocodiles and Orlando asked if we wanted to stop at the Crocodile Farm- a unanimous no, fortunately. However, Orlando was getting hungry so, instead, he suggested we stop at a restaurant he knew to EAT some crocodile. Why not, we thought?
(And I’ve just realised that I have not mentioned Australia since the title so….
to elaborate a bit, we take a detour, turning off the main road at AUSTRALIA and taking the scenic route along the edge of the HUGE Bay of Pigs….so next time you’ll get crocodile lunch AND the Bay of Pigs!)