(Monday 26th October)
The Bay of Pigs is where the Cubans defeated an American invasion in 1961. The communist propaganda billboards along the road from Australia to Playa Larga and on to Playa Girón are numerous and you can’t miss them- even if you don’t speak Spanish you can work out what they are getting at! Cuba 1 America 0
The Bay of Pigs invasion began when a CIA-financed and -trained group of Cuban exiles landed in Cuba and attempted to overthrow the communist government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was a disaster from start to finish- Castro had been forewarned of the plans so, when the invaders landed, two of their supply ships were sunk and 14oo men were stranded on the beach. In addition, the local rebellion that the CIA thought would materialise never did, The success of the plan depended on the Cuban population joining the invaders and the US government stated that they would not provide the marooned soldiers with air cover. So, abandoned on the beaches, with no supplies or military back up, the invaders didn’t have a hope. Castro ordered roughly 20,000 troops to advance toward the beach. 114 invaders were killed and 1189 were captured and these prisoners didn’t go back to the USA until a year later – in return for 53 million dollars of food and medicine- and Castro didn’t let anyone forget his triumph over the superpower! 157 Cuban soldiers were killed and as we headed along one side of Coast of the Bay of Pigs there were 157 white memorials erected to honour the fallen comrades.
Support for the government is strong here on the Peninsula de Zapata because it was the poorest region in Cuba before the revolution, and the first area that the communists developed, with roads, schools and a hospital. It is also one of Fidel Castro’s favourite areas because of the 1961 victory.
Now, time for that lunch. Orlando pulled up outside one of the many bungalows on the street advertising themselves as restaurants. This is obviously common practice among the long distance taxi drivers – this place was called La Gorda (the Fat One) and according to Orlando, served some of the best Cuban crocodile meat.The owner offered us a chicken, lobster or (grilled) crocodile set menu for $15CUC per person. (There was no written menu nor alternatives- this means that the owner is actually working illegally as he will not be registered so keeps all his income.) Knowing that you normally get a big meal (especially for the princely sum of $15CUC, we again said we weren’t very hungry and would like to pay $10CUC for a smaller portion. The owner, who only spoke Spanish, seemed desperate to have our pesos and offered us all three meats for $15CUC. We eventually agreed on $10CUC. He then said drinks were extra – even water- so we remonstrated that most menus included a drink and came to a compromise that we’d pay for the beer not water. The Austrians were really not out for being taken for a ride and used me as their translator- but to be fair the guy did want his hard currency!
The food turned out to be good and plentiful. We were served the staple beans and rice alongside lobster, chicken and grilled crocodile (a bit like fishy chicken!), plus a delicious avocado and cucumber salad and cold green beans. Avocados grow on trees here so I was in heaven! There was a young boy peering out from inside the bungalow and so I went back to the car to get some pens and paper we’d brought with us to hand out. Stationery items were one thing we’d been recommended to bring if we wanted to give stuff to the local children. I asked him if he had any brothers or sisters and he said yes so I gave him a selection of pens and pads. I later saw the children through the window colouring on the table in the kitchen.
When the bill for the food eventually came, it was for $65 CUC….. we had to give him 10/10 for perseverance……so we left $50 for the 5 of us and headed off.
We drove along one side of the stunning, unspoilt bay. I can imagine this will be prime real estate land when restrictions are finally lifted. For the moment, it’s a piece of paradise.
We just gazed out of the car window and decided we just had to stop for a photo. Orlando stopped at a roadside diving ‘centre’ called Cueva de los Peces (Cave of the Fish). It was simply a shack on one side of the road where you could hire diving gear, then cross the road and dive into the clear bay. The Cueva de los Peces is a flooded tectonic fault about 70m deep almost exactly midway between Playa Larga and Playa Girón. There are lots of bright, tropical fish.
the blue dot is where we stopped!
This photo shows the stunning clear blue waters of the Caribbean looking across to the other side of the Bay of Pigs
The road from Playa Girón inland towards Cienfuegos was devoid of other traffic and apparently cows sleep on the road at night. We saw lots of tractors, and when I told Orlando about Bill’s vintage tractor he asked what he used it for…..when I said it was just for playing on Orlando was somewhat incredulous!
We drove through a village called Yaguaramas with very muddy roads and an ice cream stall by the road- and where we were overtaken by a horse and cart as we negotiated the wide ditches!
Finally, we arrived at Cienfuegos at 3.30pm where we said goodbye to the Austrian couple.
We had toyed with the idea of a night in Cienfuegos, known for its classical French inspired architecture, but had decided against it as we would get a feel for the place driving through it when we dropped the Austrians off and could always add it to our itinerary if we were to return to Cuba.
For the remaining hour of the journey to Trinidad we had plenty of room in the car. Sally sat in the front to chat to Orlando while Bill stretched out in the back.
Coming up…….an evening and an eventful morning in Trinidad…