miércoles 4 noviembre
After a good night’s sleep we had breakfast, then Flor’s travel agency friend arrived to help us book a night at a Cuban resort hotel on the northern keys.
Estella had various options but we wanted to see pictures of the different hotels so we agreed to meet her at her office as she had brochures there.
We needed to get some more money exchanged so headed to a Cadeca (State owned).
En route, we passed a cigar factory where many ladies of all ages were working, packing cigars in a large warehouse-type room with no a/c.
We eventually found the Cadeca and started queuing outside -only 2 people ever allowed inside a Cadeca at any one time- then the guard took pity on my plastered arm and let me in to the wonderfully cool office while Bill waited outside in the sun.
Then we went to find Estella the travel agent- she had a desk in a large café (which also doubled up as an Internet café with 4 computers for which you pay by the 20 minute slot though with no guarantee of any worthwhile internet)
Despite being located right next to the Internet café section, Estella had no internet access- just a few sheets of photocopied offers, a brochure with a few photos and a phone. We booked just one night, all-inclusive, normally $300 but now $184, in a 5* resort hotel on its own key called Cayo Estrenacho near Santa María on the north coast. It looked and sounded wonderful!
Remember these…holiday brochures?!
Then we went back to the museo to see if Mirtha was there- she was! She kissed our cheeks (at a first meeting Cubans shake hands, subsequent meetings they kiss cheeks, normally once sometimes twice) She told us that she had wondered where we were last night- she had got presents for us but had left them at home but she had a pretty fan now for me. We arranged to meet at 9pm that night.
We returned to the Casa to get ready for the local beach and aimed to catch the ‘Trinibus’ at 2pm.The Bus stop was only one block from the Casa – you buy a ticket for 2CUC and it’s valid all day – there are 6 departures daily connecting the city with the beach- the 2pm bus left early!
The bus passed through La Boca which the guide book said was very small with limited accommodation and restaurants. We thought it looked very nice and had a local feel and would probably be preferable to the resort hotels we were about to see at the end of the peninsula. There were also lots of Casas to rent.
We got off at the last stop-Playa Ancón is a very long beach with just 3 small resort hotels – but with the Caribbean Sea lapping gently at the shore. Interesting cars in the car park.
We walked along the shore to the very end of the peninsula under the burning sun. There was no shade to be had and the beach shelved steeply so I had to be careful to stay in the shallows!
The beach past the hotels was empty but because there was no shade we wandered back to the main beach area (all Cuban beaches are public) and chose two sunbeds under a coconut-leaved cabana and were wondering if it was free, although most of the other people seemed to be wearing orange wristbands. After an hour we were approached by two officials who said it was $2CUC per person. I asked for un recibo (receipt) but they assured me they were kosher and they’d remember we’d paid.
There were enough people on the beach to make a pleasant atmosphere and in fact before long we heard singing and guitar playing- everything from Bob Marley to Sam Smith!
We watched the sun go lower in the sky then headed back through one of the three hotels to catch the bus, knowing there could be quite a queue as it was the last bus of the day. We wandered through the Amigo Ancón Hotel to get a feel for a Cuban all-inclusive. The hotel had obviously seen better days and catered for the Caribbean mass market beach holiday, with nightly entertainment and ping pong competitions. Fingers crossed this wasn’t what we had let ourselves in for tomorrow night!
We needn’t have worried about the bus- this is Cuba and everybody fitted on. Luckily we got a seat but many were standing as the driver ramped the music up and proceeded to drive hell for leather back to Trinidad. The sunset was stunning.
We ate our postponed dinner from last night in the Casa, cooked and served by Flor’s brother in law (still no sign of her husband, just members of his family!)
We then set off to meet Mirtha, passing an almendrón (ancient American car so called because they resemble large almonds) in the front room of a Casa as walked past!
Just after 9pm, we found Mirtha working in a small shop selling Cuban artwork.
She said she was wondering where we were altho we’d said 9pm but then Cubans are always early!!!
She told me to choose some earrings and Bill bought a licence plate and a small picture.
Mirtha then asked if we wanted to hear any music- of course! So sitting outside on the other side of the street was Pablo who has travelled around Cuba and Canada as a musician. He was singing and strumming his guitar.
One of the most memorable and evocative moments of the trip caught me unaware as we sat on chairs on the pavement outside with the lights from the houses illuminating the street, Pablo singing quietly and playing his guitar, sipping Havana Club in the company of Mirtha- suddenly an old panandero walks past, carrying his sack of bread over his shoulder and blowing his whistle to let people know he was there. Pure Cuban magic.
We chatted some more and Mirtha said she doesn’t play an instrument but can salsa-she asked if we wanted to go to La Trova. We’d heard and read about this place and readily agreed- unfortunately she couldn’t/wouldn’t join us as she had a long walk home and had an early start but she accompanied us to the club and we said our goodbyes, promising to stay in touch.
The house band were incredible and watching the salsa-ing Cubans and tourists was mesmerising.
There was a good mix of Cubans and tourists but it was getting pretty hot and sweaty – I could feel my cast getting soft in places so we left after one Mojito and headed back as we were being collected by Orlando at 7.30 the next morning.
Overnight there were 3 or 4 power cuts which disturbed us somewhat as the fan cut out each time and bill had to restart it. In addition, the room became absolutely pitch black as we’d shut the shutters to keep the mozzies out (so far our plug-in repellant had done a great job) and in any case there are few if any street lights and most houses front onto the street with very high, heavy wooden doors and go back a long way into the courtyard: little light filters into the rooms.
…….and so to Cayo Ensenacho.