‘If you try to be a 5* hotel in a third world country, there are bound to be plenty of cracks to paper over’
Orlando our driver arrived, we said goodbye to Flor and set off toward Santa Clara and the keys.
We soon stopped off at a petrol station but instead of pulling up to a pump, Orlando parked around the back of the pumps and took a 5l water container out of the boot and went to fill it with petrol.
Interesting sights/events en route:
we saw more propaganda billboards. Deber es trabajar y virtud es combatir (duty is to work, virtue is to fight) Below: Venezuela is not a threat, it is hope.
We drove through the Valle de los Ingenios- a peaceful landscape of rolling hills scattered with crumbling 19th century sugar mills and slave quarters. We stopped off for 10 minutes at a small town – I overheard Orlando calling his girlfriend and arranging to meet up later!
on the motorway we spotted a cyclist going the wrong way in the middle of the opposite carriageway;
a railway station on the edge of town:
We stopped at a petrol station again and Bill went over to chat to these guys:
Orlando asked if we minded if he picked up any hitchhikers- for comfort purposes we said one would be OK so we picked up a lady – apparently she only wanted to travel 10km- we picked her up at 10.15am and she’d been waiting since 7.30am. We then felt bad that we’d left others at the roadside.
On approaching the causeway there was a police checkpoint and we had to show our passports. The police took one passport and noted all the details. (nobody is permitted to cross to the keys unless they have a hotel reservation or are a taxi driver or work in the resorts with a pass)
The causeway was stunning- 30km of unspoilt road through the Caribbean Sea- maximum depth 5m but mostly 3m
We checked in at 11.30 and were told the room would be available at 12.30 so we went to explore and had lunch at the pool restaurant which we awarded 2.5* owing to the undefinable piña coladas (red tinged but creamy?!) and Bill’s grouper which we had to exchange for a fresh one..and met a new friend:
We then returned to the lobby at 1.30pm to be informed that our room would be ready at 2.30!
So back to the lobby bar and, over coffee, Bill decided to work his way through the extensive all-inclusive drinks menu!
We started by ordering Papa Hemingway Daiquiris……
We also took advantage of the waiting time to decide in which of the restaurants to eat dinner- we chose the Japanese and when describing it the concierge had the honesty to call it ‘Japanese Cuban style’! We looked forward to it!
At last our room was ready- we were taken by golf cart with our luggage (which had been left with the bellboy) to our bungalow- the porter had a sense of humour- on opening the door he pointed at the air conditioning unit and asked what it was in our language- he then held his arms aloft and said ‘in our language it is….God!’
The room was huge with a lobby, TWO double beds, a dressing room, large marble bathroom with a separate loo, large separate shower and curtained bath and a balcony.
5* – nearly but not quite! – the towels were a bit thin and there were no bathrobes or other expected touches. But apart from that the room itself was luxury compared to the Casas Particulares.
Ready for the beach, we headed for the ‘centro náutico’ for Bill to take advantage of the all inclusive kayaks, windsurfing and sailing only to be told on arrival that they close at 4pm- so we had a fun 20 minutes on a pedalo and cooled off in the Caribbean breeze.
We then went to the beautiful curved idyll that was Playa Megano, only accessed by hotel guests as it is on the Cayo Ensenacho, unless you come by boat and we’d not seen any evidence of a yachting business on these keys although there must be in season or maybe it’s coming as the tourism industry grows?
The beach was beautiful and we lay on the comfy sunbeds listening to the sea lapping the edge- the water was warm and very shallow with many fish, mainly sandy coloured. We heard French (Canadian) and English Canadian then Russian voices but no English!
Before heading back to change for dinner we walked along the hotel paths to check out the longer Playa Ensenacho which. although very pretty, was narrower than Megano so we knew which beach we’d go to in the morning.
Back in the room we got ready for dinner and Bill tried the TV – a somewhat flickery picture with Cuban and Canadian channels!
We had (another) cocktail in the excellent lobby bar then went to the Japanese restaurant where we sat on a large U-shaped table with French Canadians, Chileans and Italians! The (Cuban) chef arrived and proceeded to interact with the customers on our table and prepare the vegetables, shrimp, beef and chicken in front of us. I got into conversation with our friendly waiter from Sancti Spiritus. it was a pleasant enough meal but nowhere near as good as the meals we’d had so far in the Casas.
We wandered back to our room, pausing to check out the film choices for the week!