from coast to countryside

A grande thank you to all of you for loving our blog so much that we reached the 10,000 view mark this past week….yeah for you!!!

We have come to realize that we are slightly off the norm… usually people go to resorts in Cuba and then do side trips to other communities… not us… we are doing communities and took a side trip to a resort, the Memories Caribe on Cayo Coco on the mid-eastern side of Cuba. If you have been to Varadero, you will be able to imagine what they are trying to do with their eastern islands, building numerous resorts all along the beach front. The stay was okay, an all-inclusive, with much to eat and drink. We really enjoyed hanging around the pool and went down to the beach a few times. Unfortunately, the beach is quite narrow, with much short-cropped seaweed and of course, the ubiquitous sand flea.

The Atlantic is much colder than the Caribbean and so not too many folks were swimming. A cold front had moved over Cuba and our first few days at the resort had quite a bit of wind. It was nice around the pool, protected somewhat from the breeze… it was only about 23 degrees, much cooler than our time in Costa Rica.

It was interesting to note that one of the only real excursions out of the resorts was to the small city of Ciego del Avila, where we stayed on our way to Cayo Coco. It was late Saturday afternoon when we arrived and walked around for a few hours, looking for somewhere to eat. From the town square there was a wide boulevard with stores and some restaurants (that were closing for the day), clearly developed specifically for tourists. We appeared to be the only tourists around and it didn’t make a lot of sense to us at that time. Once we read the brochures at the resort, we realized the downtown area of Ciego del Avila was set up for busloads of tourists from the resorts on Cayo Coco who would arrive in town just after noon and leave around 3pm. Tourists in Varadero often go into Havana, but that would be too far to go for a day trip from Cayo Coco… around 5 hours each way.

On Cayo Coco there is a Hop On Hop Off bus that costs $5 round trip. On the only really cloudy day we hopped on to experience the island. All it did was stop at every resort on the way to Playa Pilar at the western tip of the island. We did see numerous flamingos in a few of the lagoons… we love flamingos, so that was a joy!

The Pilar beach area was even narrower than our beach, so we thought it odd that it was so heavily promoted. We spent a very enjoyable hour walking carefully over a massive old coral reef that was more than 30 feet above sea level, covered with wind-swept shrubbery. The surface was extremely sharp, and there was no path, but the explorer part of our natures came out and we had a marvelous time searching for the way to the other side of this part of the island. Some of openings in the ancient coral were 8 feet deep, it was quite amazing. Great time!

The next day we decided to walk to the Ecological Reserve, much to our chagrin, there wasn’t much to see but lots of bugs that did love to bite. We spotted some tiny crabs that had one large pincer each… almost as big as the crab itself. These beings made their home on the path we were walking on… holes in the ground that they scurried into as we passed. My feet were really sore after the 3 hour walk.

We stayed at the resort for seven nights and set off to Camaguey, where we are currently. Getting around Cuba is not all that easy. We thought maybe we could fly from Cayo Coco to Camaguey as they both have airports, but we found there are no direct flights between them. There is no direct bus either, so we organized a taxi to drive us.

It took about 3 hours, crossing terrain that reminded us of the farms of the Fraser Valley and Canadian prairies. In one area of the roadway we saw men sweeping something on the pavement, perhaps grain, into a narrow pile around 150 metres long. They were shoveling this into white bags that were left on the side of the highway to be picked up later. We saw this repeated about 10 times. It turned out that it was rice they were drying and putting into bags. We hope they clean the pavement before they put down the rice… horse and buggy are a major type of transportation here… so you see our concern.

The taxi dropped us off at the Plaza Hotel at the edge of the historic district in Camaguey, right across from the train station. The first night was dreadful with all the noise from the tavern downstairs, the buses and the trains. We were woken to the sounds of many people singing… I think that was around 3am… we were moved the next day to a much better room. Camaguey is an interior city with about 300,000 people.

The city used to be on the coast, but in the late 1500s, in order to escape attack by Indians and marauding pirates, it was moved to the interior surrounded by land suitable for farming. Most Cuban cities are on a grid… not here. They made intricate, irregular, curved streets to avoid being taken by the raids.

Even though we love to walk everywhere, we decided to hire a bike taxi to do the historic buildings and other interesting sites. We were driven around for two hours and with the tip it cost us $10. Raul, our driver, was very enthusiastic about his city and we felt fairly safe with him, even when we went on the four lane highway and crossed over to the market. I didn’t even close my eyes when we crossed in front of one of those big, old green gravel trucks. After we stopped at Revolution Square for our photo with the bici-taxi, we saw one of those Camel people-movers we mentioned in the Havana blog. They obviously still use these cattle-trailer trucks outside Havana – photo below.

We visited a few museums and historic buildings around town… large colonial structures containing small collections and no signage. The admission was usually $1 per person. Yesterday we visited the Museo Provincial and had to pay $2 per person and a $1 charge so we could take pictures. In every museum we have visited in Cuba staff follow us around. Often just one person “accompanies” us, but at the Museo Provincial, we had three people following us. They didn’t just stand at the back of the room as we looked at the art; they were all within about four feet of us. It was difficult to step back to appreciate a piece. Very odd set up, indeed!

Whenever we are in a city for more than a few days, we can usually see how they live. This is not a poor place, the roads are pretty clean (very little garbage in the gutters), the young people are dressed in jeans, t-shirts and running shoes… very much like any other country. Lots of women have fake nails on and in very cool colours and designs. We wonder how they make their living as we see a lot of people just hanging… young people on the sides of commercial streets, older people at their doorways which are adjacent to the sidewalk… no lawns or gardens street side. The people here don’t smile much unless they want something from you. I like to smile at people when we walk by. They usually respond… not here.

We learned people pay taxes now; that started about 3 years ago. People can own property and sell it if they want… lots of cars and homes for sale. They can also be entrepreneurs. We are hoping when we get back to Havana to our casa particular, we can gain further insight from our hosts. Till then, we will keep observing life around us.

We both send you much happiness and tranquilidad!


1 thought on “from coast to countryside

  1. Hello, We met a couple at the Cayo Coco resort that had met you two (Gale and Ken Ritchie) and they gave us your blog site. Fascinating travel info and so cool that you could take a year and do it. We live in Toronto but our son is in Surrey, BC so very familiar with Vancouver. We wish you the best on the rest of your trip.

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