Unknown Remedios and flabbergasting Cayo Santa Maria

25.07 – 27.07

It was time for an awesome beach. We took a colectivo to Remedios (nearest and cheapest place to Cayo Santa Maria). 20 CUC was the price. During the ride we were creating our plan. Topics were how we get to Santa Maria the next day and calculated the expenses of accommodation and taxi fare. Created plans are there for changing them. So did we. We spent 5 CUC per person more and travelled directly to Cayo Santa Maria. We had many challenges to complete. Some were: getting money, where do we sleep, water, drinks and how we get back to Remedios or Santa Clara (Alex had a ticket for the day after tomorrow leaving Santa Clara to Habana at 15:00).

We completed the different challenges slowly one by one, in the end too slowly. It was already 18:00 and we still had no solution for our situation found. We were stranded…

While checking this part of the blog for grammar mistakes, something else sprang in to my mind. Once when we were discussing our plan and enjoying some drinks our bag packs were unattended stored near the reception. Later on we had to speak with the security guys for getting them back because they took them and stored them safe. I know really naive from us but it is Cuba really safe and “all” people are honest here. 😀

There were three possible variants:

Order cheapest to most expensive

  1. Sleep at the beach, dinner and breakfast none
  2. Taxi to Remedios (60 CUC) plus 20 CUC casa perticulares
  3. One night at Cayo Sol Santa Maria (150 CUC)

First we tried to bargaining at the front desks. The people were always shocked or surprised when we asked for a room due to the lack of reservation. One thing which I still do not understand until today was that some hotels were fully booked but there were nearly no people… I do not get it….

Prices were high ~180 CUC or the hotel was fully booked. Also the calls to nearby hotels were a rip off…. In the end one lovely reception woman told us that we should book over the internet. Bingo all hotels had available rooms even the fully booked ones….. Emergency credit card (150 CUC) was ready and some minutes later we enjoyed the faces of the reception personnel when we showed up with a valid reservation due to the dismissive behaviour before. Strange things in Cuba.

We enjoyed all inclusive services and later the awesome beach in combination with a cigar and music created the final. Due to our fascination with the beach and the sea, we missed the breakfast next morning. We had to improvise and found a place where they prepared some sandwiches. We checked out and had another swim in the sea. Clear sky with clear water. No comment.

 

One thing was special: when we asked for a room, one receptionist told us that the hotel was fully booked and he added there were free rooms available but not for guests. The reason was that some things were not working correctly. Like AC was broken or malfunctioned locks etc.

Maybe booking over the internet made it possible to unlock this limitation. In the end we got a room with a broken balcony door lock. Anybody could have entered our room in the night/day. In the end, I was happy about it I used the unofficial entrance once because my door card was not working properly.

The clock showed 16:00. We started to get worried about our transportation. So we discussed our further approach. A taxi was too expensive. The normal tourist buses were not bookable due to closed office. There were no colectivos…. Bargaining with bus chauffeurs was hard and “senseless” due to the risk of losing their jobs. But there is still one question in my head: Did we bargain to hard (ratio to their risk) or were the people just too honest. Nobody knows.

We were stranded again. The impossible got real.

We found a shelter next to the beach. The night was far away from comfortable. Noises from trucks, cars and shuttles kept us awake. Also the bag pack was kinda unattended.

Exhausted and tired we tried to book a seat in the bus. Yes you have read carefully, baaaaam surprise surprise. Tickets are bookable just one day prior to departure and it is not possible at the same day….

For Alex the time was running out. It was 9:30 and the bus was leaving from Santa Clara in about 5 h and 30 minutes. Money or time…

It was so painfully when we gave the taxi driver 80 CUC for the ride… still hurting…

I was happy about exiting the tourist zone. I did not feel really comfortable and in addition the food and the drinks challenged my stomach way too much. It lasted many days.

 

Recommendations:
– Enjoy the beach 🙂
– Enjoy the beach and the start during night with a boom box some glasses of rum and a cigar!

 

***lovely Santa Clara***

Touristic colourful Trinidad

25.07 – 27. 07

Arrived in Trinidad we had a walk around in the vintage colourful village. In addition with the fruits (5 MN) the Cubans sell on the street it was a nice day. Also we had a visit at the different tourist markets, where I bought my Cuban hat and shirt.

That day we did not expect that we will end up on a horse ride to a small awesome waterfall. The cost for two persons (entry included) was 22 CUC. As far as I remember the place was called Gruta Nengoa. It included also different possible jumps in the natural swimming pool. From 4 meters up to 15 meters.

We went out for dinner in a restaurant called Paladra. I do not recommend it due to not so good food. I mention it because in there happened something funny. We got a menu where the prices where following:

Cerdo / pork 6 CUC
Langosta / lobster 12 CUC
Pescado / fish 8 CUC

We had also a look on the menus of the other tourists. In our surprises they had other menus or better said higher prices. Pork 10 CUC, lobster 15 CUC, fish 15 CUC. Strange Trinidad.

Anyway next morning we had organized a taxi for following tour: It is called the valle de inginios. First destination is a mirador over the valley. If you have some money left you can also do a zip line there! Next stop was at an old sugar cane factory. After we paid the entry fee of 1 CUC we joined a guide and he told the story about the place. For me it was really interesting. Last stop was in Maznaca Iznaga a 44 meter high tower, which you can of course climb (1 CUC). After the amazing view we enjoyed a coco for 1 CUC. The whole taxi cost 25 CUC for four people which was a really fair price. Keep in mind that this tour takes just 3 hours.

After the hot day we went to the beach to get a refreshing bath. The beach day was quickly over due to heavy rain and even in the hurry to get a taxi we forgot our delicious rum at the beach that was the saddest part of it. Taxi cost around 6 CUC from the centre. Back the driver charged us 10 CUC due to the weather condition…

Next morning our taxi picked us up. The agent and the driver wanted the money beforehand. Unfortunately some people found out that they had to pay more than others, so you can guess the mess. From Trinidad to Santa Clara 15 CUC, to Remedios 20 CUC and to Santa Maria 25 CUC. After 1h 50 minutes we finally saw the street sign that we left Trinidad.

Maybe you noticed while reading this part about Trinidad that it was not written with ambitions, maybe due to lack of interest in to Trinidad. Trinidad is colourful and nice but really too touristic for my liking. Of course the horse ride was fun and a big adventure in the end I think I had to high expectations from that famous popular town. Maybe next time it is better. Nobody knows.

Recommendations:
– Have a walk in the colourful village
– Enjoy the diversity of tourist souvenirs
– Attend a horse ride to the nearby little waterfall
– Do a tour to the bigger more famous waterfall
– Enjoy the view from the 44 m high tower in Managa Iznaga

 

***Unknown Remedios and flabbergasting Cayo Santa Maria***

Cienfuegos 23.07 – 25.07

A city that was influenced by the French.

Taxi ride was comfortable and was “just” 10 CUC from Playa Larga to Cienfuegos. We arrived at our destination, Casa perticulares which was recommended by our last host (25 CUC a night). At the same day we stroll through Cienfuegos. The pier, the malecon and important the punta (south point) was on our list. Also keep in mind the boulevard and the plaza. We had a great time at the beach. We met a lovely big family, with whom we also had some dance battles and lesson, good laughs and awesome memories. We showed them how you crawl and swim right. At the end we did some rocket launches in the water some were really hurtful, do you remember Alex?
But how we got to the south point? We took a bici taxi and in the end I was the one who rode the bici taxi as an exercise anyway after 20 minute of workout we had to pay 3 CUC, it was worth it. During the day, Alex bought a box of cigars for 25 CUC, the taste and the shape was professional but still up to today we have no idea if they are fakes or originals. In the end we enjoyed them and it was totally worth it. The climax of that day was the lobster for dinner!!!! Unfortunately the last days of AC killed me and I had to go early to bed.

El Nicho a great spot for swimming and with a big waterfall.

We took a taxi for 50 CUC plus 10 CUC for entry it was totally worth it. Let’s see the pictures. Also there is a cool jump you can do!

 

On the 24th in the evening we went to a billard center, unfortunately all tables were busy so we enjoyed the time with air hockey and a walk to the malecon. Near the malecon at Calle 37 there was a big villa as far as I remember Casa de Cienfuegos. We heard that there is great music and good view over the bay of Cienfuegos but it was closed.

On the 25th we booked a taxi from Cienfuegos to Trinidad (8 CUC was the deal, in the end we paid 6 CUC).

 

Recommendations:

  • Malecon
  • Pier
  • Boulevard
  • Punto
  • El Nicho
  • Play a round of billard (1 CUC 1 h)
  • Casa de **** at Calle 37 /e 14 y 16 (25 CUC a night)

 

***Touristic Colourful Trinidad***

Playa Larga 21.07 – 23.07

Schweinebucht, bay of pigs or simply bahía de cochinos
Divers should stay more nights in the bay of pigs!

After a bad attempt to buy a ticket from Viazul to leave Habana to Playa Larga, we had to deal with the “greedy” colectivo drivers. The tickets for leaving Habana for the next day were all sold out and we had no other choice than hire a colectivo driver. After 35 minutes of bargaining we had to accept the offer of 25 CUC per person without pick up. After 3 hours of sleep, we were ready for leaving Habana and left our known casa perticulares to discover more from Cuba. Around 8:45 we arrived at the Viazul station and our agent was also there. I think he had to protect us like goods from other drivers, maybe we would have found a better deal, you never know. Anyway, after a while our agent could find a taxi that picked us up and finally we were on the road.
But wait there was at first a better attempt, a small Suzuki picked us up and the driver asked us where in Santa Clara we want to go. So our response: Playa Larga not Santa Clara. The Suzuki came to a full halt and the driver was swearing to our agent and we could leave our “taxi”.

The “real” colectivo was a big jeep with 8 tourists inside and everybody paid 25 CUC. A commission for the agent some CUC for petrol. I think they make good business, which also a hard working Cuban confirmed me. People working for the tourist or with the tourist are from the upper class.

We were happy when we saw the sign of leaving Habana, the happiness did not last long. Due to a stop at the workshop our journey was more delayed. No worries it is normal in Cuba. Enjoy the moment.
Finally we have made some progress and after a small break at Jagüey Grande we enter Playa Larga, where we got off the colectivo.

Right next to the big crab statue in the centre the tourist information waited for us. The lady there was so nice and helpful and explained us everything. Even could she recommend a casa perticulares nearby, which we booked and not a single penny did we regret our decision. The name was: Hostal Caribé Kairos 2 minutes from the local shop.

After a small break we went on our first adventure: the crocodile farm. Taxi from the centre to the farm would have cost around 20 CUC. We decided to do the Cuban way –> colectivo. After spending some minutes for waiting and 2 CUC spent we arrived at the farm (5 CUC). The crocodile were awesome there were even other animals but after 1h – 2h you have seen it all. With a bottle of rum and thirst for adventure we began looking for a colectivo. After many failed attempt and a bus driver that wanted to rip us off, we finally found a lovely family who gave a lift back to Playa Larga (2 CUC).

Some Wi-Fi, good Rum and the heat made us very hungry. A big big big dinner waited for us! Rice, breaded chicken, mashed potato, vegetable soup and for dessert pomelo.

Full with food and delicious Cuban tastes we headed to the nearby carnival. Fancy self-made attraction could have been seen in action. Also some “tattoo” sprayers were doing their jobs for children, which we for sure also tried. The fancy attraction was 5 MN and the tattoo 2 CUC.

Diving, Diving, Diving
On Saturday we booked a diving tour. But before it started we woke up to a fabulous breakfast. At 8:00 am the bus picked us up at the crab statue and we headed to the diving centre. Geared up, we were on the way to the first diving spot. Three dive groups were made: zero dives, open water and advanced. Alex with zero dives had a small introduction and also had some tasks to do in and underwater. I went with the open water group and enjoyed the dive to the fullest. The advance group went to another spot where they could dive through tunnels and small caves, awesome, maybe next time J. We booked this tour at the tourist centre, Alex paid 25 CUC + 10 CUC (introduction), I paid 25 CUC for one dive. You could also dive a second time for additional 25 CUC but they told me snorkelling is way better at the second spot, so I did snorkelling. The second spot was a breath-taking beach also nearby was a 70 m deep cenote. Around 15:00 we were back at Playa Larga where we met Sanchez (colectivo agent). We booked a colectivo for 10 CUC to Cienfuegos next day.

 

Saturday we discovered the surrounding of our casa perticulares. A small visit to the bar nearby and an awesome time with the casa family at the carnival filled Saturday night. The stars and the milky way were awesome that night. Walk a little bit north outside of Playa Larga to see them clearer. Do not forget to visit the crab and the tank.

The stay in Playa Larga was awesome, I think the lovely and warm family in our chosen casa perticulares made the visit 3 times better. Food, bed, services and conversations were fabulous. You could feel that the family loved and liked the job of hosting tourists. Thank you very much for the good time!!!

 

Recommendations:

  • Crocodile farm in combination with colectivo
  • Dive tour for 25 CUC (advanced dive spot sounds awesome)
  • Visit casa perticulare Hostal Caribe Koibe, 53537192, Entroque Playa Larga C-5ta #88 e/ 4ta y final, viltres@nauta.cu
  • Enjoy the stars and milky way
  • Beach
  • Cenote
  • Dive enthusiast can maybe stay in Playa Giron (Dive centre also there)
    • Dive 25 CUC, night dive 35 CUC (lonely planet)

 

***Lovely Cienfuegos***

 

THE BAY OF PIGS

What the Cubans call Playa Girón, the rest of the world has come to know as the Bay of Pigs, a disastrous attempt by the Kennedy administration to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. Conceived in 1959 by the Eisenhower administration and headed up by deputy director of the CIA, Richard Bissell, the plan to initiate a program of covert action against the Castro regime was given official sanction on March 17, 1960. There was but one proviso: no US troops were to be used in combat. The CIA modelled its operation on the 1954 overthrow of the left-leaning government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. However, by the time President Kennedy was briefed on the proceedings in November 1960, the project had mushroomed into a full-scale invasion backed by a 1400-strong force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles and financed with a military budget of US$13 million.

Activated on April 15, 1961, the invasion was a disaster from start to finish. Intending to wipe out the Cuban Air Force on the ground, US planes painted in Cuban Air Force colours (and flown by Cuban exile pilots) missed most of their intended targets. Castro, who had been forewarned of the plans, had scrambled his air force the previous week. Hence, when the invaders landed at Playa Girón two days later, Cuban sea furies were able to promptly sink two of their supply ships and leave a force of 1400 men stranded on the beach. To add insult to injury, a countrywide Cuban rebellion that had been much touted by the CIA never materialized. Meanwhile a vacillating Kennedy told Bissell he would not provide the marooned exile soldiers with US air cover. Abandoned on the beaches, without supplies or military back-up, the invaders were doomed. There were 114 killed in skirmishes and a further 1189 captured. The prisoners were returned to the US a year later in return for US$53 million worth of food and medicine. The Bay of Pigs failed due to a multitude of factors. First, the CIA had overestimated the depth of Kennedy’s personal commitment and had made similarly inaccurate assumptions about the strength of the fragmented anti-Castro movement inside Cuba. Second, Kennedy himself, adamant all along that a low-key landing should be made, had chosen a site on an exposed strip of beach close to the Zapata swamps. Third, no one had given enough credit to the political and military know-how of Fidel Castro or to the extent to which the Cuban Intelligence Service had infiltrated the CIA’s supposedly covert operation. The consequences for the US were far-reaching. ‘Socialism or death!’ a defiant Castro proclaimed at a funeral service for seven Cuban ‘martyrs’ on April 16, 1961. The Revolution had swung irrevocably toward the Soviet Union. Lonely Planet, Cuba, 8th Edition, 2015, page 234.