Updated: Jun 15, 2020
In 2017 we jetted off to the 1950’s, or Cuba as many people call it. Avoiding the all inclusive hot spots we instead chose to stay at Casa Particular’s - home stays – throughout our visit. It is a fascinating country that provides as many highs as lows. Here are a few instances where our travel in Cuba went wrong.
The boat trip.
We’d inadvertently boarded a Canadian booze cruise. No sooner had the skipper announced the presence of alcohol did our fellow day trippers set about consuming it. We were off to visit Paradise Island, also known as Caya Saetia, a former private island of Fidel Castro on to which he imported a variety of exotic animals, such as Ostrich and Zebra, that still roam the island to this day and can be enjoyed by mini safari aboard a soviet era army truck.
As the only non-Canadians aboard (other than the crew) we had decided against drinking, largely because it was only 10am. This decision turned to smugness when, about half way into the voyage, a storm appeared out of thin air whipping the sea into a frenzy. Luckily we had found a spot at the rear of the boat where we could dangle our legs over the hull whilst gripping tightly to the safety rail, like riding an oversized bucking bronco.
The boat pitched and rolled at disturbing angles, many Canadians deposited alcohol into the sea, a lady held medical gauze to stem the flow of blood from her head having taken a tumble. Despite this chaos unfolding all around them our intrepid crew stubbornly refused to acknowledge it, the captain instead choosing to focus on the waterlogged horizon whilst the rest of us, trapped on this floating hell, prayed for land.
When we arrived at Paradise Island the beauty of it was largely lost on us. After that journey any form of dry land would have felt like paradise.
The bus trip.
I’ve always found having a cold in warm climates to be a strange feeling and unfortunately, thanks to the coughing and sneezing man on our flight, we both had one. It wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if we didn’t have to get through a sold out, 12 hour, overnight bus journey from Holguin to Havana.
Unable to locate tissue paper anywhere, and with our bus departing soon, we panic bought a four pack of toilet paper that felt suspiciously like sandpaper to the nose. An awkward night of no sleep, bumpy roads and apologetic facial expressions towards fellow passengers ensued as we coughed and sneezed our way to the capital. On arrival we sat either side of an impressive paper mountain, with bright red noses, having exhausted our entire supply of toilet roll. I don’t think we were very popular on that bus.
We had just finished eating at a restaurant recommended by the owner of our Casa Particular in Camaguey when I’d popped inside to pay the bill. Passing through the main dining area I’d been surprised by the amount of flies on tables, on the walls - everywhere. This did not bode well. Sure enough, we began to feel ill shortly afterwards.
Luckily we’d paid a little more at this casa for en-suite facilities and all was calm, until the toilet blocked. By now we were both reliant on regular, unrestricted access to our porcelain throne and panic quickly set in. A hastily adapted clothes hanger did nothing to ease the blockage and re-emerging from the en-suite I found my wife clutching an carrier bag, in a cold sweat, mulling over its virtues as a replacement toilet. I strongly discouraged this course of action.
There was only one option, I had to find our host and utilise my child like Spanish skills. I located the startled Cuban in the hallway where, realising I didn’t know the Spanish word for ‘toilet plunger’ I instead mimed the action like a mad man in a silent movie which, amazingly, worked. A few moments later he appeared clutching a plunger and eager to resolve the issue for us which, although a kind gesture, I didn’t think wise. Instead, I shook my head, snatched the plunger, thanked him and sprinted to our en-suite where I was perhaps a little hasty with my plunging.
Those poor Horses.
In Trinidad we’d booked onto a horse trek ran by a rescue centre for former working horses. It was a good feeling knowing our money was going to a good cause.
Not being a keen rider I had elected to ride in the horse drawn trailer alongside the main group where I planned to take lots of pictures of my wife and the wider scenery. That didn’t happen. The horse and (suspension lacking) trailer took off at such a pace along the rough track that I struggled to contain my brain within my skull let alone take any pictures. Sometime later, nursing several broken vertebrae, we arrived at our destination and awaited the arrival of the main group some twenty minutes behind. The heat was intense and I looked forward to standing beneath the promised waterfall to cool off.
The group arrived and we completed the last few hundred meters to the waterfall on foot. We sat and enjoyed a light lunch before a few hours of relaxation in the water, content in the knowledge that our horses were being tended to in a shaded spot.
On the return journey my horse and trailer slowed down a little and, with about a third of the distance remaining, I succeeded in persuading them to wait for everyone else so that I could take a few pictures. As the group crested the hill and came into view it was a sorry sight, some of the riders had dismounted to allow the horses to allow them to better negotiate the incline, other animals looked depressed and to my eyes very few looked capable of carrying human weight. I lowered my camera and sat back down assuming those horses most tired would be allowed to walk unburdened, whilst the riders would join me in my Cuban chariot. No sooner had the thought entered my mind did we set off again at a furious pace, my Spanish inadequate to protest, their English inadequate to understand had they even cared.
Despite the insistence of the grooms I seriously doubt those horses had been watered or tended to whatsoever all day. In another country they may have the luxury of full retirement but Cuba is a hard working nation, they eek out every last mile from their cars and sadly seem to expect no less from their horses. I dread to think what kind of life they had been ‘rescued’ from.
On a similar note, if you ever find yourself in Camaguey in need of fresh air and not thinking straight after a bout of food poising, skip the Zoo. This is not a country for animal lovers.
I should say that, despite its flaws, over two weeks in Cuba we enjoyed some amazing experiences, not limited to; A spontaneous salsa lesson on a rooftop in Trinidad. Partying in a club (located in a cave). Hiring scooters to explore remote countryside. Relaxing on beautiful beaches. Watching the roadside stall owner climb a tree to bring us the freshest coconuts. Soaking up the colours and architecture of Trinidad. Meeting the locals and smoking Cuban cigars.