Updated: Mar 10
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 booze cruise to Caya Saetia, a former private island of Fidel Castro on to which he imported a variety of exotic animals, such as Ostrich and Zebra.
As we set sail, our fellow adventurers began to tuck into the alcohol provided by the crew but, given it was only 10 am, we decided to hold off. 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. 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, but others were less lucky.
The boat pitched and rolled at disturbing angles, many people deposited alcohol into the sea, a lady held medical gauze to stem the flow of blood from her head having taken a tumble, others simply demanded we turn back. 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.
The bus trip.
Being full of a cold on a 12-hour overnight bus journey from Holguin to Havana isn't a wonderful experience.
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. I remember being surprised by the amount of flies on tables and walls but thought little of it as we'd eaten outside. More fool me.
A few hours later we both found ourselves in urgent need of our blocked ensuite toilet, panic quickly set in as we considered our options including the (quickly discounted) use of a carrier bag. In the end there was only one option, I had to find our poor host and utilise my very basic Spanish skills. I soon located the startled Cuban man and, realising I didn’t know the words for ‘toilet plunger’ instead mimed the action which, alongside my pained and sweaty face, seemed to do the trick. A few moments later he appeared clutching a plunger and eager to resolve the issue for us which, although a kind gesture, wasn't wise. Instead, I shook my head, snatched the plunger, thanked him, and sprinted to our en-suite where I was a little hasty with my plunging.
Animal welfare - Cuba's not leading the way.
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.
Looking back, I suspect Cubans have a different take on the term 'rescue center' to what is commonly found in the U.K. A few hours in and it became apparent these horses were not up to the job, but deep in the Cuban countryside at this point, we had little choice but to carry on.
On finally reaching our promised destination, a waterfall, we felt assured the horses would at least benefit from shade and water but I am almost certain they received neither. The journey back was awful and several riders simply dismounted to walk alongside the poor animals.
A few days later whilst in Camaguey, still recovering from our illness and perhaps not thinking logically, we stumbled upon a zoo near our accommodation and, although we ordinarily wouldn't have considered it, decided it might be a good way to spend a few hours without expending too much precious energy. All I'll say is it was a horrific experience and it literally brought tears to our eyes.
I should say that, despite its flaws, many of which might have been sidestepped with a little more research - over two weeks in Cuba we enjoyed some amazing experiences including; 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; sampling Cuban cigars and meeting the locals.