Waking the next morning it was leaving time for the northern beaches of Varadero. No bus from Vinales takes you direct, so having to make the pit stop in Havana we now realised that, booking or not, the ViAzul system is complete disorder. Whilst waiting we watched another couple who had to do the same as us by changing over in Havana in order to reach their intended destination. Unlucky for them, they were the last to get off the bus and go to the check-in desk. This resulted in them, with their previously booked tickets in hand, missing out on their seats as ‘someone else’ had booked online. We’re not sure how they managed to oversell the tickets, but with the retro computers and ancient DOS based booking system, told you Cuba was way behind the times! Tempers flared and the ViAzul staff couldn’t give two shits, so the unhappy couple missed out and had to wait for the next bus in three hours time. Oh and miss their connecting bus and accommodation in the meantime.
Not our problem luckily, we’re on the bus and heading for some beach time. Another journey broken up by another expensive and crappy restaurant, we pulled into the station at Varadero and into another marauding pack of ladies vying for our CUC’s. Here again you get what you pay for. After checking out a few casas we settled on the cheapest one. One we did see was plush with it’s own little kitchen, and eventually the price dropped within 5 USD of ours, but when we returned it was taken, damn it. Another was the same price as the one we settled on, but we had to be in bed by 10pm and hold onto your bladder all night, as the entrance to our room and the bathroom was via the elderly owner and his wife’s bedroom.
Waking to the ever present bastard roosters, we jet down a block to the beach to a topsy-turvy Caribbean ocean, blessed with blue skies and clouds keeping their distance. Stripping off, to bathers you pervs, we took to an almost uncrowded eight in the morning beach, with a distant bar blasting last night’s tunes to last nights still standing crowd. Soaked and sand exfoliated we trudged east along Varadero’s white sands and palm tree laden shore towards the resort end of town. Here you’ll find the package holiday Ruskies, Canadians and welcoming lack of American tourists.
Trying to find a way out from the beach, we start cutting laps of a resort obviously designed to encapsulate their clientele. Finally back out to the main strip (via the employee service exit mind you), we ran into the dolled up coach and horses parading the strip for the next tourist with cash to splash (waste) impressing their significant newlywed other. Being three months into wedded bliss(?) and not stupid enough to cough up the dough, we use our legs and walk. Not 20 meters away from the resort we’re suddenly covered by dark ominous skies and rough winds that tell you you’re about to get drenched. Ducking quickly under the welcome shelter of the post office, we waited with another local to pass the time until the clouds depart.
Making our way back to the main stre[et we were in search of a Cafe Cubita coffee cup set that Matt had seen in Mexico. This turns out to become a wild goose chase over the rest of trip as ten shops later we still had no Cafe Cubita coffee cup set. Hungry and finding that some of the restaurants here have a hefty price tag, we end up sitting at Esquina Cuba’s side street cafeteria where for the price of 2 CUC’s you get a nice steak with vegetables, rice and a mojito each for under $10 (for both of us!).
Entering one store and bumping into a Canadian from Toronto, we soon strike up a conversation about why he’s been in Cuba for two years. Turns out that he and his Cuban wife bought a house off a local guy. He demanded more money than what was initially asked for and had been paid, when this is refused the local goes to the police with a drummed up version of events claiming that we was threaten verbally and with a machete, and also beaten with a chair. No one can back up his story and he has no evidence, though the Canadian is put under house arrest and cannot leave the country. Foreigners are always in the wrong. The local guy’s statement has changed several time, though with all the governmental and police red tape, the charges still stand.
This is not an individual case and we had heard of others in a similar situation. For instance, another Canadian guy got into an altercation with a local person stealing bags off the beach, and he too cannot leave the country. Moral of the story is to be aware, as they are watching you at all times and a local’s word is taken over a tourists. Many local people we ran into gave us random warnings about not getting into a fight with a local, and if they try to start one just walk away as it’s not worth it. You will get arrested.
Later that evening we venture back to the same place for dinner as it’s cheap and tasty, and then on to a small outdoor bar around the corner to smoke a cigar and enjoy a Buccaneer beer in a peaceful front garden, whilst the diving in the Pan American games is broadcast on the tiny television.
Breakfast comes in the form of CHEAP! Discovering a Moneda Nacionales corner café we sit, actually we stand, to a breakfast of ham and cheese rolls and coffee for under USD$2 combined. With not much else we wanted to see in Varadero (although there are a couple of national parks and loads of caves around if that’s your thing), we had tickets for the return bus back to Havana that afternoon.
Flying out super early the next day, there were still a few things to see in Havana town. Making the trip over to the Plaza of the Revolution, the ever present images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are outlined and mounted on the side of large government buildings, with a phallic like tower across the carpark. The guy we shared a cab with when we arrived in Havana actually commented on the one of Fidel, we hope jokingly, ‘Is that Lenny Kravitz?’ Images of these two litter the country in a reminder of how lucky (?) they have been to have such great leaders as these.
A short walk from the main plaza we pulled up two seats at the Moneda National dirt cheap restaurant. And we mean dirt cheap, with dirty table clothes but dirt cheap chicken, rice and plantains. Taking an hour to get to the table the food was fresh and delicious delicious. Whilst eating we were interrupted constantly by locals who all seemed to want to talk ‘weed’.
I’m in a band, I went to Nimbin, I went to the weed Olympics, you know it?
Do you smoke weed? No? Do you have soap? (whispers and writes ‘soap’ on table with his finger)
A man then appeared with a dirty shirt on for a conversation, before starting to eat the food off Sarah’s plate.However we did got charged loads more because of a plate of wilted romaine lettuce, some shredded carrot and a bit of onion that we didn’t order but were given anyway. We ended up disputing this but gave him the last of our nacionales anyway, which was short of what he wanted but we’d only ordered the pollo to get rid of the last of our money and had no more to give.
Making the loop down to the Malceon for the photo that nearly all people recognise, we were lucky to have a rough sea that would unleash waves that crashed over the sea walls and drenched the road and the odd passing taxi.
Cuba’s a place that takes time to explore and you’d easily find a way to lose a month here. Only spending 7 days we were only able to scratch the surface. The people, for the most part, are friendly, inquisitive and sincere. The cuisine bland, though allow a lady of the Casa Particular to prepare you a feast that ensures you never be hungry. The landscape transforms from one end of the country to the other. The lack of WiFi anywhere allows you to disconnect. Cuba, a worthwhile Estep back in time.
At the airport on our way out we finally found a set of the elusive Cafe Cubita coffee cups, only they were someone else’s already!!