Almost feels like home heading north out of Cienfuegos to Remedios. Mile after mile of sugar cane, plenty of mango trees, bananas and more sugar cane.
Just 4 of us and the driver in the 6 seater car to start with. Two Italians get out at Santa Clara to check out the Che Guevara museums for a few hours. People are thumbing all along the road and we collect a couple with 2 children, then 2 more men squeeze in the back for a while making 6 in the back bench seat. We hurtle along at what feels like break neck speed but I can’t seem to see a functioning speedo.
We arrive at our Casa and Jose rushes out to welcome us. He announces he has sick people (more Italians) staying over time, so we get back in the Dodge and go round a couple of corners to a recently opened casa run by his nephew and wife. What a lovely place and a lovely couple.
Called La Eden, the terrace up on the roof has the appropriate decoration. Apparently we will play dominoes up here tomorrow night. A popular past time throughout Cuba, we saw people playing it this afternoon at a table set up right in the street.
There is a very generous kitchen where a beautiful dinner is prepared. Fresh guava and papaya, a very tasty tomato and cucumber salad, pork steaks cooked in garlic with yucca, rice, more salad and hot chips. Finally, some kind of poached fruit with fresh cheese and brewed coffee.
They have a caged bird, a pretty parrot that has quite a vocabulary. It was obviously feeling very abandoned one evening and had a most fascinating outrage at its predicament. We found it very entertaining, but that was only for one evening.
We stroll around the square on a very balmy evening. The stars are out, not many lights, and plenty of people are out in the square as well. Very tantalising music flows into the streets from many houses, but as far as we can see, none of the bars or restaurants have live music. There could be a dancing place on the other side of town, but we would get lost trying to find it in the dark. It is a tiny town but still maybe 20,000 population. A big day out tomorrow so even though it is new years eve we get an early night. It’s already well into the afternoon of new years day in Australia.
Remedios is close to Cayo Santa Maria, an area that is being developed as a resort strip in Cuba. Charter flights come in and it apears tourists never see anything of Cuba other than the isolated resort. Seems bizarre to us.
Having heard a taxi one way could be around A$100, we are pretty happy to organize a full day for round about two thirds that price. Our gorgeous hostess prepares a feast with enough food for a week and we rumble out in another old car. This one has intact window winders and they are very schmick matching the door handles in chrome and what looks like bakelite trim.
There are just a couple of small towns before we hit the causeway. Passports are required for the checkpoint. Everything in Cuba is highly regulated. As we progress a little further along, a giant toll way booth is under construction.
About 20 kms along the causeway, mangroves start to appear dotted around and gradually in increasing clumps. Bridges are interspersed along the causeway averaging out to roughly one every km. It is very beautiful with the sun glinting on the ocean on either side of us.
Our number one target for the day is finally spotted around the 50km mark. Here are the flamingos surviving in spite of the construction of resorts which are now evident.
Their habit is surrounded by low bushes so not easily accessible, but we get some great views. Very exciting.
Just a few kms further on, we reach our beach destination for the day, Playa Las Gaviotas. It is a 15 minute walk along a track through low growing scrub, pandanus and cactus until the track turns to sand and then a spectacular burst of jaw dropping ocean vista brings us to a halt.
The ocean is the legendary gorgeous range of fabulous blues, the sand is white and extends for several kms. We are early and virtually no one else is there. We choose a spot at a little low palm thatched cover and test the water. It is cool but lovely.
Think this is the first ever swim in the Atlantic.
We lounge for about 5 hours, nibbling at our feast, reading, strolling, taking a dip, then watching a large party of Italians construct enormous sand creations complete with vegetation to enhance the effect.
Remedios is is the only town in Cuba with two churches on the main square. It also has reputedly the longest running bar in the whole of Cuba, Le Louvre also on the square. We spend most of the next day here sipping limonade frappes, enjoying the music and watching the preparation for the Parrandas along with half the town it seems. This festival is usually held Christmas Eve but was cancelled this year due to the death of Fidel. It has been rescheduled to this week and there are two cranes helping to erect giant decorations that will clearly be the centerpieces of the celebrations.
Plumbing is a challenge in Cuba and each place we go seems to have its own individual quirk calling for creative solutions sometimes.
Quite late the other night, I heard a cry “Oh my gosh”, quickly followed by an even more urgent “Oh my God!” I know it is a man who has never in his life before encountered such a plumbing phenomenon. Much bucket sloshing followed by quiet and I guess he has resolved the problem. Still makes me giggle.
Next door to our Casa is a facility for people with disabilities. We meet the jefe who shows us photos of various activities, the place being closed now for new year holidays. He lost a leg to a grenade in Angola in 1975 where apparently many Cubans went to fight and provide other services such as medical and administrative. A well travelled Cuban, he played basketball in the London Para Olympics.
Remedios is a small town that may not suit many travellers but it is full of interesting characters just like every place, if you have time to sit and talk. We met one old man selling small cones of peanuts, pretty blind at age 84, but happy to chat. Another total character dressed in the distinctive Cuban whites, puffing a cigar and selling bananas.