Perfecto, we seem to be finishing our 21 days in Cuba with a bang.
If I could start again knowing what I know now, I’d shave a day or 2 here and there and add a couple to Playa Larga. Still, I’m grateful we didn’t spend the night in the park in Vinales for want of being fancy free, the absolute ideal.
Caleton, the little town we stay in is also a place where virtually every home is a Casa offering rooms. It is right on the beach and would be unpleasant in a hurricane I imagine. Our hostess is totally gorgeous, a great cook and is familiar with gluten free, thanks to travellers who have come before.
Our number one goal is to visit Las Salinas, home to up to 10,000 flamingo along with many other birds, Cuban and American crocodiles plus a variety of other creatures. The park is massive and starts just at the end of village.
We are in the back of mini moke type vehicles and head off early with our guide and fellow travellers for a fabulous morning. The rain last night has left puddles on the firm dirt road. So straight, it seems to stretch infinitely ahead through dense shrub that eventually becomes mangrove, then savannah. We will drive about 23 kms, occasionally seeing the sea on our left, then fresh lagoons begin to appear.
Finally flamingo. They are a different species to the Galapagos flamingo and exceptionally pink. The lagoons are massive in parts, so at some spots, masses of flamingo are in the distance, and at others we are lucky to get great views. Seeing a flamingo spread it’s massive wings and take to the sky from close quarters is quite awe inspiring.
On this trip, we have to date only seen brown pelican, here however there are white pelicans and they are very big birds, bigger than the flamingo. Storks, tern, cormorant, Heron – our guide points out a Blue Heron in flight. I did clearly see the pink Spoonbill in flight, that was stunning. We have several variety of fabulous Spoonbill in our very own wetland at home, but this was a new one.
The wind has picked up and it’s not a day for swimming though the water looks fabulous. Lots of sea grasses which is why this is also home to the manatee. We opt for a very long walk along the narrow strip of sand following the bay around till we turn back in case the incoming tide forces us into the mangroves.
Boys play with kites, one snorkels looking for bait fish, and we pass just a few other walkers. With a variety of cocktail bottles set up on a tiny table on the sand, an enterprising bartender demonstrates right there on the open beach his talent for juggling bottles a la Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown in the movie Cocktail. Another man taps a rhythm on his small bongo drum to attract attention to his hummingbird wind chimes suspended from the bongo. This is the home of the world’s smallest bee hummingbirds.
Like a miracle, we can pick up WiFi on the terrace of our Casa. Very poor quality as everywhere else, but it is usually only available in a park or in a big hotel in a city so this is total luxury, even though we still have to use the purchased login cards.
Things are under construction everywhere in Cuba. Especially in smaller towns, one level, sometimes two, of a house is constructed and clearly another level will be added when funds are available. In some places, the builders were much more rough and ready with rusting iron protruding untidily from almost every house creates a decidedly unattractive effect. Here in Caleton, there is no rusting iron, but there are mounds of dirt and gravel scattered along most streets.
Not too much in the way of eating establishments in Caleton so we are happy to take up the offer of dinner each night. Last night chicken, tonight pork.
The food process is pretty similar everywhere and is an added extra option to the cost of the room. Breakfast is a plate of fresh tropical fruits, papaya, pineapple, guava, maybe watermelon or banana in some combination of at least three. There are bread rolls and usually some sweet pastry or muffin with a main dish of eggs as you like them with ham and cheese plus usually some salad. Thermos of coffee, hot milk and hot water are on the table plus there is a large jug of juice. Occasionally a large amount of added sugar makes the juice undrinkable for me.
Dinner will be soup, followed by a large salad, cabbage seems to be popular, but nice tomato and cucumber. Then the main meal, a good cut of whatever you have chosen. Chicken, pork, shrimp and in some places lobster or crab are options all served with rice, sometimes black beans, and vegetables. Then there is a dessert of a flan or something nicely preserved fruits. All of this for CUC$10 or Euros10 and a bit more in Aussie$. A bit more if you get lobster as well.
Today we enjoyed street food snacks of churros and for me maize fritters. A bit of a mini dough binge after no gluten free bread like products of any kind for weeks.
Getting from place to place has not proved problematic. The Viazul bus didn’t really work out for our itinerary so we have used taxi collectivos exclusively. Costs a little more, but they leave in the morning and do a pickup plus delivery to your next casa.
How auspicious is our very last collectivo back to Havana in the morning? We are approached by a guy on the way back from the beach. Havana tomorrow? No but seems like this is time to tee up our onward journey. His name is Kenny and he is from Australia, which amazingly, is a town just down the road from here. We seal the deal with a handshake, feeling a special bond with Kenny, especially when I tell him my brother is also Kenny. He is super impressed.
Casa Ileana has just been a gorgeous if brief stay. She is such a warm, happy soul who clearly loves having guests in her home, making us feel quite special. Warm hugs all round on our departure.