WE MOVE ON TO THE BEACH FOR A PARADISE STOPOFF.
14.05.2017 - 16.05.2017
DAY 98 SUNDAY 14TH MAY
Vinales to Playa Larga
Quick breakfast this morning before the car picked us up at 9am at our usual breakfast place. It’s Mothers Day today so most of the passing traffic were carrying flowers to no doubt take to their mothers. During the drive today we saw quite a few cakes in transit also. These pastel coloured masterpieces being carried on just a square cake base with no lids or boxes to hide them or shield them from the traffic dust, fumes and crud. God only knows what the icing was made of because it sure as hell did not melt in the 35-degree heat so although they may have looked fabulous I am not so sure I would want to get anywhere near one.
So, having stressed we needed a big car, and we did get a big car. A big pink car, which looked very similar to a hearse with 2 rows of seats put in the back. We are pretty sure it was a hearse as it was only 2 door besides the hatch back. The Lemons stored their luggage in the back, back which meant ours had to go onto the roof. It looked quite overcast and we hoped it would stay that way and not rain.
Underway just after 9am, we have a long way to travel today. From Vinales we have to go back to the outskirts of Havana then head south east to Playa Larga on the Bay of Pigs. All was going well, less than an hour into the drive and our driver falls asleep at the wheel and side swipes into a cement guide rail. Well the sound of metal body of the car scraping against the cement sure as hell woke him up and scared the hell out of all of us passengers.
We pulled to the side of the road to inspect the damage. Front guard dent, torn and scratched. And the scratches continued all the way down the side of the car to the rear bumper bar. Shit! Lucky no one was hurt, but the driver was visibly shaken – this was going to cost a packet to fix. We later found out the car belonged to his brother, so at least it was family. I think it would have been worse for him if the car belonged to someone else.
The rest of the drive was non-eventful, thank goodness. Travelling on the highway was not very exciting, it was a very straight road for almost all the second half of the trip after we skirted Havana. At around 1.30pm, after only 2 pit (piss) stops, we hit a town aptly named Australia, so had to stop for a photo under the town name. The Lonely Bastard advises a sugar mill was built here in 1904 which was named Central Australia. But we are none the wiser about the association with Australia. Would Australia have funded a sugar mill in Cuba in 1904? Another question for Mr Google when we return to his realm.
Just after 2pm we arrived at our Casa La Varadero, which as promised on its website when I booked back in Australia (the country not the town we just visited) our rooms were just meters away from the sea. The Bay of Pigs to be exact. We received a very warm welcome from Tony the owner, who advised his wife Osmara was visiting her mother for mother’s day and would be back tomorrow. He showed us our rooms (very nice) explained everything and told us about tours available for the area.
Once settled Lyn, Dolly & I went in search of a cold beer, as we do when we arrive in a new place. Only a few blocks before we found an outdoor bar, with drinkers and very, very loud music. We had just one beer and deciding the music was too loud we continued with our walk around the small village. There is just a couple of streets which seem to be filled with casa’s offering accommodation. We walked the block and then the 200 meters of beach brought us back to our room.
I went for a swim while the others had a rest. The water in the afternoon is murky looking, but it’s not murky. Tony told us the afternoon current has the water from the nearby red mangrove swamp washing up on the shores of the bay. So it’s the tannin from the mangroves that makes it look murky, but actually once I was in it was very clean. And not at all salty!
We all had dinner at the casa, which was probably the biggest meal we have been served in Cuba. Bread, butter and chicken soup as starter, then mains which was served with rice, okra, sweet potato and a huge plate of salad. Dolly received a huge slab of pork, Shawn had a nice-looking fish fillet & Lyn, Toni & I all had lobster which consisted of one tail that was fried and another that was cut up and cooked in a creole sauce. It was delish! Finished off with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream with a sweet topping. Good value for just 12 cuc each and 15 cuc for the lobster meals.
To just top off the meal Tony gave Lyn, Dolly & I a huge shot of rum to have with the pineapple juice we had purchased. Real nice host, this guy is full of information without being too pushy. We have booked tours with him for the two days we are here.
This place is lovely, great pick if I must say so myself.
Shower was hot and the air con cold, what more could we ask for?
Why is it called the Bay of Pigs you ask? We asked the same of Toni & he advised: back when Cuba was under Spanish rule there was a guy named Zapata who purchased a lot of land around this area. The peninsular is now named after him, but anyway, back then there were a lot of wild pigs in this area and Zapata hunted them to sell the meat to be sent back to Spain. Of course the only transport was by ship back in this day which took approx. 3 months, and he discovered a way to transport the pork without it going bad. The pig was cooked and the all the pork fat was kept and then both were put into sealed barrels, where the pork would last up to 4 -5 months. Tony said there are still people in Cuba today who do not have electricity and use this method to store meat. He said if we were lucky enough to come across anyone who had any of this pork please bring it back to him as it is to die for! Apparently, this bay is, or was, very deep so the ships could sail right up into the bay to be loaded with their cargo and supplies for their journey back to Spain.
We have not seen any pigs, and Tony said it is unlikely that we will unless it’s served up on a plate.
DAY 99 MONDAY 15TH MAY
Lyn, Dolly & I had breakfast at the casa, and what a breakfast it was. Big plate of assorted fresh fruit, French toast, real fruit juice, yummy fresh bread and butter and eggs cooked in your choice. Ah and a pot of coffee. Really spoilt here for 5cuc each, all that an amazing view as we ate on the patio overlooking the bay. Wow, this place is hard to take.
Today we are all doing a snorkelling tour which costs just 15cuc each or 10cuc if you have your own equipment. The beautiful blue sky promised and delivered a fantastic sunny day and a calm sea was perfect for snorkelling. Tony walked us to the bus pickup point and we were collected in a big yellow school bus. It made just a couple of other pickups before heading down the road south along the bay shore. First stop was at the dive shop where everyone could select their snorkelling gear and where we had to pay for the tour. We all had our own equipment except for Dolly who was fitted with a snorkel and mask, flipper and life jacket, so that she would feel confident in the water. Lyn & I also grabbed flippers as it’s much easier to move around when snorkelling with flippers.
Then it was just a short drive to our first snorkelling spot called Punto Perdiz. There were divers in our group as well and we were advised we would have approximate 1 – 1.5 hours here depending on when the divers came back. The water was crystal clear and as soon as I descended the ladder and stood in waist deep water there were fish all around. Out a bit further there was coral head and more fish to be seen. It was great! Even novice Dolly with lifejacket, snorkel and mask could see lots while staying within standing depth for her. Highlight for me was seeing a huge shoal of fish swimming and feeding off the tree like coral growing below. There was literally 100’s of dark blue fish that had iridescent purple fins surrounding their dinner plate size bodies. When they tilted slightly the sun would catch them and they then looked to be a brilliant light blue colour. Wow, they just amazing! As far as I was concerned I had my money’s worth just there.
It was close to 2 hours before we moved on to the 2nd stop. This was Cueva de los Peces – a flooded tectonic fault, or cenote, about 70m deep. This water hole was obviously fed from the sea as the water was salty and not crystal clear like other ‘cenotes’ I have seen in Mexico. It was still nice for a cooling off swim and we also had a dip in the bay side where our divers had gone for their 2nd dive. It was later in the afternoon now and the bay was a lot more choppy and rough, there was no way we could have snorkelled here with any success without getting a lung full of sea water. Lyn & I were happy just to have a dip before we were all loaded back into the yellow bus and returned to Playa Larga.
L, D & I have a quick scout around town in search of a bottle of rum and some bread rolls for lunch. Managed to find both, rum at the bar where we had a noisy beer yesterday and we could talk a shop into giving us 3 rolls although he explained to us in sign language they were a ration shop and perhaps needed coupons to purchase. We must have looked hungry enough and I think the store keep was impressed that we had purchased a bottle of rum. So, lunch was a bread roll with some left-over pork from Dolly’s huge dinner last night. Yummy.
Rest of the afternoon everyone seemingly exhausted from our water sports had lazy afternoon.
It rained in the afternoon also, got pretty heavy just before 6pm and we had to have our dinner inside instead of on the patio. Still a great view out of the windows, we enjoyed a Cuban specialty that we had not yet had a chance to eat. Ropa XXXXX is essentially pulled beef cooked in a pressure cooker with tomatoes, onions and garlic. The smell we had to endure for a few hours before dinner really got the tastebuds working. And the meal was lovely, served with the usual rice & salad. There was enough left over for us to keep for lunch tomorrow.
There’s nothing to do after dinner so we all just retire to our rooms to read and sleep. We have to be sure to be inside with the windows and doors shut by about 7.15pm when the sun starts to set as this is when the mozzies come out for their daily feed and they are ferociously hungry!
DAY 100 TUESDAY 16TH MAY
Breakfast was early today at 7am as we are going on an early tour of the National Park, 25cuc each. L, D & I again enjoyed the same breakfast meal as yesterday, with a different juice, and the same amazing view.
We were collected at 8am by our guide and driver and headed back down the same south road towards Playa Giron. We made a short pit stop along the road to watch the crabs crossing the road. Crabs crossing the road you say?? Yep, hundreds of crabs crossing the road from the bush going to the sea to lay or fertilize eggs. We are lucky enough to be here for the migration, which is a total fluke as I had no idea, but a nice fluke. Unfortunately, conservation is not so big for these poor creatures as we saw literally hundreds squashed on the road, the ones not quick enough or just unlucky to be caught under the tyre of a vehicle that is using this road. There are still thousands and thousands that make it, but it was a little devastating to see the ones that did not. Our driver was carefully weaving his was as best he could, but we are not sure if this was for our benefit or not as we showed great concern. Had he had more nonchalant passengers would he just have ploughed through them as the traffic that passed us did?
Anyway, it was still an amazing sight to see, I had only ever heard of this kind of crab migration on Christmas Island, which is on my bucket list, so this was a real treat. We were able to stop and take photos and experience a few short moments of the whole process and I was wrapped. As we continued driving we could see into the bush on one side of the road and the grass or gravel leading to the water on the other side of the road, just heaving with these small black and orange bodies of assorted sizes going about natures plan. It was so cool, except for the stench of the poor crustaceans that had been flattened – they were rank. I asked our guide if these crabs were edible and he said no they were toxic, so not even the scavenger birds were around to pick up an easy meal.
Before our tour had even begun I felt like I had my money’s worth already. It took us about an hour all up to get to our starting point for the walk, perhaps it would have been faster if we had not been avoiding carnage on the road. We entered the bush with Mario our guide pointing out assorted trees and he spotted a tocororos (Cuba’s national bird). This was a good find.
We continued in the bush, which was all petrified coral underfoot as it used to be under water long ago, until we came to a cave. We followed Mario down a ladder into a small cave which housed fruit bats. It was dark inside and we only really saw anything when he shone a torch light on a subject. I asked Lyn to just step down a little to a place where I knew bats were hanging overhead so I could take a photo with her in it and the bats above. It was not until we returned and I was looking at the photos did I notice that just when I took the photo there was a bat flying right next to her head – awesome shot!
All through the bush we saw the same orange and black crabs from the migration. They live in the bush here, eating leaves, plants and even each other if the fancy takes them. They only head to the water once a year for the breeding season. We also saw another species of crab in the bus, grey and a lot bigger and Mario advised these one’s were good to eat. So why we did grab them there and then I dunno, guess it being a National Park and UNESCO listed may have something to do with it. And the fact these guys had big claws.
There was a chance we might see a boa (snake) but unfortunately it was not in the usual cave it hides in, so no snake today. ☹ Onward to some freshwater cenotes, where we did see a Cuban crocodile and some turtles. Next waterhole Lyn & I had a swim in after being assured it was not joined to the one where the crocodile lived. Although, only small, the day has not yet come where I want to share a watery space with a croc of any size. There was only fish and a large crab in our swimming hole, and turtles up the far end. It was a nice place to cool off, very humid walking through the bush.
Mario pointed out a few more birds, including a tiny hummingbird, which we know from experience is impossible to photograph. Another tocororos made an appearance which Mario was impressed with, and soon our 2 hours was up so we made our way back to the road, and our car arrived seconds after our guide made a mobile phone call.
The drive back to Playa Larga was not as murderous as the drive out as the crabs had thinned out considerably. They are obviously most active in the morning when it’s a little cooler. We did see some tiny, tiny crabs making their way across the road towards the bush, new born no doubt, no bigger than ants. Let’s hope these guys have a long unsquashed life, Mario advised they can live up to 10 years if they out live the gauntlet of crossing the road each year. Many do as we saw lots in the bush which Mario identified as grandfathers.
A swim on our return was warranted, the bay was still calm and the water was still clear outside our door. In the afternoons, the wind seems to pick up and create a bit of a chop and the water from the nearby swamp pours into the bay giving the shoreline water the tint of strong tea. It’s not dirty just the tannin from the mangroves.
After our lunch of rolls donated by our host and the left over pulled beef – a feast – L, D & I went for a stroll up the beach and back. The Lemons had a nanna nap. When we walked to the far end of the beach, we saw where the swamp water was spewing out into the bay. The swamp water was much cooler than the sea water and the colour a lot stronger than in our part of the beach.
Back for another swim and a few rums before dinner.
Our stay here has been so nice and relaxing, even though we have done tours both days, we have had the afternoons so enjoy our surroundings. The food supplied by our hosts has been the most plentiful and tasty of anywhere so far in Cuba, this place was a great choice.
Alas tomorrow it is time to move on to our next destination, Cienfuegos.