Bribes, nuclear thoughts and banana sharp turns
Summer is almost gone, local tourism rates are peaking and Friday thoughts are drifting to better days in Cuba.
Travelling beyond all-inclusive is just the right way to happiness. Most notably, in those places where digital detox happens freely due to weak coverage. In a country where the deficit is a national feature, the way to some other attributes of a comfortable stay also becomes an adventure… Car rental is the right example.
It’s quite likely that you’d face some little swindle as long as local socialist mentality goes hand in hand with widespread casual corruption. Keep smiling, stay flexible and grab some capitalistic gifts. Chocolates are always an option. Giving a little sweet ‘bribe’ to the manager would keep you away from long waiting lists.
When the first stage is successfully managed and you got the car keys, keep in mind that gasoline is also in shortage. Draining fuel from a canister in the middle of the night is fun, but not that easy: high communication skills and a Spanish-speaking companion are required. Therefore, plan your route in advance and mark all the gas stations on it.
In Havana, fuel issues are tough and queue times long (up to 6-8 hours), but once you reach A1-highway, the backbone of Cuban transport infrastructure, things start getting brighter. In Matanzas, Varadero and Cienfuegos, regional oil refining centers, supplies are at their best. Still, getting used to queues is highly recommended because they’re more than common. So, be ready to wait for some 40 minutes at a gas station and don’t even try to speed up local workers. Take your time, take some sun and get used to that Cuban pace of life where the rush is unnecessary.
Once the tank is full, all paths are open to you. Up to fun in the sun and lacking some attention? Then Mi Cayito gay beach is a great choice! The spot is located between Santa Maria del Mar and Guanabo, only 30 km away from Havana. Under the watchful eye of the local police, let yourself be taken by bachata rhythms on the beach, enjoy a gentle massage and feel surrounded with cheerful flirt. On weekends the place is frequented by some expats and diplomats, so don’t miss out international networking opportunities. By the way, Mi Cayito is part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (in case that info was required for decision-making).
However, it’s time to move out from Havana, drive some 230 km in the eastern direction via A1 and get to know some other UNESCO spots. Cienfuegos, the Cuban pearl of UNESCO World Heritage List, is an amazing place for long walking tours and sightseeing. Its downtown contrasts with Havana in terms of the efficiency of urban waste management systems and leaves a really nice impression of a well-kept place. The local architecture combines several styles: the villa Palacio de Valle is a piece of Morocco in the Caribbean, Punta Gorda teleports you to Jamaica, Parque Central area is the incarnation of Spanish colonialism, all smoothed by the spirit of French emigration standing at the origins of the city founding. Local Thierry Theater (Teatro Tomás Terry) witnessed performances of Anna Pavlova and arias of Enrico Caruso. As to other cultural facts, Cienfuegos is the birthplace of the Cuban tenor Benny Moré (1919 – 1963), the key figure of the Son Cubano style that combines rural melodies and African rhythms. By the way, Salsa origins from Son Cubano, but has become extremely more widespread.
Cienfuegos is an elegant and romantic place where a hand fan from Havana’s La Casa del Abanico would perfectly complement your photo-shoots. Hope you didn’t miss the chance to buy it during your stay in the capital.
The surroundings of the city are completely different and keep some secrets. In the good old days, this province had a chance to become the island’s power center. In 1982 a great project started in Juragua, some 50 km away from Cienfuegos. Thousands of Soviet, Czech, Hungarian and Bulgarian specialists started the construction of the first Cuban nuclear power plant. But in 1992, when the project was 96% accomplished, it was ceased. Life never rushed through the veins of the nuclear facility: two Soviet VVER-440 reactors had, probably, a different destiny prepared for them… Almost 30 years later, this is still a Place of Power. The pain of loss, monumentality, genius and sorrow are woven here. A right place to analyze untapped ambitions abandoned plans and rashly burned harbours. This unfinished power facility would for sure embrace your reflection… Welcome. And watch your step on the way to it: local cows consider this territory their fiefdom… Risks are high.
If all these industrially esoteric oddities are not your cup of tea, there are other options. El Nicho falls are a nice place to visit. The way from Cienfuegos would provide you with amazing emerald landscapes and authentic rural views. From December to March, don’t miss a chance to try some freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. Fortunately, tropical fruits are available during the whole year and even the simplest bananas provide a blast of taste. For $1 USD (1 CUC), you’d get a bunch of fragrant fruits absolutely free from any preservatives or other industrial rubbish. Notes of coconut, vanilla with a texture of the tenderest pudding… And a short banana odd on the way to the waterfalls.
El Nicho is a natural reserve, a nice place to plunge into fresh waters, wander a little and relax. Actually, tourist flows have increased over the last 5 years, and if solitude is the thing you are looking for, try to reach the place early in the morning. In this case, you’d not be sharing the natural pools with a whole tourist bus and could take some unique shots.
Drive carefully on your way back. Mountain serpentine is smooth, driving all the way down feels like a roller coaster, but rental cars’ brakes combined with the condition of Cuban roads leave much to be desired.
And once again, this adventure is not over: we’re awaited in Santa Clara, Che Guevara’s place of first and last glory, can’t miss Varadero and explore local bathing resorts of 19th century.
And if you haven’t read the first part of our Cuban adventure, here you can find some interesting places to see in Havana.