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Home > Destinations > Cuba > Trip Reports > Trip Report

Cuba - Trip Reports


Holguin trip report - Apr 14-28, 2001

Left Montreal about 10pm, following the only bad taste of the trip. Wife (una Cubana) and I were overweight as usual, but this time my poor French along with the non-English speaking agents - yeah right, ignored my pleas for a little break for the 5 kilos of sports equipment I was carrying, and charged us the full $75 for the 15 kilos over. Must get new bathroom scales, knew we were over, but not by that much.

2am Holguin arrival, luggage was on a cart within minutes of passing immigration and having our apples inspected at customs. Out the door and in a cab in another minute.

We'd only told the family that day that we would be arriving, but they'd managed to find some beer for me.

3 days of delivering mail for family, friends, and Internet contacts. 1st day on foot with mi primo, a good guy to share a beer with. And thanks Yaki for giving me the only one you had in your fridge. 2nd day on foot with my wife. Good $.30 draft by the ball stadium. 3rd day by bike with my wife and another friend. Got to know more of the city - but could have saved a lot of time if addresses were clearer. Should have had a map for some you can get a few houses from someone, and a neighbor doesn't even know the street name.

Being a wealthy and privileged foreigner, we rented a posh Fiat Uno for a week. Got $5/day off for the lack of radio.

Stayed a night at the Cabanas in Guardalavaca. Visited friends at Atlantico, Bungalows, and the beach. Checked out the overpriced restaurant east of the Brisas - then returned to the Cabanas for dinner.

Next morning, visited a buddy at the bar in the Bungalows he forced me to have a couple of free ron collins at 930am in which he'd dumped about 5 ounces of 7yr. The Bungalows have died. Now completely French customers who for some cultural reason, don't tip, it's dead. The 2 bartenders I know there, who are good enough to work anywhere in the world, now clear about $1 week in tips.

Also, it is getting painful to even visit someone at the all-inclusive's if you don't have a plastic bracelet, you need permission to get on the grounds, and there's no cash bar to buy a drink. My wife politely told the Atlantico manager about the rude rent-a-cop who refused to let us pass manager apologized.

Then off to Banes with a stop at the Indian cemetery and replica village. In Banes, we're looking for another bartender buddy. After 2 hours, and asking dozens of people, turns out my wife had pulled the wrong address outa her purse - not too many Holguin street names in Banes, but just enough to have people send us in the wrong direction.

After dinner, buddy and I take off on his '50 soviet moto con sidecar to visit another mutual friend. Wife kindly stays behind to visit. The boys then proceed to kill a bottle plus 'o ron while we sentimentalize over the recent death of a Canadian friend. Returning at midnight, buddy succumbs to my request to drive the moto. Knowing we would be free of injury due to our slightly drunken state, he agrees. Almost lost him on a couple of corners when I forgot the sidecar was there.

The next AM we visit the museum in Banes, then off to Antillas. Had an absolutely SUPER lunch there. Bay scallops in a delicious sauce - cost - 7 pesos. That's in the restaurant on the water - and it's well worth a stop. Some nice seascapes, no customers, and a pretty waitress.

Then off to Cayo Sietia - a National Park on an island. Get strange looks at the drawbridge guardhouse. After a close passport inspection, and a radio call for an OK, we drive the 7km to the lodge. That took 45 min in 1st and 2nd gear. (turns out they don't get many car arrivals - most other diplomats arrive by chopper or yacht.)

Beautiful grounds complete with a dozen types of fruit trees, a couple of 2-foot iguanas, a friendly staff with welcome cocktails, and HUGE rooms await us. Hot & tired from driving, get in a little swim at a small beach close-by.

A quiet evening switching between a dubbed American movie and the Cuban baseball championships.

The next day, drive about 10km to the other snack bar / beach area. Oops, let's pick another beach - there are 2 people on this one. Around a rock, and it's our beach. At 20m deep, you could read Gramma on the bottom. A catamaran did arrive with sound system blaring, dumping off a half dozen of the other class for the afternoon. We did see them at dinner as well, more than doubling the previous evening's crowd.

Took the Fiat for a little off-roading. Zebras, antelope, and Cape buffalo wander the island freely. I hadn't seen black & orange zebras before, and thought they'd look real cool on Halloween. You'd turn colour too if you rolled in the red dust. After bottoming out a couple of times, we reverse and return to the lodge.

The next morning, a Soviet chopper arrives with a dozen touristos off for a safari in Soviet jeeps, complete with camoflaged chauffeurs.

Note - the island, rooms, beaches, and animals make this a great spot to spend a couple of quiet days with a book and camera - but don't go for the food. Service & dining room great - a cook and selection they don't have.

Now off to Pinares via Mayari, where another mountaintop resort is under renovation. That 15 km up a steep hill with lots of rocks took more than an hour in 1st & 2nd. If you lose your brakes on this ride, you might as well just put your head under your ass to say goodbye.

You pass an area of beautiful pines surrounded by coffee plants. There's waterfalls in the distance, and fresh air all around. The symmetrically scarred pines were hung with cans to collect the resin. Doesn't taste as nice as maple sap. Get a tour from the lone occupant at the resort under renovation, not sure who'd ever go there when it's completed.

Back thru Mayari and Baguanos in time to catch the evening ball game on the tube. Yeah, Camaguay.

Over those 5 days, must have given rides to over 30 people, without whom we'd have made quite a few wrong turns. The only animal aboard was a puppy, but we woulda taken pigs or chickens too - hey, it's a rental. Every one extremely polite and thankful.. some would have taken over a day to get where we took them. Did see 2 other tourists with an empty backseat - lighten up - even pretty nurses will accept a ride.

Visited the brewery sales office where I amazed my family & friends by scamming some nice souvenirs. I'd brought a Labatt's Blue opener as a little gift, and it paid off. The free case of beer they gave me only lasted a couple of hours when we visited a country family who mi suegra hadn't seen in a couple of years for transportation reasons. After a charcoal-stove dinner, we returned to Holguin with a couple of baby chicks. As of my leaving, both were still alive, despite the dog, and one falling off the roof of the 2-story house.

I finally got around to an afternoon helping a friend work on his house. After 2 hours of hauling water and cement under the sun, I learned why it's taking him so long.

Spent a day at Playa Blanca with the family - sandwiches sure are less dishes than an average Cuban lunch. The little Fiat was pretty low to the ground with the 7 of us. Had to play ambulance to Freyres when a kid stepped on some charcoal. Bad sunburn day for all of us. Too much fun to remember lotion.

A fun party at Taverna Pancho with family and friends ($.40 draft), 2 evenings at a new open-air cabaret with no customers and personal service, more baseball on TV, and lot's more walking around took care of the rest of my trip. Almost nobody knows about this cabaret - super, pesos for foreigners, great service, and good singers. Enjoyed the personal attention while sharing a $3 bottle of rum. It's about 4 blocks north of the train station, right near a bakery. Don't spoil it with spandex.

One of the singers came over and asked me if I knew xxx & yyy from Montreal. I said yep, they are good friends. He says, 'I'm her father'. Small world, and another great evening.

Oh, I forgot something.. my wife.. she's still in Holguin. Hope she gets that standby flight this weekend, lots of ironing to do, and I do miss her.

Thanks to Sandy for this trip report ...
May 2001

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