Cuba! An eight-day home stay tour of Western Cuba – Day 7

A tortoise can see the sun move.  Margurite and I get into a great conversation over a leisurely breakfast swapping experiences and theories, exploring the ideas of time and space and how much of it could be illusion.  She gets me thinking about time from the perspective of the tortoise, who may experience life in ultra-slow motion.  To a tortoise, she theorises, time might move so slowly that we are just a blur across their peripheral vision while they watch the sun move across the sky.   It’s all very zen like and I completely love the conversation, and the opportunity to slow down my own life such that I have the time to better explore ideas and to know someone like Margurite – one brainy broad.   Breakfast is fresh fruit, very dark coffee and an egg cooked any way we’d like it – fried in my case.  The lack of variety is a bit tedious by now but more than offset by the great taste of food grown with as few chemical incursions as possible.

Yesterday we had all agreed on our choice of activity for today.  Our tour company – Cuban Adventures – has ensured a good variety of activities to choose from throughout the week.   So today we will take a short hike through Topes de Callantes national park to Vega Grande waterfalls and the Batata Cave.  A great choice as it turns out.   It’s a sweltering hot day.  Hurricane Rina continues to languish too far out in the Gulf to be any threat.  I have unthinkingly given almost all of my clothes to Sol at our casa, who will have them laundered for a very reasonable five dollars.  As a result I am dressed for our hike in a tailored linen skirt (!) and flowered top.   Charming.  We drive out to the park entrance, pay our user- fee and are soon filing across a crude suspension bridge and into the forest of Caribbean pines, bamboo and eucalyptus that carpet the low hills of the Escambray Range.   At a level clearing we come to a small hut built a very long time ago but still in its original state.  We’re invited in for a look around and I’m impressed to learn that the floor, which I took to be concrete is actually compressed ash.   It’s a simple example of making use of what’s at hand.  The rest of the hike is mostly uphill but not particularly taxing and we are soon at the foot of the expansive, thundering  waterfall.

We are very hot and sticky and the large pool at the foot of the falls looks oh-so-inviting.  We stand in a group, juggling out of our clothes and into our swim suits as discreetly as possible while Jorge stares into the water and are soon all immersed in the deep, clear water just cool enough to be refreshing.  Bliss!    Margurite strikes out for the cave that opens just to one side of the falls, with Dani close behind.  They are both clearly better swimmers than I am but a thick wire cable strung along the side of the pool gives me the confidence to follow into the strong current.  The descriptively named Batata Cave is amazing!  And as it turns out quite full of bats.  Very cool.  It’s dark enough to be thrilling but light enough to make out huge stalactites and the colony of little critters hanging from the ceiling or flitting back and forth as we splash around.  Margurite has even managed to bring her camera with her, held up in one hand as she swims so I look forward to seeing the cave shots of the three of us at some point.  We take turns swimming out of the cave through the waterfall and I’m momentarily alarmed to feel the force of the falling water push me under briefly before I surface and float with the current back to where Priti and Nicola are paddling.  Jorge good-naturedly wades into the water to get a great photo of the five of us with the falls in the background (Jo passed on this excursion, preferring to spend the day in Trinidad).

We manage, perched on the rocks at the side of the pool, to get out of our wet suits and back into mostly dry clothes.  On the hike back Jorge points out a huge rock overhang literally covered with wasp nests, stacked like tenement buildings against the whole face of the cliff.  We don’t linger long and arrive in Trinidad once again hot, sweaty and now feeling somewhat gritty from our damp clothes and the dust of the hike…and we’re starving.  We are standing outside the luxurious Iberostar five-star hotel and all Dani can think about is a hamburger.  Okay, and maybe a mojito.  So we take our dirty and sweaty selves into the immaculately groomed and polished lounge and unabashedly gorge ourselves on big, beefy cheeseburgers, cold beer and mojitos.  The talk turns to our own banking crisis.  At some point yesterday or the day before we have all agreed to a “bank account” – a pool of money that we can use for expenses where we are all paying the same amount, so we don’t have to count up and fork out every time we do something.  Dani has been awarded the position of CFO by acclamation.  Well, actually because she happened to have a little change purse that she volunteered for our repository.  And we have all kicked $20 into the group account.   I’ve fallen into the role of auditor which might seem like overkill except that during lunch at the Iberostar it became apparent that some of us – no names mentioned – would certainly throw the scheme unfairly off-balance by virtue of our alcohol consumption at group outings such as pre-games and post-games.    So some monitoring is required to ensure equity.  Between us we develop a system of plusses and minuses that works to the satisfaction of all.  I am becoming completely attached to this disparate group of women and marvel at how cohesive we are.  I begin to realise that the best part of this tour might be the friendships that develop in just eight days through open minds and shared experiences.

We are on our own for the afternoon.  Dani and I make a bee-line for the gallery we saw yesterday and agree to meet Margurite and the rest of the group at the craft market near Plaza Mayor.  We are both interested in large canvasses that the  artists, who are there  in the
gallery assure us can be rolled and wrapped to survive our respective journeys home.  Dani chooses a gorgeous oil – a woman in sunglasses and a head scarf in soft browns and crèmes, dry-brushed over in horizontal streaks of soft reds and tans.  At least that’s how I remember it, Dani!  I’m looking for something large and bright for my kitchen and fall for large oil painting in primary colours, a stylised Cuban woman with symbolic face paint, her wide-brimmed hat adorned, Carmen Miranda-like with giant fuits and with big, bodacious tatas that my grandkids will get a kick out of.   We enjoy chatting with the two artists while our pieces are wrapped for travel  and we take pictures of ourselves with the two of them.  It didn’t occur to either of us to take pictures of the paintings to show the rest of the group.

Jazzy bar at...Two Guitars?

By the time we meet up with them Priti and Nicola have reconnoitred the craft market and are able to point out some of the better buys.  The market consists of several rows of makeshift stalls selling fridge magnets, wood carvings, domino sets, key chains, crocheted children’s clothing, cars and airplanes fashioned from aluminum cans, wall plaques and various other small crafts.  It isn’t long before the wares in one stall begin to look much like all the others and I wonder how the artisans here make their living.   There must be fifty or sixty stalls but fewer than twenty potential customers wandering between them.   I pick out gifts to take home – an intricate  cut-stitch table cloth and a set of colourful, bendable fabric dolls each playing a tiny traditional Cuban instrument.

Two Guitars???

I’m grateful to have time for a nap and a shower (and for the stack of clean clothes that have been left in my room!)  before we all meet  for  pre-game Cuba libres at the Iberostar.  Isn’t it just amazing how quickly certain activities become imbedded in our routines?  Noted!  From there it’s a short walk to a charming restaurant whose name I never did get.  The place was hung with guitars everywhere so “Two Guitars” seems likely?  Hurricane Rina has started to make her presence known so it’s raining when we duck into the dining-room and the streets are almost deserted.  We have the place to ourselves, seated in high backed chairs along a heavy wood table with the big double doors open at one end.   From our table we can see the skies suddenly open up, the rain comes down in driving sheets and the street very quickly turns into a river of dirty water.  Some of us dash out with an umbrella to have our photos taken standing in the pouring rain, calf-deep in the surging brown soup.  “Typhus” runs fleetingly across my mind.  Within a short time the rain eases off and, as fast as it came up, the flooding subsides and the street is almost dry again.  We watched this cycle repeat itself a couple of times as we ate a delicious dinner of grilled fish, beef and roast chicken.  I’m always curious about bathrooms, wherever I go and this restaurant has a sparkling clean and quite charming little room – with a shower.  The jazz-themed bar suggests live music but tonight the only sound in the place is our laughter and animated chatter.  We are quite happy to linger, sharing the days experiences and comparing purchases.


The rain has stopped again by the time we finish dinner so we walk back for post-game drinks at the Iberostar.  It has occurred to me that not all of our group drinks like the Aussie’s and Canadians and may not have the budget for it so no one pushes.  I also hope our guide is reimbursed for the expense of keeping us company – and ensuring that we all get back to our casas every night.  Jorge  has plans to take us all to a cave disco but the club is leaking from the rain and besides, no taxi will take us there for fear of getting stuck in the mud on the way.   After a couple of very tasty Cuba libres I call it a night and leave the rest of the post-game crowd to close the bar.

2 responses to “Cuba! An eight-day home stay tour of Western Cuba – Day 7

  1. wow – what a wonderful experience and an amazing adventure. terrific way to really get to know the people, and the country.

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