The reason that cars now are not the same as the cars were in 1950, is that the cars in 1950 were shit. It is important to remember this when you get carried away with the romantic idea of Cuban cars and commit to a 2 hour trip in one.
We had ditched our bus in favour of a 1956 Chevy that enabled us to leave Trinidad later and visit an old sugar plantation on the way to the provincial capital of Sancti Spiritus. In Cuba, your view of a good car changes. After 3 weeks here, all we wanted is a trip without a breakdown, a car with seatbelts (very rare), seats that didn’t leave your bum numb after 10 mins, drivers that didn’t bring up phlegm and gob out the window, and a cabin that didn’t have exhaust fumes seeping into it. The bar is low.
The sugar cane place should have been interesting as it had been a large, slave enabled place, that housed about 300 slaves and produced a lot of sugar. We got to learn a bit about the shit life of a slave and would have learnt more if the English speaking guide had not been ‘too busy’ to guide, leaving it to our cab driver and his wife (along for the ride) to show us around. In Spanish.
Sancti Spiritus itself is quite nice. It is clean, it has useable pavements and we found a lovely restaurant overlooking the Yayabo River that served reasonable wine, had blue cheese, an atmosphere and smiling staff. The real shock is that it had all of these, and was a government run place.
It is not a tourist destination so it was good to see ‘The Real Cuba”. It has a pedestrianised shopping street that has some shops that have some stuff in them. Stuff normally comes in the shape of detergent (every shop seems to have loads), rum (it is much, much, much easier to get rum than water), massive, catering size tins of tomato’s or pineapples, rubber gloves and rice cookers. They are so excited about these things, that shop window displays have this stuff in them, and as we approached St Valentines Day, some shops were wrapping detergent and shampoo up as a gift for your significant other. If one shop has x or y in, every shop will have it in, and if you can’t get something in one shop, there is probably little point in looking in similar ones.
Real Cuba seems to lack joy as well. We have visited many poor areas in many different countries in our time and often the thing that goes with such areas is noise; children playing in the streets, scooters buzzing away, music places, people talking on the doorstep, others drinking beer in corner bars etc. Here, there is nothing. A band playing in a street will be watched by people who seem content to stand and stare. Streets are deserted and if you look through peoples doors, a family will be sitting staring at the one channel of the telly, unmoving. Most can’t afford a beer, let alone a scooter. If they do go out, it will be to queue it get into a cheaper government run place where 99% of the staff behave like they really do not want you there (if you got $25 per month, no matter if 1 or 1000s people came in to your restaurant, perhaps we would all behave the same).
Whilst there we went to the Guayabera shirt museum that is located in a lovely old house next to a semi putrid river, and that displays about 30 shirts once worn by famous people. Fascinating. I may open a big pants museum in Bundanoon.
Perhaps slightly more fascinating was the natural history museum, aka the bad taxidermy museum. Our fave exhibit was the up lit stuffed hedgehog. (We got told off by a fellow tourist for having a dim view of the local museums as “it’s amazing what they achieve with very few resources”. I agree with this, but it makes them no less shit as an experience)
The other thing that took up some time was getting the fuck out of there. Our next stop was Cayo Coco in the north and getting there was a challenge, but led to a good Cuban experience. We were trying to get a bus to a town near the Cayo, from where we could get a taxi. Our first trip to the bus station led us to think we should find somewhere in town to get tickets and 30 mins of searching in town indicated that we needed to return to the bus station. We approached a motorbike taxi type thing and asked the driver how much it would cost to go to the bus station, wait for us whilst we got a ticket, then comeback to the square. Not only did he offer a fair price, he came in to the station with us, attempted to help us get a ticket (after 10 mins the solution appeared to be, turn up 30 mins beforehand the following day, wait for the bus to come in and there would ‘probably’ be space for us). The taxi driver suggested that Cuba was crazy, returned us to the square and was both surprised and delighted by the tip we gave him.
We had some interesting dining experiences in town too; a coffee shop that had no milk and an ice cream shop that was eat in only and involved being stared at by the (far too many) staff whilst we ate in a place empty but for us. This place is V odd.
On the day of departure, we duly arrived at the bus station met a nice taxi driver with a reasonable car (a 1980s, Chinese copy of the great Talbot Alpine, that had no seatbelts and no working electrics, but did have comfy seats) and negotiated a reasonable rate to take us to our next stop; an all inclusive package holiday hotel on Cayo Coco.