The best town in Cuba award was held by Bayamo for two long days until it was knocked off the top by Baracoa.
Three days earlier, as we pulled in to town on our Viazul bus having driven through the normal empty scruffy streets past plastic filled beaches, I would have thought this very unlikely.
The town is right at the east end of Cuba and is in a hilly, tropical landscape, dominated by the anvil shaped El Yunque mountain. The town centre is small, but clean, lively and pleasant. There are a few too many touts, who after getting a ‘No gracias’ to their offers of taxis etc, will then start asking for your clothes…..’But I need my shoes to walk home in’. They are very proud of the special coconut milk sauce, unique to the area, and a good size fresh lobster with this sauce will cost about $12.
Locals and tourists alike wander the streets, drink in the square, listen to music and dance on pretty much every day of the week. It felt like a happy town.
We had two excursions to the countryside. The first was to the Yumuri gorge, a site where the indigenous people used to go and commit suicide as a better alternative to being a slave to the Spanish (the name is a bastardisation of the Spanish for ‘I die’) and included a very pleasant visit to a cacao farm to learn how the locals make chocolate, a lunch on a nice beach and a visit to a place called ‘Pretty Lady Mountain’. The latter got its name because a pretty lady once lived at the base of it. I kept an eye out for ‘What a Minger Hill’ and ‘Grumpy Old Cunt Gully’.
This was the first government run tour we went on, and we were not expecting much, but it was a great day. We went on a bus so modern (it had USB power sockets at each seat) we called it the Spaceship …. it really was out of this particular world. We also had a really, really good guide. At $20 for a full day, it was great VFM, which made a refreshing change.
Day Tripping; Yumuri Gorge
The second day trip was was to the Humboldt Reserve, about an hour outside town, where we walked 7km through the jungle, drank coconut juice straight from the coconut, sat by a river having more coconut juice straight from the coconut, but this time with the addition of rum, lime and honey, and swam in a lovely natural pool at the bottom of a waterfall. This was facilitated by the very professional Alber The Hiker (http://alberthehiker.com/en/baracoa-city/) his rather reckless driver in a 1956 Plymouth and made better by the company; two Germans (Henkel and Mariel?) and a Dutch lady (Natasha).
We finished on the beautiful, white sand Maguana Beach where we bathed, drank a little too much beer and mojitos and met two lovely Scottish girls, Angela and Clare. We drove back in high spirits, grateful to arrive safely as the driver had enjoyed a couple of drinks too (when I tipped him as I got out, he ran straight across the road to buy half a bottle of rum and some coke and he cracked the rum straight away).
That evening, we met the gang and the guide at the reasonably good Bon Sabor (‘we have no pork, fish or lamb tonight’) and were served by our guide from day 1, before heading off for a couple at the Casa Trova, where Angela demonstrated some of the best Salsa dancing I have seen by a person not from a Latin American country (she loves dancing, dances with locals but gets proposals of marriage after dance 2 and will find old dancing partners grinding themselves up behind her as she waits at the bar for a drink – ewgh).
Due to a flight at 8.30am next day, we didn’t go mad and were grateful for this when we checked in. Cuban flights are not known to be the best, with a poor safety record and low quality of service bar, but it was the best option (we repeatedly heard that plan ‘A’, a 20 hour train journey was ridiculous due to the huge delays (up to 2 days), broken loos and cockroaches).
There are only 3 or 4 flights a week, so the terminal is small, chaotic and hot. We arrived at 7.15am stood in the first queue to check in our bags, then joined the second to get our hand written boarding passes. At that point, after we had checked in our bags which contained towels and bathing suits, were told that the plane was ‘dead’ and subject to a 6.5 hour delay.
Out and about around Baracoa
We had ‘done’ most of Baracoa by then, so filling 6.5 hours was going to be tough. We started by heading to the town museum that included the storey of Che Guevara and his chocolate factory. There is only one chocolate factory in Cuba and the great Che personally set it up (he may have spent his time better on getting the trains to work). It is currently closed, as its machinery, installed in the late 50’s, had been damaged in the hurricane and Cuba has ‘bought’ new machines from Germany. The factory will reopen July or in 5 years (depend on who tells you .. I’d go 5 years). When we arrived at the museum we were told it was closed. ‘When will it be open?’ ‘May…….. probably).
We then went to the El Castillo Hotel, overlooking the city and the airfield, drank beer and hoped that the plane would be resurrected…..
Back and forth to the airport