the hoofindex - rewind to the previous trip (havana, Cuba) - fast forward to the following trip (amazing race from Cuba to Holland)
Day 12 - Time to go to the beach
Today was another travel day - we were taking the bus to Varadero. Before leaving we had a chat to Giovanni who we will keep in contact with and may make a repeat appearance thanks to an open invite to Portugal or Italy - depending on where he living when we email.
Hiked towards President Hotel with Ramon to flag down taxi
First task was to get to the bus station which is across a couple of suburbs. We're not talking Auckland sized suburbs which are relatively small - at a quick look at the map there are only about 10 suburbs across Havana, so essentially we had to cross half of Havana. In true back packing style we chucked our packs on our backs and stated to wander along the main road and find a taxi. Not long we found a taxi, and got to the bus station - luckily we'd booked because the bus was full and plenty of people hoping to still get on.
We also found solidarity with some fellow english speaking backpackers, trading books we'd finished reading and sharing notes on what worked, and more commonly what didn't.
Anyways, after some issues with seat allocations - and the Hoof and Hoff'ess not worrying about them and sitting down randomly, and then having to move which caused a chain reaction of people getting moved. But finally we were on the way, 3 hours of the bus - wicked. After an hour or so we both had the munchies ad were craving something simple like chips. So at the rest stop both of us drooled uncontrolably when we saw some Pringles style chips - we couldn't resist and absolutely monstered the entire pack within minutes. We must have looked like we'd just come off Survivor island and hadn't seen food for a month.
Finally got to Varadero after 3 hours and grabbed a taxi and got to our resort. Checked in and upgraded to all inclusive so we could drink readily. Ahhhh... so good. Then we got to the dinner buffet restaurant. Great news, grilled pork, more beans - essentially similar foods to Havana, everything seems to be chewy with little flavour - always same texture no matter if its chicken, vegetables or pork. And everything comes with either beans or dry slightly crunchy rice - with no sign of soy. Damn.
After a few drinks we crashed out.
Day 13 to 16 - Resort Hoof
So we finally got to Varadero for some well deserved beach resort time. Which is why I've merged the next 4 days into one section. Essentially the Hoof and Hoof'ess spent the four days relaxing by the pool and beach, went for swim's, had buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner and read books. Not a bad way to spend a few days.
So the Varadero resort - interesting place. This resort area (Varadero) is the least Cuban part of the entire island - its very much for tourists and looks like a 70's version of the Gold Coast in Oz (without the tall flash resorts). But in the end its still very much Cuban - and to explain why here are a couple of examples.
There is a herd of cats that live in the resort. Probably 20 cats and kittens all up. There is one very virile male among them somewhere, and at least one slutty female - which has produced a large number of tabby cats and kittens. On the first day at the resort we'd seen one or two but didn't really notice. Then next morning at breakfast a black furry blur flew past our feet as we sat at our table. A couple of the more game cats had raced through the door and into the buffet restaurant and then proceeded to beg for food at the feet any unsuspecting tourists who looked like they'd feed them. Then another came in to do the same trick. The Cuban staff just wandered around not worrying about the cats at all. Needless to say they've very quickly figured out that the Hoof'ess has a soft spot for cats and now she has a bunch of new friends who she feeds after various meals with food she's smuggled out of the buffet in butter wrappers or serviettes.
Hoof'ess new best friend - until the little one decided to lay down on the Hoof's hoof
Then we noticed some birds that were munching away on the bread at the buffet - again the staff weren't worrying about them. All this was standard practice at all meal times.
Then there are the towels - on the first night at about 5pm, sun still beating down, we decided to get some towels so we could go for a swim. Wandering over to the towel hut by the pool we expected to pick up a couple no worries. But we were told, no you have to go to front desk and put a deposit of 20 convertible peso's, get these little laminated cards and bring them back to get towels. Okay, fine we thought. Wandered back to the room and grabbed 40 convertible, which is about NZ$80 for 2 average towels (probably could have bought 2 towels for 5 peso's) and went to the front desk. They said that it was after 5pm so come back tomorrow. Come on! How hard can it be to get a couple of resort beach towels?
Anyway its an interesting resort. Very interesting crowd. Obviously no American's, instead the entire resort was Europeans with a smattering of Latin/South American. Many French people who have a certain style... basically all the men are in tight little speedo short shorts. Coming from boardies loving NZ they all looked extremely camp. Especially two guys who walked around in their tight little speedo short shorts with headbands. Onto more important facts - there were also a good number of scantily clad bikini babes wandering around.
Hoofy enjoying some of the resorts facilities.
Two steps and we are onto the soft white sands of the Caribbean.
The gorgeous Caribbean ocean and beautiful white beach. Doesn't get better than this.
So what else did we do? Well there was the competitive chess matches between the Hoof and Hoof'ess. The results were very one sided, basically I demolished the Hoof'ess who is still learning - Hoof: 3 wins, Hoof'ess: 0 wins.
On Saturday, the Hoof went out of a little sailing trip and snorkeling at a nearby reef. The reef was amazing - not as impressive as a coral reef, but the volume of fish was incredible. By throwing a few pieces of bread or a banana skin a rush of fish would arrive and there would be easily a hundred fish swarming around you all within arms reach. One of the chicks from another boat had just gotten into the water when someone threw some bread right beside her. Fish swarmed around her and she just screamed. With the water being broken and thrashed by the hundred or so fish within a metre of her. Diving down to the reef revealed even more teaming life - very awesome.
Day 17 - Driving on the wrong side of the road back to Havana
Time to head back to Havana. Initially we planned to drive but the local rental car places were providing "tourist pricing" - one place quoted 160 pesos for one day, or about NZ$250. Bugger that! So we did the back packing thang and rode the bus back to Havana. The bus we took was actually a tourist bus, dropping most at Havana airport before dropping those going to hotels to the appropriate places. Even a bus trip can be fascinating - and very Cuban. The friendly bus driver decided, at various stages of the trip, to pick up hitch hikers and "friends" - and then dropped them off along the way. No tickets... just a quick lift down the road or across town. Then there was his driving - at times he drove straight. Then there were the times he drove down the wrong side of the road, not over taking, he just seemed to want to make the Kiwi's feel at home by driving on the left. There were also many occasions when we had a 2 or 3 lane road with little traffic around us and we still seemed to take up the entire road. The concept of driving to the outside lanes was clearly lost on him. Then there was the "tour guide" who seemed to want to chat with the bus driver. Not usually a problem except that the bus driver liked to face whoever he was talking to and the tour guide was seated behind him (he didn't drive straight when his eyes were on the road let alone backwards...)
Drive in the middle of the road please... and mind those pot holes. Hang on, where are the lines on the motorway? Hoof somewhat concerned. Hoof'ess claiming she was gonna die on this bus trip!
Day 18 - Flying Hoof
Back to flying Hoof. After 10 days on the ground it was time to fly back to the US and continue our journey to Holland. A nice early morning awaited the Hoof and Hoof'ess - an 8AM flight, therefore 6AM at the thriving Havana airport with its acres of duty free shopping, and a "taxi" arriving at 5:30AM. In Cuba there are a lot of rules around local Cuban contact with foreigners, essentially don't do it. There are exceptions for those who work in tourist industries and taxi's - and ONLY in their places of work - but ordinary Cuban's are not supposed to have much to do with us foreigners. This includes driving around tourists, so our "taxi" which was a private motorcar driven by a local meant keeping an eye out for the Policia... and ducking if necessary.
Nothing too exciting and soon we were back in the air on Hoof'ess favourite plane - the Fokker 100.
The Hoof Insights: At first we struggled a bit with Cuba, it was all a bit too much and a bit too random with nothing we could understand easily - but it definitely grew on us. When Kiwi's talk about "Island Time" they got nothing on the Cuban's. Everyone is waiting, thousands just hang around on major roads wiating for lifts, or just waiting... for what we were never quite sure. For America to end its embargo? For Fidel to pass on? Or for the next 50's American car to pick them up. Whatever it was they were certainly in no hurry. I think I would go mad driving in this town, basically because everyone drives so slow, they meander round the roads not worrying about what lane they are in, and if someone slightly faster wants to pass they give a little honk and they move out of the way and the other car passes. You can be standing at a counter in a shop for 5 minutes while the staff finish whatever they were doing, which may have nothing to do with customers, before helping you. When they get to you they are friendly - this is the norm. Police would be parked on a corner, sitting on the bonnet of their high powered 70's Lada having a chat. A saying in Cuba is, "Pretend to get paid, pretend to work". But after our pace had slowed down enough and we compensated for the speed of life in Cuba we actually came to love the place. It is a world away from anything, a place so unique with such an interesting culture and view of life that we'll be back to check out the other end of the island. However, perhaps we won't fly back into USA afterwards so we can take more souvenirs. Oh well, time to speed up again as we approach Cancun.
Flying to Amsterdam - 5 airports in 2 days