Thursday, 7 May 2015
We took a three-day side trip west of Havana into the province of Artemisa while we waited for our daughter, Clare, to join us. For the first night we booked a rustic cabin at Baños del San Juan. For the next two nights we booked a room at Hotel Moka in the nearby village of Las Terrazas.
We rose at 6:30 a.m. in the casa in Central Havana. Miriam had kindly organised a taxi to the Viazul bus station, which was located some distance from the centre of Havana. We went to the cafeteria for a coffee and a Tukola while we waited for the 8:20 bus to Las Terrazas. This village is about an hour from Havana, so getting there is only a short ride by Australian standards.
We disembarked at a lake near Las Terazzas and found an office were an officious woman took our paperwork and rang for a taxi which took us to los baños beyond the village of San Juan. It was only a short ride, but it was too far to walk in the heat of day with our packs, and the taxi driver was a friendly local who would prove to be a useful contact at the end of our stay.
The approach to the Baños involved a charming walk along a river and across several bridges over small waterfalls. It led finally to a bar where some staff took our passports and gave us a key to the cabin, which was really a raised hut with a picnic table and chairs beneath it. The walls were made of thatch, and there was a window cut into two sides which could be propped open with sticks to catch a cross-breeze. It took a while to figure out how to open the door, which was really a hatch in the floor at the top of a ladder; but we were pleasantly surprised when we did. The cabin was furnished with two single mattresses, two pillows, a light, a single power point, a roll of toilet paper, and a fan. It was Spartan but comfortable.
We changed into our swimming costumes, bought a couple of beers, and staked out a small wooden table by a swimming hole. The baños consisted of a series of small, interconnected pools in a river. There were some small waterfalls among the rocks. One was used by the local youth as a water slide. The pools were surrounded by narrow paths that connected rustic benches and tables where day-trippers picnicked under the trees. The spot was frequented by both Cuban and foreign tourists.
I amused myself by donning Susie’s swimming goggles and swimming around underwater, collecting rubbish from the bottom of the swimming hole. There was an endless supply of tin cans, plastic forks and chip packets which had been discarded in what was otherwise a delightful swimming hole. My finds included a large 10-carat wedding ring which I mistook at first for a ring-pull.
We had a filling lunch of roast chicken with Moros y Christianos (black beans mixed through rice), and then went back to the waterhole to swim it off. There was a large family group that was getting collectively more drunk as the afternoon wore on.
The bar closed in the late afternoon as the day-trippers left, but the staff sold us a few beers and Moros y Christianos in a take-away container so we could have a meal later in the evening. We returned to the river for a late swim after the drunk family had left, and I fell heavily on some rocks that were covered with a fine layer of slippery moss while I was collecting beer cans and broken glass.
I spent the evening playing Johnny’s travel guitar at a table under the cabaña while Susie took some photos and then read in the cabin above my head. The site was quiet and peaceful, as most of the cabañas were empty.
Eventually I had to turn off my head torch, as it was attracting hordes of flying insects.