Saturday, May 30 2015
For our last day in Playa Girón we decided to return to La Playa los Cocos. Because it was Saturday, the locals were also there relaxing in the sun. There were family groups and a large group of young people who looked like hipsters bussed in from Vedado. There was also a small group of borrachos (drunk men) who got collectively louder and more incoherent in the blazing sun.
Susie found a shady spot in the centre of some coconut palms, and we spent the day lolling around on the beach. We both ventured into the water to do some snorkelling, but the tide was low so the fish were scarce and sea urchins loomed close below on the coral. I spied a lobster hiding under a rock. Apart from that, there were no novel sightings. Susie studied her Spanish and I watched the locals enjoying the lovely beach and socialising. Much of this occurred as they were standing in the water. After midday, however, even the brown- and black-skinned people were driven back into the shade by the heat of the day. Some pop-up food stalls appeared to complement the tiny bar on the beach. They sold large deep-fried things that looked wickedly oily and delicious. We resisted the temptation to try one.
Later in the day we rode back to the hotel to have a drink at the bar, but there was awful loud canned music, so we relocated to a bar in town where we bought a couple of small but filling pizzas. Afterwards we returned to the casa, rinsed our gear, and finished packing.
Our host was one of the major attractions at Playa Girón. Lidia understood both that we wished to communicate in Spanish, and that we had limited ability to do so. So she spoke slowly and clearly. Above all, her sunny disposition and wicked sense of humour helped make our stay an enjoyable experience. As with Santiago de Cuba, Playa Girón showed us how the system of casas particulares can work well for both tourists and locals.
As the evening drew near, we took leave of our hosts and headed off for the bus stop in town in a bici-taxi. The bus was due to turn up between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., and we had no ticket. There were some other tourists waiting, probably asking themselves the same question we were: What if the bus is full?
The bus was running late due to an inclement weather around Cienfuegos, so we chatted with the bici-taxi driver and his mate about political and economic conditions in Cuba. They spoke of the “internal blockade” as being stronger than the external one. We understood that they were referring to the government’s efforts to isolate Cuba from the influences of globalisation, but the exact meaning was never spelt out. We were cautious not to press locals with political questions, as we did not want to get anyone into trouble.
These two men seemed to harbour a degree of suspicion and resentment that the largesse brought by tourism is not distributed fairly. We were in no position to assess this claim, although we have noticed how closely casa owners are monitored by the state. It would be interesting to see some official figures on what income is generated, and how it is distributed and expended. We recalled the comments of other Cubans that everyone gets an education, a roof over their head, access to health care, and no one goes hungry. That’s no mean feat for any nation, let alone a poor one.
When the bus turned up, our conversational friends cheerfully bade us farewell and we settled into an over-air conditioned Viazul bus. We stopped at a crocodile farm somewhere along the way. We arrived in Havana late in the evening, but we were not concerned about this as Lidia had kindly forewarned our host.
We got hassled aggressively when we alighted at the bus station, but we did actually need a taxi to get to the old city. So after some haggling we agreed on a fair and we were led to a recent-model car some blocks away. It was clearly not a taxi. An unidentified female was sitting in the passenger seat. The driver sped through the streets of Havana at unreasonable speeds with an ugly music video playing on the console. After narrowly missing a few pedestrians on the fringes of the old quarter, the taxi pulled up outside our casa. I had been trying to organise the exact fare in the back seat because I had a bad feeling about the driver. Unfortunately I had to ask for change, and he slipped me a dud coin in the darkness.
We were going to be in the room for a single night, so we unpacked only essential items. The room was oddly decorated but the bed was comfortable, which is what we needed most. Before we turned in, we checked out the terrace on the roof which afforded lovely views across the river to the old fort on the other side. We would be returning to this casa for the last three nights of our stay in Cuba. Reflections of the lights on the fort twinkled as we enjoyed a cold beer for a nightcap.
A few blocks away someone was losing their temper because the water had run out.