Monday, 1 April 2013

Cuba to New Zealand

I set the alarm to get me up at 5am but was up by 4.45am so decided to get ready and there was a knock on the door at about 5.15am. The Casa owner came to tell me that the taxi is waiting downstairs for me. He was early but anyway it was better to get to the airport early than late.

We drove past many empty streets and I saw one accident for the first time in my travel to Cuba. Not sure if it was fatal. The only place that had any people at that hour was the central bus station. Was interesting chatting to the taxi driver who was married and has two children. He was saying life is starting to get better in Cuba after a period of hardship. His wife is an accountant with the government and he drives a taxi - has been doing this since 2003. He lives in a state house and is unable to move to a better place as houses are not easy to come by and are relatively expensive. He said he was determined to make sure his two children have a better life.

My last complication of this trip to Cuba is about to take place, clearing my bags in the United States. I arrive at the airport and I learn that the airport in Cuba is not that small after all as I initially thought. There are three terminals - terminal one is for domestic flights, terminal two for special chartered flights from the US and terminal three for international flights, to which I am now in.

The queue has already formed and there are three flights to Panama this morning and my flight is the third of the three. I show my Star Alliance Gold Card and managed to jump the queue to the premier row which is at the moment relatively short. After a short wait I get processed. The lady at the counter asked me if I wanted to check my bags all the way to Auckland so that I can bypass US customs. I said yes and she tagged my bags to Auckland. I was surprised that you can actually do that. I asked her again just so I am clear and she repeated that I do not have to collect my bags in Los Angeles. Until I clear Los Angeles and get my boarding pass for my next sector, I am still nt convinced.

After a relatively short flight we arrive in Panama. In order to prove, at least to some extent, that I was in Panama, I thought of getting out of the airport and get back on. At least that way, I have a stamp on my passport that I was in Panama. There is no stamp on my passport that I have been to Cuba. It is strange that you go to a country and you need a passport but nothing is stamped on your passport. Unfortunately, there was not enough time and could not do that.

After the long 7 hour flight, I arrive in Los Angeles. After clearing immigration, I was asked to collect my bags. I did not state that I was in Cuba on my arrival card, hoping that I will not get into trouble. The customs officer asked me if there was anything I needed to declare and I said no as I was in transit. He asked me to go through the green lane and I was home free.

Checking into Air New Zealand was no drama. When I checked in, I was told I got upgraded to Business, which was a nice surprise. I had a shower at the Koru lounge and relaxed before the 17 hour flight back home. On the way here I gained a day and now I will be loosing a day.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Last day in Cuba

This marks the last day in Cuba as we head back to Havana this morning. I got up pretty early to catch the sun. I wanted to have a shower but there was no water! I could not shower, so I wet the towel with some drinking water and gave myself a good wipe down. Headed out and caught some good shots of nice colour in the sky. Wasn't quite a sun rise as the sun rises over the hills.

After breakfast, went to pack up and found that the water came back! So had a shower and came back down to reception to check out and load my bags onto the bus for the trip back to Havana. 

The journey to Havana was about 5 hours and many of us slept in the bus. There was endless scenery of tobacco plantations, and little villages along the way. We pass by many forms of transportation from the trucks that I took, to horse carts with one horse, two horses and even with cows and donkeys. Looks like any animal that can pull is an ideal candidate for transportation. As I was looking out the window,I saw this guys walking his huge pig by the side of the street. Looks like the pig's life is coming to an end and will be ending up on someone's pot very soon.

We stopped to refuel close to lunch so I decided to buy a ham sandwich and a drink. I saw some condensed milk so wanted to get some coffee to go with it. When I asked, the lady at the counter said that I could only get condensed milk only if I bought the Bucanero malt. I didn't want any malt so decided against it. I then saw some local ice cream that looked yummy. So instead of a drink, I got the ice cream. It was really creamy and nice. I thought it was a lot to finish but wasn't quite. I took the chocolate one and others took vanilla and strawberry so we passed it around, only to those who dare. There were still people who were cautious not to take anything local due to the water that goes into it. Fair enough. I think I have a strong enough stomach.

Finally at 2.30pm we came into Havana. We passed several shops and street markets selling clothes and housewares. It was Saturday so most of the markets are open for the locals. Apparently clothing is still sold in the black market because you cannot actually import clothes. How bizarre! The state issued clothes are all the same. You get green or white tee shirts and trousers. We saw one such factory producing these clothes in Pinar Del Rio a few days ago. These shops kind of reminded me of the shops in Kerinci. 

After we pulled into old Havana where our accommodation for that night is, we were sorted into various casas. I got one that was on the first floor luckily and not higher. I had a room to myself again. I shared the house with the two nurses, Bronwyn and Leonie from Geelong, and Mala from Melbourne. After we sorted out bags and gave our passport details to the casa owner, we headed out to meet the rest for a whirlwind tour of old Havana. I have done much of this so just tagged along to see it again.

In 2 hours we managed to cover what I did in about 8 hours earlier. Many of them in our group will be staying a few extra days so this was a teaser for where to go and what to see. I think my tour covered a few extra places and missed a few. We passed a shop selling jewellery and was one of the oldest in Havana. Some of them bought some beautiful jewellery and I saw one black earrings that was really nice. It was apparently made of corals and they are endangered so Intrepid does not encourage us buying it. Natalia said she wouldn't recommend me buying it but she'll close one eye if I chose to buy it, so I did. One for Vera and one for Ashwini. Hope they like them. As we waked further saw the Serrano coffee outlet so, bought one kilogram of coffee. I decided to buy the beans instead of ground coffee as beans last longer. Just need to get a grinder back home.

Last stop was the local craft market which only opens on weekends. I saw this leather bag with at was cute and thought Ashwini will like it. The lady asked me if I wanted to engrave her name on it. I did that and bought the bag for her.

After the tour, the group decided that the last meal in Havana should be memorable. So we asked Natalia to suggest somewhere really nice. She got us booked at a really fancy and secluded restaurant in town that only a few know about. It is called La Guarida in Central Havana. It is apparently the hardest table to reserve in Cuba according to a review we saw.

We split up into two groups so we could get taxis to get us there. We were given directions to get there and we hailed down those big American cars so that more could fit in them. After circling a few places and our cab driver asking for directions, we arrived just in time. If we had passed this place, we would never have known that there was a restaurant here. The ground floor was in complete rumbles and in those little rooms, people lived in them. Then we went up a once beautiful spiral staircase and the second floor was again beautiful and had a history of the Cuban revolution. Then finally another floor on the beautiful staircase, took us to this restaurant with about ten tables.

Our table was waiting for us. The menu was rather expensive by Cuban standards and apparently only foreigners and rich Cubans patronise this place. I can understand why.

We later made a collection for Natalia and said the goodbyes as some will be staying while others leaving at various times and days. Natalia arranged taxis for us and mine was to arrive at 5.30am the next morning. We called it a day after we walked to the Malechon and took a taxi back to the Casa. 

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Maria La Gorda

This is going to be one long day, not to mention a day wasted. This whole Intrepid trip is not what I had expected from Intrepid - too many options and too many free days. I guess the journal for today is going to be really short.

Breakfast this morning was buffet. Although it was Cuban style, it had a lot of Western fare than Cuban fare. There was sail ship that arrived from the Caribbean this morning. As the passengers disembarked from the ship via the life boat, music was played and mojitos kept flowing. 

The three from our trip, Ben, Laurie and Jenny were all getting set up for their dive. The equipment they had on them plus the oxygen tanks looked like a tonne. Saw them dive in at the end of the jetty where they will learn to dive with an instructor before heading to deeper waters up to 7 meters. Not a lot but lots if fish to see. I bet they will have lots to see as by just standing on the jetty, I was able see quite a bit.

There is nothing else to do this morning other than hiring snorkelling gear and heading out to see to snorkel. Will be no fun to do that without Vera so have decided to sit by the cafe and read my book and listen to duo playing some really nice music.

As it turned out, the sunset cruise is going to materialise after all. For CUC24 the scuba diving boat will be taking us out to sea till the sun sets and will throw in free drinks. So, we worked out that if each of us had 8 drinks each, it will pay for our cruise as each drink is about CUC3. Before that I decided to go walk on the beach as there was nothing else to do to kill time.

Come 5.30pm, we headed out to the boat pier for our cruise. Natalia and Tony wanted to also go snorkelling while we are at sea. We headed out to the far West where the corals and fish were visible from the boat. We anchored for a while the two of them jumped off the boat to snorkel. It was apparently beautiful with lost of fish. The rest of us minus Charlotte and Ben, the pregnant couple, were on board and have already started drinking. After awhile, we lost count of the number of drinks we had. We cruised around till the sun actually set which was close to 7.30pm

By the time we came back to shore, most of us were almost drunk including me. Not to the extent that we couldn't walk but drunk enough to know we were. Some of the group wanted to get their money's worth and wanted to continue partying later after dinner. So we decided to 'smuggle' some of the rum and whiskey from the boat, we also took a few cans of beer and soft drinks with us. If was kind of funny because we were trying to smuggle these drinks right under the noses of the boat guys thinking they don't know. I am sure they know. Anyway, Natalia, the group leader didn't say we couldn't.

We somehow managed to drag ourselves to the restaurant and Charlotte later told us how drunk we were and what we did. When we got there, Natalia told the waiter we wanted for tables and apparently we were very loud that others who were done decided to leave so that we can have their tables. We also apparently took more food than we could finish. Tony tried to cut his bread like he was trying chop a block of wood, you can imagine the noise. Anyway after an hour, we decided to call it quits and head to the bar. As we were leaving early the next day and I was planning on taking my medication, I decided to finish off and head back to my room. 

Some of the other others, I learnt the next morning, only finished at 11pm and still had not finished the rum and whiskey.

Friday, 29 March 2013

The beach - here we come

We are heading to Maria La Gorda this morning. Supposed to be a place known for snorkelling and diving and pretty much nothing else I wonder what to expect? Leaving Vinales, I am impressed with this town. A population of about 6,000 people and a night life that is pretty amazing catering for more than just tourists. Only three bars but they play all night every night, so it is pretty amazing for a town of 6,000 I must say.
The casa I stayed in Vinales

As we head out we were told of the tale of this place we are on our way to. Apparently Maria La Gorda is the name of a prostitute that was popular with pirates in the good old days. As this place is in the Western edge of Cuba and very close to Mexico, pirates frequented this place and soon became a point of call for pirate ships. When Cuba became independent, or at least sort of independent, of the British, Spanish and American colonialists, this place became a military zone and soon after became a National Park so that development and other improvements are limited or protected. Currently, the military controls this part of Cuba and the resort we are going to, is run by the military, so we were told not to expect too much from the resort.

On the way, we pass by the privincial town of Pinar Del Rio and there is not much there for tourists other than a cigar factory that run tours. I was surprised that the factory, does not allow people to bring bags or take photographs. The cigar making process is not a big secret nor are we able to acces their recipe for ageing the tobacco leaves. So, not sure what the big deal is.

Anyway, we stop and visit this place. It is actually quite interesting to see and learn a little bit about cigars and the novelty behind it. Cuban puros (cigars) have had famous fans from Che Guevara to Arnold Schwarzenegger. John F Kennedy apparently told his press secretary Pierre  Salinger to order a thousand of his favourite "Pettit Upmanns" the night before signing the US trade embargo on Cuba into law. This is hardly surprising. Reared in the rustred fields of Pinar Del Río province in the island’s luscious west, all genuine Cuban cigars are hand-rolled by trained experts, before being packed in tightly sealed cedar boxes and classified into 42 different types and sizes. The unsurpassed quality of the country’s cigars in the world market stems from a combination of geography, terrain and fine local workmanship, and the production process is complex enough to make smokers savour the end result.

Cuba’s flagship brand is Cohiba, popularised by Fidel Castro who used to puff on Cohiba Espléndidos before he gave up smoking for health reasons in 1985. Other international favorites include the Partagás brand, rolled in Havana since 1845; the classic Montecristo no.2, another fuerte (strong) smoke much admired by Cubans; and the milder Romeo y Julieta brand, invented in 1903 by a Cuban who had traveled widely in Europe. The uniquely Pinar Del Rio produced tobacco stuffed into Vegas Robainos, meanwhile, is the world’s very finest, and the brand is thus more exclusive. Then there are the so-called locally smoked peso cigars – not branded, perhaps – but cubans are said to save the best for themselves.

Most of the manufacturing story unfolds before your eyes in Pinar Del Rio’s countryside. 

Given its rich soil and the right humidity, seeds typically take around 80 days to grow into plants prime for harvesting. Tobacco planting is generally staggered, so the harvest lasts several months. Upon maturing, the leaf selection process is conducted by a team of highly skilled workers, who will have needed years of experience to be given this responsibility. Each plant carries three types of leaves: the ligero, the strongest leaves located at the top of the plant, the seco, which provides the cigar’s taste, and the voldado (light-flavoured leaf, used for combustibility). Leaves are subsequently transferred to one of the province’s numerous casas de tobaccos (drying houses) and, depending on their size, placed at different heights within these long thatched huts to dry. 

Then begins the fermentation of the leaves, which can last 40 to 50 days, followed by the aging process, which often runs to two or three years. Afterward, leaves are sorted according to their attributes (such as size and color), stemmed and left to cure – again for up to several years. The next stage is the first typically seen in a cigar factory: a second categorizing of the leaves followed by the filler leaves being positioned, bound and pressed in a mould.  No chemicals are used and all glue used are natural. An experienced master roller then hand-finishes the cigar by adding a wrapping leaf and a head.

The whole drive is about five hours and after three hours, we stop for a pee break and to fill up the Transtur bus with diesel. The toilets in these stops that we have had is horrible. They are either dirty or do not flush. Soon after we board the bus and head for Maria La Gorda. While waiting for the bus to fill, I had a very nice local sandwich ice-cream.

The turn off to Maria La Gordia is quite obscure but after the turn off we were greeted with security posts and security posts but no one stops the bus to check for anything. Soon after we come to the beach and it is incredibly beautiful and inviting. A shame I am alone and not with my other half. There are only about 30 chalets and even if each one has four people there are only a couple of hundred people to share this gorgeous twelve kilometre beach.

When we arrive, we we told that we can only check in at 4pm and no earlier. So, we take our lunch at the cafe, one of only two, the other being the only restaurant. Activities here are limited to that related to the sea. Snorkelling is the most popular and is quite close by. The sea is shallow and there are corals and fish about 20 meters out. The other activity is diving. Both of which I wanted to do but as I am alone, not really comfortable going out to sea without Vera. The scuba diving sounded really interesting and I was pretty keen as it is only CUC24 for an introductory dive up to 7 meters. After thinking abut it, I decided not to for now as I wanted to be able to do the dive with Vera on another day. The other activity was sunset cruise. Actually, it was the scuba boat taking you out to sea to see the sun set. The group decided to do that this evening so that those who wanted to do the diving had the whole day and did not need to worry about coming back and rushing to get on the boat again. Natalia went to enquire but was told that boats were not allowed out at sea after five today because of a military exercise at sea. So it will have to wait till tomorrow, just as well I guess.

The planned activity today is salsa lessons at 5.30, drinks at 6.30 and dinner at 7.30. Lets hope it is not on Cuban time. The salsa lessons was conducted by Natalia who looks really experienced. She gave us a few moves to try and looks surprisingly easy but is very tiring. After an hour, my back was hurting. The group sat for a drink on the jett before dinner but I just sat on a chair as I could not sit down on the floor. 

At 7.30 pm we headed out to the restaurant for the buffet dinner. Was not really bad although everyone kept saying the food was not as good as the ones you get at the casas. I actually found this good although not the same variety. After dinner, I just had to turn in as my back was really sore. 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Cold Vinales

The start of this day was cold. Apparently it was 10c last night. I know I almost froze with the thin blanket I had. Somehow I managed to sleep well through the night, despite the cold and the noise from the night club.

I arranged for a foot massage this morning and the man who was to give me a massage was there at 9am just as we came down after breakfast. Some of members of the group wanted to head out to the beach but the weather this morning didn't look anything like beach weather. The group then broke up and some wanted to do a city tour with a taxi, some rock climbing and others just wanted sometime to themselves. 

I thought doing the city tour would be interesting, so asked Natalia if I could delay the massage to after lunch. She didn't seem very pleased with it but did ask the guy and he agreed to come back at 4pm. I then joined the group on the city tour. The city tour covered going to the Indian Cave, one of the two hotels in Vinales and the murals. We managed to get the Cadillac we had the night before as our taxi, which was great as it could fit seven (including the driver).

Our first stop was the Indian Caves. Entry is CUC5 person which included a tour guide. I thought it was a large cabe system but we soon found out that it was not that big after all. A short walk through the caves took us to where an under ground river was and a boat then took us on a short ride, 220 meters to be precise, to show us the various formations on the wall of the cave. You had to use a little bit of imagination to make out an Indian, snake, champagne bottle upside down and tobacco leaves hanging from the ceiling. We eventually exited from another side and had to walk through the usual mandatory gift shop. There wasn't much to buy anyway. That took us all of probably an hour at the most.

Next stop, the hotel on the hill. It was one of the only two hotels with a pool and they let non hotel guests to use the pool for CUC3 per day. It was also situated on a hill so the view was supposedly great. Thanks to this crappy weather, the view wasn't all that great. We still managed to see quite a bit of the valley. There was no one there at the pool. We spent probably about half an hour talking some obligatory photos of the hotel and the 'great' view and it was time for the next stop.

We were warned by Natalia that we would be going to the murals, not to see the murals but to drink their piña coladas. How right she was. From a distance it looked like a wall painting of prehistoric dinosaurs and Spider-Man. That was my first impression. I was thinking to myself - what murals? When we went closer, we learnt that it was a prehistoric mural that was discovered in the 30's and sometime in the 50's the government commissioned someone to clear the vegetation around it and paint it so that the world could see it. It took them four years to clear the vegetation and paint it. I think the paint work is still work in progress as it looks like someone ran out of paint. But why would someone paint it so bright? It looks like a Dulux sponsored mural. Also, the painter chose a bright blue colour for the figurines against a red backdrop, which at a glance looks like three Spider-Man.

After taking some photos, we all sat down for the ever so 'talked about' piña coladas. I didn't particularly found it great but thought it was okay. After having one, my tummy felt funny. I thought it must be too much rum in it but then it could also be bad water or a whole bunch of other things. 

When we got back, I threw up and then took a nap. After an hour's sleep, I felt a little better. It must have been too much rum in mine as the others were fine. Anyway, I was awoken by the casa lady because it was 4pm and the guy came for my massage. He propped up a huge table in the centre of the living area and asked me to lie down. He then used some ointment with a lot of menthol in it as I could smell it. The massage was quite good as it relaxed my feet and it felt less painful but wasn't what I was expecting. But I guess I was expecting a miracle which was not going to happen. However, what I thought was that it wasn't worth $20 as it was only 20 minutes or so. Anyway, you win some and you loose some. That's how it is.

It was social time before dinner and we headed back to the pub we went to before. A different band was playing so it wasn't same old same old. I decided to avoid alcohol tonight given how I felt earlier, so it was the local cola for me. While waiting for the drinks, Natalia, Ben and I went out to look for Cuban cigars as souvenirs. We went to this shop that specialises in cigars and rum. The cigars there range from CUC3.50 to CUC45 each stick. I chose one relatively cheap and one relatively expensive, just for the fun of it. He man at the shop assures me that if it was kept in a dry and cool place, a cigar will last over 20 years. So, why not? I could smoke them when I retire or give them to my kids when they have a son? Sounds like a plan. I eyed this one that was the last one on the shelf. It is apparently Fidel's favourite cigar Chohiba, so must be good I guess.

Tonight dinner is lobster, home style. Not quite what I had in mind when it arrived. Was salty and didn't look as appetising. I guess after having the best lobster in Havana, not much comes close. Nevertheless the amount was no comparison. As usual more than what one person can consume, Cuban style I am repeatedly reminded.

We leave at 9am tomorrow and we have a five hour drive to the next port of call. This trip with Intrepid is quite different from the others I have been on. This is just too relaxing and not seeing much. I am glad I had three days with the other guide in Havana. I did a lot of things in Havana and I think I got in a lot in the three days there than I had in three days here. I also got to do a lot of local stuff which an outfit like Intrepid will never do. I guess at the end of the day, it is our choice as what we think is appropriate and what risks we are willing to take. Many on this group were told that a foreigner cannot take local transportation reserved for Cubans as these are highly subsidised for Cubans. Well that may be so and it may well be illegal for foreigners to take them as well but that is an experience you cannot begin to describe. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Rolling hills of Pinar Del Rio

The morning was misty and still cloudy but cold. At least it didn't rain. I was up pretty early so went out and saw the man that owned the casa on his roof plucking bananas and guavas for breakfast. as fresh as it gets! Breakfast was like what you would expect, Cuban style - elaborate. Apart from the fruits and bread, we sampled some Cuban pancakes. They were ordinary pancakes but instead of taking it with just honey or syrup, Cubans have their pancakes with honey, cheese and ham. I was a bit skeptical with the combination but gave it a go anyway. It wasn't the usual pancake, just different is what I'll call it.

The spread for breakfast
Local jam - frozen and sliced
We met at 9.15am for the walk. I did not bring my tramping pole but Beth from Canada had two and offered one to me. I seriously did not expect the kind of terrain we came across. Natalia did say there was a steep hike and then stairs going down but she said it was not a big deal.

The walk initially was gentle and actually for the most part it was gentle through rolling country side and farmland. Our first stop was the home of one tobacco farmer. He showed us how cigars were rolled and he passed one cigar for all of us to try. I tried a bit. Didn't quite smell like the ones I smelled in Havana. I was told that it was because this cigar was pure and had none of the fragrance that the cigar companies add. The popular ones add cinnamon, sugar from sugar cane and rum to the leaves and these ingredients give out the fragrance. After the cigar smoking, we were all treated to some real fine Cuban coffee - thick but in small quantity. I love the coffee but it is a pity they serve it in tiny little shot glass sized coffee cups. They are real cute but seriously one needs more coffee. 

I generally do not smoke but I couldn't give this a miss
Coffee being brewed the traditional way
Beth, Harvey's other half, has had a slipped disc and walks very slowly. She brought with her two tramping poles but have only been using one. So, she offered the other for me to use. After she heard about be climb, she said she will be heading back after coffee and meet us at the other end.

After filling up with cigar and coffee, we headed to the caves. We passed some imposing cliffs on one side and rolling tobacco fields on the other side. It was still very windy and hence cold. Half an hour later we arrived at a dead end. Natalia said this is where we climb. With the help of the tramping pole and Harvey behind me, I made it up the cliff and going down was slightly better but not much easier.

I thought that was the end until we came to another cliff which was even steeper and looked dodgy with uneven rocks but had good trees around them providing good support going up. At the top of that cliff was a cave. It was obviously unlit and using the tramping pole like a blind man's stick, I managed to get past the five minute walk in complete darkness. At the end of the cave was the going down bit. This time is was better as there were proper steps all the way down.

Lucky it did not rain today and lucky we changed our plans yesterday when we arrived. I cannot imagine what it would have been like doing that track in rain or even just after a heavy down pour.

We walked back to town and had street pizza for lunch. There were like six different flavours and the base was all the same. They just add whatever you wanted and put it into the oven for a 15 to 20 minutes and you get fresh pizza. The ovens are not electric but an old oil drum on its side, with coal burning inside providing the heat to cook the dough. The end result was quite nice. For 10 Pesos, I had a small personal pizza, which was amazing value.

After lunch I came back to the casa to chill out after the long three hour walk before the trip to the organic farm later tonight. A group of us decided to meet up later for coffee at 3.30pm. This coffee shop we went to made really good cafe leche, which really meant coffee with milk. Since they serve coffee in tiny little cups, I had two. I saw the local Cadeca across the street from us, so wanted to see if they would change some local Pesos for me. I still wanted the 100 Pesos to complete my collection. I waited in line and when my turn came, I politely asked with a smiling face if I could have some Moneda Nacional. She said it would be 280 Peso for 10 convertibles. So changed CUC10 and asked for one 100 Peso note and she found the crispest one for me. So I now have a full collection of local Cuban Pesos.

When we got back, the rest were waiting. Two local taxis were hired to take the 12 of us to the organic farm. The one I got was a 1934 Cadilac which must have been a stretch limousine in its time. As all such cars, the interior is pretty worn out but the exterior is still pretty good shape. Still running at a speed it once ran, which is not very fast at all. All the dials must have faded so the owner twinked it all in place.

At the farm, the group had the option of doing some farm work or get some cocktails before dinner. As my legs were not so good after the long walk, I got myself some piña colada and sat down to admire the wonderful view.

The restaurant was on top of a hill
It was a pity there were so much clouds or I bet the sunset wold have been spectacular. The piña coladas were really nice but they were also serving another drink called moringa. It apparently was the latest craze in aphrodisiac drinks. Had one, but the piña coladas were still better.
Pina Coladas being made
Soon after dinner was served. The amoun of food that was served was simply out of this world. We had fruits, salads and soup for starters. Then more salads, steamed pumpkin, sweet potatoes and taro. The mains were made up of roasted chicken, broiled pork and dry curried lamb. The lamb was my favourite. We were told to fill up as after tomorrow, the food was going to be crappy.

Just one of the many dishes cooked for us
There was lots to drink from the bar. The Canadian couple brought two bottles of wine and Tony the policeman from Adelaide brought a dozen cans of Bocaneros beers. I was kind of expecting some exotic dessert after all that great food but all we got was pineapple, bananas and coffee. Which was good in a way or would have been another mission to finish that. In the end, we came back with really bloated stomachs.

The night for me was not over. As I was about to turn in, there was this massive spider on the wall just by my bed. It must have been at least three inches end to end. I did not have any insect spray with me or one in the room either. I had no newspapers with me and no visible weapon against this giant spider - the first I have seen here in Cuba. In the end, I took the book I had and slapped it against the wall, hoping the spider was between the book and the wall. I did not see the spider splat on the book or the wall, which was disappointing but I prayed that I gave it a run for its life and it never comes back.