Cuba 2007: Day 10

Here is a link to tomorrow's diary.
Here is a link to yesterday's diary.
Here is a link to the index of the days.

Here is a link to today's photos. Click the big i button in the centre of the screen to get the titles of each slide. However, it'll probably be best to look at the photos after you've read the following text (if you plan to do that!).

Having had the door to the balcony open and the shutters open on the window and the curtains open, I'm wake to the new day when it arrives. At about 0715 I get up and after washing go to breakfast. It's in some ways a trial for the timing tomorrow morning to get ready for a walk tomorrow morning at 0830.

The buffet for breakfast is wonderful: lots of choice, tons of food, nicely laid out. The black coffee is from an urn and it has a weird taste but is drinkable. I'm not sure what the fruit juice is. There's scrambled egg and I eat it with tomato and cumcuber. I also have cheese and ham. I do this twice and don't bother on the fruit which is naughty. All the bread is already cut and although some it is dry lots of it isn't.

I return to my room at 0815. So that'll be OK for tomorrow.

I decide to search out the maid. In my new room I've found a empty bag with a form for laundry (there wasn't one in my old room). I've filled in the form and put my T-shirts and shorts inside. I take it to the maid. She suggests 9am or 8am tomorrow morning. Seeing I would like some of this laundry for the walks at 0830, I say I would prefer 8am. In the end she suggests 5pm today. I show my pleasure and say "muchos gracias".

Today I'm going to drive to Soroa to see the Orchid garden. So I get all the stuff I need and put it in my rucksack. On my way there I have to drive through a toll gate. He just lifts it up. I have some paperwork on me to prove I'm staying at the hotel for when I return (or else my guidebook says they will want 3 CUCs). Just outside the toll gate it's a left turn to Soroa.

In Soroa, I turn in at an area where there is a parking. And the parking attendant comes up to me, ask me whether it's my first time in Soroa, explains to me that there's a café in one direction , a 2K walk to a lookout in another direction and the orchid garden in a third direction. He says he'll want 1 CUC for parking when I've finished.

I head off for the orchid garden. At the gate there's a sign saying 3 CUC per person and 3 CUC for a camera. Knowing that I won't get good photos of flowers with the lens I have, I say I'm not going to take any photos. So I just pay him 3 CUCs.

A woman comes up to me. She is my guide. She speaks good English. She explains how the place came into being: it was set up by a man from the Canaries in memory of his daughter who died young. It is now looked after by the University of Pinar del Rio (which is not far from Vinales (where I go on Saturday)). She says that the house is now used by the University for conferences. She also says that it is not the best time of the year to see the orchids but there are some here.

When we get to the first flowers I change my mind about photography and say to her that I'll pay when I leave. She shouts something about this to the man at the gate.

After a few orchids at the start, she points out other flowers and trees.

Most of the orchids are in an enclosed area where they increase light/dark and change the humidity. There I see probably about 10 orchids. I get overwhelmed by all the names: I remember the Tiger Orchid and the Octopus Orchid.

I say to her it's funny they are all named after birds and animals adding that in England we have Fly orchids, Butterfly orchids, Bee Orchids. She says that they also have a Bee Orchid and later she shows me one but it seems to be different from the one in England.

We get to a house which is where the owner lived and then died. There a band starts playing as I arrive and she says she will leave me to wander around in this area before starting again. I see CDs for sell. I guess the idea is that I will tip the band or buy a CD. She has told me to go over to the footbridge where there is a view.

Just beyond the footbridge there are three Cuban people at a table playing cards. It's a young girl, an old man and a young man. I say Ola, and get two Olas and a "Good morning" back. I ask the young man whether he speaks English and we then have a long conversation (interrupting the game of cards which I attempt to apologize to the other two for).

He is a professor in marketing at the University of Pinar del Rio. He is resting this week with his father and sister here in the Orchid garden. We talk about lots of things: people are poor but happy and gradually we are working together to improve things. I tell him where I work. It's amazing how the name Oxford University goes down with people.

At my suggestion we exchange e-mail addresses. He says something about it being an honour talking to me but I'm extremely pleased to have met him. We go through explaining each character of the e-mail addresses to ensure we have understood each other's writing.

Later I wish I had thought of arranging to meet him next week as I presume he'll back in Pinar del Rio then and I will not be far away in Vinales. It would have been good to meet up and discuss more and for him to show me around Pinar del Rio. When I think of this, it is too late as he is somewhere in the Orchid Garden and it'll be difficult to get back in. Grhh!

When I get back to the entrance I tip the person showing me around and they only want 1 CUC for the camera. Strange.

I go back to the car park and go of to the café but there is a coachload tof people from the Netherlands there. I chat to two of them. I hear two others talking about my camera. One of them has a more modern Canon. The other has a Nikon. They seem to like my lens. I say that it's not very good. A Canon/Nikon war is sort of started by the Nikon owner who says that he can't hear anything good said about Canon because he works for Nikon.

I shift the subject. He explains that no he doesn't know where he's going next and that he likes all this as he's on holiday and doesn't have to make decisions. I tell him that's quite opposite to my holiday.

After chatting to them for a little while I find I've bored them enough with my holiday adventures. So off I try for the 2K walk to the viewpoint.

It turns out to be a rocky uphill path and I've only got my walking sandals on. I meet a couple (also from the Netherlands) coming down and I find out from them about the terrain. (When I later see them I find out they are staying locally; obviously they are not with the coach load.) I walk for another 10 minutes but then decide it's too tough in these sandals.

Back at the car park I go to a smaller café and ask for a mohito but have to have a beer as again there is no ice.

I sit there relaxing. Some of the people from the Netherlands coach are coming here for drinks rather than going to the larger café. They seem to have tokens. Maybe they don't even have to work out the currency of the country!

One of them gets three plastic cups of orange and two cans of beer for his token. He's on his own. I get up from my chair leaving my rucksack and beer behind and offer to help him carry this lot back to where his friends are in the bigger café. As I get there I say that I'm expecting a 1 CUC tip. He and some of the others laugh.

I pay my 1 CUC parking fee and drive away.

When I get to the road junction near to the toll gate, instead of turning right to go back to the hotel, I carry straight on. This is described as the North route in the book "Bicycling Cuba". They say that if you can cope with the potholes on this road, then after 19K you can join a different east-west road. So this would be a different way to get to Vinales on Saturday. There are K marker waypoints in the book and so it would be easy to do.

However, after 8K I turn around. There have been too many bits of rough surfaces and potholes so far and it would be so easy to do something bad to the car. I won't be going this way on Saturday.

I get back about 1300. It's starting to thunder and rain heavily. Like someone said to me earlier it's predictable: hot sunny morning, heavy rain from early afternoon but clearing up later.

I get to my room and the laundry is there on my bed. I'm overjoyed. I open the door waiting for the maid to pass. I say thank you and give her 1 CUC. She looks pleased.

Later when it stops raining I take a walk out the back of the hotel, down the steps and into the streets of the community. There I find a bar besides the smaller lake. I discover that it is selling beer from a keg "dispenzard" (I think). It is marked as 1200 MN (MN means moneda nacional, i.e., local pesos). I point and she asks whether I just want "uno". I say "si".

I proffer 1 CUC and she gives me 1200 MN back. This is the first time I've touched the local currency. I work out that the 1200 MN is about 0.5 CUC. So later I get rid of it by buying another beer.

At the bar I see a person with a T-shirt saying "run fast" on the front and "brag slowly" on the back. I like the "brag slowly" and wish I could photograph it. I resist taking a candid shot of him in the bar.

As he's about to leave, I ask him in pigeon English whether he is a runner. And he says the T-shirt is to promote Formula Uno racing. I tell him I'm a runner (which is not any longer true) and that I have done a half marathon in Havana called the Marabana. We seem to be conversing as he says it takes place every year and I say yes in November.

I ask him whether I can take his photo, and he and his mate stand there whilst I take their photo. Then I ask him to turn round and take the "brag slowly". I show him the photos I've taken.

I have had to have that second beer because it's bucketing down with rain. When it's nearly stopped, I move away from the bar. I climb up a hill in the community to reach another set of houses and I reach the back of a vegetarian restaurant called Restaurante El Romero. The easiest way of getting back to the Hotel is to go through the restaurant. There is just one table where people are having a meal. It is the only table on the balcony. I ask for a coffee. It's deliciously black. I get up and find a menu and ask whether I can look at it.

They are heavily into blending fruits and vegetables. And so I have a soft drink that's meant to reduce stress: it contains three ingredients. I forget which some thing like grapefruit, carrot and onion. It is wonderful.

The menu is so full of information. It has an introduction of two pages. It then explains how to choose a meal from the numerous pages that follows. Most of the dishes come in three sizes: small, medium and large. They suggest only have a large main course if you are not having anything else. I'm getting hungry reading this wonderful menu.

The menu says that they start dinner at 7pm . When paying my bill, I ask whether they are open tonight at 7pm. He says yes and asks how many people. So I think that's got my evening meal sorted out.

Back in the hotel I write up my notes for yesterday and prune some photos. Because I'm enjoying myself at this place, I'm getting behind on these chores.

So at 1850 I got down to Reception. It's someone new but she gives me a receipt for use at the vegetarian restaurant (El Romero). There are no customers there. Although they have a small table for 2 people, they are happy for me to have the table in the balcony.

I have a Daiquiri. I've not had that drink before. I have a dip, some sticks of celery and other things, an appetizer and a main course. The main course is a stuffed egg plant and it comes with stir-fry vegetables and battered vegetables.

It's all wonderful.

A couple from Virginia Waters in England arrive when I'm having my coffee. I turn round and we start having a conversation. After a while I'm feeling guilty that I'm occupying a prime table so I sit with the couple at their table saying I won't stay long. (Immediately, the table on the balcony gets occupied.)

They are also driving around and they have a long trip from here to Trinidad tomorrow. Their tour notes say it will take 5 hours. They tell me that Pinar del Rio has a nightmare of a one way system. I say that using Google Maps I've planned a route to Vinales that I hope avoids me going into the centre of Pinar del Rio.

Because of the receipt from the hotel, the bill is just for the Daiquiri, i.e., 1.65 CUC. Although the receipt has 9.50 CUC written on it, I've probably had 15 CUC of food. This is confusing. I plan to pay 3 CUC which is 1.65 CUC plus a tip for the whole meal. He takes my 5 CUC but does not come back with any change. Later I query this and he gives me change. I walk away with 2 CUC. He doesn't look that pleased.

I go back to the Hotel and to its bar but there are no customers there. I have a mohito. Later the people from Virginia Water turn up. We compare notes about the vegetarian restaurant and then the people from Denmark I saw yesterday arrive.

I have a Crystal and later a Habana Libre (rum and coke). Because of a change in bar staff, I manage to get away with just paying for the last two drinks.

Here is a link to today's photos. Click the big i button in the centre of the screen to get the titles of each slide.

Here is a link to tomorrow's diary.
Here is a link to yesterday's diary.
Here is a link to the index of the days.