Cuba 2007: Day 12

Here is a link to tomorrow's diary.
Here is a link to yesterday's diary.
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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!).

Today it's the day of the trip from Las Terrazas to Vinales. It's about 133K.

Breakfast is different: it's not self-service. I get given a dinner plateful of fruit. This is good for me as I've been lazy for the last few days and have avoided the fruit at breakfast. I also ask for the usual: a tortilla con jamon y queso.

After breakfast I do the packing and get checked out of the Hotel. It's not Freddy at Reception but both of them are friendly. One of them asks me to fill in a questionnaire and I put Excellent down lots of times. As I leave they ask me to "come back again". I'd sure like to. It was a relaxing and friendly place.

I make my way back to the Autopista. This is about 7.3K. Then I turn right to go westwards. The journey is uneventful. I pass the pre-prepared waypoints at appropriate Ks. I get adrift by 3.2K from what I've pre-prepared.

One surprise is the equivalent of "services" in the UK: a restaurant in an area on the side of the road. It is about 78.5K from Las Terrazas. There are many coaches there. If I'm ever back, this will be a convenient place to have a break. This time I miss it.

The couple from Virginia Water told me the other evening that they went round the one-way system in Pinar del Rio several times. I've discovered this route from Google Maps that avoids the town centre. It takes a route through the north east part of the town that looks from Google Maps that it will be fairly easy to follow.

It's the first two turns that are the scariest. There's a turn off the Autopista that's not signposted. Instead it's signposted to somewhere else. I look at the tripmeter: it seems to be at the right place, and I look at my print out of the satellite image: the stuff on the ground seems to fit that image. So I turn right off the Autopista.

You just follow the road. It goes through a road junction, then bends left and then goes through another road junction. At the next junction you turn right. Just before the junction hidden in the trees on the right there's a sign saying turn right for Vinales. Excellent.

So it's not so scary. From here it's reasonably straightforward (as you just follow the road for about 30K).

On reaching Vinales, there are signs for the hotel (La Ermita) at each road junction, and so I don't have to look at the stuff I've prepared.

I arrive at about 1100. As checkin isn't until 1600 I'm a bit early. But there's a room ready. It's room number 1 which is not far from Recpetion. It's not a great room: it's noisy as it's near to the swimming pool and there are a lot of daytrippers here. The room doesn't have a fridge and, as it's on the ground floor, it's not possible to leave the windows/doors open without having a security hassle. The room could do with modernising. The bathroom is not great. Maybe my disappointment is because the rooms at Las Terrazas were so good.

After doing some washing, I decide to walk into town. As I start off, the green bus arrives at the Hotel. This is a bus that goes round in a circle visiting all the main places in Vinales, such as the two hotels, a valley that has two sets of caves and a "prehistoric" mural. It runs nearly every hour. I believe it costs 5 CUC per day for up to 3 trips.

I ignore it as this walk into Vinales is a recce for seeing whether this is going to be easy late at night. I discover that most of the route doesn't have street lights. It's about a mile and so it takes me about 20 minutes. The area seems to be friendly.

On the way one person I say "Ola" too engages in further conversation in a mix of Spanish and English. I think he's arranged something perhaps a meal perhaps for 2 people from France. I say "no gracias". By this time, he's learnt where I'm from. And he tells his name is "Sasli" or something like that.

Most of the action in Vinales is on one street, the Salvador Cisneros. I find a Cadeca (money exchange) and several supermarkets. I also find the main square and off the square there is the Centro Cultural Polo Montanez. Yes, that's the name of the famous singer whose museum I went to yesterday in Las Terrazas. Someone walking past explains to me that there will be a concert here at 5pm. I ask him when it will end: he thinks a bit and says 8pm. A poster says that there will be three bands.

I walk further down the other side of the Salvador Cisneros and pass a cheap eating place the Las Brisas. I then get to the ArtEx and the Patio del Decimista which is a performance area next door. Here I see a sign giving a timetable of events. There's a band every night at 9pm and the timetable lists who is appearing. I wonder whether the route back to the hotel will be visible at 9pm.

Whilst standing at the ArtEx, a teenager starts speaking to me. He asks me where I'm from and where I've been. At some point some thing I says causes him to say "I don't believe you". Later we discuss the music that's playing at the Plaza tonight and the music that will be playing at the ArtEx. He says he likes the main band (Valle Son) at the Plaza but I get the impression he doesn't like the traditonal bands that play at the ArtEx. I ask him whether there's any Reggaeton around. He's astonbished to find out I like Reggaeton and once again he says "I don't believe you". He asks me for my name: he says he's called Michael.

Further down the street I come across the Restaurant La Casa de Don Tomas. I nosy around and decide to come back to eat here later.

20 minutes later I'm back in the Hotel. I put the washing outside in the sun to dry. It's still noisy as the daytrippers are still here. I also write up the previous day's diary.

I'm late for the concert. By the time I've walked into town again it's 1720. The first performer (Edith Masola) is on. I stay for a few minutes but decide I need to eat. So I make my way to La Casa de Don Tomas which is on the west side of the town.

There's no customers there and so I sit at one of the four tables on the balcony. I decide to have just a main course so that I can get back to the concert. I choose bistec de cerdo. I have some beer and water with it. It comes with some pomme frites, a timbale of congri and a small plate of cucumber and tomatoes. It's OK.

A dog's approaching the table when there's one large piece of pork left. I put the pork in my mouth and wonder where the dog is. The guide book warns about these dogs hanging around. Suddenly all hell breaks out as I'm choking on the large piece of pork. I'm not able to breathe. And the situation deteriorates. I think to myself that I'm not coping with this. I get up from my table trying to work out what to do. The waitress is alarmed and gets the English speaking waiter.

Meanwhile for me time slows down. I can hear myself making really weird noises: the sort of noises my cats make when they are choking on a fur-ball or a piece of grass. I start thinking whether this is it: I'm going to die in Cuba. I'm not sure how I manage to dislodge the pork. I think I'm choking a lot. I may have tried to put my fingers down my throat. Anyway it's now in my hands. Funnily this hasn't stopped me from loosing my breath. I'm still struggling for air. The waiter hits me hard om my back several times. I let him do it as I know that's what you're meant to do but by now the pork is already out but I'm not in a position to tell him.

He tells me to stop crouching forward, to stand up, to take a deep breath, to calem down, to drink water. I apologise saying "stupide" and he says "no, it happens to him". In 5 minutes time I'm back to normal although I'm sweating buckets. For a few hours I get flashbacks reminding me what has happened.

I give him a slightly bigger tip and say I'll be back again.

At the concert in the Centro Cultural Polo Montanez, act number 2 (Los Sendres Del Humor) are performing. They are a comedy act with some brief musical bits. Of course, it all being in Spanish I feel left out of it but it's going down well with the audience.

I go in (1 CUC) and listen to the end of that act and then sit down and have a beer whilst listening to the main band (Valle Son). There's a lot of dancing. For one of the songs, there's even a group of people who dance in a circle swapping partners in a mind-boggling complicated choreography. I think it's start with something like 6 people but gradually more people join in finishing with something like 12 people.

It finishes at about 1940. The MC says a lot of stuff in Spanish, one word of which is "manaja". A little later I ask him whether there's going to music tomorrow. He says yes at 2.30pm and 9.30pm.

I move outside to the Plaza itself where there are loudspeakers blaring out music. I listen to this for about an hour. Some more dancing starts to take place at it gets darker.

I move down the street to the ArtEx where there should be a band playing at 9pm. Opposite there is a bar (El Vinalero). I sit at a table on the porch and have a Crystal. There's some English taking place at the table next door. And after 5 minutes I go over and join them. Two are together and are from Norway, the other person is from the USA. He has got here from Jamaica. The Norwegians are from Bergen. We swop stories of our travels. They use busses and casa particulars. The American has left his passport in a safe in Hanava because he's afraid of loosing it or it being stolen whilst he's travelling around. He can't appeal to a US Emabssy if it gets lost! He had thought a photocopy would be sufficient for casa particulars but it would appear that this is not the case. And so he is staying in unlicensed places.

I leave them after one beer hoping that there will be sufficient light left for the route back to the hotel. But at 2115 it's probably as dark as it will get and so I could have stayed longer and listened to the band across at the ArtEx. There are many almost pitch-black sections on the way back. I must remember to take a torch tomorrow night!

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.