Are we there yet?

30 Jun

April 2, 2012

Let’s go on a road trip. Pack your backpack with clothes for eight days—bring only what is absolutely necessary. We’re leaving Havana in a Mercedez-Benz van with 12 college students, a professor and a chain-smoking driver. We’re going to the Bay of Pigs, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos and about a million bathrooms in between.

First stop (after a bathroom break of course) is the Bay of Pigs.

Our final destination for day one was the city of Santa Clara, about four hours outside of Havana. Normally when I’m making a trip of that distance, I just hop on the interstate and go. Not so in Cuba. We stopped at the Bay of Pigs for an hour and a half and took a nice little dip. I can safely say that I’ve never gone swimming while on a road trip, but it is actually surprisingly refreshing and something I definitely recommend.

With soggy pants and salty skin, we continued for about 20 minutes and stopped for lunch and a tour of the Bay of Pigs museum, learning the Cuban side of the story and seeing different artifacts from the invasion, including handwritten orders from Fidel.

 

Inundated with history and baked chicken, we packed up and continued the drive, listening to one of the three CDs that our driver had that would be constantly replayed as the soundtrack to our journey. About eight hours after our departure, we arrived in Santa Clara, which believe it or not, was not even close to the end of our road trip. As I’ve mentioned before, nothing in Cuba is straightforward or easy and this extends to taking a road trip.

 

Next morning, next stop: the quaint (read: boring) town of Trinidad. Remember the “not straightforward” thing? Instead of going directly to Trinidad, we took a laborious and winding path through the mountains of Escambray, yielding these amazing views.

 

I think Che hid out in these mountains during his guerilla campaigns. Now I have something in common with Che- we both peed in these mountains.

I won’t bore you with the details of Trinidad because there weren’t any (except for eating an amazing meal of my favorite Cuban food, barbecue’s criolla cousin, ropa vieja).

 

 

Let’s keep going. On to hipster heaven, a mausoleum dedicated to the man who is a revolutionary hero and graces millions of t-shirts.

 

 

The mausoleum and museum dedicated to Che Guevara and some of his guerilla fighters is sort of like our Arlington. It’s very serious and somber and respect is demanded- no hats allowed in the memorial.

 

Our trip to Santa Clara also included day excursions to an experimental soil station where we shoveled cow manure into a plantain field and a jaunt out to Cayo Brujo, a little key with with crystal clear water. Eight of our 12 were sick by the day we were supposed to leave for Cienfuegos, probably thanks to a busted pipeline in Santa Clara that made all the waterworks backed up. Imagine a zombie apocalypse movie plus the anthrax scare plus a Confederate hospital during the burning of Atlanta. It was bad. Let’s get out of there.

We packed up the Benz, our wiry driver Armando calmly carting a van-ful of mildly hysterical college students to Cienfuegos.

The minute we arrived in Cienfuegos, peace descended on the group. I attribute it to the sea breezes in this bayside town, but I suspect that our director, Humberto (on the right, with Armando), might have drugged our juice boxes.

 

 

Humberto and Armando. Don’t they look devious?

 

Let’s stay in Cienfuegos for a while. Cienfuegos is every retirement-aged person’s wet dream. It’s tranquilly situated on the Bahia de Jagua bordered by a malecon (sea wall). Along the malecon there are open-air bars and restaurants that seem calm even when they’re full of people and blasting reggaeton.

 

 

We stayed in casas particulares– homes that families rent out to visitors and can include delicious home-cooked Cuban breakfasts and dinners, which luckily ours did. I think heaven is luxuriously drinking morning coffee out of antique china on a porch by the water. I was in paradise for a few days.

 

 

 

 

Even though Cienfuegos is a Cuban Eden, let’s take a little mountainous jaunt to the Nicho waterfalls. It was almost baptismal for the group- the numbingly cold falls was the invigorating kick in the pants that made almost all of our sick compatriots feel marginally better.

 

 

It’s been quite a week. Let’s get back home to Havana.

Despite the waterfalls, we still had some fallen comrades (later we learned that my best friend on the trip had contracted a parasite-that’s another story though). We cut our trip short and returned to Havana a day early.

Let’s stop one more time for a bathroom break. The bathroom attendant was sitting outside, strumming a guitar and serenading everyone who stopped to pee. I’ve never been serenaded while going to the bathroom but can happily check that off my bucket list. Maybe the next road trip will have dancing bathroom attendants…

 

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