The Jungle Bit

Thanks for visiting our Cuba blog!

We walked through a lot of forest. Or it may have been jungle. For two girls from London it’s hard to tell the difference!

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Shockingly enough (it really is when you’re only used to pavement and the occasional pigeon), this forest/jungle had a lot of wildlife. 

There were pigs (cute), bugs (terrifying) and chickens (oddly disconcerting) to contend with. And as we got closer to the cave, we were dwarfed by coconut trees which became breathtakingly tall – check out these photos:

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We also noticed that the earth was becoming redder and redder, staining our shoes, clothes – Rosie’s formerly white t-shirt is still an earthy hue – and even the walls of a farmer’s hut we walked past on the way. We were entering the fertile land which produces fruit, coffee, and all of Cuba’s chocolate:

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Coffee beans:

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Cocoa pods:

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Our guide also pointed out some beautiful snails called ‘polymitas‘. They come in an array of vibrant colours and  are now unfortunately endangered, as many locals collect them to sell to tourists. It’s strictly forbidden to take any out of Cuba with you so keep an eye out and don’t buy any by mistake – it would be such a shame for them to vanish all together.

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Having just graduated from a colouring Geography degree, Rosie also noticed that the raised rock path we walked on as we looped back around towards the coast was razor sharp and coral-like, as if it had been formed under the sea. We asked our guide about this, and he said they often do find marine fossils, indicating that the area was indeed entirely submerged at one point:

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A pretty tough journey down a sheer cliff and we finally made it to this.

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Our guide’s back?

No! Not so! This, amigos, is an underground lake.

Have another look and come back. We’ll wait.

The reason it doesn’t look like there’s a lake down there is that the water is so crystal clear it’s invisible as you go in. You just walk down some steps which gradually get more slippery, the hand rail disappears all together and suddenly you have wet feet.

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We splashed around for a bit and just generally relaxed.The sound of the water lapping against the rocks is so therapeutic, and being deep underground means the air has this heavy quality to it – like every sound is muffled by the weight of the hill pressing down around you. Definitely worth a visit to de-stress after the hard work of…um…climbing up a mountain to swim in a cave. Our guide was also pretty cool – he came in with us to hold the torch and before letting us relax gave us a huge heart attack, switching the light off and pretending he was a crocodile!

Eventually we hopped out and towelled off. A little more walking and we were back by the farmer’s hut we’d come by on the way down.

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This, right here, is the point at which the phrase ‘casual machete’ – if you remember from before – was coined.

People in Cuba can be so laissez faire about machetes. You quickly get to the point where you stop panicking every time someone picks one up when you’re literally miles away from the nearest hospitalSome people may accidentally brutally mutilate themselves with the huge knife they seem to view as a casual accessory, but they seem pretty relaxed about it and you’d be pretty unlucky for this to be the time it goes wrong. The guy walking down the street with what is essentially a massive, sharp knife, is probably fine too. Note to selves not to view a man with a machete walking down the street as nonchalantly in London, as we did in Cuba.

Side track complete, resume path of actual story.

We were given some fruit which was predictably delicious, made a huge mess of it getting juice all over ourselves, and saw this chicken in a bucket – blissfully unaware of the deadly weapon which would probably be used to cook it for dinner, sitting right beside it.

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We tipped the farmer’s wife for the fruit and headed back to wobbly bridge, full and happy and still giggling a bit about the chicken.

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Tune in to our blog again next Sunday, for more photos, tips and fun from our adventures in Cuba!

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A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Welcome back to our Cuba blog!

Remember when the Millennium Bridge kept swaying and how unsafe people said it looked? Not dangerous enough. Think the bridge Shrek and Donkey cross to reach Fiona and you’ve pretty much got the exact same bridge that leads to Playa Blanca.

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No wonder we had to cross by boat instead of actually having to walk on this – although you do get dropped off at the point the bridge has collapsed into the water and have to walk the rest of the way, because rickety old bridges that sway gently with every step over the gaping maw of an active volcano as the lava gently bubbles below you (fine, it was a river. But it was warm, ok??) just shouldn’t be missed. Our terrifying slip’n’slide over the last few metres were more than enough.

If those few steps hadn’t brought us to such a breathtaking area they would not have been worth it. Check out this photo:

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Ok, I’m skipping ahead a bit. First we had to climb a massive steep hill to reach this viewpoint.

Tourists are absolutely not allowed to wander through these forests without supervision, it’s part of a natural park (el Parque Natural Majayara). It may be the litter they tend to drop everywhere (Oxford Street on Saturday is proof enough of that) or it may be that you could get lost in the endless coconut, coffee and banana trees and never be found.

Either way, you need to get yourself a guide. They’ll direct you to one from the boat and the locals happily usher you on towards the last house before the forest as soon as they catch a glimpse of your slightly sunburnt but still agonisingly pale skin. The guide’ll then take you up the road to the underground lake. Shall we follow?

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Tune into our blog again next week to hear about our frolic in the cave, and for more photos and tips from our adventures in Cuba!

Crossing the desert

Welcome back to our blog!

We woke up to the glorious Caribbean heat searing through the shutters. Splashing some water on our faces we went straight to the roof terrace to bask, lazily eating breakfast and drinking the warm, thick, Baracoan hot chocolate which is the best in the world.

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Rosie persuaded Elle we should book another salsa lesson for the evening. We planned to take in Playa Blanca in the afternoon, and catch the bus to Trinidad the next day. Our guidebook said you can walk to Playa Blanca from Baracoa beach, but it isn’t as simple as the book makes it sound. For starters, roads in Baracoa aren’t exactly diligently labelled. And once you get the right turn onto the beach there’s no clear path for a long while, leaving you feeling a bit like Jesus in the desert.

We’d never moved so lazily. It was such a hot day that every few metres were a battle against an dense wall of humidity; before we even made it onto the beach we were drenched, making a desperate stop at the air-conditioned petrol station to get a lemonade. We tell you, never has a lemonade felt so refreshing. We really recommend getting a Cachito, Cuba’s own brand. It may have been our frantic thirst, but we really think that too was the best damn lemonade in the world.

We stumbled deliriously across Baracoa beach for what felt like miles.

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Finally, we found the path, and fell in beside a man pushing along a bicycle.

Way to Playa Blanca

Our nurtured sense of suspicion immediately kicked in as he started talking to Rosie, but it turned out he wasn’t expecting payment in return for guiding us. He actually gave us the best tip for travelling around Cuba. Never ask the price of anything. If you speak Spanish, find out what it is beforehand – don’t trust the guidebook – and then just thrust money at the person in question. This way, once we reached the Río Miel – which you have to cross to get to Playa Blanca by boat since the bridge was destroyed in a hurricane – we paid five pesos (moneda nacional) to get across, rather than the 1CUC each the guidebook tells tourists to pay. Locals pay just 1 peso each, but if you’re in the know the unspoken rule is to pay just a bit more out of courtesy and you’ll earn the respect of the locals for not letting yourself get ripped off (even if the price difference doesn’t make much of a difference to us).

The sun’s rays dulled suddenly by the afternoon clouds, we slid down the muddy bank and climbed into the boat with a group of Cubans, placing our coins on the pile, and exhaled – looking out across the calm waters as we made the crossing. Check out these photos:

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Tune into our blog again next week to hear what happened next, and for more photos and tips from our adventures in Cuba! It only get’s more exciting.

¡Salsa salsa!

Welcome back to our blog!

We left off where Elle had just branded her leg on a Cuban heat-shield-less motorbike exhaust; but the day still wasn’t over.

No sooner had the adrenalin abruptly worn off leaving us feeling like a fourteen-hour nap, we received a knock on the door – informing us dinner was ready and that our salsa teacher would be arriving soon. We had been looking forward to this, but given Elle’s newly acquired wound, wondered if it was the best idea. True to form, we considered the consequences for approximately two seconds, ignored them, and headed up to the roof terrace.

Roof Terrace, Baracoa

Just as we finished gulping down a restoring Creole meal of rice with black bean soup and chicken (frijoles con arroz y pollo) – delicious save for the salad that was ruined by olive oil which tasted like engine fuel – our salsa teacher came up the spiral stairs. He promptly removed his shirt – revealing a huge tattoo of Che Guevara on his back.

Johnny didn’t speak more than a couple of words of English, but just understanding ‘un dos tres’ would get you by fine. We kicked off our shoes (he said that helps ‘connect you to the ground and the dance’ – cringe) and in the humid haze of dusk in Cuba we started learning salsa.

At first, we drilled the basic steps (pasos) over and over to the hypnotic sound of ‘un dos tres, un dos tres’… But as the sun edged below the horizon and the sweat began to roll down our backs, something magical happened. We did connect with the dance. And taking it in turns, we flew across the terrace, twirling and twisting to the rhythm of salsa and the faint music that can always be heard on the streets of Cuba by night.

An all-consuming two hours later (costing 20CUC for both) and we had made an astounding amount of progress. Basic salsa isn’t hard for girls (men lead and have to plan their steps ahead), you just have to feel it. And once you do, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Check out these photos:

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Thanks for reading! Catch our blog again next week for more photos, tips and stories from our adventures in Cuba!