28 Seconds Later… The real Cuban hospital

Welcome back to our blog! This week we encounter the REAL Cuban hospital…

Having settled into our Viñales casa we were ready to explore.

Obviously the priority was finding meds for the clumsy one. The clinic was an absolute trek away (impractical when one is struggling with the basic act of walking) so we found out the name of a hospital which was a couple of roads away and set off.

The first time we’d gone to the international clinic back in Trinidad, we had been expecting the worst and were surprised by gleaming nurse uniforms and quaint tiled décor. So this time, we had higher hopes. But we were wrong.

It was grim. 

hospital 1

Remember those creepy zombie films with brutalist architecture and old hospitals with long, empty corridors and peeling paint? Various shades of sick green. Hard benches and flickering lights. Think the film 28 days later… In fact it was so bad, we didn’t feel comfortable taking out the camera or even sneaking a photo on our phones; so today’s images are from what very few other travellers have taken.

This is the real Cuban hospital. The hospital which technically operates for locals only, a far cry from the rhetoric of Cuba’s state-of-the-art health system. If you’re interested in reading more, click here for an insightful article investigating Cuba’s hospitals – be warned, the images are disturbing.

hospital 2 hospital 3 hospital 4

We now know what it’s like to go into a real third world hospital. We know what they smell like. And it isn’t pretty.

What you may not know is that we are both very much hypochondriacs. Antibacterial hand-gel is very much a feature of each and every day of our lives. Wet wipes abound. Elle practically acts as the pharmacy for her friendship group and Rosie is only saved from that fate by being friends with a lot of pharmacy students. This hospital was the stuff of our nightmares.

We walked in, trying not to touch anything, or breathe.

A quick chat with reception established that this was the hospital –  where we would have to have Elle’s wound cleaned. We waited in a dark hallway for someone to see us, watching a young mother with sad eyes have her prenatal check up and trying stave off our own panic attack which we felt was surely imminent. Our names were called and we walked in to the room, fighting the urge to run away that was threatening to overwhelm us with every step. A somewhat impractical urge, really, considering Elle’s inability to do anything more than hop quite fast.

Nothing short of miraculously, our doctor was a burns expert. She calmly and collectedly checked the wound, painted on some new antibacterial cleanser and wrapped it all up in a meticulously clean bandage. While the hospital itself was infested with vermin, all  the medical supplies were sterilised and separately wrapped in little squares of brown paper. Yet again, Cuba had surpassed all our expectations. If you ever find yourself in Viñales hospital ask for Damarí and give her a hug for us. She refused payment – although we were not covered by insurance to use the local hospital – and invited us to her home for follow-up treatment. Next time we find ourselves there we will find a way to repay the kindness.

Next week on our blog we encounter zombies in a cave and go horse riding. Come back for more photos and tips from our adventures in Cuba!

You mean you’re allowed to just…leave Cuba?

Welcome to our blog! This week we get to grips with Viñales…our second to last scheduled stop in Cuba.

Viñales map

Viñales was looking pretty sweet as we hopped off the bus (literally – infected blood pooling in your lower leg can seriously impede mobility).  Sure, we were immediately mobbed by every Casa owner in Viñales the moment we stepped through the door but that’s pretty standard so we weren’t too bothered. We’d done this twice before, man. We were ready.

Plus Johnny – our salsa teacher from Baracoa – had called ahead so we knew there was a lovely lady waiting with a card that said our names on it. We found her and headed to our home for the next few days.

The new casa was even better than Trinidad! There was a classic car gleaming outside, a dog (Toby) who looked like a teddy bear bounding up to us for attention and a turtle we could stroke on our way past. There was also air con. We like air con.

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Once we’d settled in we sat down for a quick snack and a drink with our new host. Having met so many interesting people in Cuba we were keen to find out more about more about her experience of this fascinating country.

Over about three hundred thousand calories of fresh fruit, bread, coffee and assorted other food, Maribel told us about herself. She hadn’t always lived in Cuba – she had married a Spaniard and actually lived in Madrid for years. It hadn’t worked out and back she was in Cuba, only now bemoaning the lack of European comforts. Including the soya mince she had imported to Havana! Bingo – one happy vegetarian who knew she wouldn’t need to explain that she didn’t eat fish again! It turned out that Cubans can leave Cuba provided they have a mountain of paperwork or a flexible attitude to the law and a fair bit of cash. What was interesting about Maribel was that she had been able to come back and seemed to be living quite a westernised lifestyle – evident in the décor of her house.

Maribel on the patio:

Maribel

We polished off our pineapple (locally grown, thanks to Viñales’ unique microclimate), haggled down the price of our room to 15CUC ($15) a night including breakfast, and headed to the rocking chairs on the patio to get ready to explore with a new perspective and a list of recommendations of things to see and do.

Oh and to stroke Toby!

Toby

Next week on our blog we encounter zombies in a cave, go horse riding and encounter the REAL Cuban hospital…

Trini-done – From Trinidad to Viñales, Cuba

This week on our blog we finally leave colonial Trinidad to discover a new part of Cuba – Viñales!

Map Trinidad-Vinales

After what felt like a lifetime in Trinidad – necessitated by Elle’s requirement for daily medical attention – we finally got the all clear to leave. We were very glad about this – spending every breakfast pouring water over your infected scab so it’s softer for when the doctor gets out a chisel to scrape it off your leg while you desperately try not to faint can really turn you off a place. The doctor gave us some strict instructions regarding treatment in Viñales and we headed back to our casa to pack our bags.

However, let’s just say that despite our somewhat tarnished impression of the town – Trinidad is a truly beautiful (if not touristy) place. The museums, cathedral, antique cars and colourful streets are not to be missed. It’s also a place where people keep something called a jutía [a Cuban tree rat] as pets. Or eat them, we’re not sure.

The beautiful ruins of La catedral de Santa Ana (Santa Ana Cathedral):

catedral, Trinidad

catedral, Trinidad (2)

The colourful town:

classic car, Trinidad arte, Trinidad street, Trinidad

And the jutía!

jutía, Trinidad

But we digress. Having experienced the Viazul bus no less than 4 times at this point [a total of 34 hours spent in these moving sardine tins] we knew it wasn’t the best environment for someone who has to keep their leg elevated. But thankfully, Yare’s illegal taxi-driving father came to the rescue again! We agreed to pay him the same fare as the Viazul [realistically we could have bargained this down], said goodbye to Yare and her lovely daughter Monica (who gave us both some beautiful beaded necklaces as gifts) and hopped into the car, Havana bound.

Photos from the road to Havana:

on the road to Havana (1)

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What happened next was only to be expected. A lot of odd conversation (not sure how it got to this, but there was a deep cultural discussion about the age of consent in Cuba – we were distressed to learn most women girls become sexually active around the age of 13) and bathroom breaks (again, not sure why the walls dividing stalls in Cuba are so low – is it to facilitate casual conversation?) later: we finally arrived in Havana to witness our connecting bus to Viñales already pulling away from the station.

bano

The next bus wasn’t for 24 hours. We were facing a day in limbo at the awkwardly located out-of-town Viazul stop.

What happened next allowed us both to tick something off the bucket list.

In a flurry of rapid Spanish, we asked about other ways to get to Viñales – which would involve changing at every city in Western Cuba or waiting on uncomfortable plastic seats with no food but biscuits for the next day. Then, felicitously, we happened upon someone who knew the phone number of the bus driver at the wheel of the bus we’d just missed and said he’d probably stop if we could catch up with him!

We grabbed the number, thanked them, sprinted out of the station with our bags and leapt into a nearby taxi with a cry of “follow that bus!”

It felt like we were the stars of an action film or, failing that, Sex in the City.

We caught the bus and strode on, feeling like we had just conquered Rome. Unfortunately our feeling of glory rapidly wore off as the person next to us proceeded to spend the whole journey telling us how everything they’d ever done was absolutely perfect, and that they’d had world-class universities fighting over them to study there because they were just incredible. 

Viazul Vinales

 

This went on for at least three hours. We added the peril of encountering other travellers to our list of the dangers of the Viazul. After what felt like significantly longer than it took to get to Baracoa from Heathrow, we finally arrived in the leafy Viñales region. Although we had to admit, at least this time the bus appeared to be new.

Viñales is famed for several things: Scenic countryside, cigar plantations and caves. Boy, does it deserve to be called beautiful. We’re talking rolling fields, greens so vibrant they look like they’ve been photo-shopped and flowers in primary colours so vivid they look poisonous. It was like driving through a tourist brochure – certainly a welcome relief after the dusty greys of Havana and the motorways!

We’ll leave you with a few photos that we promise have not been played with at all… Yes, Cuba really does just look like this!

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Come back to our blog again next week for more photos, tips and to hear about our adventures in Viñales – soy protein from Madrid, Toby the dog, a turtle and more!