Sun, surf and tourists

Trip Start Apr 25, 2006
Trip End Apr 25, 2007

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dubbed as a "must see" and even "the best beach in the world", I naturally pencilled in Varadero to see what all the hoo-haa was about. A few hours from Havana on the luxury tourist bus (in sub-zero conditions) and what seemed like the middle of nowhere was actually the bus terminal. Using my non-existent grasp of the Spanish language, I ascertained that my hotel was in fact a mere 300m away.. so close that the taxi driver just pointed, shouted "agui" (there) and refused to drive me there. He obviously had bigger fish to fry. Sure enough I found the hotel, but only because I remembered a photo of it - there was absolutely no sign or name up to identify it otherwise.

For some reason in Varadero the government has banned any accommodation other that state owned, or half state owned hotels. This means I was forced to suffer through $40-a-night mediocrity in the cheapest hotel around. Hotel Herradura certainly didn't match up to the photos I'd seen, which were obviously taken some time in the 1960's just after it was built. Instead, it struck me as an almost derrolect building that could kill you the next time you hit the light switch or set foot on the Staircase of Death. Apparently it was constructed as luxury apartments back in the day, but then either the bottom of the economy dropped out and the foreign investors left, or they realised how shitty it would be in 2006.

Walking the streets was pretty depressing. Hardly any Cubans to be seen, and no hot chicks. Plenty of old couples and families though! I took refuge at a foot joint on the side of the street and tucked into a 95 cent burger, which roughly translated to a bun with a slab of meat in it, lathered in mustard and tomato sauce. Told him to go easy on the sauce for my second one, and then started tucking into 50 cent shots of Havana Club Rum (aged 7 years of course). Realising that I was trapped in this aptly named tourist trap, I decided to hit the beach and relax for a few days.

Good plan. Bad execution of plan. I ended up getting no further than the hotel bar, which stupidly were offering (almost) free rum concoctions that had already lured in a couple of Germans and a Spaniard. The Spaniard ended up being the best value of the lot, even though we could barely communicate past miming/pointing/laughing... and the Germans spoke perfect English. At some stage his wife and kid appeared to drag him off while he could still walk, so I was forced to whip the Germans at pool for an hour or so and then we all ran down to the beach for a lazy 3am swim in the sea. One of them had remarked that he had been to Australia, and so I would be forgiven for rating the spot as "average at best". I told him it may rate higher if you didn't have to dodge blocks of limestone in the water, had hot chicks, didn't rely on cyclones for waves, and possibly culled a few thousand tourists. At this stage good old Cyclone Edwardo was just off to the north, and was providing some bodysurfable waves as byproduct of his path of destruction. The Germans were so obviously not in the same Master Class as I, as they both managed to find a chunk of limestone to run into on the same wave. Very impressive, and had us all laughing pretty hard until we got back into the light and saw the blood pissing out of them. At that stage I was still having a chuckle, but they were a little less tickled.

The next day I somehow dodged a hangover, which has been the same story with Cuban rum all along - I don't know how they do it, but I'm glad they do. The Germans had managed to flee on a 7am bus, and there was no sign of the Spaniard so I just walked the 25 miles of beach for the day and took a few snapshots of an overall uninspiring coastline. Few more drinks at night, smoked a Cuban cigar as the sun set over the flashes of a tropical storm, had a refreshing dip in the sea and that was that. My tip? Do not go there!
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