Road Trippin - Cuba Style

Trip Start Dec 30, 2013
Trip End Mar 25, 2014

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Flag of Cuba  , Villa Clara,
Monday, February 17, 2014

Day 50 - Mon 17 February - Santa Clara

ROAD TRIP BEGINS! Still can't believe how easily we got the car sorted last night, delira! Before we left Havana though the first order of business was to try get ourselves some mula. Since our Mastercards weren't working in the ATMs we hoped we could draw out money in the banks when they opened. The first bank guy sent us packing to the Casa de Cambio saying he didn't accept MasterCard. Then we queue for the Cambio place and both Michele & Jens cards get declined. This is not ideal! At least we've got our Irish bank cards to fall back on so we hit the road.

It was a 3 hour spin on the Autopista down the road to our first stop - Santa Clara. Well that's 3 hours once you find the Autopista! Cubans don't seem to be a big fan of signposts in Havana so after a few trips up and down the same road we eventually found the turn we needed.

We hadn't booked a Casa in Santa Clara so first stop once we got there was to find a bed. Had a snoop in the Lonely Planet and managed to get into the first place we tried. Bingo! The Casa was fab. Houses in Cuba can be very deceiving, they may look poky from the outside but they can stretch way back, and up! This one did. Had a massive courtyard out the back and a fab Terrace up on top.

Santa Clara is right dead centre in the middle of Cuba. Geographically both north and south. It is the place that Che Guevarra took over in December 1958 by derailing an army train carrying more than 350 government troops and weaponry to the East. This victory marked the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. A few days later Batista had fled to the Dominican Republic.

There was only really one thing that interested us in Santa Clara and that was the massive statue and memorial to Che Guevarra - the local hero. Located about 2kms outside of town, we rambled down. The thing is huge! It's very well done, so alike any photos we've seen of Che. There was a memorial aswell in behind the statue where Che's body was brought when it was found in Bolivia, but of course the memorial museum is closed every Monday so we couldn't go in!

We walked back into town and made a pitstop at a bank to get some local pesos. Cuba has 2 currency's - the National Peso and the Convertible Peso. Most street stalls etc use the National Peso and won't accept the Convertibles (CUC) so we thought it wise to have a few pesos on hand. Plus this meant we'd be able to get snacks etc for the equivalent of 20cent and the likes. Kathy went into the bank with 10 CUC (equivalent of $10) to change it into Pesos while we waited outside. A few minutes later a bank official came out to us and started rambling something in Spanish and pointing inside. (On a side note, we had picked up few words in Spanish along the past few months but Cuban Spanish is a whole other kettle of fish. They tend not to pronounce letters and shorten every phrase so communicating had become a bit of a struggle!) Anyway we picked up the words passport and Amiga and copped that we needed ID to change the money and Kathy didn't have any. So Michele headed in with her passport to find that Kathy had been physically held back by a security guard and not allowed leave the back to get us!! No idea why as no money had changed hands as of yet! Anyway eventually they handed over our 240 Pesos, with stern reminders of exactly how much money we were taking ($10!). It was only when walking away we remembered a conversation with a few tourists in Havana and had been told that most Cubans earned the equivalent of 10 to 15 CUC each month! Yes each month. So we had just walked out of the bank with what we had planned to be spare cash but it was in fact a locals full months salary. Reality check.

We had a couple of Mojitos in the town square before heading back to our Casa for dinner. Our Casa is also a restaurant so we expected good things, but none of us anticipated the feast that we were presented with! We had all picked what meat / fish we wanted earlier that day and naively thought we'd just be having that with a bit of veg and rice. Gross underestimation! We had noodle soup & bread rolls for starters. Then mains with salad, rice, loads of veg and local potatoes. Followed by chocolate ice cream. All washed down with a bottle of red. Queue food coma and bed! Long long road trip ahead tomorrow.
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