It's a long way to Santiago

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

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Flag of Cuba  , Santiago de Cuba,
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 51 - Tuesday 18 February - Santiago de Cuba

600kms of roads between Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba in the southwest of the country. The trip was roughly going to take 12 hours so we had planned an early start. After a breakfast of champions (and a few extra bread rolls in our bags for a snack on the road) in the best Casa in all of Cuba we hit the road around 8.30am.

We had planned to stay on the Secondary Roads the whole way. It was adding a few kms onto the journey but since we were still finding our feet with the left hand drive we thought it best to avoid as many potholes as possible!

All was going well when we stopped for food and a break at 4pm. We guesstimated that we had another 3ish hours left to get to Santiago. We should have just kept our mouth shut, Murphy's Law hit after that!

Cuba's lack of signposts continued as we reached major roundabout with 5 exits and not one bloody signpost. We obviously took the wrong road first off! Road number two did the trick. Then the rain starts and we get stuck by a big massive coach the whole way to the next town. Taking over the car in front is a national institution on the roads of Cuba but no matter what Jen tried she couldn't get by him!

We had hit our final town just as dusk was settling. We were on the home straight! All going well it should only take us 90mins to Santiago. Yeah, everything didn't go well! Driving in the dark on Cuban roads is a whole other kettle of fish, as Kathy very very quickly found out when she took over driving duty.

Hitch hiking is another national institution in Cuba, everyone does it! The amount of filthy looks we get for not picking people up in every town we go through. But in fairness our little chariot is jam packed with 4 lovely Irish ladies and all their worldly belongings! Not a hope another body would fit in - plus we were all a bit scared of picking up a local!! Hitchhiking doesn't stop when it gets dark. So along with righthand drive, country windy roads, headlights that were filthy and giving as much light as a candle and no street lighting, Kathy had to try very hard not to knock down any pedestrians!! Tough job but she succeeded thankfully.

At one stage along the windy roads Kathy noticed the temperature gauge moving. We decided to wait it out and if it kept rising we'd pull in. The last thing we needed was an overheated engine! It didn't go down so we pulled in in the next town and popped the bonnet. Hadn't really a clue what we were looking for so we just left the engine off for a few mins to cool down (and Kathy washed the headlamps!!). We said we'd take it slowly, we weren't too far away from Santiago (fingers crossed). Then as we drove off we thought we heard a nail in one of the tires. Noooooo. Quick examination couldn't find anything. Off we go again - slowly!

A little further down the road we hit one of the last towns before we have the Autopista for the very last part of the journey. Couple of wrong turns in this town with locals shouting at the car left us a bit frazzled.

Eventually we find the Autopista - please let this part be easy. No lights, very random signposts, massive potholes, construction works that sent us to the other side of the road with no cones or barriers. Piece of cake!

Never have we ever been so happy to see the sign welcoming us into Santiago. We made it!! That had been a very very long few hours, especially for Kathy the current driver. The ridiculous one way streets in Santiago meant we got lost again - of course - and eventually found our Casa. We had asked our Casa owner in Santa Clara to book one for us as we knew we'd be arriving in late (although we had expected to be a good few hours earlier than we were!!). We rock up to the booked Casa to be told that they were full and we were to stay in 2 other Casas around the corner, one was his father-in-laws! At that stage we were past the point of caring. We were all hungry, tired and cranky. We just wanted beds. We split up for the night, 2 in each Casa, to reconvene for breakfast tomorrow morning. 11pm, we were shattered.

Day 52 - Wednesday 19 February

We reconvened this morning for breakfast in the Casa that Jen and Michele were staying in. Unfortunately Kathy & Joanne hadn't managed to get much sleep in their Casa (who knew that cocks don't just crow at sunrise?! The girls soon found this out with one perched right outside their window all night!) So they moved Casa to the original one we were all meant to stay in.

It was a fab day out so we decided to go wandering and see what Santiago had to offer. There was a walking tour of the city in the Lonely Planet so we followed that to the... We were dying to learn some of the history of Cuba and the revolutions of the 20th Century and this was the perfect place to find out what happened (from Castro's point of view of course!). This military barracks was the place where the very first attack was unsuccessfully launched by Castro in 1953. After this they fled to the mountains and their base for the next couple of years Sierra Maestra. We had an English speaking guide take us through the exhibition and give us the timeline of all events that occurred from this failed attack to the fall of Santa Clara and the fleeing of Batista.

After the museum our next stop was to be the Bacardi Museum (Barcardi was first invented in Cuba) but it was closed for some reason. Feeling a bit cheated we decided to get a few Mojitos for ourselves in the Hotel ..... The rooftop bar of the hotel has fantastic views all over Santiago de Cuba so we were quite content here for lunch a few Mojitos!

We just relaxed for the late afternoon as we were pooped from rambling around in the searing heat (it's a tough life we know!) and Joanne & Kathy needed to catch up on some missed Zzzz from last night.

We had read in the Lonely Planet that cuisine in Santiago is severely lacking and absolutely nothing to write home about, but we decided to chance our arms and try find somewhere semi-decent to get some dinner that night. We failed miserably!! We went into a local restaurant and after ordering what we had hoped would be grilled chicken we were presented with some sort of chicken, tomato sauce and cheese dish. It doesn't sound too bad, but trust us, it was awful! We went back to the hotel then to try satisfy ourselves with another mojito before planning to head to the Casa de la Musica (Cubans are mad for their salsa dancing and Santiago was famed for being the home of it, so we had planned to see what all the fuss was about). Unfortunately though we got a little bit sidetracked with the yummy Mojitos, a magician and some Cigar festival tourists and never made it to the Casa de la Musica!

Day 53 - Thursday 20 February

4 very fragile heads arose in Santiago this morning. Those Mojitos were strong! We just did a bit of admin in the morning; internet and picking up supplies for the trip to Trinidad tomorrow.

Back to our new favourite place - the hotel - for lunch. No Mojitos this time!

After lunch we called into the rental car company that was on the main square. We were taking no chances with a potential overheated engine on the 12 hour journey that lay ahead tomorrow! After a bit of messing around with the electrics one of the guys from the rental company discovered that the engine fans weren't working! That makes sense. Trusty Chinese electrics! He fixed it and promised us all would be fine tomorrow. Here's hoping...

There was one last tourist spot in Santiago that we had yet to tick off our list. And after last nights antics it was the one we were most dreading.... Museo de Ron! We really should have gone to see this place yesterday! Anyway we dragged ourselves there. It was fairly underwhelming, but for 2 CUC entrance fee (which included a free shot of rum) we couldn't complain too much. After half an hour exploring we called it quits and headed home.

We had dinner in the Casa tonight. Again we were served up a 3 course feast. Soooo much better than last nights! Carlos, the son of the Casa owners sat down with us for a while to chat about his life in Cuba. It's really interesting to hear from all the locals how their finding the changes in the country in the past few years with Raul Castro taking over from Fidel. They all seem to have a drive to travel, and see the world, but with the minuscule wages that the vast majority of them make we can't imagine it ever being a possibility. There would need to be a massive overhaul of the whole country to bring it up to speed. We're not sure how the ordinary people of Cuba would cope with that. For practically their whole lives they've never had the power to make their own decisions or keep all of the money they earn. It's truly a different world over here.

After chatting with Carlos for a bit we went outside to sit with the French couple that were also staying in the Casa. It was hilarious trying to communicate with each other. There's 2 Cubans with only Spanish, their son with a manageable bit of English but by no means fluent, 2 Frenchies with a few words of English and no Spanish, and 4 Irish girls with a few words of Spanish and French. It was awkward to say the least! There was even a few Irish words thrown in as Jen tried to talk to them at one stage! Comical! But sure it's all part of it. (We'll all be signing up for Spanish lessons when we get home!!)

We didn't stay too long at we have a 6.30am departure time tomorrow morning for the trip to Trinidad. No way no how were we going to be driving after sunset. We'd learned that the hard way!
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