Friday, 19 August 2016

Leaving Havana, again

Despite her late finish, Ines appeared on time next morning and served our breakfast in her usual cheery manner. We settled up for our drinks, did our final packing and agreed a departure time.

We had hoped to have dinner at Dona Eutimia last night but returned too late, so we are lunching there for an early lunch today instead. Before lunch I go out in search of souvenirs; in fact there's little to buy but I manage to get some bits and pieces including the obligatory fridge magnet. We thoroughly enjoy our final meal in Havana - in my case, particularly the mojitos de casa which are basically a dangerously refreshing mojito slushie. 

We say our goodbyes to Ines and the Havana rep arrives to hand us over to the driver who will take us to the international airport. Unsurprisingly when we arrive the queues are long and there's no clear reason why everything is taking so long. We bump into Hugh Dennis again and he tells us they did finally manage to eat at the restaurant in Trinidad and it was the worst meal they had in Cuba. We queue behind a Cuban man who tells us how difficult life still is - he now lives in Surrey and only returns for holidays. As a place to visit I can certainly recommend Cuba, but I don't think I'd like to live there either.


We chose to visit Cuba in 2016 because we wanted to experience its idiosyncrasies before they were undermined by closer ties with the USA. Since Fidel Castro ceded some control to his brother Raoul, citizens have begun to take advantage of new opportunities to open up their homes as Casas Particulares and set up private restaurants. These are stimulating an entrepreneurial culture that allows visitors a wider choice as well as generating individual wealth that was unheard of a decade ago. It’s definitely a country on the cusp of change, but there are many reminders of the hardships suffered during its more isolated period and in many respects it feels like a country frozen in time.

Since we returned, the USA has elected Trump and Fidel has died, creating a new and interesting dynamic where Cuba is likely to become more open to external influences at the same time as the USA less inclined to pursue closer ties. Raoul has already instigated a pilot home internet project and it will be interesting to see to what extent Cuba opens up now he has full control. Due to lack of infrastructure and capital, progress is likely to be slow unless Russia or China steps into the void created by America’s disengagement. So, perhaps it will be a few years yet before the dreaded golden arches “adorn” Habana Vieja.

We booked our Cuban journey through Putney Travel with the expert guidance of Charlie Panton. He created a bespoke itinerary for us based around our chosen destinations, giving us the best of both worlds – travelling independently with the freedom to stop and check out anything that caught our interest but with pre-arranged accommodation and a safety net in case of unexpected events. Our itinerary turned out to be almost perfect, except that we should have pre-arranged a wildlife trip into the Zapata peninsula – it was our plan to do so on arrival at Playa Giron but somehow we never got round to it. Staying in Casas Particulares was a good choice, giving some insight into real Cuban life and helping contribute directly to the local economy. The best piece of advice Charlie gave us was to allow a full day in Havana for picking up our hire car. The internal flight from Cayo Coco to Havana was a low point but unavoidable given the eccentric way the flights are scheduled, with timings changing literally from day to day.

Here are my top 10 travel hacks for making the most of a trip to Cuba:

  1. Take a multi-socket adaptor – there are few electrical sockets – and a torch for powercuts
  2. If you like highly-flavoured food, take your own bottle of hot sauce and/or spice mill – the food can be samey and bland
  3. Stock up on fuel, water and cash when you can – cambios run out of cash, filling stations run out of fuel and there are no shops between towns
  4. Take sterling, not dollars – there’s a 10% surcharge on exchanging dollars, sterling gives you a better rate
  5. Take a debit card, not a credit card … ATMs are widely available but credit cards are almost never accepted
  6. If travelling off the beaten track, change a small amount of CUCs into MNs for roadside restaurants outside towns (£2-3 per person is plenty)
  7. Learn some basic Spanish if you plan to stay in Casas Particulares, most hosts don’t speak English
  8. Be prepared to wait – service is slow, queues are a way of life and delays are inevitable, even if you have an appointment
  9. Don’t drive after dark – the roads are full of potholes and stray animals
  10. Vintage cars are picturesque but unreliable – great for sightseeing around Havana but not to be trusted for longer journeys (especially on those roads!)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Leaving Cayo Coco - eventually

Simon and I breakfast early and are packed and down by the pool by 10. I am determined to photograph a hummingbird - quite a challenge as they move so fast but they do hum so I listen first, then look for the source. I manage to grab a couple of shots and when I return to the pool Alex has materialised. Alex and Simon play a final game of cups in the pool before we shower and change ready to vacate our rooms by 12.

Drinks, lunch - today enlivened by Padron Peppers - then more drinks as we wait the day out for our pick up for the transfer back to Havana at 5pm. It's too hot to go out into the sun with no prospect of a shower, but it's not much cooler in the bar. I make a couple of trips into the air-conditioned shop just to cool down. Our coach arrives on time and picks up at a couple of other hotels, including the Melia which has rooms over a lagoon and the glamorous-looking Pullman which is brand new but approached via a pile of shipping containers that appear to be used for accommodation - hopefully temporary homes for builders rather than permanent ones for staff. There's an impressive climbing attraction by the Melia but everything is so spaced out and I'm not sure how tourists are meant to get to them.

There are just two flights leaving the Jardines los Reyes airport this afternoon - ours and one to Canada - we're all called 3 hours before which seems excessive for an internal flight, especially in a small airport with so little traffic. While Simon and I check I for this flight, Alex manages to check us in online for tomorrow's. There are only about a dozen of us in the domestic departures lounge which is furnished with a selection of blue and cream vinyl sofas and what looks like a chenille 3 piece suite from the 1980s. The snack bar has only cigarettes, fake Pringles and honey for sale. There's a TV showing the Olympics, a TV monitor showing the time but no flight information. Our flight time of 2110 comes and goes without incident, then around 20 minutes later the arrival of the inbound flight is announced.

Finally we board the prop plane that will take us back to Havana, landing at the domestic airport of Playa Baracoa about 28km west of Havana. We emerge from the tiny airport into the sticky night air and board another coach for our return to Havana. Our trip schedule had said we'd be dropped at a hotel and met by a rep who would transfer us to our accommodation but the coach rep didn't seem to know anything about it and we knew our way anyway as we were returning to Casa Arrate. In the end, we were dropped at the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and walked to the casa, arriving after midnight. Ines was waiting to let us in and we apologised for our very late arrival.

We'd had no dinner and Alex was too tired but Simon and I went out in search of something to eat. The bar where we ate on our first night had stopped serving but they directed us down the road to a bar that opened late. Reuquia was buzzing, mostly with young locals, but we were found a seat in the mezzanine and ordered wine and toasties which were most welcome.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Busy doing nothing

Simon and Alex have arranged a pre-breakfast swim so I grab a proper coffee from the bar and join them. Today's surprise dish at the breakfast buffet is pigs in blankets ... real bacon this time, wrapped around frankfurters. Alex and I get smoothies made to order. Service is friendly but inept; they are often out of crockery and glasses and we haven't seen a teaspoon yet.

Alex and I go to look at the gym which is at the other end of the complex. The far blocks seem to have been mothballed as it's off-season. We meet Simon at the pool and he tells us he's seen hummingbirds; I begin to look out for them but can't find any. We bumble around the pool for the rest of the day and finish with a cup game in the pool. You half-fill a plastic cup with water and flick it to somebody who has to catch it in another plastic cup. We don't quite have enough cups so I take one for the team and order another Mojito.

We've been here two days and we're already bored with the food. At dinner Alex picks up something from the dessert table that he hoped was shortbread; his verdict was that he thought the chef hoped so too. The predominant flavours are salt and sweet but Alex has discovered a spicy sauce that he can add to made-to-order pasta. He's seen somebody with a bottle of Nando's but they must have brought it with them.

We sit in reception after dinner to try to use the wifi. I spend best part of an hour trying to log in to the Virgin website to check how and when to check in for our return flight but the connection is too slow. I manage to download my emails and upload one blog post. Our pick-up time tomorrow is precisely when online check-in opens - hopefully, this being Cuba, they'll be late!

Monday, 15 August 2016

... and relax

I manage to drop off the car despite the protestations of the mechanic who is the only person there and speaks no English; he insists we have to drop off the car at another hotel. After a phone call to the manager he inspects the car, accepts the hire documents and key and I leave our room number in case of problems. As I leave he's telling a couple of young women that there are no cars available, even though I just returned one.

The breakfast buffet is less exciting than we've become used to, with a smaller selection of fruit and terrible coffee. The "bacon" is half slices of reconstituted ham but I'm surprised to see black pudding. My pastry with unidentifiable green filling is bland but the mango juice is good. Alex hasn't bothered with breakfast and will join us later on the beach. We find a spot close to the little jetty with trees for shade. The sea looks inviting with white sand sloping gently for a long way out before the aquamarine sudden deepens to dark blue as the seabed drops away. When I go in I only see a pipe fish.

Alex finally joins us just before lunch and we eat in the snack bar where a club sandwich turns out to be a chicken, cheese and ham roll. We've managed to book a table in the Asian restaurant for tonight. More beach time this afternoon, with regular cooling dips in the sea, then back to the poolside late afternoon. Alex and I have agreed to go to the beach to take sunset photos; we only just get there in time but the sunset is gorgeous. On the way to the bar later I realise I've got several insect bites.

The Oriental restaurant is called Place Fen and only has a dozen or so tables, less than half of them occupied. The menu is limited and not especially authentic, although the potency of the wasabi takes me by surprise. The boy's soup is basically chicken stock. The food is ok and it's nice to be served, but the variety is more limited and the quality no better than the buffet. We entertain ourselves by planning what restaurants we will go to next week, before the house band arrives to entertain us.

Alex goes straight to bed after dinner; Simon and I have a nightcap in the bar.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Leaving Trinidad

Our last morning in Trinidad begins with a clear blue sky and another enormous Cuban breakfast. Marta implores us in Spanish to let others know about her Casa and wishes us a warm goodbye. There's a man painting the façade of the house as we leave. We have the usual one-way system and lack of signage to navigate but we escape without too much drama and find the road to Spiritus Sancti. I'm driving and Simon reads the guide book to work out where we will break our journey which is likely to take around 4 hours.

Spiritus Sancti isn't very far away but it's described as less visited but as picturesque as Trinidad with a famous bridge, so we decide on a drink stop there. The bridge is on the road into town so we cross it by car and then park and walk down to look at it. It's not especially remarkable to look at (to me, it resembles Sonning Bridge), but the cobbled streets leading down to it are pretty and there's a mural celebrating the towns 500th anniversary. Walking further into town we find a small square flanked by a colonnaded grocery shop and an imposing blue church. We stop for a quick drink at a riverside bar with drums for bar stools and an impressive display of Serrano hams.

Back on the road it's just under 100km to Moron where we plan to have lunch primarily on the basis of its amusing name. From here we will join the causeway that joins the Jardines de los Reyes to the mainland. The road is reasonable and the traffic fairly light with seeming more horses than motors. As we pass through villages we have to negotiate the usual selection of stray dogs, cyclists, pedestrians and potholes. Around two thirds of the way to Moron we miss a turning and the satnav takes a while to catch on. Then we miss a second turn and it becomes clear that we should turn back. Our alternative route takes us on to poorer rods that have stretches where shingle has been laid on the tarmac, creating a difficult driving surface. Our rate of progress slows considerably.

The villages are fewer here and there's very little traffic. The soil has changed colour, too - no longer red, it's now a deep, peaty brown. We manage to rejoin the road we were supposed to be on but it's little better and it's almost 2pm when we reach Moron. The Lonely Planet describes Moron as a busy town that's the hub of Cuba's rail network with an impressive station and a distinctive architectural style with colonnaded houses. It fails to live up to this description.

Moron has a grid network with no road names or other signage visible. Although the railway line skirs the approach road, we never manage to find the station. There are deep gulleys at each road junction, many filled with water so it's difficult to judge their depth. I approach each one with caution, partly to avoid getting stuck in a rut and partly so Simon can look for clues to navigate by. Eventually we stop to ask for directions to a restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet.

The young man I speak to has reasonable English and tells e that the owner of the restaurant has sold up and it has closed. This is a common ruse in Cuba so they can send you instead to a restaurant they are touting for, but we are short of time and I ask for a recommendation. He directs us to one called Las Ruedas a few blocks away, and directs us part of the way to a junction where we ask for further directions. A brief but energetic argument breaks out over the best route but finally we are directed to a dusty track between run-down houses where we find the restaurant. Despite the unpromising location, Las Ruedas is airy and bustling, with a few tables already occupied under a thatched canopy. The waiter is friendly and welcoming, speaks English and turns out to be called Alex. Optimistically, the boys order Chicken Fajitas and I choose Ropas Viejas. The food is pretty good, although fajitas seems to mean fried with onions and green beans.

Back on the road we struggle to find the route to Cayo Coco and have to turn back to avoid a deep, rain-filled rut where the side road joins the highway. Eventually we work out which road to take by using the kilometre markers that show the distance from Havana along the main highway. It's 496, incidentally.

Bearing in mind that it's apparently Cuba's second beach resort the continued lack of signage is baffling - we're finally reassured by roadside advertising hoardings for the company that runs the resorts - the first such ads we have seen, normally there is only propaganda. We reach a police checkpoint where they check our passport details and destination hotel, collect a $2 toll charge and then we're on the causeway that runs for 27km to the cays. The water appears shallow and we stop to look at some flamingos, getting a much better view than we managed on the lake. It's an odd experience driving for such a long distance over a road that's only just above sea level, but finally water gives way to woodland as we reach the Jardines des Reyes.

We see signs for airports and hotels but no buildings are visible through the trees until we reach a partly-constructed bank and a small leisure centre with a bowling alley. Everything seems deserted. We arrive at our hotel and unload the little Peugeot for the last time. I'm directed to the car park where there is a small rental office; predictably it is closed although it has a sign saying it closes at 5pm and it's only 4.30.

First impressions of the Memories Flamingo Beach are good; our rooms are spacious and not too far from the main complex, with sea views. The resort is only 3 storeys high - one of the main reasons we chose it over high-rise Varadero. We go to the pool and relax for a while then explore the beach.

It's narrow but has soft white sand. There are loungers and a few hammocks and a picturesque jetty. We take some photos then get ready for dinner. The buffet restaurant isn't too bad, with stations where fish, meat and pasta dishes are prepared to order. The wine isn't too bad either, although the red is more chilled than the white. There's a baffling dance flashmob that briefly blocks the access to the buffet counter. When it's over Alex collects a 1L tub of ice cream, following the instructions to take the whole tub.

After dinner we play Tarot in the bar and listen to a fashion show and cabaret in the adjacent theatre.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

In Trinidad

My plan to slip out quietly before breakfast to take photos is almost scuppered by the front door lock so I have less time to explore than I had planned. than I had planned. The streets are almost deserted and seem frozen in time; my short cut gets me lost and I'm a little late for breakfast.

All 3 of us go out mid-morning and head for the Plaza Carillo, the town's second square. We notice crowds of Cubans queueing for slices of gaudily-iced birthday cakes. We remember that the Kiwi we met yesterday had told us today is Fidel's 90th birthday and it quickly becomes clear that this is something of a big deal. This is confirmed when a band strikes up with "Happy Birthday". There is quite a party atmosphere; people are keen to share the news and as we continue our walk we notice "Viva Fidel" chalked on the pavements in the squares.

We're scouting for somewhere to have lunch when we stumble across an unexpected slice of capitalism - a modest shopping centre complete with central seating area and piped music. There is a supermarket, sports shop and a place selling toiletries plus posters featuring archetypal happy families advertising the fact that this facility is provided by a company called Caracol. I later notice that they also run several other places in Trinidad, like the tobacconist and the "mini super" near our casa.

Alex is thirsty and we attempt to buy drinks in Canchanchara bar, famous for its honey rum, but give up waiting and go to a courtyard café where a whole pig is being roasted on a spit turned by a man - surely the most boring job in the world. We could hear the music from the bar round the corner where the birthday celebrations continued. We plotted the rest of our route around Trinidad's attractions and realised that the cathedral closed in half an hour. We headed there when we finished our drinks and were amused by statues of Santa Ana and Santa Rita.

Our next stop was the Museo Historico Municipal, housed in the extravagant mansion built by a German who poisoned the slave-trader husband of the woman he coveted so he could marry her, only to have her die in suspicious circumstances, conveniently leaving him the fortune she inherited from her husband. We marvel at the uncharacteristic grandeur of the mansion and enjoy the relative coolness of its colonnaded courtyard but the boys have had enough sightseeing and escape to the Plaza Major while I visit the town's most iconic building, the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Banditos.

The content of the museum are somewhat random but the main attraction is the yellow bell-tower of the former convent of San Francisco de Asis, which I climb to enjoy the views across the terracotta rooftops. A sign on the staircase advises visitors not to ring the bells. It's a great vantage point for viewing the birthday celebrations taking place on the street below where another hog is being roasted.

As I descend the unthinkable happens - my camera battery runs out and as I arrive in the Plaza I find a teenage girl in a midnight blue ballgown being photographed, accompanied by a sizeable entourage. I find the boys and borrow Simon's phone as an emergency camera, then it's back to the casa for much-needed cold drinks.

The boys stay behind while I go out with a fresh camera battery for another look around. The light is different again, as a cloudy sky means fewer harsh shadows, and there is little traffic.

I spot some men playing Mah Jongg on the street and buy a t-shirt for Kyrie from a tiny shop (it's his birthday while we're away); it's more expensive than it would be at home and no doubt poorer quality but I hope I'm supporting the local economy. The mysterious photo shoot has moved on to a different location and the girl has changed her dress.

We've booked a table on the rooftop terrace of the Vista Gourmet restaurant. Our plan is to have a drink before dinner at the Beatles-themed Yesterday bar but around 6pm it begins to rain and before long it's a full-on thunderstorm. Normally the rain here is heavy but brief, however today it shows no sign of stopping and eventually we set off and pick our way through the flooded streets, sheltering beneath the overhanging tiles as we go.

We arrive at the restaurant where it becomes clear that the roof terrace is uncovered and there is no contingency plan. We're trying to work out our next move when Hugh Dennis arrives with his two children (older than Alex); he, too, had reserved a rooftop table but he has the advantage of a son who's fluent in Spanish. They negotiate while the house magician "steals" my watch and tries to sell us a trick box for $10. It seems that if we return later it should be possible to eat as either the roof terrace will be dry or those dining inside will have finished, and agree with the host that 8.30/9pm is a reasonable time.  Hugh and his family head uphill to a bar they found earlier; we go downhill and find ourselves in a bar called "Wakey Wakey Shakey Shakey". We choose a table by the window so we can keep an eye on the rain, which shows no sign of stopping.

It's still raining at 8.30 so we leave it until 9 to return to the restaurant where we find a queue has formed which has priority over our failed reservation. We decide to eat elsewhere and as we leave we meet the Dennis family arriving; we wonder whether they will manage to be served. Simon leads us to another couple of restaurants with decent reviews in the Lonely Planet but they have queues outside. It dawns on us that every tourist in town has been sheltering inside during the storm and are now all trying to eat dinner simultaneously. We spend the next 15 minutes trying to find any restaurant that can seat us but it's the same everywhere.

It's now getting on for 10pm and we're getting "hangrry". We're saved by the Iberostar in Plaza Carillo where we don't meet the dress code for its restaurant but there are bar meals available. It's dry, air-conditioned and as we take our seats the obligatory band begins to play Chan Chan ... again. Aside from the formulaic playlist, the band is pretty good and so are my two tapas dishes. Simon has a burger and Alex a hot dog, and we watch the Olympics on a tv above the bar while we eat. It's the swimming, which seems apt given the amount of water we've encountered today. The red wine is excellent and we stay for another before returning to our casa. Finally, it has stopped raining.

Friday, 12 August 2016

To Trinidad

We are heading to Trinidad today, via Laguna Guanaroca. We find it easily but not where the Lonely Planet said so we’re unsure if we’re in the right place. It’s somewhat chaotic but there’s a shambolic queue which I join. We discover that parties leave in groups of 12-14 in order of arrival and it will be at least an hour until our turn. The boys have found some lizards, chameleons and a frog while I queued, so I go and photograph those while the boys read.

An hour becomes two and it’s almost our turn when the rain begins - initially lightly, then heavier, then accompanied by thunder. Tours are suspended and we huddle under the thatched shelter and chat to some Aussies who are spending a month here. The guy in charge puts some music on and unexpectedly we are treated to Uptown Funk.

Eventually it eases and we slip and slide along the muddy path towards the lake, our guide stopping to point out termite nests on the trees and holes of various sizes housing crabs with orange claws and an enormous hairy spider which he tempts out by poking some grass down her hole. She doesn’t seem impressed.
We have another long, hot wait at the landing stage while the previous group returns from where they had taken shelter from the storm. There are 6 small rowing boats, each taking 2 or 3 tourists. We’re allocated the one rowed by Gabriel, a young man and a fast rower as we soon take the lead. He points out mangroves and pelicans, and tells us the name of the black birds we were watching in Playa Giron - Butu.
We're rowing towards some flamingos by the far shore, and he explains that baby flamingos are white and only become pink from eating crustaceans. On the other side of the lake we can see people fishing with nets from a boat like the one we're in. Apparently the lagoon is only a metre deep and contains nothing more sinister than fish, crabs and shrimps.

We're still a couple of hundred metres from the flamingos when they take flight. They look ungainly in the air, flying low across the water and landing about the same distance away on the other side of the lake. This signals the end of our flamingo expedition and Gabriel turns the boat towards the jetty. We had forgotten to bring cash for a tip so Simon returns to the car with Alex and I wait at the landing stage while the boats are beached and I walk back with Gabriel. He tells me he works 7 days a week, rowing across the lagoon 5 or 6 times a day for CUC10 per month. Our tip of CUC5 is not much to us but presumably makes a big difference.

We set off for Trinidad, stopping en route for lunch at a restaurant where a TV is showing Olympic judo. All work stops while the Cuban woman competes, but unfortunately she's beaten. We're settling down to eat when a cowboy rides up in full costume, complete with chaps and spurs, and buys 2 cases of beer to take away. This is cattle country and as we continue on the road we see fewer cars and more horse-drawn vehicles. Once we have to stop while a cowboy drives his cattle past us. It's ironic, given the state of relations with the US, that this place so resembles the wild west.

We skirt the mountains and join the coast road, passing on bridges over several small beaches, each at the mouth of a small river. Trinidad comes into view, nestling on a hillside with its distinctive yellow bell tower. Suddenly the road is cobbled, congested with pedestrians, bikes, bici taxis and tourist buses. The route to our casa looked easy on the map but the customary one-way system is further complicated by some road closures for construction work and we take a circuitous route before ending up in a parking space directly opposite the house.

Marta greets me at the door. She's a petite, bird-like middle-aged woman and speaks no English. She leads me in up steep marble steps and through a 10ft high door into a traditional Trinidadian house with high ceilings. I admire an impressive collection of elephant ornaments while Simon finishes unloading the car; Marta says they signify strength.

Alex's room is just off the living room with shuttered windows onto it. Ours, behind his, has a split level ceiling; we both have en-suite shower rooms. The house is only one room wide with a corridor wide enough for tables and chairs leading back to guest dining room and kitchen with Marta's kitchen behind and a small terrace between. Marta asks us what time we'd like dinner and we choose our main course - fish for me and pork for the boys.

I'm keen to explore but Alex is hot and bothered and decides to stay in his air conditioned bedroom while Simon and I go out. The casa is in a good spot, between the two principal squares. We've found a late afternoon walking tour in the Lonely Planet which we decide to follow. Trinidad is as picturesque as it is portrayed, and its pastel-coloured houses glow in the evening light. As we approach the Playa Major up a steep cobbled street we are greeted by music from a terraced area off one corner where people are eating, drinking and chatting.

 The Playa Major has a formal garden at its centre, a cathedral at the top and pastel coloured buildings on the other sides, one of which has delicate murals on the walls. The eclectic architecture, colour palette and slightly surreal atmosphere remind me of Portmeirion. It seems somehow out of time, and so hushed after the busy terraces.

The walking tour starts from here and we soon notice that other tourists are on the same mission; with no internet we're all falling back on the same printed guide book and following the same beaten path. We joke about the possibility that it was a trick to send everybody into the same cul de sac. The tour takes us to the outskirts of the town which were more run-down than the centre, with low, single storey houses in place of the high-ceilinged homes of the former elite. We encounter an Aussie and a Kiwi travelling together and a solo American woman who had managed to wangle an educational visa. We swap stories and recommendations, and the Kiwi remarks that he wished his parents had taken him to places like Cuba when he was a teen - we're unsure Alex would agree, since he has decided to skip the sightseeing. We spot an elderly man showing off his prize cock and a tame lizard, and have to step aside to avoid being stepped on as a horse ambles past. All very Cuban.

We meander back to the casa in time to dodge the thunderstorm which breaks dramatically and soon floods the street outside, demonstrating the value of those steep front steps. Dinner is served promptly - bean and chorizo soup to start, the main course accompanied by chips and cubed veg and a huge mound of rice and a salad each. Portions are huge and I feel bad about how much we leave, in a country where so many don't have enough.