Monday, 8 August 2016

A multi-horse town

Breakfast is similar to Havana, but with freshly cooked tiny pancakes in pace of eggs; we leave Simon all the papaya. Ivette gives me some recommendations of places to go snorkelling and we borrow the kit. We’ve decided to explore the beach in Playa Giron this morning so we drive down to the parking place opposite the Bay of Pigs Invasion museum and take the path between the shops to see where it leads. This is described as a one horse town in the Lonely Planet but we see 3 horses before we reach the beach. We pass an abandoned outdoor theatre and break into the hotel grounds through a gap in the fence. The hotel has a huge number of bungalows but many appear derelict. We find a sandy beach which would be very pleasant if it wasn’t for the ugly concrete breakwater that has been built across the bay.

Simon finds a massive piece of coral on the beach, it’s really heavy and we dissuade Alex from taking it home which is probably illegal anyway. We walk to the left, along a badly damaged promenade, and reach another sandy beach which is open to the waves; a friendly local tells us it’s a great spot for snorkelling. We walk back to the shops along the road, passing numerous horses. After sharing a large bottle of lemonade we buy some Chilean wine, half a bottle of rum and some mango soft drink mix and stash it in the car while we visit the museum. 
It’s unbearably hot inside the museum and the exhibits are only explained in Spanish, which I imagine will be a blessing to the Americans when they begin to visit as it’s massively biased. I’m shocked to note that the youngest Cuban hero of the Bay of Pigs incident was younger than Alex is now.
Back in the car, we continue east towards Caleta Buena beach and beyond, but have to turn back due to the poor road surface. We stop briefly at a couple of small beaches on the way back where the beaches are almost entirely coral chunks. The sea is incredibly blue and refreshingly cool. We try to find a restaurant called Hector’s, mentioned in the Lonely Planet, for lunch but instead end up at a place called Chiri Chiri where they have crocodile but not water or chicken. It’s clearly aiming high, with linen tablecloths and a cocktail menu, but the menu translations are amusing and largely impenetrable. The food is acceptable but unremarkable; the crocodile tastes, predictably, like chicken.

Back at Ivette & Ronel’s we find the power is off which means no aircon. It’s breezy on the terrace though, and we watch large black birds soar on the thermals overhead. We relax and read for a while then set off for Cueva de los Peces, around 17km to the west of Playa Giron. First we walk down to the cenote and watch the fish; it’s alive with mosquitoes so we don’t stay long.
Ivette has recommended this beach for novices as the fish are so close to the shore. I’m not keen to snorkel, having been scared to be out of my depth in Roatan, but Alex is insistent and patiently cajoles me into it. It’s a revelation – even while standing in the shallows I can see several different species of fish and a few different types of coral. I realise I can float easily and lose myself in the spectacle. Somebody throws in some bread and the fish go crazy for it. I grab a piece from the surface and feed fish from my hand. Later one nibbles my finger, perhaps looking for more food. Eventually we have to get out; it’s getting late, we’ve been advised not to drive in the dark, and it looks like there’s a storm approaching. With the various potholes, dogs, horses, bikes, bici-rickshaws and pony carts driving is like a live game of Mario Cart.

Just as we return to the casa the power cuts out again, but it comes back more quickly this time. I check with Ivette and the good news is that check out time is 2pm so there’s time to snorkel again tomorrow morning. We take umbrellas to dinner at the Crocodile restaurant but the threatened storm doesn’t materialise. The food is unremarkable apart from the number of dishes that are off the menu – there’s no chicken again, although we passed a couple on the way and could have brought our own. There’s a TV showing music videos, a threadbare pool table and rope lights – I suspect this is the liveliest place in town. Sadly, the eponymous crocodile shares a slimy pen the size of a dining table with assorted terrapins.
On the brief walk back an enormous crab scuttles noisily across the road and several cyclists pass, all without lights. Back at the casa the other Brits are watching the Olympics. We’re closer to the games here than at home but it all feels a very long way away.

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