Despite its many horses – we’ve seen dozens by now – this is definitely a one-horse town and we’ve had our fill of snorkelling, so what to do? We decide on an expedition to a nearby place called Horquitas in search of lunch as it has a knife and fork symbol on the map. It’s a 33 kdrive, most of it along completely straight but potholed roads flanked by forests and the odd thatched dwelling. We pass some brightly painted beehives not far from Playa Giron, a couple of roadside restaurants and numerous farmsteads. Horse and carts are the most commonly encountered mode of transport, often driven by a campesino in a Stetson. When we reach the town the sole cafeteria looks uninviting but we spot a bullock cart and a man washing his horse in a pond, not sights you see every day even in Cuba! The houses are small and quite a few have rusting relics of farm machinery parked outside.
We head back towards Playa Giron in the hope of finding lunch at one of the roadside cafes we noticed on the way. The first we pass before we really notice it, so we stop at the one nearest to Playa Giron, about 8m out of town. There seems to be a broken down car in the road, and there’s a horse grazing beside it. We order yellow rice with pork and mango juice and have hardly sat down when a girl approaches our table and asks for our help. The broken down car is the taxi she and her boyfriend were travelling in to Playa Giron and the second one to have broken down. She’s looking for a lift and sounds close to tears. Of course we agree to help.
While we’re waiting for our food we exchange names and itineraries and with some difficulty Simon squashes their bags into our car. Lunch is tasty and the portions generous, but I’m taken aback by the bill for 110. I question it and realise it’s in MN, not CUCs. We don’t have 110MN, although we did change a little in Havana, so we settle on 4CUC plus 15 pesos – around £3.50.
We all squeeze into the car for the short ride to Playa Giron and we drop Lydia and (yet another!) Alex at the hotel and wish them a happy stay. We refuel the car and while paying I notice that there are combs on sale in the filling station … I buy it for 30c and Alex is delighted. Back at the casa Simon and I have a cold beer and Alex entertains us with experimental hairstyles. It’s a hot day and the cicadas buzz incessantly but there’s a cool breeze on the shady terrace.
Later, Simon and I walk down to the hotel, stopping to look at the baseball ground (which is full of goats), and weather station (Which seems redundant – every day is hot and humid with rain at teatime!) and the random exhibits behind the museum. In the shop opposite I’m tempted to buy a Che Guevara shopping bag for its irony value but 8 CUC seems expensive. When we get back Alex is sunbathing and I join him and watch the black birds circling lazily overhead. Two Italians speak to us, mistaking us for the hosts, and I direct them to Ivette’s house.
Since it appears to be the only place in town with chicken we eat here again tonight, although I order octopus. For CUC10 per head all-in it’s one of the better value places we’ve eaten so far. The portions are much more than we can eat and we’re never quite sure what order to eat them in. Fruit arrives first, followed by salad and then cabbage soup. Rice next, then the meat and finally what appear to be cornmeal dumplings. Vegetables are rarely served here and the standard salad seems to be cucumber slices with shredded cabbage and cold, cooked green beans. It may lack variety but portions are always generous and heavy on protein and carbs. I’ve noticed that many Cubans carry extra weight, especially round the middle, but regardless of their size Cuban women wear either leggings or extremely short skirts and everything is skin tight or preferably tighter. They are very body confident.
We’re attacked by mosquitoes during dinner so we go back to our air conditioned refuge as soon as we’ve eaten. As we walk the short distance to our casa two small boys run towards us rolling car tyres along the road. It’s pitch black apart from an alarming fire raging in the front yard of a house a few doors down. There seems to be no drama so we assume it’s intentional but it still seems risky so close to the houses. Health and safety doesn’t seem to be much of a concern here – as we walked to dinner our neighbours’ boy of about 4 was playing with a machete. At least two households in Playa Giron keep crocodiles as pets and none of the bikes have lights. Given the assortment of potential obstacles we might encounter, it’s easy to see why we were advised not to drive at night.