There are no advertising hoardings in Cuba, only propaganda – “fatherland or death, we will triumph” being a favourite. Our destination is the site of the (in)famous failed invasion of Cuban expats trained by the CIA. But first, we visit Australia for lunch – the town was the site of a former Australian-owned sugar plantation and has a small museum devoted to the steam locomotives still maintained by the residents. The former sugar mill’s office was commandeered as Fidel’s HQ for the Bay of Pigs invasion, but it’s currently closed. There’s not much else in the sleepy little town, but we find a café where the only offer is ham and cheese toasties; lucky that I’ve decided our trip to Cuba is the time to try re-introducing gluten – so far without incident.
We continue through the Cienaga de Zapata national park to Playa Giron and explore the town by car before arriving at our accommodation. Playa Giron mostly runs along the main road, with a short spur off to the one hotel which is located by the beach. There’s a filling station, a small parade of shops and a museum to the thwarted invasion, as well as a huge billboard commemorating the first victory against the imperialist American pigs. Most of the houses display the blue sign for casas particulares, but it doesn’t seem very touristy.
We check in at Casa Ivette & Ronel and find we’re sharing a house with another British family, from Sheffield – John, Louise and their son Alex who has also just finished his GCSEs – who arrived shortly before us. They are ¾ of the way through their trip and we are the first Brits they’ve encountered. We’re well set up here – the house is shared between them and us; we have the blue and white room with a huge bed and generous bathroom; Alex has a 4-person room to himself with hideous tangerine nylon bedcovers. The fridge, rakishly located across the corner of a room on a small plinth as in Havana, is generously stocked with beer, soft drinks, water and even wine – although that turns out to be hideous. We have complimentary toiletries, umbrellas and beach towels; use of bicycles and snorkelling gear is complimentary too.
After some cold drinks and a couple of games of tarot on the shady patio at the front we wander down to the main house for dinner. I’ve ordered lobster and the boys, chicken. It comes with rice, bean stew, fresh fruit and a huge jug of papaya juice. Neither Alex nor I can stand it, but Simon seems not to notice that it tastes faintly of vomit. The portions are enormous and we can’t finish everything.