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 fa├žade 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.

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