Leaving Cienfuegos, we headed a short way West to Trinidad and then on up to Varadero, possibly the two places most heavily weighted towards tourists in all of Cuba.
Trinidad was all cobbled streets and pastel houses surrounded by lush green hills. Visually stunning and very photogenic but it can be overwhelmed by visitors. As an example, we were sat in a bar one afternoon (admittedly a very touristy one, Taberna Canchánchara) when a scrum of tourists, equipped with enormous cameras and impossibly long lenses heaved for a full five minutes around the old man by the entrance smoking a cigar, desperate to get their perfect shot. UK paps would have been proud of the lack of humanity on display. He was just smoking a cigar!
On the one hand the influx of tourists meant we finally found some good food: Salsa Suarez, in Varadero, was so good we ate there twice in a row. On the other hand it also meant we were constantly targeted as walking wallets. Even a school in Trinidad that invited us in, asked us for money. The school itself was lovely, with beautiful wall displays, well equipped classrooms and happy kids. I couldn't blame the teachers for asking us for money; the disparity between the Cubans working in state careers and those working privately in the tourist industry is enormous.
One taxi driver we spoke to told us he could earn US $200 a day whereas the state wage is reputed to be US $25 a month! It's hardly surprising then that the practice of begging or scamming tourists for money is rife in Trinidad. It did get tiresome. Whilst we struggled with our consciences we didn't give a 'donation’ to the school. Much as I value education, I am aware that Cuba has one of the best state funded, state provided education system of any developing country anywhere.
In fact, although Cubans reputedly earn very little, they do have many things to thank the socialist state for: good education and healthcare, heavily subsidised housing, and even free basic provisions in a rationing system. I'm not condoning Castro's regime as his human rights record left many Cubans with little freedom to express their sexuality, practice their religion or even move freely within their own country. I guess I'm a bit undecided on Fidel as in my heart, I'd like to think socialism could work, but still there is little evidence for its success anywhere in the world.
Political views aside, Varadero was much more pleasant than we expected, with white sand beaches and turquoise seas in abundance. We were only there for two days but we managed to squeeze in a catamaran trip which saw both kids diving down with the plentiful fishes. They loved it and so did we.
All in all, we won't hurry back to Cuba. Yes, it was interesting. The architecture and the cars are worth a look and it does have some lovely beaches, but there is much that left us with a bit of a bad taste and not just from the food. The final nail in the coffin for us was the traumatic departure which saw us all super stressed desperately trying to use WIFI to obtain Canadian visas before they would let us check in to the flight home. Ok, so it wasn't Cuba's fault we didn't realise we now needed a visa to transit through a Canadian airport. But the lousy internet and lackadaisical work ethic of the staff in the airport almost sent me into total meltdown as we finally checked in 20 minutes before we were due to depart.
We did make the plane. We made it out and back to Europe in time for Christmas… yes I know my blogging is still someway behind real-time. New year's resolution: I must try to keep more up to date with the blog.
Bring on 2017! May it bring us all lots of fun new adventures.
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!