2012/04 – Cuba – Quiet Days in Playa Larga / Bay of Pigs – Part I

16 Apr

 

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Playa Larga
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Casa Homero

April 2012

Dedicado a mi amigo Adrian “Tocho” que comparte el cariño hacia Cuba – un saludo !

This visit I really did get to relax, vacation and tour Cuba in a very different way than
ever before.

I had passed through Bay of Pigs last year, had not stopped but liked the quiet, relaxed and very deserted swamp and beach atmosphere there.

So when Luis, a Cuban friend, suggested I go there to enjoy true Cuban hospitality, food and family-lifestyle I immediately jumped at the idea.

The day after the baseball match which was the last event during the Festival week, I packed a bag, some cigars and a few bottles of rum and we left early on the Carretera Central or Ocho Vias (Eight lane) as it’s also called and soon left hustling Havana behind.

Only one stop was made for a deliciously fresh Piña Colada, coffee and H.Upmann
Half-Corona at Los Morales pit stop halfway through the 2h30 journey past orange groves and fields.

Leaving the Carretera at Jagüey Grande we passed Australia, Fidel’s HQ during the failed invasion in the early 60’s. We entered the Zapata swamps and passed the memorials for the fallen soldiers by the road.

We arrived in Playa Larga in time to help prepare a fresh seafood lunch consisting of lobster and Pargo filets with abundant salad, rice, beans, well, abundant everything as my hosts Homero and Silvia would heap loads of delicious fresh food on our plates.

I had by then moved into my room for the week, a spartan, basic but clean and nice bedroom with attached bathroom and a living room that consisted of the shaded patio and kitchen area in the rear of the house.

Having lived in Hyatt’s and Sheraton’s and Inter-Conti’s for 35 years, I truly considered this luxury and I know very well the reason why.

Where else will you live with a family, be part of their daily life, drink, eat, play and interchange with them like you would with your own family ?

I knew I had found the place I wanted.

– Anyone interested in staying at Casa Homero, please contact me for further details and/or arranging the stay –

I paid 35 CUC per day, breakfast was 3 and lunch/dinner 10 CUC, so I had a room and full
board for 48 CUC or 40 € a day.

After a long lunch Luis drove me around to show me Playa Larga, a one horse town located
at the northern end of the Bay of Pigs, quaint and quiet, the only feature being a Hotel that I was told attracted some night life which I never saw or heard. We also took a look at nearby Caleton that has nice good Casas right by the palm tree lined beach.

Then we drove to Cueva de los Peces or fish cave, Cuba’s deepest salt water cave at an average 70 m depth and located about 300 meters from the beach itself in the swamp. It is connected with the sea via tunnels and divers love the interesting cave diving available there.

Not much else to see – some of the beachfront area is off limits as there are houses for very high (the “highest” … I was told) govt. officials there as are the keys offshore, even fishing is restricted (for the regular population of course, not for the fat cows) as the area is highly patrolled to protect the officials and prevent high-speed boats taking over defecting Cubans to mother ships further out in International waters.

After a long lunch, coffee, rum and cigars, my friends returned to Havana and I set out to explore the area and found out that it would take me very little to do it. I had a coffee at the Hotel which tasted more like dirty water and decided – as always – to stay away, I’d had enough of Hotels in Cuba.

Strolling through town I watched everyday life, people busy trying to get rides, buy the
meagre store offerings, or lazily sharing gossip on the streets and plazas plus the ever present but decaying political slogans.

Back to my Casa and long talks with Homero on all themes while sharing Cristal ( and Rum
before and after dinner ).

Best way to learn the intricacies of Cuban life.

Delicious Cuban coffee was served at any time and I had my stash of Cristal and Rum that
I shared with Homero and his relative Enrique who would serve as my driver/guide in a beautiful blue 1950’s Chevy, read Granma, the one & only paper available that also served other, well, more human purposes, watch TV with my hosts or play Domino with them
before going to bed early.

Food was always fresh and you could tell ahead what you wanted to have – from lobster to fish to crocodile to conch meat to Jutia, the Cuban giant rat en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutia that is loved for its meat ( but strangely enough the Cuban govt. forbids its consumption as it considers the rat population to be a “strategic military food reserve in case of war” …

The plates were so full of delicious food that I had to actively tell Silvia to reduce portions even though I love to eat – it was just too much and too tasty !

I visited the clinic in Playa Larga to clean the scratches on my knees from the Havana match and was treated perfectly by a very nice nurse who shaved my knees and applied antibiotic lotion for free.

I thanked her with a “donation” and she came to bring me new lotion and gauzes to my Casa, had a soda and shot the breeze – small village living.

 The days were spent touring around to places like nearby Guama, an island in the swamp lake that houses a Taino Indianvillage and a hotel, quite touristy, the trip & crocodile farm were interesting, the place was not.

Or to nearby Australia to see the historic rail engines that still run for tourists or railway enthusiasts, these engines were used to haul the sugarcane from the fields to Central Australia, a “Central” being the name for a sugar-mill in Cuba.

Another nice tour is to Caleta Buena, 8 kms from Playa Giron where the Invasion museum stands and ca. 35 km from Playa Larga.

The museum in Playa Giron is interesting but I had seen it last year.

Caleta Buena is a sea-water basin protected by a rocky wall from the ocean that also
has a cave connected by a tunnel to the sea.

In this cave you may observe all kinds of fish swimming in the transparent clean water.
Absolutely amazing to swim among the fish.

The place is govt. run and opens from 10 am to 5 pm to tourists paying 15 CUC for the
place, meals and beverages included.

You even get registered with a “handcuff” (first time for me, I had it put on my ankle ) like at any other Cuban All-Inclusive resort …

I’d go back again, I spent 2 days there and enjoyed the quiet sea breeze and the swimming,
especially if you arrive before noon and the tour buses bringing in groups of noisy tourists from the hotels for a day trip – that’s when it gets crowded.

Food is nothing to write home about, a buffet with tired chicken, rice and beans so I got my money’s worth back at the free bar to get away from the, by then, snoring tourists.

Passing Playa Giron towards Caleta Buena, a mere few hundred yards from the Invasion
museum glorifying the victory of the revolution you may find an almost pre-historic sight, swamp folks making charcoal like in the middle ages.

I spent some time watching and having the way to make charcoal explained and was shocked when I learned that they would get 2 Cuban pesos, not even 10 cents per bag of charcoal and the monthly production was 1200 bags. The fire pits burn for 7-8 days to produce charcoal and have to be stoked continously.

No wonder the miserable living conditions these people have – I felt pity and even more
than my customary disgust of the revolutionary slogans that litter the island.

The swamp folks were humble, hospitable, talkative (guess they don’t get many visitors )
and very welcoming. I’d visit them again bringing something for the barefoot kid and half-blind man I encountered living there.

Another touching moment was to see little girls taking dancing classes in a public park
– how incredible their sense of music is and how disciplined their lady teacher was.

Those 5-6 year olds were born with music and rhythm in their veins and it showed.

The time in Playa Larga was most relaxing and enjoyable – I recharged batteries, enjoyed my
host family, ate the best food on earth and swore to return.

Which I will.

Nino

PS : Another 3 picture galleries on Playa Larga, Guama and Caleta Buena will follow.

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Boy and Bird at Los Morales pit stop
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Always present – even in Australia
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Checkpoint entering the Zapata swamp
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Road to Playa Larga
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Basic needs : Rum, beer and toilet paper

 

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Silvia & Homero
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My room
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Bathroom
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Water heater
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Living room

 

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Preparing lunch
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Home-made spicy sauce
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Lunch
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Lunch
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After lunch cigar, cafecito & rum

 

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Bay of Pigs
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Cueva de los Peces
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Cueva de los Peces
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Beach at Cueva de los Peces
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Playa Larga

 

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Playa Larga
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Playa Larga
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Playa Larga
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Playa Larga
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Cigar with Kendry

 

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My Almendron-“taxi”
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Enrique
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Playa Larga clinic
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Playa Larga clinic
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Afternoon delights – 1972 Punch Nectares & dirty reading …

 

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Relaxing
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Friendly house call by the nurse
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Pargo, Conch & Sea snail dinner
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TV news time – just the weather report please …
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Domino is much better than TV !

 

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Family evening Cuban style
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My numbers – won !
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Rum, talks and a friend

 

Copyright Nino

 

 

 

 

 

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