Esta fiesta no termina
Trinidad demands a more extended stay, but the road is calling us. We also want to see what it’s like to spend the night “in the wild” to test out the ultimate freedom that the motorhome offers. We find the perfect spot at Playa Coco, near the Bay of Pigs, the site of a failed CIA-funded invasion aimed at toppling Fidel and his cohort. We stumble onto it by accident.
Paradise unfurls before our eyes. Snow-white beach, swaying palm trees and we can drive the camper straight onto the beach
Terwijl we over een klein weggetje rijden, zien we een nog kleiner paadje en we besluiten even te kijken. Het paradijs ontvouwt zich voor onze ogen. Hagelwit strand, wuivende palmbomen en de camper kan tot op 10 meter voor de kabbelende golven op het strand gereden worden. Beter kan niet. Binnen no-time brandt er een knapperend vuurtje, de Kip aller Kippen komt tevoorschijn en het Grote BBQ-project gaat van start. Mét mojito’s van Rúben. De kip komt uiteindelijk perfect van het vuur. En ik besluit in een vlaag van pure romantiek op het strand te gaan slapen, onder een volle maan en met de zachte golfslag op de achtergrond. We slapen prima, maar overmoedig was het wel. De met het oog bijna niet zichtbare zandvliegjes vinden ons even smakelijk als wij de kip. Met honderden kleine jeukende cadeautjes op lijf en leden als gevolg. Het mag de pret niet drukken, nou ja, een beetje dan.
World’s first eco-village
The next day we quickly rack up the kilometres. It’s almost 300 kilometres from Playa Coco to Las Terrazas, the first Ecovillage in the world. Everything here is sustainable and has been since the 1970s. The founders had foresight. The village alone is worth it for the Baños del San Juan, an idyllic collection of natural springs and waterfalls. We eat an amazing spit-roasted suckling pig and unwind a little in the bubbling mountain water. We stay overnight in the motorhome at Villa Soroa to set off towards the Valle de Viñales at dawn.
Viñales: paardrijden, vergezichten en mogotes
My horse splashes joyfully through the clear stream along green tobacco fields. In one hand I loosely hold the reins while in the other is an enormous cigar. The Valle de Viñales has been declared a national monument in Cuba. Dotted across the landscape are round, steep limestone mounds. These overgrown hills are called mogotes
On horseback, we reach a viewpoint. With a cold beer in our hand, we watch the sun go down and how it lights the majestic mogotes.
Viñales is a beautiful place, fairly touristy with all the accompanying tourist traps, but a slightly experienced traveller will soon spot them. One is particularly notorious and starts on the road into Viñales. Tourists mostly drive rental cars or motorhomes like us, and they can be easily picked out on the empty highway. There’s a good chance of a man in some sort of uniform will pop up from the side of the road, waving his arms. He’ll tell you he’s “security” and that a bus has broken down, asking whether you can take one of the stranded people to Viñales. It all looks official, so you do it, or we did at least. Within about a minute however, we realised it was a tourist trap. Innocent indeed. The lifter happens to be a guide, and he’s so happy with the ride that he offers to let you see Viñales National Park for free. The aim is to accompany you to a particular restaurant and get you to buy cigars and/or rum. Well, it’s also fine if you say no, but you’ve been warned. Almost every tourist we came across had fallen victim to it.
On horseback, we reach a viewpoint. With a cold beer in our hand, we watch the sun go down and how it lights the majestic mogotes. La Ermitage, our local camping ground, also has a magnificent view over dreamy Viñales.
Maria la Gorda:
A diver’s Paradise
One of the great advantages of Cuba (and Havana in particular) is that there are very few cars. Traffic queues are an unknown concept here. In no time we have left the capital and drive along the coast with the sea on our left. Green palm trees sway against the sky-blue background. Apparently, there are patches of oil beneath the earth of in this socialist utopia. Pumpjacks slowly joyfully nod their heads in time with the music we’ve put on while a salty sea breeze coming from the open windows cools us. Halfway through the drive, about an hour’s drive to Playa Jibacoa from Havana, we stop at a roadside restaurant to devour some fresh lobster before we make our first stop in Villa Trópico.
You can also descend into this underwater world simply by snorkelling.
Diving is divine here. The reef starts about three hundred meters from the beach and right behind it the sea descends into a trench. It goes straight down about two kilometres, meaning you can go wall-diving into the abyss while barracuda and other fish keep you company. You can also descend into this underwater world simply by snorkelling. If you take the road to the Guanahacabibes Peninsula just before the turnoff for Maria la Gorda, you will also find yourself in a world of wonder. For lovers of nature these wetlands are a must, and at the right time of year, you can witness thousands of turtles crawling out their eggs and heading for the sea.
A world in itself
The drive from Maria la Gorda back to Havana is the longest one so far. We had already taken hitchhikers with us on our journey, but this time it was different. When we stop for an old man, a group of six other Cubans start heading towards the camper van. They all fit in, so why not? They sat in the back of our little house on wheels in admiration. They’ve never seen anything like it. There’s a kitchen inside! What?! And a shower!! Hilarity all around. Of course, because this is Cuba, there has to be music. Before we know it, we’ve become a travelling disco, with a whole Horde of dancing Cubans in the rear of our camper van. Cuba, esta fiesta no termina (the party never ends).
We drive us around the whole harbour in his golf kart. He was once a professor at the sailing school
Although this is the longest drive, it is still only four and a half hours driving and a little over three hundred kilometres. We decide to spend our last night in the Marina Hemingway, Havana’s marina. It seems a world in itself, with its own restaurants and bars and ships from all over the world (we even spot one from Amsterdam, bobbing along the quayside. Harbourmaster José Veya Iglesias (65) is joy incarnate and the perfect host. We drive us around the whole harbour in his golf kart. He was once a professor at the sailing school. He laughs when I ask him why he switched jobs: “I was working myself to death. I wrote textbooks, produced exams while my colleagues’ did nothing. The pay was also the same for everyone. That’s the government’s worst idea I think. It doesn’t motivate anyone. This pays better because I work with tourists.” He gives us a delightful spot on the waterfront for our last night. Early in the morning, we drink a strong coffee in the seaman’s café before we return our camper van. The reception is very friendly indeed. Cuba by camper van is a celebration.