Friday, 24 December 2010

Cuba 1

I hadn't anticipated quite so much anxiety travelling to Cuba but or want of a spare part the plane delayed 12 hours and we waited and waited. The  part had  to be sourced from France via light aircraft and once fitted our pilot went to the wire trying  in vain to get us airborne before his time allowance ran out. The only consolation was a stay at the rather plush Gatwick Sofitel and the possibility of a €600 compensation claim.      

Arriving at Varedero we exited without problem. I changed some pounds into convertible pesos, the special money used by tourists and took a taxi to Matanzas, Varadero's poorer but more authentically Cuban neighbour to the East. Mira, the owner of Casa Alma had understandably let my room but found me another with her sister.  Marta is a neurologist working at the Children's Hospital and her apartment has one room given over to paying guests. She seemed very pleased when she learned I would stay 3 nights and I gleaned that her pay as a qualified doctor wasn't equal to UK equivalents. 

Following breakfast I spent 3 hours walking the town. Matanzas is a bit of a puzzle. It's colonial past is evident but in places it has been let go to a great extent. That said there is evidence of development with a strong flavour of visual arts in galleries, collectives and studios and a few nice bars. Most of the shops display only a poor selection of unbranded goods, in particular the pharmacies which are stark by comparison to most western countries. 

I think one can feel safe here. I have chatted to many locals, been given free coffee and wasn't hassled once. Traffic is noisy and smelly and there are a good number of more or less preserved ancient US cars and I even saw an Austin. Interestingly there are some horse and Cart and motorbike and sidecar taxis and a fair number of not very good cycles. 

The town is dominated by the sea and two rivers although today the former does not seem too inviting given a chill wind from the North. Walking the riverside young people were racing sea canoes and I saw a few men fishing with nets. 

Having been promised 25C and sunny we have a chilly cloudy 18C with a northerly breeze but somewhat better than at home. 


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