Thursday, March 20, 2014

On the Road and Off the Beaten Track in Cuba

We were in Cuba for 6 weeks earlier this year, and I was unable to post to my blog so this is catch-up time!  We rented a car for the first 5 weeks, driving almost 4000 km, and had many an adventure on Cuban roads--from picking up hitchhikers to navigating without benefit of road signs.  On January 15, we flew into Cayo Coco which is roughly at the mid-point of the north coast, staying the first three days in Moron.  We then drove south-east to Baracoa, and then north-west to Vinales in Pinar del Rio province.  Our final 9 days were spent car-less in Havana and Varadero.  We left Cuba from Varadero (near Matanzas) on February 26.  This map from the Lonely Planet website will help orient you:

 Map of Cuba

It's fitting that I use this particular map because we depended on the Lonely Planet guide book to find our accommodations and for background information on the major centres.  In fact we were part of a large Lonely Planet family--we met so many other travelers using the same book in a variety of languages.

This was our car, a Chinese-made "Geely" which reminded us of a Toyota Yaris sedan but lighter.  In this image, it's parked inside the gate of our Casa Particular, Maite House, in Moron.
The major roads in Cuba are in good shape for the most part.  Amazingly they lack directional signs in certain areas--it wasn't unusual to come to an unmarked intersection particularly in rural areas and smaller towns and not know which way to turn.  As time went on, I became much more comfortable asking for directions in my rudimentary Spanish.  In a few cases, we were lucky enough to have hitchhikers in the back seat who directed us to turn left or right...Izquierda!  Derecha!"  Confusingly, "derecho" means straight ahead...

One of the worst roads was along the south coast to Santiago de Cuba.  On our Michelin map, this was marked as a main road.  We knew it had been damaged by hurricanes but were not prepared for exactly how awful it was (in spite of having asked locals before heading out):
South road

The original road bed is to the right--the detour is on the left.

A blocked tunnel--the detour went right, along the high tide.  The beach rock was very smooth with deep ruts from truck traffic.  This was like driving on snow and ice.  I kept my eyes peeled for oncoming traffic and Lloyd focused on the road immediately ahead.  Fortunately there was no other traffic!

A broken bridge. 
I later read in the Lonely Planet that this road should not be attempted unless in a 4WD!  Yes!  Lloyd said this was as much technical driving as he'd want to do.   From then on, I made sure to read all the pertinent sections of the guidebook before deciding on a route.

Other road scenes...
Jose Marti Street in Moron--the main thoroughfare.

In the city of Bayamo

In the city of Camaguey

On the road to Trinidad

A Truck-bus--common in rural areas.
Public transportation is dismal in many parts of Cuba.  Hitchhiking is often the only way to get around.  We knew before heading out along the south road that there was no public transport, and so we decided that we would pick up people along the way.  At one point we had 6 people in the back seat--3 adults and 3 kids--as a result of stopping for what we thought would be just one woman and toddler (the others came out of the bushes!)

Tourists travel in more luxurious coaches, either in the scheduled "Viazul" bus service for tourists only or in tour groups, large and small...
Tourist coach navigating the narrow streets of Santiago de Cuba

Tourist coach on La Farola, the road to Baracoa.  This was a beautiful cement road, built in the early 60s, 55 km in length, snaking up and over the mountains.  
We had a ride in an ox cart at the end of a day of hiking in Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt near Baracoa:

and two rides in old American cars in Havana:
This car was not a legal taxi so technically we shouldn't have been allowed in it--we only realized this when the driver reached into his glove box and pulled out a taxi sign to put in the window as we passed a police check point.  Whew!  We weren't stopped.

This '53 Chevy used to belong to his father, and was a legal taxi.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tour of your holiday it looked fantastic