I am in Cuba and so glad that I have come.i am also pleased that I agreed to join an organised tour with Philippa. There are only twelve of us on a small bus with our guide Will, who is a dead ringer for Peter Kay, the comedian. I don’t think that I have laughed so much for a long time. It’s a combination of the banter in the group and Philippa and I recalling stories from the past.
We have explored the west tip of the island and it is beautiful. Swimming in a wide river with waterfalls was idyllic and learning to salsa dance I think I lost a stone in sweat! We visited a tobacco farm and I smoked a cigar, very nice. I’ve drunk Cuba Libra and Pina Coladas and eaten the most delicious home cooked food in people’s houses. The tour is sympathetic with local people and conditions and we stay in bed and breakfast places in the middle of nowhere or, as now, in a small town. The people are lovely, very friendly and kind. I liked Havana and met some great people there and I am looking forward to going to the Buena Vista club when I go back but I prefer the countryside, it’s beauty and it is more relaxing. Cowboys wearing Panama hats, ride by on their horses, which are more often than not in good condition, oxen pull carts and American cars cruise by like ships passing out of a past era and yet they are the identity of Cuba. They are really well maintained by their owners and much used by the tourists.
Today we are going for a two hour hike and this afternoon Philippa and I are going to the hairdressers, a fairly basic set up in the middle of town reminding me of one I went to in Africa. We will have a laugh because we laugh every day.
In order to send this email I have to queue up outside a designated office, we queue because you queue for everything to do with the banks or admin. I then have to buy a card.
Friday 9th September
Yesterday morning we went for a hike through the countryside near Venalles. We were led by a local guide, Alexis who went to great lengths to explain all the plants to us and their medicinal properties or the fruit of the reason for planting. We came upon a small settlement where they were drying some coffee beans we were taken to the back of the house and the lady of the house made us a delicious cup of local coffee. Antonio, the old man, explained that a small house with a pointed roof reminiscent of a Swiss Cottage was where the family took shelter during a hurricane. Rodger took it upon himself to point out that I was single and looking for a husband. Antonio suggested I move in with him as he had several buildings that we could make a home. This is just one of several offers I have had, usually by old wrinkled men.
The walk took us past oxen pulling pointed sledges on which the farmer stood as he guided, the beasts across the ground flattening and dragging the weeds. Horsemen passed us and we watched in horror as three dogs chased a small ginger coloured pig round and round until one of the dogs caught up with it and sank his teeth into its rump. The pig squealed in an alarming way freed himself and ran on. The men followed in hot pursuit with lassoes. The pig was eventually caught and we learned that it had strayed into a neighbours land and was eating his crops.
Nearby small cages housed cockerels that were used for cock fighting and one of the men went inside to get Spurs to show us. I walked away. This is a brutal society.
After walking further we stopped at another farm and were offered local lemonade or Pina colada. I chose the Pina colada and was offered a bottle of rum and asked to give three flicks to the ground to bless it before pouring a slug into my own drink.
In the afternoon Philippa and I went to the hair dressers. It was basic to say the least. In a mad moment I decided to have a pink streak put in my hair. She selected a small strand of hair and wrapped it in tin foil. Eventually the hair was released and daubed with a kind of Ox blood red pink colour.
‘It’s too much,’ I shrieked but it was also too late. I left with a great gob of deep pink on the top of my head. I went to the front of the building outside where I had my tow nails painted in a sympathetic colour. Philippa in contrast came out looking relatively normal. Thus groomed we went in search of the 1955 Ford car that was going to take us on a little outing. It was long, very long, with wings for speed, white and deep pink to match my hair. Lazaro, our driver, took us gently out of town towards the hills but before long it started to rain and so we pulled over and with the help of another he pulled up the concertina cover. We carried on in the rain enjoying the experience of being in one of these iconic old American cars.
The next day we went to a beautiful beach soft white sand, palm trees and torquoise sea. This place is perfect. Last night we dined at an organic farm restaurant on the outskirts of town and watched once more, the red sun setting behind the hills. The food was the best yet. Another perfect day ending in laughter and chat. Tomorrow we return to Havana, another tour of the town and then the last supper as the group go their separate way on Sunday. I have had a fabulous week and enjoyed being on tour more than I would have imagined.
Lots of love,