Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cuba, Travel, Varadero, Viñales

Viñales to Varadero

Christy only has a few more days of holiday, so our plans are to head to Varadero for a couple of beach days before going back to Havana, where she will return to the US and I will travel further east into Cuba.

As we’re wrapping up breakfast at Casa Izzy, we see an old green Land Rover pull up outside. Barbara comes in to let us know our ride has arrived, so we grab our bags and head downstairs. As we get closer to the road, we see that the Land Rover is packed to capacity – not just with people, but with bags too. After a couple of minutes of people getting disgruntled, two passengers bail, our bags are tossed in the back, and we’re both told to squeeze in the front passenger seat.

I sit squashed between Christy and the car door and watch as we leave Viñales, once again climbing through the forest and descending onto a potted road that leads to the autopista. The Land Rover accelerates loudly and leaves a trail of fumes behind us, but it handles the potholes in a way Louis’s neon orange sports car never could. I roll down the window and let fresh air hit my face as we again pass horse and buggies, bicyclists, work trucks, tour buses and classic cars.

Today, I feel like I’ve found what I call my ‘traveler’s groove.’ Six travelers sit crammed on two benches in the back of the Land Rover, with our backpacks strewn at their feet.  All of us are off to various places east of Havana, and we’ve entrusted our lives to this stranger, whose job it is to deliver us safely to Varadero, all for the price of 40 CUC. I am in my element!

I dig the Lonely Planet Cuba book out of Christy’s backpack and spend the morning reading the ‘History” section, venturing as far back as the country’s pre-colonial days and then landing in more familiar territory when I get to the names Batista, Castro & Guevara. One and a half hours later, we pull over at a little rest area for a break, my mind trying to sort the hundreds of years of history I’ve just crammed into it. We decide it’s late enough in the day for a cold beer, grab a Cristal to go, and continue on our journey to Varadero.

We cross Havana and head east, trucking across flat farmland. I can smell rain in the air and roll up the window as fat raindrops start to land on the windscreen. We’ve dropped a couple of passengers at a bus station on the outskirts of Havana, but Christy and I have decided to stay up front with our driver, Esteban, who educates us on Cuban pop music and points out his hometown as we pass it.

We’re soon arriving in Varadero, which immediately feels as touristy as Old Havana but without the charm and appealing architecture. The strip of beach to our left is lined with high rise after high rise and interspersed with small shopping centers. Fortunately, we’re staying at an Airbnb just south of here in an area called Santa Marta, which is like what Vedado is to Havana. Choc full of traffic and locals, I feel like we’ve made a right turn back into authentic Cuba.

After about an hour of driving around looking for where we’ll be staying, we finally connect with Irenia, who runs Santos B&B. We bid farewell to Esteban and follow Irenia as she welcomes us in and gives us a tour of the apartment where we’ll be staying for the next two nights.

We take a late lunch across the road in the little courtyard garden of Cafe Ria and then walk the 30 minutes to the beach area to scope out a place for tomorrow. We find a little snack stand en route to the beach and meet Pedro and his sidekick, who refers to himself as ‘Potpourri.’ They gift us piña coladas and make us promise we will return the following day.

We catch a glimpse of the beach before the sun has set entirely and then grab a taxi back to our neighborhood. We find a little market and grab a bottle of coke and settle into the chairs on our small patio. I dig through my daypack and pull out the cigars and rum we were gifted in Viñales, and we pour a couple of rum and cokes, toasting to a good travel day and our first night in Varadero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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