On to Ecuador via Panama

Queueing at the airport with no check in desks open
Queueing at the airport with no check in desks open

It was a very early start today as we wanted to be at the airport by 8.30am or thereabouts. After breakfast at 7am and packing up, our taxi picked us up and drove us to the airport. We needn’t have bothered arriving early. Every single check in desk was closed until 9am, when a couple opened to check in Deb’s flight to Bogota. Mine eventually opened and it was slow progress. I had forgotten what it was like in the ‘good old days’ before online check in and self service machines. I shall appreciate them all over again now!

Havana airport
Havana airport

I joined Deb in the almost empty departure lounge where we had a coffee before her flight left. Mine went half an hour later and it took about 2 1/2 hours to Panama. It was quite a shock to be back in the 21st Century in a very busy, bustling and modern airport. I only had an hour between flights, but had time to buy a replacement charger cable for my ipad (mine having given up as soon as I left Montreal), and get some cash.

Neither flight was full so I was very comfortable and I read one of the books I had rescued from a friend’s charity shop box three months ago and which I had been carrying around with me ever since. There were a group of Haitians sitting near me and one, who was the closest, seemed to have St Vitus’ dance, as he couldn’t sit still, opened and closed his window shade, and burped the entire flight whilst listening to loud music through his ear phones.

Flying over Cuba
Flying over Cuba
Flying over the Panama Canal
Flying over the Panama Canal

On arrival in Quito, immigration were very friendly and easy, although they did seem to give the Haitians a bit of a grilling. It wasn’t long before I was in the taxi with a driver who chatted to me in very slow Spanish the entire way to the hostel. Amazingly, I understood most of it and was even able to respond in my halting Spanish on occasion!

The hostel was quite disappointing after the reviews I had read, but I sat downstairs and chatted to people for quite some time in the evening. It seems to be a little outpost of the Empire, with most residents being from England or Canada.

Back to Havana

We were heading back to Havana today and had told Tony that we didn’t want to leave until 11am.

Our breakfast 'room' in Vinales
Our breakfast ‘room’ in Vinales
The symbol at the bottom denotes tourist accommodation
The symbol at the bottom denotes tourist accommodation

We have both felt that this part of the tour was a bit of an expensive addition, having had to pay a relatively substantial local payment, the guide having very little to do and it being advertised as a five day tour, when, in fact, it is barely four. Consequently, we took our time this morning, whilst Pedro hovered, looking at his watch, as he had a long drive back to Trinidad, once he had dropped us in Havana.

We were ready before 11am but, by this time, they were both embroiled in the phone game again, so we had to wait for them. We didn’t stop at all on the way, and were back in the city by 2pm where we were dropped at our Casa for the night, which was different from the one we had previously stayed in.

After Tony and Pedro had left, we walked into Obispo Street and to a very Cuban restaurant where we had a fairly unspectacular lunch but were joined at the table by a mother and her two sons, one of whom was quite small and entertaining.

Afterwards, Deb wanted to check her emails, so we ambled up to the Parque Hotel, which is very grand, eating coconut ice cream out of a coconut, whilst we walked. I sat in the foyer and had a coffee whilst she was using the internet. The people watching, as usual, was entertaining.

Inside the Parque Hotel
Inside the Parque Hotel
The wooden circle is for pedestrians to step over the ditch!
The wooden circle is for pedestrians to step over the ditch!

Whilst we were there, we realised that the Buena Vista Social Club was playing that evening, so we booked tickets, as this was something special for the last night in Cuba. However, we had to return to the Casa first, to smarten ourselves up, which was a bit of a mission in my case.

We then had dinner at the Italian restaurant we had visited previously before joining all the cruise ship passengers in the Parque Hotel function room where the band was playing. It wasn’t really quite the right venue with its white table cloths and suited waiters but the band and accompanying dancers were excellent, even if the programme was geared to tourists. At one point, they asked everyone which country they came from and then played a few bars of a relevant song. I was the only New Zealander and the song was ‘How Bizarre’, which was a little curious!

Afterwards, we sat in the foyer and listened to some music from another band before hailing a bicitaxi to take us back to the Casa. This was entertainment in itself, as it was about midnight, and the driver was very chatty and kept stopping and turning round to talk. Consequently, it took quite a while to arrive at our destination.

Tobacco, massage and even more food

Mending the roof of the tobacco drying shed
Mending the roof of the tobacco drying shed
Path through farmland
Path through farmland

The beds in our rooms here are probably the most uncomfortable we have had to date so, apart from the stomach trouble I had been having for the last few days, I didn’t sleep well because of the bed.

However, we couldn’t laze around as we were booked on a walking tour at 9am so had to get up and get going, with the aid of some Imodium in my case.

Our local guide for the day was quite arrogant and had obviously got his spiel down to a fine art, complete with jokes. We were joined by two Belgian girls, who are currently working as nurses on Aruba, so we enjoyed chatting to them.

Farmer's implement shed
Farmer’s implement shed
Tobacco leaves drying
Tobacco leaves drying

The walk took us through farmland, which was mostly tobacco plantations of 6 or 7 hectares and where oxen were being used to pull the carts of harvested leaves into the drying sheds. One farmer showed us how the cigars were rolled with three layers of leaves, the first being a bunch of leaves that had been dried for 3 months or more, the second being one leaf from the bottom of the plant and the last layer being a leaf from the middle of the plant, which has softer leaves and is therefore more maleable. They normally roll the cigars in the evening after the field work is done and would do about 100 or 150 per night.

Outside a house in Vinales
Outside a house in Vinales

After the walk, we stopped at the bar in the plaza and had a sandwich and people watched for a while. It was an excellent position for that as every man and his dog (or horse) went past.

We then returned to the casa for some rest and recuperation and I had a massage that I had booked, which was done by the owner’s sister in law. It was excellent, once I had worked out how to breathe with my face stuffed straight down into the bed clothes. No such thing as massage tables here! Deb had to be turned out of the room as well and had to sit on the verandah in the rain for an hour, which made me feel a little bit guilty! I’m sure the massage therapist would have needed a massage herself, as well, after bending over the bed for an hour.

Our evening meal was at an organic finca/farm and Tony had arranged our transport with one of the neighbours, who has a large old car that he uses as a taxi. The food was outstanding and excessive and we didn’t have to pay as we had a voucher to compensate for not staying at Las Terrazzas, as we should have done. Unfortunately, I ran out of stomach space quite early on so didn’t eat a huge amount. The goat casserole, onion fritter and creme caramel were excellent though and I am sure there were some well fed animals later on.