Pig on a spit and dancing

Today was a free day although Mariana and Deb, both from Brisbane, and I had elected to join the other group for a picnic of spit roast pig by a river this afternoon. This left the morning for a wander in Baracoa, a bit of time on the internet to transfer some money to a bank account whose card actually worked in the machines here, and to change some dollars.

I have been caught out with the money exchange here as Mastercard debit cards do not work in the machines at all and, when using my Visa debit, the amount is first converted to U.S. dollars at an unfavourable exchange rate, which my N.Z. bank will then also charge a fee for converting into NZ dollars. With hindsight, it would have been infinitely more economic to have brought Canadian dollars but I am uncomfortable carrying large amounts of cash. By the time all that was done, the morning had disappeared and it was time to return to the Casa to wait for the taxi with Monica (our guide) to go to the river.

Holiday huts for Cubans to rent at the river campsite
Holiday huts for Cubans to rent at the river campsite
Before cooking!
Before cooking!

The taxi was a typical mode of Cuban transport in jeep form with a couple of bench seats in the back. The road was more than a little bumpy and the roof very low but luckily non of us hit our heads on the roof!

The venue was a camp site in a park and we had to wait a while for the other group of English/New Zealanders to arrive and the pig to finish cooking. Whilst waiting we were served with a beautiful fish soup and I had a fairly strong mojito. The pig, last seen strapped to the sidecar of Willo’s motorbike when it left the casa, was cooking nicely and someone had been hand turning the spit for the last four hours.

Pig on the spit
Pig on the spit
View of the river, complete with birthday decorations
View of the river, complete with birthday decorations
Lurid birthday cake
Lurid birthday cake

The other group have all known each other for a very long time and started on the mojitos and pina coladas very quickly, with the result that events turned quite boisterous and slap stick.

It was one of their birthdays, so an extremely colourful pink and yellow cake, whose icing slowly melted, was the centrepiece of the table. There were also a couple of local musicians providing music and soon everyone was dancing. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, I cannot dance and spent quite some time sitting on the side lines bearing a strong resemblance to the traditional wall flower, something I thought I had left behind with my teenage years. One of the men attempted to dance with me a couple of times but soon gave up when he realised I had two left feet!

Willo chopping up the pig on palm leaves
Willo chopping up the pig on palm leaves

The pig, however, was excellent and probably the most tender pork I have ever tasted. We returned to Baracoa at about 7pm and I then had a very quiet evening in my room. I find that I usually need at least a little time away from the group when I am travelling en masse. Luckily for me on this tour, the combination of the group has meant that I have my own room even though I have not paid the single supplement. Mariana and Deb are both friends and share, and the three Melbournians are also friends and comprise one man, who obviously has his own room, and 2 women who share.

Salsa, rum and Australians

The morning was spent in discussion with my Spanish teacher. Alas, little Spanish was learned but we had a very good chat about Cuba that left me feeling quite depressed. Life appears so hard here for the average Cuban that I feel very uncomfortable with my comparative wealth.

This feeling was exacerbated later in the afternoon when I returned to the Casa to collect my bags. Berta had been out since after breakfast going from small store to small store trying to find supplies. Local people have ration books for the basic necessities of rice, beans, coffee, bread, eggs, sugar and salt, which they purchase at a low price from the bogeda (government shop) in their own district. Anything else has to be bought from small stores (also government owned), which are very expensive. The average wage is approximately $30 per month but it is paid in Cuban pesos, with an exchange rate of 25 cents to 1CUC (kook), the currency that is used by tourists.

For the last ten years, it has been possible to own a private business so these Cubans tend to be better off, as are the Cubans with access to tourists by way of hotels, casas (homestays), taxis and other services, as they can receive tips in the much more valuable CUCs. However, this does not mean that there is the food available even if they have the money.

Along the Malecon
Along the Malecon

There was another salsa class this afternoon where I learned a few more steps although I hold out no hope whatsoever that I will be able to conjure them up when the occasion arises! My instructors insisted on taking a video of me at the end of the class but I am not about to share it!

After the class, Berta found me transport to the casa where I was to meet the group. I think it is unlikely that it was a legitimate taxi but it took me where I needed to go, albeit after asking for directions from one or two people!

Vedado
Vedado

A nasty surprise awaited me in the welcome note from the tour guide. We were leaving at 3.30am to catch a 6.00am plane. It was certainly not as dire for me, though, as for the Australians who had just arrived after several days journey.

Our group consists of five Australians, me and the tour guide and there is another tour leaving at the same time with eight English/NZ friends, whom we will, no doubt, bump into along the way from time to time.

Whilst waiting for everyone to arrive so that we could go out to dinner, a couple of the group produced a bottle of rum, with which I naturally invited myself to partake! Consequently, by the time we actually went out to a very disappointing and expensive tourist restaurant, the earliest arrivals were very merry. However, as everyone was very tired and with the prospect of such an early start, it was not too late a night and straight to bed after dinner.