After tracking down a rental car from the neighboring tourist town of Guadalavaca for a fairly outrageous 90 CUC per day (aka 100 USD), Travis, Logan and I were ready to put boat life on hold and begin exploring the interior of this lush island. We checked Bueller’s cleat knots holding her safely to our marina in Puerto de Vita, packed our bags, and set off in our 2008 Peugeot as they apparently don’t stock as 1950 Chevys as I had hoped.
Our first stop on the route was the city of Holguin which is a short hour drive southwest. The first thing you notice when driving through the mountainous landscape was that palm trees here seem to have given up their typical seaside homes and have instead taken residence on even the highest mountains. “Go home palm trees, you’re drunk” was quoted often by our wayward travelers.
We chose Holguin as our first destination as it is the capital of the province and it has both a great music scene and nightlife. After asking a number of locals where to find our lodging (a lack of google maps left us with an incomplete paper map to guide our way) we eventually found a casa particular for the evening and set out to explore the town. As it turned out, there was a huge outdoor festival and thus there were hundreds of people out and about on a main thoroughfare. Over a mile long, the street was filled with multitudes of small pop-up restaurants and food stands serving everything from churros (fried bread with fruit filling) to traditional Cuban fare with rice, beans, and perfectly spiced chicken or pork. If there was any question about the freshness of the meat, about every block or so there was a huge pig being slowly hand turned over a fiery spit.
Up until now, Cuba appeared to be very expensive place to travel. As our stomachs began to grumble and we did the currency conversion in our heads we realized that food and drink here was verrry affordable. With 24 pesos being the equivalent of a dollar, we could buy beers for 20 pesos, a personal pizza for 10, hot dogs for 7, or a sit down meal for 60 to 100 depending on the fare. We would be eating and drinking well for the next ten days, that much was clear.
Rather than following us step-by-step like some creepy guy on the street, I’m going to jump to a few quick highlights of our time in Holguin and the nearby town of Bayamo:
- Encounter with a hitchhiker and la Policia – Hitchhiking is not only allowed in Cuba, it is largely expected as you’ll get all sorts of dirty looks if you drive by a group of people when you obviously have empty seats. In an effort to connect with locals (and often to get help with directions), we picked up a number of hitchhikers throughout our trip. After picking up our first hitchhiker just outside of Holguin, however, we had a bit of a snafu with the local police. At one of the many traffic inspection stations we were waved over by the policia and asked for our documents. He quickly asked the lady hitchhiker to get out of our car and they proceeded to have a loud argument in Spanish. We picked up only pieces of it but we definitely heard (roughly translated) “…you kill one cow, okay, two cows okay, three cows okay, but four cows is not okay”. He then told us to leave but not before a bicyclist rode up and wrongly accused us of trying to run him off the road. Luckily he ignored the man and told us to leave. Now we initially took the encounter to mean that we were not allowed to pick up hitchhikers as tourists but after describing what happened to a few other locals as we deduced that she was likely a “lady of the night” as they say and thus the cop was telling her in this quite hilarious way that she was no longer allowed to hitchhike with male tourists.
- Climbed the stairs that overlooked the city – On our second day in the city, Logan, Trav and I did some exploring of the neighborhood and found ourselves at the base of a huge set of stairs that led to a historic fort that overlooks the town . I would be lying if I said we didn’t immediately starting singing eye of the tiger and began racing to the top.
- D.A.N.C.E. – After making a few friends at a bar near one of the main squares in Holguin, we set out to find a place where we could make fools of ourselves on a dance floor. We went to a number of places around the city including one that had a great live band playing bachata. It was here that we realized how much Buena Vista Social Club gets played throughout the country. Check out some of their music if you haven’t already: LINK
- Frisbee in the square – After making our way to the nearby town of Bayamo, Logan and I set out with our LED Frisbee to make some friends. After passing a lively game of volleyball being played with a net stretched across the road, we found the main square of this small town that had a huge open marble plaza. The color changing Frisbee blew the minds of some of local kids and we hung out with them and a few of the locals until late.