Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cuba Trip 3/22 Day 5

Good Morning World !

Today we scheduled a jeep safari and all 8 of us went on the trip. We had to get up a little earlier than usual so that we were ready for the bus pick up at 8:15 . Everyone made it to the bus on time and it was about a 30 minute ride to several other hotels for more participants and then a drive to the other side of Varadero to the Jeep Safari compound. I was surprised to see about 200 Suzuki jeeps all lined up like an airport parking lot.

Our total group was 10 jeeps. The company rep. and the tour rep. led and we followed behind in 9 jeeps with 4 in each. When we first left the jeep storage yard, we went on several back roads through some cuban village areas.

Now these are really 3rd world poverty areas with people pushing old wheelbarrows, kids playing in the street, washing hung out to dry wherever a string could be strung, lots of 2 wheel buggies pulled by scrawny horses, lots of plastic bag remnants caught in the barbed wire fences, small really rough looking cattle and lots of small goats in the fields. Fields is much too good of a description for these lava rock enclosures with the odd blade of grass poking through. The rocks are all jagged and rough and cover probably 80 % of the surface.

We had heard that we should bring items to hand out to children we encountered on our step back in time. Every so often a mom would be standing by the road holding or watching young kids smiling and waving. The jeeps stopped briefly and handed out all manner of pencils, crayons, snacks, notebooks, etc.  Seems like all the Canadians had visited a $1 store at home prior to the trip and had these handouts to give to the kids.

The houses these people came out of were generally a concrete bunker type looking structure, maybe 10 feet wide by 25 feet long, with attached rickety lean to's and all manner of scrounged metal roofing. None of these places had windows. Concrete holes were boarded up or had primitive type shutters. Only the best looking places had a kind of wooden shutter that could be opened or closed like a large venetian blind.

These people with nothing all appeared very happy and friendly. The little kids all played happily and were actually really good looking kids. They all seem to have very beautiful faces and smiles. Don't know if I could say that about a bunch of Canadian kids. A tough existence but I guess the kids don't know anything different anyway.

Our first stop on the safari was for snorkeling in an underground cave. Now this was really cool and right up my alley. I was the first one into the water and had a blast exploring every dark corner of the cave. All the stalagmites and stalagtites were so cool to see and touch. The water was crystal clear and you could see clearly to the probably 40 foot bottom. Lots of strange and eerie shapes to view everywhere you looked. A really fun time for me.

Next we drove again over some more 4 x 4 type back roads and finally came to a working farm. Here they grow coconuts, bananas, pineapple, sugar cane, papaya and avacado. We ate fresh bananas off the tree, small ones about 4 inches long, fresh papaya, fresh cut and peeled sugar cane and chewed on the sugar cane stalks. There were chickens running around everywhere and a big old pig staked out for grazing. The locals were very friendly and always smiling.

More back roads and here we were able to go blasting through big water puddles and splash water everywhere. Lots of fun for me doing the driving, I'm not so sure about Steve's mom and sister in the back.

Next we had an interesting drive through the city of Matanzas. Old cars and trucks, people of all types on the street and just the narrow streets and congestion were wild. On one corner a guy with what looked like a pregnant woman in a swim top and small skirt and bare feet called out to me " Hey mister, you want this girl, this girl for you". Like I said, people of all types.

Next, maybe 10 miles of really rough broken pavement road out into a valley away from town to a country ranch where we were to have an authentic cuban lunch. Very interesting. A soup of some type of root vegetable (I think) or lentils, a plate of sliced orange and grapefruit, some boiled pork, a salad of greens and red cabbage, some really strange cake type bread, red beans and rice and then kind of a cheesecake type dessert. It was all quite good I thought, the bread was the wierdest and the dessert was next on the wierd scale.

They had a small lake where you could go out in a paddle boat or kayak. I chose a small sit-on-top kayak to try out. It was a little tippy and I probably exceeded the recommended carrying capacity. The odd part was the lack of a back rest so it was hard for me to sit basically with my feet a little higher than my butt and have to use stomach muscles (or maybe more acurately lack of) to hold myself upright. Too tough for me so didn't get too far. I'll probably feel it tomorrow.

There were a few horses there you could ride. Janet and Carmen tried this out, the horses went about 300 feet and stopped, turned around and headed back to the paddock. These horses knew the drill and weren't about to change.

They also had cattle and goats out in the fields, a big pig pen at the lake shore and chickens everywhere. We spent about 2 hours here then the drive back over the same rough road and through Matanzas again.

Next was a stop at a river for a big party boat cruize up the river. This was relaxing and on the way back we were entertained by live music and dancers. This was fun and the only time people had their hands out looking for tips.

Through some more back roads and bleak villagers to the jeep compound. Our 2 jeeps were definately the dirtiest. You could barely tell the color through all the mud and water. Back on the bus to the resort and got in just before 7:00 PM. A very busy day, full of adventure, excitement, smiling faces, bleak living conditions, new foods, mud and laughter.

Writing this journal and reading myself to sleep. Tomorrow is the wedding so that will be an interesting day too.

Bye for now.

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