We left Vinales in a collective (shared taxi) to get to Pinar Del Rio, where we stayed with David’s family on a tobacco farm. It was quite a unique experience and I don’t think many tourists get to stay on a proper Cuban farm. The experience would have been a lot better, in my opinion, if we knew Spanish at least a tiny bit better. Maybe we would have even been able to do some work at the farm, but ah well..It’s hard enough to understand people speaking fast, left alone country people speaking in their own accent/way. Nevertheless, it was super sweet and lovely. The first day we spent just wondering around the farm and trying to save a little chicken, but he died…We’ve seen piglets and bulls, roosters and chicks and how Cuban’s spend their day working in the field.
The next day we packed two smaller backpacks and went out for an adventure- get to Maria La Gorda. Transportation that way is quite limited and expensive, so after a chat with one of the taxi drivers he convinced us to go to a beach in his cool car, where all the locals normally go for their holidays- Playa Bailen. Unfortunately the season was wrong, so we didn’t see any locals on their vacation nor did we enjoy a swim, because the water looked mirky and not very appealing.
Angry at the taxi driver for giving us bad advice, we decided to make our own way down to Maria La Gorda. The day started at 6 to catch a local guagua (bus), that was crammed with laughing people (yes even at 6 in the morning, when it’s still dark!) to the next town, from there we were supposed to catch a collectivo (communal taxi) to the closest town to the national park and then another guagua. The collectivo driver (who was an absolute jerk), proposed to take us all the way down to Maria for $50…after some negotiating he said yes to $20. Then he took us to a shitty little town in the middle of nowhere and pretended we never made a deal. We were trying to argue with him, the people gathered around, supporting the cheating taxi driver and saying that there is no way we can get to Maria la Gorda, because there is no traffic (even though it was 9 a.m.) and that $50 is cheap. *&*k that! -we said…and started hitch hiking. Some times were really frustrating for me in Cuba. Some people were very unhelpful and all they could see in us was $dinero$. Surprising how much solidarity they can have for their comrades, who are trying to rip someone off, even though they are not making any profit themselves. So, so unfriendly and mercantile… Nevertheless, with the help of a policeman, who was hitch hiking the same way as us (every second day to work!!!), we got to a town on the coast named La Bajada…and here our paradise experience began.
We knew that there is at least one unofficial casa in town and it’s only 14km away from Maria, where there is a hotel ($70 a night) and dive centre. So after half a day hitch hiking we headed straight for the beach, which was gorgeous.
Not sandy white, but coral white. Crystal clear waters, where coral reefs start right there at the first step into the water, which means lots of sea urchins on rocks… Mask and snorkel out, Dasha in the water. There is plenty to see, especially if you go out quite far off the coast. Nice coral tube like formations. After I got out, we met a local who was snorkelling around in search of lobsters. He showed us where to get in the water to avoid sea urchins and where he was looking for lobster. So Curly found one. Right there, in chest high waters. We had a chat to that guy and he offered us a casa for 15 with breakfast, we couldn’t say no, contemplating on what we’re going to have for dinner… The whole town is stretched along the beach and our house was one of them. The owner of the house is El Flaco (The skinny dude) – legendary host. He came around every now and then to find out how we’re doing. He would play us guitar and even teach me how to play the famous ‘Guantanamera’. We were singing and dancing and drinking. Fun fun fun! His sister and her husband were cooking for us and this was one of the highlights in my opinion. Fresh fish in garlic sauce, lobster, rice with beans…yum yum yum!…
Next day we rented bici’s for 3CUC and went for a ride to Maria La Gorda. The ride is amazing itself. The road stretches along 14km of white coral/sand beaches, green dunes and national park with amazing bird life on the other side. It took us longer than we thought to get to Maria, but only because we couldn’t resist stopping at one of the secluded beaches for a quick snorkel.
Maria La Gorda is basically a big resort with two restaurants. Nothing else. Just tourists, but we came here not to speak Deutsch, but to go diving. It is worth it and I highly recommend diving here. So, so beautiful! Many caves to go through, a lot of coral and lots of fish. Luckily one of the dive guides was studying in Ukraine, so after a short Russian chit chat we got ourselves a discount for a second dive- sweet! I would come back for more, but we didn’t have much time and if we knew how good La Bajada is, we would definitely skip Playa Bailen to go straight there, but ah well… On the way back from Maria, we made a couple more stops on the dream beaches and had some more great snorkelling and swimming sessions. The next day El Flaco took us with him looking for lobster. We had to get pretty far out and dive really deep to peek under the coral if somebody is hiding there…Somebody is, for sure. I found an enormous Moray eel. When I saw him I screamed out loud under the water, which almost cost me my life, because it was so deep. Not really. …but it was scary. El Flaco is a great diver and does it so easily and graciously. Sometimes they go out on the boat and dive down to 15m or so to get some big fellows. Hard and dangerous work. We didn’t find any lobsters, but I was lucky to see a natural pool in the cliffs, which has a connection underwater to the sea. It was full of fish.
After 3 days in this paradise we had to get back to our hosts in Pinar and continue on our journey exploring Cuba. It was hard to say goodbye. I would love to stay here for the whole week.
Other pictures are here.