Santa Clara and Playa De Estes

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Before we leave Cienfuegos I forgot to tell you that we booked a 1 day tour and 2 guides picked us up in a Suzuki Sierra and took us for 1.5 hour drive to a national park high up in the hills. There we went on a 2km hike stopping at some breathtaking waterfalls where Adz and I took a swim. We then continued a little more taking in some beautiful rainforrest, rivers and caves. That day was a humdinger.

Before dropping us home we asked them to stop at the bus station so we could find out when to catch the bus the next day for Santa Clara. When we arrived Adz went in to ask the questions and left Deb and I by the car with the 2 guides. Now before I continue you need to be aware of a few things.

It is illegal for locals to have foreigners in their cars or transport them – other than official taxis, etc.

It is illegal for foreigners to take non sanctioned transport.

Our 2 guides are from the government – in fact one of them had been with the army as a civilian engineer in Vietnam and Angola – both really, really nice guys.

We had been catching both official and unofficial taxis since Havana in full view of the police who are on every corner.

Adam speaks Spanish fairly fluently while Deb and I hardly a word and very few normal Cubans speak Englais

It is not unusual to see police on every corner in a big city or tourist town – they do not take a threatening stance and actually make the visitor feel safer.

It is also not unusual to see police stationed at various points along the country highways or at entrances to small towns.

On with the tale……so while in the company of these 2 government men we were beseiged by about 6 guys who wanted to take us anywhere we wanted to go. As this would suit us better than the bus and was about the same price, Deb negotiated a deal and the guy would pick us up the next morning.

All went according to plan and we arrived at Santa Clara after about an hour. This is just another city and the only reason we wanted to stop there was to visit the Che memorial. When we came back to the car to continue our 3.5 hour journey to Playa De Eleste we asked the driver if we may stop for lunch first but he explained he was a little nervous as there were a lot of police around and wanted to get out of the city.

This surprised us a little as we had been travelling down the major highway in full view of police checkpoints and he didn’t seem to worry. He went along the motorway for a little while and then for some unknown reason took a turnoff to a small town…perhaps to stop for lunch. At the entrance to the town was a police checkpoint who unlike on other occasions were actually pulling over cars and checking papers. At first it seemed as if the 2 police in question had for the moment pulled over enough cars to keep them busy so were waving the next few on…however as we were passing one copper glanced up from the driver he was talking to and saw 2 big gringos in this little car and signalled to the driver to stop. As we were just about past him there was no way we could have stopped so the driver waved and shouted to him what I’m guessing is *i’ll just go up here and turn around*.

We took the next turn and without any panic he proceeded to drive down this very narrow street and then took the next turn which proves he may have been going back….but before we arrived at the next cross street the 2 coppers had got in their car and gone around another way in order for them to cut us off with the taxi narrowly missing the cop car and sliding to a halt in a cloud of dust. They got out yelling at him and he got out walking towards them. Now all 3 are behind us and we cannot see what is going on as our bags are blocking the back window so we are just sitting there listening to the shouting. Next there was a bang which made all our bowel movements alot easier that night, but it was simply the cops handcuffing our guy and throwing him in the back of their car.

Next one of the cops squeezed into the drive seat of our car and without even acknowledging us started the car and drove a few short blocks to the police station. Here they motioned for us to get out and come inside, where they got us some chairs and we sat down and waited. Our driver was sat with us still handcuffed and looking very pissed off. Something about this situation made Deb lose her tan and Adz forget how to speak spanish, while I, of course, was totally calm….NOT!

After about half an hour of chatting to and fro it appeared to us they wrote him a fine and released him. After he left they motioned for us to follow and we continued our journey as if nothing happened. I should stress that apart from the initial pullover the police were quite calm and courteous and it was no different than if we ran a booze bus back home.

We finally arrived at our destination which was a beach about 20klm from Havana. It had a feel not unlike an early Tweed Heads. So we spent the next 2 days soaking up the sun and ocean with the locals. The high point of this stopover was finding an authentic Italian Pizzeria where we ate the most wonderful meal. Mind you we were getting a bit sick of lobster or cheese and ham sangers.

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