It had been almost 10 years since I had driven a standard and I was a little worried I had forgotten how, but once our caravan of 12 jeeps started to role, it quickly came back. It’s like riding a bicycle I guess. We’ll see when I get my first cycle since I was in my teens this summer.
A tour bus comes to pick you up bright and early to drive you the half hour into downtown Varadero where the rental company is. The lot is chalk full of jeeps with each caravan color coded to make it easier to monitor drivers lagging behind I assume.
Our first stop after driving through the town, on the highway for a bit and then down a long, bumpy dirt road through rural Cuba, was snorkeling. I had never snorkeled before and Cheyenne didn’t want nothing to do with swimming out into deep ocean waters. I don’t remember the last time I have even wore flippers which I quickly realized were a challenge all in themselves. It’s not easy to stop and tread water while you adjust your mask with those fins attached to your feet.
Snorkeling wasn’t easy. My mask and breathing tube both kept filling up with water and countless times I stopped to try to adjust everything but I never had any luck. I was very panicky swimming out the 150 metres to where we had time to just explore the coral reef as it isn’t easy only breathing through a small tube.
Although I felt kind of closterphoebic, I swallowed and snorted a tonne of salt water, and worried my contact lenses were going to float away, the view of the clear ocean floor between the reefs and the site of the colourful array of fish were so worth it. I’d love to try it again with a better mask and tighter fitting flippers.
We weren’t done the water part of our day next as we headed off to a cave to wash off the salty ocean water. It was a hundred or so stairs into the earth, and was like nothing I had seen before. I shouldn’t have been surprised as the entire trip had been this way, but it really was something. The water was as clear as the ocean as you could see the floor of the swimming hole. The water was slightly cooler than the ocean but it was beautiful and refreshing.
Driving through the narrow streets of town were tricky especially with there not being a lot of stop signs or lights in Cuba. You’re watching out for bikes, motorcycles, scooters, horses and buggy’s, taxis, cars, buses, and critters, all while trying to keep up with the group. It can be a bit stressful at times but worth every minute.
The next stop was a ranch which took us through the hills and through villages where children ran out for about a km stretch to wave at the jeeps going by. This must be a daily spectacle with 3 or 4 groups of jeeps heading out each and every day – passing by these villages twice. The kids were adorable and we could see jeeps slowing down giving the children gifts. We didn’t have anything with us unfortunately but next time we’re raiding a dollar store before we leave.
It wasn’t the vehicles we had to worry about in this stretch as much as the live stock. From dogs wandering, grazing horses tied to the side of the road, to chickens crossing the street to get to the other side. At one point a bull jumped out from the bushes and scared us a bit but no animals or little children were harmed from us booting across Cuba with the likes of Dave Matthews, Phil Collins, and Chilliwack providing the soundtrack from my phone, to our adventure. We could”t find a signal on the Jeep radios.
The ranch provided us with a gorgeous view of the surrounding hill sides. We had an opportunity to try various items and a chance to purchase more afterwards from coconuts, something that tasted a bit like peanut butter, starfish fruit, and a couple of other fruits. We chose to buy a cup of coconut to tie us over until lunch which as it turns out, was a quick Jeep ride further down the ranch path.
Lunch was good. We shared it with a nice family of four from Winnipeg. We talked about the Jets, Bombers their new stadiums and the revitalization that has ensued. We were also accompanied by some baby chick’s booting around the restaurant deck looking for scraps. They were a cute addition to the ambiance.
We had time to explore for a bit and we found cows, goats including a baby goat that loved attention, peacocks, turkeyeys, and other birds we did not recognize.
I had a chance to ride a bull, pulled by a person mind you, for a few minutes before we took a handful of horses for a ride for 5 minutes just a quick walk from where we had lunch. I hadn’t been on a horse since I used to show them as a little kid. What beautiful creatures.
Our last stop on the Safari was to what looked like a lake tucked below the hillside. The boats were by no means fast boats, but it was a great afternoon for a cruise around the warm, calm waters. There were 4 to a boat, and we stopped half way to allow the other couple a chance to drive as well. I was finally able to use the boating license I got last summer but we didn’t even need it in Cuba. I did need my drivers license to drive the jeeps however.
It was a good truck back to the rental agency, where we got back into the bus for the trip back to our hotels.
The last child we seen on the return trip through the village, we slowed down to give away the only thing we didn’t need for the rest of our trip. It was my baseball hat representing our local professional team. The boy couldn’t have been 6 or 7, and greeted us with a polite and cheerful ‘Ola’, and followed with a very excited and appreciable ‘Thank you. Thank you’ as we drove away.This part of the trip had Cheyenne and I a little choked up. They were so sweet.
We barely had enough energy for dinner and a drink after arriving back around 7, before I passed out flicking through channels in bed.
It was a hot, whirlwind of a day but I would say it was my favourite part next to the big proposal. From the villages, the children, seeing the poorest parts of Cuba (that we seen anyway), and the various scenery, this was truly a great way to really experience Cuba. It was much more hands on than Havana, including driving yourself and realizing the challenge of getting around amid all the life and other obstacles in your path.
Each day, we fall in love with this place even more. One more sleep and it’s home we head.