For the first time this trip the countryside we are driving through is cultivated . The crop is sugarcane. It is encouraging to see something being produced and Cubans having a job, and hopefully making money
What is not encouraging is the working conditions. It seems that much of the crop is transported by horse and cart and the road to the nearest factory is up a steep hill
I feel sorry for the horses. But then I see how the men have to get to work!
The lucky ones get transported in open sided trucks
But most of them have to catch the local workman’s bus which is an enormous truck built to carry cattle or goods, converted into something that will carry people in a most unpleasant fashion.
The passenger compartment is made of metal and almost totally enclosed. The temperature outside is around 80 degrees, inside it must be unbearable. And in the summer the temperatures will be much higher. There are a few seats inside but most of the passengers have to stand and all of them fight to be near the tiny slit that lets in fresh air
It would be inhumane for animals, but it is the only option available for these men. We see many of these vehicles stopping to pick up the workers who wait patiently at the road side.
We are extremely grateful for our little Chinese rental car. It is reluctant to accelerate, makes some annoying rattling sounds and feels like it will fall apart every time we hit a pothole, which is often, but it has comfortable seats, windows that will open and air conditioning. We feel like royalty. Actually I always feel like royalty, but you know what I mean
Our destination is Sancti Spiritus, a wonderfully evocative name for a wonderfully evocative town. It is one of the earliest Spanish settlements, smaller than the previous towns we have visited, but just as charming
and interesting because it is off the tourist route. The main pedestrian street is packed with locals. But when we wander into the side streets they are deserted, and although many are beautifully cared for there is not a tourist to be seen
Other streets are just as charming but have not yet been upgraded
But as usual the further out of town we go the worse the living conditions
And for the first time since we arrived in Cuba we see a butcher’s shop
We rather wish we hadn’t. We are not sure what animal the two piles at the end of the counter come from, or worse yet, what body parts they represent, but we are sure we don’t want to see them on our dinner plate
This time we are staying in a small hostal. A local small hotel with 6 rooms run by a large middle aged shabby pot bellied man who hasn’t shaved for a couple of days. Both he and his clothes would benefit from a good wash. He answers the front door with some considerable effort, breathing heavily after getting himself out of the rocking chair, which is still rocking wildly after his efforts to remove himself from it. His appearance is a little unsettling as the host of a small hotel. It is even more unsettling when he actually bats his eyes at us, and gives us a rather salacious grin. Flirtatious is not a good look for him.
As is usual in all these grand old houses, the front door opens directly onto the living room. In this case it is a very large room with a very large TV, three rocking chairs and a side board. Nothing else. No car and no scooter. The other two rocking chairs are occupied. The first by an elderly woman with curly grey hair and piercing grey eyes that never leave us. It is a little unnerving. The second by a nice looking forty year old man who looks quite fit in a tight T shirt and jeans. He studiously ignores us, which is just as unnerving. Neither of them smiles or acknowledges us in any way. I realise that we are imposing on their living quarters, but we have little or no choice, and we after all are paying to be there. I would think they might show a little empathy or at least some sign that they appreciate that we are supporting them in what I am sure they consider to be their lovely home.
On the sideboard there are two larges framed photos. One is of an attractive young woman whose surroundings suggest the photo was taken quite some years ago, but the piercing grey eyes leave no doubt as to who she is. The other is of the two men, arms round each other, looking directly at the camera, with love in their eyes. So now we know how the rocking chairs rock.
The doorbell rings again and it is a Dutch couple. The owner lets them in and attempts to carry the very large suitcase that they are struggling with. His face gets redder by the moment, and he stops to catch his breath every few yards. His partner, younger and fitter does not get out of the rocking chair. His mother watches everything and rocks slowly back and forth.
Our room is much like our other bedrooms, basic but somehow with just a touch more style.
The bathroom has hot water which is good and excellent water pressure which is even better. So even in Cuba, and even with a sartorially challenged owner, the gay gene works.
Again we have an outdoor patio which is charming, but we have to share it with a large pile of over stuffed garbage bags and a pile of building materials, which detract somewhat from the overall ambiance. The gay gene had told the sartorially challenged owner (I must stop calling him that, he is really quite pleasant) to hide the debris behind some attractive potted plants. But sadly he ran out of breath before he finished the job and had to return to his rocking chair, his partner and his mother.
We are only spending one night here, and when we go to leave the next morning we ask for the bill. The owner looks rather sheepish as he tells us we have to pay his mother. She is standing right behind him, bill at the ready and purse wide open. No wonder the owner looks so shabby. His mother has tight control of the purse strings and doesn’t let go even for her son
We are just half a block from the central square. It is impressive and well cared for
It is the only place in town where you can get wifi. But be warned, there are some undesirables hanging out there
Welcome to Cuba