(I’m only getting to this about four months later – so remembering stuff is a bit sketchy!)
We were up early, again, and had a long day ahead. We were even up before breakfast opened (at 7!) and joined the queue so we could eat before the bus picked us up at 7:30. We still made it to the bus early but when it did arrive we were greeted by José, who was our guide for the day.
Our first stop on the tour was to get a ride on a vintage stream train. We stopped at a the site of a former sugar mill in Rafael Freyre. We had a wee look around (there were still lads working with scrap and whatnot) and then got on the train took us slowly through some countryside via a really rickety bridge.
Once we got of train there was a quick rain shower but luckily the bus was there so we jumped on and headed to Holguín.
The first thing we did in Holguín was visit a cigar factory. There was another tour group that arrived ahead of us so José took us into the cigar shop first. Before we went in José told us about the different brands available, what they cost, what were machine rolled and what were hand rolled and even how to light them (lighters apparently change the taste of them)
I had a wee browse and José came up to me and quietly said “You know, you look a bit like Fidel Castro!”, I laughed and told him I heard that the previous day! I bought some cigars (Romeo y Jullieta) and left them on the bus.
We then went into the factory. We weren’t allowed to take in cameras – which was fair enough as it’s not a factory tour like, say, the Heineken tour, it was an actual working factory. There were rows and rows of people rolling cigars and then a crowd of tourists gawking at them. José started to explain how the cigars were made but because we were in an actual working factory it was quite difficult to hear.
After the cigar factory we got on the bus and drove to the Hill of the Cross – which is a big hill, with a cross on it. We drove passed the steps to the top and José offered us the walk. Nobody took it (there were a lot of steps). The bus then drove up a narrow twisty road and we were at the top.
The hill provided some great views of Hoguín. At the top there was also a small art gallery/shop which you go onto the roof for a even higher vantage point of Holguín. There was a table nearby where you could by some trinkets, a busker or two and a few hustlers selling ‘cigars’ (after Milan I’ve been more blunt but they weren’t persistent so it’s all grand).
We then got on the bus and headed into Holguín. We were dropped off beside Calixto Garci Park. We had about 45 minutes of ‘free time’ and José warned us not to go too far. Once we got off the bus we stuck out as tourists and a few hustlers would try and sell you stuff.
We walked around the square for a short while and then we then found a bar. Beer (Crystal) only cost 1cuc each so we had a couple to cool off. The bar was pretty nifty, it was indoors but open air. One embarrassing incident was when I was taking a photo of Leona and without realising I fired the flash. Everyone turned and stared at me, but all was okay. After the bar we sat in the square for a bit and headed back to the bus.
When we were sat in the bus a Canadian family of wankers were being swarmed by hustlers trying to sell them stuff. When back on the bus they were openly talking about how they apparently felt unsafe. I thought it was fine, no more worse than any major European city or Toronto (where they were from), and Toronto has meth heads which is much worse.
We got back on the bus and headed to Gibara. We passed some nice scenery.
We arrived in Gibra and went to “La Concha” for lunch. Lunch was included with the trip, and one drink, but beer was only 1cuc so getting another one was no big deal. I had chicken and it was bloody delicious! Leona had pasta, she enjoyed it too! Thankfully, unlike the day before, the group wasn’t sat together (some of the other people were starting to grate on me i.e. that fucking Canadian family!).
After lunch we were asked to move next door to a “cultural centre” for a show. As we walked in there were people selling trinkets and what not, I had my eye on some maracas and promised the seller that I would come back afterwards.
Before the show we got to take a look around the centre and take in views of the ocean. We then took our seats and watched the show. It wasn’t great but.. you know, culture. First it was a woman singing and then the oddest part, which was some people on stilts, wearing big masks, dancing around. One of the masks was a tad racist. Then they came out and danced some more and went to the audience to pick out some people to dance with. A woman tried to lead Leona out to dance but she was having none of it and pointed them in my direction. I’m not a good dancer, at all, but I had a go. She seemed a bit bemused at my moves as I tried to throw shapes a la early ninety’s rave. After the show I grabbed a drink form the bar and the bar man (in Spanish) moved my dancing and tried to replicate.
As promised I picked up my maracas and a few other bits and pieces, fridge magnets and the like (tat really), didn’t spend much more than 5cuc on wee souvenirs.
We were then given free time to walk around the town, but first José lead us to the square (with a mini Statue of Liberty). En route he pointed out a picture of Jesus where the eyes follow you walking up.
We walked about the town and had a look. It was all very nice. Not as busy as Holguín and kids were playing football on the street. I was walking a local fella said “Hi, Ché Guevara!” and then tried to sell us cigars. We politely declined and he was on his way. We headed back to the bus but before hand I got a drink for the bus (as we were running low on water) and I managed to get an actual can of actual Coke!
Before the bus took off Jose had to run to a shop because he saw a poster of Lionel Messi and wanted to buy it for his son.
It took ages to get back to get back to the hotel and it was dark by the time we did – it was a long day, but good!
When we got back to the hotel we went to a wee cocktail bar called Café Cappuccino (it could have done coffee too – I don’t know) we didn’t quite go through the whole menu but gave it a go!