About 150 km northeast of Santiago de Cuba is the town of Baracoa which according to our host, Carlos, is a great place to visit. We took his advice and headed there. The drive to Baracoa was about an hour longer than needed and quite eventful.
When we left town we headed up the Autopista which is a 3-4 lane road in each direction with no lines that was supposed to run from Havana to Santiago. Due to corruption the money to be used on the road building was pocketed and the actual construction only made it half way….. Hmm. Personally I would be a little bit scared of committing a crime of that magnitude in a country like Cuba.
We buzzed along the Autopista at over 100kph dodging buses, old cars and horse traffic but it became clear that we had missed a turn somewhere. The map showed a road that would cross from the autopista to the highway to Baracoa. This road turned out to a be little more than a dirt road full of farm workers and pot holes. We would ask directions every so often and we were on the right track.
After an hour plodding along at 20 kph, following a cattle truck filled with people, we made it to the highway and I punched it. Everyone was hungry but we needed to get to Guantanamo where we could find food. The hotel we stopped at was pretty good and batteries recharged we headed off again. I wanted to see the American base but it is not easy from the Cuban side. The guide books say there is a lookout but the pictures didn’t seem that impressive, we would have to spend the night and only I would have been interested. Turns out that the Americans pay $2000 rent per year for the base which the Cubans return every year. It is obvious they want the Americans to leave.
From Guantanamo to Baracoa the ride becomes a cross between the road to Hanna, highway to the sun in Montana and the road from Ainsworth Hot Springs to the ferry. It was fun, for the driver and not really for any one else. We stopped at a viewpoint, ignored the sellers and enjoyed this awesome view.
One thing that was strange is that every few kilometers we would see a group of people selling stuff most commonly pineapple or some kind of coconut bar in the shape of a cone. Near the very top of the hill we did get offered a parrot which was surprising.
When we got into town our host met us on the main road and we followed him on his bike. Ramone’s house is right across the street from a playground and the ocean. We headed to the playground where our kids were the loudest and only ones who got hurt. Sometimes I wonder if we have done something wrong with them, but I am sure it’s just little boys with Winkel genetics.
Ramone has two kitchen helpers who basically do everything in the house while he watches TV or sits in a hammock in his roof top man cave. Supper was great, congri which is rice and beans, salad and chicken. Soon we went to bed.
Next morning we had breakfast on the roof top and then chilled out at the house. At lunch time we headed out to the main square with directions from Ramone but his English failed us. The only thing we could find was sad looking ham and cheese sandwiches. Morale was on the way down due to frustration, hunger and fatigue.
There is a hotel on the hill built on the foundations of the old fort so we headed up the hill to check it out. We found a pretty reasonable restaurant with a great view so we chilled there. The view was really good and we all tried to find the roof of our casa which was about a kilometer away. Had lunch and walked back towards the central square.
In the square we met up with friends from the casa in Santiago and then got haircuts. Ethan had a pretty rough go as his hair got in his mouth and all over his face from using the smock that had hair all over it to wipe his face. In the end I had to hold him down to finish the cut.
The promise of chocolate got him to stop crying and relax. Baracoa is famous for chocolate and we went to a chocolaterium to watch them make chocolate bars and candies. We all got a choclate bar and then headed back to the casa for showers. The rest of the day we hung out, I went to a hotel for internet and then had a great supper at the casa.
In the morning we decided to head back to Carlos’ place in Santiago in order to break up the drive. The trip was uneventful and we found the house easily this time.
Overall the drive and the views were the best part of Baracoa. The town is pretty small but the central square is nice. We learned just how important good English is in a casa host. The attractions around the town were not nearly as impressive as in Santiago, especially for our crew of non-ecotourists. However if you want to see rugged terrain and hike then Baracoa would be for you!