07. - 11.11.2016: Varadero

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Monday, 07.11.2016: Trinidad to Varadero, 300km - mostly sunny, a few showers, 27°C

Our taxi arrived on time at 8-30am and then we did a small driving tour around Trinidad to fetch the people sharing our taxi - a Cuban couple with a little girl. The drive took 4 hours and 20 minutes, via the main highway and then cutting north towards the coast.

Varadero is situated on the Hicacos Peninsula approx 140km east of Havana. The peninsula is only 1.2km at its widest point but it extends 20km to its tip. It is the largest resort in the Caribbean with, ever increasing, large number of 4 and 5 star hotels. The main attraction is the 20km long stretch of blond sand, one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.

Most tourists get package all inclusive deals and fly directly in and out of Varadero. The people are easily identifiable with their plastic wrist bands in various colours! It also easily identifies those who are not paying guests, like us, and you'll probably be approached and asked if you need help if you go inside them.

We're not package deal travellers and we were really happy with our Casa. We arrived at 12-50pm and were warmly welcomed by Letitia who owns the Casa with her sister, Leydis. Our room was very nice, very clean, en suite with a fridge, TV (!) and we even got free drinking water. The Casas are more expensive in Varadero and charge 35 CUC for a room per night.

It started raining pretty heavily so we had a cup of tea and sat it out. We borrowed an umbrella from Letitia and went for a walk down the main road checking out where the banks and shops are, plus the bakeries and cafés of course! We were getting hungry which was no surprise seeing as we hadn't had any breakfast and had only eaten snacks on our journey here. So we went to a recommended Chinese restaurant called Lai Lai that was very close to our Casa. We had chicken with vegetables and chicken curry along with fried rice. The portions were huge but we were hungry and only had a small amount to take back with us.

Tuesday, 08.11.2016: Varadero - sunny, 27°C

We could have had breakfast at our Casa but we opted out. Unfortunately we decided to go to Doña Neli, a bakery chain in Cuba, to buy some cakes for breakfast. There wasn't much available but we bought two small cakes and sat outside to eat them. We found lice crawling around inside them!!! Yuk!! Kirsten had a mouthful when I saw the lice and pointed them out. Kirsten had to get across the road with a mouthful of yucky stuff before she could find somewhere to spit it out!! What a horrible experience.

We went to a small supermarket and bought biscuits and a drink as an alternative. We found a small area with lots of little boutiques and shops and I found a chocolate shop. I wanted to go inside and waited patiently whilst a little girl, obviously the owners daughter, opened the door with a key. It took her ages and I wondered why she needed to unlock the shop because there were plenty of customers inside. She eventually managed to get the door open after several tries and then told me they were closed!!! So why open the door in the first place?

It had not been a very good start to the day at all but just afterwards it got a lot better. We found a Dulcinea - the bakery chain from Havana where we had the superb custard slices. Wonderful, our day had just been saved! The custard slices weren't as good as in Havana (a bit dry) but better than nothing. However the coffee was so strong and bitter that even with an overload of sugar it wasn't drinkable.

We walked down to Calle 64, the last part of the town, and where the resort hotels start. We looked at the map and realised that we'd only walked 20% of the length of the peninsula. Fortunately there is a hop on hop off bus that drives along the entire length in a continuous loop but we would save that for another day.

Kirsten wanted to get a local bus back but after waiting 25 minutes without any sign of one we gave up and walked back. We picked up some milk and cereal that we could have for our breakfasts on the way and were also on the lookout for a hotel with cable TV where we could watch the US election later that evening. We really wanted to see Trump v Clinton live but couldn't find anything where we could watch. Disheartening to say the least!

We got back to our Casa and decided to check out the TV just in case. I had already used the guide facility and there was nothing about the election listed for the few channels available. Nothing! But I checked again at 7pm in case there was a news programme - Lo and Behold!!! They had the election on!! Live programme from Latin American TV called TeleSur and we sat glued to the TV for the rest of the evening and well into the early hours of the morning!

The programme was mainly talking and they had two experts but it was all in Spanish of course. We had a bit of difficulty understanding everything but at least we could follow the gist of what was said. Their figures for the various states were a bit confusing though. The totals never tallied and we always got two different numbers. I had to keep getting up off the bed to get close enough to see the small figures shown behind the commentators!

Trump was ahead from the beginning but we knew that Clinton could catch up. We held out our hopes for quite a while but were getting more and more worried as were the commentators from Mexico and Argentina! By 3am the disaster had become reality and we went to bed completely in shock!

Wednesday, 09.11.2016: Varadero - sunny, 27°C

After our very late night we didn't do much today. We watched more TV to see reactions to the election result and speeches. We went out for lunch at a little stand up café where we had omelettes and fried eggs. We had walked past it yesterday and met two people who were just coming out. They said it was very good and we confirmed it today. It was so good we went back later for hamburgers as consolation for the US election!

We walked along the main street and checked the exchange rates, noting that the Mexican Peso was already suffering. That didn't help our mood much. We wondered what on earth was going to happen in the future.

Thursday, 10.11.2016: Varadero - sunny, 29°C

We went to our little stand up café again for breakfast. We wanted crêpes but they had no flour so we had pizza instead. (Yes, I know it's not exactly a breakfast food!) Then we paid 5 CUC each and got onto the hop on hop off bus tour to see the rest of the peninsula.

We had an open topped bus and sat upstairs. We soon realised that we needed to sit on the left side of the bus because those on the right side had to continually watch out for low tree branches, particularly when the bus made its stops and pulled to the curb.

We rode around on the bus for the entire loop which took 90 minutes, going past all the big resort hotels and even driving through the entrance gates on some occasions as part of the bus route. It certainly is no wonder that Varadero is such a draw for people who only have two weeks of holidays every year and just want somewhere to relax. It's quite idyllic and the beach is wonderful.

After one entire loop, just enjoying the ride, we got off and went back to our Casa for a drink. We left again at 4pm and got back on one of the buses - the ticket is valid for one day no matter how many times you get on and off.

We got off at the marina right at the end of the peninsula and went to look at the beach and then wandered around the marina. It was getting dark so we got back on a bus for the return journey and went to Lai Lai, the Chinese restaurant for a chow mein and spring rolls.

It had been a very relaxing and enjoyable day.

Friday, 11.11.2016: Varadero - sunny, 29°C

On our last day we walked the other way to the first part of the peninsula. We walked mainly along a narrow road that follows the beach and through a Cabana style hotel resort. We found a public part of the beach and I took photos of Kirsten going for a swim.

It was another relaxing day but extremely hot in the sun. We went back to our little stand up café for hot dogs and took a final stroll along the main road and bought ice creams. We enjoyed our holiday here and were pleasantly surprised. We thought Varadero would just be another major resort with tacky stalls for the tourists. There were certainly a few such stalls and lots of resort hotels but it was also very easy to just wander around and enjoy the beach.