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BARACOA

Santiago to Baracoa to Maguana Beach

sunny 28 °C

Wednesday December 18
After the huge bus trip a couple of days ago, we didn’t fancy another 6-hour journey down to Baracoa, so we paid $95/day for a Kia Picanto rental car for 5 days in the hope that we could stop whenever we wanted and see a few areas that are almost impossible to get to without a car – what a terrible decision this turned out to be (more later). Jeni keeps saying one day we’ll laugh about this, but she was crying as she said it

The day started well enough; the country east of Santiago is definitely the best we’ve seen. The drive to Guatanamo was through glorious, rolling green valleys but then changed drastically to an almost desert landscape as we hit the south coast for 30 or so kilometres. From Cajobabo to Baracoa (about 60 km) we were driving across the Sierra Maestra mountain range (here called the Cuchillas de Baracoa) which rises to 1,900 metres at Alto de Cotilla. The road is called La Farola and is a serious piece of engineering, started by the Batista regime but stopped when he refused to pay a fair wage to the workers – work began again the 1960s under Castro. The drive is truly magnificent with spectacular views all the way and while it is a very high road, there are no really bad “drop-offs” – I was able to drive ¾ of the way there and all the way coming back (for those of you who know of my mountain road “phobia”)

We were about 5 km from Baracoa when our problems began. It was just a puncture, so I started to undo the wheel-nuts and jack up the car with the help of an old bloke who just joined in (and refused to take a cent afterwards). When I went into the boot for the spare tyre, I suddenly realised what I’d find – a mini-spare! Anyway, not really an issue as we’d get the repair done in Baracoa and swap the tyres back. Baracoa is yet another hell-hole, with no proper garages – so we got the tyre fixed by a side-street mechanic. He did a good job on what turned out to be a very old and dangerous tyre but it cost us $50 and took nearly 1 ½ hours – he had us over a barrel

And so just as a test, we headed out of town towards Villa Maguana on what can only be described as one of the worst roads I’ve driven on (even worse than the Byron Hinterland roads). It was a pretty stupid thing to do but at least it would test the tyre as it was unlikely we would be able to get it replaced before heading back over the mountains. It took about 45 minutes to do the 22 km to reach Maguana Beach and we checked into the Villa just as the sun was setting. It’s a reasonably pleasant development of 16 timber cabins on a tiny, black beach but just not worth the effort in getting there – 4 other rooms were occupied

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Thursday December 19
If you’re thinking of going to Maguana, just don’t do it and definitely don’t do it in the rain, we only just made it back to Baracoa and that was after just a couple of hours of rain that night. But it did prove that the tyre could hold up

And so we checked in to Hotel El Castillo – it’s a converted fort and there are still ramparts just next to the excellent pool where there are spectacular views across the harbour, the ocean and the surrounding mountains. There were about 10 people staying in this 100-room hotel – maybe potential tourists have realised that apart from Havana (and maybe Trinidad), Cuba is not a very interesting place and just not worth the substantial effort required to even have a mediocre time

From the hotel, the excellent staff called the rental people in Santiago and Baracoa and Guantanamo to find out if we could get a replacement tyre or wheel before heading back over the mountains. Promises were made but no-one showed up

And in the evening, Jeni was actually brought to tears by the terrible menu and the fact that we would once again be the only people eating in the restaurant. That evening we decided to cut our losses and head back to the Santiago de Cuba area

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Posted by kforge 06:47 Archived in Cuba

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