Driving in Cuba is really not hard once you get the hang of it. Over here in Holland the quality of the road is always excellent, but you have to watch out for false moves by the other traffic. In Cuban cities it is safe to assume that the people will obey traffic signs if only for the sake of their own lives; it's the road you can't trust.
While driving straight through the center of Holguín city on my way to Ricardo and Sonia's house I find myself being surrounded by cyclists, people on motorcycles, Bi-Ci taxis, and horse-and-carriages. No problem, though; everyone drives carefully. The only real problem I'm up against is: where the hell am I...? The one-way traffic forces me in a direction I don't really want to go. Luckily I have my Lonely Planet guide with the invaluable little map of Holguín at hand.
The road condition is gradually deteriorating as we close in on the town of Gibara. I am starting to worry if I can ever manage to return the car to the rental agency in one piece. Every dark spot on the road is to be treated as a potential danger; it may be just a piece of differently colored asphalt but it might as well turn into a pothole of half a meter wide and 30 centimeters deep. You get to know really fast why overtaking cars that are suddenly slowing down is not a good idea. Not at all.
Climbing uphill to El Cuartelón in Gibara we can see the saddle-shaped mountain that Columbus mentions in his diary. Bahía de Gibara is supposed to be the place where he set foot to ground after leaving the bay where he originally landed, a couple of kilometers further east. Reportedly, the Indian tribe by whom he was received kept dogs that could not bark. Coincidentally, Ricardo sees a similar dog that stands on the porch of a house. A funny, smooth-haired black dog with large ears and almost invisible eyes; it would fit really well in a Star Trek episode. When we walk on another dog of the same kind comes running towards us. Barking loudly.
The Museo de Historia Natural has quite an extensive and complete collection of animals indigenous to Cuba. To be honest, I would not expect a museum like this in a little town like Gibara, but it definitely is worth the visit. The museum guide smiles as I show her a 100-guilder bank note while standing in front of a stuffed water snipe. (For those who miss the point here: there is a picture of this bird on the note).
Shrimps, fish, moros y cristianos, chicharita and slices of avocado. Together with a bottle of Mayabe beer this makes for a delicious meal. Looking back, it's the best I had in Cuba. Ricardo and I leave the paladar to drive up to Playa Caletones. In contrast to nearby Guardalavaca, which is off limits for any Cuban that has no business there, Caletones is a place where ordinary Cubans spend a beach holiday.
The road to it is...well, it starts in Gibara as an asphalt road with potholes. As the holes get larger it's more like an asphalt road with sandy parts in it. Moving on, the best way to describe it is to call it a dirt road with asphalt parts in it. Finally, when you reach Caletones, you're driving down a regular dirt road. The potholes remain, though. Playa Caletones is like a small village. There are houses, a small hospital and even an elementary school. A sort of flooded cave serves as a natural swimming pool. Ricardo points out a house where the Most Valuable Laborer and his or her family may spend a vacation in reward.
It's getting late and so we return to Gibara. Again, it takes us about 50 minutes to drive the 16 kilometers to Gibara. As we pick up Sonia to leave for Holguín, Ricardo asks me if it's OK if two more women travel along with us. Sure, no problem, we're going anyway. Why do you even ask?