Day 14 - Saturday, December 11, 1999

Motorist survival rule #2: When in doubt about which way to go, follow the road that has a color closest to that of the road you are currently on. Works every time. On my way to the Bahía de Cochinos I end up in a poor man's Cienfuegos barrio north of the city. Motorist survival rule #3: When lost, do not hesitate to ask some Cuban for directions. Any Cuban. Works every time. My savior guides me all the way back to the crossroads where I should have turned right and then past a roundabout until we have reached the point where it's a straight (and uninteresting) drive to the Autopista Nacional.

People are hitching rides anywhere in Cuba, even along the Autopista. Not that they're suicidal or anything; the traffic is so light that you can drive for several kilometers and not see a single car. A woman gets in when I have explained to her that I'm heading for Playa Larga. She tells me she's bound for Australia...

Can anyone please explain why it is that - when Cubans find out that you speak a little Spanish and understand a little more - start talking to you at their usual, rapid pace, using the words they normally would? Please, all you nice people, I am sincerely interested to hear your stories and I do understand that you may not know a single word in English and I am trying to talk with you in Spanish, but could you at least try to talk to me más despacio, por favor and understand that I may not know the meaning of even the simplest of words? Thank you. In return I will take a Spanish course this year ;)

Anyway, I do understand some of what she's telling me. Like the majority of people that I have taken along in my car she is truly surprised to learn that I am travelling across Cuba on my own. Apparently, this is a phenomenon that Cubans have a hard time grasping. What can I say? A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do :) and one of my dreams has been to visit Cuba, with the Bay of Pigs being THE sight not to miss, and trying to get to know the people, their ways, and the situation they are living in. That's it, really.

It's a small world after all. When we turn left on the junction of the Autopista with the road that leads to the Bay of Pigs we soon drive into Central Australia. No kangaroos in sight, though; it's the name of a village that was named after the nearby sugar mill. The woman gets out, thanks me and wishes me a happy stay.

Postcard materialA couple of hundred meters further down the road I pull over and a local jinetera gets in. (Maybe you wonder how I know...when you have been in Cuba for fourteen days like I have at this moment you will know, believe me.) We talk about the usual stuff, but when it becomes clear to her that she's not going to make much out of me she kind of loses interest. I nevertheless manage to get her to smile again when we enter the village of Playa Larga. On the right is a large sign showing the facilities that Hotel Playa Larga has to offer. The arrow showing which way to go points to the right, so that is where I am about to go, but my passenger convinces me that the hotel is really to our left. My Es Cuba, ¿no? has enough dry wit in it for her to break out in laughter. I apologise to her for the comment I have just made and she gets out in front of the guarded entrance to the hotel.

Caleta treeHis finest hour #4. The beach is not quite as bad as I expected from reading my LP guide. I walk over to the site where one group of invaders landed on April 17, 1961. I take my copy of Poesía Completa from my backpack. A sense of bliss sets in; sitting in the shade of a caleta tree on the edge of the Bahía de Cochinos, reading poems by José Martí.