Day 5 - Morning, Meander and Meal

The bus had stopped at various places along the way, primarily to give the driver a break but it also let the passengers mill about in a half-dazed state. My main problem was that I was unsure as to whether the bus had a toilet or not or whether to brave getting off the bus and looking for a toilet in the rest stop. Finally plucking up enough courage, I wandered the length of the bus and found what could well have been a toilet, although in the half-light it could have been a luggage rack. Someone emerging from the formless box confirmed it was a toilet, but in my dopey state, I managed to stumble backwards and hit my head on the overhead storage shelf, much to the amusement of the young man who was trying to get past me.

Matt and I stumbled off the bus into the morning twilight and, after searching for our luggage tickets, we were dumped unceremoniously in Sancti Spiritus bus station. It was just past 5am which was, unfortunately for us, far too early to head to the casa we had been told about by the matriarch back in Holguin, so we sat in the cool morning and watched the ebb and flow of the bus station. During intermittent bouts of swatting swarms of mosquitoes, a man in a crash helmet wandered the station and finally came to us, spouting something rapidly in Spanish at us. With a less than firm grasp of the language and the early morning blur, I managed to say "No" to him (usually a safe bet) and he continued roaming the station before puttering off on a scooter.

Just after 0630 we set off from the bus station on foot and started to look for the casa. We had been gesticulated at by a man near the station that our destination was in a straight line down, what passed for in Cuba, a dual carriageway. Even in the early morning horse-drawn carts and bicycle-taxis careened up and down the road with little regard for lanes or common-sense; two foreign tourists lugging backpacks as large as themselves made good dawn viewing for the local populace. Sure enough, after about half a kilometre we hit what looked like our casa and decided to wait until after 7am before calling in. Camping down near the entrance we watched the steadily increasing traffic (a car every few minutes instead of every ten) until we decided it was high-time to ring the doorbell.

Still bedazzled by the journey and new locale, I could tell that the man who greeted us was the same one who had approached us in the bus station when we first arrived. By some stroke of luck he either didn't recognise us (I was no longer wearing my trusty bucket hat) or was too polite to say anything; it wasn't until later that Matt and I realised that for him to come and get us meant that there had been phone-calls and organising being done by our previous casa owners, all the time with us unaware. The home we were let into was absolutely beautiful, with comparatively tasteful decorations in the spacious reception room and a well-tended garden at the back. Our host was a tall, well-set man in his mid-to-late fifties, well spoken and was a very good English speaker.

Both Matt and I were tired, so we arranged for breakfast at eleven and were shown to our room: another gorgeous space with modern air-conditioning and clean, white linen on the beds; the bathroom was a lurid pink in comparison to the sky-blue bedroom but that was of little consequence. Both of us fell asleep after immediately hitting the pillow and I only woke up out of habit at half ten. After showering and having, what was by now, a typical breakfast, both of us came back to life and were ready to take on Sancti Spiritus.

The adult guide had little information on Sancti Spiritus, however the pop-up guide informed us that we were in a very historical and picturesque part of Cuba. It was this which first instilled me with a healthy amount of distrust in the pop-up guide. After looking at the church in the centre of town (picturesque) and the bridge (history) we came to the conclusion that there actually wasn't anything else to do in Sancti Spiritus. Sitting down in a cafe near the bridge we enjoyed a cold lemonade, yet even here away from the hustle of the town, we were approached by a slurring drunkard who was chased off by the café waiter and a silent and imposing man selling cigars.

Wandering the town square in the afternoon heat quickly sapped our energy, not helped by the fact I wasn't wearing my hat and could feel I had caught the sun on my face. People-watching passed the time, listening to a local couple arguing over (what sounded like) something minor or the sight of a huge lorry trying to unload and navigate the tiny, one-lane streets around the park. Giving up on Sancti for any entertainment, we tried to navigate ourselves back to the casa, but managed to get spectacularly lost and ended up wandering down dilapidated suburbs and labyrinthine streets. Even trying to head back to where we had been proved fruitless and we were eventually approached by a well-meaning but unlistening man who indicated he knew where we needed to go. Our past experiences with jineteros meant we were wary and eventually just paid the man to leave us alone once we'd gotten our bearings.

As much as I like to think I'm not, I do get nervous about being in strange places and not knowing my way around, or as I usually put it: not having an exit. My situation in Sancti Spiritus, not knowing the way back to the casa, was more uncomfortable than I wanted to let on, thankfully Matt was very understanding and we headed straight back once we found the way. Back at the casa and significantly happier, I applied some after-sun and took a nap while Matt continued his Spanish learning on the patio. I joined him after the nap and basked in the tranquillity of the garden, replete with a large, elderly dog roaming around.

The meal that evening was immense: olive-stuffed meat, rice, banana fritters, soup and the usual assortment of fruit and veg; it swiftly defeated both Matt and I who felt slightly ungrateful for leaving food, but considering how much we had eaten it didn't seem so outrageous. Over this meal and the next morning's breakfast we found out about our host: he was part of a local theatre group and showed actors (local and foreign which explained his English abilities) around Sancti Spiritus; he was certainly slightly effeminate which fitted the stereotype of a theatre actor however he seemed to have little regard for personal space and seemed to spend a great deal of time patting Matt on the shoulder...

We had planned to head back to the bus station after letting our food settle and organising the journey to Trinidad for the next day, however the heavens had other ideas. After a brief shower of rain, sheet lightning rippled across the clouds for over half an hour, thunder sounding all the time. We both sat outside the front of the house and watched the spectacle, during which we did our best dirty old men impression and ogled our host's daughter who, from what we could glean, was spending the night out with her car-owning, trendily-dressed boyfriend. The sky's light-show culminated in a massive downpour, the likes of which I hadn't seen before, but it certainly wouldn't be the last.

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