So the outbound journey was thirteen hours as opposed to the less claustrophobia inducing nine hour return. I’d booked rather late and the extra four hours didnt really make it the non stop flight advertised. But when we stopped at Holguin (a place I would later read beautifully described by Renaldo Arenas in his biography Before Night Falls) and a few people disbanded and the fuel fumes permeated the cabin it was a relief to be told we could get off. I headed for the small charming bar with windows overlooking the sleepy runway. Here, as everywhere else, change and exchange rates need to be checked carefully. My mental arithmetic was seemingly not too blunted by the journey and my challenge was met with polite apology and more Convertible Pesos in my hand. Its nothing personal, its the norm I’m told and my first transactions on Cuban soil did nothing to dispel this.
From England I had arranged an expensive 90 euro taxi ride to Vinales rather than take a ride to Havana just to rummage around in a suitcase, scatter things around, sleep for one night, pick up the scattered things and set off again in the morning. I had read that the views in Valle de Vinales were spectacular and wanted to wake up to them. It took two hours and I hurtled along the almost empty motorway answering Jorge’s barrage of questions in broken Spanish until exhausted I gave up and and decided to continue improving my Spanish after some sleep. Once off the main road, poor Jorge, probably two hours away from home had trouble finding the hotel. I helped him decide at ambiguously sign-posted junctions and kept a list in my head of all the times I had read that Cuba was a very safe country, especially when he stopped the car a couple of times to turn around and try to understand my disappearing Spanish. I kept quiet. Finally I checked into the Hotel Los Jazmines and was taken down a path leading away from the main building and down some steps with little terraced bungalows to my left and the warm pitch black night to my right. The darkness was alive with the chorus of a trillion insects. I realised that I had almost forgotten the smell of fresh air.