Cuba – Vinales and Matanzas

I’ve just woken up in a completely darkened and silent terminal of the Varadero airport. Its 2am and I don’t think anyone knows I’m here. When I booked these flights, they didn’t sound so bad – a 4am arrival on the way down, and a 3:30am departure on the way back – but I have to admit that, instead of looking forward to going home, I’ve been dreading the 3:30am departure. Everything shuts down around 10pm in these parts so I’m just trying to kill time by napping at the airport. In a terminal that’s apparently been shut down for the night.

The last 2 days have been pretty relaxed, maybe even winding down a bit. I had one more morning in Vinales, which started with a killer breakfast at my super awesome chicken-free replacement casa particular, and ended with 4 of us riding some really crappy bikes around the farming roads in the gorgeous valley. We didn’t really have any goal, or even a route picked out, but we ended up on a good scenic loop and no one’s bike broke. So it was successful. I bid them a farewell and hopped on a noon bus that took a long time to go a short distance back to Havana. Perhaps it was partly due to the driver stopping periodically to buy fresh roadside produce, presumably to take home for the weekend. Eventually I made it back to my hotel and I was thrilled to see that all my stuff was still there and they hadn’t rented the room to someone else.

Martin and Yeppe

On my last day in Cuba, I had to check out by 11am, even though the bus to the airport wouldn’t be picking me up until 11pm. So I figured that instead of spending another day in Havana, I’d bus myself up the coast to Matanzas, which is only 12 km or so from the airport. After getting myself back to the bus station and standing in the chaotic ticket line for over 30 minutes, I finally just skipped the entire line, got on the bus (which was about to leave anyway) and handed the driver cash when they came around to collect tickets. It worked and we were off.

The gritty streets of Matanzas with the posh hotels of Varadero in the distance

In the early 20th century, Matanzas was dubbed the Athens of Cuba because of its enlightened arts scene. The prosperity of the local sugar mills fueled the growth of theatre, architecture, bookmaking, and many other disciplines. But as the industry dried up, so did the town, and he name Athens of Cuba took on a new meaning as the beautiful architecture crumbled like the Parthenon. In fact, Matanzas is arguably a better example of beautiful urban decay than Havana, just on a smaller scale. While Havana seems to teem with life around these dead edifices, the streets of Matanzas are quiet and slow, almost as if the town took a hiatus with their industry. Still, when a truck rolls by, filling the air with noxious smoke, it seems like they have quite enough traffic.

It was also here that I was pestered by Cuba’s most irritating cabbie – even though his car was right there, I spent an hour trying to find another cab, any other cab, to take me to the airport in the evening. And here we are.

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