Today was set to be an adventurous day with a trip on the books – there was a fair bit of relaxation factored in too, so still a restful day, but an adventure nonetheless.
As standard, we met at 9am and as we approached the main Casa (we were in the ‘add on’ for this destination) we were met by a large, blue, empty chicken truck. No joke – this was our transport for the day as our driver had left us the afternoon before and taken his bus with him. I was excited – I love doing crazy things on holiday (or whenever really) and as much as I loved my time in Cuba, this just topped it in a way that culture and history don’t.
First stop on our Chicken Truck Tour (after the alcohol run to the local shop) was a chocolate factory, with Willy Wonka played by a lovely old lady and the factory actually being a small one story house and a plantation. We took a walk into the plantation and it was interesting to hear and see the cocoa (and some other fruits like guava and mango) in it’s natural habitat (rather than in a purple wrapper!) – I don’t think I ever had. As much as I remember learning about cocoa plantations and chocolate production at school, it was different hearing it and seeing it at the same time. We had a nibble of some fresh cocoa beans – I really like them. They reminded my of mangosteen (a far eastern fruit) or a lychee in texture with a slightly acidic/bitter flavour. I wouldn’t have known it was cocoa if I wasn’t told. We then went into the house and visited the lovely lady who owned the plantation. We walked into what I think was normally her living room (when us tourists weren’t visiting) with a table fully of chocolate, real chocolate: unsweetened, sweetened, shaped, solids, powdered for hot chocolate and cocoa butter for the skin. She also made coffee – I didn’t try this as I can not stand coffee, unfortunately – and hot chocolate for us to try. We bought a few bars to take home (which I packed in my resealable sandwich bags that I carry around – you never know what’ll happen!) and packed them safely in our bag before hopping back on the chicken truck to our next destination.
We made a short pitstop to admire the view of the sea on the cliffside road on the way to our next destination, before jumping off in what seemed like nowhere. Our trusty guide took us on a short walk to the riverbank, where we were strategically positioned on a small paddle boat based on size where one poor soul started to paddle us a little downstream. The whole time we were followed by locals, they weren’t intrusive and they were friendly – we thought that they’d leave us once in the boat, but they jumped in fully clothed to accompany us for a swim. We reached the bank and went for a short walk, this is where the locals started to talk to us. Asking basic questions and telling us what their life was like. This was an area that our guide warned us was a particularly disadvantaged one. They had good hygiene as they used the nature they had around them, but struggled with clothes and shoes. They were really nice to talk to and not demanding given their difficult situation. When we arrived at a suitable flat and shady area we sat for a break and stripped down to our swimwear to go for a dip in the river – which was as refreshing as ever. It was a nice change to swimming in the sea. After, some other locals brought us a small mound of fresh coconuts to drink/eat. I’m not the biggest fan of fresh coconut so shared one with my boyfriend – it was just as I remembered from when I was young visiting India, with the exception of the rum that our guide had brought as an addition! We spent about an hour or so there enjoying the quiet atmosphere and the coconuts, with the locals keeping their distance but overlooking the proceedings. On the walk back to the boat, they joined us again for conversation. They came back to the same people they spoke to on the way, this time a little more asking of help whether clothes or medicines – anything we could provide. They were still polite, just in need – you can’t resent them for that. Many of us agreed to meet at the casa that evening to give them our spare towels/clothes or anything we could spare.
Next – back across the river to the chicken truck for the next leg of our mini-adventure. To the beach! We headed to a beach for a much anticipated lunch of spit roasted pig – or ‘stuffed piggy’ – Cuban style with the standard accompaniments of rice, banana chips and fruit. It was a delicious meal, really yummy. The part of the meal I was pleasantly surprised with was the ‘stuffing’ of the pig: before the pig is cooked it’s insides are taken out and the liver is chopped up and mixed with rice and put back in the pig to cook. I normally hate the taste of liver (even when my mum tries to feed it to me without telling me, I know it’s there!) – but I bit the bullet and tried it. I couldn’t not try a local dish and I’m so glad I did, it tasted so good and nothing like I’d tasted before. After lunch was time for a dip in the sea – the currents here were a bit stronger and the wind was a little chilly so you had to keep under the water. It was nice to swim somewhere a bit different and get out the heat a bit (despite tripping a bit on the massive sea weed covered slimey rocks that were so big you had to walk a bit to fall off them!) It was a beautiful bay. When we got back to our lunch site after a dip, the locals who had made the meal and our guide were having an intense dominos match. This was the start of something…I love games and I’m a little competitive. I got invited to play, it was different to the dominos I played as a kid – this was all about strategy and points and it was in teams! All good fun, especially when I beat the locals at their own game. I stopped on a high though!
Then it was back in the chicken truck to the case for a shower and to meet the locals from the river. We found some soap, toothpaste, old t-shirt, shorts and a towel to give our partner locals. They seemed really grateful and we had some hugs and pictures. They had travelled the whole distance on food/by local bus just for this and now faced the few hours back home.
Dinner was a pizza in a tiny tiny new place that you would never know existed if you didn’t already know it was there. None of us were that hungry after our roast piggy lunch so it was more like a snack on the rooftop. Then it was the search for icecream – though after lots of searching we couldn’t even find some Nestlé let alone real ice cream. We then sat in the square (quite obviously a wifi zone as so many locals were sat out on their devices) wondering what to do. Of course, it was back to the Casa de la Trova – another night of dancing! The same guy from the day before found me again and was persistent in asking me to dance (I have no idea why!) – he cooled off a bit after he realised that my boyfriend was my boyfriend and we’d been together several years! Though, when he went to bed early that night and I stayed out, he was back – apparently it’s okay when it just appears I’m single and alone? He seemed a genuinely nice guy to be honest, very patient with my bad timing and just wanted someone to dance with.