Part Four

© Mary M. Cushnie-Mansour

The title of this blog says it all! However, this is only the case if the group of people who travel together do not have a writer in their midst!
On with the story … trip to Mantanza! (I decided to split my trips up, so as not to overwhelm you––Havana trip will be Part Five)

Day six––deep into some of the real worlds of Cuba where, even though there are inklings of wealth, poverty abounds. Such conditions that people are living in, no matter what country they reside in, is a crime.

Elements of the old world that was built upon the Island of Cuba still exists in the crumbling buildings and hovels. The original beauty is trying to peek through the decaying walls, giving us a glimpse of what once was. Money is poured into building luxurious tourist resorts; however, I must add here that restoration and construction of new accommodations in the large towns and cities is also beginning in earnest.

The first stop on my tour through Mantanza and the Yumuri Valley was at the Canimar River where K and I went on a 30 minute boat ride. We sat on the upper deck, on the bow, and I snapped numerous pictures of the beautiful, natural landscape. Local musicians entertained us with guitar, violin, maracas, and their passionate voices. We were supposed to have watched a native dance, but were running behind schedule (because of having to wait for some people at a couple of the resorts) and had to leave. I did manage to zoom in on some of the festivity, and I think K managed to get some pics, as well.

From the river ride, we headed to the Bellamar’s Caves. If we wished to take pictures in the caves, we were required to pay five pesos. Of course, you might have guessed by now that I paid the five pesos. K and I were at the back of the pack––not where we started out––because of the frequent stops we made to capture the underground’s mysterious beauty on film. One spot had water flowing over a huge rock, the Fountain of Youth. Beside this were three minuscule puddles––Forever Love, Dreams Come True, and Puddle of Divorce! I dipped my fingers in the Dreams Come True … I think I have a forever love, and I definitely hope not to get divorced! One drawback about walking down into the belly of the earth is that one must climb back up. K and I were ready for a good-looking paramedic, but we would settle for a hearty lunch!

When we reached the top, the bus was almost ready to go. An elderly lady, tending a souvenir stand, enticed us over by pointing to her crocheted tops and dresses, indicating to us that they were only five pesos. Of course, when we checked out the wares, anything we wanted was way over the five pesos. Unfortunately, the woman did not earn a peso from us that day.

From the caves, we drove down through the Yumuri Valley. The countryside was spotted with farms. My heart burned for how these poor people were expected to eke out a living from the rocky soil. The majority of the homes they lived in were hovels; in our country they would not even be fit summer cottages. The sides of the roads were lined with livestock tied to fences. One way of keeping the grass cut, I guess. This was also a prevalent sight in towns and cities, as well. The bus had to stop as a cow, that had obviously loosened its rope, was led across the road by a white bird. It was quite the comical picture, and I began to notice that a number of cows had a white bird as a companion.

We had lunch at the Rancho Gaviota. The road we travelled to get there was filled with potholes, but the driveway into the ranch was more suited to preserving automobile longevity. The setting was spectacular. The cafeteria, where we going to have lunch, was surrounded by valleys, mountains, and water. Fowl life ran free; goats were tied to trees, and one lonely donkey was secured to a branch. Horses were tethered near a barn, saddled and ready to take the tourists for an adventure ride. I felt sorry for the old bull that stood saddled under the shade tree. He was held by an elderly man who tried to cajole me into taking a ride. I decided neither horse nor bull for me that day!

Lunch was a typical Cuban meal––rice with beans, beef, sweet potatoes, a beef soup, and salad that consisted of grated cabbage and carrots, and slices of tomatoes and cucumbers. K and I sat with a couple from Holland. After lunch, we had quite the adventure going to the washroom! I had thought we were going to have the opportunity to go swimming, so I had worn my one-piece bathing suit under my clothes. Foolish me––there was no swimming on the trip, and now I was faced with the arduous task of using the washroom. The washroom doors (yes, there were doors on these ones) had no locks, so, there I was, naked from the knees up, trying to straddle over a toilet with no seat when my door flew open. How embarrassing as I scrambled to restore my privacy! I finally managed to complete my task, re-dress, and carry on with my adventure in the fresh afternoon sun. As I was leaving the building, a young man stopped the line of women from going into the toilet stalls while he poured a half a pail of water in each of the two toilets. This is their flushing system––one step up from an outhouse.

K and I wandered around, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. A small farmhouse had been set up for display, and there was a fellow inside making Cuban coffee for the guests. He was funny, pretending to be Al Capone, who seems to be quite the hero to the Cuban people; or maybe, his former presence on the island is just good for the tourist business. One of the tourists (not from our group) caused a commotion when he tried to take a mother goat’s baby away from her. People should have left the man alone. I am sure the mother goat would have dealt with him! As we left the farm, the bus made a final stop at a little stand where we could buy coconuts or bananas. The guide showed us some pods, which when broken open contained an unusually delicious fruit that tasted like a pineapple/orange. He said it was good to fight against a parasite invasion in humans.
On the way back to Matanza, we stopped in a small town for a few minutes. One of our passengers had brought some things for the children. When we first stopped, there were only a few children; however, eventually we were swarmed as they poured from the houses. As we continued on our way, the roadside was spotted with mothers and children waving to the bus, with the hopes it would stop and some goodies would be thrown their way.
Before going to the Pharmaceutical Museum in Matanza, we stopped at the Montserrat Heights where we could see a full view of the entire city. There was also an old cathedral there. A service was going on, so we were not allowed past the door. I did manage to snap a couple pictures, though. Our last stop on the tour was the museum––a French drugstore that had been established in 1882. It had been closed down in the early 60’s; however, it had been preserved as it was on the day of closure. The walls were lined with jars of drugs and herbs, and paraphernalia to mix the medicines. There was also a large collection of books filled with the potions. The pictures I took speak volumes.

We arrived back to our hotel shortly after five. K and I felt sorry for the guys who were supposed to have enjoyed a day of deep ocean fishing; however, due to the windy weather their trip was cancelled. They were quite happy, though, to say the least, having spent the day poolside, playing cards and enjoying the Cuban generosity of free drinks––need I add more!

Ed and I closed the evening off by watching the Cuban show at 9:45. I wanted to get an early night because I was heading to Havana on Friday!
Come back to find out what happened in Havana in my next blog!