„And group four will travel to… Holguín!“
Wait, what? Where in the world is that supposed to be? Really? Of all the places on Cuba to land we go to a place that no one in the last hundred years has heard of. To be fair once we looked into the travelling guide I did not really have the right to be that harsh anymore. It looked like a traditional, culturally popular and very original city. Surrounded by breathtaking nature, in the far East of the country, only a short trip from the coast. Anyway, I was going to undertake the journey with a group consisting of Jule, Anna S., Anna D., Renée, Ben Ra., Bene and myself. It was going to be fine, perhaps a bit boring and challenging, but it would be okay.
Later I revised my opinion. It was not okay. It was never meant to be okay. To be totally honest, it was the experience of a lifetime! Now, I know what you are thinking; He is exaggerating, making it look good for the blog. But I promise you from the bottom of my heart this was not the case.
The trip started with a long, overnight bus drive across the country as we had to traverse the entire length from Havana (the capital). It was absolutely impossible to hate this part as it involved my favourite activity… Sleep! The whole time span of 13 hours I spent stretched our on the the back seats, which were even large enough to accommodate my lanky figure.
Okay, following the story is one of very few low points during our journey. We arrived in our casa particular at around 8 am, only to be greeting with the message: “We are so sorry, but we accidentally overbooked our house. The only place where you could stay is in one room, all seven of you.”. Slightly annoyed, we turned their offer down, spun back to the door and trudged out. Contrary to what they seemed to believe we needed the two rooms that we had booked. So what options did we have in this situation? Go find a new house. Off we went, a small group of only three of us, while the rest guarded our enormous heap of baggage. We knocked on the door of every advertised casa, and finally found our stay in a quiet side street, a house by the name of “Casa Naditia” with an incredibly friendly housekeeper. The rest of that day was filled with a quite lazy exploration tour of the city with its many parks and museums as well as cinemas. However, as we soon discovered, the entire city was apparently undergoing renovation! Four out of five Cinemas were closed and the only museum we ever spotted open for visiting was during the final few hours of our stay in the city.
The following few days I will shortly sum up in the most exciting events as, unfortunately, I am slowly but surely running out of text space. The “Lloma de la Cruz”, a small mountain whose 477 steep steps we scaled, gave way to a magnificent view over the city built in the colonial times. Quite impressive! Another day, we undertook a day-trip to the small town Gibara, situated by the coast. We got there by a very locally-popular mode of transport: Camión, a truck that has been reformed to transport people on its back. Very cheap, not entirely comfortable, but one of the best experiences on Cuba! Jule (who knows the basics of German and Irish sign language) also had an intense, but completely silent conversation with the very friendly Walter, a deaf man on the way to the same destination as us. From watching, all of us students learnt a bit of Cuban sign language. In Gibara we ate lunch with a beautiful seaview, then went off to explore the town a bit. In the evening, we returned in a small truck with the back open to the passing streets.
Mayabe was also a very interesting place to visit, outside of Holguín. Originally, we tried to tramp there, but apparently this method is not very far-spread in Cuba, at least it did not work for us. So we ended up in a local bus (this time a proper one with seats) and paid a price of 1 Moneda Nacional for seven people for a trip of a few kilometres… the equivalent of 0,04€! We spent the day reading and dosing away in the shade next to a large lake, where we also ended up eating lunch in a nearby restaurant with the local cuisine. Perhaps this was the most relaxing day of the entire trip.
The evening programme was also always very exciting; Whether we went to the grand theatre to watch a truly-spectacular, but also amusing dance performance by a specialised dancing school, or we went to the one screening cinema together with a crowd of elderly people to watch the newest action film. The final night, we spent together in a rooftop-bar overlooking one of the many parks that Holguín is so famous for, rethinking the experiences of the last week. A very cosy atmosphere.
After we had returned to Havana, again with an overnight bus journey, we gladly took all our friends who had travelled to other parts of the country in our arms. It was good to be back!
However, I would never go as far as supposing the trip was a waste. Of course, afterwards we were all back together and happy to be a big family again, but the week-long excursion is something I will never forget in my entire life. Action, an amazing team spirit and a beautiful location made this week of my life… extraordinary!