We stopped off en route to Varadero at El Penon, a small wayside café, one and half hours east of Havana, just beyond one of the island’s main factories for Havana Club rum. We’d seen some spectacular views over the ocean with more shades of blue than I knew existed and then driven through the uninspiring countryside where ‘nodding donkeys’ were hard at work extracting oil from deep underground. This industrial zone is not something to seek out.
After the stop at El Penon, we enjoyed a real tasty Piña Colada, with as much rum as you wanted to pour into it. This white rum was exceptionally young so had absorbed few flavours from the barrel. The taste of pineapple and coconut was, however, sensational and despite my cynicism, I’d have to support my tour guides opinion that this is probably the best Piña Colada I’d ever tasted. We then took a small road and wound our way through a wooded area with goats and horses and cows munching at the greenery or the verges. Still, there is no lack of old cars on the road, ‘a museum on the street’, and we shoot past many of these antiquities as they saunter down the quiet Cuban motorway. I use the term advisedly as there are as many people weaving across the road, as there are cars. Most of these, like the people waiting at traffic lights in Havana, are looking for a free lift. Authorized hitchhiking is a feature of Cuba, emphasizing how safe people feel and the communist sentiment of sharing. Along the road groups of children ply their baseball skills and palm trees erupt out of the apparently barren earth. There’s a lot of evidence of scorched scrubland and birds of prey circle above us in the clear blue skies before diving down for their prey. Then we join back onto the ‘main road’ with a horse and cart tethered at the roadside and emergency repair work being carried out on a vintage car. A local farm worker is setting up a roadside stall selling bananas.
Well spaced-out tin-roofed shanty shacks underline the relative poverty of the agrarian worker. In contrast, the burning flame of the nearby oil well flickers above this rural landscape from the tallest hill area. This marks the final part of Havana and province as we move into Matanzas.
We crossed over the Cunehol Bridge, at 112m, it’s the highest in Cuba and had a magnificent view across the valley. It’s known as the valley of 10,000 palms and you don’t need to be a member of Mensa to know why! Once over the River Bridge—a great name for a bridge—we’re officially in Mantanzas province and can see one way to the hills and the other right down to the sea. Despite the fact that this was 'only’ a transfer from hotel to hotel, it was indeed a great and interesting journey.