14 June 2011

Our rickety plane arrived in Holguin near Guantanamo, as the sun was setting. After delays and days of travelling my mind felt like cotton wool. We could see endless dirty tracks, cattle and old trees, the airport was small an ours was the only plane. Some people got off and walked across the tarmac, we sat unsure of how many more hours of travelling were ahead. On the flight to Havana the plane was near empty. I lay across a row of seats watching the lighting outside crash through the clouds in flashes of orange. We took a bumpy bus ride to where we were staying and I lay on Philip's chest watching Cuba at night.

We took a coach into the city the next day; everywhere you went someone approached you for money begging, selling or people offering tour guilds. I wanted to take so many photos closer than I did but it was different from China - people were more aggressive rather than fascinated. The houses and cars were colourful teals, orange, baby blue and green with pieces falling off, so much construction worked needed to be done, so many old buildings half falling apart. The streets were covered with fifth and rubble with laundry hanging from most windows. The tourist areas were surrounded with 50’s cars in bright metallics, flags and colourful graffiti. When you passed through the local area you could see stalls with meat and fruit for sale covered in flies but it didn’t seem to bother anyone. The air was humid and clammy with the distinct smell of sewage and it was difficult to find food - the stores sold only canned good, pasta and drink. During my second day of exploring the city, I found a tiny little black kitten playing under some card board. I took photographs of it whilst it rolled around, I wandered what such a small thing was doing outside of its home.

The coach to Varadero was two hours, as we drove past unkempt houses surrounded by palm trees and red flowers. Some children with long tanned legs threw stones at the coach. I sat with my camera in my lap holding the sides tightly, taking the occasional photograph of a house or person from the window. The images would have a clear haze from the dirty window over them but I didn’t mind. I wanted to make the most of each country I visit, I wanted to see the mountains during my time there, I planned to snorkel and visit the local markets too.
I saw a whole family piled on a scooter as we over took them, you could see the odd hitch hiker on the opposite side of the road trying to go back into the city and a wild chicken scratching around in the dirt. A vulture circled in the sky whilst children with golden skin played in their underwear in the sun.
We passed an oil rig where the sky was black with smog and birds of prey flew everywhere - our route took us along the coast the whole way there. Later we passed through the Yumuri Valley, vast and green with vegetation, full of banana plants and other trees with a large river through the middle.

Where we stayed was a paradise, our room had a rustic Hawaiian feel; there were plants indoors and a river with fish in that ran through the centre of the lobby. At dinner we sat at a window over looking the pool - the food was beautiful, fresh fish cooked in front of you. After we walked to the beach, the sand was white and the water a turquoise blue. It seemed like a picture you were so familiar with from a post card or the TV, so much so that it almost didn’t seem real, like it had been built for you, but it was real. We took our shoes off and walked in the water - it looked like it would be cold, but it wasn’t at all. I was wearing a white dress, the waves splashed into my legs getting the dress wet. Philip wore jeans but he didn’t care and walked into the water anyway. The sun set in front of us; it was bigger than any sun I had seen before, a rose red colour, hitting the clouds and turning them orange, the wind blowing through the palm trees around us. Our foots prints in the crystal sand disappeared behind us as each wave came in. Philip lay down while as I stood watching the sun set on one side of us, the moon set on the other. It felt like the most beautiful place on earth. I promised myself I would come down again with my camera - I wanted to be able to show people what I could see, make them feel it too.
After we walked back hand in hand carrying our shoes, we came back to our room and I sat on the balcony trying to note down what I could remember, while Philip watched the moon from the glass doors. It became dark so quickly that I could hear the hum of the crickets - a sound that I am so used to from being a teenager.

Everyday Philip woke at 5am to go running along the beach, then we would get up and go to the beach. I swam into the sea, a large wave came by and I dived under it, letting it pass over my head. I swam until I was far out and my feet could no longer touch the sand below. I took a deep breathe and let go, letting my back arch and feet float up, I closed my eyes and floated on the water, letting the wave carry me forward. Later, we took a red Chevy taxi one day for five pesos, we got into the cab with three other passengers already on a ride. I was cramped in against the door, watching people from the window. The car had no seat belts or interiors; you could smell the fumes coming in through gaps in the frame of the car. My skin was red from the sun and my feet had heat rash.

Another day we found someone to take us out into the ocean on a boat for 10cucs. We put snorkels on and swam about the reefs with fish around us, The man on the boat gave us some bread and I tore it into pieces to feed the fish. A large fish came over grabbing the bread along with my finger which drew blood. Hundreds of fish surrounded the boat in different colours, large ones with flecks of yellow, little silver fish with swords on their nose, blue fish, yellow black striped and a little purple jelly fish. During the trip back I became nauseous and laid down with my head near the side, while Philip sat with his feet hanging over the water. It was after I realised that my waterproof camera had let water in and that my roll of film was ruined.

We arrived back in time for a rain storm. I showered trying to keep my tender legs out of the hot water, bruises on my knees from kayaking, grazes from falling, burns, mosquitoes bites and a fish bite on my finger, I stepped onto the balcony and looked at the sky, I said it will rain soon. Then no sooner, I looked across the treetops and saw the rain spreading along them and in a matter of seconds rain poured down over us. You could smell it in the air and when I reached out to touch the water it was warm. Before long there was a tropical storm, the lightening crashed through the sky, and we lay on the bed of our dark hotel room listening to the rain - it poured and poured until the roads started to flood. In my mind I counted the seconds between the lightening flash and thunder, there was less than a second between them. As I type this, an ant is walking across my screen. That night Phil said to me, "I want to go swimming, lets go to the pool and swim." I said "Lets go to the beach", so we walked to the beach and ran in under the moon light and went swimming.

One of our last days there we took a trip to another city called Matanzas. We saw the town, then we saw the farmlands and mountains behind the city. I rode a horse for a while around the countryside and then we took a boat up the river with mountains and trees on either side of us.

On our last day in Cuba we sat by a tiki-shack that served paella. There was a little clearing in the plants and trees which was a walkway to the sea - the white sand spilled out from the beach across the walk way and around the shack in a thick layer instead of grass. The hut made of wood, had little steps that took you to a bar, we sat just outside on a stump of wood by a little table. As we ate, shaded from the afternoon sun by palm trees, a little bird stood on our table. We gave them a little of our rice and soon more little birds joined, some hovering above the table and swooping down briefly to grab a gain of rice.
That evening was my birthday dinner. Phil and I walked along the beach and it started to rain - we sat under a beach umbrella made of dried palm leaves watching the thunder crash along the sky and the sand get wet with rain. Philip gave me from his pocket two, crystal Swarovski earrings and I put them on. We walked to the restaurant by the beach after; it was a secluded place like a large wooden deck that looked out around behind the beach. After we returned to the hotel there was a power cut so we sat in the dark for a while until the lights came back.