Before you start reading, I must tell you that today has been one of my absolute favorite days so far during my travels, and a perfect example of how fascinating traveling alone and randomly meeting new people can be.
I decided to choose one thing to do outside the city and thus took a boat to Cayo Granma, a nearby island. Getting there was not easy but with a lot of patience (that I don’t have) I made it. There are ferries that leave from different places, the challenge is to know when and from where. I first went to the Malécon but I would have had to wait for two hours so I decided to try my luck at a close-by town called Ciudamar. I figured I was in no hurry so I refused to take a taxi (even if I was offered one about thousand times) and instead decided to travel as a local. A bici-taxi wanted to take me to a bus stop for 1CUC so I accepted and started with that. The bus stop was not called a bus stop but a “transportation point” because you can take all kinds of transportation there: bus, truck, taxi, horse carriage... I asked the people who were waiting there, and soon understood how it works. Whenever a transportation, any kind, comes and stops, you ask where it goes and you hop on. After at least 30 minutes of waiting (and asking each time something passed by) a truck finally arrived, with destination Ciudamar.
It looked like this:
I also took some pictures of Santiago outside the city center:
I didn’t know about the price, and I thought that as a tourist I should pay a little bit more so I gave the money-collector guy 1 CUC. When he had collected all the money and the truck left, he came to me and asked if it was me who had given him a CUC. Obviously it was me so I nodded and asked if it was ok. He laughed and said that it was way too much, and gave me 20 pesos of change. So I only paid an equivalent of 5 pesos which is like 20 cents. On the way back I didn’t pay anything because a friendly local man offered to pay for me so that they wouldn’t charge me the tourist price. When the ferry from Ciudamar to Cayo Granma was only 1CUC each way, my traveling today was very cheap.
So from Ciudamar I managed to catch a ferry, una lancha, after a short (again 30 minutes) wait.
When I arrived to the island the first thing I saw was a bright-colored fruit shop that I wanted to photograph, and I promised to come back later to buy something (but it was closed then).
Sitting on the bench in front of the shop I met an older lady, Señora L, who welcomed me to the island and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk with her so she would show me around. Sure, I wanted. Although I was constantly worried of her walking, she looked so fragile. But for no reason, she is used to it. Neither the heat, nor stairs or streets going up and down would slow her down. In the end of our stroll around the island, I needed to sit down and have a drink but she was perfectly fine. Señora L came to Cayo Granma when she was in her twenties. Initially she was supposed to be here for a month but she decided to stay. At some point her husband with his kids left to live in Santiago but she stayed and has now been living there for more than 50 years. She used to work in a shop before retiring and knows the island and its people probably better than anyone else. She doesn’t have access to internet but she understood very well the idea of my blog, and didn’t mind me writing about her.
Cayo Granma is an old fishermens' community. It is not big but there is everything you need in a small village: a post office, a few shops, two doctors, a church, one restaurant and two paladares. The houses are small, cute and multi-coloured, and high up from the church the view is stunning: you see the sea, fort de Morro castle, Ciudamar port and Punta Gorda, a place just south of Santiago. We walked around, stopped to chat with other habitants and had lunch at a very nice paladar (or I had lunch, L only had a drink even if I offered to pay). L talked about Cuba and about her life on the island, and we listened to some traditional music.
Later she took me to her house and showed me pictures of when she was young. Her Spanish was easy to understand, but afterwards when going home I was exhausted of all the concentration and effort. But very proud of myself, only Spanish for many hours! Practice is good and again I feel a huge improvement compared to a week ago. So happy. :) Señora L is such a sweet old woman and I loved to exchange thoughts with her. Even if she has never been outside Cuba, she is very educated and she was excited about my travels around the world. She also gave me an advice for life: “When you are young, you should have fun.” Thanks L, I will, and I hope to return to Cayo Granma one day and meet you again.
Señora L mentioned many times that the tiny island suffered from the hurricane Sandy a few years ago. No one got hurt but many families lost there houses, and I got the feeling that the whole village is still pretty shaken up after that. The state has then helped them rebuild their homes, but in many places you could still see ruins of where the houses were.
Once again, being at Cayo Granma and spending time with Señora L, made me think about how simple life some people are living. I asked L what she usually does with her days and she said that nothing special: walks around, talks to people, enjoys the sun. Even for younger people it is pretty much like that, depending of course on what they do for work. Some of them fish, others own a shop or a restaurant. They all need something from one another and that is how the community stays alive. Children go to school in the mainland and take a ferry back in the afternoon. The surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful and the ambiance is peaceful. A true havre de paix where to escape Santiago’s big town hustle, I totally recommend.
In the evening, back in Santiago de Cuba, we walked up and down in the old town with H and S, and had dinner at a Lonely Planet recommended place.
As always, there was music everywhere:
And we found a cute little bookshop:
We danced a bit but this time mostly enjoyed just listening to a band play (a very good violinist!) and watching Cubans dance. We are still extremely jealous of their moves, and hope that maybe in a next life we will be born with a natural ability to move our butt like the Cuban women do, it’s incredible.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!