If you say it three times fast, the bad memories get erased. I think that’s how it goes.
The Lonely Planet guide book called Barocoa: “Magic, weird, beguiling, outlandish, unorthodox, mysterious, surreal, psychedelic and hallucinogenic.”
How can you not want to visit a place that’s called surreal? I was so excited to try the chocolate. Sit on a beach. Read. Relax. Stop hiking. (Yes, I was saying all these things while I was climbing Pico Turquino.)
I can imagine the beach. The ocean-front casas. The chocolate factory. The flat land. The chairs. The highest waterfall in Cuba we could get to by a short hike. The Spanish forts.
The Turkish guys had told us stories about Baracoa, and how one of their friends (French!) had ventured into the non-touristy part and had impressed the locals so much they offered him dinner and accommodation for free.
Well, we did eventually see the beach. When we left Baracoa on our way to Holguin. After our car broke down. And we got ripped off.
So why was it so awful?
I think a number of reasons. But only one I feel comfortable writing about. We met up with our friends following a six-hour overnight bus. They had sent us the address of their casa and following the map in our guidebook, we met up with them. We were so happy…. TO USE THE SHOWER! Jack, ever the gentleman, let me go first. There was mud caked everywhere! It felt so nice to change into clean clothes. Our friends told us of their adventures in Guantanamo, the city not the prison, and told us of the beach they had already been to. Holly showed me some pictures and they looked amazing. I was pumped to start exploring.
We wandered around the city, looking for food and trying to find the bank and wifi cards and to meet up with Joe, a new German-Cuban friend. And we asked to go to the beach. We prepared our bags; sunscreen, water, books and picked up some snacks. And jumped into a jeep. That did not go to the beach.
And this is where the unhappiness set in, followed by a very uncomfortable feeling. A sense of uneasiness followed me all day. We had been driven to a creek where the locals swam. It was beautiful and very peaceful, sure. But we had been dead set on the beach. Finally, Joe came up to me and told me I didn’t want to go to the beach, and this was better.
If there is one thing that infuriates me, it’s having something be mansplained to me. I get that enough at home, I don’t need it on vacation. And not only that, we were in for a feast – they were going to kill a pig. I ended up seeing the pig that was being roasted and I just felt. Uneasy.
There are several precautions I always take when I travel. An exit plan is the first one on that list. It’s served me well in some instances, and has kept me level-headed in others. While travelling solo is wonderful and empowering, it also comes with a certain amount of risks. Almost every woman I know has a story of assault (from either locals or fellow backpackers) while on the road, of being belittled, of being scared (my worst experience was that border crossing), of being anxious and of being uneasy. Although I was with people I knew, being in an area that was far from the town and having no access to a quick escape route left me uneasy all day. Add to that the horror of seeing the pig being cooked, and of the owner beating his dogs; well, I will admit it, I was less than a pleasant person.
But what can you do? You chalk it up to experience and you promise yourself you will never let that happen again. Maybe it was poor communication that got us into this mess; maybe it was something else.
The next day, I decided I was leaving. Our small group decided to leave as well except for one. We tried to figure out a way that we could explore the city and then take a cab to Holguin to somehow get to Trinidad, since all the buses were booked. But alas. This was Cuba and so we finally settled on taking a cab within the hour, stopping for ice cream and packing all our belongings. As we packed, the cab fumed outside our casa while we figured how much each of us owed to the other. It was stressful. It was not fun. It ruined Baracoa for me.
Oh and our way to Holguin, our car broke down and the rate we negotiated was invalid. We dropped off a French couple at the beach and I was devastated. It looked stunning. Even the beaches surrounding the main tourist one looked just incredible and I had visions of renting a bike and riding alongside the road, stopping in when I wanted to and getting the most out of the day.
I have written so many different versions of this post but in the end, I settled for this. I will say that the coconut cookies were quite good, the 5L of water we bought was the cheapest we had ever found it, the boys looked adorable trying to learn how to fly-fish and I almost read an entire book in one day.
We made our way to Trinidad via Holguin and that was an adventure in of itself. You remember Viazul right? Well, we got dropped off at the bus station and asked if there was space on the bus to Trinidad. It was suppose to cost $26 and take us 9 hours. The Viazul workers told us to come back at 10:00 to see if there was space on the 11:00 bus. At the same time, we tried to negotiate a taxi to take us for a similar amount. At first, they quoted us something ridiculous. So, we decided to wait it out. We took a horse-drawn carriage to the main square to get pizza and eat, get some wifi and plan our next move. Following that, we returned to the bus station and tried to negotiate a better price. No dice. So we did what anyone else would do. We sat the nearby bar and played cards all night. We played until one of us would go to Viazul to check the availability of tickets or the cab drivers would change their mind. Finally, after a couple hours, we confirmed that there was in fact NO room on the bus and one of the cab drivers agreed to drive us for $30 each. See. Persistence always pays off kids.
I’m going to skip over the part where the cab driver dropped off us at a strange casa in the middle of night and head straight over to one of my favourite places in Cuba; Trinidad!
And since I have so little photos of Baracoa, I found this video that has scenes from Baracoa… and everything I wanted to do!