“The early bird catches the worm”. We aren’t early birds today. Yet, we still get a rich breakfast anyways. After having a bit small talk with Jesús, he tells us that you could also scuba dive at Playa Ancon. Sounds great! We take our masks and fins with us since we we’ll certainly also snorkel. The weather seems to play along with our plans today – no clouds to be seen. We walk down the cobbled streets – here in the center we will probably not find any taxi. On our way we discover a small tourist office offering tours to the nearby national park “Topes de Collantes”. Alright, we could stay here for another day. We enter the office, get some info and decide for a tour tomorrow.
A few streets further we find us a taxi to Playa Ancon. The distance shouldn’t be that short, but we seem to have found a “taxi collectivo” (or “máquina”)* since the driver is already leaning out the window and calls out an “À la playa!” in my direction. Okay. This is now our first ride with such a taxi, so we are a little confused, but it’ll work out somehow. “Si, si, si eso it perfecto!”. We get in and he steps on the gas. In my rather terrible Spanish I ask about the taxi collectivos – I thought only locals could have a ride with them. “Nonsense”, he says, “whoever wants to, hails the cab and asks where it is going to. Simple” . Also: Every taxi collectivo can be a regular taxi. If you want to go to a specific place, the taxi driver will get you there – it will just get more.** So we had some damn luck here. Out of the city, barely on the straight road to the beach, some Cuban couple also enters the taxi. It gets a little cozy, but the conversation gets fired up now – Cubans are proud of their country, and they also want to tell foreigners which is great, as you get quite a lot of tips for things to do on your ongoing trip. I am now sure that we can now also make it to Santa Clara via Viazul bus and I have to definitely scuba dive in Varadero. Castro was an extremely enthusiastic scuba diver. There are dozens of intentionally sunk ships there.
We stop at a large hotel. The taxi will wait here for folks that want to get back to Trinidad. The ride would have cost us now 50 CUP (1.89 USD) – we prefer to pay 7 CUC . If we had taken the taxi specifically to the beach we would certainly have paid twice the price…
Playa Ancon –
We walk past the hotel reception to the beach – I’m curious if it will work out with scuba diving on such short notice, otherwise we’ll just swim/snorkel. The scuba diving base is just a stone’s throw away from the hotel’s beach bar. Frank is looking for a shady spot and I go on to the base. Good timing: Those guys want to go for a dive in an hour at a nearby wall. Counting me in, there are only 3 more divers. Should be quite relaxed. We settle the formalities, diver’s license, date of the last dive and the obligatory 40 CUC (40.00 USD). The equipment gets quickly selected. Alright. I’m just supposed to return on time. I join Frank for a swim in the lukewarm water until the boat with the divers from the morning dive appears. “Don’t forget to get me one of those mermaids, otherwise I’ll have to hit on one of those chicas here” grins Frank and points to the mostly elderly women at the beach.
Also my fellow divers are also a bit older. Strange that there are just a few people here at our age. We do not have to get far with the boat. We start with the dive quite quickly. Briefing, Buddycheck and off into the water. Each buddy-team each gets their own guide. We dive down and descend slowly at the wall… There is a beautiful coral garden here that also looks quite healthy – yet, strangely I do not get to see many fish. Smaller ones yes, but nothing bigger than 15cm – maybe because of overfishing? Some moray eel are the exception here: We discover three of them between fissures in the wall. At some point, I suddenly notice that I am much deeper than my group and I still got the urge to get deeper – is this what rapture of the deep feels like? In fact, I feel slightly euphoric and perceive the actually gree corals in a slight violet tone – the sound of my regulator seems also kinda muffled to me… The moment of realization kicks in, clarity, and a short moment of panic and I rise again quite fast at the same level of my group – the strange feeling fades quickly. A look at the depth gauge: 25 meters. I can not exactly tell how deep I was just a moment ago – I’ll just keep a level just slightly above my group now. Better safe than sorry. The rest of the dive is rather uneventful. All in all this was a rather “boring” dive (with the exception of this incident) – this diving spot is not that great.
Back at the Playa Ancon I fill out my logbook before I search for Frank – he’s dozing on a canvas chair. “Something to drink?” – Oh yes! The beach bar is just around the corner. Rock-Paper-Scissors! I have to go. You lazy slacker… The barkeeper seems to be bored and is actually happy to have customers. Prices are not noted on the cocktail card but cocktails in Cuba are cheap, so it doesn’t matter. I order two Mojitos and he gets them done in a jiffy. I ask him how much I owe him: “Uh, you’re not from the hotel?” he asks, somewhat puzzled. He shrugs. “2 CUC (2.00 USD)“. Okay, cool – it doesn’t seem that many folks get to this place that are not staying in the hotel aswell. We spend the afternoon swimming, lying in the shade and having cocktails. Starting with the third round, the barkeeper seems not to care anymore about the extra tip – we get them for free. About 16:00 we decide to get back to Trinidad. A British couple at the hotel lobby is also waiting for a taxi which they have called to get back to Trinidad. Perfect, then let’s share that.
Back in our Casa we take a shower and decide to go up to the tower of the San Francisco de Asis church. A great view and a beautiful sunset from up here. Since we start getting hungry and we forgot to tell Jesús about dinner, we have to look for some restaurant: We check the alley next to the Casa de la Musica and decide for a restaurant on the corner of the square (Bar/Restaurante Esquerra). Doesn’t seem too crowded in here – we sit down and… wine in Cuba? Is there is some available actually. Why not?
While we wait for our food, it starts getting louder from down the street and a tourist group enters the door with their guide. Oh geez, is this restaurant here a tourist trap? Okay maybe it wasn’t that smart to find us a restaurant right next to the Plaza Major, but so far we haven’t had any bad food… The group is mixed by all age classes, from elementary school kids to grandma & grandpa.
Since there aren’t enough tables, two couples are still standing in the middle of the room – we wave at them, signaling them to join us – after all, all the tables are quite large. The group seems to speak Spanish, but from the accent those are certainly not Spaniards. Mexican? Argentines? Hmm. Seems that the group is actually from Argentina – we get into conversation and the 2 couples seem to be quite cool. While they are also about to order, a band starts positioning their instruments in a free corner of the room and starts to play immediately. Not bad. And according to the saying “applause is the artist’s bread” the group is greatly pleased. After the 2nd or 3rd song we get our food and some people from the group start singing along as these seem to be well-known songs. Great atmosphere! And the musicians are really giving all – having such an audience is great and also easy to motivate to join them: As one of the musicians is about to give one person of the group two Maracas to play with them, he doesn’t have to ask twice. Little by little, additional instruments get passed around and some instruments of the musicians also change their players. I also get the opportunity to play the bongo drums in one of the songs. Although the food here is quite good, it doesn’t seem to be that important anymore. From the looks of it, we won’t get to sleep early today – though we have to get up early in the morning .
*Cuba may be the only country where the taxi drivers decide which way they’re driving
**I’m quite surprised that I kinda understood what he was talking about with all the loud roaring of the oldtimer engine. This guy could have also talked Chinese to me and I would have assumed it to be Spanish with all this noise