A most idyllic beach

I’m British, so I can’t help it. I’ll talk about the weather. Cuba is hot. Cold showers, noisy fans, even noisier, dripping air conditioners sort of hot. Which is a bit of a shock after Cusco, which was wear-all-your-clothes-even-in-bed cold. And Cuba is going to get hotter - which is a bit of a worry, but I’m hoping we will get used to it. Maybe.

What do you do at the weekend when it’s hot? You go to the beach. So on Friday, when Geoff’s debit card got swallowed up by a malfunctioning bank machine and he was told he had to wait until Monday before the man employed to collect up cards swallowed up by ATMs got them back to head office, we decided to check out a 9km beach close to Havana.

The Lonely Planet guidebook description is glowing: “In Cuba you are never far from an idyllic beach. Havana’s own pine-fringed Riviera, Playas del Este, begins just 18 kilometres to the east of the capital.” Perfect.

Elsewhere, the book describes the beach as “suitably sublime”. It told us that there are six separate settlements on the stretch of beach. Some of the towns closest to Havana were becoming a bit resort-like, it said, but the last beach, Guanabo, was “the rustic Cuban end of the strip”.

Sold. We spent an hour on a packed bus with a cheery Havana beach day-tripping crowd, and got off at the end of the line.

Now the “pine-fringed” (see description above) could have been a typo. Pine… palm, anyone could make that mistake. (Though surely a proof-reader who’s ever leafed through a Caribbean island tourism brochure might have had a teeny bit of a suspicion?) But had the writer really been to Guanabo and found it “rustic”? What we found were: some seriously dilapidated beach front buildings; areas where old concrete reinforcing wire sticks up through the sand; rocks, rubble and, on the narrow strip of white sand, lots of people and lots and lots of rubbish. Bottles, cans, plastic bags, ice cream cartons, cardboard boxes, dirty nappies, everything left by the visitors for whom a weekend at the beach seems to mean drinking huge quantities of beer and soft drinks, eating pizza and leaving everything lying on the sand.

Actually we had a nice time. Despite Sam and Geoff coming home looking as if they have contracted the pox - Sam in particular is covered in red spots, but he's still alive and they don't itch, so we are hoping he'll survive... The sea really is clear, a wonderful blue colour and a refreshing temperature. And back along the beach there is a bit more sand, fewer rocks and slightly less rubbish and rebar. Guanabo had ice creams and some nice restaurants and cafés. And no one hassled us about buying anything. (In fact I suspect we were some of the only foreigners in town – certainly we didn’t hear English spoken all weekend.) We rented a couple of rooms and ended up with a whole house, which was good after staying in hostels for a month. And it was Mothers’ Day weekend and there were families having a good time with mum – and beer.

It just wasn’t very rustic.

Postscript: The man employed to collect up bank cards swallowed by Havana’s ATMs did take Geoff’s back to HQ and it was waiting there when we got back on Monday. There wouldn’t be that many countries where you could be (relatively) sure that would be the case. Go Cuba!