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We were now a bit better organised and over breakfast reconfirmed our game plan.

First we established if we could book ourselves in for the last night of our stay in Cuba – no problem.

Secondly, we needed to rent a car. In the hotel foyer, the desk of the agency that had provided us with three quotes yesterday was empty, but another agent in this line up of advisors, tour organisers etc was free and so we asked for another quote. We were interested in his Peugeot Partner model, similar to the Citroen Berlingo that Cliff drives in England. His calculator started buzzing as he came up with a figure quite a bit lower than his colleague, for a car that we knew should suit us. No problem.

We quickly completed the necessary paper work while Mike was queuing at the bank around the corner. We discovered that the banks were not open during the weekend, and as we were off on our travels tomorrow, it seemed prudent to change a significant amount of our money now. While we could pay with credit cards, this incurred an 11.4% surcharge. we know have 24 hours to consider how much we each want to pay by card and how much in cash.

Next on to find a taxi to take us to the National Botanic Gardens – No problem.

This was about 17 km out of town. On arrival we learned that the gardens had an area of 600 hectares and therefore best seen by car. One of their staff would come with us and guide us around. Great!

We explained to Maria that we were Cactus Loco and that we had seen pictures on the internet of their nice collection of Cactaceae, including all the Cuban endemics. We’d like to see those. Her face dropped. She explained that the gardens were opened by Fidel Castro in 1984.  The greenhouse had been built with financial aid of East Germany and was opened in 1989. In 2005, hurricanes hit the Caribbean and  had broken lots of glass in the greenhouse, damaging many of the plants in the process. Work to clean up the damage was still in progress, but there was little or no money available to make this happen.

It was sad to see the damage. The structure is still sound and much of the broken glass had been cleared away, but not all. Why cover the plants in glass? Surely there is no need to protect them from the cold? We were correct, but the protection was from the intense sun and rain. I guess that shade cloth would provide a more cost effective solution to offer protection from the sun and that providing extra drainage might help to combat the rain. She smiled. The gardens were at their best when Fidel was at his peak. As Fidel became older and his health declined, the gardens went down hill too. Now they are almost dead. A sad but true observation. It is not only plants in nature that deserve our support and protection. Botanic gardens provide an excellent place of education. All images from the gardens are filed away as S1690.

We arrived back at the hotel around two o’clock with plenty to think about.

Our long journey was catching up with us and after a beer and burger we enjoyed a brief siesta.

Tomorrow we pick up our car around 9:00 and set off for Camagüey. From there we’ll head to Santiago de Cuba from where we plan to make a five day circuit around the Sierra Maestira, where along the coast road there are reports of many locations of Melocactus. Then we plan to head east to Guantanamo and Baracoa. As we then head back to Havana, we’ll spend a day or two around Holguin and Matanzas. Depending on how we get on, we might spend a few days to the west of Havana, were the beaches are nice, but the cacti are scarce. 

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