We had a nine o’clock appointment with a Peugeot Partner, so after packing and breakfast we started the paperwork circus. We had agreed to each pay CUC$300 in cash and the balance on our credit cards. Credit card payments incorporate a 11.14% tax.
The first impressions of the car are fine. It is certainly not new, with 113,872 km on the clock (first time round?) and the ‘service due’ light on. The next challenge was to find the way out of town. In Latin America this can be quite a challenge as you’ll know from previous Diary entries over the years. This time we had a map and instructions, missed the appropriate turn but followed the fairly scenic route around the bay and found the freeway, A1, without much delay.
We passed through quite green looking countryside, much of it developed for agriculture. The A1 here consists of 4 (!) lanes each way! Traffic was about as heavy as it was in the UK during the petrol strike, a few years ago. Near road junctions people are waiting along the road to hitch a lift, waving cash at drivers to persuade them to stop. Public transport is just not sufficient to meet demand, as demonstrated by the few busses that were chock-a-block. There were also a number of cattle trucks jammed full with people. It all looked a bit primitive, but when you think about it, it is no worse than the London Underground at rush hour – it’s just that there, the standing is in an enclosed carriage hidden from view in dark tunnels.
We decided to make a toilet call & leg stretch at a service station and as we were about to get back in the car, were approached by a couple of ladies who asked if we were going to Camagüey. Yes, we were. Could we give them a lift? We had enough space, so why not get into the Cuban Socialist spirit. It paid off, in that on a couple of occasions they could tell us which way to go at un-signposted crossings, and once in Camagüey, to point us at a safe and reasonably priced hotel.
Around 3 p.m., the rain started to come down. Soon afterwards, the vast A1 Freeway turned in a main 2 lane country road. At times the surface reminded us of roads in Bahia, Brazil, but in general, so far, they are in much better condition.
The rain taught us that a) the windscreen washer bottle of the car was either leaking or missing and b) that the windscreen wiper blade on the passenger side was not a Peugeot standard, about 2" shorter than it was meant to be and c) that its fitting was improvised, so that we had to stop a couple of times to put it back in place, with Cliff using a bit of brute force and ingenuity to make it stick.
All in all, we learned a lot about the island, stuff that you read in books, but don’t believe until you see it. The country side so far is flat – like Holland with palm trees. There is no point in looking for cacti here, except now that we arrived in Camagüey, where we saw some trees heaving with Tillandsias and, potentially, epiphytic cacti. We’ll check them out tomorrow or on the way back, if the sun is out and the light is better.
Today’s pictures are just a few shots from the car window to remind me of what we saw – A wide road, getting narrower as we went on, on a cloudy day that turned wet. No need for a stop number – they are just filed by date/time stamp.