Yesterday’s Diary page had spilled over to today’s point of hitting the road.
Finding the excellent (for a few km anyway) Freeway out of town was easy. Finding the road to Guantanamo was easy. But, as we drove through a small town, the light traffic suddenly grounded to a halt. What was going on? Workmen were painting some road markings on the tarmac and a policeman was there to ensure that nobody drove over the wet paint. To make the point, a commandeered a large truck to act as road block. Some thirty minutes later we were on our way again. Never a dull moment!
We had been admiring large trees heaving under the weight of epiphytic plants since we had left Havana. We used a large stand of such trees as an excuse for a leg stretch (S1698) and photographed Tillandsia sp. (plural?), Rhipsalis sp. and Selenicereus pteranthus (?)
Just as we were feeling pleased at the progress that we were making, we passed about a dozen cars that had pulled off the road. The people had gotten out and seemed to wave us down.
A couple of km along there were more cars pulled over, this time with the official arm of the law waving everybody down. We pulled over behind a car with French tourists. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked in my best schoolboy’s Frenglish. ‘No idea!’
Nobody seemed to have an idea, but sat around patiently waiting. Then a cheer, as a car appeared from where we were hoping to go. It drove past at speed and no one moved. Some five minutes later another car approached. Again a cheer, the car passed, but no one made an effort to move. And again, and again, but now more frequently. Then the mystery was solved. The Tour de Cuba cycle race passed by us at full speed. All except one hapless cyclist who must have over exerted himself, got off his bike and was sick right in front of us, before disappearing into an ambulance. We waited until no more cyclists and cars appeared and finally everybody got into their cars and started to set off. But only for some 10 m. as the officer of the law decided to exercise his authority. ‘You will move when I say you can, not before!’ he seemed to say to the car that had set us all in motion. Suitably told off, the driver hung his head in shame before we could all continue our journey. We had lost at least another hour. Never a dull moment!
Around 13:00 hrs we arrived in Guantanamo. The plan, after yesterday’s problems, was to find a hotel first, book ourselves in, then head to the coast, where just before Hatibonico we should find Melocactus harlowii ‘evae’. Nice of Mr Nagy to name the plant after his wife using her first name, rather than her maiden name of Visnyovszky, that would have caused UK speakers a lot more trouble. The road took us to some 10 km from the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The road seemed to make some unusual twists and turns but checking with local people walking along the road or waiting at bus stops confirmed that we were on the right road.
Until we hit one of the many control points. Since Havana we had seen them, but they had never been manned, or all cars had been waived by. All rental cars seem to have ‘T’ (Tourist) number plates so were easily recognised. The guys here must have been bored, or perhaps it was our rental car that attracted attention, in between the trucks and people on horseback or on foot. We had to stop and a soldier disappeared with our passports, visas, hotel room tickets etc into the office building. As well as the military there were a number of attractive young ladies looking over their shoulder. Their sisters? Girlfriends? Who knows. We waited patiently. Answered questions such as ‘Where are you from?’ aimed at me, as ‘The Netherlands’ in my passport did not seem to ring any bells. ‘Holanda!’ ‘Ah, OK.’
Another hour in the burning sun with the car’s thermometer suggesting 30 C. Loud radio calls crackled to and from HQ, names were spelled out, we showed them the maps and pictures in the Melocacti of Cuba book, which reports that Werner van Heek had visited these plants in 1993. Lucky Werner! In 2010 we were not going to see them, as finally word came from HQ that we could not go on. Once again, bureaucracy had prevented us from seeing and photographing a plant in nature. The guard seemed genuinely sorry for us, as we had been model ‘detainees’ and his boss seemed to have pleaded our case to the faceless man at HQ. Never a dull moment!
And so we returned to Hotel Guantanamo for a rest and dinner, where we were surprised at the large number of apparently single elderly European men accompanied by very pretty late teens / early twenties Latino ladies in revealing party dresses. We began to understand why this hotel had not been listed in our tourist guide. Never a dull moment!!!