What a day! Not so good.
Last night’s disco disturbance never took place, so that was a great ending to yesterday.
First priority today was to get the puncture fixed. We asked the porter at the hotel where we might find a ponchero. As Cliff changed the tyre, we discovered that the inside of the tyre had worn completely smooth. This needed more than a puncture repair. In the UK, such a tyre would not be legal. We immediately looked at the other front tyre – again, it looked fine from the ‘outside’, but when we examined the inside, it too was completely worn smooth, suggesting that the tracking of the car was out.
Directions were followed and we ended up at the garage of a rival car rental company. How can you have a rival company in a strict communist country that does not allow enterprise or competition?
Never mind. We were directed to the airport where our agency had a desk. We eventually found the airport and the desk. The manager scratched his head. He had no replacement tyres. He could offer us a Peugeot 206 replacement car, but as we knew from previous experience, this was too small for the tall frames of Cliff and myself. Cliff was unable to look out of the front windscreen up the road! We went through the options: Drive on to Ciego de Avila, where the rep said there was a larger branch with more options, accept a smaller car that did not fit two of us or try to get the punctured tyre fixed. We opted for the drive to Ciego de Avilla, without a spare. The odds against two flats in one day are fairly small, although Cliff, Eunice, Ian and I know it can happen – it did in Baja in 2008!!
We made it safely to Ciego de Avila. It had started to rain, just as it had done when we drove through this flat boring (sugar cane farming) area a couple of weeks earlier. It does not matter where in the world you are – a grey day with heavy rain is miserable, never mind a temperature of 23 C.
We had asked in Camagüey if they could phone ahead to ensure that new tyres would be available in Ciego de Avila. They explained that this was not possible, as the Ciego de Avila office, in a hotel, did not open until midday.
We stopped for a cola as we entered the borough of Ciego de Avila, as we would have been too early, then had some trouble finding the hotel, so that we arrived around 12:45. Security told us that there was no one from the rental company on site as yet. When would they arrive? ‘May be at one, may be in one hour…?’ a shrug of the shoulder ….. This did not appear to be a ‘branch with more options’, more likely a hotel based booking desk with a depot somewhere else.
We decided to drive on to Sancti Spiritus that we had pencilled in for a two night stop anyway and that has a branch of our rental car firm. We arrived in pouring rain. Mike spotted a sign with the Islazul logo on it. This is the chain of hotels that we had used most during our stay and that was the most affordable, unlike other chains that catered purely for overseas tourist groups and offered rooms at three to four times the rate.
We arrived at a large complex of small blocks of rooms on a site that in sunny weather would be very nice, bordering on exotic. Yes, they had rooms for one night. We explained our car problem and asked the receptionist if he could help, as he spoke excellent English. Yes, he would. He contacted the local branch of our car rental company and before I had a chance to start the Rum & Coke that Cliff had prepared from his personal store, the call came from reception that the man was on his way and would soon be here. Excellent!
I showed him the problem and discovered that the other front tyre was now also flat! Lucky or not?!
By five o’clock he was back with both punctured tyres repaired, but unfortunately unable to offer replacement tyres today. And unfortunately the hotel was expecting coach parties tomorrow and needed our rooms.
We had vague plans to spend two nights at Sancti Spiritus to look around for four reported populations of Melocactus guitarti that over the years had been reported from north of the town. Later we would go south to Trinidad. His eyes lit up. He would ring ahead and our rental firm office in Trinidad would have tyres or an acceptable replacement car ready for us tomorrow in Trinidad. Time will tell…..
The rain carried on relentlessly, now accompanied by lightning and thunder. Seven o’clock and time for dinner. We arrived in the main reception block to find a coach load of German tourists standing on the stairs. Reception itself was ankle deep in water and there was a nice waterfall down the few steps coming out of the restaurant. With the main restaurant flooded and out of action the race was on to get to the one remaining restaurant at the swimming pool. It was hard to tell the difference, but at least it was dry and we had seats. Just as well, as another coach load of tourists arrived, this time Dutch ones. Fortunately the buffet type setting lent itself well to this scenario and I believe that seats were found for everyone. Cliff entered the wet T shirt competition and won, as he had not bothered to replace his raincoat that had been damaged in Brazil.
We have full stomachs and a roof over our heads in a safe and dry place – although without internet. Things could be so much worse! The weather system that hit here is also affecting Haiti, where its population is trying to cope with the human and material losses of the recent earthquake. I wonder if the hotel staff have concerns about how their family is coping in these rains in Cuba. Our problems pale into insignificance.