Travel through Cuba not limited to backpacking is so many things - but above all, (and I will surely fail to impress upon you) is the uniqueness of it. With a history dominated by controversy involving most notably the USA and Soviet Union, Cuba has not been without violent incident and struggle. In more recent history these incidents made all the more acute and rightly or wrongly by an individual man called Fidel Castro and certain others outside Cuba - men who have come and gone (Castro remains *), and other less known individuals making up the army and another individual we all know as Che. The revolutionaries that once and for all freed Cuba from Batista. Some think he [Castro] is dead others read that which he has had written from his hospital bed. But this is not a story of the History of Cuba this is a story of Cuba today (may june 2008).
*Summer 2016 it could be that Fidel Castro is dead.
Editors note - Fidel Castro Died November 25, 2016 according to the nations press.
I travelled alone on this trip and yet I never really did. I met some great comrades of the backpacking kind from just a few days in. My itinerary was not fixed. I had hopes of diving a lot and didn't. I ended up with the following route; Havana,Maria la Gorda,Vinales, Cayo Levisa, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa,Varadero and Havana.
I mad a brief tour of el Capitol which looks like the white house (the dome at least) and had a run the next morning which made me late for my bus to Maria La Gorda. It was a truly great run up to vedado along the Malecon sometimes uncomfortable wearing the ipod and GPS oh well...the red trainers are well travelled. I was jet lagged and so I won't get into Havana yet.
Maria La Gorda - Pinar Del Rio province.
I had first booked (from the U.K.) a package of 6 dives in the western tip of Pinar Del Rio province and the first night in Havana, this was due to me having an old guide book not a fancy cuba backpacking one and me being worried that I needed a hotel before entering Cuba. They do need an adress, but they don't check reservations any longer so I could have not done it this way round. As it happened I was really too lagged to appreciate the 7 hours left in the day in Havana, and then I went on to Maria la Gorda and the resort. I went strictly for diving and really unless you have time to kill I wouldn't recommend going there. It is really just a resort with just diving on the menu. The snorkeling isn't organised either but you could jump onto the dive boat and get some good snorkeling in. The point needing to be mentioned is that its not Cuba and I hadn't seen Cuba yet.
Diving at Maria La Gorda.
The diving was fair in terms of topography for 6 dives, and there didn't seem to be any caves to speak of mostly nice walls and canyons, but lacking in Fish life, and this was the main negative. It is surprising being so far out from real populace that this should be so. The water was nice and visibility a good 20 feet. The equipment was not really up to standard and I was glad of my training at depth with clearly unserviced equipment. Take your own is my advice. Even the divemaster was diving with only a watch, but following by were the divers and me and my computer said no ! Beware there is no Decompression Chamber here. The air gauges would need a good tap to show the right value ? not at all inspiring, hope that your buddy stays close. Byron was a good diver and divemaster apart from the no computer scenario. One dive was ruined after realising too late my BCD wouldn't hold air it was more swimming than diving, I should have decided not to dive, but I knew I could manage with my experience and I did need to use my dives up. I wish I could rate the place but it should be seen as a opportunistic spot to dive if staying in vinales and then stay a night and not do a day trip (as stupidly the bus timetable is set such that you can't do a second dive by a mere 30 minutes), I would not recommend a holiday here specific to dive. And I really am sorry to say this.
The affiliation is ACUC a Canadian one and the dive shop as with everything in fact state owned. All the staff were local, friendly and with good English.
Nature and the rest..
It is really hard to explore Maria La Gorda apart from the road in and its coastal along the very beautiful beach, I got a few runs (jogging) in in the searing heat after my diving, but they were not able to be long runs 30 - 40 minute cooking sessions (as a warm weather runner like me you might appreciate). The food is via a restaurant in the hotel or snacks at the bar. The nightlife is what you make of it, if you are there alone it could be mighty quiet. There is just a bar with no entertainment laid on. So its not like a resort as you would know it. The food was good buffet style with a grill. It was a good start to my trip but not Cuba ! Thank god for the amusing Dera, An irish fella I met who was doing an open water with them. He had a bit longer trip than me and I was to meet him again in Trinidad in a rave in a cave ! We never had a game of chess that was a massive board painted on the ground and the pieces the size of a 5 year old. Just whiled away a few evenings drinking crystal beer and mojitos and starting to forget about life back home. Here is what othes make of the resort maria la gorda.
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