Friday, 3 March 2017

Cuba Again

Last year, we vacationed at an all-inclusive resort Club Amigo Marea del Portillo in Cuba for the month of February. I wrote about that trip here. We had such a great time, we decided to go back again this year.

We got home from our three weeks in Cuba over two weeks ago. It has taken ages to sort through our photos and decide what to say. In many ways, this trip was a repeat of last year. 

We packed our bikes expecting to pay more than the $30 fee since our boxes exceeded the 44-lb limit. Luckily the lady at our check-in counter neglected to weigh our boxes saving us $78.75 each. We also anticipated having to take our bikes out of the boxes to feed through the new over-sized x-ray machine at Toronto International Airport. It was installed last year after our trip and is too small for bike boxes. We opened the boxes, but did not unpack as a hand-held device was used to manually scan the bikes. It was still a hassle closing our boxes again. We are considering buying new lighter boxes that are easier to pack for next year. 
Once we made it through security, we found our gate then headed for lunch where we took this selfie. I think we look tired.
Our flight to Manzanillo was uneventful. I read and captured this sunset while my husband snoozed wearing his new "can't-fly-without-them" Bose noise cancelling headphones.

Collecting our luggage and bike boxes at Manzanillo airport was as chaotic as last year. There must have been at least a dozen bikes on our flight. Our bikes were the only ones not packed in cardboard boxes. Luckily, they managed to fit on our bus. Other people had to pay extra to taxi their bikes to the resort. We heard it cost $10 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) each. Some people on other flights had to pay $60 CUC for a taxi if there was nobody to share the cost. Yet another reason to get lighter, easier-to-handle bike boxes.

Initially we were assigned a second floor cabana room, but managed to trade right away with another couple who really did not want to be on the ground floor. We were pleased with our ground floor ocean-view cabana located at the far end away from the pool.
It was quiet and peaceful with a nice view and plenty of shade under the trees. My husband unpacked the bikes after breakfast on our first day. We were looking forward to riding in Cuba Again.
We dragged a couple chairs under this tree outside our cabana where we would sit to read our Kobos. The sound of waves was soothing and watching little curly-tailed lizards running about was entertaining. We loved spending time relaxing on the beaches in Cuba Again.
We also loved biking in Cuba Again. We rode most of the same routes. I wrote more about them from our trip last year here.  
I was happy to ride without walking on the longer climbs with the lower gearing (34x34) my husband added to my bike. It was a huge ego boost to be able to keep riding. To celebrate I lifted my bike in a pose borrowed from a friend who has taken many such photos on various tours.
We biked East along the South Coast Road eight times (our favourite route), West towards Pilon twice and only once up the Bayamo Road which is really more of a hike with bikes up a steep mountain road. We biked a total of 434 km over 11 rides. Our longest ride was El Macho (68 km for 5 hrs). Our shortest and most difficult ride was the Bayamo Road (13 km for 2.5 hrs) 

Our roughest ride was Caoba (45 km). A portion of the route consisted of extremely rough gravel mixed with huge rocks. Although the roads in Cuba are rough in general, we seemed to handle them better this year.
West of Pilon the beaches and ranchlands are beautiful.  

Horses graze on shimmering fields of yellow grasses ... stunning.
We stopped to admire the ostrich farm again, but couldn't get as close.
The contrast provided by this colourful bouncy castle beside this bleak-looking apartment building in Pilon caught our eye. 
We stopped for lunch at Mirador Restaurant on our way back from Pilon. This year there was a sign out front at the main road.
When we stopped to take a photo of the sign, I noticed my Garmin displayed 33.7 km which spells "LEE" upside down. Since LEE just happens to be my husband's name, I insisted he take a photo. I was pleased it turned out because we had taken a similar photo beside the town sign for "El Macho" which was blurry. Yep, that's the "geek" in me.
Lunch at the Mirador was delicious and the beer looked pretty good too.
With my lower gearing this year, the crazy-steep Bayamo Road was the only climb I walked. It was challenging trudging uphill with our bikes in the late morning heat. Our Garmins recorded temperatures up to 42 C.
I was happy to finally make it to the top for another 'bike-lifting' pose.
It was a bit humbling to be joined by an older lady in flip flops carrying an umbrella on the walk down. She probably lives at the top and walks to town regularly. We did this route once in three weeks. Once was enough. 
We loved hiking in Cuba Again. I wrote about our 'epic' hikes last year here. We expanded our hike to the stick bridge figuring out a route all the way around the reservoir. 

We wore proper shoes, carried plenty of water and set off early one morning to explore. It took 4 hrs and 40 mins to find our way around making a few wrong turns. Our second attempt with no mistakes took 3.5 hrs. We did this hike a third time with four friends. It was a great workout with plenty of climbing to make it challenging.
I wrote a post titled "Guide to Hike Around Reservoir" including a rough map and photos of landmarks for anyone who might be interested. Alternatively, you can hire a local to lead the way or perhaps take a guided horse tour offered at the hotel.
We directed other friends on how to find the stick bridge. They rode their bikes part way then paid a Cuban family at the base of the dam to watch their bikes while they hiked.
One day we hiked down the steps at the dam counting 165 altogether.
After every hike and ride, we washed our sweaty, dusty clothes in our tiny bathroom sink then hung them out to dry. We always pack liquid laundry detergent, a clothes line and clothes pins. We also pack plastic hangers to hang damp clothes from the shower rod as we don't like to leave anything on the line overnight.
In the afternoons, we liked to sit outside our cabana in the shade - a great spot to read and relax with a drink.
Our bikes were stored beside the bed. I had to navigate carefully around them at night in the dark on my way to the bathroom.
Our room was cluttered and messy with all of our stuff readily available. Strangely, I don't really mind the mess while on holiday.
This year we bought the VIP package which included a sunset cruise, two trips to Cayo Blanco including one lunch with lobster and one without, two bottles of rum, red wine, white wine, two large bottles of water, plus a fridge stocked with beer and coke, free room safe (we use a Pacsafe Travelsafe instead) and late check out. Last year the VIP rate was charged weekly, but could only be used once - not a good deal. This year the VIP rate was charged once for the whole trip - much better deal.

Part of the appeal of this particular resort is the high number of "Repeaters" who return year after year. We met new friends and reunited with friends we met last year (Elizabeth and Alan, Bob and Deb, Gerry and Mimi, Brian and Jacquie, Richard and Irene, Mary-Kate and Scott).
We met Les and Trixie (photo above) and Stephen and Lynn (not shown) on the Sunset Cruise. Socializing is a huge part of the fun.

The Sunset Cruise lived up to its promise of a gorgeous sunset.
Friday is still pig roast night. Pigs are roasted on a spit turned by hand over an open charcoal fire pit.
Iguanas still hang out on the rock wall behind the Farallon.
Part way through our second week, we got up early to catch the sunrise.

The sunrise looks much like the sunset - gorgeous.

After capturing our first sunrise, we walked the length of the beach and back. From then on, we got up early to walk the beach every morning. 
Carole and Jean-Marc - another couple whose company we enjoyed.
I never got tired of watching and listening to the waves. I love how these waves mirrored the landscape in the background.
We enjoyed playing in the waves in Cuba Again.
Floating and feeling weightless in the ocean was fun.
My husband even stayed afloat while pointing out a plane overhead.
The hotel gardener treated us to fresh coconut juice ... yummy.
Late one afternoon we hiked to the end of the beach and around the point. It is only possible to do this at low tide. Our timing was perfect.

We hiked back to the Farallon over the top capturing a cool view with my husband's shadow perfectly framed.

We joined a special "Repeaters" dinner during our second week along with a few of our friends. Each course was served on 'fancy' plates. Truthfully, I preferred the buffet but it was fun for a change.
Our friends, Jean-Marc and Carole, such a lovely couple.
Brian and Jacquie (above); Richard and Irene (below) travel together. We met them last year and were so pleased to see them in Cuba Again.
Everybody raved about these 'ham' chips available for purchase at the hotel store. My husband couldn't resist.
We snorkeled at the coral reef near the point at the hotel and again at Cayo Blanco. 
Can you see that flat fish with googly eyes on the coral above. It blended in with its surroundings and was almost invisible.
We love our new Tribord full face snorkel masks. They are perfect for surface snorkeling. There is no leakage and views are unobstructed. Our only complaints being lack of pressure control for diving and restricted air flow for more active swimming/breathing.
Sea anemones with purple tips are so pretty.
My husband modeling our snorkel gear at Cayo Blanco. 
After snorkeling we dry off and head to the shade for a drink. 
I can't resist petting the island dog.
The island dog is a good mamma with five adorable puppies. I heard the pappa is living it up in Pilon.
Friends we first met last year, Mary-Kate and Scott from Elora celebrated their Wedding Anniversary (18 this year) in Cuba Again. Elora is not too far from London. We plan to keep in touch.
All too soon, our three weeks was up and we were back at the airport preparing to fly home.
This year the weather cooperated. Getting through the airport was relatively easy without rain. Our flight left on time at 8 p.m. We landed in Toronto at midnight and got home by 3 a.m. At least we had the day off to unpack and recuperate before heading back to work Friday. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Cuba Again.

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  1. Great photos, particularly the ones holding up your bikes haha. Sounds like a relaxing vacation with some difficult and dusty rides. Lovely mix. Cuba seems to have become your home away from home!

    1. I almost used those words in my post. "Home away from home" suits. I expect we'll continue to go there in the winter for years to come. We want to travel further afield too, but that can wait until we retire and have more 'free' time. I love reading about your adventures on your blog You're an inspiration.

  2. Glad that you have such a wonderful vacation you both deserve it.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the visit - enjoyed the pictures....

  4. So interesting to read about your Cuba adventure after meeting you a few years ago on a CanbiCuba tour. Thank you for taking the time to create such a wonderful account of your adventures. Mary Lou and I would love to follow your example when we retire in a few years. Sounds great!

    1. We wouldn't recommend this place to everybody but I think you'd love it. Do try to add it to your list of places to visit.