Caribbean & Mexico Cuba Holguin

Holguin, Cuba – Jeep Safari Tour

Jeep Safari Tour – Holguin Cuba

The Jeep Safari Tour was one of two tours that I participated in while on vacation at the Occidental Grand Playa Turquesa in Holguin, Cuba. The other outing was the All Day Catamaran Tour with Swimming with Dolphins and Jet Skiing.

In the morning, a number of blue Suzuki Jeeps where lined up and waiting at the front of the resort for us. Our guide had a silver grand Vitara. After a quick “rules of the road” speech by the guide about how to drive in Cuba, everyone got into their jeeps and we headed out. As I mainly wanted to take photos and ask a billion questions about what I was taking pictures of, I opted to go with the guide. The Cuban “rules of the road” mainly dealt with some differences with respect to right-of-way and passing slow-moving vehicles and  horse-drawn vehicles.

We did a quick stop at another large resort to pick up some additional blue jeeps and a second guide (to take up the rear of our convoy) and away we went.

We drove though a number of small towns and farm land until we reached a Cuban cigar manufacturing centre, mainly a lot of slightly larger buildings which looked similar to the houses we had just driven past. No pictures were allowed inside but it was basically several long rows of tables with Cuban workers rolling cigars by hand with an area in the back for tobacco leaf preparation (workers with big semi-circle knives cutting leaves to a size suitable for rolling a cigar of a particular size). Our guide explained the whole process as we walked along the tables, a few Cubans waved “Hi”, but most seemed very focused on their delicate precision task. Given the sharpness of the blades that they were using, I can’t really blame them. I could see, on close inspection, that finger nicks where not uncommon.

Next we headed to a Cuban farm. Here, we could tell we were off the main path. There were a number of semi-constructed buildings at the end of a ‘paved’ road and it was gravel from there on out. The holes in the road from wash outs were big enough to eat the Grand Vitara and have one of the smaller Suzuki Jeeps as a snack.

At the farm we met the farmer and his wife and they gave us a tour of their house and surroundings. We did go into a crop field (I think it was tobacco) which was kind of neat.

After the farm we were apparently going a short distance to where we would taste test a lot of Cuban agrigcultural products (fresh fruits and sugar cane). So the guide asked me if I wanted to drive, totally not paying attention to his driving, I said yes and we switched spots – only then did I notice it was manual transmission…

So we will just say that combined with the road, and the fact that it was my second time driving a manual car (the first time was at home when I was looking to buy a car…) it was a very bumpy 1.5 miles to the next stop. Our guide was overjoyed once we had arrived at our destination and I handed him back the keys…

So we tried a variety of fruits, and sugar cane juice. Quite enjoyable.

Then, we headed out again and drove quite quite a ways (yes there was a lot of driving on this trip), to get to another farm where we saddled up to ride some horses around a hilly vista (very beautiful). Now, unlike the manual transmission car, I have ridden horses before, so I set up the stirrups such that my bum would not regret this in the morning and got my camera strap set up so I could ride with one hand on the reins and another with the camera snapping pictures. My Nikon DSLR is quite large and I didn’t look through the finder much so it was a bit ‘pray & spray’.

It was a fun ride and the horses were quite responsive to their riders commands to go faster or slower as we meandered around the hillside. There was a trail, of course, that we were supposed to follow, but with a bit of a pull to one side, I got my horse to take a quick detour to get a nice shot.Then, getting back to the trail, my horse decided to pass under a low hanging branch and I had to do a quick duck and hold on hoping that the branch would bend more so that I wouldn’t get knocked off; much to the amusement of everyone else. Then, we were full circle back at the ranch to get back into the jeeps.

Finally, we went for a long ride around the country passing by some larger cities (for they had buildings a nice roads) and the guide explained how the Cubans lived, showing where many of the hotel workers lived in a nearby complex, etc. Very educational, if you ever wanted to live there.

Finally we returned to our resort just as the sun was setting.

Caribbean & Mexico Cuba Holguin

Holguin, Cuba – Swimming with the Dolphins

Holguin, Cuba – Swimming with the Dolphins

January, 2008
As mentioned in the previous post, I was on vacation in Holguin, Cuba and staying at the Occidental Grand Playa Turquesa resort – Holguin Cuba. There were a number of add-on excursions offered from this resort and I chose to go on a couple of them. One of the excursions that I went on was the All Day Catamaran Tour with Dolphins and Jet Skis, an excursion from the resort with a cost of approximately $80. We left early in the morning for a nearby marina about 30 minutes away. It was a nice drive and you could see a lot of houses and Cubans going around their daily lives.

When we reached the marina where the catamarans were docked we where split into two groups (by hotel) for going to swim with the dolphins first or jet ski. I got to go jet skiing first.

Now, for the record, what you may consider a jet ski by Skidoo is not quite what they had. More apt description was tiny boat with an over-sized motor and handle bar controls. That aside, it operated in a similar fashion (rotate the handle, the skidoo goes forward, turn the handle bar and it turns, same basic procedure with the Cuban version).

The jet skis where sized for two people and, after they gave us our life jackets, they let people pair up and pick a boat. The plan/goal was that that would head out of the large bay and out to the ocean, then stop on a small beach, so people could switch and ride back. Everyone else was a couple and, being the only single, I actually ended up with my own boat.

The guide jumped on one boat and told everyone to follow him. There was a set of buoys to mark the path we were to take but he told us not to worry about hitting any under water rocks etc. This bay was quite deep, and off he went… fast. We all followed and I quickly discovered, although physics should dictate this…, that being only one person on the boat compared to the others who were two persons per boat, I had a definite speed advantage over the other tourists. Since I was able to go much faster, I was able to weave a lot and still keep up with the group, who were doing a lot of their own weaving as well.

The bay was quite wavy and we were able to get some air time from the bigger bumps. We even had a patrol boat (Cuban Military with Machine Guns and everything) drive by and they caused even bigger wakes as we passed by. At the beach some couple switched spots and we headed back to the marina, in a similar fashion. One couple fell off their boat on the way back when they bounced off a buoy that they got too close to. I think that they thought that it was just a big inflated red ball floating in the bay rather than the anchored buoy that it was. They were able to safely swim back to their craft sicne it hadn’t gone very far. If your not pushing the throttle a bit forward the boat stops running with an automatic off switch.

After our session of fun out on the Cuban jet-skis, we got on our catamaran and sailed around the island. Some drinks, sun and good music and plenty to see.

Eventually, we arrived at the dolphinarium, which was basically a cage in the ocean for the dolphins that they kept.

We got PFD again and got to swim around with a dolphin, which was pretty cool; as I have never seen one up so close. That said, they are like pure muscle and if you didn’t watch their position you could end up with a tail in the face as they took off – ouch.

Some people elected to be pushed out of the water by two dolphins, which was a neat trick but I decided to just take pictures of that instead.

Afterwards, we headed to a floating restaurant where they served us a rock lobster dinner that was quite good.

Caribbean & Mexico Cuba Holguin

Holguin, Cuba

Occidental Grand Playa Turquesa – Holguin Cuba

January 21 – 27, 2008
Its my first time to Cuba and the Tropics, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I likely spent way more time then necessary in choosing my destination and resort. I ended up picking an all-inclusive package in Cuba mainly due to price in particular. It was one of the least expensive places to go solo. Many resorts add a significant single-supplement on to their base prices, but in the off-season and shoulder season periods, the packages to some Cuban resorts will waive the single supplement. In this instance, I found a Holguin package that waived the single supplement for a January visit and jumped at the chance to leave Ottawa winter weather behind and head for Holguin, Cuba. The Holguin region, as it was described on-line and in the brochures is a nice relaxing location somewhat off the beaten path for most tourists but becoming more popular each year. I found the facilities to be more than adequate for my needs and interests.

I chose the Occidental Playa Toursita which ended up being a really nice hotel. I’m an Engineer by training so like to evaluate things so, for my resort decision, I considered a number of factors in addition to price:

1. Swim-up Pool Bar – Drink and swim without getting out the pool for me is a major plus. When their is a bar or refreshment stand near the pool, one does not have to leave the pool area (potentially losing one’s chair in the process) in order to get a beverage.

2. Number and type of pools – although I didn’t expect any large pools, the fact that this resort had so many meant that I could drift from a noisy pool to a quieter one, if necessary (and vice versa).

3. Building style – It was nice to have a number of low-rise (2 & 3 story) buildings for rooms, rather than a huge hotel-like complex where you need to go up and down many flights of stairs to get to your room. Unlike modern city office buildings, resort buildings often do not have elevators and going up and down many flights of stairs can become tiresome regardless of how nice the weather or the resort happens to be.

4. Clientele: Some resorts cater more to families, some cater to the eco-tourists and still others cater to a more elderly clientele. In their advertisements, this resort indicated that it was not ideal for persons with limited mobility due to its location on a hillside and numerous stairs. This didn’t deter me since I was looking forward to getting some exercise anyway. It had a note about there being a bunch of stairs and not ideal for those with limited mobility. For me this meant less seniors and I’d get more exercise, in fact this resort it very much on a hill.

Now being off the beaten path did mean a few interesting things.

A. My flight had an arrival time of 12:15AM. Add in driving time of an hour from the airport to the resort and I finally got checked in at about 3AM!

B. At Holguin,there is very little around the resort by way of external infrastructure for tourists – no towns, no markets, etc. They did rent bikes, however, but from talking to couple on the first day, I quickly learned that you can bike for hours and not see anything more than farming and scenery. The resorts where isolated by a significant distance from everything touristy. A bonus for some who like it that way but a drawback for others who might like to be in locations with more infrastructure catering to tourist needs.

C. The warm water in my room (shower) didn’t work for 3 days of the week; for me, no worries – just cold showers – others where a bit more bothered by it.

The atmosphere of the hotel (activities, friendly staff) and a long list of extra off-resort activities went a long way towards offsetting any of the negatives.

Since the resort is very isolated, on-site entertainment is a must, and what they did for Holguin was bring in external talent (bands, stunts performers and magicians from around Cuba. They even had some Canadian music talent who played at the pool side for people. There were also some in-house performances which were also good especially the clowns. Food was good, the resort had a wide selection of a-la-carte restaurants one could visit and we could go to 6 over the week. This worked out quite well although sometimes the buffet had a broader and better food selection. If you go to the Asian restaurant, order the two person fish, everything else is blah :-). Desserts at each restaurant were excellent.

I was ready for a holiday in the sun and this was going to be it.

I really enjoyed my time swimming with the dolphins and going on a Jeep safari tour through the countryside and eating those desserts :-). A couple of the outings are covered by separate blog entries here:

All Day Catamaran Tour with Dolphins and Jet Skis – Holguin, Cuba.

Jeep Safari Tour – Holguin Cuba