Monday started early, but no-one was complaining. We’re heading out onto the open, and as it turns out very bumpy, road in Luis’ bus heading for Varadero.
As usual it’s hot but as we start to wind our way along the coast the humidity seems to lessen a little and the trip becomes much more pleasant (less sweaty!) than most of our time on the bus has been.
The countryside is beautiful, apart from the oil wells that litter the coast and the occasional factory along the way which the Health And Safety Executive here would have a field day with. It’s not so much the sight of the oil production that invades the journey, but the noxious smell.
No road trip would be complete without a soundtrack and it’s my turn to provide a musical education for the ‘young ones’. The Beach Boys and The Beatles sit side by side with Foo Fighters and Bob Dylan. To be honest I’m only really entertaining Rob and Avril. Everyone else is asleep. That’s a shame because the landscape is stunning. The coast disappears as we climb a little and the mountains appear off to our left.
We pass through Matanzas, a town that sprawls across rivers and inlets of the bay. It has a very different character to Havana. It seems to be in a better state of repair and the buildings are less densely packed.
Eventually we arrive at Varadero. It’s a beach town. At least the part we see is.
The church at Varadero is the newest of all the Presbyterian churches in Cuba. It is a beautiful triangular building with red and yellow light streaming through the stained glass into the sanctuary.
Joel, the minister we met here in Scotland last year, welcomes us and is very laid back about our time with them. He tells us to go to the beach for a while before lunch before it gets too hot. No-one is going to argue with that so we walk the two blocks to the perfect strip of coral sand and turquoise sea.
Just for the record, the sea is warmer than our shower at Luyano. Much warmer. We all lie around for a while as someone in one of the houses by the beach blasts out ‘Now That’s What I Call Music Stewart Hates Vol 1’. We bake. We swim. We bake some more. Then it’s lunch time.
We return to the church which has showers at the door and a foot-wash to get rid of the sand. Lunch is served in the patio area next to the church under parasols and yes, you guessed it, we have rice and beans, but with battered fish and what looks like garlic banana. It is plantain, a variety of banana, and it tastes bad! The rest of the meal is beautiful.
After lunch Joel tells us some of the history of the church. During a government crackdown there was only one member. Now the church is thriving and serves the surrounding communities where there are no churches.
The church design is all very deliberate. The triangular shape is the same as the witch-doctor’s. Every detail was planned to remind people of their faith and their place in the world. The church sides open up so the church literally has no walls.
We visit a small market to buy some souvenirs then Katie, Alison, Avril and I head back to the beach while Jen and Angela catch up with Marta, another of last year’s visitors to Scotland. The rest of the gang have gone in search of liquid refreshment and some shade.
The journey back to Havana is much like the journey there. Most people sleep.
Rob provides the music. Avril and I try to take photos of the gathering clouds.
The evening is quiet and reflective.
Apart from the occasional ‘ouch’ when another patch of sunburn is discovered.