Havana to Sancti Spiritus
1.19.19 - 1.19.19 70 °F
Our first bus trip and the most packed day in Cuba began by waking up at 4AM, packing our suitcases, and heading downstairs to meet Patricia in a taxi to go to the bus station. The Viazul bus station in Havana is fairly small, and definitely sleepy at that hour. We remembered to take a few sleepy photos before getting on the bus to Sancti Spiritus (the bus was on time, a fairly rare occurrence).
The bus was a fairly comfortable coach bus, and the driver summarized the trip in very clear Spanish. The bus would ultimately be going all the way to Santiago. The bus left at 6 AM and pulled into Sancti Spiritus at 11:15 AM. It was a sunny clear day, and the countryside outside the window was beautiful, with small towns coming into view from time to time. There are no highway bypasses in Cuba, so driving through every town made the view much more interesting.
The main reason for stopping in Sancti Spiritus was to visit a dog sanctuary in Las Yayas, run by a friend of cousin Betty, Yoanne. We arrived at the very busy bus station and Patricia called Yoanne. We really didn't know what to expect, whether we would need to hire a taxi and find our way, what we would do after visiting the sanctuary. We were very happy when Yoanne arrived on her motorbike and offered to give us a full tour of Sancti Spiritus, starting with the dog sanctuary of course.
Since most of our time in Cuba had been spent in Havana, it was our first time seeing the moto-taxi, an ATV with a "carriage" in the back, which featured sides and a top but no back. It turned out to be the dominant form of transportation in the city, with cars being a rarity.
Yoanne arrived at the bus station, found a stray dog and immediately rescued him. Dog rescue in action. He was a medium sized black and tan mutt, who generally seemed pretty chill about about being rescued. We attempted the Herculean task of loading our bags and the dog into the moto taxi. At one point the dog managed to leap out of Patricia's arms and run onto the highway. After a few slightly terrifying minutes, we were able to grab him again, at which point he got his name, Suerte.
Patricia was brave enough to hold Suerte while we rode out to the sanctuary, and Yoanne rode her motorbike alongside the moto taxi.
The sanctuary, in an area called Las Yayas, was a large finca (farm) with a single building in the center, and a large yard filled with dogs. There was a sheltered area in the back where the dogs are fed. The sun was shining and the dogs were having a great time, playing with each other, lounging on the ground and saying hello to us. We sat for a while on the front porch and had coffee, chatting about the sanctuary. At the time we visited, they had 65 dogs, all of whom had come to stay there in the past year or so.
We meet Claudia, Yoanne's partner, who thankfully speaks a little bit of English.
Claudia (left) and Patricia (right) with Gorda on her way to her new home.
We had brought a few supplies for Yoanne to use, medicated shampoos and skin creams.
(left to right) Patricia, Myself and Yoanne
It was getting pretty late in the afternoon, so we headed out to a late lunch at a Chinese paladar in town, run by a friend of Yoanne's.
It was a true paladar, with a private dining room and the kitchen right next door. Many of the items on the menu weren't available, but I ordered some fried fish which turned out to be quite tasty.
The grand total for lunch, including seven beers and six main dishes, came to 22.50 CUCs, about $24. Like most of the restaurants in Sancti Spiritus, the prices were all in Cuban pesos, and although I paid in CUCs, I got change in pesos.
Afterwards, everyone was feeling an afternoon sleepiness, so we stopped in Yoanne and Claudia's favorite coffee shop, with surprisingly modern decor and very affordable coffee.
Afterwards we strolled into the main square, surrounded by colorful buildings and a statue in the center. Although there is one main street designated for pedestrians, there are so few cars that the streets are dominated by kids playing in the streets, stray dogs and people sitting on stoops.
We picked up some very heavy dog food at the Paladar and visited a nearby house where Yoanne was attempting to rescue a dog. Unfortunately the dog was quite unfriendly, so we give her some food and Yoanne eventually decided she will need to come back another time.
We headed over to the Casa de la Guayabera, a factory/museum where they claim to have invented the Guayabera, a well known (though not widely worn) men's fashion statement in Cuba. The actual factory and store was unfortunately closed, but Yoanne banged on the front gate for a while and someone let us in to sit in the park next to the store. There was a little wifi there (wee fee), so we all spent a little time on our phones, but mostly we enjoyed the view of the river as the sun started to set. Claudia is an art student, so she shared her new logo and name for the sanctuary, El Hogar de Babalu.
The river was so still it almost looked like glass, and we took some pictures as the sun set.
We headed over to Puente Yayabo (the main bridge in town). We had some time before we needed to catch our bus, so we decided to stop for some drinks at La Taberna, right next to the bridge and recommended in our guide book.
One of the small balconies was available, so the five of us squeezed in and admired the river as the sun set. Lonely Planet recommends a drink here called the Cunyaya, so we ordered a round for everyone. The drinks were delicious and came in their own signature cups.
Eventually the time came to head over to the bus station for our overnight bus to Bayamo. We picked up our bags, dropped off some regalos (gifts) with Yoanne's family and headed over to the bus station in a MotoTaxi.
Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the extremely warm welcome from Yoanne and Claudia, and impressed by the dog sanctuary and everything they have done in only a year. We had no idea what to expect from Sancti Spiritus, and it turned out to be a really fun (but exhausting) day.
The bus was very delayed, but runs smoothly once it arrives, and we all managed to catch a little sleep before our day in Bayamo.
Muchas gracias a Yoanne, Claudia, y la mama de Yoanne por su hospitalidad!