Part 3: The Bay of Pigs and Tabasco

Looking out from Punta Perdiz near Playa Larga, Cuba

Our next stop was Playa Giron, a small beach town near the mouth of the Bahia de los Cochinos, Bay of Pigs. The bus left Trinidad on time but went around the block, which took ten minutes, and then pulled back into the station. The Jefe said the bus needed some suspension attention and it would be fixed quickly. David scoured the streets for food and came back with a compressed bar of peanuts, sesame and honey that looked like something you would feed your canary. Later on, we discovered that when this bar was refrigerated it took on the characteristics of Bonomos Turkish Taffy. Smack it and Crack it. I would only eat it at room temperature as I didn't want return home with a Gap Tooth "No Brainer" as I had from Mexico in 2010.

Two hours later the bus rolled out and eventually we arrived at our Casa in Playa Giron. We were greeted by our hosts with a cold glass of fresh grapefruit juice and a friendly conversation. We scheduled our first in-house dinner for 7pm. David took to the streets to find bottled water and any reasonable food offerings. This search for water was always a tiring routine for David (Legs McGurk) because most of the stores simply said "No Hay" or "El Agua esta en Extinción" "The water is extinct." He came back with 4.5L of water and a package of chocolate colored cookies. After reading the label no chocolate was listed in the ingredients, but we ate them anyway.

Let me tell you about this water. From the first time I drank it I sensed something was very different. It was dry water. After drinking it you got the sensation that Mr. Suction at the dentist office was partners with the bottling plant. After further scrutiny, David read the label on the water bottle and noticed the first component was listed as "Residuo Seco/ Dry Residue." Whatever the F*#k that is. I knew I wasn't crazy and this confirmed it. The bottle also said "#1 in Cuba" but I'm calling it "# Only in Cuba," as it is the only bottled water available.

There was enough time to visit the nearby Playa de Cocos some 2km down the road. Miguel and Odalis, our hosts, let us borrow a mask and snorkel and we caught a ride in pedi-tricycle. Lazaro, the pedaler, an amiable sort, started off towards the beach. He said hello to everyone and made frequent stops. He was deeply tanned and wore a kepi from the Cuban army. Every so often he would come to a complete stop, and take a slug on a bottle of rum. Of all the pedicab drivers in this town, we managed to flag down Lazaro. We calculated his top speed to be at 5km per hour. Luckily the beach wasn't far.

Sunset in HDR at Playa de Cocos, Playa Giron, Cuba

We told Lazaro to come back in a hour to pick us up, only because we were unsure of return transportation. The water off this beach was very shallow, no more than two feet deep. There were waves breaking further out, but in order get to there we had to run a fifty yard gauntlet of sea urchins. Some were black with long spikes and others were white with short spines like a Old Man cactus. I put all of my effort into avoiding them, as getting skewered often meant a trip to the MD. We were taking turns guarding our stuff and when David went in and had a similar experience with the urchins. Lazaro was there when it was time to go back. Due to his unsustained effort and resulting velocity, we got to know Lazaro very well. We arrived a little late for dinner at the Casa. After sitting down to eat, we noticed the elixir of our dreams. A small glass bottle with a familiar label, it was Tabasco Sauce. This part of our trip could now have some extra punch.

Looking out from Punta Perdiz near Playa Larga, Cuba

In the morning we found a different pedaler to take us to a shuttle bus we caught in front of the divers tourist hotel. We got off at the Cueva de los Pesces, which is an underwater cave, located across the road from the beach. After putting on snorkeling gear we saw a shimmery curtain of water where the fresh and salt water mixed together. There were amazing light beams reflecting off the bottom of the main pool. I swam thorough a narrow passage in the limestone and while looking down through the crystal water forty feet to the bottom, I was reminded of a slot canyon I had been to in Arizona. We went across the street to a rocky shoreline on the Bay where we rented a chaise lounge and scored some free shade. This wasn't a sandy beach and getting in and out of the water took some doing. The visibility was amazing and the water was full of all types of colorful coral and fish.It was totally alive without any bleaching or algae covering. I wanted to swim from one coral head to another forever but realized sooner or later I would have to return to the shore. It was a great snorkel, with a forty foot wall 30 yards off the beach for divers. When it was David's turn to go in he took his camera with a waterproof gizmo that kept it dry as he took pictures of coral and fish from different perspectives by a lot of surface diving We went back into town and had a superb grilled fish dinner at the Casa. Odalis was a great cook.

Cenote reflections (HDR) at the Cueva de lose Pesces near Playa Larga, Cuba

We discovered a dive shop at the big hotel that offered an inexpensive snorkeling trip early the next morning. Before meeting the group of divers, David, the eating machine, found the town's bakery and bought 20 hamburger rolls for 80 cents. They were still warm and we shared the bread with other divers and crew. One of the dive instructors said "El Pueblo esta contigo," "The village is with you" when David handed him the bread. Big smiles all around. We piled into a modified truck and revisited our favorite snorkeling spot. I figured this was my last salty for a while so I stayed in the water until I was far beyond pruney. David and I were snorkeling together and we looked for interesting corals to photograph. I saw a very pretty fish I had never seen before,a rare event. It was black with very white stripes and a spotted tail and fins. There was a book with pictures of all the fish in the area and I was able to identify it as a Spotted Drum. The instantly likable Divemaster, aren't they all, knew it was right off the bat. There was also live conch which I hadn't seen for quite a while. On the trip back the Divemaster told me that with my hat on I looked like a Cubano. Bigger smiles all around.

After dinner Miguel and I had an animated discussion about the glories of socialism and the evils of capitalism. He thought socialism consisted of everyone sharing things for the betterment of all and capitalism was just "me, me, me, me." I had mixed sentiments but wasn't totally at odds with his take on things. We talked about this while watching a Clint Eastwood movie coming through his cable box on his 30" Sony TV. We listened to it through a JVC sound system that would have popped Marty McFly Back To the Future and put Radio Raheem to shame I speculated that Miguel would never have invited Lazaro in to have a beer and share in his bounty, but who knows. Denial ain't just a river.

Looking out from Punta Perdiz near Playa Larga, Cuba

Next morning before dawn we went to a corner where we were told the bus north to Vinales would originate. We asked who was last in line "El Ultimo?" which is the way people establish the order of boarding the bus in a civilized manner. To our dismay the bus had made several stops before ours and was completely jammed SRO. David had foreseen something like this and told the driver I couldn't stand up for the entire trip. One guy got up right a way,and gave me his seat, a very kind gesture. I sat down with the backpacks on my lap. There were about fifty people seated and over fifty standing. This 60 mile cram and jostle cost around 10 cents and took two hours. We had considered a cab at $30 but David thought we needed at least one genuine ride on a "People's Bus" and I agreed. We arrived at a highway junction and caught a bus that took us to Vinales.

Playa Giron had an amazing underwater world that was as good as I've seen anywhere; alive and thriving. We enjoyed our our small town experience and the little bottle of hot sauce made Playa Giron all the better.I love the ocean and this spot made me feel at home.

Next Stop Vinales, P.S. Side note: All the water towers throughout Cuba are shaped like flying saucers. No Lie. Additionally, the entire trip I wasn't bit by any bug or larger animal of any kind.