Trailer Topics Magazine, May 1957
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Last lap for us on the Central Highway going east was through the mountains to Santiago de Cuba . Although we had been in a lot of mountains about 350 miles to the West, we were surprised at the much more extensive and beautiful Sierra Maestra Range we were now passing through.

Twenty one kilometers West of Santiago de Cuba the road goes through the village of El Cobre. In this town is a famous church which is visited by people from all over Cuba.

Santiago de Cuba is the Eastern terminus of the Central Highway and capitol of Oriente Province. Just as we started down the final hill into Santiago de Cuba we passed the entrance to the Rancho Club Motel on our right. A very tall radio tower is alongside the motel. We immediately had the feeling that we should have turned in. About a quarter of a mile down the hill there was a good turn around on our right so we went back. They had never had a trailer in the place, of course, and we couldn't stay there without renting a room. We decided to stay and they let us put the trailer on the grass opposite our motel door. We immediately treated ourselves to hot showers and then decided to go into town for lunch. Some of the streets we got on were as steep as any in San Francisco and just wide enough for a car and very narrow walk. This is the second largest city in the Republic and many streets in the business district are not wide enough for two way traffic. Corners are 100 per cent blind. Horn sounding is the rule at the corners. Painted lines either on the street pavement or up the side of the building show you how far back from the corner to stop if there is a traffic light or officer on duty. These lines are back a couple of car lengths from the corner and must be observed. If a stranger ever got downtown with a trailer the only chance of getting out would be to get a guide in the car, but fast. When entering a city there is a large Shell station on the left just a mile down the hill from Rancho Club Motel. This situation is as far in as I would venture in a trailer.

We were getting hungry and couldn't figure out which street parking was for private cars and which for taxis only. We saw a parking lot and went in. It was in the heart of town and only 10 cents per hour. After walking a few blocks we liked the looks of the Venus Restaurant. While enjoying a good Spanish meal we noticed a young colored man come in and talk to our waiter obviously with reference to us. The youth sat down in a chair and kept casting glances our way. In a few minutes an old man selling national lottery tickets obtained permission from our waiter to try to sell us tickets. We couldn't understand him at all but he was persistent in spite of our decisive "No's." The young colored man then came over and interpreted. With his assistance we settled on one 25 cent ticket. The young man introduced himself as Ernest Smith and showed us his identification papers. He briefed us on his family, how he learned English and his qualifications as a local guide. We were going to the Tourist Commission with our letter from the Havana Office but soon decided to hire Ernest instead. First stop was his home. His mother entertained us while he changed into dressier clothes. They showed us through the house and we were off to see the city and surrounding points of interest and to get the ice factory located.

We visited San Juan Hill where the final battle of the Spanish-Cuban-American was was fought in 1898. Morro Castle, the ancient Spanish Fort guarding the harbor entrance, is even more impressive than the Morro Castle in Havana. Ernest showed us all the different sections of the city including rich, middle class and poor residential sections. Since this is the second city of Cuba, a guide for at least one half day is a good investment - all day would be better.

When checking into the motel we had been in a rush to unhitch, clean up and go to town, so hadn't looked around there. Upon returning in the evening the view nearly floored us. To the south the whole city and busy deep see harbor spread out below. Except for this section looking over the city and out to sea, the entire area was ringed by mountains. Directly down the slope from the top of our hill were little farms, sugar cane fields, houses made of bamboo and palm fronds, a number of comical looking goats, then streets, houses, shops, and people carrying on a multitude of activities. Fascinating scenes to foreign eyes, particularly when we brought things close up with our binoculars, unbeknown to the people we had in focus. To us these views alone were worth the price of the room, $8.00 per day. We had a leisurely late evening dinner on the patio of the motel's open air restaurant which overlooks the twinkling lights of the busy city far below. As we relaxed on the spacious and quiet private grounds of the motel and took advantage of hot showers, electricity, privacy and air conditioning, we realized the past ten days had been a bit on the strenuous side.

After resting and sightseeing a few days we headed west. The only province we had missed was Pinar del Rio which lies west of Havana. We took the Central Highway all the way back to Matanzas, where we got directions from friends how to by-pass Havana. The sketch and directions they gave us proved to be good. We successfully made this unmarked route as follows:

From Matanzas to Pinar del Rio (by-pass Havana)
Mile0-LV   Matanzas
Mile 52 Turn left off Central Highway in town of Cuatro Caminos.
Mile 65 Turn right at Texaco station at Santiago de las Vegas onto four-lane highway to Rancho Boyeros.
Mile 69.5 Pass large Mental Hospital and turn sharp left soon after passing hospital grounds.
Mile 72 Road turns right at main corner of Wajay.
Mile 76 Intersect Central Highway at Arroyo Arenas. Turn left to go west. Central Highway is good to Pinar del Rio.
Mile 122 Side road to mountain resort of Soroa is one mile West of Candelaria. Leave trailer in Esso station at road junction while taking side trip to Soroa. This station would be a good over-night stop. (Soroa side trip mileage not included in this log.)
Mile 179 Enter Pinar del Rio, west terminus of Central Highway. Parking available at big Esso Servicentro across the street from the Hospital at East edge of the city. Interesting side trips can be taken from here to beautiful beaches, mountains and valleys.

Pinar del Rio is the Capitol of the Province of the same name. It is a city of about 60,000 population and is in the heart of Cuba's famous tobacco country. The houses of the tobacco farmers are picturesque, but it is apparent that tobacco growing farmers don't get too much cash.

When ready to return to Havana we took the North Circuit and regard it as the outstanding scenic day of the entire trip. We allowed mmost of the day for the 140-mile journey but darkness caught up with us at the end of 115 milesw. The road winds and twists through mountains, valleys and along high coastal ridges with breathtaking vists of sea-ports to the left and mountains to the right. It went through pine forests and hardwoods and was the only time we were "out in the woods" in Cuba. Looking down into the Valley of Vinales was perhaps the most beautiful view we had in Cuba. This road is not too wide nnor smooth and 20 m.p.h. is about right to enjoy a trailer trip over it. A log of our trip on it was as follows:

Pinar del Rio to Havana by North Circuit:
Mile 0 Turn north at Servicentro, east end of Pinar del Rio.
Mile 14 Turnout for beautiful view of Valle de Vinales.
Mile 35 Road turns left at main business corner in La Palma.
Mile 106 Junction with Central Highway at Guanajay.
Mile 114 Caimito del Guayabal - Shell station west end of town - over-night stop.
Mile 126 Arroyo Arenas. Turn sharp right off Central Highway as you enter city limits to by-pass Havana.
Mile 130 Road turns left at main corner of Wajay.
Mile 132.5 Turn right onto four-lane highway Rancho Boyeros.
Mile 137 Turn left at Texaco station at Santiago de las Vegas.
Mile 150 Intersect Central Highway at town of Cuatro Caminos.
Mile 126 Continue straight ahead to stay on Central Highway into Havana.
Mile 133 Highway turns left onto Puentas Grandes.
Mile 134 Sharp right turn onto four-lane highway. End of rough road.
Mile 134.3 Left turn onto Avenue Agua Dulce.
Mile 137.2 Havana-Key West Ferry entrance on left.
Mile 138.2 Via Blanca straight ahead. Central Highway to Matanzas right.

We learned so many things and observed so many straight sights it would take a book to describe them all.

We met hundreds of people all over the country who were interested in us and the trailer. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, nurses, dentists, retired bankers, professors, school teachers, truck drivers, salesmen and housewives were among those who came to the gas stations and introduced themselves. They took us to their homes, offered us trailer space in their yards, and gave us their phone numbers in case they could be of assistance any time. They gave us their time to show us the sights and to get acquainted with ice house locations, etc. Many people talked to us who hope to be able to travel by trailer in Cuba and the United States. One business man was interested in selling trailers. We hadn't the slightest idea people were going to be so nice to us and that goes for the gas station people too.

The scarcity of highway litter and signboards increased the pleasure of country driving. Driving habits and conditions were definitely different but as soon as we learned them they made sense. At first the horn blowing was worrysome but there is nothing personal in it. It replaces stop signs.

With the exception of the Havana area, it's not too hard to locate a highway on the outskirts of a city because highways are the only paved roads out into the country.

New gas stations are being built all over and they are already plentiful. There is only one grade of gas in Cuba and it is good. In Havana it's 32 cents per gallon, 33-1/2 in Matanzas, 35 cents in Camaguay and Santiago de Cuba. It looks as if there are more jeeps in Cuba than in the U.S. The Island is about 800 miles long and varies in width from 40 to over 100 miles. A road building program is in progress. Good road maps can be obtained in gas stations. Distances are given in kilometers. 1.6 kilometers is equal to 1 mile - for rough figuring make it 2/3rds. For example, 90 kilometers is roughly 60 miles.

Some of the crops that interested us most were the bananas, pineapples, tobacco, rice, citrus groves and endless sugar cane fields. Coffee is grown in the mountains. There are lots of fine cattle and a great variety of goats.

The absence of forests interested us and we were informed that lack of conservation practices caused their depletion. The Island is full of large Royal Palms but we couldn't see many young ones. We were told that there is a fine for killing a Royal Palm. They are said to be a nuisance in the fields so the farmers see to it that young ones don't get started. If this is true something will have to be done about it. Without Royals, half of Cuba's beauty would be gone. the fruit from the Royal Palms is used for hog feed.

There are no poisonous snakes in Cuba. Ants and other bugs and insects seem mighty scarce compared to Florida and California.

We noted with interest the small breed of horses in the Western half of Cuba.

Cubans are rabid baseball fans. They get the world series direct on TV using planes to relay the signals.

In the country almost everyone has a machete. It is the all round tool used for cutting everything from a lawn to sugar cane.

In the old cities very narrow handlebars on bikes are noticeable. There isn't room for standard width on the narrow streets.

Throughout the country the buildings are painted brilliant colors. White isn't nearly as popular as in Florida. Residences are built with no space between them and right out to the sidewalk. The beauty and spaciousness of the rooms and patios within were a real surprise.

Many of our newly made Cuban friends warned us never to leave the car or trailer even for half a minute without locking them. We were also told not to leave cameras, sunglasses or other articles in sight in the car when it was locked. We followed their advice carefully about this and consequently had no unpleasant experiences from loss or theft.

Since gasoline is cheaper in Havana than Key West, we left room to take on gasoline from whatever Havana station we parked in. On the ferry the car got a bit salty and sooty, so a wash job was in order too.

We neglected to bring pictures of our family and house. We were frequently asked if we had such pictures and were sorry we had nothing to show in return for the photos they showed us.

A few old copies of trailer magazines were in the trailer but we should have brought more. Folks were interestd in seeing the variety of trailers, aluminum roofs, trailer parks, etc. When someone was seriously intereste in trailers, we would give them a copy.

In my opinion the only thing that has kept trailering from getting a start in Cuba was the lack of practical transportation between the U.S. and Cuba. A number of Cubans who could obviously afford trailering for pleasure showed intense interest in our way of life. Now that the 90-mile water barrier has been bridged by the City of Havana I am sure that many, many United States trailerists will start to visit this great little country. Cubans will also get trailers and travel in both countries.

It seems to us that trailer parks should be established first near the beaches of Havana and Varadero. Americans would use them all winter and Cubans would use them in the summer. These beach resorts are cool all year round.

The English-Spanish language barrier means that we who can't speak Spanish would miss a lot of pleasant conversation over here. But what would be a better hobby than to bring a record player and a course of language teaching records and come for a winter's stay if time permits?

My wife speaks enough Spanish so that our wants were taken care of nicely even in the back country. On our short visit she improved a lot both in speaking and understanding. Often we would drive up somewhere and ask if anyone could speak English and get a negative answer. When my wife would break out in her poor Spanish, often someone would start in with better English. These folks seemed to be afraid to risk making fools of themselves until they saw that Olive would risk it in Spanish.

One of the most pleasant memories of the trip is that in covering the whole country including back roads, we never had reason for a moment to fear for our personal safety.

In additin to the 35 mm. camera we had a polaroid land camera and lots of film for it. Most of the polaroid photos were taken of and for the fellows in the gas stations where we stayed and other folks we liked. If five boys worked in a gas station where we parked and we gave each one a picture of himself, they would really take care of us from then on.

We did a fairly thorough job of seeing the entire country and our total mileage for the trip was less than 2500. The total population of Cuba is approximately 6,000,000, abuot one quarter living in Havana Province.

In the past ten years we have made several trips to Cuba by plane. Staying in hotels and going only to the usual tourist haunts is O.K., but we didn't get acquainted with Cubans or really learn much of their way of life on the flying vacations. We will never go again without our car and trailer and we plan to spend a longer trailer vacation in Cuba before long.