|We had a good plan - rent a car for 5 days and drive around the western end of Cuba to explore the region/province called Pinar del Rio. All organised to pick the car up on the Monday morning at 10:00, a good civilised hour that would allow the early rush to get out of the way. After waiting for about 45 mins for the previous client get organised we eventually did the paperwork, and I checked the car over to find that it had a flat spare. Off to the garage to pump it up (the car hire lady), and didn't return for over 30 mins, and on checking again, found they must have had to do a repair! OK, so pack our bags in and head off, only to notice a bad noise coming from the left front end immediately we started moving. Pulled over when it was safe to do so, to fing one missing stud, another broken, and the other 2 very loose.... Don't panic, just tighten it all up and drive back to the rental agency (gingerly).
To cut a long story short, we eventually got going in a slightly more reliable car at 2:00pm, and after cutting the hire period back to 4 days, needed to head straight to the town of Pinar del Rio for provisions, then on to the beach areas to find a bed. A bit weird driving on the right side of the road and sitting in the left hand side - after 34 years driving on the LHS, its not a simple matter to change it all around. So a little more concentration required..... and you had to play 'find the traffic lights', because they seemed to be placed in random places (only one light on each approach!).
It took about 20 mins to clear Havanna, which was quicker and easier than we anticipated - beauty! The on to the Autopista, a 4 to 6 lane freeway running all the way to Pinar del Rio town. This was built when Cuba was experiencing better times, and since the Special Period when fuel and lots of other services were rationed, there are very few vehicles on the roads. We only passed a vehicle about every 5 minutes, and these would be either cars, trucks, bikes, or horse drawn wagons. Seemed kinda strange having the road pretty much to ourselves, but meant a good run and a good chance to check out the scenery. Lots of the typical Cuban palm trees, bananas, rice, sugar cane, and as we went further west, tobacco. It is just to the south west of Pinar del Rio that they grow the best tobacco for cigars, and one paticular field has the honour of being the best in the world!
We kept going after quickly getting provisions in Pinar, then headed for the beach areas where we hoped to stay in some bungalows on a beach that we read about in the guides. What we hadn't counted on was the cyclones last year wiping the resorts out, so after quite a while driving over very rough local roads and needing to find somewhere to stay we eventually decidied to head inland. To cut a long story short, we eventually found a bed at about 11:00pm, after driving around in the dark on roads with very few signs etc..... The next day we checked out more of the local area then made our way to Viñales, a smal town in the centre of a very pretty area known for its mogotes, or large limestone hills with straight sides and flat tops like mesas. This is also home to probably the world's largest mural (see pic), commissioned by Fidel and originally took 15 artists 5 years to complete! Totally missable though, as the evolution themed design is pretty ordinary!
And in this part of Cuba they have the smallest bird in the world - the hummingbird commonly called a zunzun. These are tiny, and we aren't really sure if we saw one, even though we have now seen hummingbirds in nearly every country we've been in since Peru. Zunzuns are only 5 cm from tip of beak to tip of tail and weigh only 2 ounces! The attcahed pic is from a book, just to give you an idea of the size!
A great drive to the beach at Cayo Justias for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico, and a bag of mangoes for lunch from the side of the road for about $1 took up most of the next day, then it was great drives through the hills from Viñales to Soroa for our next stay. The scenery and landscape kept us looking for photos the red soil was a standout. A drive to check out Las Terrazas had us running out of fuel, even though the gauge indicated we had at least 1/4 tank! The sender unit was way out, and may have been a ploy by the car rental company.... Three hours later and some very helpful security guards and we were back on the road again. Met some great blokes who shared some fruit with us and kept us entertained.
Drove back into Havanna without any dramas by about 10:30am Friday, with some relief, and began planning the next part of our trip after a very relaxing arvo.