We woke early our second day at Finca la Guabina. I’d like to say it was the excitement of going horse riding, but that would be a lie. Even after a few rums the night before, it’s impossible to sleep through the cacophony of noise that dawn in the Cuban countryside brings with it. Cockerels shattered the peace and quiet well before the sun actually rose, something we’re just not used to hearing anymore.
Judging by the level of the noise, I’d say there were easily two or three thousand cockerels hard at work alerting anyone who would listen (as if we had a choice) to the arrival of a new day. I dragged myself to the bathroom silently hoping that it would be pollo for lunch.
After breakfast we met Ernesto our guide and our unenthusiastic looking mounts. At first my horse refused to move. I didn’t blame him, it was early morning and I wouldn’t have fancied carrying me around for four hours either. Our guide rode back with a switch he’d cut from a bush. I didn’t have to use it, the horse knew the power had tilted in my favour and decided to cooperate.
We were soon out in the open countryside and our guide asked if we wanted to go up into the hills. For the next three hours we rode on trails through the forested hills that stretch across the north of the estate. It was blissful, silence except for our horses’ hooves and the wind in the trees.
We emerged into a small village where time seemed to have stopped half a century earlier. People sat in rocking chairs, pigs wandered about, hens and geese scraped for food, and washing hung in colourful lines in the hot sun.
Cowboys rode past with machetes dangling from their saddles like it was the most normal thing in the world. I was half expecting Sergio Leone to pop out from behind a bush and shout ‘cut’. We arrived back at the main house in time for lunch, our horses seemed relieved to be rid of us and happily parked themselves in the shade of a nearby tree.
Over lunch we met a Dutch family who advised us to take a walk down a trail to a bridge that was “a lot of fun to cross” and that “locals run over it”. It was the sort of bridge that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom. One false step, one rotten plank and you’d plunge into the water below. Half way across I realised I should have checked whether Cuba has alligators.
We reached the other side safely and walked around the lake to a hilltop with lovely views. There were a group of men constructing a barn on top of the hill. In a scene reminiscent of the barn building scene in another Harrison Ford film, Witness, they were stood on the building and using an ox and cart to pull the roof upright. It was fun to watch even though there weren’t any Amish in sight.
It was only from the hilltop that we realised there was no alternative way back to the main house. We’d have to cross back over the bridge, only this time in fading light. It was Xmas Eve and we had a traditional treat of roast pork for dinner waiting for us when we got back. We had an early night planned thanks to a pre-dawn pickup and what was supposed to be a five hour journey to Cienfuegos…
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“When the rooster crows at the break of dawn…”