Last Tuesday Evan and I went on the Cuba Sugar, Cigar and Rum tour, which we booked through our travel rep Sunwing. The tour probably should have been called Cuba City, Sugar, Cigar, Rum, Steam Train, Crocodiles and Mangroves because those are all the things we did. The tour tan from 9am to 4pm, so it was a long one. Evan’s mom did this same tour last year and told us all about it, so we knew what we were in for. Just a warning, this will probably be long.
First of all, our tour guide Amabelle was fantastic. She was super friendly and knowledgeable, and I was so impressed with her Spanish, English AND French.
Our first stop was along the causeway that separates Jardines del Rey (the King’s Gardens, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo) from mainland Cuba. The causeway is 27 kilometres long and was built in 1989, marking the beginning of the resort construction in Cayo Coco.
Just a quick stop to take a picture of this…crown.
Next we stopped at a hotel just outside of Moron City to do the bathroom thing and grab a pina colada.
And live music! My favourite.
All the bands we saw were so good!
We stopped for maybe 20 minutes and then were on our way to Moron City. I was the most excited about this part of our tour. Our first activity was a horse and carriage ride through the city.
We made friends with Michelle and Kenton, also from Toronto, while we were waiting for the bus to pick us up in the morning, so they were our carriage buddies.
We ended up watching the entertainment with them for the rest of the nights we were there. And Michelle even got us into the disco on the resort one night. They are a good time.
Our horse and buggy took us down the main street of Moron. It is no Havana, but it was still interesting to see real Cuba.
Here is the Moron high school:
This is the oldest hotel in Moron:
Michelle and I…
I think the ride through the city was my favourite part of the entire tour.
The streets were busy with people, and it was just cool to see. Bikes definitely seemed to be the preferred method of transportation, but I did see a few old cars.
Moron was founded in 1543 (crazy!), currently has a population of about 63,000, and is also known as the City of the Rooster. We stopped in the oldest part of the city and had about half an hour of free time to wander around. There were a bunch of shops selling souvenirs here as well (basically the same souvenirs you find in the hotel, at the airport, and in the market by our hotel, however you could bargain more here).
In the above photo, on the corner of the street to the right, there were a few ladies with a food cart selling some kind of deep fried dough wrapped in some kind of carb. Evan and I made a beeline for it and were just handing over our peso to try it when our tour guide came running over yelling “No! Please don’t buy food from the street!” She said she was afraid we might get sick, which, I appreciate her concern…but I dunno. We abandoned our street food mission, but I regretted it afterwards and I still regret it now.
Also in that area is the Reguero Theater.
And the oldest Catholic church in the country.
It’s also the oldest construction still standing in the city.
In the middle of that area is the Ignacio Agramonte Park
In the park we noticed all of these bird cages up on trees, and on the street on poles.
That one is empty, but the rest were filled with birds. Like canary birds. We asked Amabelle what was up with the birds and she said that the locals like to bring their birds here and bet with each other on whose bird would sing the loudest/most. I still don’t know if she was pulling our leg, but I am going to choose to believe her because that sounds hilarious and entertaining.
A note if you are going here, and your tour guide should warn you about this also, but just keep an eye out for beggars. People will try to give you flowers and such, but they are not for free. They will want money for them. But just say no thank you and you’ll be good. We didn’t encounter anyone who was pushy, but you never know. We found the sweetest little boy in the park with his dad and we spent about 5 minutes trying to ask him why he wasn’t in school, until Amabelle came over and translated to him. It was spring break! All the kids in Moron had the week off.
Next we stopped at this weird art gallery (but everything was for sale, so I’m going to say it was a store) where all the art was made out of forks and spoons, so that was…interesting. But I felt like it was just thrown into the tour.
I really enjoyed the Moron part of this trip, and I wish we could have spent more time exploring there. Do you know how badly I wanted to check out that supermarket?! It was my dream! If you are wanting to just see Moron City and not do all the other things on this tour, our cab driver Vladimir from the other day offered to take us into the city and be our guide for the day for $70 CUC. Evan and I may have done that had we found out about it before we booked our tour. If I ever go back again that’s what I’ll be doing.
Next on our tour was the sugar mill, which is no longer running because sugar is no longer Ciego de Avila’s hottest commodity – tourism is! So the old sugar mill has turned into a museum. For the tourists.
We started our tour with drink concoction made with honey and lemon, and some other ingredients that I can’t remember, that the slaves that worked there used to drink to give them energy.
It looked like horse pee and it didn’t taste much better (I’m guessing), but once there was rum in it is was easier to choke it down.
Then they showed us how sugar was originally made back in the day.
A slave would shove the sugar cane through the cylinders above (this was my role), while bulls attached to the…I don’t know how to describe it…levers I guess, would walk around in a circle and make the gears move, pressing the sugar cane and making the liquid sugar drip into the pan below. Sorry, I’m horrible at explaining things.
Then the liquid sugar would be put into kilns, where the sugar would crystalize.
Pretty interesting stuff.
That was until sugar became a larger operation…
Same thing but on a larger scale.
To transport the sugar they used steam trains.
Annnnd, we got to ride on one!
We all hopped on this old train and took a 15 minute ride through the countryside.
I think the ride on the steam train was the highlight for Evan. It was his dream.
We passed a couple of villages on our ride, and some of the residents came out to wave at us.
Actually, Julio from Coco Indio says he lives right near here, but he wasn’t home (I asked him if he was going to be, haha). If he was home I totally would have arranged for us to come over 🙂
We also passed a TON of mango trees. I actually picked one when we got off the train, but it wasn’t ripe yet. That was sad.
We stopped for lunch at Rancho Palma.
We started with sugar cane juice (with rum, of course), and then we had a good authentic Cuban lunch.
Lots of pork and chicken. Always pork and chicken. And that pumpkin, OMG. So good.
Paula, this photo is just for you.
I hope those bunnies weren’t for eating.
As we were leaving we got a cigar and a bottle of rum as a souvenir (this is where the cigar and rum in the name came in), so that was pretty sweet.
Our next stop was a crocodile farm. Or, cocodrilo farm.
I have never seen crocodiles that big so close up before. They truly look like dinosaurs. They are scary. But also quite lazy.
Well, lazy until you dangle a slab of meat in front of them.
Delicious. Amabelle explained that they keep the crocodiles on the farm because they are trying to save them. There are many people who want to do bad things to the crocodiles.
Lucky me got to hold a baby cocodrilo.
The crocodile HATED me. He really tried to break free of my grasp, but I forced a snuggle on him, and he eventually gave up trying to escape.
Look at that eyeball though. He still did not like it. Evan does not enjoy reptiles and had zero interest in being anywhere near the baby crocodile.
I also made a bird friend.
And then this happened.
I am so lucky he didn’t poop on me.
The very last stop on our tour was a boat ride on Rodondo Lake.
Rodondo is a freshwater lake with a huge mangrove swamp. That’s where we were headed.
Straight into the mangroves.
It was really, really cool. I was wearing my bathing suit in case an impromptu chance to swim in paradise came up (you never know, and I want to be ready), but you do not want to swim in this lake. Lots of scary things in here. I can’t remember what, but I heard cocodrilos and spiders, and no thanks.
We did see the cutest little hummingbird hanging out in his little hummingbird nest. I’ve never seen a hummingbird nest before, it looked like a cocoon.
Sometimes our boat would go through patches of this really weird moss…
And then our guide Roberto would suddenly have a beard.
A comedian, as I said. He actually swung from one of the mangroves like Tarzan. Like, grabbed a branch, swung himself out of the boat, and then back into the boat. Twice. I thought he was going to get eaten by a cocodrilo for sure.
But I liked Roberto. He let us drive the boat.
The boat ride was quite the experience. I’m glad it was included.
And that’s it! The end of our tour. Back to the bus and back to our hotel. A full day of fun. What I liked about this tour is that it gave us the chance to see a taste of real Cuba. We did a TON of stuff. It’s a little bit of everything. What I did not like about this tour is that I was locked into a tour and couldn’t do exploring on my own. I think next time I go back to Cuba (I’m obviously going back), I want to do the Havana thing. And I would like to do a tour, but I also want to just explore.