Soroa, Cuba - Escape to the Countryside
Soroa, the 'Rainbow of Cuba' a natural settlement and mountain resort lying 95 km south west of Havana was HEAVEN following Havana.
It is not as common a tourist destination as Vinales which lies further west but the scenery is magnificent, so it's worth a stop. There are a few small tourist attractions in Soroa that you could manage in a day. One of these is a short walk to a waterfall. It cost us $3 CUC each to access the path leading down to the fall.
Half way down we passed a small group of natural pools and waterfalls and a cute little bar. The barman greeted us when we passed and asked us where we were from, making small talk. Usually you pass these little bars and food carts and the owners just shout 'SANDWICH!' or 'PINA COLADA, CUBA LIBRE, MOJITO!!' at you.
The barman, Reynier, pointed us in the direction of the waterfall. We walked past a restaurant style table with small chairs positioned in front of the bar and small pools.
I definitely wanted to come back here for a Mojito!
The waterfall was beautiful and when we returned, Reynier greeted us again with a great beaming smile. We took a seat by the bar next to a bunch of hanging bananas and enjoyed a lovingly prepared Mojito. We couldn't have asked for a more idyllic setting.
Reynier beckoned us over to the bar. His eyes darted from left to right, he tilted his head and lowered his voice. "Hey, hey" he said, "I can do for you something veeery special. Come." Oh God, I thought, he's going to offer us drugs. "I make for you a veeery cheap, traditional Cuban meal...is better than the hotel and only $4 CUC per person." His voice lowered to a whisper "only you need to tell me day before so I can prepare." Ha ha! An invitation to dinner! SOLD!
The food in our hotel was so awful I welcomed any alternative. We explained that we were staying for another 2 days and that on either of those days, depending on availability, we would be hiking in the Sierra Del Rosario - an area 17 km away that is reported as having some of the best hikes in Cuba. Depending on how long that took and if we could find a guide, we couldn't make any promises.
The deal was we had to let him know before 5:00 pm a day in advance so he could prepare the food, and he explained that to waive the entrance fee to the waterfall, we could walk about half a km further down the road and climb through the gate into the forest, down a path and cross the stream which led directly to his bar.
The next day we hiked and made it back just in time to tell Reynier that we would love to have lunch at his bar the following day. We took the secret trail - an easy adventure - and arrived at his bar where he set up the table for us. Whilst Reynier waited for his friend to arrive with the food we ordered drinks and sat by the water's edge.
Freshly picked bananas for starters, followed by salad with a marinade Reynier prepared at the bar using lime and rum. Rice and the freshest tasting, tenderest chicken I had tasted in a long time.
Tourists passed by with no intention of stopping. Most tourists here arrived as part of a coach tour, with limited time and there didn't seem to be any independent travellers around which was sad for local businessmen like Reynier, who relied on tourism.
As we chatted with him, potential clients passed us by and I could see he was missing valuable opportunities so I backed off. In a desperate bid to lure them in he listed out loud what was available at the bar "Mojito, Cuba Libre, Cerveza..." and turned to us imitating a desperate puppy, making fun of himself. Although it wasn't funny - I could see how tough it was for him and he seemed a bit embarrassed.
After we ate he talked with us about the future improvements he was planning on making to his bar and he asked us about our travel around Cuba. He offered us a place to stay and guided tours to areas off the beaten track. I told him that we wouldn't have time to return unfortunately but that I would promote his bar and his casa on tripadvisor, and that I would be sure to mention him in my blog. He jumped on it, asking for pictures to be taken of his bar and scribbled down his contact details. I could see that not many opportunities for promoting his business came along often.
He was so so happy - I could sense a million thoughts buzzing around in his head. He mentioned something about a son and I asked him if he meant his son. He jumped behind the bar and pulled out a photo album of his baby boy, Bryan. Instantly I had this guy figured.
Here's a man who was proud of his business, constantly striving to do better and jumping on any opportunity with this relentless positivity. He was sad he didn't know sooner that Seamus was a carpenter, as he was planning on building more tables with fancy umbrellas to make the place more inviting for people. He had big plans for his little bar... always thinking ahead. I could imagine him dreaming everything up in bed at night and then trying his hardest every day to turn his dreams into reality.
A hard worker, who loves his family; Reynier taught me that every opportunity in life, no matter how small is worth seizing - it's the small things in life, and love and family that makes you happy, helping you to aspire for more.