Let’s get one thing straight: I only camp if I have to. I refuse to camp a quarter mile down the road from a motel or a B&B. Camping is the kind of roughing that I never quite understood (what does the expression “happy camper” even mean?!). Having to wear your shoes in the shower, communal bathrooms, spilling water all over your bedding because there’s no flat surface anywhere, finding spiders in your shoes… I could go on.
But I’ll camp if that’s the only option (such as backpacking or La Mula) of shelter for the night. And I’ll do my best to keep my mouth shut, not complain and try to think of this temporary homelessness as an adventure.
When we arrived in La Mula, I was not complaining! I was just so happy to see people and drinking water!
I was expecting pretty basic camping huts and not much else. Before leaving the all-inclusive resort that morning we helped ourselves to some food for the road. We took bread, bananas and I still had some peanut butter bars that I bought in town a while back. So we had some food, expecting there to be none at La Mula.
We were pleasantly surprised! La Mula not only had a little convenience store, with cold water, cold beer and snacks, it also served three meals a day! There is a cafeteria there. You just pre-order your dinner (breakfast and lunch) and they’ll tell you when to come back. So we pre-ordered our dinners and of course started drinking beer right away. You need carbs when you’re biking.
La Mula is a campismo for Cubans. There is a beach there, mountains nearby (with Cuba’s highest peak, Pico Turqiuino just down the road) and nice little cabins. If you’re a foreigner, it takes a little bit of knowhow and ingenuity to reserve a place here though. The knowhow we apparently lacked, because when we showed up and announced our arrival, we were told they weren’t expecting us and the camp was full!
Here’s what you need to know, in case you ever want to stay at a Cuban campismo (La Mula is not the only one. There are many of these vacation spots around the island.):
Make your reservations in the province you’ll be staying in!!!
This means, if you want to stay in La Mula (located in the Santiago de Cuba province), don’t travel like we did, from Granma to Santiago de Cuba. Go the opposite way! Start in Santiago de Cuba and travel westward towards Granma. This is because the only office that will guarantee your La Mula reservations is the Santiago de Cuba office.
Nedene and I tried reserving our spot at the campismo office in Bayamo. It caused quite a commotion. We sat at the Bayamo office for about 45 minutes, several people were recruited to our cause, calls were made, encouraging words spoken, the director of operations showed up to wish us luck and other employees stopped by to say hola and to ask if we’re serious about biking to La Mula. In the end they assured us that we’d have a spot reserved. As sincere as I’m sure the Bayamo office employees were, they were not able to secure us our reservations from Granma province to Santiago de Cuba province.
So learn from our experience! Trust no one outside of the Santiago de Cuba office!
Realizing how royally SOL we were, I just sat there wondering if I should be getting hysterical, but I was so tired and the beer was so relaxing… I trusted in the universe and the basic Cuban decency. Cubans are nice people. Some are explicitly nice. However, unlike most Cubans, the woman in charge at the campismo check-in office was not explicitly nice, but I could tell there was nice creeping in underneath her bureaucratic facade.
I think she wanted us to go away, because we were foreigners who were invading the island, booking up not only places that were readily available to us, but the ones designated for Cubans as well. (Am I assuming that was her motivation? Yeah, I am. It’s just what it felt like to me.) But then we really had nowhere to go. Going forward, to Chivirico would take another four hours or so. We already traveled for eight and would rather sleep on the rocky beach than bike for another four. So she offered us option B. Tent camping!
This event marks the very first time in my life I was happy to hear the words “tent camping.” (I guess you could say that I was now a “happy camper.”)
She could spare two tents, 4 CUC per person. Were we interested?
We were ecstatic! Not only did they set up two tents for us, the tents were lined with thick, comfortable mattresses, wrapped in crisp clean sheets, extra sheets for us to use as covers, and clean towels as well.
Since there were five of us, we decided to split 3 and 2. Stuart would have to share a tent with one of the ladies. Jo drew the short straw and ended up in a tent with Stu.
Everything about La Mula felt luxurious to me. Even the stinky toilets. It was so nice to know we had shelter, we had water, we had dinner cooking. The place was swarming with pigs, chickens and goats and we were amongst friendly, curious Cubans who offered to teach me Spanish.
The pigs were great because they kept the whole place really clean. They wondered around, ignoring people, and just cleaned the place up. I know that pigs are suppose to be really smart animals, but in my experience, they don’t really seem to make much of an effort to connect with us humans. They don’t look you in the eye, don’t react when you say “hey pig” hoping for a good picture, and so they get eaten. I think if they made more of an effort to be more pleasant, maybe then Cubans wouldn’t eat so much pork. Then again, maybe not. I pretty much had pork every day while in Cuba…
That night we had a great introduction to how Cubans like to party! I think all five of us will from now on refer to any all night bash as La Mula.
That evening a large pick up truck showed up and out spilled 20 to 30 young Cubans. They found a spot to sit near our tents, cracked open bottles of rum and started playing music.
They partied all night long! Stuart told them to keep it down (oh, come on, dad…) or move somewhere else, but no one listened. Hey, at least they didn’t light that pile of wood that sat in a fire pit right outside our tents!
At 5 am the truck came back and picked the yoof up. Which meant that we were now able to fall asleep as well.
It really was a great experience and the best camping I could ever ask for!