We have climbed up to Topes de Collantes, at 750 metres in the Escambray Mountains. The road up was as much as a 22% grade, but we were both able to stay on our bikes for the whole climb. This was partly thanks to our lovely adopted son Albert, who offered to carry my heavy stuff in his taxi. Albert convinced us that we should join him for a few days in the mountains. He has done all the reservations and arranged great day excursions for all of us. 

It’s cooler and the rugged jungle around us is wonderful for hiking, bird watching and swimming in pools under waterfalls. A perfect paradise with only one glaring problem: finding food during the day.  I must first say that we will not actually starve, as our host serves us a beautiful breakfast and dinner. Lunch is the challenge. There are at least four restaurants within walking distance, so when we first arrived Albert, Gord and I set out to find a place for lunch. We were told at the first cafeteria that they had no food, but if we phoned ahead they could have some tomorrow. Our next stop was a busy bar where plates of fish were being served out. When we enquired about food we were told that they had just run out. Unconcerned, we walked to a recommended house that serves a delicious lunch. Once again she shook her head and said she had no food, but if we arranged it for the following day she would. Gratefully we accepted some of her bananas, which we fell upon famished. 

On our first full day in Topes we did an all day hike snacking only on the peanut bars we brought from Trinidad. When we arrived home our host asked us where we were eating dinner. Apparently we forgot to tell him we wanted to eat with him. Albert couldn’t believe the look on Gordon’s face when he heard the news that dinner was not arranged.  Fortunately, in less than an hour our host made us a beautiful fish dinner. 

The food challenges in Cuba are not entirely about food shortages, although they certainly play a role. For example, today we stopped in at a large restaurant in the morning to let them know we wanted to eat there later. We were told that it wasn’t possible because they only serve tour groups. Marina, the newest member of our travelling family, explained that many government restaurants, like this one, get delivery of the government subsidized food only to resell it to the private businesses. They prefer to sell rather than prepare food!!?! Often they will serve

meals to a couple of prearranged tours, just enough to fall under the government’s radar. 

Availability of food always changes in Cuba and you learn very quickly to take advantage of it when it is available, whether you need it or not. Today we did arrange for a lunch with the lady that gave us bananas the day before. As we were on our way to another hike with full bellies we found a place selling ice cream and local chocolate. Marina insisted we buy it right away, because we might not have the opportunity again. Today was a three full meal day with chocolate and guava ice cream- heaven!  (Postscript:  The following day I returned to the House of Chocolate to find they had neither chocolate nor ice cream.  In fact, despite being fully staffed, they had no food at all.)

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