Thomas Cook's Premium Class might be expensive but the flights are excellent. The inflight entertainment might not be quite as it might be expected ( which doesn't bother me )but the food was surprisingly excellent ( which does!)
20kgs of hand luggage virtually all to myself ( thank you darling!) so I could choose what to take from my ever increasing array of photographic gear. My recently acquired 600mm lens was a must as I was after the world's smallest bird. The choice was then between a 500, a 300 or a 70-200 lens. I took the 70-200 to Sri Lanka and it had little use, the 500 although much more hand holdable than the 600 was really a bit of a duplication so I decided on my 300mm f2.8 which I have been intending selling. It certainly would be better for going walkabout than the 600 but still a bit on the heavy side.
I also took my 24-105mm lens for landscape and general use but since I purchased a pocket Olympus Tough the effort of changing lenses and the bulk of combination with a DSLR has made the former a bit redundant.
Virtually every non avian picture taken was with the Olympus, a cracking little camera for the money. Waterproof too!
Anyway, we arrived in Holguin and to my great relief our rental car was waiting for us. Our plane arrived just before the only other expected on that afternoon and with Premier disembarkation we were through immigration in a flash. Shame the baggage didn't get the priority it should have but never mind. By the time I had waited for the only other customer renting a car to fill in the paperwork, filled mine in and then checked over the car, the airport was deserted.
Our promised newer,bigger, better car turned out not to be a Skoda Fabia but something similar. A Chinese made Geely 1.5 4 door manual. Ever heard of them? No I hadn't either!
The car had seen better days that's for sure. The fact it had lots of scratched and missing bits of paintwork suited me fine. The upholstery was pretty grim too. Excellent. Less chance of me getting stung for additional damage should it happen. I told the hire company rep that I thought I might eventually with time learn to love this car, not a lot, just a little.
From the air, Holguin and surrounds, despite being Cuba's third largest city, seemed very rural.
The drive from the airport was a doddle and a mere 20 minutes later we were at our pre booked hotel,the superbly located Mirador de Maybe.
Views from the hotel are beautiful and it's surrounded by wooded hillside.
At £27 for B&B for the two of us it's not expensive and although the rooms are basic they are more than adequate. As evening was closing in there was no point in chasing birds in the grounds although I was keen to get started. Turkey Vultures were a common sight all the way from the airport and circled over the hotel, the grounds were full of birdsong. The evening meal was tough but tasty, the local beer (Holguin is also Cuba's brewing capital) strong and excellent.
Off to bed early I anticipated dawn!
Cuban birds don't get up too early by and large. The following morning things were quieter than expected but I did find a few Red-legged Thrushes that were quite confiding.
A pair of Northern Parolas high up in a tree, less so and the photographs not worth sharing. Still, two "lifers" to kick off the day was not a bad way to start.
The grounds to the Mirador are certainly worth investigating further, the location perfect for the airport. You need to book in advance though as it is often fully booked as we were to find out to our cost later in our trip.
On our first morning we didn't have time to hang around. Our first destination was to be Moron, nearly 400kms further west. Not knowing, but having been warned about poor driving conditions in Cuba according to reports, we were anxious to get going.
All was not what we expected!
Skirting around the ring road at Holguin was a bit of an unusual sight. A mixture of horse drawn and motor vehicles, the majority of the latter looking as if the were entrants for the "Scrapheap Challenge" made for interesting viewing but were not difficult to cope with as a driver.
As for the roads once out of town, well driving was a joy.
Yes, there was the occasional pot hole but on this particular route, far less than I imagined there might be. Mile after mile, or should I say kilometre, the roads were well signed and traffic free. You could sit back and enjoy the scenery which was varied and interesting as we passed through various types of agricultural land from ranching to sugar cane.
Limiting my speed to the road conditions meant that we took much longer to drive the equivalent distances in the UK so once again it was late afternoon on arrival at our next stop. A 4 night stay in the Casa Alojamiento Maite.
The journey had been disappointingly free of bird sightings bar the Turkey Vultures that seemed to be everywhere. Not to worry, Moron is conveniently placed for access to the northern keys of Cayo Coco,Guillermo and Romano. Reported as being good for birds they are also the locations of the popular tourist hotels. I didn't want to stay there but I had to investigate. Tomorrow we would find out!
In the meantime our first experience of a Casa Particular was an incredibly good experience. We had chosen well! Located in a rather typical and rather dull backstreet location the set up was indeed superb. Our room consisted of a mini suite with private front door, lounge area, bedroom and bathroom. The Casa also runs a deservedly popular restaurant. The food was overall probably the best we had in Cuba. At $25 for the room, $10 for breakfast and $20 for two for dinner it represents exceptional value. Enough spare for a few beers at $1.50 per 385ml can.
Another early night at 8.30pm should set us up for the following day's adventure!