We got up at 9 am on the first day of the year! The street was very quiet and Yalissy came with coffee and tea and asked if it was to early for breakfast and we agreed :). We sat on the balcony watching the neighbors get up. Everybody waved and smiled to us when they got out and saw us. Nice, we made a lot of new friends. After a few hours we ate breakfast with even more fruit than usual and a big piece of cake each. We sat down on the balcony again and went trough the pictures that we had from yesterday. A neighbor came over with another piece of cake (Fredrik had to climb over the railing to get it). After two big pieces of cake we agreed that we had to walk it off so we tried to find an open photo shop to develope the pictures from the day before to give them to the neighbors, but no one was open. Before we got out we had talked to Yalissy if she could find a driver to take us to La Gran Piedra, a landmark outside of Santiago de Cuba, so we had to get back to the casa before 2 pm. The driver arrived on time and told us that this was a hard drive for the car so it would be expensive. We agreed that he would drive us for 50 CUC (the same price that the guide book stated that it would cost with a lot of bargain). But before we could leave he had to have a small service on the car, add water, check the breaking fluids etc. When he was finished with that Yalissy had decided that she wanted to come along. Gunnhild closed the door a bit too hard, and we where told that we had to be careful with an old car like this. We soon got the hang of it. The road up to La Gran Piedra was very steep, especially for an old Lada, but with a good driver we arrived on the top without any big problems. We passed a few other cars with overheated radiators on the way up.
When we got outside of the city the destruction of hurricane Sandy hit us, but after we started to get up in the mountain sides it really hit us. The trees that were still standing had almost no leaves left, but most of the trees were laying down with the roots in the air (this was mainly old and very big trees with large roots). On some trees all the branches were ripped off. We saw houses that was completely gone, the only thing that told us that there had been a house there was a small concrete foundation. Our driver told us that this was the first time since Sandy that he was in this area and he was really shocked! When we got up to the top there were 10 cm thick bamboos that were broken right off about 50 cm above the ground. We did not understand how anyone or anything could have survived this.
When we got to the parking at the top we bought water and started to walk the last 452 steps up to the top at 1234 meters. We were told that the steps used to be wet and covered in moss, and that hardly any sunlight got through the dense vegetation. But it was not like this anymore. A lot of the plants and trees were destroyed, and the path was mainly dry. We climed the stairs up on the giant 63000-ton rock laying at the top. It is 51 meters long and 25 meters high and the views were fantastic in all directions. We saw as far as Guantanamo bay 50 km away. After climbing down again we went to Jardin Gran Piedra, a garden built in an old coffee plantation from the 17th century. They had a lot of beautiful flowers but it had probably been destroyed by Sandy as well, because a lot of flowers were just starting to bloom. At the end of the tour around the garden they had a very beautiful orchid garden, and they were also very proud of their “Bird of paradise” flowers. Yalissy filled up the trunk of the car with plants to have at home.
In the evening we had plans to go to a restaurant that was recommended by our guide book, but we were stopped by Yalissy with “something small” which turned out to be a full new year dinner (pork) that she had made for the family. We couldn’t say no. 🙂 After dinner we started copying pictures and videos to a memory stick since we were not able to develop any. We also copied everything to an old cell phone that we agreed that Yalissy should get from us. When we were finished we went inside and showed the videos and pictures on the computer. Yallisy’s kids laughed out load when they saw themselves in the video. We gave Yalissy the phone and the memory stick, and she told us that her cell phone was broken so she really needed it. We helped her get the phone up and running and the text messages were pouring in. We had some crackers in the room and were ready to go to bed when Yalissy showed up with hot sandwiches and fresh juice. What a fantastic host!