Playa Larga, February 2016

Playa Larga is in the Bay of Pigs and was one of the sites of the attempted invasion. The original plan had been to go to the larger Playa Girón nearby but our casa host in Havana had some details for a dive instructor in Larga. There was also a possibility of him having another person to share a collectivo taxi with us but after an hour of phone calls, nothing much had been arranged and he wouldn't budge below $40 for the taxi. So we told him to forget it.

The accommodation was already booked and Lonely Planet said it was a divers' paradise with a centre in a nearby resort. I went to the Viazul terminal and managed to get a tout as low as $45 for two of us which seemed a better idea than queuing to buy a bus ticket. Plus it saved the cost of the taxi we would have needed to get to the terminal.

The taxi was early and took us there. It's not a very big place though there are plentiful casa particulares and some restaurants and bars on the beach. The one shop looked like something from Victorian times with everything behind a wooden counter selling mostly things of no one interest like flour, eggs etc. Obviously it also sold rum.

The dive centre was about a 20 minutes walk from the centre of Caléton at a hotel. I was told to be there at 9 or they also picked up in the village using an old, yellow school bus. We sorted out the equipment which looked OK. I paid $50 for two dives including all equipment, which is cheap by any standards.

Then we set off in two buses. Most of the people onboard were snorkelling. We went to Cueva De Peces (cave of fish) which is a cenote where they also do cavern dives. I saw no sign of the sort of equipment used for full cave diving.

We put our kit together. Mine all worked. The regulator wasn't the newest but it had obviously been serviced regularly. Then we set off a bit further before turning off the main road down a dirt track to the sea. By this time we were certainly closer to Playa Girón than Playa Larga.

The site was called El Brincon (the jump) and involved a giant stride with a little bit of a drop. We swam on our backs for 5 minutes until we were over the coral and descended.

I was diving with a dive master as they had made an effort to pair me with someone else experienced and likely to be reasonable on air. Quite how you can get signed off as a dive master with that level of buoyancy control was a bit of a mystery.

The dive involved going through two reasonably long swim through as the start. Then we came out on the outer wall. I kept my depth to around 30m but it dropped away at least another 20m below me. Visibility was reasonable if not stunning at about 25m. The coral looked healthy though there didn't seem to be that many fish.

Getting out, we swam back to the shore at around 9m and then everyone got straight out except me as I hang around doing a safety stop at 5m. The ladder out was pretty horrible. The angle was all of wrong and the gaps between the steps were too big.

Our second planned site was too rough so we went to Punta Perdiz (partridge point). Entry was easier. Again we had a small surface swim out to the wall. This time there were a lot more reef fish. Shoals of the usual creole wrasse were swimming along.

There was also a small wreck lying upside down on the way back in. It was covered in patches of eggs and sergeant majors kept biting my fins when I got closer than they were happy with. Getting out was also easy and because the beach is shallower there, we spent ample time at safety stop depths.

The bus ferried us back to the dive centre and then onto the village. It had been a cheap couple of dives and whilst I'd seen nothing exceptional, they were both reasonable. I've spent more money doing worse dives in some more renowned dive sites. The wall drop off is quite impressive at both of the sites.

Leaving for Cienfuegos meant more fun with taxi drivers. We'd been repeated told that it was $10 but on the morning, the other two were nowhere to be seen and then they wanted $15 each for two of us. Three more people turned up and they still wanted $10 each even though there were now 5. And they were not willing to budge at all. In the end we paid $9 each to go in a big old American car. I had to sit on the long front seat with someone else squashed up much closer to the taxi driver than I would have preferred. The bus would have been a better option.