Charm, passion on countryside trek

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While it would be easy to spend a week lounging on the white-sand beaches of Cayo Coco and the adjacent Cayo Guillermo, I was eager to see a bit of Cuba's countryside.

So I rented a car and drove across the causeway to mainland Cuba on my way to Sancti Spiritus, a pretty colonial town with cobblestone streets that has much of the same charm that nearby Trinidad is known for but without the crowds of tourists.  

From there I headed to the town of Ciego de Avila, driving on Cuba's central highway, passing U.S.-made cars from the 1950s and villagers on horse-drawn carts.

Once in town, I got tickets for a local playoff baseball game. I had long heard of Cuba's passion for America's pastime, and the enthusiasm and baseball knowledge of the crowd did not disappoint.

I ended the road trip by exploring Camaguey, Cuba's third-largest city, where I spent most of the time wandering the narrow streets, visiting churches and sitting in city plazas taking in everyday life.

Both nights on the road I stayed in casas particulares ­-- private houses run as bed and breakfasts. It was a great way to get to know my Cuban hosts, who were universally friendly and served lavish breakfasts complete with local cheeses and fruits.

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