A Travellerspoint blog



sunny 34 °C

I have seen many, many colonial cities in the past 8 months. I was pretty much over them until I got to Havana. La Habana, with the exception of Habana Vieja (the old town, which has been restored) is pretty much falling to pieces, reeking of a fabulous past gone era in all it´s crumbling charm. There´s an energy that runs through it, always sitting just below the surface, ready for action at any time! Most tourists stay in either the Habana Vieja or Vedado (where all the posh hotel are, including the one we stayed in our first night in Cuba) but we decided to stay in Habana Centro where I think you get a better picture of Havana life. Boys play marbles in the streets, women hang their washing from their balconies whilst gossiping with their neighbours (there are no secrets amongst neighbours in Cuba, balconies and doors are always left open to combat the stifling heat), men sit outside their houses, bottle of rum in hand. There is always lots of noise, hustle, bustle, an energetic street life.
Besides just soaking up the atmosphere, Gill and I spent a lot of our time in Havana with our friend Ron. We had met Ron a while back and weren´t suprised to find him on our plane to Havana. We´d had a few fallings out along the way (Ron can be a very bad man!), but we were very much back on speaking terms in Havana. We spent some of our best nights out in Havana with Ron. Ron, is of course, Rum and no Cuban holiday would be complete without him!
Our first night out in Havana just so happened to be a Saturday night so we decided to do a bit of bar crawl. There are many watering holes in Havana, some of them quite famous, mostly because of who had drank in them - you could practically spend an entire week following Ernest Hemingway! We had made a list of where we wanted to go, but we ended up missing half of the ones we´d planned on going to and ended up in a whole heap that we hadn´t planned on! In our last bar, we met some Cubans and they invited us back to their place for more dancing and a few more Rons! They taughts us how to shake our booties like a Cuban, introduced us to their grandmother, who was still up at 3 in the morning and could shake her bootie with the best of them! We stumbled home at 7 in the morning and spent most of the next day in bed - Ron was in the bad books again! We salvaged the afternoon with a trip to the famous ice creamery Coppelia in Vedado. Cubans queue for miles on every corner to get in this place. It was built post revolution as a symbol for the revolution and communism - surely everyone deserves the right to not only affordable ice-cream, but also a plethera of flavours? Unfortunatley this seems to have gone by the wayside, as tourists are shuffled into a seperate cafe with no queues to pay for their ice cream in CUC instead of pesos. I don´t think I´ve explained the money situation in Cuba before. They have two currencies - Cuban Convertable Pesos, which is a currency kinda pegged to the US dollar (actually a little higher), that is used to pay for mostly things that tourists need, like hotels and restaurants and they also have CUC supermarkets. Then there is the national peso, which pretty much isn´t worth the money its printed on. 1 CUC = 24 nationales...on the street you can get a hamburger or piece of pizza for 5-10 nationales whereas in a cheap CUC restaurant it will cost you about 6-8 CUC for a meal. It´s a crazy system and after 3 weeks in the country I still didn´t understand it! So, going back to the ice cream place, surely having two seperate cafes, one for the Cubans only with nationales and one for the Cubans and tourists with CUC´s, goes against the very principles it´s supposed to stand for?! Just another one the idosyncrancies of Cuba!
Next day we headed to the beach to top up our tans. Nearest beaches to Havana are actually quite nice, if not a little scrappy and littered. Still, the water was lovely, the clear warm water we had began to expect of Cuba. That evening we out for some chinese in Chinatown. Yep, Havana has a Chinatown, there are some 10,000 Chinese living there. The Chinese was disappointing (the fact that pizza was on the menu should have been our first clue!) and just after we left the restaurant, Gill had her bag snatched. Luckily I was carrying our money and camera, the lucky thief got away with some toilet paper and a few coins. Gill felt quite smug at the thought of his reaction when he discovered his loot! We were quite shaken from the experience, so we headed to La Florita, a Hemmingway haunt, for one of their famous dacquiris to calm ourselves down.
Our second last day, we went to Havana Vieja to finish off sightseeing, we´d reserved our last day for some last minute shopping and packing. We visited the Museo de Ron (it would be rude not to, considering that Ron was a good friend!) and had an afternoon Mojito in Ambos Mundos, the hotel where Hemmingway lived for 10 years. That night we went to Vedado for a drink first in the Hotel Nacional, Havana´s most famous hotel. The Hotel is huge and grand and many a famous person stayed here during Havana´s hey day. After scoring a free dacquiri from our admiring waiter we went to a posada for dinner. A posada is a restaurant run out of someones house and are generally pretty cheap and serve the standard Cuban fare - meat and rice. We´d been to a couple and the mains had never been over 8CUC, with drinks around 3CUC. So you can imagine our suprise when our bill arrived with the meals at 18 and the drinks at 5! After 7 months of being a traveller and being ripped off, Gill and I decided enough was enough, we were going to stand up for ourselves and we weren´t going to pay the extortionate amount they were asking. We complained about the bill, telling the waiter we had just paid less for drinks at the Hotel Nacional. He replied "Yes, but don´t you think ours our better". We´d had Rum and coke!! After a bit of stand off, we won and we were quite pleased with ourselves when we left the restaurant! We cooled down at a funky little jazz bar called Gato Tuetro (one-eyed cat) where there was a band headed up by a big mama on vocals playing the traditional Cuban Buena Vista type stuff.
Our last day in Havana, we spent in Habana Vieja again doing a bit of souvenir shopping (read: wading through countless Che t-shirts and berets!) and then headed back to the casa to pack, have an early dinner and night for our very early flight the next day. Ron on the other hand had other ideas. He kept us up all night chatting on the balcony and playing cards.
Ron is a very bad man.

Gran Teatro
Capitilo building
Our first bar on our bar crawl
Dancing with the Cubans - notice the grandmother teaching me how to dance!
Street performers
At La Floridita, post dacquiri
At the museo del ron
View from Ambos Mundos
Lady dancing in the plaza
Musica in the plaza
Coolest taxis EVER! I want one to hoon around Sydney in
Me and Ron on the balcony, last night in Havana
Gill on balcony

Posted by zedgee 18:54 Archived in Cuba Comments (1)


Santa Clara

sunny 30 °C

Most people go to Santa Clara to visit the Che Guevara memorial. Gill and I went because we missed our bus to Santiago after a particulary big night in Trinidad, and Santa Clara was the next best option. So we found ourselves on a bus, hungover, on our way to see where Cuba´s favourite (and most famous) adopted son now rests.
We were met off the bus by our crazy landlady. She had been an actress for 35 years (and it showed!) but now she runs a casa with her son. In Cuba there are no hostels as such, just state run hotels or casa particulars. Casa´s are basically rooms letted out in a Cubans house, anything from seperate apartment types or just a bedroom and you share the rest of the house with the family. It´s a great insight into Cuban life and a way for them to make extra money.
We weren´t up for much that night so after dinner we had an early one. We were woken very early to a voice on a loudspeaker. Turns out our casa was across the road from a cigar factory. The voice was reading the news to the workers as they rolled those famous Cuban cigars. Our day revolved around Che. First we went to his memorial and the museum that was attached. The museum was quite impressive for a Cuban museum - the ones we had seen so far reminded me of someones year 12 assignment! There were lots of pictures and personal artifacts, everything from his inhaler (Che had bad asthma) to his leather belt, which you can see him wearing in most of the pictures. Attached to the museum is a memorial where the remains of Che, and other important revolutionaries, lay. The memorial and museum are under the Plaza de Revolution, where are giant statue of Che is erected. The Cubans (and the government) are pretty quick to commercialise on Che, even though I´m pretty sure he´d be turning in his grave right now if he could see all the t-shirts and berets that are sold on practically every street corner!
After the museum we headed back into town for some peso ice cream and a sit in the plaza. Gill asked "how long do you give it?" I replied "2 mins". I was wrong. It took all of 30 seconds before we being harrassed by an older cuban man. It did, however, take him about 2 mins before he asked if I wanted to go to a hotel room! I´m pretty sure he was (or thought he was/wanted to be) a jineterah, which is kinda like a prostitute, or someone who wants to hang around westerners for their money/visa and will do certain "favours" in return. Someone had forgot to tell the poor dear he was about 20 years out of his prime!
After some lunch we went to visit the sight of Che´s most famous victory. At the train tracks where Che had pulled off a defeat against seemingly all odds, lay the wrecks of the carriages that were carrying the army in their attempt to stop the rebels from reaching Havana. Che had derailed the train and caputured the soldiers, even though he was far out numbered.
And that was it for Santa Clara and Che for us. We boarded an overnight train for Santiago de Cuba, leaving Che behind, but not seeing the last of him in Cuba, that´s for sure!

Posted by zedgee 11:58 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)



sunny 28 °C

Viñales was lovely. That´s the most fitting word for it. Lovely.
It was unlike anywhere else we had been in Cuba so far. Lush green countryside dotted with the mogote (flat topped) mountains that it is famous for. And the actual village itself was very quaint. Existing of only a few streets of coulourful cottages each with a couple of rocking chairs on the porch. It was just what we needed after Santiago.
After arriving and finding a casa, we headed out to explore some nearby caves. They were a bit lame really, we had wanted to go to some bigger ones, but they were closed for some reason, so we had to settle on the very touristy ones nearby. I have to say, that most of Cubas tourist sights aren´t that amazing, it´s more about the music, culture and atmosphere.
That afternoon we took a lovely (there´s that word again!) horse ride through the valley. It really was some of the most beautiful countryside I had seen and it was very tranquilo. We stopped for a drink which turned out to be a coconut filled with coconut juice (of course), lemon juice, honey and rum (not our idea, I swear!)
The next day we headed to the beach, Playa Jutias. It was a beautiful beach, the same clear, warm, calm waters we had begun to expect from Cuba. We had a lovely (sorry, had to) day, soaking up the rays and swimming.
That night we were supposed to go and see a typical band and eat traditional food, but when we turned up to the venue, it was closed and empty save for an old cuban man who told us nothing was happening there tonight. Hmmm, we had already paid for it and walked 15mins out of town, so we were not happy! We headed back into town to the agency we had booked it with, but of course they were closed. The agency was joined to a bar and restaurant so we decided to stay there, have some food, a few drinks and enjoy the live music they had on offer. Luckily, the operator tracked us down there (small town and all) and gave us back our money. We ended up having a great night there, dancing salsa and to reggaeton.
Next day it was back to Havana. We were sad to go, but it was time we actually went and saw Havana properly!

Posted by zedgee 10:55 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)


Santiago De Cuba

sunny 35 °C

There has only been three times since I have been travelling that I have almost been reduced to tears. Once was after a particularly long bus journery to Buenos Aires and then being ripped off by a taxi driver, the other was when I said goodbye to Sama (awww) and the third was in the bus terminal in Santiago de Cuba. (I´m not much of a crier and those who know me well know it takes quiet a lot to bring on the waterworks for me!) Santiago just about broke me though. After three days of the worst days we had in Cuba, I was waiting for an overnight bus to Havana, I was sick from a stomach bug (when your guide book warns of parasites in the water it´s probably not best to accept drinks with ice cubes!) and all I really wanted was my Mum (what is it about being ill that makes us want our Mums?) Of course I didn´t break down and bawl, because I was in a bus station and that would have been embarrassing!
We had gone to Santiago for the music which is supposed to be some of the best in Cuba. What we got was three days of constant harrassment by the men and it all got a bit much in the end. We couldn´t walk down the street without being followed or yelled at or hissed at (Cubans hiss to get your attention, kinda like yelling "oye, you!" and for some reason I found it really offensive!) We ended up spending a lot of time in a gringo hotel, Hotel Casa Grande, just to get some peace.
Gill had remarked that we needed to get me a wig, as my blonde hair was getting quite a lot of attention, everything from a supposed olympic boxer stroking it (at which I promptly told him to bugger off and walked away) to comments like "your hair is like sunshine" ...they are anything but poetic, the Cuban men!
Still, Santiago wasn´t without it´s good points. We were staying an amazing casa which was pretty much an art deco museum. The old lady that owned the place only seemed to use her wicker rocking chair, the rest of the place was untouched. We did hear some good music, it seemed to spill out from every street corner. And we had a lovely morning visiting an old fort, driven there in an 1930´s convertible. Cool.
But then we both got sick. The bent over forward stomach hurts real bad kinda sick. And we had to catch an overnight bus to top it all off. This is when i wanted to cry...it was the bus station toilets that did it, not nice. When we arrived in Havana, we had planned on going straight through to our next destination, but Gill was pretty bad by this stage so we decided to stay in Havana for the day and see how we felt later on. A taxi driver took us to a casa which was a little apartment run by an old couple (when we got there, at 7am, the husband was asleep on the couch, think he was in the dog house!). The senora looked after us, she was really sweet. We went to the hospital for Gill to see a doctor (I was feeling much better by this stage) and then went back to the casa for some more sleep so that we would be ok to leave the next day. It was our second night spent in Havana without really seeing any of it!
The fort
me at the fort
Our cool mode of transportation
Santiago rooftops at dusk
the casa
yet another car shot!

Posted by zedgee 10:31 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)



sunny 32 °C

After Veradero, we headed to Trinidad, a UNESCO declared work heritage sight. Trinidad is a postcard picture perfect cobblestreet town filled with colourful houses and colonial mansions. It´s a town that is now totally built around tourism yet still retains an old world villagey feel, with horse drawn carts sharing the roads with 50´s cars. Everyday, hundereds of day trippers descend on the town looking for that perfect 50´s car photo opportunity!
It´s a pretty small place, with not a whole lot to do but soak up the atmosphere, visit museums - on the revolution and colonial furniture, although you can get the latter for free by just wandering the streets and peeking into the seemingly always opened doors of the houses. Wicker rocking chairs and art deco decor abound.
We spent 3 days in Trinidad and practically felt like locals by the time we left. We kept running into the same people who always had a ready smile and offers of salsa lessons! One day we visited the Valle de los Ingenios, home to most of the sugar plantations that the region made most of it´s money from back in the day. Another afternoon we went to the beach, Playa Ancon, which wasn´t nearly as nice as Verdero but still, it was good to escape the afternoon heat under a palmtree and with a swim. Apart from that we spent most of our time just soaking up the atmosphere, drinking in the bars, listening to the live music that Cuba is so famous for, and a few dances with some particularly persistent suitors! Trinidad has some very memorable watering holes, from the Casa de la Musica, to a bar in an old ruined theatre and my favourite, someones backyard complete with a muscial trio and chickens running about!
We had a great time in Trinidad and it could be said that we spent longer in Trinidad than first planned due to some sore heads and missed buses after some big nights out!
tower at sugar estate
Sugarcane country
another car shot
Gill and I with some of our dancing partners!

Posted by zedgee 11:41 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 8) Page [1] 2 »