24.08.2007 - 30.08.2007 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.
Our first bar on our bar crawl
Dancing with the Cubans - notice the grandmother teaching me how to dance!
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