Our Cuban adventure didn’t start well. We got up at 4am after sleeping for a total of 2 hrs, and headed to the airport. We were there at least 3 hrs before our flight, so we bought our Cuban ‘visa’ and settled into the waiting lounge well before boarding time.
So how do 2 intelligent (or maybe not?) people miss a flight, while it boards before their own eyes?
I have no idea.
But, yes, that happened. We freaking missed our flight. Watching everyone line up, we wanted to spare ourselves the extra standing time and waited until the end. Which was a great plan, but we were now standing in line for the Las Vegas flight, completely unaware that our gate just closed 2 meters away.
Anyhoo. Enough of our inadequate travel skills. We bought another flight for the same day and somehow still ended up in Havana, Cuba.
Unfortunately we missed the first day of free time to explore Havana and the first meeting where we were supposed to meet our tour guide and the rest of the group from our 8 day tour with Cuban Adventures.
We stayed in a great old Hotel Presidente and pretty much passed out due to lack of sleep the night before. In the morning we met our guide Sandra (who was incredible), our driver and the rest of the group – 4 Aussie girls and a gorgeous British couple.
Day 1 included a walking tour among the crumbling architecture of the streets of Old Havana, which was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. Right now, they are doing a fantastic job at restoring the city – leaving some parts as they were and renovating others. I loved Old Havana – the colours, the cigar smell, the loud voices of Cubans, the music…our only regret was that we didn’t have an extra hour to roam free and buy some coffee.
We were then transported to Vinales and checked into our first casa – a cute homestay with a Cuban family. As there are only a few hotels in Cuba, it’s common to rent a room at a local’s house. They are allowed to run a B&B as of 2 years ago, however each visitor must show their passport. If you are from the USA (possibility of being a spy) or the Netherlands (possibility of smuggling drugs), the locals must call the government and inform them of your whereabouts immediately. Knowing this didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, but I couldn’t help feeling as though Big Brother was watching.
We had a lovely feast in a farm in Vinales and the hit up some music and salsa. Watching the Cubas dance and shake the booties made me feel totally jealous, in awe and inadequate at the same time. Lachie and I still had a go at dancing, I’m sure much to everyone’s amusement.
The next day we visited the Indian Cave, which although well maintained, it was a little lame. There was a motor boat going through the cave, but the guide was adamant on pointing out rocks that looked like objects (eg. a skull, a fish, a dog), instead of talking about the history etc. It was pretty amusing.
Afterwards, we visited the local Tobacco Farm and got to see first hand the process of making cigars, and then got to taste them!
We spend the reminder of the day chilling at a pool of a hotel with a beautiful view and then taking a group salsa lesson in the teacher’s backyard.
At night, it was salsa yet again, but I had to call it a night early as I felt unwell and started getting the shakes. By the time I was in bed, I had a pretty high fever and a pounding headache. This settled by the morning, but my stomach took over on the sick front. I had terrible cramps and gastro for the next 2 days, which made my life miserable.
Luckily, day 3 was a transit day, so I got to sleep on the bus being looked after by Lachie all day.
We did stop for a swim at the Bay of Pig’s, however it rained for most of the time we were there. It was still beautiful and refreshing to have a swim.
We then settled in Cienfuegos for the night. After dinner, we went to watch a show at an open-air bar, it it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. The stage was massive, the audience was tiny. There were green monster KKK- type looking costumes, way too much pink sparkles, midriff revealing tops and crotch hugging pants on the guys, blue steel expressions and singing. After about 40 mins, Lachie and I had enough and called it a night.
In the morning, after exploring the beautiful city of Cienfuegos, we set off to Trinidad.
We lucked out for our homestay there- a beautiful room on a terrace, overlooking the town awaited us.
The afternoon was spent watching sunset at the beach, which was breath-taking. Then, as the stars came out, we lit a bonfire, ate tasty grilled fish, listened to good music and (attempted) to dance salsa. It was a perfect night and I wished it went on forever.
The rest of our time at Trinidad was spent exploring the old town, looking at the local shops, talking to locals, having fun trying to buy Lachie shoes from the National shop with the local currency, learning salsa, trying to salsa with the locals and failing, eating the most incredible giant lobster for about $10 and drinking lots of rum.
On the last night, Lachie and I wanted to check out the local bar with the other British couple. My stomach still wasn’t quite right, so I ordered a Coke, and was nearly told to leave. Your only choice was rum. There was no one else there, bar 3 other drunk locals, so we decided to play table tennis with them. The match was getting quite heated and Aiden was given clear instructions by us to try pretty hard to LOSE. And that he did. It was nice to make someone else’s night (in this case, a drunk deaf man’s).
We met the rest of the group in town and as we were deciding where to go, it started pouring and thundering and storming like there was no tomorrow. After we dried off, we decided to go to a cave party. Not sure what I was expecting, but certainly I wasn’t prepared for a massive cave, that went 20m under ground and had a bar, TV screens and music so loud I wondered at what stage of the night it would all collapse.
Our time in Cuba was coming to a close. On the way to Havana, we stopped at Santa Clara to go to the Che museum. When we got there, it was closed. Apparently it was raining, and therefore too humid and therefore it may damage some paper displays inside. Go figure. Cuba makes no sense at the best of times.
We still got to look at some fair share of propaganda. It was everywhere – billboards (no other billboards allowed), books, people’s homes and the National Museum in Havana. Everything was stuck in the 60s and has not progressed since then.
Yes, healthcare is free, but dentists don’t have the fillings most times, just as the doctors don’t have the medication. University is free, but there is no internet or a way of getting access to facts and all information. What’s worse is that the money is so bad after graduation, that taxi drivers get paid more then surgeons. There is no incentive to work. One of the saying I heard a lot was “The Government pretends they pay us, and we pretend to work”.
Free speech is banned, and Fidel must be liked. The country felt heavy, controlled and oppressed.
The ban on travelling without a special permission from the Government has only been lifted 2 years ago. However, with an average wage of $15/month, going abroad is impossible to most Cubans.
The old cars are amazing to look at and add to Cuba’s character, however you can’t buy a new car anywhere in Cuba. For a country that tells it’s people the capitalism is bad, mainly because of air pollution and non-organic food sources (which is a fair point), the pollution coming from their 40-50 year old cars, is mind-boggling.
Without going too much into Cuban’s politics (due to my limited knowledge), it was amazing to see the National Museum and their stance on USA – the CIA agents apparently killed their animals, introduced diseases, poisoned people, spied, corrupted their minds and did just about everything else you can imagine.
In all, Cuba was a fascinating country to see. It gave me a glimpse of what Poland would have been under communism when I was born. It was a total step back in time, but the oppression was hard to swallow at times. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat watched and observed. Although the locals were lovely, I had a suspicious feeling that it was to get money out of us in one way or another.
Cuba is definitely changing, who knows if it’s for the better or worse. One thing for sure is I would love to see it again in 10-15 years time. It’s left me with a lot to think about and some amazing and heart-warming memories.
I’m going to be heading to Cuba next year (my gf wants to go: not high on my list, but then neither was Cambodia and I loved Angkor Wat). I’m.guessing there isn’t any BJJ there? I’m thinking museums will be the main thing for me. 🙂