Day 1: I arrived in Havana after another long day of flying. Out of bed at 4:30 in Lima to be caught in a traffic jam at the airport. Check in when very smoothly including the visa which took all of 1 minute. They took my $20 and gave me a card to fill in to hand over in Havana. The flights were around 3 hrs each but i have not really adjusted to the time. Not sleeping well at night as its hot.
I arrived in Havana to be greeted by the first queue of many. The baggage collection queue, it took at least 30 minutes before bags started to come out. The dress code for Cuban customs seems to be a short skirt for women. I’m not complaining however. Then I joined the money changing queue, before finally heading into Havana. On the way in I saw a few old cars and a man walking a pig the size of a car!
My guest house or Casa Particulare as the are known in Cuba is “Villa Azul” and is in the old town of Havana. It’s in a real residential area a short walk from the tourist areas. As many would say it’s the real Cuba. I had to carry my bags up 3 flights of narrow stairs but I have a nice room with a huge bathroom.
I had a shower before heading out to a place I read about on the internet called La Factoria. It is a brewery and restaurant and they have three beers on tap. I went for the dark beer with a rather huge hamburger for a cost of CUC7 which is approximately $US 7 so a good deal. What I need friends for is the 3 litre beer tower they sell for CUC12. Maybe I’ll have a quiet one tomorrow. Then again I just ordered a cerveza obscura which is they medium Amber coloured beer.
Day 2: My first full day in Havana started with a filling breakfast of tropical fruit eggs and coffee. I went for a walk and found one of those open top tour buses, never having been on one before and not sure where I should walk I jumped on the open top bus. It was actually a good decision in a few ways. Some of the route seemed to be past hotels to pick up passengers, but it went through the suburbs and past places like the aquarium and cemetery. I will visit the cemetery when I come back to Havana in after I’ve been out into the Cuban countryside. It also went past the Plaza de la Revolución with the Fidel and Che murals and the Jose Marti monument. Now I don’t need to taxi it out there!
The bus returned back to near the perpetually renovated capital building that looks like an american counterpart… But don’t tell the Americans. Speaking of which I heard an American today saying they were surprised so many Europeans were here, it’s such a long way and the ban only just ended. They failed to grasp that only Americans were banned and by their own government and also the rules have not actually changed yet because their congress is run by the right wing communists, immigrants, Muslims and people without guns are bad parties.
I walked down the touristy Obispo street and yet as touristy as it was it really wasn’t. There were a few tourist shops but I struggled to buy a bottle of water. There were Cubans queued up to buy a card for the wifi (I have yet to work that out), plenty of Cubans also at the Cadecas (Forex) changing money. Its clear there are new things and wealth in Cuba, I can only guess the wealth mostly comes from dealing with tourists and having Cuban family overseas.
I found far too many touristy restaurants but the reality is how many Cubans can afford a meal that cost dollars and not pesos. I sat down at restaurant Onda just out of the main tourist walkway and a nice outdoor location. I had a grilled chicken and pork dish with veggies (mostly cabbage) and a delicious Local beer called Bucanero which is a lot better than the Cristal Lager I tried at the airport (yes beer available just outside arrivals).
I then found a train carriage parked where there were no rails. Turns out it was the presidents rail carriage and entry was free. Exit however was via a tip and not sure my CUC1 was enough but for less than 5 minutes I felt it was sufficient. Nearby was the museum of rum including a tasting of 7 yr old Havana club. The rum was strong yet smooth. The tour also had a model sugar cane factory at an unknown scale because I never listen to my fathers mumbling about such things. It’s says a lot about a country when the 750mL bottle of rum is a lot cheaper than Havana club glass or ice bucket.
This evening I was tempted to head back for a 3 litre beer tower to myself, but instead headed next door to La Vitrola as it had live music. I ordered a Cuba Libre and it’s clear they have a shortage of cola but no shortage of rum. I’ve got no idea how many standard drinks but it would be at least 3 for my CUC3. I also bought the bands CD but have no way to play it. I don’t even know if they have Internet cafes, I think they skipped those and went straight to wifi and Huawei mobile phones.
Day 3: I waited for breakfast and it never came. Maybe I had to let them know in advance. It was not clear to me but hey “It is Cuba”. I found a cafe on the old plaza and ordered an ice coffee and the “especial” that had ham, cheese and chorizo. I got a cold afogato and a toasted sandwich. It was tasty and typical of my experiences so far.
My plans were to visit the fortresses on the other side of the bay and the chocolate museum. The chocolate museum was either closed or had a large queue out front and they were all Cubans well versed in queuing. Too hot for me so wandered further towards the bay were I was befriended by a Jinetero. Basically a Cuban tout but they generally accept the first “no, gracias” that you give them. The issue was I was going to take a taxi to the other side of the bay and he was offering the trip in a classic car for marginally more than a taxi each way. I even chose the shiniest red and white car and he found my driver who was a nice guy. Spoke slowly in Spanish to me and he drove me over there to see the fortress and also the obligatory Christ the redeemer statue that all Latin American cities like to have.
I also saw some Cuban missiles far from any state not to cause another Cold War crisis! I got some photos with the car and returned back to old Havana. I found a place called the “Jardin de la Oriente”. It was a lovely garden and mostly a restaurant. I ordered a local soup and also “Rice, Cuban style” which was typical fare of rice, eggs and fried platanos. Memories of Nicaragua flood back where that is all I ate with minor variation for 3 meals a day, 11 days in a row. No black beans though!
The museum of chocolate still had a queue, so did some looking through the tourist shops and headed into town to where wifi is real. Problem was I needed a card and no one had any to sell, but I did get a Bucanero Fuerte, the only beer to drink in Cuba, Cristal Lager tastes like VB.
I thought I might see if I can find a shop that sells stuff, like water and snacks for the bus trip tomorrow. Best I could find was shops selling a lot of rum, cigars, water and ice cream. Despite rum being cheap and readily available, I’ve not seen a drunk Cuban, maybe they are slightly drunk all the time?!?
So tomorrow I’m off to Vinales which is the middle of nowhere but it looks beautiful. Worst case I’ll sit in a rocking chair and drink rum with a few Cubans for 3 nights.
Good to read of your time – so far – in Habana Justin (don’t forget to have a salsa lesson, or two!); you will enjoy Viñales I’m sure.