Apologies for the radio silence… the internet in Cuba wasn’t the most accommodating to uploading blog posts. The whole job is run by the government (a recurring theme – funnily enough) meaning that you’d pay $1 for an hour of terrible internet. While frustrating at times, it was lovely to not have the distraction from spending time with Mikeys family. Anyway – enough about the internet!
There’s something about airports which we’d both missed – the air of excitement and unknown as we were driven at 6am to Cancun airport. We’d left our van at a very expensive campsite the night before, and had a horrible experience of the owner being greedy with us before we left. Unfortunately, with an early flight the next morning and nowhere else to store Betty we had to suck it up. After passing through the usual security checks, having a short argument with the border agent that we had in fact paid our visa cost when we entered – made harder by the fact we didn’t have a receipt – we were on board the 90 minute flight to Havana. We had our own TV screens and were brought snacks and a drink all included in the £25 ticket. This is what air travel was like before the days of Ryanair and Easyjet.
Then we landed a couple of hours before Mikeys family, and had to burn the time in a very underwhelming airport although littered with cigar shops! Finally after what felt like a lifetime we spied them coming through the arrivals. It was lovely to see them all again after so long, and after negotiating the ATMs which worked with surprising ease, we were driven in our classic car to the Casa in Havana. It turned out all the photos weren’t exaggerating – the streets are full to the brim of classic American cars! If the taxi drivers knew what they were worth they’d be stumped, but Mikeys Dad reckoned that under the hood they were nothing like their originals. There was evidence outside too – with air conditioning units stuffed in under the dash and even some having indicator lights built into the wing mirrors!
Our airport transfer complete with daisy flowers!
All the hotels in Cuba are run by the government, leaving questionable quality and extortionate prices in some cases. The alternative is to stay in Casa Particulares – which are effectively spare rooms in peoples houses. They tend to be better value and also you get a more genuine experience. Our host Ana was absolutely lovely, as was her mum who often visited in the morning to make us breakfast. The casa was a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, and even featured our own private terrace where we ate breakfast and religiously had pre dinner drinks!
We had booked La Guarida for the first night, one of the highest rated restaurants with a famous staircase which featured in Fresa y Chocolate (no, we haven’t heard of it either). Before arriving, everyone had told us to be prepared for chicken and rice at every meal so we had low expectations, but were blown away by both the quality of the food and the service. Whilst it was the most expensive meal we had in Cuba it was a lovely welcome to Mikeys family. Another great thing about Havana was the safety, we never felt at all uneasy walking around late at night to, and back home from the restaurant.
The following day we took a free walking tour in the morning to get a good history of Cuba and Havana. Whilst we knew the basics we definitely felt like there was more to uncover beneath the surface and our guide Paloma helped us around the city. It was interesting to see the old private company buildings, the famous bat from Bacardi being one of them. We took a local ferry across to the other side of Havana to see their mini Cristo Redentor and a stunning view of the city. We were showed the local shops, told how the locals received some rations for cheap food but had to buy more to supplement their shops. And how teachers earn the equivalent of $30 a month – which would make you think the tourism is cheap but unfortunately the government are savvy to how much foreigners make. To this end, they have two currencies, the tourist one being worth about 25 times the local one and making prices for tourists not that cheap! That night we went to Mojito Mojito – a great restaurant with a live band and we literally ate a whole bbq of meat, no complaints here!
Next to Cristo Redentor
On our second day we wondered around the city on our own, starting with the museum of the revolution. Biased doesn’t really cover the phrasing and accusations present in the exhibition, but it was still interesting to see. By the end we were all a bit exhausted and went to a cheap local place for lunch, once again with a local band. This time there was no escaping the Havana spirit and Annie & Anna were asked to dance and no wasn’t taken for an answer! They got into the swing of things at one of the best lunches we had on the whole trip. A uniquely Cuban experience from start to finish, when we asked for a bottle of water Mikey and his dad had to go and join the queue in the next shop along to buy it for the table!
When in Havana…
The American cars were everywhere, all so brightly coloured.
We then went to the local Artesanal market and explored the wonderful paintings. There was a brewery next door but they had run out of hops so were only selling Heineken… a little less enticing! We ended our trip in Havana at a local restaurant who decided they should serve their eggs with ham without warning, so poor Anna was stuck with avocado and rice for her last meal! Next we headed to Las Terrazas, an eco project set up 20 years ago to stay in a Hotel.
All in all Havana was a whirlwind city, and we all had an incredible time. It’s a unique place and whilst we don’t normally enjoy cities it’s easy to recommend to anyone as a must see city.