Not knowing what to expect when I flew into Havana I was a little hesitant and incredibly excited. No matter how many travel blogs you read and images you see of pre 1950’s cars nothing really prepares you for the step back in time. It truly is incredible. Jumping onto the highway towards La Habana, every single car is what you expect; every moment in you’re mind an incredible photograph. Also I now blame the country for my strong addiction to rum.
So here are some of the biggest highlights from my eye opening two weeks. The rebellion that began for me, an internal rebellion of love for this beautiful place.
Whilst in Cuba there is the option to stay in Hotels, however hostels as we know them do not exist. Do yourself a favour and stay at the family homes of Cuban people. $10.00 CUC will usually get you your own room, a full breakfast and a crash course in trying to speak a new language at the family dinner table. The coffee you drink has been grown in the back yard, the fruit picked straight from their trees and the recommendations don’t come from trip advisor but hand written notes from fellow travellers and presented to you upon arrival at most bus stations. It is honestly like walking into your mum’s house and when ever I left I did so with the tightest squeezes ever. I also got the chance to stay at Havana Club’s accountants house. A Cuba Libre course with an instructional VHS about the company and a few free drinks, nothing to not be stoked with there.
Casa de la Música
In the centre of Trinidad there is a bar located in the middle of a large row of steps. Every single night without fail the whole town turns out to listen, dance, drink and watch the local characters. The place is packed every single night with punters and unless you get in early you will likely be parking your ass on the cobblestones plastic cup in hand. Watching a seven-piece band I was astonished at the age and diversity of the crowd. Also not being incredibly skilled at Salsa watching eight years olds move like adults and eighty year old women shake it like they were twenty again was so good for the soul and really showed that salsa does not discriminate.
The tricks, scams and some new friends
Ok so since Cuba’s economy has effectively been cut off from globalisation, as we know it, many people live in poverty. The usual salary is around 10 USD a month a tourist can often be a meal ticket, quiet literally. The tourist dollar operates on 1 USD or 1 CUC for every 24 Cuban Peso. Which is why particularly in the larger cities, every one will want to be your friend. Or scam you. Or both. So when someone offers to go for a drink with you, be wary. If you are ordering food or drinks ask for the price in advance. If they are showing you pictures of their children who are just around a corner, through a restaurant and out a back alley, well they may not exist. That all being said, once they realise that you aren’t as silly as you look and that you aren’t particularly wealthy they are more than happy to chat and even offer up their address in case you would like to write to them at a latter date. There’s no Internet really so this is pretty normal. Oh and a whole lot of people claim to have the best rum or cigars in the country, maybe they do, who am I to argue.
Baños del San Juan
Located in the region of Las Terrazas these natural baths are a great way to experience some local entertainment. I stayed at hotel Moka and from there it was around a 30 minute walk to the baths. On the way I met some local kids who sold me hand made baskets full to the brim of bananas and a circular fruit that had a weird custard centre for a 1CUC. I thought I was being set up with the odd fruit because the kids thought it was a funny that we wanted them but after watching the kid eat it, I trusted him. Once at the baths we were the only tourists and had the opportunity to live as the Cuban locals live in the area. I’m not sure it its usually this tourist free, but the day we arrived it was magic. As usual the locals are super friendly and without language you can easily share a laugh as people push each other into the water. The surroundings are lush and the water cool through the piercing Cuban heat.
A window to sounding cultured
So if you want to sound “cultured” and “worldly” on your next tinder date then Cuba’s for you. Among its national drink or choice: rum, it also produces some bloody fine coffee. Which in regional areas like Viñales Valley are easy to explore. The valley also has loads to do like rock climbing, horse riding, farm tours, cave exploring all amongst some incredible scenery. I was originally a latte drinker before Cuba, now I drink straight black coffee, close my eyes and pretend I’m on a porch, in a valley with chickens at my feet. The Tobacco is also grown locally and you can easily visit a farm and learn the process of how a cigar is created. A whole lot more love goes into them that you may realise. There’s something pretty special watching a cigar being rolled and smoking it on the spot where it was grown. Even the non-smokers were getting involved.
(Side note: This valley also had a weird breed of dog every where who’s eyes were super far apart? Anyone else reading this, that has been here notice this?)
Walls of social commentary
One of the most surprising things in Havana was the level of street art. Huge social problems open up a beautiful space for people to express life on the broken down streets. However it’s an expensive hobby with one spray can costing up to 6USD or CUC. So you know whats going up on the walls, what ever message they are looking to convey, they are working hard to put it there. It’s easy to spend days walking around, looking at the work that complements all the people that walk past it. Much of the city is in decay and the street art breathes so much new life into the place.
The colour, culture, people and a feeling I’ve never experienced anywhere else. When your standing on an old roof top painted aqua, high above such an incredible city, on a 50’s lawn chair, drinking rum, hearing peak hour old car horns and watching a life live so beautifully around you with complete disregard to what you have to bring to the table because what they have is already so unique. Life’s unbelievably special.