Published: May 15th 2011May 15th 2011
Arriving in Havana!!
We had visions of scary immigration control upon arriving in Cuba but as usual with most things on this trip it was a lot less daunting in reality. However we did have a bit of drama upon leaving the airport - we had booked into a hostel and were quite perturbed when none of the taxi drivers or any locals had heard of it...finally we were taken to a random house and discovered it was actually a casa particular -which is what we stayed in the entire time in Cuba, where you stay in a family´s home and they cook your meals for you, rather than staying in a touristy hotel. More complications followed as the owner Oscar unfortunately couldn´t have us to stay as his bathroom was broken or something, so we were taken to another family-s house who turned out to be really nice.
Our first day in Havana!
9am and it was already boiling hot and sunny on the streets of Havana. Without much idea of where we were going we started walking towards what we thought was the centre...after about half an hour we realised we
were walking quite aimlessly so decided to head to El Malecon, the famous sea front strip of the city. We walked along for a while the sun beating down on us, eventually deciding we should seek some shade. We hailed a taxi which turned out to be a bubble taxi. The driver was very personable and managed to convince us to go on a guided tour of Havana in his taxi, for a cheap price of course! We thought why not so hopped in and he took us all around the city, stopping occasionally and explaining all the interesting places to us. It was a really good way to see the city and we were really impressed, it was much nicer than we had been expecting. I loved all the brightly coloured buildings in vibrant shades of blue and green, and the general atmosphere of the city. After our guided tour our driver took us to Havana Vieja which we would explore on foot. He turned out to be a total swindle as he tried to charge us extortionate amounts for our journey...but oh well!! This happened to us rather a lot in Cuba but luckily we are no fools
lol and made sure we paid the right prices for everything! Havana Vieja was absolutely beautiful, it reminded us both of Seville with its plazas, cathedral, cobbled streets, blossoming trees, horse drawn carriages, the heat and the tourists! We found Plaza de Catedral and decided to sit and have a drink. There was a band playing salsa music and we sat and soaked up the atmosphere. During our stay in Havana we spent many an hour sitting there, a great place for a mojito or two!
The next day was the first of May, and it was a very exciting way to start the month as it was El dia de los trabajdores (like Labour Day) when the whole of Havana takes to the streets and parades through the city at 8am to Plaza de la Revolucion. By 8am we were out on the streets and we followed the parade, slightly perturbed that it looked like we were actually trying to be part of it lol but eventually we joined them. Everyone seemed in very high spirits, carrying flags and banners and everyone seemed happy and proud to be out celebrating being Cuban and the successes of the Revolution.
We had been told Raul Castro would without doubt appear in the main Plaza, but sadly there was no sign of him!! Also Jo happened to be wearing the exact same blue t-shirt as many of the Cubans in the parade which was very amusing.
That afternoon we again explored more of Havana Vieja (otherwise known as sitting in the square drinking cocktails...) although I did buy a book about Ernesto Che Guevara and his mother a remarkable woman. We each had a book about him which we read on the beach in Cuba, we felt very intellectual!! We have subsequently both developed slight obsessions with Che, as it would seem have the entire population of Cuba there are photos and paintings of him everywhere. I had always seen the iconic image of him without really knowing what he had done in his life, now I feel very clued up! An amazing man who acheived a lot in his life.
The next day we left to Playa Larga, a tiny little beach town, where we had heard you could scuba dive on the Carribean coast. Neither of us had scuba dived before, and we were both really excited
to try it, even me with my fish phobia. We again stayed in a casa particular, this time on the beach front. It was probably the nicest place we had yet stayed on our trip - we had a huge bedroom with our own private balcony overlooking the sea, and we literally only had to step out of the back door to be on the beach. Our host was very attentive, and luckily for us he had a fridge stocked full of wine and other drinks, and was on hand to make us any cocktails we desired. Rather dangerous for our money situation though...
Our first morning after we arrived we went scuba diving! It is certainly one of the best things that I have ever done. Being underwater and seeing all the beautiful fish down there it was like being in another world - I´ve heard people say that before but never really understood it until then! We were picked up from our casa in our transportation which was to take us to the diving centre - we were expecting a taxi or car but a bright yellow 50 year old American school bus rocked up to pick us up, how random. Since neither of us had dived before we were paying for a lesson, which turned out to be on the school bus in very bad English on the way. Surprisingly enough I wasn´t exactly feeling very confident when we got into the water. The guide could obviously tell this and so decided he would have to hold onto my arm and swim along with me for a while which I was quite happy about, as for Jo she was left trailing behind! We both managed to almost drown when we had difficulties and forgot our guide´s instructions and Jo badly hurt her legs on the coral, but after a while we both got the hang of it and it was amazing!! Best of all it all cost about 25 pounds where as in the US or Mexico it costs about 100.
The rest of that day and all of the next we spent relaxing on the beach at our casa. For most of the day we were the only people on the beach, apart from the odd local fishing or hunting for a coconut. It was very hard to drag ourselves away from our little paradise, but we decided we should probably see a bit more of Cuba so we decided to go to Trinidad about 3 hours away and which had been highly reccomended to us by a girl in Costa Rica. Trinidad is a small colonial town with cobbled streets and beautiful plazas and a church. We had been warned that arriving there we would be bombarded with people trying to get us to stay in their casa. We had already arranged to stay in one and a woman was supposed to be picking us up from the bus station to avoid this horrible situation but there was no sign of her on our arrival. We decided to sit and wait, at which point about 20 locals rushed over to us in excitement, thrusting their photos of their casas in our faces and poking and grabbing at us. It was horrible!! We pushed past them into a taxi and asked him to take us to another casa we had the address of, at which point one of the locals exclaimed it was her house and jumped in the taxi with us. When we arrived I´m pretty sure it was not the same house...but tbf we got a cheap price and the family was nice so it all worked out for the best! Our time in Trinidad was mostly spent at the nearby beach of Playa Ancon (perfectly white sandy beach with clear blue waters and palm trees) relaxing and chilling out, or in a little bar in Trinidad drinking cocktails. On our first day at the beach we did the classic English thing of getting sunburnt. I had decided I already had a good base tan so didn´t need to worry too much about sun cream which was very foolish, we got home that day and were glowing red! The next day we spent in the shade of the trees which was much more pleasant anyway. On our way home that day we acquired a local fruit seller who asked if he could share our taxi back to Trinidad. We were too nice and said sure why not. He was a bit too friendly though, and made us promise we would see him on the beach next year! Lol.
For the first time on our trip it really felt like we were just on holiday, it was so relaxing. Normally we are rushing around everywhere trying to do as much as possible, but the heat and beaches in Cuba meant for once we just took it easy and relaxed which was very refreshing and good for our tans! Cuba was without doubt one of my favourite places that I have ever visited, and I am sure Jo would agree with me. I definitely want to return one day and explore more of the amazing island! It was a strange experience going to a country where everywhere you look there is propoganda exhorting the successes of the Revolution with slogans like Patria o Muerte or Unidad e Eficiencia. There was also no shops anywhere and in some places you just could not get any food.