Published: February 13th 2012February 7th 2012
Sign says it all.
As I’m publishing this once I leave Cuba I’m telling the story as it happened day by day. Pretend each day is a new post. I also had the great idea of writing a day by day account on Wednesday so apologies for the not so informative accounts of Monday and Tuesday.
So I somehow got up on time, got a taxi to the bus station that goes to Panama and bought a ticket for when I get back then managed to find the terminal for public bus to the airport and made my flight with plenty of time to spare. Flight to Havana was great. Had 3 seats to myself and just lay there watching stuff on my laptop. Minus the few episodes of turbulence was all good. My fear of flying is slowly getting better. Upon arrival in Cuba went through migration, whom I asked to stamp my passport and they did. I don’t care what grief this gives me when I transit in the US, I can’t come to Cuba and not have my passport stamped. After standing in line forever to get my Euros changed to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) I went up to
26 de Julio Badge
Worn by a revolutionary during the revolution years.
departures and got a taxi from there as I had heard that the taxi drivers from there will drive you half price as they’re going back to Havana empty anyway. A taxi from arrivals according to the guide book costs 30CUC, I got mine for 16CUC, thanks Lonely Planet forum posters for talking about this trick. Taxi ride to Havana is a pretty long one, airport is about 30km from the city.
Get to my hostel and take my taxi driver, Michel’s, phone number as he said he’ll take me back on Sunday for cheap again. So go into hostel, turns out they’re fully booked but work with other locals so I’m sort of doing a homestay again, just no meals provided :p. My digs are sweet, 2 fans, A/C and a nice bathroom with the best thing yet…HOT water. That’s right, say what you like about communism but I got to take my first hot shower today since I stayed in a hotel in Mexico City over 2 months ago!
Was pretty late by now so I just picked the first bar/restaurant the book said and went there. Had a salad and rice as like most Latino
Need I say more?
countries they don’t cater for vegetarians fantastically. Had a mojito and a beer and went home for some sleep.
So first real day in Havana. Looked through the guidebook and decided I would visit the Museo de la Revolución and take a walking tour of Centro Havana that covered all the cool architectural buildings of the area.
The museum was awesome. It’s housed in the former Presidential Palace so very glamorous building indeed. It had 3 floors. The exhibition starts on the 3rd
floor so I will too. This part is all dedicated to the pre revolution success and the 1950s and how the revolution was planned and carried out. Had some awesome photos of young Fidel, Raul, Che and the many other important figures who were key to the success of the revolution but whom history has forgotten. I took many photos and also see why the FSLN use red and black as their colours (at least I’m hoping its in tribute to the earlier 26 de Julio movement colours).
So yeah like I said had the great idea of doing day by day account on Wednesday and I’m writing this part Friday so
I can’t really remember much else about the 3rd
floor except there was lots of memorial sort of thing to fallen comrades who Batista had murdered for various guerrilla activities and a lot of poetry written by the revolutionaries. I took many pictures so you’ll get to see. However this was also to my detriment, my camera ran out of power on the 3rd
floor! So no pictures from the next part of the exhibition, just my lacking memories.
On the 2nd
floor was the exhibition dedicated to how Cuba has transformed into a socialist state. It was in sections as per years of what happened i.e. 1959-1965, 1966-1970 etc, etc. Many documents, the constitution and stats, oh and a fair bit of anti-US stuff in the first section, you know cause of the whole Bay of Pigs thing. There was a memorial to all the Cubans who died fighting off the anti-Castro counter revolutionaries who thought they had local support. Most of those who died fighting them off were locals from the area they landed.
Anyways two examples with stats I can give are regarding healthcare and education. In regards to healthcare in 1958 (Batista regime) 1
An awful lot of these in Havana!
hospital in rural Cuba, by 1965 there was 66. The post revolution years saw much increase in health services nationwide not just in Havana. The stat regarding education was the literacy rate. Batista regime about 25% of the population were illiterate, by 1961 that had been reduced to 3% and Cuba won a UN award for their efforts. The figure now stands at less than 1% and Cuba is ranked by the UN as one of the highest countries for literacy rates alongside countries like South Korea and Japan.
Again my memory is lacking but there were many pictures and documents and artefacts in this part. It was a little bit propaganda at times but meh we get fed propaganda every time we watch the news. There was also a cool little art exhibition down here that I did manage to get some photos of prior to battery dying on me. There was also two huge rooms with chandeliers and massive high ceilings where I’m guessing Batista and former Cuban dictators entertained the likes of the Mafia, US government officials etc.
From here started the walk which took me passed some rather impressive buildings from the late 1800s
In Plaza Vieja
The old plaza.
and early 1900s, still in perfect condition. I’m not going to sugar coat shit in this blog because of my left political leanings. Some parts of Havana are a mess and need serious restoration but an awful lot of the city is in great shape with beautiful buildings. I’ve taken pictures of both sides of Cuba so you can see for yourself. Along the walk the most impressive building was the Capitolio Nacional. Of course there was Parque Central which actually isn’t Cuba’s biggest park but like I’ve said you can’t call yourself a Latin American city without one so here it was. No fountain though! But alas hidden behind some trees there was a fountain in the park. It is official; Havana can call itself a Latin American town. By here I was actually getting pretty tired so I decided I would postpone the final 1.5km till a later date. I actually can’t remember what I did after this so I’m guessing an early night. Again apologies for the lacking of information on the first two days!
So decided today that I would do Lonely Planet’s recommended walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana). First I
Old Car with New Rims
Yeah this was a weird one to see.
changed 3CUC ($3) into local currency which gave me 72 Cuban Pesos, very handy for street food that sells only in pesos for about 1/10th
of the cost than in a restaurant and the food isn’t half bad. For breakfast had some chips with a mix of vegetables and a glass of orange juice for the equivalent of 40c thanks to the local currency. Obviously not the best food in the world but I’m not complaining at those prices. So the walk begins and I swear Old Havana is more modern than Central Havana but semantics.
The place is packed with tourists, tour groups etc, I’m glad to be travelling solo at my own pace to be honest. I won’t bore you too much with the details, as there will be Facebook photos, but saw some awesome things. Statue of Simon Bolivar, liberator of much of South America from Spain, hero in this part of the world, buildings from the 20/30s when Cuba was America’s playground, random musicians and people in the streets and Cuba’s largest annual book fair.
Also saw many cool churches, you all know I’m an atheist but I really do love the architecture and
Fumo el Habana
Bad for your health, I know!
that’s one thing Havana has and plenty of it. It is like being in two worlds though. One street can be packed with tourists and beautiful colonial buildings and the next empty and full of tenements, but hey still haven’t seen one homeless person in this country.
Along the way on the walk I saw a barber shop and decided I again needed my haircut. $5 and perfect job. Why is it Latinos who I converse with in poor Spanish understand what I want and back home for $20 they mess it up every time? So continued with walk and saw many more cool buildings, the ferry terminal and finally at the end the wall to protect Cuba. Now this wall was made in the 1600s by paranoid Spaniards but some of it still remains so got some photos of me in front of it protecting Havana from the imperialist Americans now of course :p. Also the wall is right next to the Central Train Station and if you know me well enough you know I’m a nerd for transport related things so had to get some photos of the grand building and go in for a look. Okay
Sunset over Verdado
Taken from Centro Habana on the Malecon.
its no Grand Central inside like NYC and I got in trouble for taking pictures inside but still. (I also sneakily took more pictures as I was leaving).
Decided now was the perfect time to head home for a siesta or to at least watch a few episodes of Breaking Bad which I’ve just gotten all 4 seasons of. Awesome show, if you haven’t seen it, do so. On the way home though at the bottom of my street is a cigar factory. I couldn’t help myself. Every who knows me knows how anti-smoking I am but I’m in Cuba famous for its cigars so in I go have a look around find a suitably sized cigar to enjoy. Cost 10CUC and I sit at the bar with first a coffee then 2 beers to enjoy the cigar. It takes me nearly 2 hours to smoke but I met a Canadian couple, had a good chat and generally a good relax. Was perfect way to spend the late afternoon and I will indulge myself once more before leaving however not at the factory, I will go to the Malecón and watch the sunset over the Straits of Florida.
Che and I
Buddies and all.
So made it home now for a little rest before I went for dinner at some Italian restaurant. I ordered spaghetti and got a pizza but oh well, second for the day after indulging in a local currency pizza snack before my siesta. I had a few beers and bought one on the way home and decided I’d ask the first group of Cubans I saw chilling on the street if I could join them. They obliged and after some discussion I bought us all some beer and we had a good few hours chatting about Australia, Cuba, capitalism, socialism, Barcelona and Real Madrid and they got me into an exclusive car park to get some cool photos of some classic American cars. They were great friendly people as I’ve found all over this part of the world. Well after that it was getting late so I came home for some Breaking Bad and some much needed sleep. Cuba es mi amor!
Early start for me today. You all know I hate early mornings, btw by early I mean I was out before 11am. Usually I like to chill in the mornings and do what needs to
Comida tipica de Cuba
Was great and very cheap with local currency.
be done in the afternoon and evening but today I went to the area of Havana known as Verdado. It’s a bit of a walk and as I enjoy walking and hate taxis, the early start was required. So the first sight along the way would be the US interests section which is about 2.5km walk along Malecón (beautiful seaside avenue), was expecting an hour to get there but made good time. Took some photos of the area where they used to beam propaganda down to before Obama was president and also of all the flag poles the Cubans had erected to place flags in front of the projector. I got whistled at by a cop for that, guess I’m not supposed to be taking photos of government stuff. So yeah the US interests sections building is rather bland and boring so I continued to the monuments that line Ave del los Presidentes, which feature famous leftist presidents and Latino liberators such as Simon Bolivar (liberated Venezuela from the Spanish), Benito Juarez (liberated Mexico from the Spanish), Salvador Allende (elected socialist leader of Chile in the 70s who the CIA had toppled in place of a brutal right wing dictatorship
Like the title says, its Fidel.
for many years), Omar Torrijos and finally the liberator, in the 1800s, of Cuba Jose Marti.
They had a huge 176m obelisk and huge statue of the guy. You could go to the top of the obelisk and get fantastic 360 degree views of Havana and wow I just didn’t realise how big this city is. Got a great view of Plaza de la Revolución (no offence Cuba but it was a bit more like Plaza del Parqueo Carro. Mexico’s huge plaza wins this round. Also got to take sneaky pictures of the Ministerio del Interior and Comité Central del Partido Comunista del Cuba.
From here I strolled back up to La Universidad de La Habana. Wow, what a beautiful university, not sandstone exactly but much prettier than UQ and yeah lets not go there Griffith with great central meeting points and beautiful buildings. After the university I decided to take the long walk back to Centro Havana along Ave de Salvador Allende, one of Cuba’s busiest streets. As I’m walking some guy introduces himself to me as a history teacher at the university and says I have to go to a bar with him where Fidel drank
They had dreams in the 60s.
whilst he was a student. Sure enough on the wall they proudly display their picture of him. Had the best mojito yet in Cuba.
Now back to walking home and stopping at the cigar factory to get one last cigar to smoke in my life. Sunset on the Malecón is where its at so I took a book and smoked a cigar whilst the sunset towards the US. Got hassled so many times in the street today by the old oh I can get you cheaper (read shit quality) cigars that I lost my shit with one guy and yo no estoy una idiota and proceeded to tell him to leave me the fuck alone in English. It seemed to work a charm. One bizarre thing was seeing a Cuban guy wearing an MUA “Here to stay” tshirt. I got a photo, I don’t think he understood why I was so excited.
After sunset I got some cheap pizza using local currency and some beers and sat on my street just chilling and thinking about life in general, very philosophical I know. Well once the whole thinking thing wore off I decided I wanted more beers so went
Liberated a few South American countries from the Spanish. Is a Latino hero.
to the bar I went to the first night for food and just had a couple of beers. I really hate being at the pub alone waiting for people back home but over being at the pub alone is no drama whatsoever. Maybe its because you can sit at the bar and chat with the bar staff, I don’t know. Just as I’m on my next beer two young guys walk in who I presume are tourists as one is Asian and the other is wearing a “Proud to be Union” shirt so I thought oh they must be Aussie’s. Nope, Cuban again in a union shirt and the Asian guy is a student at the university but spoke good English and Spanish so at least this time my excitement at the union shirt could be properly explained. Had a beer with them before parting ways for some much needed sleep after what I estimate to be around 12km of walking done today.
Woke up late today. Monies running low so decided I would spend the day relaxing in my casa until late afternoon when I finished that walking tour I began on Tuesday of Central Havana’s
Josi Matri Memorial
The guy who liberated Cuba from the Spanish. Went to the top. Views were incredible.
architectural masterpieces. However first I decided that if I wanted to eat other than the not bad, but not amazing food sold from people’s kitchens I’d need some more cash. ING’s website has been down for days so I needed to do telephone banking. International calls are only possible from hotels so off I went to find a fancy hotel. Found one, made my 4 minute call to transfer some money. 16CUC, thanks ING for having such a shit website that has been down for nearly a week that I had to pay nearly $16 to call you and transfer some money. You’re getting an angry phone call when I get to Costa Rica and can use my laptop with wifi and Gmails 2c a minute calls to Australia. I got a receipt so I’m hoping for a refund, doubt I’ll get one but nothing like taking your anger out on a bank, don’t worry I’ll ask to speak to someone higher up straight away so its not just some person doing their job I get angry with. Middle management is going to get an earful.
Well after that I needed to find an ATM in Cuba that actually
worked. Surprisingly in Havana that isn’t a hard task just the lines are huge and there’s no guarantee your card will work. American cards definitely don’t but ING is Dutch so I’m hoping it will. My turn and it works thankfully and Cuban ATMs charge the least commission of any country I’ve visited so far!
Was hungry so got some lovely food from someone’s kitchen, 2 grilled cheese sandwiches and water for 40c. Can’t go wrong. Returned to my house to relax and watch Breaking Bad for the afternoon as I’ve seen most the stuff I wanted in Havana, if I had more time I definitely would have visited another part of the country as Havana is easily doable in 4 days, plus it was fricken hot today so waited till late afternoon to venture out.
Though tomorrow there is one final thing I want to do and that visit the Cuban art gallery. They have 2 galleries in Havana, one with works from around the world and one with ones from solely Cuban artists. I’m going to go with the Cuban artists gallery as I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece, other than revolutionary art and
street art by a Cuban and they have an extensive gallery according to Lonely Planet.
So for dinner/drinks to the microbrewery. Looked like a very popular place from the amount of people there. To be honest though I think Cuba’s two national beers are better and the menu sucked for vegetarians, I had salad with rice and mashed potato because that was literally all there was for me. What I have learned in Central America is that I absolutely detest cucumber. It is disgusting but I eat it because I know its good for you. From there I decided I’d try the bar Lonely Planet says has great mojitos. Yes the mojito was good but meh wasn’t the best I’ve had in Cuba. I know I said I wouldn’t anymore but I had one cigar, definitely my last before heading to the tienda to grab 3 beers to drink outside my house. Went and got some street food as well with the local currency. Two things that really bug me about Cuba are the men trying to sell you something, be it cigars or whatever and the amount of prostitutes. Just leave me the hell alone to enjoy my
Cuban worker wearing an MUA "Here to stay" union shirt.
cheap food and beer. Once food was done I returned to my house’s stoop finished the beers and went to bed. Another day in Havana complete.
Woke up late and watched the rest of Season 2 of Breaking Bad before heading out for the day around 1pm. Had a lot to do today, art gallery, buy postcards for Meegan and Jessica, the two I promised would get them from Cuba as they didn’t respond in time to my shout out for people wanting postcards from Nicaragua. I think they got the better deal, the postcards I’ve seen are heaps cooler and the stamps are of Che. Also had to find somewhere to spend my remaining spending money seeing as CUCs are useless everywhere else so nice dinner tonight was the plan.
Went to the Museo de Artes Bellas Colección (Arte Cubanos) and spent a good few hours there. Had paintings, drawings, cartoons, the lot done by Cubans or people who painted in Cuba. Was some absolutely stunning pieces of art ranging from the early 1800s to about the late 1980s so many different styles and the like. Now you weren’t supposed to take pictures but I
Art of Che
Wish I had enough money/space for souveneirs.
did take quite a few and got in trouble a few times for it, was lucky not to get kicked out but all in all I behaved myself and only took pictures of ones I absolutely loved. So just as I’m about to leave Havana has its daily pissing down with rain session. These can last 5 minutes or these can last 5 hours. Luckily this one was only about 10 minutes so I just sat at the gallery lobby until it was dry enough to walk home to write these postcards to send when I’m in Habana Vieja tonight. For some reason there’s heaps of post offices there and hardly any in Centro Habana.
So not much to report on Saturday night, I used my remaining 15 minutes on my internet card to check in for my flight and update Facebook. Had an average dinner followed by drinks at a bar before another with some rice and beans before I found one of those out the kitchen window places where they made me the most awesome fried egg sandwich because I paid in CUC instead if moneda Nacional. So content I went to have my last night on my stoop with two beers in hand. Nearly finished my second beer when a Cuban guy came and started talking to me. We had a good chat and at the end he asked if I could give him some shaving cream. I was happy to give him mine as I can afford more, he obviously can’t. After that it was bedtime for the last sleep in Havana.
Nothing much to report here other than I checked out my casa particular at midday then chilled in Parque Central where I had a final beer in the plush hotel and managed to negotiate a taxi to the airport down from 25CUC to 17CUC and I made my flight back to San Jose where I got to see a beautiful sunset from the plane. If you’re reading tis my plane obviously didn’t crash and I’ll update you all from Panama where I’m meeting a friend, from Guatemala, on Tuesday after one more night in San Jose before a 16 hour bus ride.
The one thing I learned in Cuba is bring a bloody hoody, jacket, whatever with you, not just t-shirts, this place is cold in February and I learned that the hard way!
Love you all and that shit. Con Paz. Liam.