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Published: August 24th 2018
I always wanted to visit Cuba and thought spring 2016 might be a good time to do so, as the country was looking at quite a few changes due to talks with the US. I managed to get fairly cheap fights from London via Boston and the Bahamas and back via Rome in Italy. I spent a week in total in the country starting off in Havana. The plane I took from Nassau was very tiny, but the flight was less than an hour long. The Island looked rather beautiful from above and when we landed it was very hot and humid.
I was travelling by myself and like many other trips I did not plan anything ahead but flights and accommodation. Unlike many other trips I have taken before this was Cuba and they did not have WiFi at every corner and I had to find my hotel only by knowing its name. Lucky the taxi drivers new the city by heart and he managed to drop me off. Once I dropped my backpack off at the hotel I decided to go for a walk around the city.
Havana felt very clean, pretty buildings and very touristy. The
town had a couple little shops, bars and restaurants. After walking around the town for a while I got talking to a guys called David, who offered to show me around the city which I gladly accepted. David was a local and he was excited to hear all about my life and was happy to talk about his live in Havana. David wanted to be a tour guide , since the country seen more and more foreign tourist visiting the over the past few years. He seemed very excited about the idea. He took me to his favourite bar for some Cuba Libres and I took him out for dinner in the evening at a small restaurant he chose.
The next day I decided to go down to Cienfuegos for a couple of days, where I already booked a Casa. A Casa is similar to what we know as an Air BnB over here. Almost everyone in Cuba who has the space is renting out rooms to tourist. It gives you a little bit more of a local feeling and you actually get to know the country and the people. So I know I had a place to stay,
but I had no idea how to get there. I picked up a little map of Havana at the hotel and the girl at reception marked the bus station. What I didn't know was that there were about two busses a day going that direction and also they did have a schedule printed at the station that didn't mean the busses actually ran at that time. Despite the map it took what felt forever to find the bus station. Once I had found it I could not see any busses coming or leaving. I talked to one of the guys around and he said you never know when the bus would be leaving and I would be better off driving, then to my surprised he did offered to drive me if we could find a few more people who were going the same direction.
We managed to find another couple who was going the same direction and the 4 of us took off South. Its was about a 5 hour drive though the middle of the country in an old run down American car. The drive took us through sugar cane and banana plantations. I saw people on horse
carries going down the roads and a lot of the work on the fields was been done by hand. I expected to see a lot of old American cars, but to my surprise I also saw a lot of really run down East German cars, the once my parents would drive when I was a little kid.
When we arrived in Cienfuegos our "driver"made sure we got dropped off exactly where we wanted to go and I have him 20 Cuban Dollars as a thank you. In Ciefuegos I was staying in one of the Casas a little outside town. It was a lovely little house and had a really nice room which cost me around 5 Dollar a night. My host was very lovely and he offered to take me and two of the girls staying there on a tour to see the El Nicho the next day. The rest of the day I strolled around the harbour and I ran into a guy from Canada and started chatting to him.I can't quite remember his name, so I am just calling him Jon. Jon was in his late 60s and came down here with his buddy Mario who
I would meet later. Both of them spent the winter month in Cuba for years now to flee the cold weather up North. After a while of chatting to him I met Mario and both invited me for a couple of beers at a Yacht Club near by. We must have spent hours chatting, but I did really enjoy doing though. They both told me about their lives in Cuba and how it had changed over the years. Apparently while Canadians have been coming down here on holidays for quite a while the amount of tourist visiting Cuba in the recent years has risen.A lot of people in Cuba started to work in tourism now giving tours, opening up their houses making them into Air BnBs, as they realised tourist bring a lot more money into the country especially tips making up a big part of it. Jon and Mario told me a lot about theirs lives here and back in Canada. Jon was married to a Cuban girl and they have two children, while Mario was dating here and there.
After quite a few beers they guys got me TukTuk back to my place, where I met up
with my host and two other girls at the local bar. It was an outside sort of tiki bar under a couple of palm trees where most of the locals seem to go in the evenings. The next day we were invited to go on a tour to the El Nicho national park. We joined a tour group and our host drive us up to the mountains, we stopped in a coupe little villages and a small local market to get some water and snacks The views from up there were absolutely stunning. We did quite a bit hiking that day and I was not prepared for that. Since it was really hot the last few days I was wearing flip flops all the time, this day was no different, apart from that we were hiking in the mountains, so I scratched my feet pretty well. When we got to the top there was a little lagun, or more like a blue hole with abeautiful waterfall. The water was freezing cold, but we all went swimming anyway to cool off, as it was around 35 degrees now.
The hike down was gorgeous, we walked through parts of the jungle
that opened up into views of mountains and there were palm trees everywhere. It was a perfect day. At the end we visited a little restaurant, that was part of the park. I ordered some patatas braves, which I thought were potato, but ended up with roasted banana slices. My host explained that they usually don't get potatoes, as they don't grow here. They restaurant also ran out of cheese that day, but they were pretty relaxed about it. Once we were back I decided to take a little walk mainly to find out where the bus station was, because I was going back to Havana the next day. While the suburb I was staying was really pretty, near the harbours with cute little houses surrounded by palm trees the town center looked a lot different. All the houses looked he same, grey and run down. It was really hard to find my way around even with a map. Stores were not marked and looked no different from the other houses. After abut two hours walking around in the heat I gave up finding the bus station. I did try to exchange some money at the local bank, but because
their computes were not working due to a power outage they were not able to exchange any of my £. I asked they were it would be fixed, but they did not know. All I got was maybe in an hour, a day, a week, we don't know.
The next day it was time to go back to Havana and after talking to my host he organised for a lift with some of the locals. He introduce me to this guy Mike who was from Miami, but was visiting family in Cuba. Mike was driving back to Havana and had a free space in the car, so I cramped into the back seat between two other people going the same way. the ride was very interesting and it was a good chance to brush up my Spanish, even though Cubans speak super fast and I think most times I just nodded not quiet knowing what was going on. After about 3 hours in the car, Mike decided we should get some food and he invited everyone for lunch at a local restaurant. When I say restaurant I actually mean a little shed with some outside seating. But they served fresh local food and when I say fresh I meant still alive and you could choose your own chicken from the backyard. For the rest of the trip I stuck to eat only rice and beans.
Back in Havana I stayed at hotel a little outside the city centre and to be honest I was a little shocked about how different Havana could was from what I had seen a few days ago. This part of town was very run down, houses looked like no one should be living in them, but people did. A lot of people were just sitting inform of there houses doing nothing. I deiced to take a little walk and all the colourful houses I had seen in the city center only a few days ago were gone. Every time I tried to take a photo I was pretty much asked by a guy in army uniform to refrain from it and maybe I should not walk around here and go back to the center with all the other tourist. On some of the buildings they had large portraits of Castro and I think I saw one of Che Guevara. I went to one of the stores to get some water, but the shelves were pretty much empty, the only thing most of the local stores were selling was rum and beer, if you were lucky they might had a loaf of bread and some other small items.
I got lost a couple of times. And in the end I decided to take a taxi back to the hotel. They taxi driver seemed pretty relaxed and asked me if I minded if he would stop at the shops to get some beer and if I wanted one, because he was having one. I took him up on it but did decide to walk the rest. The next day I was going back home and they had to go back home, but since I could not find a taxi the hotel advised to just flag a car down on the street like most people apparently did and just pay them a couple of dollar to dropped me at the airport. The first car that stopped had a goat sitting on the passenger seat so I opted for the next one. The second car had a few people sitting on the back and I hoped in. I gave the driver the rest of my Cuban Dollars and he promised to drop me off at the airport. After half an hour he stopped at a random filed and asked me to get out. He pointed to a couple of buildings at the horizon which turned out to be the airport and said "1 Mile that way and you get there". Glad I planned in quite a bit of time before departure. I did manage to flag down another car that dropped me of a little closer.
At the check in counter I was told the airline on my ticket was not correct, granted I printed the ticket out over a week ago and since there was no getting hold of Wifi I was not able to check any changes. But since there were only two fights going out that day I was pretty sure the flight itself was still the same even if the airline changed. After a couple of minutes arguing with the girl at check in they let me broad the plane. Worst plane journey I have ever been on.
Its was an 11 hour flight from Havana to Rome I think the Airline was called Blue, which till then I had never heard off. All announcements were made in Italian, no English or at least Spanish. The Entertainment System was not working and at some point all the stewardess disappeared. No one was offering any refreshments during the whole flight, they didn't even come through with a trolley of goods to purchase. I pressed the button to call someone, because I wanted to get some water, but the guys in front of me advised not to bother he pressed it like an hour ago and he pointed to all the other lights above passengers, no one was coming. After a few hours I saw one of the stewardesses walking down the aisle I grabbed her and asked her for some water, but she just said it was not one of her duties and I should ask someone else, but who????
After a very long night we finally made it to Rome. Cuba was a very interesting place and I am glad I got the chance to go and to experience a little bit of the local side of it as well. I will definitely be back some day.
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