Mexico - Cuba - Havana and Isla de la Juentud - February 24, 2013

Published: June 11th 2013
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11,152 Miles

From Bangkok to Tokyo, 2 hour layover, then on to LA, 2 and a half hour layover, then finally to Puerto Vallarta. @ weeks later on to DF, overnight and on to Havana, a couple of nights then lastly to Nuevo Gerona

At the Garcia Blanco ComplexAt the Garcia Blanco ComplexAt the Garcia Blanco Complex

We met in the lobby of this fabulous hotel. Champagne and hors d'oeuvres were on offer while we waited for the golf cart that would shuttle us to an adjoining part of the complex.
We left Thailand on February 11th and headed to Mexico to meet Luc and Colette. We arrived in Puerto Vallarta the afternoon of Feb 12th after 32 hours of traveling and picked up our rental car. We headed to our budget ($36 per night for a 2 bedroom) AirBNB apartment and tried to rest. Our days and nights were so mixed up it was difficult to sleep. Next day, we met Luc coming in from Dubai, and an hour later, Colette coming in from Saskatoon. We got settled in and enjoyed a drink or 2 around the pool with other Canadians who were staying in the same complex.

The next evening, we drove just a little south of Mismaloya to meet other Saskatoon friends, Kevin and Dana. They were staying 'in style' at the brand new luxury Garcia Blanca. A valet took our car, a porter brought us each a glass of champagne and snacks, and the host showed us around. As we sipped on our second glass, the golf cart arrived and took us to the tower that Kevin and Dana were in. It was an 11th floor suite with balcony overlooking Banderas Bay, it was luxurious! As we
Overlooking the ocean at the Garcia BlancoOverlooking the ocean at the Garcia BlancoOverlooking the ocean at the Garcia Blanco

Note the heart shaped palm decoration in the background.
rode the elevator down to the restaurant, it came to an abrupt HALT!!!! We were stuck!!!! When no one answered the alarm and it quit going off after a few minutes, we decided to pry the doors open, and did manage to do just that. We took the stairs the rest of the way down, declining the offer of using the other elevator. Afterwards, the hotel butler moved Dana and Kevin to a ground floor suite. No way was Dana was doing the elevators again! We enjoyed a delicious dinner. We all had to check out the most elaborate toilets we have ever seen. You open the door, the seat goes down for you and it is warm by the time you sit. You can select the music you want from the electronic panel located beside you, then when you are done your business, you can have back or front, direct, oscillating, or pulsating wash. You can then have hot blow dry to finish the job. You stand up, the toilet flushes, seat goes up and music turns off. This is definitely a MUST have in any new home! What an incredible resort!

We spent the week touring the

Check out the view from our friends 11th floor balcony
area, playing cards, reading and dipping in the pool at our complex and watching the entertainers on the Malecon. Our last day, we said good bye to Luc and Colette, who flew back to Saskatoon, dropped the rental car off, then went whale watching with Sara, a Mexico City friend of ours.

February 22th, we flew to Mexico City to visit for a few days before catching our 2 and a half hour flight to Cuba.

Cuba, February 24 to March 26, 2013

The Money!!! Cuba has 2 currencies, one for locals called 'cups', and another for tourists called 'cucs'. It was extremely frustrating! 1 CUC is equal to 1 USD(tourist money) or 24 cups ( local money)

We arrived on time in Havana only to be detained in customs for over an hour; something about a glass bottle the scanner picked up in our big luggage. When we finally got to the front of the line, they didn't find anything at all. Once we cleared, we were greeted by Linda's brother, Jack's, girlfriend Francesca and were whisked off in her brother's taxi to yet another brother's Casa Particulare. Casa Particulares are government sanctioned and licensed
At Bucerias, MXAt Bucerias, MXAt Bucerias, MX

The shrimp platter is their special. It was absolutely delicious!
rooms that are available for rent in private homes. They must maintain certain standards such as a fan, a/c, private bathroom with (usually hot) showers. Each Casa is only allowed to offer 2 rooms. The cost is usually between $20 and $35 per night. They also offer incredible home cooked breakfasts (3 - 4cuc) and suppers (7-10cuc). We would be asked if we would prefer pork, chicken, shrimp, fish or lobster. Because of these wonderful meals, we seldom ate in restaurants.

Jose and Lourdes would become good friends, our travel agents and our home base whenever we passed through Havana. After settling in, Francesca took us to see the Havana sights. We visited Havana Viego, the historical Center of the city. After the in-house dinner, Francesca insisted we see the daily ritual at Castillo de la Real Fuerza. The soldiers are dressed in olden style English uniforms and fire off an old cannon with a sack ball, instead of a cannon ball. This happens every evening at nine. Later we got into a 1950's taxi for the ride to "1830", a popular nightclub situated in a garden overlooking the ocean. There, in the sweltering Cuban heat, individuals, couples, and

These are street entertainers in PV. They are dressed in suits covered with sand. They play chess and pretend to drink sand that comes out of their bottle!
large groups of people danced the Salsa as well as the Zumba. When the dancing ended for us, we took an older, even more decrepit taxi back to Jose's.

The following day, we again enjoyed the sights, music, and street life of Old Havana. We were saddened by the incredible decay of the many great old buildings. Behind a reasonable facade, windows with louvers were destroyed and covered over or left gaping open. Tall, wooden doors were crumbling, trees were growing out of balconies. Roofs were collapsed or collapsing. There were old cars, newer tour buses, bicitaxis, cocotaxis (these have a small engine), and horse drawn carriages plying the streets. There were old Russian motorcycles, many with sidecars attached. We wandered down the walking street called Obispo where tourists stroll through the market, stores and bars enjoying the music and dancing that goes on all day and well into the evening.

We learned the double currency system of "cup" and "cuc". Tourists used 'cuc' and locals use 'cup', 24 cup to 1 cuc. Francesca used 'cup' when she could, but because she was with us, she usually had to use 'cuc', again, only because she was with us.
Whale Watching in Banderas Bay, PVWhale Watching in Banderas Bay, PVWhale Watching in Banderas Bay, PV

We spent the afternoon slowly idling among the whales watching them.
Again, each 'cuc' being equivalent to a US dollar. We found shade to sip beer or mojitos during the heat of the day. The Camara Oscura, located at the top of a building on the northwestern corner of Plaza Vieja, contains a 360 degree rotating telescopic lens which projects live images on a curved disc in the building. It reflected the comings and goings of the people below while a lovely English speaking guide pointed to points of interest about the city. It impressed us, mostly because of its' uniqueness and clarity. We then set out on foot and toured most of those points of interest.

We were pleased to have been able to spend a few days in Havana while awaiting airline tickets. All flights to Isla de la Juventud were booked until March 2nd. However, for an extra 20 cuc, plus paying the tourist price of 79 cuc for each of us 3, instead of the $2.71cucs locals pay, we were able to fly to the Isla de la Juventud, where Jack, Linda's brother waited for us. We were once again greeted by a cab and whisked to Nuevo Gerona, the capital of the Isla, a 15
More WhalesMore WhalesMore Whales

The whales would breach, swim around and under the boats, just like this large whale.
minute ride away. Our Casa Particulare people greeted us with hugs and kisses ( the norm in Cuba), and we were ushered into our room where the a/c was on. Jack arrived with cold beer which we consumed on the patio above our room and the main house.

We walked the town and got our bearings. We met some of Jack's many acquaintances and stopped for a drink, as it was scorching hot. Our Casa and Jack's were within walking distance of each other. We usually shared breakfasts and dinners at either one place or the other. Gourmet meals of bean soup, rice, potatoes of some sort, taro root, banana chips or plantains, salad and either pork, chicken, fish, shrimp or lobster were served in abundance. There was always much left over in spite of our best efforts to eat everything!

We spent our time on the Isla walking through Nuevo Gerona, visiting various places, and figuring out their money and where to get it. We were able to find/use the incredibly slow internet when it was working, we visited at each others casa, played dominoes, shopped or attended various shows that Francesca performed at. She is a
With SaraWith SaraWith Sara

Whale watching with Puerta Vallarta in the background, Linda, Maurice and Sara had a great time. We also enjoyed snacks and as many drinks as we wished.
fantastic singer and makes her living entertaining at various venues. We got in our share of dancing with the locals (and can they ever dance)! We got around by bicitaxi, cab, walking or we rode bikes to various beaches to swim and enjoy the water. Playa Paraiso was our beach of choice, only a reasonable 5 kilometer bike ride away. It had a palapa for shade while capturing the breeze to alleviate the heat. The bar had excellent food and drinks. The shallow, clear, blue water had a few sea fleas that would nip you as you waded. We just pulled them off and there were no bite marks. We were also told to watch out for puffer fish and sea urchins as they did appear from time to time.

Linda's brother Jack hails from Smithers, BC and we spent our time on the Isla with his many friends. Doug, also from Smithers, was the fellow who introduced Jack to Cuba. Cuba's where Jack met his girlfriend Francesca. Francesca's extended family, Dayanis and Roxana, Willie, his wife Lluva and 2 children, Nacho, and many others became very good friends. Enrique, a bicitaxi driver and Jack's close friend, the beach
Francesca and her brother in HavanaFrancesca and her brother in HavanaFrancesca and her brother in Havana

Francesca holding the sign that greeted us when we finally cleared customs in Cuba. Her brother stands beside the taxi he drives for a hotel.
bartender and others would stop and visit frequently. We were frequently 10 to 15 people at a gathering, visiting and sharing conversation, laughter and bottles of rum!

Because of Doug and Jack's stories of beautiful Isla, the people, the weather, the lifestyle, Don, also from Smithers, decided to make the trip to Cuba. Don has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for some 20 years. It was with tearful joy that we watched him get up and dance with Linda, Lathy and others at a birthday party held for Lathy and Francesca.

Our group of 6 went to a resort called Hotel Colony, about an hour away, to spend a night and to enjoy a different view of the island. The hotel was lovely with about 70 rooms for rent and a large pool surrounded by a wide patio. There was a little gift shop with few items for sale, a great bar (drinks were 1 or 2 cuc) and they had a good restaurant (4 meals were included in the $86 cost for the room). We enjoyed the beach walk but never made it into the ocean as rain arrived, giving us a much needed reprieve from the
At Castillo de la Real FuezaAt Castillo de la Real FuezaAt Castillo de la Real Fueza

The 16th century fortress surrounded by a moat that was built to replace the French fortress. The English took over the fort in 1762.
heat. With the rain came the sand flies looking for a feed and shelter from the rain. Linda was covered with bites that itched for over a week.

Another day we visited the Presidio Modelo prison. The prison was opened in 1931 and, by the late 50's, housed up to 6000 prisoners. Four 5 story massive circular buildings housed the prisoners, 2 to a cell, with no doors for privacy. The guards were situated in the middle of the building in a tower that was inaccessible from the inside of the building. Thus, few guards were needed to guard the prisoners in each of the buildings. Over the course of time, gangs, corruption and the unthinkable living conditions caused the prison to be closed by Fidel Castro. Fidel himself had been imprisoned there prior to coming to power. Today, it stands empty and is still an ominous site on the landscape. The prison now serves as a museum and is declared a National Monument, and today, the old administration building serves as a school and research center.

All too soon we made arrangements to catch the ferry back to Havana. It was with great sadness that we bid
The Cannon The Cannon The Cannon

Every evening at 9pm, a ritual is held where the guards parade and then fire this cannon. They use a sack instead of a cannon ball.
our friends from the Isla good-bye. We think of them often and miss them.

Because it was difficult to again obtain a flight back to Havana without having booked a month in advance, we decided to take the 3 hour ferry ride across to the Mainland and then the 1 hour bus ride across the country back to Havana. We had to be at the ferry by 6am, no problem, food is available at the terminal. However, in typical Cuban fashion, all that they had was coke and salteen crackers. Once we were on way however, they did serve us a shooter of sweet, black, thick coffee. The a/c worked well. After freezing for 3 hours and watching old reruns from the 60's on 2 small TVs at the front of the 250 passenger boat, we were whisked onto buses and crossed, uneventfully, to Havana and back to Jose's Casa.

During our stay in Nueva Gerona, Jose had planned a complete itinerary for our travels across Cuba. We had previously spent time together discussing our tour across Cuba and Jose was a great help with his knowledge of Cuba, indicating where we should visit and where it was
Full Moon Over HavanaFull Moon Over HavanaFull Moon Over Havana

The moon was full the day we arrived and was full the day we left. The moon hangs over Havana.
just too inconvenient, difficult or time consuming to get to. He had obtained bus tickets for the following day to Vinales, Pinar del Rio. He arranged for a Casa Particulare in each of the cities we planned to visit all across Cuba and even purchased our flight tickets for our return from Santiago de Cuba back to Havana on March 25th! Jose would call each Casa owner the day before our arrival so that someone would be at the bus terminal to greet us when we arrived in their city. What an incredible difference this made for us; to be greeted with the "Linda y Mauricio" sign wherever we stopped.

March 8th, we were on the bus headed to the westernmost province of Cuba, Pinar del Rio, and the town of Vinales. We drove down an 8 lane expressway, passing the horse drawn carts, tractors pulling wagons, and only the occasional car. Often we couldn't see another vehicle on either side of the divided highway.

We began our tour of Cuba with Jack and the Isla, then visit the western part of Cuba before heading on to the rest of the country east of Havana. We would return
A Cab for HireA Cab for HireA Cab for Hire

This old car was one of many used for as cabs in Havana. This car is in very good shape.
to Jose's Casa Particulare whenever our path took us through Havana. Make sure to check the map we have created, and also check out the many pictures!

Additional photos below
Photos: 57, Displayed: 31


At 1830 Restaurant and BarAt 1830 Restaurant and Bar
At 1830 Restaurant and Bar

One of the well known salsa, zumba clubs in Havana. Can they EVER dance!
At Our Casa Particulares in HavanaAt Our Casa Particulares in Havana
At Our Casa Particulares in Havana

Jose and Lourdes welcomed us at their casa particulare on the 4 different occasions we happened to be in Havana.
Cabs Park in the Middle of the StreetCabs Park in the Middle of the Street
Cabs Park in the Middle of the Street

These antique cars are a common sight in downtown Havana. They are kept in good shape for tourists to enjoy.
Gran TeatroGran Teatro
Gran Teatro

Downtown Old Havana is full of old, majestic buildings, most of which are in need of many repairs.
Parque Central, HavanaParque Central, Havana
Parque Central, Havana

This statue was erected in honor of Antonio Maceo who is considered the bravest general in Cuban history.
Flamenco DancingFlamenco Dancing
Flamenco Dancing

While stopping for a refreshment and shade we encountered these dancers. They were amazing!
Sitting on the Malecon WallSitting on the Malecon Wall
Sitting on the Malecon Wall

The malecon is the walkway along the ocean. In the evening thousands of people flock to it for the cooling breeze that comes in off of the ocean.
The Malecon - againThe Malecon - again
The Malecon - again

A cold front comes in and with it heavy seas. It causes the road along the malecon to be closed to traffic.

11th June 2013

You have a great life! I am glad you are enjoying it.
16th June 2013

thx for sharing, im so jealous. oh well, enjoy

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