Havana - Day 3

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Central America Caribbean » Cuba » Oeste » La Habana
February 16th 2018
Published: February 18th 2018
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This morning after an absolutely terrible night’s sleep I was up at 5.30. The bed is really hard an I am struggling to get a decent night’s sleep. After two hours of staring at the wall I decided to get up and do some blogging, look over my photos and anything else I can do while not disturbing Jo. I quietly crept out of bed, felt around in the dark for my laptop and silent crept toward the door taking care not to bump into anything. Go to open the door CRRRREEAAAKKKK. So much for being quite trying to sneak out of the oldest bedroom in Havana.

Eventually I did get tired enough to sleep and went ack to bed. I woke up at 9.30 to the sounds of my phone pinging. I was getting notifications from Facebook. WIFI is working again. I seized the opportunity to fire a quick email to the folks to let them know I am alive and well but communications are a non-event here in Cuba. I then sent a message to our AirBNB host to let her know that the wifi is on the blink, then tottled of to have a shower. By the time I got out of the shower Carmens mum had re-appeared and was trying to communicate the wifi issue with Jo. I pulled out my phone and picked up google translate. Between her phone and mine we worked out that in addition to connecting to the router, we actually needed to buy a wifi card. When she showed us the wifi card we had assumed that was if we wanted to use data roaming. Nope, miscommunicado.

Anyhoo Carmens mum whipped down the road to get us wifi cards, for which we will have to reimburse here. So then she set about showing us how to connect. Funny thing, once you are connected via someone else’s internet account, it is really hard to disconnect. Half an hour of us stuffing around and one unplugged modem later, we got there. Jo and I are now using our own wifi accounts courtesy of CUC2 that only last an hour. Lesson learned.

So after all dramas have been set sorted we set out to find some breakfast…well it was closer to lunch by this time. The cafes were not serving breakfast so we had an early lunch. It worked. We then went in search of a classic car driver to take us around town. We found Senor Douglas Gabriel. For CUC30 he drove us to the Viazul terminal so we could organise our bus to Trinidad. I had tried to book a bus online but they were saying they were all booked, however we had read on a Trip Advisor forum that they don’t sell all the tickets online. That you can still buy tickets a few days out. People still miss out so for a few extra CUC’s you can get a Collectivo (shared taxi) to your destination. As soon as we alighted from our 1953 Dodge, we were approached by other drivers looking to take us somewhere. Douglas had advised us, if someone tries to sell you a car, say no, you want a ticket on the bus. Sure enough one of the car drivers showed kindly showed us the bus schedule, times and prices all clearly marked. He then proceeded to try and sell us on his collective. We politely declined and then went and stood in line for the bus ticket. He kept coming back trying to sell us a spot. Even after we had purchased a ticket. Douglas was not impressed.

Tickets now in hand we made our way to Fusterlandia. This is a neighbourhood west of Havana where a local artist has re-tiled his entire house with mosaic’s. Not content with his own place he has set to work on the neighbourhood. Fences, rooves, park benches everywhere are covered in these beautiful mosaics. It was so bright and colourful, a really nice place to visit. Douglas walked us through the house, which was good because it’s a bit of maze, lots of different angles to view the neighbourhood from. We could even go up to the roof of the second floor to view his work. I got a little nervous with the height but I think I managed it OK. Well I made everyone walk down before me because me and stairs are not friends.

After Fusterlandia Douglas took us for a drive by Castro’s “house”. We couldn’t actually see the house because it’s a farm. Lush and green and all manner of plants. I had read somewhere that because of so many attempts on his life, the Castro estate is self-sufficient. They do not have to bring food in from anywhere because they grow what they need. There are police and security guards at the gates, but Jo did notice there is no high fence or barbed wire. Not that I would care to climb those fences, you just never know who would be hiding in the bush behind it. And Douglas did explain as we drove past that we couldn’t stop to take photo’s because, well….you just don’t stop there!

Once we were back in the old town we stopped for a cerveza. Another Cuban bar, another Cuban band. I don’t know how to describe the genre of the music. Every band has a guitar, maracas and bongos as a base. Then some will have a wind instrument, like a trumpet or a flute and some have wooden percussion instruments. You can definitely imagine people dancing the salsa to it. Watching the band today I had a clear view of the guitarist and so of course I started was enthralled with the way he was playing. My conclusion, I am but a rank amateur.

For the evenings activities we had booked another trip with Doug. He picked us up at 7 and took us across the bay to see the cannon firing ceremony at Castillo de los Tres Santos Reyes Magnos del Morro. They have a canon firing ceremony every night at 9 o’clock. First we stopped for dinner, there is not as many places to eat on that side of the bay, the first place we went to was full so we went to a restaurant just down the road. It was the first non-smoking place we have seen so far. It was all open, just a roof and a bar on top of someone’s house. The food was good, even if the pork was a little tough.

We headed to the fort around 8, which gave us a chance to have a look around. As we were walking in Doug joked that this was his house, he really loved it but it was just to big so he gave it to the government. Inside the fort we went into a museum (Doug’s office) which was dedicated to Che Guevara. After the revolution, Che ran the finance department from the fort. It was an interesting perspective into his life. Photo’s of his childhood and younger years in Argentina, his wedding day, etc. Of course there were lots of photo’s of his time as a military commander which is what we all associate with his image, but it was also good to see the human behind the uniform. The photo’s of him after the revolution were all him talking to people in front of factory machinery, on farms, talking to locals, just walking about being a man of the people. I had to wonder if there was any truth in those pictures or were they just good photo ops staged for the propaganda. Maybe I’m a little cynical.

The cannon ceremony was quite the spectacle. Three times men dressed in 17th century military uniforms marched out, bearing torches, beating drums, calling out to the crowd. The ceremony is supposed to commemorate fighting the Spanish back out of the harbour, which is a bit cheeky considering it is a Spanish fort. After quite a bit of pomp and ceremony they came up to the platform we were standing on, Doug made sure we were right next to the cannon, although there were lots of people there so we couldn’t get a good view. We saw them pack the cannon, march around a bit more, and then eventually light it up. It was loud. I didn’t see a cannon ball go flying anywhere though

After the ceremony we had plans to go see some salsa dancing, but that didn’t start until 10 so Doug dropped us off at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This quite impressive building started life as a Hilton. In the Batista days I think it was a casino and it attracted a lot of mobsters. Walking in we certainly got that kind of vibe. We walked through the main lobby into the garden out the back, where they had tables, chairs and couches set up for guests. It definitely had a mobster vibe about it. We could just imagine Frank Sinatra or Al Capone lounging at the tables, talking shop with a bella hanging off their arm. It was an interesting place to people watch. Everything from guys in boardies to ladies dressed in their finest. It is rumoured to have the best mojito in the world. I thought it was pretty good, Jo wasn’t that impressed.

After the Hotel Nacional we were supposed to go to Salsa, but we changed our minds. The better salsa places are across town, and we weren’t that keen to go see bands when we couldn’t walk home. Especially when there is so much music in our part of town. That being said by the time we got back to old town, things were starting to shut down. Only a few places had music playing and they all seemed a bit crowded or a bit loud. We had a few drinks and then gave up and went home.


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