quick nights sleep in Cancún, a short one hour flight and we were in Cuba!
We were quickly surprised to see the officials in fish net stockings, mini skirts and a minimum four inch heel, but even more surprising was the lack of efficiency or friendliness.
We had not been handed an immigration form on the plane so we assumed we did not need to fill one out. We proceeded to a cattle like line, with no signage or officials in sight, other than the ones sitting behind the glass, we just decided to go with the crowd. After we had been through passport control, and Alice had been searched by a woman who grunted and pointed at her, we grabbed our bags and headed for the exit… weirdly. We hadn’t seen a customs line or anything. Ah well, we headed for the exit as there was no other option or signs telling us to do anything differently. As we went to leave, an official Airport guard, only give away was her tight mini skirt, 5 inch heels and fish nets, held out her hand with not a single word spoken. We told her we hadn’t been given any form, “Go back”.
To where? From who? We had asked in Spanish but this lady gave us nothing. There was no queue behind us, not anything else for her to do, but she refused to help us any further than “Go back”.
We finally worked out where security was and waited patiently for the women at security to finish their conversation. As they continued chatting away, completely ignoring us, we waited and waited. Finally without breaking away from her conversation and of course with her back still towards us, one of the ladies passed two blue forms behind her back in our general direction. “GRACIAS” we walked away becoming more annoyed by the minute.
One or two check boxes and a signature later, we shoved the stupid forms into the exit officials hand and finally made it out to be greeted by Felipe! Our first Casa Particular owner.
In Cuba there are no hostels and only high end hotels. The way to stay in cuba are in Casa’s Particulares. Cuban people’s homes which they have turned rooms into tourist accomodation. There is a standard price throughout of $25CUC ( $1 is equivalent to $1US) but the price can be more or less, depending on the season, town and how you heard about the casa particulares.
Felipe and Odalys, our first casa owners, quickly made us feel at home. With a café to warm our bellies and the best local knowledge we could get, we hit the streets of beautiful Habana with the airport unfriendliness out of our minds.
Within minutes the architecture, the cars and the people had blown us away. Havana has a wide and extensive history, as obviously does Cuba. Havana hosts everything from being almost completely eradicated in 1538 by french pirates and local slaves, Spanish and British attacks and conquests, numerous revolutions, a dictatorship, military revolts, American henchmen and mobsters running casino scams and of course the most famous revolutionary, and president, Fidel Castro.
Cars and Architecture @ Habana CentroCars and Architecture @ Habana Centro
There are two types of currency in Cuba, the CUC that was introduced after the eradication of the American dollar (brought in for tourism) and the Money Nacional for the locals who do not work in tourism. Everything was as you would expect, far cheaper in Money Nacional but as tourists we were very unlikely to get hold of it unless you were being given very small change.
Havana can be split into three main areas;
Habana Vieja, Centro Habana and Vedado. The latter being the once notorious mafia run district, it is now full of hotels, restaurants and a big nightlife. Habana Vieja is the most central, giving the most atmospheric and historic masterpieces of the city. Centro Habana gives a very eye opening view to the real life of cuba.
We wandered around for hours, taking in the buildings, the atmosphere and the cars.
Architecture @ Habana CentroStreet Life @ Habana Centro
We stopped at a, albeit slightly aggressive and unimpressed Tourist agent to organise transport to Viñales, our next destination. The cheaper way to travel is the countries main bus service for tourists, Viazul. Used by both locals and tourists, it’s slightly more reliable than the local local buses and runs more regularly and larger distances. “Via Azul” refers to the road that runs along the Caribbean “blue road”. The bus to Viñales is $12CUC/pp and a collectivo (shared taxi) is $20CUC/pp but for the bus we would have had to get a taxi to the station ASAP to reserve a seat that appeared to already be sold out. $10CUC one way in a taxi then $10CUC back…. Hang on, so once you add $20CUC on for taxis to go and buy bus tickets that don’t sound available then that makes $44CUC for two people and the collectivo is $40. Once Alice pointed this out the tour agent seemed perplexed. We booked in a collectivo pick up for the next morning and left after receiving more bizarre Cuban customer service.
Feeling hungry, we followed the live music into a little alfresco restaurant and sat there for a while being ignored. When we finally received some service we found there was no menu, just what was writing on a small blackboard near the bar.
We ended up with cremated prawns and the plainest chicken with plain rice and boiled cabbage. Delish!
The band came around for a tip, as we had just gotten some cash out, and we had zero idea what any of the two currencies converted to, I accidentally tipped the band $5CUC.
We went about a self made walking tour to see some of the cities most famous buildings and monuments for a few hours.
Yellow Houses @ Veija habana
Hotel Raquel @ Vieja Habana
That night we headed to our hosts recommended dinner restaurant, best in town and super cheap! 1.5 hours in a queue later, we finally reached the inside of a very fancy little restaurant. Panicked that we had just walked into a budget blowing place I snuck a peak at a menu while we waited in yet another queue inside the restaurant. As it turned out to be very reasonable we sat out the wait and were past the point of hunger by the time we were seated. Excitement by the buzz and popularity soon dies down as the waiter chose this point to tell us they had run out of half the food available, no fish, nothing fried or crumbed, no chicken skewers, no steak. We managed to make some decent dinner choices and were inadvertently tricked into a huge jug of sangria instead of two glasses. The food portions were enormous! We could only manage to eat under half, and took the rest in a take away container like other patrons seemed to be doing, we had waited long enough for it so we may as well! I dropped it on the way home.
The next morning Odalys put on quite the breakfast spread and we were hailed from our balcony to the street. We hopped into a cool old green car for our journey to Viñales. Collectivos have changed from the classic white and in pretty good nick minivans of Mexico to large old vintage cars. What an amazing way to travel!
As the engine roared to life, our bags tied to the roof, we steamed around Havana to pick up other travellers, by yelling out onto balconies “Viñales! Dos personas a Viñales!” As a little host would come out bidding farewell to her guests as we were joined by 6 other couples. We were then on our way to Viñales.
See you again Habana.