We absolutely loved our time in Cuba - it was such an amazing country to visit. The people we met had so many interesting stories to share, and they’re so vibrant!
Even though personal access to the internet is illegal in Cuba, I managed to add notes onto my laptop so I have a few posts at the ready.
After a 1 hr sleep at a party hostel in Cancun, where a pre dinner activity involved dancing to the song: "da da da da da da TEQUILLA” and consuming shots on the word tequila, we caught a taxi to the airport at 3.30am to head to Havana.
Alex was a hot target amongst the customs officials when we arrived. Potentially due to his long hair (now worthy of a pony tail), or ever growing beard… or a combination of the two. The list of questions from the lady got crazy - she even wanted a huge list of the reasons why we had come to Cuba… Music, Architecture, Dancing, Beach, Culture - our reasons were all acted via charades as she could not speak ingles, and got more obscure as she continued to prompt us to add more. The kind señorita apologised after about 30min of questions and waiting and welcoming us to Cuba we were allowed through the sliding doors and free!
We stayed at Casa Lily in Havana - amazing, on the 13th floor of an apartment building in Vedado, with beautiful views and a room so nice I didn’t even want to shower with my jandals on. The best way to see Cuba is to stay in Casa De Particulars - rooms within family homes, that usually have their own ensuite. It is so much cheaper than staying in hotels & you get the benefit of chatting with the owners and sourcing great local knowledge (not to mention improving your Spanish!).
|View from the balcony at Casa Lilly|
An evening stroll around the neighbourhood to the Hotel Nacional, was followed by dinner Waoo Snack Bar where we ordered fish - a fillet approx. 8cm thick was brought out and we were advised that it was red snapper - ha! The streets are alive at night with people everywhere. We were staying on Avenue De los Presidentes - where the middle of the street consists of park like grounds with benches and statues of previous presidents. From our room and the terrace you can look out and see people meeting up all throughout the road.
We met Fritha & Kieran at Casa Lilly, coincidentally they were also from Auckland and moving to the UK in August too. We headed out to the Museum of the Revolution the following morning - which was quite the experience. It had a star next to it in the Lonely Planet book - an honour usually reserved for only the creme de la creme of local attractions and restaurants. As none of us knew the full story of what happened back in 1959, we thought this museum would provide a great factual overview. The descriptions for each object / photograph in the museum were cut out like a child’s school project - a bit wonky and sides curling upwards. These descriptive cut outs gave us a real insight into what it’s like to live in a communist country like Cuba - there is no information regarding the deaths/ injuries that Che & Fidel’s army’s inflicted - nor any information on the negative impacts the Revolution has had for Cuba. They truly hate the Americans, and perhaps fair enough - there is an entire wall dedicated to various plots the CIA had supposedly organised against them including:
I haven't had any time to thoroughly investigate the truth behind some of these outlandish accusations, but word on the street from other tourists was that the CIA did indeed carry out a lot of bizarre plots against Cuba - so who knows! Once I do some reading into it I shall update you all.
At the entrance to the museum there are caricatures of various leaders that they Cuban’s have done speech bubbles around saying: “Thank you cretin for helping us to make socialism irrevocable” (Note George W Bush’s Nazi Helmet, and holding book upside down).
We did a walking tour of Havana Vieja and stopped off at the Camera Obscure. Having never seen one of these contraptions before we were quite amazed - the view we saw was in real time so people moving about the streets in Havana, very cool! We walked home along the stormy Malecon with waves crashing into the other side, rubbish from the ocean strewn across the road.
At the conclusion of afternoon nap time, we headed to the Hotel Nacional to treat ourselves to dinner in their ballroom. This is the hotel that Jay Z & Beyonce stayed in on their recent visit to Cuba and although it had it's heyday in the 1950's or earlier - it's still very grand and posh by Cuban standards. We had been to inspect it the evening before and for $25 CUC we each received 3 courses and a drink, not to mention free bread rolls and butter! It was a very ostentatious setting for 4 x backpackers from New Zealand.
|The dining room at Hotel Nacional|
|Dessert time at the Hotel Nacional|
Dinner time ended with an ambush from the resident pianist attempting to sell us her CD and a faux Happy Birthday number for Kieran that we sung along to. We then moved on to the terrace to sample their cocktail menu and smoke the Cuban Cigars we'd purchased earlier in the day.
|All class - cocktails & cigars on the terrace|
The next day we explored the old fort, then headed back to Havana Vieja for some drinks and dinner when we happened to bump into some Kiwis outside a bar. We couldn't believe it when we realised we were all from Mt Eden - and it turns out that our new friends George & Jeremy are good friends with Jilly Mowat-Smith & Raewyn (Tim and Harley's Mums). We all headed off to a small plaza to catch the end of the local salsa evening, then a brewery on the waterfront for some local beers, then into a taxi to a cheap local restaurant for a fillet of fish for $4.50! Mojitos only $1.50.
You’ll all be relieved to know that I am enjoying the odd beer every now and then and managed to drink my brewery pint in record time to keep up with the guys.
|Attempting a bit of Salsa|
The architecture is absolutely mind blowing here, the most beautiful buildings … some painted and looking OK but some which you know in a previous life would have been the most stunning house on the block are now nothing but a facade on the front with the entire back of the house/building having fallen down. The two men from NZ we met told us about a friend of theirs who lived in one of these apartments, he was out at work one day and came home to a massive pile of rubble where his house had been - with neighbours desperately picking through it trying to find him as they thought he may have been in the house. God forbid if there were ever an earthquake here. And Dad - if the government ever decide to update their building policy the business opportunities over here would be endless!
I have also been brainstorming ad campaigns for paint brands where they could come to Cuba and sponsor a street or suburb where they painted every property - the before and after results would be spectacular. Only (major) issue I can foresee is government approval to film/ get the paint in here!
|Looking down from the old city fort|
|Me outside my favourite building (in this particular plaza)|
|Beautiful ceiling in the Museum of the Revolution|
|Plaza of the Revolution - bit of a let down to be honest, was most definitely more carpark like than plaza.|
More to come on the rest of our Cuban adventure soon!