“My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.” – Ernest Hemingway
Cuba, one of the last bastions of communism in the world, a forgotten country so close to USA and so far away…
My first trip to Cuba was in 2008. I joined an international Cuban tour organized by Cuban Adventures. And from then on, a life of Cuban adventures has started!
Passing through the José Martí International Airport in Havana, is like being in another world, a world stopped in time 50 years ago: aged buildings, grandma fashion and smell of cigarettes. People were smoking while waiting to pick up their luggage!
I accepted a ride to my hotel from two men inside the airport. Their “taxi” was a very old, broken Lada soviet made car. Of course, no safety belt or taxi meter. The men were very friendly and smiling all the time, until they frown up…
You can see Cuba as an exotic place. Old, dilapidated buildings have their own charm.
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara billboards remind us about the Cuban Revolution.
Vintage, American cars from 50s and 60s are still on the road, and they are beautiful. Many of them are restored and a Chrysler may have only the original body, but the engine can be from a Toyota and the clutch from a Dacia (an old Romanian car).
Falling in love with Havana and in Havana is easy! The city is so unique, so vibrant and yet so tranquil…
Old Havana (La Habana Vieja)
Strolling through the narrowed streets of Old Havana, between old colonial style buildings and under clothes hanging high above on lines, you are going back in time. People are chatting, dancing rumba or enjoying a cigar. Children play soccer on the street. Bicycle taxis are waiting for customers. Old cars are repaired or painted. Stray dogs wander around…
The people are very friendly and knowing some Spanish will help. Bring lot of gifts from your country: chocolate, gum, toys, soap, t-shirts, anything is appreciated.
Plaza Vieja, with the beautiful Catedral de San Cristóbal, is a place where you can enjoy a “Bucanero” (Pirate) local beer on a terrace, smoke a cigar, listen to Cuban jazz and watch the people. Locals in colonial costumes “smoking” huge cigars are waiting for tourists to photograph them in exchange for pesos. Newspaper and peanuts vendors wander around, and, more discrete are the fake cigars dealers.
From Old Havana, take a stroll along the coast, on the Malecon esplanade towards the Hotel Nacional, the former Mafia hangout. Big waves are crashing the Malecon. Groups of friends are enjoying the ocean breeze. More animation is in the evenings, especially close to Hotel Nacional, where teens are dancing in the night in the shadow of US Embassy. Life goes on!
“Finca Vigia” was Hemingway’s house, near Havana, where he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea”.
You may still be able to attend one of the Buena Vista Social Club’s concerts in Havana or go to a live jazz bar and listen to the beautiful music of Cuba!
The devil is around the corner: a beautiful woman, a good cigar and a bottle of rum!
In Havana I added a new vice to my collection: the cigars! I wasn’t a smoker until I tried my first cigar. Enjoy it with Havana Club rum and with the elusive “beautiful woman” at the sounds of salsa, rumba or bolero!
There are beautiful beaches, just a short drive from Havana: Playa Bacuranao, Playa Santa María del Mar, Playa Boca Ciega and Playa Guanabo.
The Other Face of Cuba
Despite the romantic view of Cuba, for the most majority of Cubans, life is not easy. Small, monthly rations of rice, eggs, sugar, meat, cigarettes, are sold through the “Supplies booklet” system in dark, state-owned stores.
To survive, people help each other and corruption is a way of life.
Tips & Tricks
Do travel to Cuba, and travel now, before the country changes.
What I Tried
- Crocodile meat
- Cuban cigars (faked and genuine)
- Mojito, Daiquiri, Cuba Libre
- Parisien Cabaret
- Fortune teller
What I Didn’t Try
- Learning salsa
What I Didn’t Want, But I Got Anyway
- Lost VISA card
- Stranded eight hours in Varadero airport due to “bad” winter conditions in Toronto – if you are flying low-cost Sunwing, but no problems if you are flying Air Canada…
- “Katyusha” is a Russian rocket launcher, but also a patriotic name for a Cuban woman, an homage to the former Soviet protectors
- “Anais” is a beautiful girl name, taken from a French perfume
- Most toilet seats in public places don’t have the rim cover
- How do you talk about Fidel Castro without telling his name? By mimicking his beard through up and down movements of your hand at chin level, using your fingers.
- Cuba customs questions. Officer: “What do you work?” Me: “I am a web designer”. Officer: “Porno?” Me: “No. Government.”
- Do trust the Cuban fortune tellers: “You suffer from love”, I was told…
- Black magic is still performed in the country side