Dates: 4-14 April 2014
DAYS 152-153: “Havana or in Espanol it’s La Habana” (4-5 April)
We had decided that we’d give ourselves a break in Cuba and book a tour. This was due to a combination of factors, but mainly: Cuba is not as developed as other countries, and the best way to get around as a backpacker is to hire a car, and do it yourself…neither of us fancied that responsibility though! We had been planning everything ourselves for 5 months, and welcomed the organisation of someone else – they planned the route, arranged transport, accommodation…everything, so all we had to do was what we were told to basically…nice for a while :)
So we arrived in Havana in the afternoon and then needed to find somewhere to stay, as we only had acommodation arranged through our tour from the Saturday night. Getting very casual hey?! We spoke to a woman who worked behind the tourist desk at the airport and she arranged for us to save some bucks and stay at a homestay for the night. We got a taxi from the airport, stopping off at the ATM on the way…NOTE: most ATM’s only accept Visa in Cuba, not Mastercard – thank goodness we had HSBC cards as well as Metrobank accounts. Or you should take Sterling or Euros to exchange into convertible pesos (the tourist currency – Cuba is a dual currency country). Avoid taking any USD as you’ll get the worse exchange rate. We got dropped off at our homestay and were welcomed by Sarah and her family as if we were long lost relatives! Luckily Sarah’s nephew was visiting from Chile, and he spoke English as well as Spanish so he was our translator…again, we wish we spoke at least a little Spanish! We had a lovely little room with an ensuite bathroom.
The longer we spent in Cuba, the more we realised how ‘behind’ it is with the rest of the world. For starters, internet is a rarity, it is illegal to have an internet connection in a residential house, and can only be found in some hotels. Wifi was literally unheard of. The decor of the houses we stayed in was something similar to what our grandparents would have had in their homes. And of course, the cars – you see fabulous old American cars everywhere. But with all this underdevelopment, comes the joy of a simpler time…children were playing in the streets – not sitting in front of their TV/Playstation/Wii/iPad, families actually talked to each other at meal times – not absorbed in their smart phones, the Cubans truly were some of the happiest we had met on our trip, just taking life one salsa dance at a time. So we were beginning to realise that this place would be unlike any country we’d experience thus far.
We left our homestay the next morning and headed to Hotel Riviera where we were meeting the rest of our tour group later on that day. So we checked in and chilled by the pool before meeting our tour group at 19h30.
There were 16 of us in total on our tour, and were lead by Pablo and our driver Pedro. Of the 16 of us there were only 2 guys…uh oh. But honestly we all got on very well and it wasn’t how you would imagine a tour to be with so many girls! So, here’s the list:
Amanda & Elisa (Swedes), Olga & Xavier (Australian couple), Emily & Nick (Australian honeymooners), Sarah & Paula (Germans), Celine & Tini (Germans), Sharleen (UK), Sylvie (Belgium), Rebecca (Kiwi), Lou (Australian).
We left Havana the next day, for the long drive to Trinidad.
DAYS 154-156: “Trinidad” (6-8 April)
On the way to Trinidad Pablo talked us through the history of Cuba, before stopping off at Santa Clara to visit the Chè Guevara memorial and museum. Pablo wasn’t the greatest fan of the revolutionary icon, but a lot of the country see Chè as a hero…this is what they are taught in school, and grow up to believe.
We also stopped off in Cienfuegos where we explored this quaint little seaside town for a few hours…
Upon arriving in Trinidad, we were assigned different homestays, we were put in the same house at Amanda & Elisa and the four of us got on very well, and spent a great deal of time together over the course of the tour. The room we were in was decorated like that of your grandparents and none of the toilets have toilet seats which we found pretty hilarious.
The next day most of us hit the beach in Trinidad, which was a terrific day. We then headed back into town for a salsa lesson, quite hilarious…especially with so few guys! That night Pablo arranged a sunset picnic, which was phenomenal, and one of most people highlights of the tour. We were treated to local Cuban food, delicious rum and honey cocktails, live Cuban music and of course some salsa (on the bus on the way home?!). Once back in town we went to see some live local music and dancing which happens every night in the square, and then hit The Cave. Now, The Cave is literally a club in a cave…quite a cool experience. So the 18 of us, Pablo and Pedro included, spent the night grooving away to a mix of pop and salsa in the cave – one of those nights we’ll never forget.
The next day we all had a bit of a late start, and recovered in the morning, before going on a walking tour of Trinidad in the afternoon. We were all treated to a dinner in the main homestay that night, before hitting the music square one last time.
DAYS 154-158: “Vinãles” (9-10 April)
We left for Vinãles early the next day, as we made a few stops along the way and wanted to arrive in Vinãles in good time. Vinãles is one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. It’s an area decorated with hundreds of limestone mounds covered in vegetation…little did we know that there are only 3 places in the world where these now familiar limestone mounds exist above water (Halong Bay, Vietnam – been there! and Guilin, China) but Cuba is the only one where they are not surrounded by water. We arrived in Vinãles in good time – and arranged to meet for drinks at the local club after having dinner in our homestays. At the club we enjoyed a local show, and then some salsa dancing. The next day some people went on a trek, we decided to go to an island called Cayo Levisa and chill…surprise, surprise! For dinner that night we all reunited and went to a local farm for a gourmet meal of organic food. This was one of THE best meals we had our whole trip…absolutely delicious. Tummies full, we went back to the club for one last salsa as we were heading back to Havana the next day.
DAYS 159-162: “Havana” (11-14 April)
On the drive back to Havana we stopped at a limestone cave, a cigar factory and a liquor factory. We also paid a visit to a community where they used to grow and make coffee – and sampled the best iced coffee in the world. Once back in Havana, we returned to Hotel Riveira to freshen up before going out for a final group dinner. We went to the old town, watched some street performers, had another delicious meal and went for daquiris at Floridita’s…Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt.
The next day we all went our separate ways…but we managed to squeeze in a drive around town in a pink cadillac with our favourite Swedes before splitting up.
Our last day in Havana was put to good use. Sarah hit the San Jose market to shop up a storm…as the end was nigh, the backpack could be stuffed a bit more! Tam went to sort out her 3 inches of blonde regrowth (only £3 to get your hair professionally dyed in Cuba-win!). We then sorted ourselves out, as the next day it was back to Mexico for our final 6 days…
* Please click on the Mexico tab of our blog and scroll down to “DAYS 162-168” for the last blog instalment.