Trip Start Apr 02, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Cuba  ,
Friday, July 18, 2008

"Attack the enemy in the pocket".
Our Taximan who brought us to Havana airport on our last day in Cuba quoted Raul Castro - the only conversation he had with the now President.
He used to take care of the cars on the complex where the Castros reside. When he got caught listening to Key West Radio, Miami; Raul threw a strop.
Raul: Why do you want to listen to this radio station? We have plenty of good radio stations in Cuba.
Taximan: It is to learn English.
Raul: English is good. Attack the enemy in the pocket.

And attack they do! No better time, tourists are flocking to the country before Fidel dies.
We arrived in Havana and it was roasting. The taxi from the airport was expensive. No buses for tourists so there was no way around the problem. Got dropped at the apt. where we stayed for two nights. Tiny. A mum and two daughters rent out two bedrooms to visitors. They had two sausage dogs, one of which was a lunatic! Took a walk into town. Havana is crumbling and dishevelled.
"Nice if they did it up" Grechy said. Quote of the day to him for that one.
We spent the day, working out tourist money versus local money. Two different currencies. Tourist money is worth 25 times more than local so Cubans will do anything to get their hands on your dinero, while Michael was doing everything in his power to get his hands on theirs!
When Conneely came down with heat exhaustion we went home. The following day we walked around more of Havana, toured the old Presidential Palace which is now a museum all about the revolution. Really good but very long and we hadn't fully aclimatised to the heat. It was Sunday so the Cigar factory was closed, but the shop next to it was open so we went in there for a blast of air conditioning.
Good food is hard to come by in Havana. We went to a paladares that night (small privately run restaurant). They are in peoples homes and are restricted in size to only a dozen seats.
Finding these restaurants in Cuba can be difficult as they are not allowed to advertise. But, we found one in the Lonely Planet. Asked a guy on the street where the house was, he led down the side path of a house and up a thin windy stairs. We sat on a balcony with a parrot one side, a dove on the other and a hungry cat at our feet. No menu, the lady just asked us did we like lobster and cooked us up a big meal. 
We decided to get out of the city before we collapsed with the heat, so we went to Varadero. A very popular resort where the Americans holidayed in pre revolution times. Now, its full of tourists. The beach there is amazing and its easy to see why its so popular. Stayed in a hotel called Acazul which was a typical resort hotel. Varadero is very different to Havana,  catering totally for tourists. We did manage to get to know a few locals though who, in whispers asked us could we spare a bit of perfume or aftershave or a tshirt or two. We did, but it was never enough. One guy literally wanted the shirt off Michaels back. When Grechy refused, the guy wasn't happy and we never saw him again.
We visited the Du Pont Mansion (Du Pont was one of those responsible for making Varadero a hotspot before the revolution) and had dinner in what was Al Capones house. Should have brought the insect repellent!
The taxi driver who brought us back to Havana, used to be Fidels security guard. He waved to all the police along the way and even stopped at one point to flag down a police car and gave them a bottle of rum.
Back to Havana, where once again we met some locals. They offered to go for coffee with us, but said they couldnt pay for it and wanted tourist money. Relentless, the Cubans, but you have to hand it to them, they never give up!
" We don't care about you tourists, you mean nothing to us", the taxi driver said to us as we drove into the airport. Never a truer word spoken - at least he was honest though! 

PS: We did get our hands on that local money during our stay.
PPS: We didn't see one Cuban with a mobile phone..so, don't believe everything you hear!
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