La Habana & Trinidad, Cuba.
Trip Start Oct 01, 2012
42Trip End Sep 15, 2013
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We arrived at 11pm and didn't have the daylight arrival to fully take in the city, but what we could immediately see were all the old school type cars, which took us straight from 2013 to the United States circa 1950. These cars are incredible and it was so cool to see 6 of them in a row, fully functioning as people’s cars and/or taxis. Inside they are really spacious with a high roof, and enough room to comfortably fit 6 people. Cue endless photo takings of these classic cars.
The most obvious thing that I noticed is the number of Cubans filling the street, at midnight on a Sunday. The streets were lined with as many people as there were rubbish (people seem to have little problem with littering here, and sadly the ocean rocks and streets are covered in it.) This is something that didn’t change throughout my time here… regardless of what day or time it was, the streets were constantly buzzing with people out on the street dancing, playing board games, or just chilling with friends and family. I guess this is what it was like in the olden days when the internet didn’t exist and access to a phone was limited.
It was so hard to be out of contact completely with the world. Even in Cuba, there are 9 of us exploring together and it meant that when we made a plan we had to stick to it, there is no way you can cancel last minute or send a text saying you are going to be a little late. The use of internet is limited to pre-paid access at the big hotels and phone booths which are ridiculously expensive to make calls to hotels-hostels, or back to Mexico.
My first day in Havana went from the two extremes of boiling hot, sweating in the humidity (which I didn’t think could get any worse than Cancun) to desperately jumping into a taxi to escape the heavy rain, lightning and thunder in the afternoon! We spent the morning trying to locate Monica and Tony (from Guanajuato, Mexico) which was a nightmare due to the aforementioned lack of communication tools. We decided to walk to her hotel after locating it on a map, little did we know this would be a 1hr 30 minute walk, again we couldn’t contact them to say it was taking a little longer than expected. After ending up in the wrong hotel and having to use their phone to ring the number of their actual hotel, we eventually found them and made our way in the trademark taxi cabs to Old Havana/Habana Vieja.
The buildings are really impressive with high ceilings and beautiful colonial style architecture seen from the outside. Walking the city you can see that there are a number of derelict buildings, and a lot of work and restoration is needed and in place. We had lunch in a restaurant with a Cuban band playing at the front and had a great time dancing and singing with them. Making our way to the Capitolio we then jumped into the Bici-Taxis which are similar to those bike taxis found in London. Callejón de Hamel was our destination; a little back street full of art, meaningful quotes and paintings covering the walls lining the Callejón (alley.) We all enjoyed a Negron which was a really tasty drink, in the little bar located behind one of the paintings. We then stumbled across a group of Cuban lads, and it was suddenly obvious as to why the Cuban men turn out how most of them do; the Cuban player, the Cuban charm, the majority of Cubans who are ripped with a 6-pack walking the street topless. Aged from around 6-13, these lads were absolutely full of it trying to charm the ladies. The way the spoke to us, the way they danced, even the way they put their hands up Elsas skirt and on Rosie’s bum whilst posing for photos. Crazy little Cubans. At first it was hilarious, and then the heavy rain hit and they quickly went from being cute little boys slipping and sliding on the floor, to being pendejos kicking and splashing us with water. Forcing us to run away shouting as we looked for a taxi.
We finished the day in a prawn bar. I now eat prawns mum! No longer the little toddler running around Malaysia with a full body rash. I went for the Camarones Enchilados (chilli prawns) and it was amazing, really tasty and accompanied with peppers, onions and a salad. We spent the night there ordering more mojitos (or Cuba Libres for me,) and dancing.
Early morning start to make our way to Trinidad in one of the old American cars. It took us around about 4 and a half hours in which I was able to write the first half of this blog. We arrived to the quaint town in Central Cuba which is a hotspot for backpackers. We were immediately greeted by a friend of our taxi driver who turned out to be quite the business man. The best way to travel is to stay in one of the Casas Particulares; pretty much every house in the street had been turned into a mini hostel of their own. Trinidad's houses are beautiful. They don't look like much on the outside, but as you enter you are dwarfed by the high ceilings and the colonial courtyards at the back of the houses make for a great spot to be treated to the owner's homemade breakfasts. At $30 Cuban Pesos for a room with two double beds a night, it is a steal. The man on the street sorted us out with 3 rooms in 3 houses across the street from each other, with a cute little terrace at the top of two of the houses with a table and chairs.
Trinidad has a level of intimacy which gives it a different feel to La Habana, everything is within walking distance and it is easy to get to know the place. Everybody knows everybody and we soon met a Cuban cowboy and we arranged 5 horses for the next morning to take us on an 1 hour and a half ride to the waterfalls. The businessman of the street, who could always be found, arranged a jeep for those who didn't fancy mounting the horses. He also sorted out any other trip we could have wanted and my trip back to Havana!
After lunch we decided to go check out the nearest beach. We soon found out it was about 5km away and eventually found a poor horse and cart that agreed to take the 9 of us. Poor, poor horse. The 'driver' had to jump out and help push us up one of the hills at one point, and then the horse bolted off the road with us in tow. We all got out and walked a pretty sad couple of meters before jumping aboard again. We arrived at the beach, and it is what I feared. After Cancun, and experiencing the beauty of it for 10 months, I have become desensitized. La Boca beach, beautiful in it's own way... but nothing compared to Cancun. The ocean was mixing with the fresh water river so it was hot and cold, and jungle green in comparison to the turquoise waters of Cancun. Still pretty, although there was no point trying to snorkel as the only thing I could see was the floating dead fish on the surface. We spent a couple of hours there enjoying the sea before paying a random man to cram 7 of us into his car and then Tony drove us all back.
The nighttime came, and it was time to head to Casa de La Musica for our Salsa lesson. From what I have seen, every Cuban has the ability to dance, and to dance extremely well! I enjoyed a Cuban drink, a Chacharra, whilst learning the rhythms and steps that brings the streets of Cuba together. After getting very sweaty and becoming semi-pros we sat down with some drinks to watch the "Show Spectacular." Variety of different traditional dances with the band playing and singing in the background. Pretty amazing! After the show the dancefloor cleared and it was time to put our moves into practice, with anyone and everyone asking for a dance. A great atmosphere, and 2 bottles of Havana Club later we then moved on to the Rave in the Cave. Literally, a nightclub in a cave, with bats still flying. Absolutely insane and such an amazing venue! We walked down the stairs in disbelief at our surroundings, and then walked under an arch within the cave and then boom, there was the bar, the dancefloor, lighting system and a stage... incredible! Absolutely amazing night in La Cueva!
Another night of 3/4 hours sleep and we were up, "ready" to mount our horses.These horses were so much nicer and better looked after than the ones I experienced in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I spent most of the time trying to make it go faster, which was the absolute opposite of what was happening in Mexico. The surroundings were absolutely beautiful, with the mountains in the background! On the drive from Havana to Trinidad I noticed how green Cuba is, which I didn't realise before... with many farms and ranches along the way! On the way to the waterfall we stopped off at a restaurant/farm which still had a sugar cane machine in place from the days of slavery, where they used to spend all day in the sun. The juice from the sugar cane, plus lime and rum created the drink Jugo de Caño, which was really tasty.
We continued on our journey, and by this point we were all desperate to see the waterfalls, having spent a couple of hours sweating in the sun. The waterfall was small but with a gorgeous pool beneath it which looked like a cenote- so, SO refreshing and just what we needed. We spent a good couple of hours swimming, relaxing and climbing up the rocks to jump in. Beautiful.
To be honest, I didn't know much about Cuba before going, but it is such a beautiful place full of history and it was really interesting to learn things about the country along the way. Almost every street you will see Che Guevara's face, propaganda on the billboards at the side of the roads and "Hasta la victoria siempre."
Overall, Cuba is like no other country I have been to before... endless beauty within the city and on the outskirts where the historic struggle and the differences in culture can be seen throughout. An extremely interesting country with a unique story, who knows what the future holds for Cuba...