The land of the "free" - La Habana

Trip Start Dec 30, 2013
Trip End Mar 25, 2014

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Day 46 - Thursday 13th Feb

Welcome to Havana! I finally arrived in the Cuban capital for my 2 week holiday. It was late on Thursday night when I touched down and I was feeling absolutely wrecked after spending the last 24hours travelling. So I quickly withdrew some local currency CUCs and headed straight to the casa by taxi.

What initially struck me was the heat (big change having come from Cork where it was snowing when I left) and also the old style vintage cars outside the airport.

I hopped into one of the taxi vans and I was on my way to my accommodation Casa Buena Vista. The taxi man eventually found the place. It was on the sixth floor of an building which looked pretty dilapidated from the outside. inside there was a vintage man operated lift too. Unfortunately it wasn't operating at 11pm at night so I had to climb the stairs with luggage. I was wrecked so you can imagine that I was none too impressed when one of the individuals in the casa started messing with me saying that they were fully booked and that they had no room for me. Thankfully it was only a joke and I was swiftly escorted to my room where I just collapsed into bed.

Day 47 - Friday 14th of February

I awoke at 7am the next morning so thankfully no jet lag. I couldn't wait to get out and start exploring the city. Also pretty excited about seeing the girls later.

I spent the day rambling around the city particularly the Vedado district. Along the way, I eventually managed to find internet to check in my family at home. I did the open top bus tour for a bargain price of 5CUC which meant that that I got to see the big sights of the city.
I arrived back to the casa later afternoon and met an English couple who were killing time before heading to the airport. They shared with me their itinerary and their best spots of Cuba on their travels.

I then had dinner Cuban style- lobster, rice with black beans, fried plantain (fried banana), pumpkin and salad.
Feeling very full and tired I decided to take a siesta before the girls arrived. My nap ended up being a bit longer than I expected as I was awoken by the girls about 11pm. Delighted to see them, we had a few quick chats before sleeping.

Day 48 - Saturday 15th February

We awoke early and all had breakfast in the casa and discussed out planned itinerary for the next 12 days. We decided that we wanted to do a day trip to Vinales (small village up north) in a vintage car the following day so we arranged this with Paulo (casa owner). We all wanted to hire a car to see the rest of the country too so that was our mission today to get that sorted for Monday.

We headed out and enquired in few rent a cars stores with no luck. All seemed to have no availability. We continued to wander around with a quick stop at a internet spot and also for a few midday mojitos in the National hotel- fabulous hotel along the Malecon strip. Although disheartened that we hadn't organised the car yet, the girls were keen to do the bus tour since I enjoyed it yesterday so we hopped on it. Lots of photo were taken along the way. We got off in Habana Viejo district- area of the city which is very beautiful and well preserved. It is a UNESCO heritage site and you could see why. We happily wandered around these magnificent buildings and stopped for a bite to eat in this cafe (recommended by lonely planet) off one of the plaza. Jenny went for a a Cuban mix which ended up not being a wise choice as she felt sick later. So sick in fact that once she arrived back at the Casa, she vomited. This meant that there was only three of us for dinner. Kathy had picked out this fabulous Mediterranean style restaurant just around the corner. We were presented with flowers on arrival and were escorted to another dining room as it was practically all booked. The three of us were craving a glass a vino so a bottle of red wine was ordered. And it was lasagne and garlic bread for all. It was delicious and we all pottered back to the casa happily full early to get some sleep for our early morning start.

Day 49 - Sunday 16th February

We woke early for our day trip to Vinales. We quickly ate your usual breakfast, got the lift to the ground with the help of the lift operator and met our escorts/ drivers for our Vinales adventure.

After taking several photos with the car, we were on the highway up north sitting on red leather seats in this vintage car, windows down, hair blowing and tunes blaring,

The two drivers had little English and Jenny tried to converse as much as possible with them with her limited Spanish.

The first stop was a tobacco plantation just outside the town. Here we saw how cigars are made firsthand, shown where the plant was grown and learnt about the drying process. They gave us a sample cigar as a souvenir and Michele also picked up a few more for her dad.
Back in the car again, it was a short ride to our next stop- Vinales Valleys. We stopped at this tourist spot where we paid a few CUCs to view the valleys and enjoy a short boat ride through the caves.

Here we also saw how sugar is extracted from sugar cane and sampled a drink which it was used in. We strolled amongst the market stalls and a few novelty bits were purchased. Next we viewed the old slave escape routes in the caves and enjoyed a short stint on a horse and cart.
Feeling hungry now, we decided to head into the town centre to grab some lunch. We decided on this Italian restaurant and shared two pizzas between us. On the way back to the car, we were tempted by ice cream and also picked up a cheap bottle of rum for travels too.
It was now early afternoon and nearly time to head back to Havana. But first the two guides/drivers wanted to show us a lookout by Hotel Jasmine.

The lookout was magnificent alright but unfortunately the car got stuck in a dirt track and it took the boys some time to get the car out of the potholes and on to the main road.
With that, there were no more stops and it was straight back to Havana.

Once back in Havana, we were eager to head back to the same Mediterranean restaurant as last night. On the way, we happened to pass another Rent-a-Car which was open until 8pm. We said we would enquire quickly to see if they had any suitable car for us. Jackpot- they did indeed! After a bit of admin work, it was all sorted and we were free to hit the road tomorrow.

Now time for dinner. We ventured for two different paella dishes this time. Both were tasty. We discussed our plan for the next few days over dinner. Once we were full, we headed home as we would be on the road early to Santa Clara tomorrow.

The adventure continues!
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