That's Habana With A 'b'.

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End May 31, 2012

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Where I stayed
Casa Maura Habana Vieja Havana
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Casa Mireya
What I did
Old Havana
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Verdado, Havana
Plaza San Fancisco, Havana
Los Nardos, Havana

Flag of Cuba  ,
Friday, April 20, 2012

Cuba was a bit of a mystery to us...  We arrived on bright sunny day with expectations of Salsa but at a bit of a loss as to what the next 4 weeks might bring.

Our Casa Particular (B&B to us UK folkes) was right in Centro Habana.  Maura our landlady had a lovely apartment which launched us into Cuban life.

We were in Cuba for the music and the dance now we just had to find it!  Internet failing us we had to go old school to find out the whats hot and whats not and get on our feet.

The next few days saw us milling around doing the touristy thangs - Habana Vieja (the old town); a walk on the Malecon; Capitolio...  We found our Salsa in corner bars and restaurants mostly everywhere but there's only so many time you can hear 'Chan Chan' or 'Guantanamera' before it runs a little thin...

So taking a chance we headed to 'Casa de la Musica Habana' for night out on the town.  Arriving we were immediately guided to a reserved table.  We could have a table but there was a must spend on the drinks of 30CUC (approx $30).  Cash in hand, a bottle of rum and several cans of coke arrived.  Liz looked a little askance as she contemplated the potential hangover in front of us.  I assured her we didn't have to drink all of it, but good intentions dissolve in the heat of good rum and a heavy night of reggaeton.  Taking in our surroundings it became apparent there was an unusual number of Ladies present in the club and single/groups of chaps were descended on pretty quickly.  Clubbing is an expensive business, so the girls will happily be your company for the evening if you keep the drinks flowing.  Was quite amusing to watch the tourists deal with this!  All in all it was a great evening and more rum was drunk than was probably good for us but hey what can you do. (In other word we finished the bottle between us!!)

A few days drifted by and we simply soaked up the atmosphere, which was very focused on the tourist.  Its also probably one of the safest places I have felt.

After asking around and trying to find a few teachers we stumbled on a dance school, where we were welcomed and we booked some lessons for the following few days.  We were also invited back to see a cabaret the school was putting on that evening - a bit of a showcase of the schools abilities.

That night we headed for the dance studio, but got cornered by two locals who appeared to be walking for a night out themselves. We got chatting and they said would we like to join them for a drink at a local bar in Vedado (Habana Centro). It was on our way to the dance school so we reservedly agreed but they seemed friendly in a "non-sales" sort of way. We arrived at the bar (which was very local) and danced a few turns with our new friends. We knew we'd be picking up the bar tab but it was their anniversary, and it was a local bar after all so cheaper drinks. After a while we got on to talking about how difficult it was in Cuba, then the obligatory "I have a hungry baby" started. James did very well in saying we had already had people trying to play us, and we would pay for their drinks and agreed to buy them a packet of dried milk for the baby ($5). The drinks bill came to $32 for 8 drinks - more expensive than the tourist central bars. Obviously the couple were making money for having brought us to the bar. We left feeling cheated but confused as to whether the couple really were on hard times and maybe they had needed help. We continued to the dance school and had a really great time watching them perform and then joining in afterwards.

The next day we headed back to the dance school and were put through our paces big-time! We left drenched in sweat and happy with our attempt. On the way back we decided to pop into the old town to find a gift for Maura, our wonderful casa particular owner who had been over-and-above good to us. She had talked about perfume so we went into a drugstore to check out the prices (which were astronomical) and were confronted by a local (who we assumed worked there) asking us if we needed any help. The long and short of it was she had followed us in, gave us help so we felt obliged and then asked us for milk and nappies when we offered to buy her some shampoo for her efforts. Thinking we were helping another starving baby we agreed milk instead of shampoo, but she rushed into the store and started piling $30 worth into her basket. We then had to bargain how much we were going to "donate", again she scarpered as soon as we'd given her the food. We went on to re-meet our original couple 4 times "working" the same area and taking tourists to their "local bar". We are now convinced all the people with good english asking for milk are profiteers that sell on the things to other people. It still will reach babies but it is illegal and highly immoral preying on good-willed people that want to help but don't know how.  And unfortunately took the edge off our enjoyment in Havana.

We had two further lessons at the dance school including cha cha cha and rumba, which is amazing and the most difficult dance we've ever tried. It involves moving bits of your body that English people don't even have the muscles for! Rumba is the basis of the movement in the other Cuban dances, which is why they all look so fabulous even just doing simple moves. We promised to stay in touch and return for more classes on our next visit.

We had planned to head to Vinales in the West for a few days but the night before we made it Hotel Florida for their nightly salsa evening. We met a lovely couple from Holland, Priscilla and Zander (who are ballroom champs and adore Strictly!) and shared the evening with them. There was an interesting mix of older Western ladies with younger Cuban chappies, also Westerner couples who could obviously dance very well, and locals dancing with each other. The live band was amazing but interspersed with a DJ whose selections James did not think so highly of!

- Liz & JJx
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smitherson on

Muy Bien Hermana!

Xander & Priscilla from La Habana on

Here we find you on the Internet!

We see you made some nice travels already and we hope you had a great time after La Habana!

Thanks for the nice evening in Hotel Florida! (And thanks Lizz for letting James take Priscilla to the dance floor to practice some salsa steps)


X&P on

By the way... 8 drinks cost us 46 Cuc... You got a bargain :S

smitherson on

Hey yous guys!! Och looks like you got really stung!! Good to hear from you. We did look you up on YouTube but not much luck. JJ n Lx

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