Havana is Cuba’s capital city and the leading commercial centre of Cuba. After years of thinking about travelling to South America, I decided that now was the time. Nervousness was my first feeling, followed by excitement at what was waiting for me there. I just knew, that Cuba was where I really wanted to go and discover for myself what this part of the world was like.
What a place to visit! I spent 36 hours in and around Havana, Cuba and loved every minute. Here is how it went –
I flew into Havana airport late, after a long day travelling. Finally retrieved my luggage, met the transfer and was driven, in a classic American Oldsmobile, through ‘Old Havana’ to my accommodation. I realised then and there that I should have brushed up on my Spanish before arriving in the country as the driver spoke no English and we communicated by good old sign language.
Had an early breakfast and a good coffee before being picked up at 9am by my driver in a very cool 1957 Oldsmobile. We drove in silence (again no English) for most of the two and half hour drive to the old town of Cienfuegos, located about 250 kms from Havana, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2005). I wandered around the French Quarter with period homes, French architecture and quaint cobbled streets. The humidity today is unbearable and I am soaked through, but so excited it doesn’t really matter.
I left Cienfuegos to head for Trinidad, where I experienced Cuba in a special way – with a stop and search by Cuban Police. Although I knew I had nothing at all to hide, the pained look on my face would have looked at best, cagey. Apparently they were just checking ID and my guides’ credentials. If I wasn’t sweating from the humidity, I definitely was from this experience.
I checked into Forty Winks Inn, which is centrally located in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad, where I will be based for the next 24 hours. Trinidad is seriously cool, with salsa music coming from nice bars, gorgeous art shops, neon lights and colourful streets. The people are happy and chatty – even if I was unaware of what they were actually saying. The vibe of the place is amazing. I walked around the town for a while then headed in a taxi to the beach. What I thought was ‘just down the road’ was actually a 20 minute ride. The beach was nice – not the nicest I’ve ever seen, but nice. I again chastised myself for not learning Spanish when I ordered what I thought was olives and chorizo and received spaghetti. Luckily it was delicious and part of my whole experience. I was served rum and honey in a terracotta mug, I really yearned for a beer but thought I would do as the locals do. And it was well worth it.
After my feed, I headed back to the Inn to have a much needed shower and headed into the town. I followed my instincts and headed to where the locals gather to listen to music, drink from takeaway bars and dance in the street. It was an experience i will never forget.
Breakfast was eaten early as I headed out to try and beat the heat and humidity. I visited a sugar cane planation which was interesting and the view from the top of the tower there was awesome. We next headed to a coffee plantation, where the coffee is still grown and harvested the same way it has for generations. I drank a coffee which I loved and again served in a terracotta cup. I followed a group of people who said they were heading to a swimming hole that was about 1.5 kms on. No one actually told me it was down the side of a mountain – one of the hardest treks I think I’ve ever done (and without whinging). The water hole at the bottom was brilliant and the swim well earned, however, it was overshadowed by the thought of walking back up the mountain.
After litres of water and a rest in my room, I headed out again to a couple of salsa bars. So much fun, the people, the music, the dancing and the Vibe.
Back to Havana and a Casa in the Old Havana. As in most tourist places, there a hundreds of taxis driving around the streets of Havana. Be prepared for taxi drivers to yell “taxi senor/senora?”
My first stop was the Plaza de la Catedral, and the well known Catedral de San Cristobal. I wandered around admiring this striking architecture as well as the vaulted ceilings and statue of St Christopher inside. I sat back having a coffee in one of the many cafes in the plaza and once again admired the Cathedral from afar.
Next, Plaza de Armas, a buzzing social hub with cafes, restaurants, shady gardens and filled with locals and tourists. From here the Palacio de los Capitanes and Museo de la Ciudad (city museum) Castillo de la Real Fuerza are all within walking distance.
Plaza de San Francisco is situated at the entrance to Old Havana and faces the harbour. The tower at the Basilica Menor de San Fransisco de Asis, provides stunning views over the sea and Havana.
The Havana Club Museum of Rum is also worth a visit. I took a tour which was available in Spanish or English and included a rum tasting. I realise now that the terracotta cups that everything is served in is so Cuban
That afternoon I also managed to squeeze in a tour of the La Corona Cigar Factory – a must when in Cuba. The tour was enjoyable and informative and even got to roll my own cigar at the end. I purchased some after getting carried away with the whole cigar smoking Cuban experience, but have a feeling they were rolled by the guide himself.
When the sun goes down, Old Havana seems to come alive. I tried a cocktail in the Hotel Nacional – the famous grand historic hotel near the water and sat outside in the bar/lounge area where I people watched for hours.
One of the main things I realised from my time in Cuba is that although Cuba is classed as a third world country, a majority of the people are well educated, hard working and extremely adaptive to the situation they are in. They live with what the have without complaining or blaming and mix a strong work ethic with a balance of enjoying themselves, life and family. They are fun loving, happy and hospitable people who love to party and include dance into their everyday lives.Share us