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2017 MAY - CUBA - HAVANA

WE TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AS WE ENJOY THE CITY OF HAVANA.

sunny

DAY 90 MAY 6TH 2017

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CUBA – COUNTRY # 7 I will add photos later, refer my FB page for photos now.

Saturday - Havana

An easy morning spent packing the last of our stuff into our bags, this job does not get any easier as the trip goes on, but we managed to get everything in.
Our Airbnb host has called us an UBER to take us to the airport, this is much cheaper than a taxi and they come to the door. Otherwise I would have to go out onto the street and try to flag one. Our car showed at around 10.40am, this is early but we need to purchase a tourist card for Cuba at the airport and we’re not sure exactly how long this will take.
The trip to the airport on a Saturday morning was quick, less than one hour and the UBER costs AUD$13. We headed straight to the Interjet counter to see where we could get the tourist card. They sold them right there and 250 pesos each later we had entry into Cuba. It was still too early to check in we so we hung around until the check-in counters opened. After depositing our bags, we went through a security check, but there was no immigration check. We presumed that the airline did this when we checked in, but no exit stamp out of Mexico.
More waiting at the gate until about 1pm when we went off to buy a drink to have with our sandwiches we had brought with us. Gate change had us walking the 100 m from gate 28 to 21, and then a little later we boarded the flight at about 3.30 which was already 25 minutes late as we were supposed to depart at 3.05. We did not actually depart until about 4.30pm.
The flight was less than 2 hours and from what I could see most of it was over the Caribbean Sea. Due to our late departure, we were obviously late to arrive. Immigration was no problem, and they stamped my new passport without a second glance. We waited to collect our luggage and then had to return to fill in a customs form which we were not given on the flight.
We were expecting to find a little man on the outside holding a little board with my name on it but he was not to be seen. I had pre-booked an airport transfer, but maybe because our flight was late he gave up and left, or did not show at all, we will never know. Lyn & I went outside to change bit of money, the left over Mexican pesos so we would have local cash to pay the driver. We hung around for a little while, Dolly made friends with one of the other transfer drivers holding someone else’s name and he even gave our guy a call, after the sour girl at the information counter refused to. After the phone call, we were told our driver would be here in 5 mins, 30 minutes later I went outside to engage a taxi to take us to our hotel. It was the same price and we were sick of waiting around, it was now 8.30pm and just gone dark.
Sadly, we did not see much on our drive into Havana as it was dark, and the taxi driver who spoke good English, advised he was in fact a trained Vet but earned more money being a taxi driver, said there was not much point pointing things out as we could not see them anyway.
Our hotel is in Obispo street which is a pedestrian street and the taxi stopped as close as possible in our block. We only had to walk about 50 meters. The fare was 30CUC and I only had 20’s and the driver tried to pull the I don’t have any change trick. Wait I said I will go to the hotel and get change, as a 10CUC tip is the equivalent to a US$10 tip – I don’t think so.
Small shop situated up the stairwell of the hotel (yes, the stairwell) was happy to give change so I paid the driver and a guy at the hotel carried each one of our bags up the narrow, souvenir stacked stairway. Room #2 is bigger than our usual room, with 1 single bed and 1 double bed & ensuite. It has no window to the outside, but this is typical of the style of building.
We dropped our stuff and went out to find something to eat. Obispo was crowded with people walking and milling around. We wondered if this was due to it being Saturday night or if it’s always like this. There was lots of music around the place. We stopped at a bar / restaurant that had meals for 10CUC where we could sit outside and watch the walking traffic go by. The waiter was a big black dude that warmed to us after a bit and had a bit of a joke. When we asked for beer he informed us that he only had one bottle – a bar with only one bottle of beer? Was this normal? Too early to find out, he put on a big smile when we said ok we will have the one bottle of beer for Lyn and Dolly & I will have rum & cokes. The meals were simple and huge. I had pork and the others went for chicken. All were served with a fresh cut crunchy salad & rice. If this is the indication of the simple food of Cuba I will be happy.
We ate and had our drink, gave the waiter a 2CUC tip which he made a big deal about (sarcastically!), and then continued up the pedestrian street to look around. It was after 10 now and still loads of people about. From this short walk, we agreed we are in a good location. We already have seen heaps of the old cars that Cuba is famous for and lots of clapped out LADA’s – even a stretch Lada which had 3 doors each side. The buildings look amazing too!
Back in our room we had HOT showers before going to bed. There is a TV in the room and I managed to find a channel with an English movie on it. The movie was bad but I had to watch it just cause.
I think we will all sleep well tonight, it’s been a big day today.
First impressions of Cuba – fabulous!
Tomorrow the Lemons arrive.

DAY 91 MAY 7TH 2017

Sunday - Havana

Our room is like a cave, with only artificial light, no natural light to wake us up. I was up the first (to pee) and had to wake the other as we had ordered breakfast for 8.30am.
We had breakfast at the hotel – easier, and it was huge. Fruit, rolls & scrambled eggs or omelette. I had short black coffee which after the initially shock of the strength of it was good. The ladies asked for hot water for their self-catered tea bags and there was a jug of mango & pineapple juice – real juice nothing added. All this for 5cuc each! Great way to start the day without having to go out looking for something to eat first up.
After breakfast, we hung around for a bit and then went out to explore Havana some more. We walked in the opposite direction to last night and after a few blocks we were at the water front. The sky here is a beautiful shade of blue, something we did not see in Mexico City. Due to the smog there, it’s been a long time since anyone has seen blue sky. And it had been awhile since we had seen the sky this colour. And it’s hot!
We strolled along the Malecon (the boulevard along the water) taking photos of the watery vistas and the many old American cars driving past and slowing down asking if we wanted a taxi. I read that back in the day the Russians purchased original new cars in America took them to the USSR and then duplicated the parts, built complete copies of the cars, then sent them to Cuba! Apparently now most of these old cars are now held together with a mish mash of parts from whatever make and model is available and whatever fits and works. Most are diesel. Some of the cars look to be in perfect condition with perfect paint jobs and everything shiny and new and some look their age and are a little, well let’s say worn! Lots have an unhealthy rattle, that even I as non-mechanical person can tell is wrong, but that does not seem to concern the owner or anyone else. Whatever the state, they are way cool, and I am no way a car enthusiast, yet still cannot resist taking photos of them all. Probably by the end of our 5 days stay here in Havana I would have photographed every single one!
And the architecture is just amazing. Again, I read that since it was UNESCO World Heritage listed, Cuba is now receiving money to restore a lot more of the buildings. This is being done in the order of most important buildings first. Which of course is not any of the residential buildings, and there is something like 91% of suburban Cubans living in condemned buildings! Just unreal as I sure most of these will fall down before it comes to their turn to be restored. Anyway, the buildings we have seen, restored, falling down or somewhere in-between they are also pretty amazing.
As we walk around Havana we agree it has a nice feel to it, relaxed, poor, happy, musical, friendly – all mixed together.
We bumped into a couple of Kiwis that were on our flight yesterday as we were walking along the waterfront. They were loving the feel of the city too. Funny how in such a big place you run into a familiar face.
We returned to our hotel around 12.30pm, purchasing a beer for 1.50cuc at a hole in the wall which we drank in the lounge room of our hotel. We needed to change money and the line-up was the same as it had been this morning when we left so we decided we would just have to join it and wait our turn. It was just a few doors down from the hotel and we probably waited a total of 40 minutes before it was our turn to enter the office and change our Canadian dollars for local currency.
Just as we returned to our room to stash our cash, Toni & Shawn Lemon showed up at the hotel. Luckily their airport transfer was waiting for them at the airport, but it was just a normal car, not an American car as requested. The driver also was full of apologies for not showing up for our pick up yesterday claiming broken down car, but it was no point saying sorry now, we made it to the hotel and that was all done.
I went across the road and grabbed 5 x 1cuc beers and we sat around for about an hour chatting and catching up with the Lemons while their room was being cleaned. Then we all headed out for a little walk and had a drink in the roof top bar at the Inglaterra Hotel. Nice view from up there and drinks were not too badly priced 2.50cuc for local beer and 3cuc for rum and pineapple juice, which was the closest thing to a pina colada they could produce. Must say they are not at all skimpy with the rum shot in these drinks.
Strolled back to the hotel so some could have a little arvo nap and then it was back out for dinner at 7pm at a restaurant I had booked on the way out earlier. Just about every restaurant we have seen are all offering the same menu. Chicken, pork, fish or lobster. All served with beans & rice, vegetables (which is actually salad), bread (which is always stale) and fried plantain of some description. The only thing that differs from restaurant to restaurant is the price and if they are offering a free drink with the meal or not. So, the restaurant I booked the meals were 10cuc which is pretty good for a lobster tail cooked in rum sauce. It was not a massive lobster tail, but still I thought good value for the price. This meal was sort of a belated birthday celebration. I tried a mojito to drink with the meal, but am not impressed with it. Prefer good old cuba libre (rum & coke) or even with the pineapple juice was better.
After dinner, we grabbed a cheap 1cuc ice cream which was just soft serve and not fantastic, but was sweet and cold so worked as a dessert. Had a little stroll down the street to walk off the ice cream. Shawn was chased after by a lady? who wanted to plat his beard, and then we returned to the hotel.
Found another English-speaking movie to watch on TV, it was about the life of football player Pele, so not too bad.
And that was the end of another day!

DAY 92 MAY 8TH 2017

Monday - Havana

We all had an inhouse breakfast at about 9am. After a lazy morning, we headed out in search of milk. This turned into the mission of the day that was never fulfilled. Milk is just not available. In the meagre supermarkets, we found no fresh or even powdered milk. We asked the young girls at the hotel where we might found it and they told a few different ‘supermarkets’ to try, but we exhausted them and a few others. Milk seems to be just not available.
The supermarkets are just small shops that have maybe one or two shelves of items that are served to the customer over a glass counter. There is no load up your trolley while cruising down a multiple of aisles. Makes you appreciate how lucky we are at home in Australia where we can walk into a thousand plus assorted products supermarket and purchase just about anything we want. Here the minimal shelves carry a limited number of items and then maybe only 10 or 12 of each item. It’s just hard to imagine people live like this. That is why the restaurants around our hotel all have the same menu, it’s because the can only serve what is available for them to buy. We are so lucky.
Our quest for milk will no doubt continue tomorrow during our wanderings around Havana. By the time we leave this amazing city I’m am pretty sure we would have stepped foot in just about every ‘supermarket’ or store selling any sort of products and asked the question, leche??
Now everyone knows that Havana is full of the old American cars, so of course we had to have a ride in one of them. This is a big money spinner for the owners of these cars, as they have learnt this is a popular treat for tourists. And of course, the lucky ones with convertibles are the most popular. Anyone can get in an old car as there are a lot that work as regular taxi’s, but the convertibles are the ones that the tourists want to go for a jaunt in. I had investigated this on the internet back at home and had found out that a two hour ride costs about US$120, well thank god I did not pre-book this online as the prices the touts on the street were offering was much better. Yesterday we were quoted 10cuc per person and they were willing to take all 5 of us in one car. Today we decided to pick a car we thought was big enough for us all and see if we could get it any cheaper. We found a big red one that all 5 of us could fit in, sorry but I have no idea the make or anything like that, and the tout offered it at 40cuc for the standard 1 hour tour. Well if they are going to start at that price, I need to get it for less and the tout was happy to take the 35cuc offer I made.
We drove around the standard city tour circuit for just over an hour with a few minutes stop at some monuments and at Lennon park. Complete with a bronze statue of John Lennon sitting on a park bench waiting for stupid tourists to take their photo with him. I don’t even like John Lennon but sat obediently for a photo anyway. I did however cause a mild disturbance when I tried to sit on the statues lap for a more entertaining photo. Our driver and park guards ran over scalding me!
Back in the car, we drove on. It was a fun ride and we managed to take some photos and drove around a bit of Havana that we would probably never get to on our walks. And at just 7cuc each it was a bargain and we may just have to pick a different colour car to have another ride it on another day.
Today in our travels we have also been asking around regards to our transport to our next destination in Cuba. The public bus sounds like it could be too difficult with luggage and all, and for just a couple of extra dollars each we can get a shuttle or a private car to carry us and our luggage in more comfort to the next stop.
Our quest to find milk took us to streets we had not yet walked where we discovered cheaper eating places and a restaurant that promised bacon and eggs for breakfast. We made a date for this place tomorrow morning, but must keep in mind we are in Cuba and not to expect a full English breakfast, this is hard for some of my fellow travellers to remember.
We bought a couple of cheap souvenirs today and I got a straw hat for 3cuc that is great to keep the hot Cuban sun off my head. There are some great aprons here that I am shopping around for additions to my collection.
We stopped and had a street beer today to cool off a bit. Seems to be ok to walk around with beer in hand, we are not the only ones doing it.
We purchased a bottle of Havana Club white rum which we polished off before, during and after dinner. Shawn not a lover of rum at all said it tasted like petrol, but I thought it was ok. Unfortunately, coca cola is not available here so we had to drink it with the local cola which is a bit ordinary, however the pineapple juice that was served with our in-house dinner mixed very well with the rum. 700ml bottle white rum 3.85cuc, 1.5l cola 1.50cuc, chicken dinner 12cuc.
After dinner, we played a few games of UNO.
Still enjoying Havana, took over 200 photos again today! No English movies on telly tonight.

DAY 93 TUESDAY 9TH MAY

Tuesday - Havana

Yesterday in our travels we found a restaurant that was advertising eggs and bacon for 3cuc! Mmmm bacon, this was enough for us to trek the few blocks back to this place for the pork treat. How happy were we when the owner/chef offered poached eggs? Dolly even pushed her luck by asking for tomatoes which came as a couple of half slices on the plate next to 2 poached eggs and a couple of rashes of streaky bacon. What a treat, and it was a cheap breakfast except for the 2.50cuc luke warm coffee, although it did come with hot milk. Good start to the day, except on the way Dolly went arse over tit tripping up on the uneven pavement. She has lost a bit of bark off her leg, arm and hand and has managed to twist her shoulder, other than that all good.
Lonely Bastard quote: Visitors from the well-ordered countries of Europe should be subconsciously aware of crumbling sidewalks, manholes with no covers, over-enthusiastic drivers, veering cyclists, carelessly lobbed front door keys and badly-pitched baseballs.
Bellies full we headed to the waterfront, which was just a block away, to find a car to take us to the fort on the other side of the port. Toni had received broken Spanglish instructions from a guy at the restaurant on how to get there by local bus, but since the old convertible was so cheap yesterday we decided to try for another ride in one of those to take us in the underwater tunnel to the other side. Soon enough a tout pounced on us and asked if we wanted to do a city tour. We advised we had done a city tour yesterday and wanted to go to the fort. OK he said, same, one hour 50cuc. Nup, I said, too much, ok what did you pay yesterday he asked? 30cuc I lied (we paid 35cuc) but he said ok and agreed on the 30cuc for a one hour tour.
This time our ride was a pink convertible (sorry no idea what make or model) and it was a little squishier in the back than the car we had yesterday, but it was ok. We all piled in and were moments later driving through the tunnel under the water and came out the other side under the fort. Our first stop was at the park where the giant Jesus statue is overlooking the city of Havana. It was crowded with lots more tour cars and plenty of buses that were transporting the passengers from the huge cruise ship that was in port. Toni spoke to one of the passengers and was advised they were on a 4-day cruise from Miami to Cuba return. Just like a bit of a taster cruise I guess.
We took photos of the giant Jesus and took in the view of the city across the harbour, recognizing some of the buildings we have walked or driven past in Havana. It was a beautiful sunny day and the blue sky was a perfect backdrop for all our photos today. Back in the pink convertible and we drove the short distance to the fort where we could get out of the vehicle again and have a walk around.
Again, wonderful vistas overlooking the city of Havana. Havana is an amazing place, with the old cars everywhere, the amazing architecture both restored and crumbling. I am surprised how much I like it here, not that I thought I would not like it, I just like it more than I thought I would. LOL
From the fort, we saw a guy fishing whilst floating in a rubber tyre ring, like out in the ocean. And another bloke was snorkelling, maybe looking for lobsters that are on every menu in town? Our hour was almost up so back in the car to be driven back through the tunnel over to the city side again. Not a bad deal for 6cuc each. A ride in a convertible is a must do when visiting Cuba.
By now it was time for a beer to hydrate us, so we started to walk back to our hotel and the shop across the road that sells 1cuc beers. On the walk back, we stopped at the bakery and bought some bread rolls to have for lunch with the butter we bought yesterday and our stash of vegemite. The quest for milk is still alive and unfulfilled at this stage.
A cold drink or two and a semi stale roll satisfied the lunch agenda. The Lemons retired to their room to have a sleep and us 3 went out exploring a different direction, in streets we had not yet walked down. We were rewarded by hidden squares and magnificent buildings and the everyday life of the Havana people. Everyone is friendly and always happy to give a smile and a hello. Sure, they try to steer you to their restaurant and we are constantly offered the services of a taxi, but all in all the Cubans have been very hospitable and I think they have it a lot rougher than we do. The fact that almost everyone is selling stuff literally out their front doors just to make a bit of money or they are paying the fee to the government to have makeshift restaurants in their dining rooms where anyone can come and eat for a cheap price for some income. We were walking along the street and there was an old woman sitting with a cardboard box in front of her with about 6 items on it. I paused to have a quick look and lo and behold she was selling bags of powdered milk. We purchased a bag for 2cuc which was probably double or more than she would charge a local, but how happy were we that we finally found milk!?!
Couple of blocks up we came to the Hotel Raquel, which looked amazing from the outside so we climbed the stairs hoping we could get a look inside. The uniformed door man walked towards us and I thought he was going to advise us it was for guests only. Instead he said, welcome, come in, we have a roof top terrace on the 4th floor you should go up and look at the view and have a cocktail. Which such a warm welcome how could we resist? Well we couldn’t, and next thing we were in the ancient elevator (like the ones you see in old movies) and were pressing the #4 button praying to god the old cables would hold long enough to get us to the top floor for a cocktail.
The view was not spectacular, and the cocktails were expensive at 4cuc, but we had one anyway after the waiter promised they would be very good mojitos or we don’t have to pay for them. Lucky for him they were good and we did pay, after enjoying the rooftop atmosphere for over an hour.
Finally, we rode the elevator back down to the 1st floor (we couldn’t get it to go to the ground floor) and took the stairs down the last flight. A beautiful hotel, way out of our price range, but nice we could still come in an enjoy a little piece of it. We have decided we are going to allow ourselves these little indulgences while in Cuba, because we will probably never come here again.
We continued to walk and came across an undercover market that an English couple who we chatted with on the rooftop had told us about. This place was all the souvenir shops under one roof. We could tell by the line-up of coaches outside this was the place the cruise liners brought their passengers to shop. Walking through here was a bit of a hassle as all the stall holders compete for a sale on anyone passing by. I managed to barter 3 aprons for 10cuc which I was happy with as the best offer I’d had outside was 2 for 10cuc, so we each got one for just over 3cuc each.
Time to start walking back as it was close to 5pm now, and we had agreed on a 6ish dinner. We made it back to the hotel to discover the Lemons had not yet ventured out. We all had a quick rum (except Shawn – can’t seem to convert him) then walked to a place for dinner that we had sussed out yesterday. It was a pizza restaurant and we all had pizza except for Lyn (not a lover of pizza) who had a pork dish. They were ok, nothing special but good for the price. Dinner over, it was time to find the ice cream shop we had indulged in yesterday. We had a vague idea of its location and walked in the general direction. We come to a cross roads and a guy came up to me and said what you looking for? I replied ice cream, he looked at me with puzzled expression. Helados – I said, he understood now, and pointed ah one block down and around the corner. Rumour has it, Cuban love their ice cream!
One scoop in a cone for 1cuc – delicious.
We drank some more rum as we played UNO back at the hotel and then it was time to end another awesome day in Havana!

DAY 94 WEDNESDAY 10TH MAY

Wednesday - Havana

We returned to the same breakfast restaurant as yesterday and it was a bit of a disappointment today. The bacon was cold and the poached eggs, well they were a mess. And we were charged an extra 1cuc for a few more pieces of bread which we weren’t yesterday.
After breakfast, we have another little walk along the waterfront. Again, it was a beautiful sunny day, with a bit of a stiff breeze that was strong enough that we had to carry our straw hats as they kept blowing off. I also had to hold my dress down to avoid any embarrassment.
We returned to the hotel early and Lyn & Dolly went and had a nap while I sat and watched the world go by from our hotel balcony.
It was after five before the Lemons and I headed up to Central Park to find the guy we had spoken to the other day about a private car to our next destination. Of course, he had already gone home, I had taken a photo of him and other touts advised us he left at 5pm. Who would have thought tour touts kept office hours? We just found another guy who after a bit of haggling agreed to get us a car for the same price of 100cuc the first guy had offered us. However, this car is an old American car, a Ford he claims. Just hope it’s big enough for all 5 of us and our luggage. I have serious doubts, but we had little choice but to take his offer. We have arranged to meet at 12 noon tomorrow and if we don’t all fit in, it will be a mad scramble to find alternate transport.
We had happy hour on our balcony before heading out for dinner. Another spot we had found while walking around on a previous day. Menu looked cheap and ok, but of course there was only 2 things listed that were available, shrimps or pork. We all opted for pork and it was an excellent meal for the price of only 3.55cuc each, pork, white rice & salad. The sun set as we finished our meal (we couldn’t see it from our restaurant) and it was dark by the time we had walked back to the Helad-Oro ice cream shop. Our third visit!
We enjoyed a few more drinks as we sat around the dining table at the hotel playing UNO. It seems a little quieter outside tonight.
Tomorrow we move to a new location just 185 km to the south west to a town called Vinales.

Interesting to note over the years I have travelled to many countries (I think the count is over 60!) and this is the first country in the world where I have been where they DO NOT sell coco-cola!

Posted by Cindy Bruin 19:39 Archived in Cuba Tagged cuba havana Comments (1)

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