It’s a place lost to the 50’s after relations with the United States soured in 1960, yet it packs the punch of quality rum, sun & cigars into any visit. This was our week in Havana, Cuba.
Arriving in October it was humid and the Havana sun relentless. Within minutes we were hustled by a very friendly Cuban people hoping to sell their black market cigars at a very cheap price, an experience that cost us our travel dignity and 35 CUC (1 CUC = USD $0.99).
So the spiel was a good one; “Hey, where are you from? Today is a big day for the people of Cuba, tonight there are many fiestas and salsa dancing at the Buena Vista Social Club…”
It sounded so innocent, so when they offered to walk us there to show us where to go later, we didn’t hesitate. We ended up in a dive bar where a participating barman promptly delivered mojitos and our hosts presented us with gifts of a 3 CUP coin and a banana leaf cigar. (1 CUC = 24 CUP).
After a very small amount of chit chat, boxes of cigars were presented at very tempting prices. We declined and made a bee line out of there but not before having to pay for the drinks (including theirs) and their GIFTS!!
It will be easy to look back later and laugh at our stupidity but it really is too soon! The reasons you shouldn’t buy cigars off the street is because they are fake and as per my previous statement, made with banana leaf as opposed to tobacco. Lesson learnt.
Not everyone though was out to make our trip costly. We stayed at the Casa of Machongo and his family across the road from the Museum of Revolution. For 25 CUC we got a triple room with private bath and air conditioning. For an extra 5 CUC a person his lovely wife will make a breakfast big enough to rival King’s banquet and for 10 CUC each, dinner. The food was super tasty and the coffee? Best way to start any day! Stay here if you visit Havana and don’t mind hamsters & turtles! (email: firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations)
Tourist wise we kept it simple – rum. Lot’s of rum. Tours are available at the Havana Club & Museum if you are interested in the process of how this little gem is made for 7-8 CUC. Our tip for this place – don’t use the toilet. It’s 5 CUC and Dos Hermanos next door is only 25c. The Pina Coladas there are also worth the visit.
We also spent a day on a tour bus heading around Pinar del Rio and Vinales. Here you can taste liquers, smoke cigars, see a gigantic dinosaur mural and take a boat ride on a subterranean river with drop bats. You know the ones that stop clinging to the roof of the cave when a camera flash send them flapping about in your face? Those ones.
We also took the obligatory city tour in an old American car, an hourly cruise around Havana which we experienced in a 55 silver Chev with purple flames down the side – in the rain. Our only complaint was the right rear squeakers were off centre, diagnosed by the Insurance Broker in the car, but not denied by the Mechanic!
Next up – Varadero or as I like to call it – Little Canada. Our hotel was by no means luxurious but it was a massive splurge and all inclusive. Yep all inclusive. We drank all the sugary rich cocktails we could without sending ourselves into diabetic convulsions and gorged on buffet for two days straight. During peak season guests can enjoy much of what we didn’t (quite a few features of the hotel were closed for the off-season), but we still had an amazing time with all our new Canadian friends.
Heading of the resort, we browsed the markets in town for souvenirs and explored the Ambrosio Caves. Just note, if you take one of your new Canadian friends to Ambrosio, check their tolerance to creepy crawlies because watching a 37 year old man run screaming explicits, while amusing, may be damaging to their masculinity (How’s the heart rate going Jeff?). If dancing is more your style, head to Havana Club for great beats and to get your sweat on.
While there are plenty of other things to do in Cuba, we only had 6 days and they were jam packed and full of excitement so we couldn’t ask for more really. Until next time Cuba, adios!
- Take small gifts of hygiene products such as soap, tampons or clothes, etc. to give to your new friends. They are very expensive on the Island and they will love you for it.
~As of 14th January 2013 restrictions on overseas travel for Cubans was lifted meaning more runaways out there exploring the globe!! If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go? Please leave us a comment.
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