We all met in Madrid. I arrived in the morning and went sightseeing, Michal arrived later on and around lunch time we met in Sol to go to Museo de Jamon (a must do in Spain!) Maria joined us there. Then we split to meet again the next day. In the meantime Maria picked up Adam and Marysia from the airport and the 2 hour ‘where are you now so we can meet’ search began. We ended up meeting in subway station close to apartment where we stayed for the night. Maria’s sister let us sleep at her place. On the way to the airport in the morning (it was still dark so it felt more like an evening) we were stopped by the police. Because of our luggage one of the tires seemed flat and we were advised to inflate it later on. No ticket just a warning. In the airport we headed to the check – in and even though there were some people queing nothing was happening. For a while we just waited but then tried to get some information. Firstly from the fellow passangers and then from the check-in staff. The flight on 23rd after 1 hour of flight was returned to the airport and so all passangers were transferred to different filghts and our plane was at this point fully booked. At this point we didn’t know anything about hurricane but the news came soon enough. I heard before that Conviasa could have 2-3 days delay in flights so was set on being patient. As always in such situations you feel you don’t have enough information and look for news even when there is non. After a while everyone was asked to move towards Conviasa office. This only meant that we were polishing a different part of airport floor. We were supposed to fly to Caracas and then to Havana. Michal was the first and only one to get a ticket to Caracas for a flight leaving in two hours or so. We all felt bad worrying that each of us will get on a separate flight. We started to think how we will meet in Havana and I was worrying if they will speak English in Caracas and then if we can survive hurricane in Cuba. In the end Michal’s ticket was taken back and we all got on the same direct flight to Havana. Even better! We were all glad and moved quickly towards AirEuropa check-in. The flight passed quickly and the food was quite nice. We got some excellent Spanish wine and fell asleep easily. Or at least some of us. We got to Havana airport tired but excited. And had to wait something like 30 minutes to go through passport control. We were getting bored but to be honest with you we were one of the lasts in the ques. In the airport there was a bit of confusion where to find our luggage belt. Finally we got all our backpacks and went towards customs. Adam was stopped and for a couple of minutes we didn’t understand where he should go or where he should wait.
In the end they didn’t search through his luggage just asked several questions and let him go. Adam thinks it was because he was running around from one side to another trying to find out which belt was the right one. Maybe. We went through customs to the main hall and had to que to the currency exchange. Queying something to get used to in socialism. The exchange rate was: EUR 1.2444 and CUC to CUP 24. We took a taxi for 5 people and paid 25 CUC to get to our Casa particular. This was a new american mini bus something we didn’t expect. Havana did not look all that beautiful in the night.
We stayed at Sarita Rooms, Belascolain 360 ap.4, San Jose y San Rafael, Havana. I have to say it was one of the best decisions during this trip to stay at Sara’s place. She is very, very nice and helped us a lot through out the journey. All places recommended by her were worth it. In Cuba everyone knows somebody that can help you, but sometimes the help is not what you expect. We found out we could trust Sara. So if you are going to Havana consider it. The taxi driver didn’t have any problems in finding the address and the next day we didn’t have any trouble in walking through China Town to the main sights. When I imagined Havana I imagined colorful facades of the houses, people sitting in the streets listening to music or chatting or playing domino. Sunny, relaxed full of chat and laughter life. At least after work. When we arrived Havana was grey. Grey was the dominant color of the city. All other colors seemed to be overshadowed by it. When we got up we decided to go for a walk. Malecon was closed bacause of the enormous waves flooding the sidewalk and roadway. At times the wind was so strong we were just able to resist the wind not making a step forward. Overall the morning confronted me with a sight I didn’t expect. We had breakfast in the streets, we walked around and bought fruta bomba as well as bananas and coffee in peso nationale but also they closed one window just in front of or nose. We had also jugo natural, which might be natural but at the same time it’s so sweet that they have to pt additional sugar into it. Eating terribly sweet things seems to be the feature of hot climate countries. In one of the window shops (the shop is located in a living room of a house and the goods are sold through the window) Marysia almost found a husband to be. Maybe two year old boy in his mother arms smiling to her while his mother was pointing in her direction saying ‘bonita’. Charming. We walked past Chinatown (Barrio Chino) to get to Capitolio Nacional. In IXXth century hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were brought in by Spanish settlers to work as slaves with people from Africa. The Chinatown district has two paifangs, a large one located on Calle Dragones, with well defined written welcoming sign in Chinese and Spanish. The first night we arrived in Havana we actually went to Chineese restaurant. The service was good, our waiter had a good sense of humor but the food was… well it wasn’t good. I didn’t like mine at all, but I think the others complained less. Nothing like the food in Asia anyway or in Europe. In front of the Capitol a women came across me and showed me to take a picture of her. I knew straight away it was all about the money, but I didn’t mind. I guess this is one of the typical shots brought back from Cuba. Everything for tourists! After negotiations we rented out a red & white taxi to drive us around Havana for an hour or so. It felt great. We listened to Cuban music and covered most of the sights. It’s difficult to take pictures but in the most important place we stopped and had some time to explore. This place is of course Plaza de la Revolucion (“Revolution Square”). It’s 31st largest city square in the world. The square is dominated by the Jose Marti Memorial, which features a 109 m tall tower. Opposite the memorial on the far side of the square is the famous Che Guevara image with his well known slogan of “Hasta la Victoria Siempre” (Until the Everlasting Victory, Always) – the Ministry of the Interior. There is also an image of Fidel Castro which somehow reminded us of Bin Laden.
When we came back one guy, who wasn’t around earlier, came over to us and asked us to pay him 40 CUC for the drive. We said we agreed with the driver we will pay him 30 CUC and there is no way we are going to pay more. As usual in situations like this there is a lot of hassle to avoid paying more. You can’t give up, just need to be patient. One of us, I think Michal put the agreed amount to the hand of the driver. The strange guy took it from him gave it back and said he will call the police. We agreed. Let’s call the police. But the police never arrived, the driver took the money and we were off to sight-see some more. On foot this time. To be honest I feel that the pictures don’t give Havana justice. Next day when it was sunny the city looked much better, so be patient some color are on the way. I’m gonna skip writing about sights in this post. I think I just write about things that happened and then maybe write another post about sights. We visited Floridita, La Cuna del Daiquiri in Obispo 557 esquina a Monserrate, Habana Vieja, La Habana. Most of you might know that Hemmingway loved Cuba. He used to say “Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquirí en El Floridita” (My Daiquiri at El Floridita, my Mojito at La Bodeguita.’) The story goes: Ernest Hemingway needed a bathroom. He stopped into Havana’s El Floridita bar, not far from the hotel where he lived during much of the 1930s. On his way out, he noticed the bartender setting up Daiquiris. Never one to walk past a drink, Hemingway took a sip. Not bad, he said, but he preferred them with no sugar and double the rum. The bartender made one as specified, and then named the drink after him. Anyway it’s not how they serve it now. If there was no sugar I don’t think we would have liked it. The best part of the experience for me was that Hemmingway is smiling and that there is a band playing salsa for the guests entertainment. The bar is filled with tourists but if you surrender to the alcohol and music while returning your gaze to Ernests eyes from time to time the World doesn’t seem to be such a bad place in the end. The others went inside Castillo de la Real Fuerza while I decided to go down to the waterside to enjoy view and wind. I wasn’t sitting there long when Ariel a black, one-leg guy joined me. He told me a couple of important things. One was that to really know Cuba you need to speak to Cubans. I guess this is true for anywhere you go. You don’t even start to have an idea of a place if you don’t speak to it’s inhabitants. He also told me that in Europe we are so concerned about things we stopped talking to each other openly about what we want. His example was. ‘If I want this boat I will say I want a boat like this. And you Europeans will start talking about how nice the water is’. I guess he has a point.
When I met the guys we headed towards Palacio de los Capitanes Generales where there was a life opera concert. We decided to stay and listen. Beautiful music, great voices and amazing environment made it something we won’t easily forget. We went back to our Casa with our minds set on going out to Casa de La Musica in the evening. The entry is 20 CUC per person that night. Too much for us having in mind we just started our holidays. Later we found out it was so expensive because the best band in town was playing. I just wonder what kind of music they were playing. Judging on our future experiences nothing we would have liked. We took a taxi (3 CUC) and ended up in Cafe Paris where I had the best mojito in the whole trip.
I forgot to say that on or way back from Habana Vieja we came across a local who didn’t want to leave us alone and followed us for good 15 minutes. I heard about things like this happening but honestly it only happened twice dring the whole of our stay in Cuba.
The same day we also met an interesting couple. First we saw them in a gallery dancing or rather learning how to dance tango, then again in front of a cheap food window. She was Chinese and came to Cuba to study Spanish but her passion is tango. My advice at this point is: don’t go out the same time as we do in Europe. In Cuba everything happens earlier. Around 9 or 10pm there are only clubs with techno, disco opened and you won’t enjoy salsa.