Fidel or not Fidel, that is the question?
Havana Travel Blog› entry 8 of 41 › view all entries
We arrived in Cuba not knowing what to expect and no idea where we were staying apart from that Rina and Enrique's friends were sorting it out. So we got in a taxi and got taken to a really lovely old colonial house where we stayed for 3 nights and then moved over the street to Raoul and Prisca's for another 3 nights which was an even nicer colonial house.
Five days isn't really enough to get an understanding of a country and I guess I have come away more informed but more confused at the same time. Tourists have only recently been allowed to enter the country so there is a bit of a feeling that we were sometimes getting rinsed for all that we had. Which I suppose is fine if you are a rich tourist on a week or so holiday... but when you are on a mega tight budget (supposedly) it is quite tricky.
Our first night Alina and Alfredo took us to get some food and there was an extravaganza. It was a mini and more affordable version of Club Tropicana with dancing and tropical costumes. A Cuban band played and then everyone got up and were doing amazing dancing called casina/o or something where they spin each other under the arms in really complicated patterns and twists. We were keen to learn so wwe could put everyone to shame when we pulled out those dance moves when we got back...so Aliana and Alfred (A and A's children) tried their hardest to teach us but we barely mastered the basic step. Gary's freestyle didn't go to well.
Alina cooked us a delicious meal which included salted fried bananas. They are amazing. I looked all over for them but didn't find any again which was the biggest disappointment.
Its quite strange being in a big city that seems so quiet. Mostly because there are so few cars. Everyone is really cautious about crossing the street which is funny. In mexico the roads are hoaching and if you waited like the Cubans to cross you would be there forever. You just have to bite the bullet and cross and hope the cars stop. Only about 20% of the population has a car and there are different coloured number plates to indicate the status i.e. blue= diplomat, yello = private, brown military or something like that. Plus any cars there are. are either Ladas or old style 1950's american cars. Its amazing that they are still running.
Most days we got the one cuban pesos bus = 2p which were always jam packed and always proved to be entertaining. For a treat we took one 1950's taxi. It was like being in grease.
We took a trip to the beach which was beautiful. The sea was so crystal clear and warm. Even in their winter. Summer would be unbearable. We went kayaking and drifted away from where we were on the beach and had to paddle for an hour to get back. I was tired!!!
The rest of our trip was spent in old havana in and out of museums and art galleries and buying 2p cigars. The buildings that are maintained are really beautiful. But there are a lot that are derelict which is a real shame. There is a ration system for basic food rations. Which means food is quite basic. But I am a big fan of rice and beans so no complaints from me. Not sure how well Gary would cope as he could eat about 6 peoples weekly rations in one sitting - Gordo!!! = fatty. We read that in the special period they had to have compulsory blackouts every day and they used to meltdown condoms and pass it off as stringy cheese on Pizza. Not sure how that was any cheaper tho.
A big downside was that there was very little street food which has become our most affordable way to eat and often most delicious. Some people sell food from a window in their private kitchen but you have to know where they are elso you would just walk straight past none the wiser. This was a shock to the system in comparison to Mexico where on every corner there is food either a street vender or restaurant or oxo shop. The other thing was that there were very few banks that had ATM machines. We walked around a really touristy part of town for 45 minuts trying to find a bank. we asked so many people but noone had any idea.
There are a lot of things about Cuban politics that we won't understand and the consensus about the situation seemed mixed. The worst thing that happened was when the police stopped us because we were walking with Alfred. It is illegal to walk with tourist unless you have papers to prove you know them. Luckily the policeman let it drop. It is a shame though that there are no police when you are being hassled by guys on the street.
One of the best things that happened was that i finally managed to get an empty cigar box from the airport! Hurray! I had asked in every cigar shop and they had all said only with cigars so i was a little dispondant- but it all came good in the end.
All in all we had a really interesting time. It has knocked a big chunk off our budget but thing it is worth it to see Cuba when it is still under Fidels rule. The trip would not have been as enjoyable if we hadn't had a Cuban family to teach us so much and show us real Cuban life.