Cuba - an interesting journey

Havana Travel Blog

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Arriving in Cuba was failry stressful and unfortunately we didn't find the next 6 days much more enjoyable. We understand that Cuba is communist, we were expecting it to be rough and slightly over priced. We definitely weren't expecting it to be so expensive that it made everything hard to do!
I'll start at the beginning (it seems logical)....

We were met at the airport by the 'owners' of the Casa Particular (private homestay) we were meant to be staying in for the first 6 nights. Our free airport pickup cost us CUC$30 (about 25 GBP). We were then taken to the wrong Casa because the one we had booked three weeks in advance, which had amazing reviews on 'tripadvisor' had been booked out. The wrong Casa, which we are pretty sure was an illegal one, was filthy and did not feel at all safe.

We left without paying and walked through the fairly rough neighbourhood, later at night with our bags in tow, to the nearest hotel. It claimed to be 5* and therefore cost us CUC$80. Extortionate considering it was a terrible hotel, and I mean terrible. As an example: the breakfast was a buffet of disgusting meats and plastic cheese, but they had some cereal and milk hidden in a corner. Content with this for breakfast I walked over but found they were lacking in bowls. I asked a member of staff if it would be possible to have a bowl and he simply stated "no". I enquired as to why not and he told me they didn't have any bowls. I asked him whether I was supposed to pour my cereal and milk onto a plate and spill it over their floor, he said no. I asked them why they served cereal if there was no way of eating it.
He stopped talking to me. Granted I was fairly grumpy, but I had just paid CUC$80 to sleep in a tiny bed with dirty sheets that didn't fit and was unable to eat breakfast because they couldn't affor to buy bowls. Where was the money going? (Fidel?!?!) Long story short, we spent the next day looking for a new Casa Particular. With help once again from 'tripadvisor' we did find accommodation and our stay from there on was relatively uneventful so rant over. OH, except when I paid the new Casa CUC$9 (a lot of money) to do my laundry (a service they offered, not me being rude) they stole my dress. My lovely, favourite little blue dress that I definitely did not want them to steal. I was seriously not happy.

Anyway, when we tried really hard, and after we had spent most of the morning waiting in line at 3 different ATMs and a few banks in search of money, we did have fun!!
We did a tour of the rum museum, which was fairly alright.

Kind of similar to the Guiness Museum in Dublin but with rum instead. We got to taste some Havana Club rum, which just so happens to be one of my favourites so that was good. We also did a tour of the cigar factory, where they make all the major cigars by hand. It was good, but kind of upsetting at the same time because the conditions in which they work are terrible. They don't have set hours, they have a set number of leaves they have to count a day (7,000), or such like. It was interesting though, and we were offered 5 Monte Cristo's for CUC$10 by an entrepreneurial worker. When we explained we had no pockets he told us to stuff them down the front of our shorts, but we politely declined.
In hindsight it may have been the cheapest way to buy decent cigars, but who knows what would happen to him or us if we were caught.
Following the cigar factory tour we did a tour of the blackmarket in search of cheap cigars. This was interesting and terrifying, as it invovled following shady characters from a distance into their houses down dark alleys. We were unfortunately unable to find real cigars with this method.
We also went to the famous 'Tropicana' Cabaret show, which was really good. Lots of pretty ladies shaking themselves in a sexy way. The outfits were really good and the dancing was amazing. We were also seated on a table next to a guy that went to St Joan of Arc in Rickmansworth and opposite a couple who lived near Rickmansworth Station. Of all the people we could have been sat with, it's like they knew!!
We did a tour of Havana and some of the surrounding suburbs in a hot pink, classic, American car.
It was amazing, the car more than the tour. Such a nice car, and we saw lots of big houses of the 'rich communists' as well as a couple beheading a chicken and draining the blood into a river in the name of Catholic sacrifice.
Finally, we visited 'Revolution Square'. It's a very big square, much like a big car park but with no cars parked in it. Next to this is the memorial of Jose Marti, which looked to Tim and I like the 'Ministry of Love', or how we had imagined it, from Orwell's '1984' (more on this later).

A summary of my opinion of Cuba?
I understand it's a communist country but it definitely isn't a backpackers paradise. Maybe if you visit on a 5* All-Inclusive package, with all the hard work taken out of it, it's a lot easier? But you wouldn't really experience Havana.

 It cost us close to GBP 1,000 in 6 days (not including flights) and that was mainly spent on absolutely terrible food and rude taxi drivers. For any celiacs planning to visit, don't! I barely ate in 6 days, it was practically impossible as the only food they have in abundance is bread.
Other holidaymakers we spoke to seemed to be having a similar experience but were of the opinion that "it won't be communist for much longer so we should enjoy it whilst it lasts". Sure, it may be cool to say you've visited a communist country, but when it isn't communist it will be a lot easier for travellers and a hell of a lot better for locals.
I don't know if you've ever read Orwell's '1984'? To me the living conditions of the locals in Cuba seemed reminiscent of the living conditions of the Proles in 1984, just set in the Caribbean so slightly more colourful.
Thery still have rations, and work in terrible conditions for poor wages. Many women had turned to prostitution as the only means of making money. The buildings, although charming, were run down. People aren't paid enough to buy they products they spend all day making...
Surely when it's not communist and money it more readily available to everyone in society the living conditions will improve and buildings will gradually be restored to their original splendour. Why should we be making the most of it now?

Maybe Tim and I are ignorant and completely misunderstood Cuba? We definitely couldn't afford another week there though, so we bailed on our visit to Varadero and are now back in Tulum where food is good and cocktails are free flowing. Bring on the empanadas!

jimdean says:
So in summation is it fair to say you experienced real Cuba, and you would have spent another week if you could?
Another member here posted `If you can understand 40% of Cuba in a vacation, you`ve done well`.
I`ll be going soon, and I`m equally disgusted and intrigued by the experiences I`ve read here, strange emotion that is lol, should be perfect for me! Thanks for posting this. Oh and the pics too, cool cars, good album.
Posted on: May 23, 2011
jcwil77 says:
Very interesting read. As an American, I'd NEVER visit that country after all the history we have with them. Plus, it's the home to Castro and Guevara, murdering godless commies both.

I think what you saw should be transmitted to the world, as European social policies trend toward socialism and now America is following suit under Obama. It's tragically sad the conditions those people must endure and I hope one day they will enjoy a free society and free-market capitalism. Thanks for sharing.
Posted on: Apr 14, 2010
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