Cuba


July 18-30, 2008

Havana
My first impression of this city was that it had no public transport to get from the airport to downtown. How lame. So I took a taxi which dropped me off right in front of my hotel. For my first night I stayed at a relatively cheap hotel just to be sure I had a place to stay since I arrived late at night. After that, I found cheaper places to stay called “casa particulars” which are budget private accomodations sort of like a bed & breakfast. The hotel I stayed at the first night included breakfast which was on the top of the 9th floor overlooking the city. After breakfast, I took a walk around the city, went to the famous museo de la revolucion, old town, and the nacional capitolio. I think I walked for a good 6 to 7 hours that day. For my second night stay, I had a tout try to find me a cheap place to stay. At first I didn’t want his help since he probably wanted some sort of commission for helping me but he was so persistant and helpful that I couldn’t let him go. He promised me that he won’t ask for anything as he wanted to help. After an hour or so he finally helped me find a place near town and was on his way. Cuban people can be very friendly after all.

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View on top of 9th floor of Hotel Lincoln


Hotel Lincoln (I stayed here the 1st night)


Old town Havana


Walking to the Capitolio


Church in old town Havana

Vinales
The next morning I took a taxi to the bus station (like I said, the public transport system sucks). I was ready to buy my ticket to Vinales but when I arrived the ticket lady said the bus was full. I had actually made it on time as the taxi driver I had kept stalling and then he had to fill up gas which took a few minutes. Ugghh. The next bus wasn’t until late afternoon that day. I wasn’t going to waste half a day in havana! The lady said we might be lucky and catch another bus at another bus station. Luckily, there was another couple who also didn’t make it on the bus. So we split a cab to the other bus station across town hoping to find another bus. When we got there, you would never believe what happened. The exact same bus that we missed earlier shows up at a stop light near the intersection we were at. I quickly ran over to the bus and waved at the bus driver to see if he could let us on. To my amazement, he opened the doors and let all three of us board! Perfect timing! My guess was that maybe they let us on so they could pocket all that money for their own. So no day was wasted!

My time in Vinales was spent enjoying the beautiful surroundings and just hanging out with the locals. One day I went on this hike and this farmer guy stopped me and invited me into his tobacco farm. He showed me all his cigars and even offered me a good deal on them. It was my first introduction to cigars so I wasn’t sure how to even pick a good one or what price I should be getting them at. I knew there would be plenty of other opportunities for other people to sell me cigars so I ended up passing on his offer.

The casa that I stayed at was really good. When I had arrived there were tons of people hounding me to stay at their place. However, none was more persistent than this lady. I actually don’t mind people hounding you since you don’t waste time looking for a place. The dinner that she served was amazing. She made this fish that was to die for. I wish I took a picture of it but I was so hungry that it was gone in 5 seconds.


View from Hotel Jazmines

 
Catching some ping-pong action with the locals

 
At the Mural de la Prehistoria in Vinales


That’s me with the persistent casa lady

Baracoa
After Vinales, I took a short bus ride back to Havana and then an overnight bus to Baracoa (about 12 hours). Christopher Columbus landed here in Cuba on his first voyage. There is a statue of him near the malecon sea wall. Baracoa is a small town city in the extreme eastern part of Cuba. The town itself is ok but the surrounding areas are beautiful. I did the popular El Yunque hike tour. You can see the flat top mountain from the city. It was such a hot day. I went with this other Canadian guy from Ontario and his wife who was actually from Baracoa but lives in Canada. They aren’t hikers at all but they did manage to climb to the top. The guide that we had wore gum boots and never drank any water the whole day. Go figure. That same afternoon there was a huge crowd gathered in the square for preparation for July 26 which marks the start of the revolution. There were masses of people who came to listen to the music and performances.


Statue of Christopher Columbus


El Yunque mountain in the background

 


Crowds of people during pre-July 26 celebrations


Performance in Baracoa square


Half attempt of a buddha shot – El Yunque
Santiago de Cuba
Coming here was a bit of an adventure. I had tried to make a reservation for a bus seat to get out of Baracoa but it was all booked up. My thoughts was that it was due to the national holiday. I asked the ticket lady if there was any possible way. She said no of course and said it was be like this for 2 or 3 days. Aggghhh!!! I almost had a heart attack. I quickly went to one of the tourist agencies and they said the same thing. He said the only option was to take a taxi to Santiago de Cuba which would cost about $135 CUC. Luckily enough I found 3 other tourists who wanted to come along so we shared the cost of the taxi. Yup, that’s right. Me of all people taking a taxi. The ride itself took a long time, about 3 hours! But the good thing was that it was way ahead of schedule from the bus so I managed to walk around the city for the whole afternoon. I decided to take an overnight bus to Trinidad that night.


Jamming away in the core of Santiago


Caught her in the act!

 


Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes


That’s me in the far distance in Parque Cespedes


Statue of Jose Marti in the Plaza de la Revolucion

Trinidad
This is probably my favorite spot in Cuba. This place reminded me of Antigua in Guatemala. The city has cobble stone streets and is surrounded by beautiful mountains and greenery. I ended up spending a couple of days here. The first day was taking a short bus ride to Ancon beach where I just laid on the beach for half the day. Relaxing, but a bit boring. The next day I did the popular hike around Sendero Caburni. Pretty easy hike with a nice waterfall at the end to cool you down. Normally you can do this yourself but I decided to go for the tour just to make transport a whole lot easier.

 
Iglesia in Plaza Mayor


Streets of Trinidad


Playa Ancon


Waterfalls near Topes de Collantes


Trailhead of Sendero Caburni near Trinidad

Varadero
I only stayed here for half a day. It was way too touristy and pricey for me. Also, it just poured down rain while I was here. Luckily, I found a cheap place to eat nearby and stayed covered for a few hours. Again, when I tried booking a spot for the bus it was full. So I managed to take a taxi back to Havana at the same price as the bus in half the time! It’s called bargaining…a very useful skill.

The Last Supper in Havana
So for my last day in Havana I wanted to do something special for dinner. I decided Chinese food was the way to go since I hadn’t had any for a long time. I went to China town and hunted down this restaurant that was supposed to be good. It was mentioned in the lonely planet so it must’ve been good. When I got there it was pretty packed (good sign). After waiting for a few minutes I finally got a table. The menu they had was all in Spanish so I was looking around at other people’s dishes to see what looked good. I pointed at this dish some guy had hoping the waiter would catch on. He pointed to the menu for that dish and I saw it was reletively cheap so I ordered it. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes went by without my food! In the meantime, the dish that I wanted came out of the kitchen like 6 or 7 times so I thought this was a very popular dish but nothing has come to my table yet! 30 minutes later, my dish finally comes out. Yup, you guessed it. It wasn’t the dish that I ordered. Instead of fish and chips that I wanted to order, I had 2 huge fried fishes sitting right in front of me including a big bowl of rice and some fried chips. 2 whole fishes! I thought to myself “how in the world am I gonna finish this?” I did manage to almost finish eating the 2 fishes but I found out that it’s not the same as eating wings. All I can say is that I had enough Omega-3 supplements to last for a week!


The Plaze de la Revolucion


Che in the background near the Plaze de la Revolucion


The Chinese restaurant I went to for my last meal


This is the 2 whole fish that I ate

Areas covered are highlighed on the map below:

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