Working for an airline gives a gal the travel bug. It’s a big company full of passionate travelers, so it’s easy for me to get swept up in planning my next trip. We just started offering service to Cuba in December and some coworkers came back raving. I planned a trip with my work wives and our significant others to spend a weekend in Havana.
I know that seems like a really short trip, but we went 100mph, so it didn’t feel too short. Our group covered a lot of ground in 48 hours. Since Cuba is still developing its tourism infrastructure, we found the balance between not enough to do and missing out on stuff. Of course I could have spent a month there, I say that about every place we go (except Amarillo), but two days was great.
At the airport we changed some cash to cuban pesos and taxied to Hemingway’s Cuban house called Finca La Vigia. The house was cool, but they had a tent set up with a Cuban band and a bartender that got our trip started on the right foot. Mike had been before and he was livid they didn’t make some sugar cane drink he liked, but we made do.
I managed to negotiate with our taxi driver to stay while we hung out and take us back to town for our dinner reservations. Don’t say those 7.5 years of Spanish were for nothing. I used my Spanish pretty often on the trip- it’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. Also, the taxi driver slowed down three times to lean out the window to ask someone for directions. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary, I love that.
I read we needed reservations since the good, private restaurants were small and filled up fast. We didn’t run into that problem, but it didn’t hurt. Everything in Cuba is pretty small and old timey, especially the streets, bars and restaurants. From what I read and saw, not much has been updated in the last sixty years. You can feel the charm and the sadness of a place that’s old and full of history but wasn’t well-kept. I don’t know enough about the political situation to have a strong opinion, but the people didn’t seem any more poor than any of the other Latin American countries I’ve seen. Besides two signs that said “Viva Fidel,” there weren’t any blatant signs or propaganda that they didn’t live in a democracy.
One of the perks of Cuba’s isolation, if we can call it that, was the cars. I won’t pretend to know anything about what I saw except that they were painted in the most fun colors and kept in pristine condition. After dinner the first night we did a tour of Havana in old convertibles from 1950. Our drivers took us around town pointing out where the fort was, the hotel Beyonce and the Obamas stayed at and showed us the river where they practice religious rituals, which included smacking the believer with a dead chicken. They drove us along the Malecon, a long seawall that kept the ocean off the sidewalk and the highway. Every couple minutes a powerful wave would break over the top and soak anyone on the sidewalk. We ended with drinks at the touristy bar at Hotel National, where Al Capone used to stay.
We finally taxied to our Airbnb (half of us in a Hyundai and half of us in a Model T), which was super fancy. The hotels are scant and expensive in Havana right now. When we arrived the woman who let us in and showed us around started in on a barrage of Spanish at a terrifying pace. My eyes widened and I forgot every verb tense and vocabulary word I’d ever heard. She read my face and slowed down, using a lot of hand motions. We figured it out.
They made us breakfast in the morning with all the delicious native fruit and what we now call Cuban toast. It crunched like a crouton, but wasn’t stale or burnt. Truly magic. We took a taxi (this time a pickup truck with a hard shell and two benches facing each other in the back) to the Museo de Revolucion. The museum lived in the palace, which was my favorite part about it. They translated about half of the displays to English, but we didn’t know much about the revolution it’s self, so we all pledged to read up on Wikipedia when we got back.
From the Museo we found Juan, who gave us a walking tour of Old Havana. He lived in Miami and Montana for a bit, so his English was excellent and he loved showing us all the non-touristy places. He took us for mojitos at Hemingway’s favorite bar, Dos Hermanos. Juan showed us all the town squares, pointed out historical places, arranged a surprise carriage ride (free of charge) and filled us in on the culture from their love of women to the lack of internet. Eventually he found us a local lunch place and hooked us up with his friend who sold discount (but legit, he assured us) Cuban cigars.
We poked around the flea market and got pina colodas served in pinas at on the rooftop bar at Hotel Ambros Mundos. After the full day, we taxied back to the airport (in boring cars) to spend our last pesos on warm canned beer and head back to the USA.
I don’t think photos do the color and the warmth of Cuba justice, but here goes.