Travel

Viva la revolución – Our trip to Cuba

Hi everyone, happy new year, here’s to 2016! Now I don’t usually – or ever really,

Revolution Square
Revolution Square

make new years resolutions, however, this year for whatever reason, I decided to make two. The first one is to read more, I joined a book club a few months ago so I know I will be reading 12 books this year as part of that, however, my aim to try to read anther 12 books outside of the book club to, so 24 books in total for 2016, doesn’t sound like much but I think it will diffuclt to find the time. My second new years resolution is to record a 1 second video of my life everyday. I love this idea and there’s an app that you can download to do it, conveniently called “I second Everyday”. With the app you can set reminders so you don’t forget to do your daily video and then at the end of the year you end up with a short 4 minute video of your year! Now on top of those resolutions I also have my #3030vision list to try to get through as this is the year that I turn 30 eeeek. I know I won’t get the whole list done as I was waaaay to ambitious when I did it, plus I mistakenly thought I was still only around 24 so I didn’t have much time to complete the list, which reminds me, in my next blog I will post an update on how myself, Mark and Miriam are getting on with our #3030vision lists!

20151226_125826Now onto the topic at hand – our trip to Cuba! Most of you will now that myself and Phil spent Christmas in Cuba, and I was so excited as Cuba is a place that’s been on my travel list for a long time. So let’s get into it. We were there from Christmas Ever to New Years Eve and first thing is first, I will advise that a week in Cuba is plenty in my opinion. Havana is the cultural centre that you really should visit if you’re in Cuba, and then outside of Havana, it seems to be just a lot of beautiful beaches, and not much else, so, wonderful for those of you who like to lounge on the beach, then maybe two weeks will suit you, but for the likes of myself and Phil who aren’t really beach people, a week was perfect. When we were booking the trip the words “all-inclusive” hadn’t even entered our minds, in fact I don’t think it was even in our vocabulary until we started looking into Cuba and started seeing a lot of ads for “all-inclusive” vacations. Now, initially, this didn’t interest either of us, in fact the idea of an all-inclusive vacation kind of scared us, dare I even say, repulsed us! Why, you may ask, does an all-inclusive vacation sound so terrifying? Well, it’s because to us, all-inclusive meant going to a fancy resort and staying on that resort for your entire trip, now call me crazy, but when we travel somewhere, we actually like to get out and see the place, meet the locals and delve into the culture. No disrespect to people who like going to resorts and staying within the resort for the entirety of their trip, but it’s just not for us. But then as a friend pointed out to me, resorts usually offer plenty of activities and excursions, plus you can actually leave the resort, it’s not like you’re held hostage there for the week. So then, when we were looking into a trip to Cuba, and saw that to do an all-inclusive trip was actually going to be cheaper than booking flights accommodation etc separately ourselves, we decided to just do it, lets just do one of these all-inclusive trips.

We booked with Sunwing and we got the package for an excellent price for 20151226_151617everything – flights, transfers to the resort from the airport, the resort for the week and all meals and drinks included, doesn’t sound too shabby eh? So let our mistakes be a lesson to others, firstly if you are looking for a nice luxurious resort/hotel, don’t book a 3 star as we did, because apparently, 3 star in Cuba means something else. I expect a 3 star resort to be above average, you know, a good hotel with good service etc. In Cuba, or at least Havana, 3 star is probably a 2 star, if even. Now I don’t want this to be a blog complaining about various aspects of our resort, because despite the resort, we had a great trip so all I will say is be careful when booking an all-inclusive trip to Cuba with Sunwing, the resort may not be as advertised and keep in mind the difference in star ratings for hotels.

Typical street corner in Havana
Typical street corner in Havana

So we spent day one (Christmas day) upset and angry at the state of our resort, and trying to change rooms (to no avail), and then we decided, you know what it doesn’t matter, we didn’t come to Cuba to hang out in our resort anyway, so we got on with it. As I said, we stayed in Havana, it was about a 40 minute journey by bus to old, or colonial Havana (20 mins by taxi). There is Havana, and then there’s Old Havana, and Old Havana is where we spent most of our time and we absolutely loved it. When you get to Old Havana, you have stepped back in time by about 30-40 years, there are classic cars everywhere and Old Havana itself sprawls out from 3 separate squares or plazas into little cobble stoned streets. Both myself and Phil loved strolling around Old Havana, stopping off at random little bars to taste their famous cocktails, and frankly, I can’t think of a better way to spend your days/evenings while on vacation! With regard to tourist things to do and see, there really isn’t a whole lot; there is the old Fortress, a rum museum – we really enjoyed that, especially the tasting at the end 🙂 There are cigar factories, revolution square where Fidel Castro famously gave his speeches during the Revolution, then there’s the Revolution Museum, I’m sure you can sense a theme here, Cubans are still very much obsessed by the Revolution. The Revolution Museum wasn’t great in my opinion, only because they didn’t have a lot of it translated into English. They had parts in English and then other parts totally in Spanish so we found it really hard to follow along with the story. When you’re done in the museum they do have some jets, missiles and things like that from the Revolution which you can look at and photograph which was interesting. There’s also a great market in Old Havana which we loved, it’s called San Jose Market and we went there to buy some Cuban artwork for our walls along with some other knicknacks.

The bus from the area where our resort was to Old Havana was an open top hop20151226_131719 on hop off bus, so you got a nice little tour of the area and Havana itself. However, I will warn that the guides on board these buses are hit and miss, sometimes they spoke in Spanish only, sometimes they would translate some of their talk into English and other times they didn’t even give any information at all, and this seems to some up Cuba – don’t ever presume that something will happen in that way that you would expect it to! The last bus back to our resort was at 6pm everyday so we were usually back at the resort for 7ish, and had dinner there (given the state of the resort the food was surprisingly good) and then we would chill out at the bar, after all, we had paid for all the drinks we wanted so we took advantage of it 😉 One night we decided to stay in Havana for dinner and for drinks so we didn’t take the last bus home and we had a great night! It took us a while to find a restaurant as a lot of the restaurants around the plazas were tourist traps and very expensive. We went to one street Obispo, which is a 1km long street full of bars, restaurants, markets and we found a nice restaurant there that had live dancers and singers and it was very cheap. **Warning** when in Havana, and Cuba in general keep two things in mind, the toilets rarely have any toilet roll so it’s a good idea to carry your own with you – especially if you get Cuba belly 😉 Those toilets in bars or restaurants that do have toilet roll expect you to pay for it, so try to always have some small change with you, after all you don’t want to have to pay $10 to use the toilet. In the restaurant that we went to that night there was an old woman sitting outside the bathroom to give you toilet roll in exchange for money (this is very common) and she had a little girl with her, maybe 6 or 7 years old. Well let me tell you that little girl was well-trained, she had her hand out for money as soon as I stepped near the bathroom and was not giving me any toilet roll until she saw the cash! (I had left my toilet roll in a toilet in a bar earlier, and when I remembered and went back to get it 5 minutes later it was gone!)

El Floridita
El Floridita

We went to a few different bars that night, including the famous El Floridita, which got it’s fame because it’s where Ernest Hemmingway drank. To be honest I don’t see the fuss, it was just an overpriced bar that served daiquiris. They are constantly making and pouring daiquiris even before people ordered them. Phil asked the barman for a drinks menu as he didn’t want a Daiquiri, and the barman responded “we only serve Daiquiris” so Phil got one as well. To Phil’s dismay five minutes later he saw other people drinking rum, again, this is indicative of Cuba – the staff in bars and restaurants will tell you a blatant lie that they only have one thing and not the other, I’m not sure if it’s to sell you the more expensive option or what. But one day we were having lunch and I just wanted a ham and cheese sandwich as my stomach wasn’t feeling the best, so I ordered it and the waitress said “we don’t have any, we only have this sandwich” and pointed to a different sandwich, so I said I’d have that. Low and behold when I got the sandwich it had both ham and cheese in it, along with other things! Anyway that night we ended up in a tiny bar where there were no tourists and only a couple of Cubans so we sat in there drinking rum for ages, for the last hour or so we were the only customers but the staff were happy to serve us so we stayed! We then got a taxi back to our resort and I’ll never know how we didn’t die from the fumes of the car, it was an old (very old) Lada and even though the driver had all the windows down, the fumes were overpowering! Our rum consumption that night led to two very sore heads the next day…

Aside from Havana, we took a day trip to Vinales Valley, which is a few hours outside Havana and is essentially the countryside. We booked this trip through Sunwing as well, after we arrived at the resort a Sungwing rep came to see us the next day and gave us maps of Havana and local information as well as tours we could book. We were told that we would be picked up at 7.30am, now given what we had witnessed already we knew that we would be picked up late, Cuban time, similarly to Fiji time, operates differently to normal time! So we are waiting to be picked up and 7.30 comes and goes, 8.30 comes and goes, 9.00 comes and goes and at this point we were wondering if they had forgotten us. They eventually turned up at 9.30, only 2 hours late. As part of this trip we went to a rum factory (it was one tiny room with a little machine in it and some bottles of rum) and then into the shop next door to buy some rum. We didn’t buy any rum here but I bought some Pringles and thank the lord I did. Lunch was part of the trip but we didn’t stop for lunch until after 3pm – keeping in mind that no one on the bus had eaten since 7am, it’s safe to say we were all starving, thankfully I had those Pringles to keep us going!! We went to a lookout point to take some pictures, and it was actually a beautiful spot with mountain’s in the background. We then went to see these massive mural that was painted to portray history up until humans; the mural itself is good, if not a little strange, and is complete with climbing ropes where people can just climb up it themselves if they dare – seems a little ill-advised but once again, this is Cuba. However, the surrounding area was beautiful and you could go horseriding around the area if you were so inclined, but there was a tiny little bar, not even a bar just a little hut with a bar and a couple of stools and they made the most amazing pina coladas, so we sat there and looked at the mural and enjoyed our pina coladas! We also visited the

The tobacco farm
The tobacco farm

Indian caves on this trip, we walked through the caves and then at the end there was a short boat tour through the caves and out the other side. Once again things seemed a little disorganized as they let everyone into the caves at the same time, but then you ended up having to queue for ages to get on the boat, but you were queueing inside the cave and it was so hot and humid and I wasn’t feeling well anyway so I thought I was going to pass out inside the cave! But I didn’t. Lastly we went to a farmers house, yes you read correctly, a farmers house. It was actually pretty interesting to see how local farmers lived. He offered us coffee and rum and we could walk around his small but decent sized house (we felt a bit weird just walking around his house gawking at things) and then they explained what a tobacco farmer does. He showed us what they did with the dried tobacco and then he even made a fresh cigar from the tobacco leaves and gave it to one of the guys on the tour. The farmer himself was good fun and seem to speak about 4 different languages. It’s worthwhile to note that tobacco farmers in Cuba have to give 90% of their earnings to the government. This farmer said he gives 90% to the government but keeps 20% for himself 😉

Overall, we both loved Havana and I’m really glad that we got to see it when we

Touring around Havana in a 1949 Chevy
Touring around Havana in a 1949 Chevy

did as I really think it’s going to start to change now that they are back on good terms with America. It was a week that we were totally unplugged, totally removed from the world, no phones, no internet and I think it may be the first place we have ever visited that doesn’t have a McDonald’s (again, I’m sure that will change soon). Glad I got to tick it off my travel list but the trip thaught us two things; not to use Sunwing again, and all-inclusive vacations are probably not for us. My hot tips for going to Cuba are:

  • Bring enough money with you to change when you get there, ATMs are hard to come by and when you do find one, it probably won’t work and if it is working, it will have a massive queue.
  • Expect to be unplugged in Cuba, as I said our phones didn’t work and we had no internet, we found this refreshing but I know some people can’t cope without internet. There are internet cafes but prepare to queue outside for a long time to get it, keep in mind that internet cafes are the only way Cubans have to access internet.
  • Go to Cuba with a relaxed attitude, if you are a control freak who likes to have everything planned, and likes everything to go to plan – Cuba probably isn’t for you!
  • Do your research regarding accommodation keeping in mind what I’ve said earlier. If you’re not fussed about accommodation then a 3 star hotel will be perfect for you. If you want luxury you will have to go for a 5 star and staying in Havana probably isn’t for you – Veradero might be worth researching if you want a nice resort and good beaches
  • As noted in the blog, make sure to have toilet oll and/or small change with you at all times to prevent any, eh, messy situations from arising!
  • Take a tour in a classic car! We took one for an hour around Havana and it was great, as was our guide Ernesto, he’s just a local guy who owns a classic car so he brings tourists on trips. You’ll get to see some things that you might not get to see if you’re just wandering around like we were.

20151228_130019

Until next time 🙂

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