Cuba 2015

     FACTS

Date From To Price
26 May 2015 London Holguin £406.98 (return)
9 Jun 2015 Holguin London  

Post card count: 50

Memorable phrases:

  • Jake (pretty much every morning) – not the fucking bandana again…
  • CUBA BABY!

Maps: Cuba

      STORY

Thought process that happened a few summers ago: What’s a place we have to see now? What’s a place where the weather is good? What’s a place that is different than anything we’ve seen before?

-Mmm Cuba?

-Oh yes! That makes sense.

And so went off. Me and the ginger. What a company!

There won’t be a lot of tips and tricks in this entry, just because Cuba is (or at least was at the time of our visit) way too random, unpredictable, and internet-less. You have to use the actual map (unfold it, not click it!), send letters and postcards to your loved ones, choose a restaurant not based on star ratings. This is how you live and breath Cuba. Raw.

Cuban money. You have to read this. And this. 1 CUC = 25 CUP

Forget cards. Ca$h is King.

Ok, buckle up folks, we’re flying in! First step outside the plane and you feel the tropical warmth hitting you right in the face. Deep breath and smile – here we go!

HOLGUIN

Ok, buckle up folks, we’re flying in. First step outside the plane and you feel the tropical warmth hitting you right in the face. Deep breath and smile – here we go!

We landed in Holguin. The east side of an island. We wanted to be different I guess (oh, did I mention that it was way cheaper as well?). The airport was teeny-tiny. We got to the city and then just… started walking around. See, we didn’t really book anything. At all. Apart from the flights. People stared at us like we were aliens, there were underground pedestrian crossings with their names written in Russian, intense and humid summer heat – these were the first impressions we had.

After the first wave of excitement the logic started to creep in – the thought of finding a place to sleep and leave the bags behind sounded really damn good. Lo and behold – as we were hobbling down the streets like little sweaty blobs, this random fella cycled up to us and asked if we were in need of a place to stay! See – the way it works in Cuba, you don’t have any airbnbs, hotels, hostels, or similar that stuff (only in Habana). You have so called Casa Particulares. And you hear about them via viva voce, from the signs on people’s doors, or they just find you (in more popular tourist destination they will just wait outside the bus station). It was a bit of a challenge to follow that guy to our new place, as apparently he wasn’t able to understand the concept of bicycle being a lot faster than two white (more like 1white + 1ginger) kids. So we were running around these random streets trying to catch the little mirage that was his two wheeler. He finally led us to his friend, which turned out to be a really nice guy! We had a little chat, left our stuff, and headed out for a little stroll around. First night out in Cuba baby!

Minds fixated on beer and music were very much satisfied as we entered the first bar. Cold cheap brew in little mugs, live Cuban salsa, a crazy looking lady sitting by herself and tapping the table like clockwork. And then there was this little raisin looking man, who came on stage later, to many applauds. I thought they are clapping to see someone being as old as dirt and still alive, but as I started swaying while listening to his trumpet, my eyes wandered around the pub walls, and just like in the movies, where you have a sudden close up to a picture, and a shocking sound, and the camera spins around the room quick to focus on the things that screamed revelations to you – he was on the damn walls and he looked like the city’s legend!

After some more exploring, we found an outside bar. Jake went for a piss and I was left in charge of getting the drinks. Cocktail of the day seemed like a great idea, and it wasn’t too expensive – 3CUC a piece. Well then, might as well, I thought to myself. A friendly looking little Cuban fella accepted my order, turn around, produced two big bottles of lemonade, turned his back and with a “second coming” produced two bottles or rum. With bemused look I was trying to play it cool. I payed, grabbed the bottles, and went to sit down with a massive grim on my face, thinking – Cuba, darling, we might have some fun here.. Jake was a bit upset at first, thinking I’ve spent the days budget on

getting two damn bottles. But soon we were both laughing, admiring the heat, toasting each other, and feeling good about our new adventure.

Next morning we just went to see the only real attraction Holguin has to offer – Hill of the Cross (Loma de la Cruz). Quite a climb for not much of the view to be fairly honest. But you know.. people.. we like to get high!

Our Casa Particular hosts organized us a place to stay in our next destination. And basically that’s how it was from then on. The hosts just have contacts everywhere, and whatever city you gonna go to – they shall provide a contact for a Casa Particular after a few calls on a landline. What a mafia I tellz ya!

VERADERO

There’s a night bus to Veradero from Holguin, practical option if you want to get to the west side of an island without loosing much time and money.

First entry about that day that I have in my travel notebook – “she was a bitch, wanted 30” haha. I think the pre-agreed price was smaller. Well here you go, touristy places in every corner of the world try to scam you one way or another.. Screw it, who is she, to ruin our holidays, hey? A trip to the beach – aaah.. how gorgeous that was, my friends! Sun, warm water, some random guy playing a guitar, what seems, through the hazy memories, solely to us! My speaker was blasting some Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix tunes, we were climbing trees, drinking rum, swimming, having a good time. Somehow it was too much tho, and the alcohol finally got the better of us, so we decided to go back for a nap, before hitting the famous night life of Veradero. Woke up fresh and sober, ready to rock and rumble just to realize it was the next morning already… Keep laughing Jake..

HABANA

Cab ride took us just over two hours, and the most beautiful thing happened – we came out of the tunnel, and it was just there. A gorgeous legendary city. Eyes and heart got overwhelmed in a second, silence fell in the car, I was just absorbing everything that’s around me, with every sense I had. It truly had something.

After a failed attempt to meet Jake’s friend, we just walked around, breathing in the greatness the metropolis we were in. With no public internet access, we ended up going to a fancy hotel looking for wifi. Trying to hash out a plan there, and walking up and down the lobby to get “The Best Spot” for internet, we bumped into a Cuban guy, who lives in US and was just there to visit his family. He seemed pretty cool and we seemed more interesting company than his folks (I totally get it, by the way). He took upon himself to be a tour guide for us and we spent most of the day discovering the gems of the city. Then we went to the neighborhood we were supposed to stay. At that time it really looked a bit dodgy. Only later we found out, that Cuba is one of the safest places on earth, and even tho a bit of dirt is nothing that I’m against about, for some reason, it wasn’t really a place we wanted to spend the night at.. So guess what – our new friend invited us over! Turns out his mum also has a Casa Particular.

Must do things in Habana:

  • The fort(every evening they shoot the cannon, beautiful ceremony)
  • Los Nardos(if you don’t have a blazer, they give you one to wear, food is excellent, it’s in a perfect location, but the wait could be quite a long one)
  • The old cabriolet ride – there are a few of the located around town, so you’ll spot it. We took the cars that were near the above mentioned restaurant, and in front of the Capitolio. You can either go to a specific location or do the whole city tour.
  • Malecon– just walk along 5km long waterfront, do some people watching. Great place to meet friendly locals.
  • Casa de la musica– great live local bands, but a little bit pricier than Habana’s average. And don’t fall in love with the singer and leave her notes on the stage – it won’t get you anywhere.
  • The Colon Cemetery– one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world!
  • Hemingway’s house– I think I would’ve written a book or two with views and house like that.
  • Beach– just 20 minutes drive from the city, fresh coconuts filled with rum. Not sure what else would you need.

VINALES

After a long bus trip we found our Casa Particular (again, organized by the previous host, in this case – Gonzalito!). Out and about during the night we found some cool live music, and a really lovely woman was trying to teach Jake how to dance. She obviously failed, and then still had the guts to ask for some money. The hustle is real everywhere on that island. We also stumbled across the BEST PINA COLADAS IN THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY! Yes, I know. But still. It was so god damn good. Sadly, they ran out of the ‘good pina colada’ in only a few rounds, and the ‘alternative pina colada’ was as good as a something from Angus Steak House being offered to you after you had a bite of Kobe beef stake. Not the same, mate, not the same…

But forget the drinks, music, crazy homeless dogs terrorizing the streets in bunches and let me tell you about something really beautiful – I rode a horse for the first time! It was ‘caballo automatico’, so he was literally just walking the same beaten path he has for eons. I didn’t have to do much at all, but still was a bit scary.

During the tour we saw coffee plantations, some random Cuban fruits, caves, just sheer beauty of Vinales valley. But obviously the most interesting sight to see was the tobacco plantations. First off – interesting fact: 99% of nicotine is in the stem, not in the leaf. So when they hand roll the cigars (oh and they do it by hand and without measuring anything, and it always comes out perfect. Magic) they pick the leaf off, so seeing a toddler running around the estate with a cigar in his mouth suddenly didn’t seem so horrible. Fresh cigars are just delicious dry weed with pretty much no harm. And boy oh boy how different do they taste from the factory ones.

TRINIDAD

Funny thing happened on the way there: we had a pit stop in some random highway cafe, and I was really hungry so I opted for this pizza looking thingy. And then I got this funny mass of half cooked dough covered with a thin layer what’s supposed to imitate a tomato base and sprinkled over with a bit of plastic cheese. But as I was starving, I had to have at least a few bites of it. Yuck! And as I was trying to offer the remains of it to a homeless dog who was just hanging around the place to get some food, he literally ran away! Now what does it say about my food, if a hungry homeless dog is not having it?

Now a bit about the city which is pretty much stuck in the 1850s. It’s also very famous for it’s sugar plantations. So we had another guided horse tour to see those. It included tasting freshly grounded coffee, more fresh cigars, squeezing your own sugarcane juice, swimming in little forest lakes, seeing some random caves, and horseback riding through the steepest hills ever! Poor horsies..

A very Cuban thing happened in Trinidad – we found a rooftop bar, beautiful views and all, it was about to close down, so we were the only customers. And a band. A fucking band came out of nowhere! We were so sick at that point of the damn music being played in our faces! They are literally everywhere. Cute, until it gets too much. Yes yes. I’ll give you a fucking peso..

Then we went out, chilled on some massive stairs, drinking and relaxing. For some reason Jake got really angry on the way back and he smashed the mirror in the room.

Next day we decided to run away without paying for the mirror..I was supposed to go find a taxi, and he was supposed to get a bag or something. I don’t remember how, but we managed to get a different taxi driver, than the one we have agreed with the previous night. So the original one was very upset, and also the owners of Casa found Jake and made him pay for the mirror..

So we were in a crappy mood. We just had enough of Cuba for a while.

CAYO COCO

There was a document check before entering Cayo. And then a gorgeous 27km strip through swamp full of flamingos!

Hotels by the sea seemed too expensive, so we found this random shit place in the middle of an island, if only we would’ve known.. After having a chilled evening with beers and cards, there came the next day and the time for breakfast. Oh lord! I’m pretty sure I got human breast milk.. don’t really want to remember the rest of my food.

Next day we said fuck it. Last few days. We need to treat ourselves.

Went to hotel Colonial – the first ever on the island. Booked an all inclusive room. After a session of volleyball with some other guests and more rum, we decided to go to the hotel next door for the evening as per this Canadian couple’s recommendation. So off we went, along the beach, chasing crabs on the way there. And as our hotel was super quiet, that other one was just going wild with youngsters! So we stayed there. What a night!

The morning after we found out that it takes one hour and two men to open up a coconut. And that it takes just a few white lies about having a license to rent a scooter (another first time for me!). We also found out that the bartender was a cunt, as he switched off the NBA finals game just before overtime.

Took a taxi back to the mainland, and got the bus to Holguin, got a lovely hotel room for the last night – with a puddle in the middle..Cuba baby!

I spent my last money to get a book about Che. And there it was. Trip completed. And what a trip it was!

 

Be good and be safe my friends!

V

 

 

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