Shall I write it in English? Shall I leave this crazy thought apart and use the only language I am able to actually communicate without (hopefully) too many stupid grammar constructions?
Well … this is what I was struggling with before starting this article. In the end, I’ve decided to risk a bit and kindly ask the skilled English speakers to excuse my poor vocabulary. What’s important is what I am talking about and not how I do this.
Who doesn’t like traveling? Who doesn’t love those extremely relaxing days away from the everyday routine? I know, you raised your hand, and you, and even you, the workaholic one. As someone was singing: I’m only human after all. My story is not different than yours, but part of my thoughts I dare to say that is. I love traveling and sometimes I feel that, without it, my life will so much different. And definitely not in a positive way. I still consider myself a beginner in the art of traveling, but I’ve made a promise to myself to become a specialist. The more I visit, the more I think this is the perfect job for me. 🙂
Which is your favorite country? Mine is each and everyone I visit. When I’m in France, I love France the most, when I am in Ireland, I love this country, when I am in Greece, I love Greece (well, that’s not totally true – I will always love Greece). But a special place in my heart is now occupied by Cuba.
This year I booked a 15 days vacation to Cuba. I don’t want to blow things out of proportion and say that visiting Cuba was one of my biggest dreams, but I would definitely not exaggerate by saying that going back there is on top in my To do list. You can read hundreds and hundreds of books, blogs and talk to lots of people who went there, but nothing can make you understand how Cuba is really like unless you visit it by yourself.
What can you do in Cuba for 15 days? Most of the itineraries are pretty much the same: Havana, Vinales, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Varadero. If you spend a little more time, you can even go to Santiago de Cuba.
15 days, a gross distance of 1500 km by car and countless on foot, and my itinerary was like that:
- Havana – 5 nights (including 1 day trip to Vinales);
- Cienfuegos – 1 night (including 1 trip to El Nicho);
- Playa Larga – 2 nights (Bay of Pigs);
- Trinidad – 2 nights;
- Varadero – 5 nights.
The time I’ve spent in this beautiful piece of Earth was insufficient to get bored of, but enough to taste & feel the real Cuban flavor. I did not book hotel rooms in resorts, not even in Varadero. The whole itinerary was made via AirBnb + one recommendation (only Casas Particulares) and I couldn’t be happier with this decision (Since I did not travel alone, but as a group of 4, sometimes I will use the plural).
What can you do for 5 days in Havana? If you are a crazy traveler like myself, try not to get bent out of shape when you will understand that the capital of Cuba is not only about El Malecon, Plaza de la Revolucion, Hotel Nacional, mojito or old pink cars. Havana is much more than that. Havana is about history, is about humans, it’s about surprises at each and every corner.
When you travel to Havana, make sure you book accommodation in Habana Vieja. That’s the capital’s old neighborhood. Here is where you’ll find simultaneously the history and the present. Here is where you’ll understand how much this city’s residents used to have and how little they have left. We booked an apartment on Concordia Street, close to the nightlife and Malecon but still in the heart of the residential area.
We randomly booked via AirBnB Casa Concordia, and I dare to say it was a perfect choice. Maria, the host, and Jesus, the owner, were amazing. We felt like part of a big family immediately and they helped us every time we had a problem. And trust me, we really had some. For 5 CUC (5 $)/ person, Maria prepared us breakfast as well. She was also the one who found us a ride to our next destination. My Spanish vocabulary was too poor to tell her how much we appreciated her support. Thank God for those non-verbal international languages, like chocolate. 🙂
I learned that old traditional Cuban houses are not equipped with glazing, only when I woke up early in the morning and I felt like my bed was in the middle of the street and at least 2 or 3 tanks passed by. When the balcony doors opened, it was clear – there was a crazy world outside. A colorful crazy Cuban world, which made me forget in a second the long and hard way from Bucharest to Havana. But, as you know, a picture is worth 1000 words.
My recommendation is to try not to be that kind of a tourist who runs from a place to another, just to check the attractions on the list he made during the online research. Do something at the drop of a hat. At least for one day. Just get lost on the streets and try to be part of the journey. There are few feelings that can compete with the enthusiasm I have when I discover unexpected beautiful places.
And, if you meet some nice Cuban people who offer to show you around, give them a chance. There is a high possibility to try to get some money from you, but if you’d like to know how people really live in there, hearing something straight from the horse’s mouth could help a lot. We met two people while we were hiding from the rain in the Capilla La Inmaculada church. Maybe it worth to mention that we somehow guessed their intention, but still decided to follow them. Coming from a country where the communism is not just a story you learn about within the history classes, but used to be a cruel reality, there are little things that can surprise you, even in Cuba. Now, I guess it’s a classic scenario: They asked us where are we from, when we arrived in Cuba and then told us how lucky we are for being in Havana in exactly that day when they have like a festival and the Government allow citizen to sell at 50% discount all the real Cuban products (cigars, rum) and keep all the money. They call it „Support Cuban people”. And, if you plan to visit the country, prepare yourself, because you will hear this a lot.
Long story short, they led us to a classic bar (which looked a lot like our bars back in the C era) and they told us, once again, how lucky we are to discover in our first day in Cuba the new Cuban cocktail. Mojito? Cuba Libre? All a joke. The new hit was now NEGRON. Of course, we had our doubts, but 3 out of 4 ordered this drink, just to be polite. If you ask me which is the difference between Negron and Cuba Libre, then I am not your man. For me, it’s the same – rum and coke. The stories we heard from them, I don’t know if they were entirely true, but they made my heart melt. For sure their low budget and lack of food were not a lie. As I said before, my country also met this political system. Fortunately, I was too small to realize its effects, but my parents and my family really experienced it. Taking the food away from people is something I cannot relate with. And I eat to live and not live to eat. I laughed and I cried. This is how I started my vacation in Cuba.
As I said, we knew which way the wind was blowing and, at the end of this journey, we got exactly at the point we thought we will. They asked us to follow them to some friends of them who are working at Cohiba factory and, thanks to the festival I mentioned before, he is able to sell us real Cohiba cigars at a great price. The thing was that they had 2 big problems with us:
- We are from Romania, and we are used not to trust people when they tell us: I have a great deal for you;
- We were already trained by our host not to do business with random people on the street.
Of course, the price was great for Europe or other places, but for Cuba, it was 3 times higher. Even if I cried inside myself, I could not pay as much as I paid for my accommodation for the 15 days in there on a pack of cigars which I don’t even smoke or understand their value.
Moving forward (actually, I am still thinking about them), Havana is a real masterpiece. You will discover the awesome University Campus when you least expect it…
… and when you finally get to El Malecon or Place de la Revolucion, you actually start to place yourself on the map and realize how far away from home you are.
Well, traveling to a new place brings you face to face with local food as well, and Havana has so much more to offer, but all these in the next episode…