Cuba – Havana oh na na

If you don’t believe in time machines then you clearly haven’t been on an aeroplane to Cuba!! Everything from the old American cars, seen all over the island, to the lack of Internet access gives off a real sense that you are in a different decade when you visit Cuba.

Myself and my girlfriend Karen spent two weeks in Cuba, visiting 4 different places in that time. It was an awesome and eye opening experience, visiting a beautiful country making a slow recovery from a war they couldn’t afford. On the whole there was a feeling that they are still only just getting used to welcoming tourists to the country. Once the people figure out that there is no way to rip you off or part you with some of your money then they can be very friendly.

Accommodation, outside of the chains of hotels that don’t allow you to explore the country, consist of what are called ‘Casa Particulars’. These are essentially airbnb properties (a lot of them advertised on airbnb) where you rent a room in the houses of local people.

Our first stop, in Havana, we stayed with an extremely friendly and helpful Cuban called Ani. The breakfast was really good, on the whole it was about the only meal of the day that was good in Cuba as the food throughout the country is extremely basic. The scrambled egg, toast and fresh fruit with a smoothie in the morning was also pretty basic but I always looked forward to it.

Walking out of the airport immediately you notice all of the old American cars that look like they come out of an old gangster movie. Although you expect to see them in Cuba I wasn’t prepared for them to be the only type of car around. Some of them were in really good condition, others looked like they have been running since 1950. Havana itself has a rugged beauty with its imposing buildings giving off a sense of danger but just a day or two makes you feel comfortable in the ghetto like surroundings.

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You walk down the street, it’s safe to do so at any time of the day or night, and you can’t help but look into people’s living rooms that are right there beside the path. You get communities of people just sat at the side of the street, outside of their doors, either socialising or watching life pass them by.

We visited Cuba during the rainy season and generally the weather would be hot throughout the day before torrential rain hit in the afternoon/evening. On our first evening we ended up stranded in an athletics stadium where lots of locals continued playing football despite the mesmerising thunder storm going on above them.

We took an open top bus tour around the city, taking in the monuments and buildings, visited the main museum and watched a very loud cannon being fired, with an amazing view across the city with the sun setting, at the Fort.

There is a real sense of national pride and the man portrayed as an evil dictator by the Americans, Fidel Castor, is celebrated as a national hero. You’d have to put more study than two weeks on holiday to really find out the true nature of the former Cuban leader. I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps Che Guevara was loved the most because he died a freedom fighter and didn’t have to go through the struggles of leading a country that was in deep debt due to their war of independence. In the wise words of batman: ‘you either die a hero or live to become the villain’.

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All in all I enjoyed my trip to Havana and would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind going to specific Internet hotpots in the city to use (very slow) WiFi or eat basic rice and meat meals with not much variety. At least whilst eating the meal you can often listen to amazing live, high tempo, music that you can’t help but tap your foot to.

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