A Travellerspoint blog


Santa Clara, Cuba (25th - 27th April)

We left Trinidad the same way we arrived - by bus. At the bus station I needed the toilet. Alas, using public toilets in Cuba is a bit of a pain. They tend to be watched over by a toilet guardian who holds the toilet paper and will dispense a small amount to you in order to gain monetary reward. Because of this I'd carry my own supply around and thus avoid having to pay to wee. However, on this occasion, after I'd shown her I didn't need paper and I'd successfully made it past her and used the facilities, she still came into the bathroom as I was washing my hands and seemed to be demanding money regardless. I literally had no money on me, which I tried to convey and was able to then make my escape. But yes, using public toilets in Cuba is best avoided as much as possible. Even aside from the toilet guardians, there generally won't be a toilet seat, plus the doors are barely big enough to provide adequate cover and don't always lock. To then have to pay for the privilege seems a bit much.

Anyway, the journey to Santa Clara was about 3 hours and all fine. Again we were met at the station, though this time by a couple with a taxi and not the casa owner himself. They weren't displaying my name very prominently and didn't realise they were waiting for a couple, so it took us a few minutes to find them. We stayed at La Casona Jover and were met there by the owner Dennis. It was a really nice place and very different again to the previous 2 casas. It's an old colonial house, with high ceilings and such like. There was also work under way to merge it with the neighbouring house and add a fancy courtyard and possibly a small pool. We had dinner there on the first night and I went for the chicken fricassee. There must have been the equivalent of a whole chicken on my plate! I ate as much as I could, but there was still a large meal's worth left on my plate.

We only had the one full day in Santa Clara as there's not a huge amount of touristy things to do. The main thing we did was go to the Che Guevara memorial. There's the external monument, plus an internal memorial (with the eternal flame), as well as a small museum. All very tastefully done and all free! For dinner that evening, we ended up in a random pizza place, just because there were other people in it. It was decent enough, though my beer was so cold it had ice crystals in it!

The only negative aspect to our time in Santa Clara was when we were feasted on by mosquitoes as we slept. We were generally really good at keeping ourselves doused in spray, but we'd been a little lax that evening and sadly paid the consequence.

The Che Guevara memorial:

Posted by chantalpatton 17:39 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

Trinidad, Cuba (22nd - 25th April)

On the Monday morning we got a taxi to the bus station and then a bus from Havana to Trinidad. It was about a 6 hour journey. At the bus station in Trinidad we were greeted by a big crowd of people blocking the exit and waving signs and photos in our faces. Some of them were waiting to greet specific people, but the others were trying to get people to stay at their Casas. Thankfully I spotted my name on a sign and we were able to break through the crowd and meet up with Javier. I was quite excited - I'd always wanted to see my name held up on a sign!

We were staying at Hostal Javier. It was just a short walk from the bus station. Our room had its own private entrance, as well as a dining table, TV, fridge stocked with drinks (not free drinks, but cheap) and ensuite. We could also access a covered courtyard area where we could have meals. On our arrival, Javier sat us down and gave us a map of Trinidad and told us all about the various sights in the area, which was really useful. There was also a Lonely Planet we got to use while we were there.

Breakfast and Dinner were both available at the Casa, so we bought both. Breakfast was basically the same as at the previous Casa, except the fruit was in larger pieces and the omelette came with random green beans. It was slightly more expensive and the coffee wasn't as nice, though I did prefer the omelette. Dinner was good value for the amount you got, plus it was really good - definitely the best meals we had in Cuba. Jamie got a variety of veggie meals and I got to try some new meats. On the first night I had African Pork, which was really nice. On the second night I knew I was having meat cooked in a traditional Cuban way, but I didn't know what the meat actually was. It was like a stew or casserole type thing, really nice, tender meat. I tried to place it from the taste and was torn between lamb and beef. Turned out it was antelope! Definitely recommended. Then on the last night I had buffalo. That was nice too, but a little tough.

Trinidad's a pretty small place, divided into the old town and the new town. Weirdly the new town seemed quite run down and not so nice, whereas the old town seemed quite well maintained and had a lot of charm. It's obvious that they're reliant on tourism though - almost every building seemed to be either a Casa or a restaurant..

The Old Town:

During our time in Trinidad, we walked all over the town itself, plus spent an afternoon at the beach. In the evenings there's always live music and salsa dancing going on in the old town, so we went there for drinks on a couple of evenings. On one of the evenings we were also befriended by 4 stray dogs that decided to form some kind of protective barrier around us. The sausage dog was very cute and it took a lot of restraint to avoid making contact in case of disease. If we'd been in Trinidad a bit longer and if it hadn't been so unbearably hot, it would have been nice to have checked out the National Park and the waterfalls, but it's always nice to have a good excuse to return.

The beach:

Posted by chantalpatton 11:40 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Havana, Cuba (18th - 22nd April)

The day after finishing work, we found ourselves on a flight to Havana. Not that this was some kind of shock - we'd booked it in advance as part of our slightly-epic travel plans. We arrived in the evening and went straight to the currency exchange in the airport (as you can only get the currency within the country). With that sorted, we headed towards the taxis. We had the address of our accommodation written down (as our Spanish is virtually non-existent) - we showed it to the woman in charge of bundling people into taxis - she showed it to a taxi driver and we then put our stuff in his taxi and off we went.

I don't think we'd even left the airport complex when the taxi driver started asking us things in Spanish. It soon became apparent that he wasn't entirely sure how to get to the address that he'd been shown. This was somewhat problematic, as I'm sure you can imagine. Thankfully, as well as the actual address, our booking confirmation from Hostel Bookers included written directions from the airport to the Casa Particular (where we were staying). They were in English, but we gave them to our driver anyway and he seemed slightly placated by them. It's somewhat disconcerting to be in a taxi in an unfamiliar place in the dark when you're not sure that the taxi driver even knows where he's going. Hell, I once got in a taxi at night in Cardiff and it took me quite a while to realise that the driver was going in completely the wrong direction to where I lived as I got disoriented and it's harder to make things out when it's dark. But back to Havana... after an impromptu stop at a petrol station, where the driver filled up with petrol and also seemed to do some shopping, we got to an area of the city where it seemed like we were driving up and down a load of small alley-type streets and quite possibly going round in circles. I was sure the driver was lost and wondered how on earth this could all possibly end when he suddenly stopped and claimed we'd reached our destination. I was initially sceptical, but sure enough he'd gotten us there - I'm not entirely sure how. He then had the cheek to ask for a tip! We declined.

After ringing the door bell, a key was lowered down to us on a piece of string. Mysterious! We opened the front door and started climbing up the stairs. There were quite a lot of stairs and the only light was flickering in a creepy manner. As a first introduction to a country and a city, it was all pretty sinister. Thankfully, once we got up the stairs to the apartment we were staying at, we were greeted by a very friendly and lovely couple - Ana and Alberto. Staying at Casa Familiars in Cuba is kinda like staying at a B&B I guess, except it's a bit more of a personal service and there's often just the one room that's rented out (though there are plenty with multiple rooms as well). In Havana we stayed at Casa Ana Morales. It had a really nice homely feel. Our room was a great size too, with ensuite and air conditioning (which was essential!). They made us coffee on our arrival (which was really nice) and Jamie spent quite a while chatting to Alberto about Cuba and politics and such like things (he was in his element).

The next morning we were able to look at the street we were staying on in a new light (one that involved actual light!). It wasn't the scary back alley it had initially seemed, it was actually quite a busy street (albeit not a main one or anything). From the apartment balcony we marvelled at all the beautiful vintage cars that you see all over Cuba - they've managed to keep them running for 50 years or so and it's a much more attractive sight than all the dull modern cars you get.

Watching cars from the balcony:

We had our breakfasts at the Casa (which you pay extra for) and they were really good - lots of fresh fruit, coffee, fruit juice, bread rolls, plus an omelette. Set us up for the day well.

One thing you quickly get used to in Cuba is hearing the word 'taxi' shouted at you. It might start to lose all meaning. You also get people trying to sell you cigars, though this is slightly more subtle than them just shouting the word 'cigars' - they'll spark up conversation by asking you where you're from (say 'Wales' if you want to confuse them), where you're staying, how long you've been in Cuba for... they'll then tell you about this one day special event that happens to be going on today, where you can get all these amazing cigars for cheap. Hint: say you've been in Cuba for a while and they realise their tactics won't work and they wander off.

During our first day in Havana, we had a bit of a wander around, orienting ourselves etc. It takes a while to adapt to all the hustle and bustle, as well as the heat! It was in the 30s, which makes it difficult to spend too much time walking about and being unnecessarily active. At least if you're me. We spent a decent amount of the afternoon at the Museum of the Revolution. The name's self-explanatory. That was enjoyable (and interesting). We also spent a while walking around, despite the heat.

On our second day we went on a bus tour around Havana. It was much longer than I'd expected, though that was a good thing - it was pretty cheap so you definitely get your money's worth. It was hop-on-hop-off, so we got to hop-off at Revolution Square, where we'd been wanting to go anyway.

Revolution Square:

Our third and final full day was a more laid back affair, exploring some areas we'd not been to yet and relaxing in various bars and a rooftop patio, drinking beer (which is nice and cheap!). I did also have a Mojito during my time in Havana, as felt it had to be done.

Our evenings in Havana were interesting - although places would be buzzing during the day, they often seemed to empty out in the evenings. All we could fathom is that people staying at resorts were possibly going back there for their all-inclusive meals. This meant it often took us a while to choose somewhere to eat, as we didn't want to sit alone in empty places. We were entertained during our searches though - on multiple nights we saw a small dog that was wearing a hat and glasses, plus on the second night we saw a dog that had a mouse standing on its back. This was seemingly a ploy to get tourists to take photos and then give money to the man who'd had this crazy idea. I didn't oblige and therefore have no photographic evidence I'm afraid.

Strange dog sightings aside, we did find places to eat. On the first night it was a Parisian bar that served Italian food, which was alright, though nothing special. However, on the second night we came across this hotel restaurant that had the menu out front (and thankfully didn't have someone trying to shove it in your face and drag you into their establishment, as too many places tried to do) - it looked decent and had some veggie options for Jamie, though we couldn't actually see inside to know whether or not it had other people in it. A waiter noticed us looking and asked if we wanted to come in. We went in and... it was dead. Not only that but it was quite fancy looking, complete with a guy playing the piano. We were wearing combat trousers and t-shirts and were coated in an unpleasant mixture of sun cream, bug spray and sweat. Attractive. The waiter brought our beers to us and poured them in our wine glasses. Classy. No-one else was there! It was so awkward, but that also made it incredibly funny. Between fits of giggles, we both had the black bean soup to start with and then had vegetable cannelloni. Thankfully, during the main course, some other diners appeared. Hooray! The food was really good too - my favourite meal we had in Havana. On the third night we made sure to find somewhere with other people in. The food there was less impressive, but we had a good time pondering whether or not the waitress had buttock implants. I swear we're not usually that pervy, she just had a noticeably strangely shaped bottom and we wondered if it was intentional. Alas we'll never know.

On our departure from Havana on the 22nd, our Casa hosts gave us a present of some decorative cups, which was really sweet and thoughtful. I definitely recommend Casa Ana Morales if you're ever in Havana - they're really lovely, Alberto speaks good English and their apartment's really well located for walking to all the main areas of interest in Old Havana.

Posted by chantalpatton 22:15 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

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