Day 7 (Havana)

Even though the trip is at a leisurely pace the drive from Cienfuegos to Havana is a welcome opportunity to catch up on reading, have a sleep or just compare notes on how the opening up of the US borders is going to affect the tourist industry in Cuba. En route there are opportunities to stop, stretch your legs and buy drinks or snacks. The stop to see the Che Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara is a great break and, with the DVD on his history in the coach before arriving, is interesting. Don’t try to go out the in-doors however as you will hear “Hola” and “tutt tutt’.


Che memorial/museum


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Back in Havana for one more sprint around and take some photos…..


Bronze statue celebrating an old nutter (José María López Lledín) that used to prance around town  acting like he owns the place.  Rubbing his beard and finger are now supposed to bring good luck.  And for you, if you click on the picture you will get 10 years good luck 😉


Frederico Chopin killing time in Havana in Plaza San Francisco


Careful sending letters in Cuba, they make take your arm off!!


If you’re here for long enough you’ll need to learn Sala, there’s plenty of options for getting lessons (a bottle of rum at AUS$4 may be the cheapest)


Kicking back waiting for the tourists.  The locals wait for the tourists to arrive to sell them posters, hand drawn pictures of yourself, books or anything else you can put on a small upright stand.

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Local options for getting food in Havana are limited and there are a few little shops selling what, in the West, would probably be considered high quality organic foods.  Refrigeration doesn’t appear to be up to western standards though.

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Day 6 (Cienfuegos)

Cienfuegos is a total surprise, the architecture is of obvious French (complete with the one third size ‘Arc de Triomphe’ in the main square) and Moroccan persuasion. You could easily feel that you were taken back to Morocco in the 1950s with the bustling pedestrian street full of people shopping and not a mobile phone to be seen (nearly). The hotel here was the first outside of Havana to offer Internet. This was presented in the form of 4 PCs that were connected to the Internet, Wi-Fi was not available. If you do get a decide to go back into town from the hotel go into the Coppelia ice cream examine the board outside to select what type of ice cream you want and go inside and wait at a table to order (don’t expect all the flavours, everything in Cuba is ‘it should be’ but the facts are sometimes different). It’s hot and packed, the staff take a while to get to you but it’s worth the experience. Drinks and dinner at the mansion next to the hotel was a highlight with amazing sounds coming from the band and a beautiful sea breeze.

Click on image for a full resolution version (much better colour and clarity)

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Day 4 & 5 – Trinidad

In spite of the map showing a circular route the route for this days takes you back past Havana on a ring road. Lunch was served in a roadside hamlet of houses where the locals were gambling on a dice game on the road and not so keen to have their photos taken with money, although once it was hidden they were fine. Lunch was great with banana chips, lamb that fell off the bone, corn mash, fish, and vegetables. Once you have arrived in Trinidad you have a quick city tour to introduce you to the main sights and then off to dinner at any of the well-kept restaurants.

Staying in Trinidad is like being immersed in local day to day life. The accommodation was similar to staying in a ryad in Marrakech with the front door hiding an immaculately kept living room that goes through to a courtyard and stairs to the rooms. This is a free day and there is plenty to do, we hired a bike for 4CUC/day and road the 9km to the Parque el Cubano falls. The walk to the falls takes about 45 minutes, once you are there you swim, discover the bats in the cave behind the falls or just relax on the rocks.

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Day 2 & 3 (Vinales)

The walking tour of the old Havana with a local guide introduces you to the history of Cuba from the Communist perspective. We were introduced to what it was like to grow up in Cuba how the local and tourist currencies work and a great deal of history that you can’t find on Google. Lunch on the drive to Soroa was taken at a local roadside café that was teaming with locals, it involved extremely tasty lamb, pork and fish dishes that put the perception that the food in Cuba would not be great to bed. The drive along the highway supplied plenty of opportunity to ask the guide questions about the people waiting under the bridges to partake in the Government regulated ‘hitchhiking’ (money changes hands) and the bridge that go nowhere (every few kilometres there was a bridge, some with no access ramps that were built with the highway planning for potential link roads).

Vinales is a pretty village with brightly coloured homes from end to end. The main street has a plethora of restaurants, cafes and bars to keep you busy morning, noon and night with live music in the evening in a club at the back of the main square. No trip to Cuba would be complete without a visit to a tobacco farm, seeing a cigar being hand rolled and, if it takes your fancy, having a puff you experience all of this in the hike around the valley views (take some water and reasonable shoes). After the walking tour of the valley there is heaps of free time to wander around the town.
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Day 1 – Havana, Cuba

The first day of the tours involved arriving at Jose Marti International Airport and negotiating your way through the line of locals bringing TV’s, air conditioners, car parts and clothes through customs to declare and pay their tax. Once we found the guide we were taken through the beautiful down town Havana with its eclectic architecture from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s to the grand Hotel National. If you want to do any tours you need to arrive at least a day earlier as the welcome meeting is at 6 but can take some time to get the group full assembled. Most mobile phones don’t work in Cuba, should you want to use a mobile phone there is a kiosk available that sells SIMs (cash only) on the right as you exit the airport concourse. The Internet is available for purchase in the hotel (the last time you will see it for a few days) on the first floor. Only one person in our group thought to go and look for the welcome message at the tour group desk which was located opposite check-in, make sure you look at this to get the information on what is happening for the welcome meeting.

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