Adventures in Havana

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Our second day in Cuba began much like the first with a lie in at our casa but today we decided to skip breakfast and caught a taxi collectivo into central Havana.

This required a bit of help from our casa owner Cary as catching a local taxi is a bit of an art. It was well worth it when a 1950’s battered old car pulls alongside so we could scramble in alongside other local Cubans to go to where we wanted. It cost us 2 CUC for the 10 minute trip.

We headed to Obispo Street in the hunt for some coffee, we found a small cafe and had a quick coffee before wandering around the streets of Havana. We walked all through the old town shopping in small street markets and wandering into a hidden art gallery.

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The Taller Experimental de Grafica is hidden away in an alley between some restaurants just off Cathedral Square and housed a community art project where local artists could go and paint and sell their work. As a lover of buying art when I travel I was thrilled. We looked at pretty much everything they had on show but managed to just buy one small print directly from the artist.

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However, what came next was our least favourite part of the whole trip and one of those travel fails you wish you had never put yourself in.

We had got used to people stopping to ask us where we were from so when a couple of people started asking us questions we chatted away. They told us about a party a bar was having to celebrate a festival in Havana later that night. To give us the details we followed them into a local bar where we were told to sit.

They then started asking us for money which became awkward and intimidating.

In hindsight we should have never gone in but it was one of those situations where you think you’ll be brave and trust that people weren’t just trying to get money off you, sad that it is what it turned out to be.

We had no problem giving them some money however we had a day’s worth in Stuart’s wallet that he would have had to get out to access the cash. We didn’t feel comfortable doing this so rapidly made an exit and walked off.

By this point I was in tears through fear, I’m not really sure of what but perhaps it was partly anger at putting myself in that position and not being slightly more savy. After that we kept some small loose change in our pockets to be able to give out and learnt a valid lesson to remain vigilant in spite of wanting to trust in people’s good nature.

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After I had stopped blubbering and had calmed down we headed into the Revolution Museum in the old palace. The museum was about the revolution (obviously) and was centered around Castro and his band of merry men – and women!

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There were lots and lots of pictures, signs, artifacts, maps which were in themselves interesting but the sheer quantity made it hard to digest. Plus, as you would expect, it’s very very biased.

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The palace was run down (read – still covered in bullet holes!!) and neglected despite work being done to preserve it, I felt like I was in the film Anastasia!

Perhaps the most interesting part was seeing the “Granma” – the boat used to ferry Castro and his entourage back to Cuba from South America. The boat was hidden inside a glass building, you couldn’t really get that good a view of it but was interesting all the same.

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By this point we were starving and not up for trawling round more streets to find some food so we decided to head for Sloppy Joe’s. A previously famous American bar that sold the sloppy joe pre-revolution. Today, it was more of a tourist trap then anywhere we went in Cuba. The food was mediocre, the drinks bland and the service appalling.

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After lunch we decided it was time for a beer. In search of a good viewpoint and a beer we headed to Hotel Ambos on the suggestion of our tour guide the previous day. We headed up to their rooftop bar via an old fashioned lift with an operator.

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The hotel was made famous by Hemingway (shock horror! It’s almost as if no-one else ever went to Cuba!) and had good views from the rooftop. It was sunny and had beer so we were sat for an hour or so soaking up the touristy atmosphere watching people taking selfie after selfie.

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Having now had multiple beers we opted for the Havana Club Rum Tour which was a short walk from the hotel. We had to wait a little while for the English speaking tour but it was worth it. We watched a video on the process of making rum, tasted some molasses, saw a model railway and had a talk on the differences between the Havana Club rum.

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The age of the rum is based on the youngest rum in the bottle, they blend it with older rums and it’s all very secret as to the quantities. We had a quick taster and a browse round the shop but decided to keep our rum buying for Trinidad so as we wouldn’t have to lug it round.

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It may seem like our day would be done but alas it was not. I had read online and in many a guide book that there as a cannon show across the harbour so we made our way to the ferry port to catch a quick ferry to the other side.

Whilst waiting for the ferry we were approached by another Cuban, this time a 60 year old man. Feeling wary I stayed back but Stuart managed to chat to him in simple Spanish. We learnt about his 8 grandchildren and told him we didn’t have any children yet – that he couldn’t understand!

Just as our ferry arrived he handed us each a national peso. Something he didn’t have to do and touched me deeply. It restored my faith that not all people are bad. How can we go from one extreme to the other I hear you say!? Well that’s Cuba!!

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The ferry was quick but the walk up the steep slope the otherside was not. When we made it to the top we walked half a mile or so to Cuba’ answer to Christ the Redeemer – a giant statue of Jesus overlooking Havana. We sat for a while at the top watching the clouds break over the city.

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We then walked a couple of km’s to La Cabana in search of the cannon show. The sign stated it shut at 6pm so we carried onto Castillo Do Los Tres Reyes Del Morro thinking maybe it was there. But, again the sign said it shut at 6pm. Then a man asked if we still wanted to go in and see the lighthouse. We said sure, how much weirder could our day get!

A very old man took us up a very small lighthouse with steep stairs to the top where we could look at the mechanics of the lighthouse and look out one small door at the view. We weren’t up there long and the man seemed pleased to be able to show us around but I could have done without being in another strange situation.

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I was up for leaving but the man wanted to show us around the rest of the castle. There was 2 or 3 other people around and everything was shut up. Very creepy. The man then told us the cannon show was at La Cabana after all!

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By this point we were tired and just wanted some dinner so we hitched a taxi back into central Havana. Of course it was again a classic car!

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We stopped at Cerveceria Plaza Vieja brewery for a pint of dark chocolatey beer and people watched for a while before heading for some food.

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Our guide had recommended El Chanchullero de Tapas which also came highly recommended on TripAdvisor. We had to queue for 20 minutes or so but the food was good in the end. The portions were huge and came with salad, bread and more rice than physically possible to eat. Plus they had great cocktails and a cool interior!!

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All in all the day had been good. We’d seen more of Havana then we perhaps anticipated and were struck with the kindness of strangers. Much like our encounter with bracelet giving kids in Uzbekistan I learnt a little more about myself in an unfamiliar environment.

Havana is overwhelming and I’m so glad we had a basic grasp of Spanish otherwise it would be so much harder.

Ever found yourself in a pickle by not trusting your instincts?

 


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3 thoughts on “Adventures in Havana

  1. Pingback: Our final adventures in Havana | The Non Backpacker

  2. Pingback: A night at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano | The Non Backpacker

  3. Pingback: How to spend 36 hours in Cienfuegos! | The Non Backpacker

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