Havana, Cuba (Day 4)

11059658_649655660528_2106706589650969062_n(Photo by VB)

On our closed-top hop-on-hop-off bus yesterday, we got open-top hop-on-hop-off envy… so today we were the lucky ones. We hopped on and grabbed some seats on the upper deck so we could soak up the sun. But we didn’t hop off because there was bugger all to hop off for. So we just sat in our sunny seats and went around in a massive circle until we reached the beginning again. It was cool to see the outer boroughs though.

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We then hopped into a Coco Taxi (lots of hopping today) and went to Plaza de Armas for a spot of lunch at Paladar Dona Eulalia. We all ordered the fish with red / white wine sauce (mainly because it had the word ‘wine’ in the description) and it was delicious. The rice and beans were… well, they were rice and beans. We accidentally ordered a ‘frothy mojito’ and nearly choked on the mashed-up-mint-leaves. The Ron Collins made it better. It made everything better.

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(Photos by VB)

After that, we went to Andos Mundos hotel’s rooftop bar and baked to a golden crisp while our Pina Coladas fermented and curdled before our very eyes. It was like drinking a pint of where-cream-meets-antifreeze. PO-TENT. The cocktails came in nifty pineapple ‘bowls’ but we had a horrible feeling they might be recycled.

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Dinner was at a random joint near last night’s place – it wasn’t anything to sing home about which is just as well because I can’t remember the name. More fish. And rice. And beans.

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We flagged a rather sexy chevvy and felt sexy as hell driving along the malecon towards Hotel Nationale. We arrived in style; people were pointing at us and admiring our motor. Everyone looked well jel. It felt good.

We had a couple of cocktails in the ‘celebrity bar’ (no celebrities) and then headed outside for a Daiquiri and some live Cuban music.

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(Photo by VB)

Because I’ve been banging on about the malecon for days (it features prominently in the book ‘Dirty Havana Trilogy’), we finally had a night-time stroll. The picture the book painted wasn’t quite reflective of today’s malecon. The book made it sound sexy, seedy, dirty, hot and wild. But, in fact, it was just a hang-out for randy teens.

In complete contrast to our arrival, we made our way home via a ghetto-Coco-taxi. Our driver blasted out gangster beats as he drove his little yellow bubble car back to Habana centro. And then… THEN he put the fairy lights on. We felt so damn cool.

Oh oh oh – and before I close this journal and hit the hay – there are NO TAMPONS IN CUBA. I swear. It’s the most ridiculous and uncomfortable situation (sorry to any dudes reading this but, come on, you know the score, get over it). Honest to god, they do not sell them ANYWHERE. And it’s over 30 degrees in the heat of the day. Not. Ideal. Our home-stay mama told me they’re not available to locals. How unfair?!

Another thing; the shops out here stock sweet FA. Except rum. And oil. And cartons of rum. And olives if you’re lucky. And more rum.

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(Photos by VB)

Forget about the lack of WiFi, if I lived out here, I’d starve to death and end up bleeding all over the place while I was at it. Sorry – went a bit far.

On that note, na night.

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Havana, Cuba (Day 3)

After breakfast (a carbon copy of yesterday’s), we paid for an hour’s worth of internet at Parque National Hotel. It cost the same as our breakfast. It’s sad really; three days in and we’re chomping on the bit to update Facebook, to spend time away from the wonders of Cuba to tell everyone at home about the wonders of Cuba. What strange creatures of habit we are.

11174771_649582771598_6129928449417561548_n(photo by VB)

Having told our nearest and dearest that we’re still alive, we hopped on the hop-on-hop-off bus and never hopped off because we were only interested in Santa Maria beach (a ‘playa’ for the local Cubans). You can catch the bus from the Parque National, to the right of the green square. It takes about half an hour to get there and you need to get off the bus when it stops at the Tropicoco Hotel.

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The beach is absolutely stunning and a guy will pretty much wait on you and bring you everything you could ever dream of; rum, food, rum, beer, food, more rum. The only thing he doesn’t offer is a massage! A seat costs 2cuc, so does an umbrella (Vicki burns), and cocktails are 3cuc each. Lunch came to 10cuc; fish and… ah hem… rice. A live Cuban band set up about a foot away from our heads so we bopped our sausage legs to the beats and applauded / tipped when prompted!

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Victoria got loads of stares. It felt like we were on a red carpet… or in a zoo. Kinda feel sorry for celebrities now. And caged animals.

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We went to El Chanchullero on Paza del Cristo on Brasil Calle… and got completely battered on rum, Cuba-style! We had caipirinhas, mojitos, cuba libres, and other rum-based yummies. By the time the food arrived (9pm), we were smashed; which was handy because the food was rank. Well, the lamb was – it was basically leather – but Victor did well with the fish, in that she managed to chew it without breaking a tooth.

11203138_649586943238_4718011186687801012_n 11116521_10155474457855008_5773078118697064314_n(photos by VB)

We met an Australian pilot but he took off (boom tish!) before round two (he suggested we meet him later at the Art Cafe but it was a dive).

Havana, Cuba (Day 2)

Yesterday we put fruit salad on our rice. Today we poured yoghurt into our coffee, thinking it was milk. Needless to say, these home-stay meals take a bit of getting used to. And patience. Either that or last night’s rum addled our brains as well as our dining etiquette. Breakfast consisted of fruit, pastries, yellow bread (cornbread maybe?), omelette, ham, cheese and pancakes. Only 5CUC. We’re gonna weigh a bit more by the end of this trip.

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As per Elsa’s recommendation (at Hostal Peregrino), we spent the morning with a private tour-guide. Our Cuban guy, possessing a Chinese heritage, was absolutely awesome. He knew the inside-out of every inch of the city. And he gave us a great insight into the history of the country too.

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We spent the majority of the two-hour tour in Havana Vieja. He drove around in his Dad’s hand-me-down American auto… and we felt as cool as cucumbers. ‘Cool’ as in the ‘aren’t we fabulous?’ kinda way, as opposed to the opposite of warm. Cuba’s bloody hot.

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Walking around the city, we spotted a lot of the sights that are featured in the guidebook; Cathedral de la Habana, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco… lots of plazas. Then we strolled around the neighbouring markets and looked at all the socialist books and antiques. Marx and Che are everywhere!

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Calle Obispo and Mercaderes are stunning streets. And what makes them better is that they’re lined with musicians and dancers and colours!

11179967_10155474448615008_145025178376634330_nOh and we went into an old school pharmacy. They still sell lead for medicinal purposes!

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Before we arrived at the centre of Habana Vieja (this isn’t a typo; their bs are our vs), we saw the famous lighthouse that appears in all the postcards – known as Parque Historico-Militar Morro-Cabana. The heart of Havana.

We had lunch at a recommended paladare (a home-run restaurant). Victoria and I had shrimp and lobster kebabs and Vicki had a pineapple fish thing. (Good job I’m not a food critic, eh?). These dishes were washed down with the most mouth-watering piña coladas known to man.

Rum out here is GOOD.

I’m a wee bit smashed as I write these words actually.

A wee walk in the sunshine later, and we were enjoying Cristal beers by the waterside. Old, dodgy men took photos of us so we downed the dregs and hopped into what we called a ‘bubble car’ (they’re actually called Coco taxis) and rum followed the beer at one of the oldest bars in Havana, known for their wicked mojitos: La Bodeguita del Medio.

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I read ‘Dirty Havana Trilogy’ before coming away. It paints a perfect picture. The sex, the heat, the dancing, the laughter. My kinda place. Except perhaps for the lack of freedom of speech / information, etc.

It’s absolutely mental that they don’t have the internet here though. I better not say anything else. Big brother is watching.

We also spotted a rations board in one of the local shops. None of the shops here serve very much. They all feature a handful of products. Row after row of the same thing. Bizarre.

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All Cubans pay the same amount of tax and this means that all food and medicines are state subsidised. We were told that there are no homeless people. And that nobody goes hungry in this country. That’s what they’re told anyway.

** Saying nothing **

Actually… it doesn’t even matter what I say. The people of Cuba can’t afford the internet; it’s only available at posh hotels and it costs more than a dinner to access it for a few minutes. Not only that; the government controls what can and can’t be accessed on the web. It’s doubtful my blog will make the cut.

We had dinner at the hostel and met a French couple who had been away travelling for TWO YEARS. This time we had beef with our rice and beans.

Even though we were knackered, we set off into the night and had daiquiris at Floridipa, and piña coladas at Paris Cafe. The live music at Floridipa was awesome – and we smoked a cigar.

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All in all, a pretty successful first full day.

Havana, Cuba (Day 1)

Our first experience of the ‘real Cuba’ was standing in line for the currency exchange for like at least an hour. Our taxi driver was nowhere in sight either but we had been previously warned that the Cubans adopt a ‘mañana mañana’ approach to life, which means turning up isn’t mandatory, and bookings aren’t necessarily… booked. Anyway, we managed to change out £1,500 into CUCs – we got 2,100-something back (this is between the three of us for two weeks).

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We hopped into our driver’s classic car and sat in the back as we beamed our jet-lagged smiles out of the windows at the the general goings-ons. Everything looks so much sexier in the sunshine. Even the airport staff were hot; the women at passport control were wearing fishnets and mini skirts. They swooped us with their metal detectors as if they were giving us a warped kind of private dance.

After arriving at Hostal Peregrino (central Havana), we got showed the way to our associated family house (just down the road), had a quick freshen up, and headed back to Elsa’s for our first home-cooked Cuban dinner. These were the first of many helpings of rice, beans and plantain… and we had breaded fish to tick the protein box. It was really delicious. Such generous portions too. Vicki accidentally put the fruit salad onto her rice (it wasn’t clear that it was dessert in fairness) and that was BEFORE the beer. The meal came to around 10CUC each; so like £7ish. Not bad, eh?

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Tummies sated, we headed out into the night and found ourselves at this really cool bar with live Cuban music. Victoria got a LOT of attention (she’s a beautiful half-Russian, half-Garnian supermodel… well, she could be). The lead singer from the band traced his grubby hands all over her face before planting big, fat, slurpy kisses on her cheeks. Vicki and I found it amusing. Victor didn’t.

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Photos: Please note the man in the red and white t-shirt and the little old lady on the right hand side of the left photo… they were just dancing in the street throughout the performance… and they weren’t even in the bar! There was also a woman with a penis (she was only wearing wire-fronts) who strolled up to the band and wiggled her non-hips. It seems like everyone is treated as an equal in Cuba; young, old, male, female, gender neutral, black, white, etc…

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The men out here are NOT shy.

We had a mojito each. They were rank. So then we tried the Cuba Libre. Not much better to be honest but by then the first round of rum had numbed our tongues. And at 2CUC a pop, who really cares?

(I promise the photos will get better; this is what you get after a 28 hour journey and you’re lucky you’ve got that).