Title: Cubans and new year
Location: Havana, Cuba
I did mean to write this up as soon as it happened as it was so fascinating .. but obviously here I am trying to remember it 2 weeks later.
We arrived into Havana and picked up some transport from the airport .. we were meant to being picked up but that failed to materialize so we found a guy who had a van who was leaving immediately and not trying to rip us off ... some people were asking $25 per person but we managed to get into town for $20 for both of us. The guy who was driving had a couple of other people to pick up and drop off so we got to see bits of Havana that we probably wouldn't have otherwise seen. The thing that struck me most was how happy the people in the streets seemed to be. We saw a couple of kids in the street with a pair of roller blades between them .. each had one blade on and were having a blast. The other thing that you noticed on the way in from the airport was the amount of broken down cars at the sides of the roads. We must have seen 8 on the way from the airport .. hardly surprising seeing at how old the cars are! Also we saw the camel buses ... they must pack around 200 people on to them .. they are huge carriages with two bumps (hence camel) that are haulked behind a truck front. Behind them several lines of cyclists were hanging onto the back of the bus.
The first night we got to our hotel and then went to explore around the area. We went for mojitos at Hotel Nacional to start with, then for some dinner, and then we found an open air concert just doen the road. At the concert we were befriended by some Cubans, so off we went and bought a bottle of rum, and then we all sat and drank it on the seawall while watching the concert. The first bar we went to get the rum from wouldn't serve us because we were foreigners but the next one sold us a bottle no problem! We had a great night and arranged to meet the guys the next day for a tour of the city.
The following morning after pissing around trying to get some cash for about an hour .. not the easiest thing in Cuba! We walked from our hotel down the Malecon right the way into Old Havana. On the way we were stopped by two musicians who serenaded us for a while. You can hear music all over Havana .. it's coming from every house .. or people on the streets. It's an amazing city.
We met up with the guys from the previous night and we went for lunch in a private restaurant ... up some stairs and almost like you're in their front room. We had a fun afternoon, then we got a cocotaxi back to the hotel ... which are a bit like a tuk tuk in Thailand but the cab bit looks more like a scooped out orange! In the next door bar we found some more friendly Cubans ... a girl who was absolutely nuts and her mother .. so we sat there with them for the rest of the evening drinking mojitos.
On New Year's Eve we moved hotel to the Hotel Saratoga which is on the edge of Habana Vieja (Old Havana). It is a beautifully restored old building that had just been opened as a hotel. There is quite a lot of regeneration like this happening in Old Havana. There is a company that owns a lot of the restored restaurants and boutique hotels, and all the profits from them go back into restoring more old buildings which is great.
We were feeling a little worse for wear from the large amounts of mojitos from the night before, so we decided to have a lazy afternoon around the roof top pool. We weren't sure what to do that evening .. and were a little disappointed to find out that most Cubans don't go out on New Years Eve, but instead have parties with their families at home. We had been invited by 3 different people to their houses .. or houses or one member of their family .. But as most were out of Havana we decided to stay in town. We ended up having dinner at the hotel, followed by a show on the roof of the hotel and drinking Dom Perignon till the early hours. It was a pretty tame New Years Eve but we met some nice people.
New Years Day was a bit of a wipeout .. Mark was sick, so we just stayed round the pool for the day. The following morning we were anxious to get out and see as much of Havana as possible. We walked through the streets of Habana Vieja and found many fascinating streets and squares. We stopped at the Havana Club museum/bar for a cocktail, then had lunch on a pretty square. Late in the afternoon we got back to the hotel and asked them to organize a classic car for us. You can hire them with a driver for US$18 per hour. The car we were collected in was a 1928 convertible .. not sure what make. We got the driver to drive us out to Playas del Este .. which are about 30 minutes drive East of Havana. The beaches were lovely there. On our way back into Havana the driver stopped and showed us a few sights. That evening we went to a restaurant called Cocina de Lilliam .. which was a paladare restaurant .. which means the restaurant is in the house of someone.
The following days we spend taking Spanish immersion classes. Those went well.