Well, having flewn from HAWAII to LA, then LA to MEXICO CITY, we had a day to kill there before flying to Cuba. It had been a long flight and we got searched twice. Once in Hawaii, where they searched our bags and swopped it and then again in Mexico. that time was abit unfortunate as you have to press a button and it turns red or green to serach you and off course it went red. Thankfully, it didnt take too long.
Anyway, we spent a day around Mexico City on the ´turi bus´. It took 3hrs sat on this bus showing us all the sights of the place. We got off at this one stop where we saw lots of market stalls selling the wrestling masks just like in Nacho Libre. They looked so funny, we had to resist not buying one!
Finally, we flew to Havana the next morning, another early start though of 3am. Which meant we had means we had been up 3 days in a row at 3am for early/ late flights! We got into Cuba safely but had issues with getting money out. It didnt take long to realise that this was a common problem for tourists in Cuba.
We checked into the hotel, had a nap and went into the old city. we were so excited to see all these 1950s style cars driving around the place. They looked amazing. Most of them had more filler than anything else and were on their last legs. But it was stepping back in time. We headed to the market where, we seemed to attract the attention of the local tranny. We took a picture of him from across the other side of the square, and he clocked us! Sowe tried to quicken our pace to avoid any conforntation, but boy could that girl/ guy strut her/his stuff along the market. Before we knew it, we had been cornered. So enivitably, we had to give him some peseos. The smallest we had was a 3 peso note (about 1 pound 50), and my goodness, what a scream for joy he made when we handed it over. All the other locals tried to offer a picture so they could get some money too. So we learnt our lesson. Although, it did make a funny picture!
That evening we met our tour leader and other passengers on the trip which were nice, but all either over 40 or in a couple. Not quite the younger crowd we had been used to on the other tours we had dome in the past but thats the luck of the draw with these trips. We had 3 canadians and the rest aussie. Our first meal as a tour was at this local Palador, which is restaurant but you have to know on the door to get in. It doesnt really look like a restaurant and you would quite easily walk past it in the street adn never know it was there. Its a private run restaurant so survives on ´word of mouth´rather than advertising. All the government owned restaurants advertise themselves on the street, but this one they werent allowed. The food however, was nice, abit on the carb side of things which we learnt was common place in Cuba.
The next day we headed to Vinales. All wasgoing well in our air conditioned bus, until we stopped for a break. Its normal to eat cheese and ham rolls for lunch and thats it, so it got a bit boring by day 8! Well, the tour guide, Tatiana, was a lovely Cuban lady, but very laid back. Everything was quite relaxed with her, nit real deadlines of meeting up or anything. Anyway, we just finshed lunch and everyone was just hanging around so i went into the shop and before we knew it, the bus had driven off without us! Arrggh. Here we are in Cuba on our own, everything we own in the bus and cant speak a word of Cuban other than Hola! So we run up to the road and see the bus in the distance. It had taken the girl opposite my seat on the bus, to notice that both Marie and I were missing! So, they had to reverse down the road and come back and get us. We were waiting there with our thumbs out as if we were hitch hiking! It was all very funny and we did get the biggest cheer ever. BUT what a scare. So after that, we hung tight to Tatiana, just so that didnt happen again!
We arrived in our little town of Vinales in the afternoon and got ourselves settled into our Casa. It was such a sweet little home. We were al carted off round the town to the various homestays. Ours had our own bathroom and the lady gave us such great food all the time. She didnt speak a word of english, but we got by with a odd gracias and pointing to stuff! The next day, we arranged a tour guide to take us around the village and the tabacco fields. It was such a nice way to see the country side and learn about the tabacco growing process. We even saw this cuban guy roll up a cigar for us. The region of Vinales is famous for the tabacco growing and is quite a mountainous area with flat planes aswell. Its really very pretty. We also visted this ancient painting on the side of the mountain, but they looked liek they were re-painting it, so i didnt understand how it could be really old! We spent the evenings in the local bar, drinking Cuba Libres or Mojitos while watching the local salsa dancing. This proved to be a great source of entertainment, particulary naming the locals. We had one we called Beyonce, struting her stuff and she also had a very short skirt on. Another called red t.s*** man who kept asking us to dance, and the local ´im the only gay in the village´up there dancing like a senurita! The nice thing about it was that the guys would come up to all the women and ask them to dance. It was so romantic and traditional. We all said no, as we didnt want to be shown up with our lack of salsa dancing skills, but it was really nice.
Anyway, after that, we headed to Maria la Gorda, a beautiful resort on the western tip of Cuba and on the Carribbean. It was gorgeous. Such amazing blue sea with palm trees lining the beaches. We had a day and a half of relaxing watching the sunsets and dipping in and out of the crystal clear waters and drinking fresh coconuts. We also got the chance to go diving, which was fab. The coral was so colorful and interesting. I didnt see a whole lot of amazing fish, but it was great to see it all. I also, in a very homesick way, loved watching the MTV which i became attached to. Mr Flava Flava, was a good bit of entertainment for a girl who has been on the road for 8 and a hlf months.
Finally, it was all over and we headed back bright and early to Havana. We spent the afternoon wandering around the old town again and managed to get to see the Cohiba cigar factory. That was very interesting as the ladies sat and smoked while counting the tabacco leaves. The rooms were filled with the smell of tabacco so i couldnt understand why they needed anymore. Oh well, but, the average wage of the rollers were 45pesos a month which is the best wage in Cuba. They earn more money rolling cigars than a doctor or lawyer would make! After that we went for a bite to eat at the Hotel Ambos Mundos where Earnest Hemingway wrote a couple of his novels. I also bumped into the horse and cart man, for had confessed his love for me and wanted to marry me. He offered me a great life he said as he owned 3 horses and made a good living from them by taking the tourists around. However, when i saw him again on the street a week later, he didnt even recognise me! That, i found most amusing!
So, my time in Cuba was actually very relaxing. It seemed to really be struggling still and there are still some obvious difficultys still. Such as, the Cubans are not allowed to use the internet unless for tourism purposes and only with a tourist. They still use ration books and they cannot go on holiday to another country unless someone outside of Cuba pays for it.
Very interesting place and definatley worth a visit. It will be interesting to see how the country changes.
Right, next destination, Mexico. Will right about that one soon.
Take care, Adele x