This will be a long blog for a few different reasons, mostly the restricted access to internet here with access cards only getting dropped off once a day and some hotels running out very quickly! This restricts us to one hour between the two of us and usually includes an hour long hunt in the first place. (not really a major problem unless say a major flu virus breaks out in your next destination). This is very indicative of Cuba with nothing happening with much urgency and intuitive systems. This can make things incredibly frustrating when you need information or to get something done.
Finally caught up ash today after a long drawn out process and flight, the flight was seriously delayed with me getting there 2 hours before hand apparently not enough. I managed to just get my ticket as the flight was supposed to leave and after a variety of other issues including waiting on the tarmac for about 45 minutes we finally took off, 1.5 hours late (the joys of international travel). I did finally get there only to find out that debit cards don’t work here only my credit card, atleast I should be ok as long as they don’t cancel my card for overseas use.
The hotel we are staying in is quite nice with a really cool old 50’s style lobby and rooms that were more that suitable. The first night we headed out and had our first taste of Cuban nightlife sampling a few cerveza’s followed by some mojitos. As expected the mojitos here are very good with most bartenders taking a considerable amount of time and pride in their preparation. The cerveza’s are also on the whole pretty good and certainly drinkable even the very local brands.
After a couple of cerveza’s and mojitos we met a Spanish speaking Quebecer and things went from good to very good to bad. We were able to go out and mix a bit with the locals and managed buy some local food and local rum-in-a-box. Neither the food nor the rum was all that spectacular in quality however it was nice for novelty value. This rum turned out to be bad move followed by an even worse move getting a bottle of rum at the night club. After being hit on by almost every girl in the club, most of which were gorgeous, none of which were free we ventured back to the hotel sans some money and my camera. Not a great start but you have to learn from this and atleast I’ve still got my wallet and all I lost on my camera was photos of montreal and niagra falls, not exactly my favourite places anyway.
The look of Habana is quite something else, some parts look very poor whereas other parts look quite nicely restored but still with a 50’s style feel about it. The whole vibe around the place is very laid back as well with the possible exception of people hassling you in the street about taxis, cigars, casa particulars (guest houses) and girls (hookers).
With ash under the weather and the swine flu epidemic appearing in Mexico we have decided to stay in Habana until after may day allowing us the best option of monitoring the emergence and whether or not the airports are going to be open into Mexico. Our mobiles don’t work over here so our contact overseas is limited to internet access that is costing us about $A10 an hour, it is certainly not cheap to travel here.
We however did have to check out of the hotel which meant that we had to go searching for a casa particular. The casa’s themselves are generally the same and overall pretty good but for the occasional absence of hot water, luke warm not cold water is about as good as it gets most of the time. The best way to describe them is basically a room for rent typically containing two single beds maybe a fridge, a table and a light with the luxury option having a TV. They are typically costing us about $A30-35 a night each with breakfast but are supposedly much cheaper outside of Havana. The good thing is that once you get into the network they all know someone else that has one in another town so they are easy to organize and easy to change if need be, the bad news being that you get stuck in a standard price cycle.
With Ash feeling better we decided to start the tourism portion and took in the museo de la revolution, so much information detailed up to and including the revolution and what we thought would be a disappointing visit and possibly a waste of $A8 but turned out to be well worthwhile. Next we had a walk around the Capitol building here before taking in the cool baroque cathedral and finishing with a walk through the Castillo de San Cristobal which offered some very nice views of the city as darkness fell. With ash getting older by the day we decided to go out and have a couple of quiet drinks at a place we found that did 1m beer columns – about 5 pints.
After changing to another casa particular we went down and took a 50’s chevrolet taxi ride (something every tourist should do) out to plaza de la revolution the scene of tomorrows parade. After getting a photo saluting comrade Che and having a look at the preparations we took a bobblehead taxi (something I really can’t describe) out to the US special interests building (i.e. not an embassy but close) to see where the US attempted to broadcast free media towards Habana and Cuba responded by blocking the messages with black flags signifying the Cubans that have died as a result of American atrocities since the peace/embargo agreement was signed. From here we walked almost the entire length of the Malecon (a long way ~11 km’s), this street is popular with Cuban couples as it runs all the way along the coast and is usually packed especially at night.
At the moment we are having daily checks of our emails and the news to check on the advances regarding the swine flu situation. We are pretty much resigned to the fact that Mexico will be in lock down within a week and that our tour packages will be cancelled. This leaves Ash a week to fill in which won’t be so hard, but will leave me 5 weeks to fill in and stuffs around flights and accommodation. I think this will take a while to sort out once they finally make the call and my travel agent gets back to me with some options, annoyingly this is also eating into our experience in cuba because of the time spent monitoring and finding internet.
Today we are off to the may day parade hoping to see Fidel make an appearance for his brothers official first may day and the 50th anniversary of the revolution. We managed to get down to the parade alright and got caught up marching in the parade, walking with 1000’s of proud cuubans through the streets and towards the plaza the final destination of the march. After this the crowd just disperses all of a sudden and the festivities are over and have everyone heads off to get drunk. Neither of the brothers made an appearance which was a bit of a shame.
I found out today that my tour through mexico has been officially cancelled so I am waiting to see what options arise as far as alternatives otherwise I will have to come up with a redundancy plan as I have gained 5 weeks. Ash is still not sure what is going on as we get information here about it daily but because Australia is 13 hours behind when we get our emails we have often got more updated information than when they were sent. We have got a week to sort it out theory but at the moment cuba has closed its airports for flights to and from mexico complicating things slightly.