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Classic cars, cigars and rum in Havana

Cuba was never on our itinerary but when we started investigating flights from South America to Central America we found out that we could go via Cuba for pretty much the same price. So with not too many expectations and just the basic stereotypes we booked our flights to Havana. We would only have time for a few days so decided to just stick to the capital.

So we traveled from Bogota via Lima to Havana. Even though we started going at 5am we didn't land in Havana until just before 7pm. Firstly we had to wait about an hour in the queue to get through immigration. Then we had to wait for our baggage. After about an hour of watching the baggage carrousel go around and around we finally gave up hope of my luggage arriving and headed to the Lost Luggage counter. Not surprisingly there was another queue, so we had even more waiting. Eventually we found out that my bag was still in Lima and had to fill in a lost luggage report. Then I had to visit the airlines office to put in another report and find out that my bag would either arrive the next day or in 3 days time.

We then headed out of the airport to catch a taxi to our accommodation near the centre. Driving through the streets we were able to get our first glimpse of some of the classic cars that Cuba is famous for. It was great to drive next to such an array of cars from the 50's and 60's. We arrived at our accommodation just before 11pm absolutely exhausted. Luckily we had fantastic hosts in the casa we were staying who were very welcoming and gave us a great icey cold drink. We then headed to bed for a well deserved sleep.

On Tuesday we got up and had breakfast in our casa. Since I had no clothes and had very sensibly decided to wear jeans on the plane, I had to borrow a pair of Alex's shorts for the day. We headed out into the heat and humidity for a walk around town. We were only about a 15 minute walk to the centre of town. We had a walk around marveling at the beautiful decaying architecture. We then visited the Museo de la Revolución which is housed in the former Presidential Palace. The building itself was magnificent and it was filled with memorabilia from the revolution. It even had bullet holes in the marble of the staircase from an attack and Che's famous beret. Outside in the park across the road there was a collection of vehicles including the boat that Castro and other revolutionaries took from Mexico to Cuba in 1953. It provided quite an interesting glimpse into the revolution.
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That night we walked along the Malecon which is the seafront drive of Havana. It was filled with people walking along enjoying the sea breeze. There were some crazy kids jumping off the edge of the walkway into small gaps in the rocks below while fisherman brought in huge catches and bands played salsa beats. We found a restaurant where we could watch the sunset while enjoying a few mojitos. We made an important discovery that lobster is ridiculously cheap in Cuba so Alex got a huge one for dinner and I got some fish. After our delicious dinner we walked back along the seafront to our casa. Unfortunately my bag still hadn't arrived and after phoning the airline we found out it wouldn't arrive until Thursday night.

On Wednesday we walked down to the Old Town or Habana Vieja which contains stunning architecture. We did a bit of a self guided walking tour around the 4 main squares Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís and Plaza de la Catedral. It was then time to explore one of Cuba famous exports, Rum. We headed to the Museo del Ron housed in the Havana Club. We did a tour an learnt all about the production of rum before getting to sample some of the 7 year old. We then headed next door to Bar Dos Hermanos for some mojitos and some lunch.
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We then had the very difficult task of trying to find me some clothes and shoes in the bare shops. Now most places I would love the opportunity to shop for new clothes but Havana is definitely not one of the best shopping destination in the world. In fact it is probably one of the worst. The shops in Havana are just empty and have hardly any stock. Each shop might just have a couple of items with no different sizes or colours. To give you an idea it took us over 10 shops to just find bottled water. I ended up in one of the biggest department stores which had hardly anything in it and luckily managed to get a dress and a pair of sandals. I then managed to find a t-shirt in another shop. I finally had some clothes!

That night we had a nice 3 course meal in our casa before heading out to the famous Club Tropicana. It is a real institution of Havana surviving from 1939 and gave a real glimpse into what Cuba would have been like in the 40's and 50's. We had to catch a cab there as it was about 20 minutes out of town. As we entered I got presented a carnation and Alex with a cigar. We were sat at our table and given sparkling wine and a half bottle of rum to enjoy during the show. We then had a couple of hours of vegas style cabaret, Cuban dancing, singing and performances. Alex is usually not a big fan of this type of stuff but I think with the rum and half naked girls he was kept entertained. At the end of the show they called out countries names and invited people from that country up on stage. So when Australia was called out Alex and I climbed up on stage to pull out some dance moves with the professional dancers. It was not a cheap night out but we had so much fun.
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On Thursday our last day in Cuba, we headed to the Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás cigar factory. Visiting a cigar factory was high on my list of things to do in Cuba so I was really disappointed to find it closed. Apparently it is closed for a year but no one could really tell us why. The shop was open though so we purchased a Cohibas cigar and enjoyed it in the main square. Determined to still visit a factory we asked at the tourist office only to be told that all cigar factories were closed at this time of year for summer holidays. I guess we just timed our trip wrong and visiting a cigar factory would have to wait for another time.
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We caught the hop on, hop off bus around the city. It took us along the coast up the Malecon to Vedado past Plaza de la Revolución and through some neighbourhoods with magnificent art deco houses. There was even a building that I thought looked like a robot. It was great to get out of central Havana and see the surrounding areas.
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After some lunch on the main square we visited the Bella Artes museum which is filled with an array of Cuban artworks. We then wandered the streets a bit taking lots of photos of the classic cars and buildings. It was amazing to see so many driving around. At times you could really imagine you had stepped back in time. I especially liked the space capsule looking taxi's.
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That night we went out for a nice dinner at Los Nardos, one of the few semi-private restaurants in Havana run by the Spanish Asturianas society. There was a queue to get in so we knew we would be in for a good meal. This time I ordered the lobster and Alex got prawns thermidore. The portions were so huge neither of us could finish our meals. My lobster must of had about 1/2 a kilo of meat in it and it was about an inch think in places and so delicious. Not bad for $12! After dinner we headed to the oldest hotel in Havana, Hotel Inglaterra for a few mojitos. They had a really good live band playing so it was a nice ending to our time in Cuba.

Arriving back at our casa we found out that my bag still hadn't arrived. A few phone calls later and a few hours of waiting it arrived just before midnight. It was such a relief to finally have it back but with us having to head to the airport at 3am for our flight to Mexico there wasn't much time for any sleep.

I both loved and hated Cuba. It has such a beautiful charm about it and the locals are so friendly and welcoming but it is economically challenged and very frustrating at times. It is disappointing to see such beautiful buildings left in ruin but fantastic to watch 60 year old cars drive past. Personally it was very hard for me to get by without my luggage as there is no where to buy any of the normal essentials. But Havana is very intoxicating with its heat, people and vibe. It is definitely somewhere I want to return to so that I can explore more of the country.

Next stop Mexico City!

Posted by SamJohnston 21:35 Archived in Cuba

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