A Travellerspoint blog

Spiritual San Cristobal de las Casas

To reach San Cristobal de las Casas we had caught a 10 hour overnight bus from Oaxaca. Alex and I traveled with our guide and one other girl on our trip, Anita on the regular bus while the others on our tour had upgraded to a more deluxe bus. We had figured that with some of the buses we had caught recently through South America it couldn't be that bad so just stuck to the normal bus. It turned out that it wasn't too bad except for the 45 minute stop in the middle of nowhere at 3am in the morning.

We arrived in San Cristobal around 7:30am and made our way to our lovely hotel. Our room was available so we were able to shower and get changed before having a great breakfast of Heuvos Rancheros. We then headed with our group to Sumidero Canyon for a boat ride along the river. We hadn't been told too much information about the canyon or boat trip except it would be a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

We arrived at the pier, put on life vests, boarded our boat and set off down the river. The scenery was amazing with steep sided walls of the canyon plummeting down to the river below. We cruised along in our jet boat for a while until we saw the first of many crocodiles. We stopped to snap off a few photos before continuing further down river. We stopped off at a small cave that had a virgin statue in it and beautifully coloured rock. We then went past a waterfall that looked just like a Christmas tree starting narrow at the top before widening towards the bottom. We were also very lucky to see some monkeys and lots of bird life along the river. One really thing that really amazed me was the amount of rubbish floating around. Apparently it washes in whenever it rains and they have crews of people cleaning it up but in such a beautiful place piles of floating rubbish really ruined it. We ended up at a dam before turning back around for the 15km return journey. It was quite a enjoyable day out not requiring too much effort considering we were all pretty tired from our overnight bus rides.

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That night we had a walk through town which was another one filled with beautiful colonial architecture. For dinner we diverged from the typical Mexican food and had Thai with the rest of our group.

On Sunday we had breakfast and then walked through the town to the collectivo stop. From here we caught a collectivo for about 10 minutes to the town of San Juan Chamula. It is a little town that fills with indigenous locals on Sunday for market day. We wound our way through the crowded markets to the towns church, Templo de San Juan. While it is officially a Catholic church it is allowed for the locals to practice their own traditional religion in it. It is strictly forbidden to take photos inside so we stored our cameras away before crossing into the church. It was truly an amazing sight to see. The floor was covered in pine needles which made the whole church be filled with a rich aroma of pine and incense. All around the church individual groups were performing rituals which involved lots of candles, offerings of food and drink and prayers. There was a Catholic priest at the back performing christenings for babies clad in white outfits while at the front a full band played to celebrate some event. It was very strange to witness such a mix of traditional religion and practices with modern religion and practices. It is also known that some locals perform sacrifices inside the church. While I didn't get to see any, I did see live chickens lying inside bags just with their heads poking out ready to be sacrificed. The strange thing was that they were alive but were just laying their peacefully ready for what was coming to them. Our guide told us all about the locals religion which provided a really interesting insight into their beliefs. It really was a mystic and spiritual place to visit.

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Afterwards we wandered through the markets looking at the mix of things that could be bought. There was plenty of fruit and vegetables, clothes, shoes, chickens (both alive and dead) and lots of souvenirs. It was interesting to see the local dress which women wore black shaggy woolen skirts and men wore either black or white shaggy woolen jackets. Once we were done we caught the collectivo back to San Cristobal where we had lunch in a restaurant run by the Zapatistas, a revolutionary group. After some tasty tamales we explored through the markets in town. At one point it started to pour rain so we had to find a cafe to hide out in for a bit. That night we had dinner at an Argentinian steakhouse where we had tasty steak and red wine.

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On Monday morning we returned to the Zapatistas restaurant for an amazing breakfast. The blue corn tortillas they served were mind blowing. I had Mulitas which were tortillas topped with eggs, tomato salsa and served with fried plantains and avocado. It was definitely up there with the tastiest breakfasts I have ever had. After breakfast we made our way to the bus station for our ride to Palenque.

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Next stop Palenque for some more ruins and waterfalls!

Posted by SamJohnston 16:28 Archived in Mexico Tagged san_cristobal sumidero_canyon san_juan_chamula Comments (0)

Sampling some of the best food and fireworks in Oaxaca

As with Puebla, Oaxaca (pronounced wah-hah-kah) has long been on my places to visit for its food. I love Mexican food and had heard that Oaxaca was the home of some of the best dishes and of course Mezcal!

It took us about 5-6 hours to reach Oaxaca on a local bus from Puebla. It was late afternoon by the time we had checked into our hotel. We were about a 15 minute walk from the main plaza but all the surrounding streets were all filled with people, shops and restaurants so it wasn't a bad walk. We explored the city and its colonial streets and I instantly loved it.

We walked past a church and our tour guide got really excited about something. He pointed out a structure lying in front of the church and said that there must be a celebration on that night as the structure was for fireworks. After asking the guys setting it up they confirmed that it would start at 9pm. So we set off for a quick but so delicious dinner in a taco shop.

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At 9pm we all headed out from our hotel just down the road to the church which had a big group of locals and a band pumping out festive tunes. The structure had been erected and stood about 15m high. First of all it started off with some standard fireworks shooting up into the sky. Then they placed some paper mache bulls with three wheels of fireworks on them. Each wheel set off at a time accumulating in a huge bang at the end. They set off about 3 of these on the road before chaos broke out. One of the locals picked up one and started running down the street towards us. I panickly looked at our guide who just yelled "run", so I did just that jumping over a wall avoiding narrowly the fireworks shooting out in every direction. The guy continued to run up and down the street swinging the bull to cause fireworks to go everywhere.

They set off another bull and then some hats with fireworks and birds with fireworks while we watched and ran for cover whenever they came close. It was quite scary but also fun and exhilarating. The structures weren't the best built things in the world either as on at least 2 occasions a wheel broke off and skittered off in all directions along the ground.

Once they were all done with almost killing us it was time for the main event, the firework structure. They set it off down the bottom where a wheel started turning causing a flower to appear that moved. Then there were birds and bulls that spun around followed by an angel and turning wheel that spelt out 'La Asuncion'. All components of the tower were made up of fireworks and moved and was an amazing sight to see. To finish it off a wheel broke off the top and spun up to the heavens symbolising the asuncion but looking like a UFO. We then had a series of normal fireworks just to finish it all off. Now I have seen a lot of firework displays in my life but this was by far the best I have ever seen.

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We then all retreated back to the hotel sharing our experiences over a few beers. Luckily the worse injury was a burn mark through a shirt. These Mexicans really are crazy.

On Thursday we headed out of town to Monte Alban, the ancient Zapotec town. We walked down to the bus station via the food market where we got to sample some of the local delicacies, grasshoppers. Not perfect for breakfast especially considering the ones we tried were covered in chilli and garlic but not too bad and really just tasted like grass. We then hopped onto the bus for the hour or so journey to Monte Alban.

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We hired a local guide who was indigenous to the area called Coyote who showed us around the site and explained the history and facts. There were a number of phases of Monte Alban but they believe it was occupied since 500BC. We got to see lots of friezes which showed medical procedures like cesarean sections. It was amazing looking through all the different pictures which depicted things still used in modern day. It was their medical library and showed really interesting things.

We also got to see one of the five Juego de Pelota (Ball Courts), which was built around 100 BC. It was interesting to find out about the game they use to play which was like an ancient version of basketball where players would try to get a ball in a ring not using their hands, just their hips, elbows and knees.

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After exploring the site we purchased some hats from some of the vendors outside and at $30 pesos were an absolute bargain. We returned to town and had lunch at the Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Alex got chorizo con frijoles and I tried a tlayuda, which is a giant tortilla covered in frijoles, meat, cheese, tomato, onions and avocado. Both were delicious. We had a look around the city and then enjoyed a hot chocolate. It was really tasty but different to the ones I'm use to. It wasn't very sweet but was flavoured with spices like cinnamon and came with a sweet bread like brioche to dip in it. The guy in the shop showed us how they crushed the cocoa beans and we got to try a bit of the bitter paste from freshly crushed beans. While we were out we also grabbed some of the famous Oaxaca cheese which is a bit like mozzarella.

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That night none of us were that hungry so just returned to the awesome taco restaurant for some more tasty tacos. We then went to a bar and ordered some Mezcal to try. My shot of Mezcal came out but it was more like 100mls and almost filled an entire glass. Definitely no standard measures here. It started to pour rain while we were in the bar so we had a beer before heading to one more bar for some more drinks.

On Friday we did a tour of the surrounding area including petrified waterfalls, an ancient site, textile factory, Mezcal factory and a very old and big tree. First up was Hierve el Agua. Unfortunately just before we arrived it started raining, getting quite heavy just as we reached the falls. We managed to see the great formations just before the clouds closed in. We hid out from the rain in one of the little food stands at the sight and had hot chocolates, quesadillas and a tlayuda.

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We then moved onto Mitla which is an ancient Zapotec site. It was only a small site but was interesting to have a walk around. One of the most impressive things was a few tombs that you could climb into. So Alex and I did some tomb raiding crawling through the narrow entrances to see the tombs inside.

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From Mitla we moved onto a Mezcal factory. Mezcal is a spirit made from the agave cactus. The factory we visited makes it the traditional way. Alex was able to help stack the agave plants onto the fire where they are left for a few days to smoke. From there the crystallized plants are mashed, fermented and distilled before being aged. We were able to sample a wide range of the different ages and flavours of which there were dozens to try from including the one with the worm or Gusano de Maguey which is a larvae from a moth that lives on the agave plant. Of course we supported the local economy and bought a few bottles for ourselves!

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The next stop was a textile factory where we were shown how rugs are made in the traditional way. The wool is made by hand and dyed only using natural dyes. It was interesting to see the process and the beautiful finished products. I was certain that we wouldn't buy anything but once we found out the very reasonable prices we did splurge and buy a small rug. Our final stop was at El Arbol de Tule. Some people say it is the biggest or oldest tree in the world. Whether that is true or not I can't really say but it was pretty impressive. On the way back to Oaxaca we had an interesting drive back through the flooded streets.

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We had just enough time in Oaxaca to grab some dinner and taking a few photos of the awesome artwork on the building near our hotel before heading to the bus station. I tried the Mole Rojo which was actually really tasty and much nicer then the Puebla Mole. Then it was time for our overnight bus to San Cristobal.

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Next up the colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas!

Posted by SamJohnston 07:57 Archived in Mexico Tagged fireworks oaxaca mexican_food mitla monte_albán Comments (0)

Puebla - The home of Mole

Puebla has been on my list of places to visit for some time. Recently I read a list of top 10 food destinations around the world and Puebla was on it for it famous mole. So I definitely wanted to go. With the average mole having 32 ingredients it was something I really wanted to try in its home.

On Monday morning we set out from Mexico City to Puebla on a local bus. It only took about 2 hours to reach it. While Puebla is Mexico's 5th largest city it only has 1.5 million inhabitants. We arrived caught cabs to our hotel which was located just a few blocks from the centre plaza.

The town was very beautiful so we had a walk through the streets once we had checked in to our hotel. We found a restaurant to try the famous mole. Mole is a sauce traditionally served over chicken. Everyone has their own recipe which is normally a closely guarded secret. With chocolate as a main ingredient it makes for an interesting taste. It was very nice but wasn't really the mind blowing experience I was expecting. It was tasty but I guess I had my expectations for it set really high.

After lunch we explored some of the local markets. Puebla is also famous for its ceramics and there were some beautiful plates and dishes but alas backpacking and ceramics don't really mix. We had a wander through the main square and the beautifully decorated cathedral.

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Luckily we were in Puebla on a Monday night which happens to be Lucha Libre night. So we headed down to the Puebla Arena to indulge in some Mexican culture. We decided on the ringside seats but as we arrived a little late we were a few rows back. We got settled in our seats and sat back and watched all the action. Wow it was lots of fun! The performance the wrestlers put on was very entertaining and included men, women and midget wrestlers. Combined with great sandwiches and beers brought to you in your seat it was all you could ask for. The crowd took it really seriously with apposing fans constantly chanting and playing music. There were also the round girls which kept all the boys entertained! It was such a fun and enjoyable night out. On the way out I managed to catch one of the wrestlers for a photo. It is taken so seriously in Mexico they even have to leave with their masks still on.

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On Tuesday we did a tour to the nearby town of Cholula. Cholula is home to the widest pyramid ever built so we started the tour at the ruins. Unfortunately most of the pyramid is still covered and looks more like a hill so its not as impressive as it sounds. We climbed up it though to the top where a beautiful little church (Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios) was located on top. From the top we could see over 2 nearby volcanoes. We then looked through the archeological area below. Unfortunately the tunnels leading into the temple are now closed off to tourists but it was still interesting to look around and find out about the child sacrifices they use to make.

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The town is rumoured to have 365 churches one for each day of the year but in reality it only has 39. Cortés the Spanish conquistador of the area conveniently built one on top of each of the temples he found in the region. We visited 2 of these churches. The first was Santa María Tonantzintla but unfortunately they wouldn't allow you to take photos inside. It was one of the most magnificent churches I have ever seen. Inside was colourfully decorated with 3D statues of angels, children, saints and Jesus covering all the walls and ceiling. As they were preparing for a festival the next day the floor was covered in unbelievable sand art and a huge amount of flowers which filled the air with a beautiful aroma. The next church exterior was covered in some of the regions famous tiles but as a service was going on we couldn't enter.

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We had a quick stopoff at a shop selling Rompope which is a local creamy spirit created by nuns. It was really tasty and we were able to sample it in a number of different flavours.

That afternoon we returned to Puebla and spent the afternoon exploring the city. We had lunch and then visited Templo de Santo Domingo which has the beautifully intricately decorated Capilla del Rosario (Rosary Chapel). They definitely know how to decorate churches in Mexico.

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That night I got to try another local specialty, Chiles en Nogada. It is a stuffed pepper filled with a mix of meat and dried fruits topped with a creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. It was quite an interesting taste with a real mix of sweet and sour. I quite enjoyed it but think it would taste better with less sauce. We then headed with everyone out to a bar where I had some margaritas and Alex sampled some tequila.

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Next stop the ultimate Mexican food destination of Oaxaca!

Posted by SamJohnston 17:32 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Bienvenidos a Mexico - A taster of Mexico City

We have visited Mexico before but that was way back in 2004 and it was only a day trip from the US down to Tijuana. We had a great time but really didn't feel we had done the country any justice. So as we were nearing the end of our time in South America we looked for different options to fit our time and budget. We really wanted to cover Central America but with less then 2 months we felt at our travel pace it would be too much to cover. Then a friend of ours did a trip with Intrepid and had a fantastic time. After looking at some of their trips on offer we found a basic trip that covered Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 46 days. With a 15% discount on offer and not having the stress of worrying about having to plan travel and accommodation we booked it in. The tour would be very basic using public transport and budget accommodation but it is what we are use to. I know there are lots of debates about individual travel versus tours but for us this option really worked out the best. It would allow us to fit in a highlights tour of Central America within our time and budget.

We flew into Mexico City from Havana. We arrived mid morning and after a well needed coffee and breakfast at the airport caught a taxi to our hotel in San Rafael. Exhausted after our trip we had an hours power nap before heading out to explore the city. We managed to navigate the Metro system and make our way into the city centre. On our way we stumbled upon a street stall selling tacos. Wow they were good! Little soft tortillas filled with deliciously succulent meat, a slice of grilled pineapple, onion, coriander and fresh salsa. What more could you ask for? They were only $6 pesos each so you could have 3 of them for under a £1. What a bargain!

We had an explore around the Centro Historico visiting the Cathedral Metropolitana, Zocalo main plaza and the surrounding streets. The weather then turned against us and it started pouring rain. We looked for somewhere to hide out and found Café de Tacuba. From the outside it didn't look like anything special but inside was a beautiful room with colourful tiles and paintings in art deco style. We took a seat and ordered some coffees and an apple tart and enjoyed them while a live Mariachi band played amongst the tables. Not a bad way to hide out from the rain. We then went back to the hotel for a bit before just grabbing some more street tacos from the stand just up the road for dinner.

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On Saturday we were handing our key in at reception when we met Hosea an Australian guy who would be on our trip. So we headed out with him to explore more of the city. We headed into the Centro Historico again, stopping off for some breakfast tacos on the way. We then went back to Café de Tacuba for some coffees. We had a look at Templo Mayor which was just off the main plaza and was where the Aztecs first saw the eagle with a snake in its mouth (the symbol on the Mexican flag). For them this place was the centre of the universe until the Spanish Conquistadors demolished the temple and built a Catholic church on top of it (a very common practice across all of Latin America). We then decided to catch the Turibus around the city to be able to see most of the major sights in a day. We chose the typical route which started at the Zocalo and took us past Palacio de Belle Artes, Plaza de la República and Monumento la Revolución, plus many other sites.

When we reached Museo Nacional de Antropolgia we hopped off to explore the museum. I had read that it was an amazing museum and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Luckily we got free entrance as an archeological association was protesting about the commercialization of archeological sights in Mexico. The museum was packed with artifacts from across the country and across numerous cultures. It was really well presented even with outdoor recreations in jungle settings and so many wonderfully preserved items. After 1.5 hours we had just skimmed through most of it when we decided to catch the bus back around the rest of the circuit. The rest of the circuit took us through the upmarket area of Polanco.

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On Saturday Mexico had won the Olympic gold medal in football against Brazil. This must of been a huge deal for them as the streets were packed with people celebrating, all decked out in national colours, honking horns, waving flags and partying. It was great to see but caused huge traffic chaos as major streets like la Reforma were closed off. So when we reached Zona Rosa we hopped off the bus and walked back to our hotel through all the crowds enjoying the atmosphere. There were plenty of food and drink vendors as well as many police just in case things got out of hand but everyone was very relaxed and there was no trouble at all.

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That night we got to meet the rest of our group and our tour leader. We would be lead by David a Guatemalan and would have a mixed group of people from Australia, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and Malta. After going through some formalities we set out for a walk down to Zona Rosa along la Reforma. Here we just had burgers for dinner before looking at the colourful nightlife. After some exploring we headed back to the hotel with a customary stop off at a taco stand.

On Sunday we headed out on a tour to Teotihuacán. Our first stop on the tour was at Plaza de las Tres Cultura which had Aztec temple ruins, a Spanish Catholic church and modern day buildings. It was interesting to see such a mix at one site. We then stopped off at Basilica de Guadalupe which is where the Virgin of Guadalupe painting is located. There are 3 churches located in the same square including Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe which at being able to house 40,000 people was an unbelievable sight to see. Belief in the virgin who appeared to indigenous Christian convert named Juan Diego in 1531 transposing her image on his cloak is extremely strong. Viewing the original painting or cloak is something that attracts thousands of pilgrims every day. Even with its capacity the church was packed with people and had queues out the door. There were people crawling on their knees towards the church as part of their pilgrimage. We entered through the side of the church and got to see the famous painting in which they say the paint floats on top of the material. To deal with the crowds they have put in moving walkways to keep the crowd flowing. With people breaking down in tears it was a very interesting glimpse into the devotion Mexicans have for religion.

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We then drove to the site of Teotihuacán pyramids which were built between 100-600 AD by the Teotihuacán culture. It was also later used by the Aztecs as a ceremonial centre. The major drawcards here are the Pirámide del Sol(Pyramid of the Sun) and the Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). We started by climbing the Pyramid of the Moon which was quite a steep climb up but provided good views over the site. We then walked along Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) trying to dodge all the hawkers selling tacky souvenirs until we reach the huge Pyramid of the Sun. It is the worlds 3rd largest pyramid with its base 222m long and wide and 70m high. So we joined the queue to climb up the 248 steps to get to the top for an amazing view. After we had finished exploring we had a buffet lunch with some awesome blue corn tortillas before returning to Mexico City.

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That night we went on a walk down to the Monumento a la Revolucion where we got to see the 'Yo soy 132' protest movement who are protesting against the results of the latest presidential elections. We continued to walk for about an hour ending up at Plaza Garibaldi which is a square filled with Mariachi bands. We grabbed dinner in the market next to the square and then hired a Mariachi band to play us a song. You can rent them per song or hire them for a birthday party of function right from the square. It was great to see all the different bands serenading people. We then headed back to the hotel to pack and get some sleep.

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Mexico City is really fascinating. It is one of the biggest cities in the world with a population of 21 million. It is also one of the fastest sinking cities in the world, sinking even more then Venice. I guess when you build a city on a lake, it may start sinking at some point in the future. It makes some of the buildings a bit wonky but it does add character. Being such a big city there is plenty to see and do. We got just a taste with our time there but really loved it and will be back in the future.

Next stop the home of mole, Puebla!

Posted by SamJohnston 15:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city mariachi taco Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

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