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Where in the world do I start with Cuba… I guess at the beginning is best, but first… open a new web browser page, search Cubana Airlines, book a ticket, and once you’ve received your confirmation, continue reading.
Firstly, wow! Cuba is one of the best places we’ve been, on so many levels. The people, the places, the everything.
We only had 9 days in Cuba and resultantly decided to only hit 2 spots, Havana (Habana) and Viñales. This only covers a tiny, tiny portion of this HUGE island, but they’re both amazing, and unlike anywhere we’ve ever been.
This first blog post will be about 3 of the quintessential Cuban things. Some of the things that in a way make Cuba, Cuba.
Our next post will talk more about the people and the places. The people of Cuba are some of the nicest we've met on our travels and the places are unlike anywhere we've ever been.
Now I’ll admit right here and now I don’t know anything about cars. I know where the accelerator and the brakes are, and I can work the radio and quite often the CD player, but the rest (the insides, the brands, the models and the makes) is well over my head. However heading to Cuba I had one thing on my mind, “Gee I hope I can find an old car to take a cool photo of”. Boy did I feel like a dumbass heading to our casa particular (more on these later) from the airport.
As you may or may not know Cuba, since the 60’s has had an embargo in place from the USA. Resutlantly, they have not, and currently still do not, receive any products from the United States or majority of the nations the USA trades with. This combined with it’s geographic location means that Cuba does not receive many new cars, and hence a huge portion of the vehicles in Cuba are working remnants from the 50’s, and even earlier.
And they’re beautiful.
Whether cared for - shined and polished every day - or completely dilapidated, Cuba’s car are fantastic and ensure that whilst walking around exploring you feel as though you’ve jumped back in time almost 70 years.
The Rum! (and the cocktails)
The rum! Another thing I don’t know a whole heap about (except that it makes me a better dancer) is rum. I know there’s white and there’s dark and I know it’s in a fair few of my favourite cocktails, but otherwise I’ve got no idea.
Cuba is famous for a few of its rums, the most famous probably being Havana Club and Santiago de Cuba
Now whilst in Havana there are 3 “must see” bars. I put this in inverted commas as you definitely don’t need to see them. However we did and we enjoyed them. Even if the drinks did cost 2 or 3 times the price of everywhere else, $5 for a mojito… You’re kidding! Anyway, the 3 places are where Ernest Hemmingway apparently liked to drink and hang out whilst in Cuba, and at each different bar he liked a specific type of drink.
The 3 bars are:
La Bodequita del Medio
Grab a mojito if you’re willing to part with $5. I’ll be honest here I’ve had many a mojito and this didn’t crack the top 5, or even 10 for me. However the place is famous, theres always a heap of tourists getting a photo or writing on the walls and there was a cool live band. It’s super touristy, but don’t let that stop you. After all, we’re all tourists and I always think that when somethings touristy there’s a reason, and for the most part that reason is it’s generally awesome.
Dabble in the daiquiri. Again the drink is ridiculously overpriced at $6 (in some bars in Havana you can easily snag a 2 for $3 deal) however the drink is good. It’s a delicious daiquiri that even Sean enjoyed.
and the last is…
Dos Hermanos (Two Brothers)
I’m not sure what Hemmingway’s drink of choice was here however I’m told he frequented the joint, and the amount of pictures and drawings of him on the wall cement my belief of this.
It’s a cool place to grab a rum (neat of course), light up one of Cuba’s finest cigars and soak it all in.
And if you’re nice to the wonderful bar staff they’ll get a photo of you behind the bar. Whether you want one or not.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I don't know anything about cigars. And believe it or not I didn’t smoke a cigar in Cuba. However my amigos, and resident experts; Sean and Tash sampled a few and have given me the low down on flavour and the technique.
I’m not going to explain it here because I don’t know enough and I’d hate to sound stupid however I can say that whilst in Viñales (more on this beautiful place later) we literally bumped into a woman who invited us back to her house for a few cups of coffee and a lesson or two on the growing and making of cigars with her husband, Domingo.
Now I’m going to go into more detail on this farm visit as I can honestly say it absolutely made Cuba for me. I already knew the place was beautiful and the people were friendly but this was honestly above and beyond. It was perfect and quite possible one of the best, if not the best, experience we’ve had in the past 11 months, besides the whole "getting engaged and deciding to spend forever with each other" of course.
On our first day in Viñales we were meant to go on a horse ride, however I’d had a funny tummy the night before and resultantly we pushed it back a day. Instead we decided to just walk around the town and out into the surrounding farmland to see what we came across.
Upon our walk roughly 1km from town across a small stream and down a muddy path we met a woman named Aida (sounds like AH-EE-DA). She asked if we wanted to come over to her house for a coffee and to learn about tobacco, and we said we’d love to.
Once we entered her house she showed us her horse, introduced us to the dogs, the chooks and even the pigs. She poured us all a cup of coffee and grabbed us each a banana off the tree in the backyard. She then called out to her husband, Domingo who wandered over from one of the surrounding fields and introduced himself.
For the next hour they talked to us about growing tobacco, coffee, mangos and bananas, and the process of making cigars. Domingo made us each one and let us roll them ourselves whilst we all chatted, smoked cigars, sipped coffee and ate their bananas.
At the end of the hour and a half of some chill time on the beautiful back porch taking in the scenery and chewing the fat, we offered them a little cash for their time, coffee, tobacco, food and information. They were super surprised and ever so grateful and gave us 8 cigars to take with us… 8! We only gave them $15 between the 3 of us…… The cheapest cigar you can buy in a shop here is about $4 and you don’t get to see it made.
We took a few group photos and I showed them to Aida and Domingo, they loved them and Sean and I promised we would print them out and send them to their house in Cuba once we made it home. They said we had to come over for more coffee and even a mojito when we were in the area and we happily accepted.
I have to say if you’re going to Viñales you HAVE to go and visit them! We’re not sure if they can have guests stay in their house due to the intricacies of the “Casa Particular” laws in Cuba, and hence aren’t sure if tourists can legally stay in their house (we don’t want to get them into trouble).
Now, like I said if you haven't already, book a ticket to Cuba asap!
In our next post on Cuba we'll talk more about the places we went and the people we met. The people of Cuba are amazing!
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An Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.