I’ve been posting many of my photos, individually, from past travels around the world. I thought out titles for them but would much rather have put some substance behind the image to draw you into my story of beautiful places worth visiting for yourselves.
In saying that, I will now write something I previously wrote while in Cuba with my husband, then fiancé, which was my birthday gift from him that year.
I have tweaked it here and there to add names and information, what I remember, you might like to know if planning a trip to the colourful independent country where time has seemingly stood still.
Cuba. August 2005
We are on a travelling bar, aka coach transfer, that is taking us to our hotel. This is how most all-inclusive package vacations start or so I’ve heard. This is my first.
I usually plan, with a combination of ‘fly by the seat of my pants’, my adventures. I love taking the train even if I miss the one ideally scheduled for my itinerary because I couldn’t find the right platform or read the schedule wrong.
With this trip I want to walk through Havana. Our last, first together, trip to El Salvador had a lot of driving. Here I want to walk with the people. In their streets, cafes and lives. Slowly, I want to breathe it all in; with our camera.
Hotel Internacional Veradero is marble, grande and smells old, a history filled old. There are sculptures of woman and mermaids throughout. You walk out of the reception and main lobby right onto the beach, literally. Everything is clean, reception is kind and efficient and our room has what we need.
How the sand and the water change their colour at sunset is mesmerizing. The beaches are clean, white sand(no rocks) with perfect warm water. As we waded in the water one day, a few large fish were riding the wave and brushed past us.
We took in the hotel entertainment tonight. Dancing and singing, perfect. I was one of four ladies to be picked to sit on the stage to watch the show while we were brought drinks. This is the life. Out of the three woman sitting with me at the table, I have a few short conversations with the one that I now realize is the hotel hooker. I hope she wasn’t initializing a transaction attempt when she touched my leg. Exciting Cuba is.
My birthday warrants an upgraded ocean view room with a balcony, thanks to my darling fiance. The thunder and lightning storm our first night is so fierce that it feels like a plane is running its wing through the entire length of the hotel at full speed.
Throughout the days that we wander the hotel en route to the beach or buffet, I am enjoying this drink made for me specifically. (Or so the bartender tells me; great strategy!)
“Dawn” (the drinks name, and mine)
The day of my Birth on a Catamaran day trip:
Imagine music, drinks, sun and my man relaxed on a boat in the middle of water mass.(fyi; he does not do well on boats) The water is quite shallow and the catamaran is large and smooth going. Anyone who goes to the Caribbean should try a catamaran boat tour. They build the best atmosphere and it’s a vantage point of the area that we otherwise would have just read about. On top of that, we had a ‘to die for’ fresh seafood lunch on the beach of Cayo Blanco, snorkelled, and swam with the dolphins in their natural habitat.
Snorkelling; in crystal clear water there were caves down there and fish by the hundreds. That is one of the most peaceful things I have ever done.
Dolphins; we docked at these platforms in the middle of nowhere, yet somewhere. There were buoys that we were told to swim within as small groups of people took turns in and out of the water. Of course with something like this you can’t get away with not having the touristic ‘buy a photo’. I am, nevertheless, thankful for it because….
The two dolphins appeared from the open water and glided in the water, swimming around all of the small groups of people. Their bodies are silky smooth and hard as a rock. It was hard to keep track of where they were swimming but we did see and feel them. The other people were a distraction and made it feel a bit chaotic. I don’t feel it’d be safe to include small children for this reason only.
The dolphins were trained to lean against a persons’ back for each photo. The real experience came next. As we were heading to leave the water one of the dolphins faces came close to my face; so I made a puckered kissing sound. Before I knew it, he swam out of the water right up onto my back then wiggled around. I believe he was communicating with me. I will take this feeling, memory and entire day to my grave. I adore, appreciate and value my fiance and everything that he does. He makes the ordinary special.
Anyone who goes to Cuba has to make the trip to Havana. You haven’t experienced the real Cuba if you don’t. Renting a car is safe, but make sure you have a good map. Also, if you like to explore and take your time, do not take a ‘tour’ of Havana. They are on strict time restrictions and don’t go to some of the greatest parts of the city. We went to Havana on our own and stayed the night. While in Havana we stayed with a family in their home. Usually called a guest home, although where we stayed they were not registered. Our room, with our own bathroom, had a lock on the door. They provided certain meals for us and we learned much about the area and how people live. Small private sector businesses have been allowed since 1993 and is limited to family run restaurants, guest houses and small-scale retail.
People here are so grateful for a bottle of water. It breaks my heart to see 13 year old girls prostituting themselves. It made me very uncomfortable. What do you do? We ended up walking away, briskly, after one of the girls tried to proposition my fiancé, while I stood beside him. This is everywhere in the world, but this was hard to digest since I had never seen a girl so young.
It is literally like you’ve stepped back in time. The music, cars and buildings. Traveling between Old Havana, Havana Vieja, and New Havana is like day and night. Havana Vieja was people with broken sandals, wearing hardly an outfit, living within streets cracked and homes poorly maintained, by the government. Driving in Old Havana is challenging because of the lack of signs, narrow streets, parked vehicles and deeply, unsafe, side roads. New Havana was Modern; people in dress pants, belts and shoes in homes with a place for their car.
The streets are very safe for walking, before dark. The military is present everywhere.
The government rations everything; med’s, housing, alcohol, smokes, food and even how many people can be a plumber, taxi driver or construction worker, for example. There is a book that has names, professions and communities listed to keep track of everyone. It works for the people and is all they know. Instead of having homeless people or poor communities, they take care of everyone within each class. The poor are poor, but have shelter and eat. The people are rich in kindness, appreciation, independence and are proud of their country and accomplishments. They work hard and live within their means. I can’t help thinking about how much we can learn from this land.
Pack an extra bag of items to give to hotel staff and other people you encounter regularly throughout your trip before you leave home. Things like hats, reading glasses, umbrellas, books, first aid, belts, candy, sandals, bandanas, lighters, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush, body wash or toys.
Dawn is amazed by 2 bulls that were tied up in someone’s backyard. We are traveling, by an affordable hired taxi, back to Veradero from Havana Vieja.
Cuba is saying goodbye to me. I watch the lightning as two separate bolts travel across the sky instead of down. They practically made a circle before hitting the ground. It was like the gods were operating an etch-a-sketch.
Try to go to the market, a convent, Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, Musee de la Revolucion, Tobacco Factory and El Tropicana. El Tropicana cabaret is a great night out which included dinner, a bottle of rum and a show filled with dancing, singing and acrobatics that has been put on since 1939. We needed to reserve for dinner, but you can go just to have drinks, dance and watch the show. The show started at 9pm. We travelled to El Tropicana show by Coco Taxi; the little yellow ‘pods’. This is an experience. Make sure the driver has enough gas and be sure to set the price before you get in. It’s also pretty fantastic listening to a live band in a cramped, open air corner cafe. A band with saxophones and percussion instruments fill the nights streets.
That is the Cuba I experienced. I dream of a Cuba that stays mostly unchanged. It works for them. It’s interesting to see how they make it work.
Go explore as soon as you can.
If you have been to Cuba; what was your favourite memory or advice?