Here in Havana
they’re getting ready to rumba
Shaking the streets to the beat
of a cocktail shaker
There is no dress code in fact
in Havana we prefer
birthday suits to business suits
Slipping into something more comfortable
and first dates end with
breakfast in bed and
a trip to the bar
What can I say?
that’s just how we are…
In the early evening of December 10 I finally made it to Havana, Cuba. This island had always been such a mystery to me and I always thought it would be impossible to ever travel to Cuba, but here we were! After a long and very turbulent flight in the oldest, tiniest airplane Cubana could ever own, the plane touched down on the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’. There is only one advantage of a tiny airplane and that is that you know exactly who was on your flight. So, like a proud independent woman, I followed my fellow passengers through the old, smelly hall, through customs where I got my Cuban stamp, all the way to the baggage claim. I had already discovered there were more Dutch people on my flight, which made me feel a lot more comfortable. I wasn’t alone on this island.
After an hour I could finally pick my backpack off the carousel and continue my journey into the unknown. The first step was to change my dollars to Cuban CUC’s. I knew the people in the office would punish me for bringing American money into the country but I wasn’t able to get euro’s at the airport in San Jose. With a big envelope full of cash I made my way out of the busy airport. Outside of the arrivals it was so full of people that I went with the first taxi driver I saw. “For 25 CUC?” “For 25 CUC.” And my first deal was made.
While my taxi driver put my big backpack in the back of his car, two Dutch travelers came up to me to ask where I was going.
“Where are you going?”
“Neptuno street. Straat.”
“Ohhh, jij bent ook Nederlands!”
And a new connection between strangers was born. We decided to share my taxi, saved about 10 dollars each by doing that and drove all the way from the airport to central Havana, talking about our travel adventures and my time in Guate. During this 35-minute drive I found out the two were not very well prepared, so when I arrived at my Airbnbn, they didn’t know where to go next. It was still early in the evening, but if it was me I would be freaking out. My Airbnb hosts Saul and Sandra were already waiting for me so I invited the other two into my new home so they could figure out their next plan. And that is when I first got to know the cool side of Havana, every casa owner knows many other owners, so within a few minutes Saul had arranged a place for them and we said goodbye.
After our goodbyes I had time to snoop around my new appartment on Neptuno #412, right in the heart of Central Havana. It was absolutely perfect! Two beds, a big bathroom, a tiny kitchen, a television and two locks on the door. (In case you are wandering: I stayed at the Skyline Studio Apartment). I was so tired from the adventures in Costa Rica and the two flights that I did not bother to get dinner in the big city. My bed was calling.
Monday, December 11
As early as my body allowed me to, I woke up to explore Havana. But as I walked five floors down and entered the street, it was so overwhelming that I walked around my block and returned to my casa. So many people! Calle Neptuno is a very populair and busy street and I knew my casa was located there but I did not expect it to be this crowded. I decided to walk all the way upstairs again to figure out a plan. On the map that Sandra left me I started trying to find my way through the city. A big part of Havana is located on the famous boulevard El Malecón and for me it was a safe haven to walk to, since I could not get lost if I just followed the boulevard. So after taking a deep breath I dived into the Cuban life again. This time I already got used more and more to the many people, the smelly cars, the old houses and the trash on the streets. If I didn’t know this was Havana, I would totally feel unsafe and I would think I had ended up in some sort of ghetto. I turned right on Galiano and passed the impressive Teatro América, which makes you feel like you’ve ended up as a supporting actor in Grease. I walked all the way to the sea and made a great early morning walk along the ocean. I passed the big Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta, an important castle, and ended up on another big boulevard, Paseo del Prado, in the heart of the city. All the benches were occupied by couples in love, old men with walking sticks or kids with skateboards.
While I roamed through old Havana there were a few things that caught my attention:
- The old cars are very real! You don’t have to search for a long time to get the real Cuban feeling.
- There are very long lines outside of supermarkets and people have to turn in their bags before entering.
- You can recognize places with wifi by the large groups of people with their phones (there are not many).
- The only American brand I could find was Coca-Cola. No McDonalds, no Starbucks, nothing.
- Cubans are still very proud of their heroes, history and country.
I decided to walk back to my Airbnb to get some breakfast. I ended up in Café Arcangel, where they served a lovely fruit salad, a ham and cheese croissantsand a nice mango smoothie for only 5,50CUC! With renewed energy I dove deeper into the city. At the central square I found the enormous Capitol (beautiful!) and some very iconic buildings, like the classic Hotel Inglaterra where American president Winston Churchill stayed during the Spanish-Cuban war in 1895 and the sports hall that was named after the world famous Cuban boxer Eligio ‘Kid Chocolate’ Sardiñas Montalvo. A great place to enjoy the sunshine and to watch the amazing, colorful Buicks, Chevrolets and Fords pass by.
I walked further into Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), passed the old railway station, the last remains of the city walls and made my way to the old tourist market Almacenes San Jose, right on the boulevard. It is and was a very crowded place with lots and lots of litte stands full of colorful souvenirs. Some people may say “but they all sell the same junk”, but I loved it! It is just like the market in Antigua and I could spend a lot of time there. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time in Havana, so after buying some cute souvenirs for my family, I continued my walk through the city. I passed the old iconic Havana Club Rum Museum and after a while I surprisingly found myself in the heart of Old Havana, at the stunning Plaza de Armas. So this is where Havana is all about! No wonder I thought Havana was one big slum! Tourists were walking by in big groups and I immediately felt a lot safer. So this is where everyone hangs out… It was absolutely stunning and I quickly found the cutest place to eat: Trattoria 5 Esquinas, where they sell perfect pizzas (sorry, Cuban food is not really my thing).
After a great dinner, I happily walked back along the Malecón until I found the big blue Hotel Bellevue Beauville. I crossed the busy street and walked back to my Airbnb. That solo traveling? I think I kinda like it.
Where did I eat?
Café Arcangel | Concordia 57, between Galiano & Aguila | www.cafearcangel.com
Trattoria 5 Esquinas | Esquina Carteles #104
What did I spend?
Taxi: 15CUC (shared, from the airport to Neptuno)
Water: 5.00CUC (for 5 liter)
I usually don’t eat lunch, but you could also get lunch at the places I ate.