Mojitos, Old Cars, Casa Particulares & Cigars

I am writing this as I am siting on the plane to Panama from Cuba via El Salvador. This post will be my longest by far.

I am not going to go into the politics of this country, as I believe that Cuba's social regime has been left at a huge disadvantage by the trade embargoes that have been in place on the country by the United States. From what I could see in my short visit to this wonderful country, is a place that at its core holds an amazing balance and fairness on its Cuban citizens, but like I said this was a short visit. However I do say this to anyone who criticises the Cubans Socialism; remember the regime before Fidel and remember the harsh discrimination translated by the trade embargoes on Cuba.

Nonetheless the last two weeks have been marvellous and full of mojitos, old cars, Casa Particulars and plenty of cigars.

La Habana

Some of the many old cars in Havana

Day 1.  Monday 16/4

The first thing we noticed apart from how friendly and laid back the people are, is how old the cars are. We had heard plenty about the age of the cars and other such wheeled things like the police motorbikes but nothing prepared us for the saturation of antiques on wheels. We were in aw at the pre 1955 vehicles that were driving around; the police motorbikes were very impressive.

We soon settled into our first port of accommodation our first Casa Particular, which is a family's house where you can rent a room from and eat a huge and tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner for an extra cost.

It wasn't long before we were strolling around the neighbourhood looking for our first mojito in Havana. We scored a well mixed mojito along with some cigars at a very friendly local bar.

This first night we settled into some fish and salad at our Casa Particular Gloria.

Havana

Enjoying our first of many mojitos in Cuba

Day 2. Tuesday 17/4

On day 1 we had arranged a car for rent, so this was our first mission in Cuba. Pick up the car and drive to Cienfuego.

Upon arrival in Cienfuego we found a Casa Particular called La Casona De Conde Hostal that we settled into and watched a sunset near with some beers. Later that night we ate some lobsters and prawns while the owner of the casa entertained another group of people near us with his guitar and strong voice. This night turned out to be a ripper, the other group left and the owner came and sat with us drinking his rum and singing and playing his guitar while giving us some insight to Cuba. Much to our pleasure Bronnie impressed us with her beautiful voice and skills at playing guitar.

Cuba

Some very old machinery for harvesting Sugar Cane

Day 3. Wednesday 18/4

Our aim or Bruce's excitement today was for Playa Girón where the 51st anniversary of Cuba defeating the United States in a battle which set Cuba's Revolution in concrete.

On route for Playa Girón, we stopped at a dairy farm. This was one of the bigger dairy farms I have seen since leaving Tasmania for this trip. Its dairy was an eight bale swing over milking one hundred and forty cows year round. The cows were fed grass, hay and molasses. The cows were presently producing eight litres a day.

After arriving in Playa Girón, we read and viewed our way around the museum based on the humiliating battle for the USA; a small but very informative museum telling the story of the Cuban triumph and the pathetic if any reason for the USA to be there in the first place.

We found out that the main ceremony would be held the following morning.

After the museum we drove to a beach near Playa Girón called Playa Larga, which is where we stayed the night. Here was very relaxing until there was a sunset mosquito attack on us during dinner. To counteract any bad harm by the mosquito attack, we ate a very delicious and juicy lobster and crab dinner. 

Playa Giron

Ceremony at Playa Girón

Day 4. Thursday 19/4

We enjoyed another delicious breakfast and then travelled back to Playa Girón for the ceremony. The ceremony was hard to follow; Bronnie was able to translate bits and pieces for us to keep us happy.

Upon completion of the ceremony we set our sights on Playa La Boca.

We were ready for some white sandy beaches to relax and swim at, unfortunately all the casa particulars were booked out and we had to travel a bit further away from the sand. We did find a wonderful casa particular to stay at on a rocky coast where we tempted the sea urchins to our juicy toes.

Playa La Boca

Relaxing at our Casa at Playa La Boca

Day 5. Friday 20/4

Our sights were set on reaching Camaguey after viewing Trinidads historical sites today. Before we reached Trinidad, we stopped at the resort beach of Playa Ancon for a quick taste of the silky white sands and the blue water.

Trinidad kept us entertained for one or two hours before we had enough and drove onto Sancti Spiritus, which is another historical colonial town that apparently isn't visited by tourist much. The reason why tourists don't visit Sancti Spiritus over Trinidad was obvious upon arrival. It seemed to be lacking the quantity of old buildings and the cliché markets and shops that go with this sort of touristy town. Overall it was a good break to have on our way to Camaguey.

On our arrival into Camaguey, we were chased by a cyclist who liked to hassle and tell us that there mum and dad's Casa is close, cheap, clean and near everything. It didn't take us long to catch onto this common occurrence of the local touts throughout Cuba that would try to find you accommodation by telling you they were related to the Casa they were leading you to. Some we would follow out of interest and others, well the advantage of escaping them was in our car. This wasn't a big problem and often was quite handy. If some of the touts hadn't been so pushy, they would have received their commission from our acceptance of their accommodation. On one occasion I remember Jo and Bronnie knocking on the door of a Casa as one bloke walked up the street and told us he owned the Casa; when the owner opened the door we soon realised that the bloke outside with us and the person at the door didn't know each other and that the bloke had lied to stand there with us to score some commission.

Eventually we found a Casa of our own backs, settled in and went out for dinner, cabaret, mojitos, cigars and a tour around part of the city by a peddle powered tricycle.

Trinidad

A street in Trinidad

Day 6. Saturday 21/4

Today we left Camaguey for Cuba's second biggest city Santiago de Cuba, which is nestled in the opposite corner of the island to Havana in the South East.

After arriving and finding some accommodation at the Casa Azul, we went for a stroll towards the middle of the city to buy some beers to drink on the rooftop of our Casa while the sun lowered below the horizon and left us with a brilliant sunset across the roof terraces of Santiago.

After we finished our sunset drinks, we set out for dinner and open arms for what might happen after dinner. We soon found ourselves in a popular Salsa club in the middle of Santiago. It wasn't long before Jo and Bruce were up on the dance floor moving their hips. This was a very classic and entertaining night in Cuba full of salsa, cigars and mojitos.

Santiago de Cuba

Roof top view of Santiago de Cuba

Day 7. Sunday 22/4

Upon arriving at our next destination Baracoa, famed for being the first settlement of Cuba, lush tropical rainforests and its beaches. We soon found another Casa Particular with a rooftop (very important to find rooftops where ever you stay in Cuba). We settled into some sunset drinks before tucking into another delicious meal of home cooked fish, prawns and salad.

On the way to Baracoa we experienced quite an enjoyable windy road that lifted a little elevation to give us some relief from the heat below.

After dinner, we went for a stroll to walk of the generous servings we ate. It wasn't long before we found ourselves at a open roof top bar with a live band playing regatron and a couple of rounds of mojitos.

Baracoa

Sunset drinks on a rooftop in Baracoa

Day 8. Monday 23/4

We set off for Gibara also known as 'The White Town', which is a small coastal town that suffered during the hurricanes of 2008. This is where Bruce and I bought fifty Cuban cigars between us at a fair price. We bought a box of twenty five of Fidel's favourite cigars and a box of twenty five of Che's favourite cigars.

After we left Gibara on our way to our next destination, we stopped at the stunning beach Playa La Herradura.

Playa La Herradura

The tranquility at Playa la Herradura

Day 9. Tuesday 24/4

With the whirlwind tour around Cuba drawing to an end, we decided it was time to accelerate our trip back towards Havana. There were two more stops to be made, the first one being away from the beach in the countryside of Najasa. Jo and Bruce had picked out an eco lodge called El Rancho Belen.

We were lucky to stay at Rancho Belen as we walked into the lodge we were met with the staff preparing to leave for the day, as there were no other guests. This was a bit eerie but nonetheless we lapped up the space and the pool there. We were even surprised when we took a look in the stables to find antelopes, deer and zebras.

El Rancho Belen

Antelopes in the horse stables at El Rancho Belen

Day 10. Wednesday 25/4

Our next stop before driving west of Havana is the city Santa Clara where Comandante Che Guevara is buried. This city is known for the last battle in the Cuban Revolution.

Here we settled into a marvellous meal of lobster again, before setting out on a horse and cart ride around the city.

The day we left Santa Clara, we stopped at Che Guevara's Monument and Mausoleum.

Santa Clara

Che Guevara statue in Santa Clara

Day 11-12. Thursday 26/4 - Friday 27/4

Our last stop before returning to Havana is Viñales, which is full of traditional agriculture and pretty wooden casas with porches nesting a couple of rocking chairs each.

Each breakfast, lunch and dinner, we were served very tasty food from our host of who was an amazing cook.

We ventured on horses into the hills. This was Bronnie's first horse ride. Unfortunately the horses could have been fed better. Nonetheless this was a fun day that involved learning how tobacco is grown and cigars are made, tasting naturally made mojitos and filling our lungs with the fresh countryside air.

Vinales

Three teams working the ground

Day 13-14 Saturday 28/4 - Sunday 29/4

Hola again Havana! After resting for two nights in Viñales, we felt ready to tackle Havana again for another two nights before departing.

We caught up with Emilio Jorge Rodriguez who is a friend of my family's friend Geoff Goodfellow. Emilio took us on a short but insightful tour around some of Havana's sights; one included the hotel where Ernest Hemingway would stay on his trips to Cuba.

We thought one of the best ways to see more of Havana would be to jump upon one of the double decker city tour buses that drive around. This turned out to be a horrible decision; the suns intensity joined us and most of the sights were four or five star hotels and not much more. We saw a lot more by walking around the streets lapping up Havana life and all of the historical buildings that make up this marvellous city.

La Habana

The best mojitos in Cuba and our last

Adios Cuba.