Cuba - Havana

Cuba - Havana

My first reaction to Havana was shock. Look right and it looked as though a bomb had gone off, look left and tourists were wandering down a beautifully restored Caribbean inspired Spanish colonial street. We spent the majority of our time in old Havana, which is the landscape you envision when you think of Cuba. However, there are 3 million people who live in this city and I have very few photos to show for the rest of the city. Only 3 days in the city forced us to focus our attention. 

My first view of Old Havana.  Looking right...

My first view of Old Havana.  Looking right...

Looking left... 

Looking left... 

Cubans have to be incredibly innovative with the resources they have and their lifestyle is sustainable by necessity.  Cars are a patchwork of parts, abandoned spaces have been repurposed and diverse cuisine derived from the same five available ingredients. I walked past people stitching up shoes and repainting bicycle wheels, ate banana chips from a paper cone that was previously an office form and patted dogs wearing baby shirts in place of collars. We found the Cuban people to be very proud of their country, and really in need of money and resources. The average Cuban makes $25 a month and only in 2010 did the government start allowing people to have their own businesses and the chance to make a bit more. Couple this with no access to information or literature and you start to sort of understand why Cubans might flee on a raft across the ocean. There's really no other way to leave. My hope for the Cuban people is that they can preserve and harness the rich,innovative and sustainable culture they've built over the last 60 years to lift them out of economic despondency. When the US embargo lifts and they are flooded with American brands and tourists will they be able to preserve the reason tourist want to come to their country in the first place (to go back in time) while still improving their livelihood? I'm rooting for them!!! 

Old Havana neighborhood street. 

Old Havana neighborhood street. 

Produce market near our casa. 

Produce market near our casa. 

Guayaba... which I think is Taro root in english. 

Guayaba... which I think is Taro root in english. 

Produce market price list

Produce market price list

When you're so into your soccer game that you don't care your shorts are about to fall off...

When you're so into your soccer game that you don't care your shorts are about to fall off...

The apple logo is everywhere in Cuba... but nobody actually has Apple products. It's perplexing. Also eggs? 

The apple logo is everywhere in Cuba... but nobody actually has Apple products. It's perplexing. Also eggs? 

Our lovely lovely host family in their home in Havana. Renee, Mary and Grandma... and of course José the pup!!! We ate breakfast with Grandma every morning and José provided lots of puppy snuggles. 

Our lovely lovely host family in their home in Havana. Renee, Mary and Grandma... and of course José the pup!!! We ate breakfast with Grandma every morning and José provided lots of puppy snuggles. 

Cheating on Lawna with José! 

Cheating on Lawna with José! 

Coti the parrot loves his guava treat in the morning and having whistling conversations with guests. 

Coti the parrot loves his guava treat in the morning and having whistling conversations with guests. 

The Casa we stayed in (which I think is fairly typical) was open air in the middle and had several rooms that opened to the central "courtyard" Plenty of fresh air for plants and drying laundry... and birds to just fly right on into your house. If it rained... it rained in your house. nbd. 

The Casa we stayed in (which I think is fairly typical) was open air in the middle and had several rooms that opened to the central "courtyard" Plenty of fresh air for plants and drying laundry... and birds to just fly right on into your house. If it rained... it rained in your house. nbd. 

I am assuming this used to be an American something in the 50's. Up the stairs is one of the fanciest and best restaurants in Havana. La Guarida... it's a must visit. 

I am assuming this used to be an American something in the 50's. Up the stairs is one of the fanciest and best restaurants in Havana. La Guarida... it's a must visit. 

Nice ride. 

Nice ride. 

Almost every car in Havana is a taxi. These cars are specific for taking tourists on tours of the city. Kudos to Cubans for keeping these babes on the road. 

Almost every car in Havana is a taxi. These cars are specific for taking tourists on tours of the city. Kudos to Cubans for keeping these babes on the road. 

Cuban bookstore... filled 100% with revolutionary propoganda books. 

Cuban bookstore... filled 100% with revolutionary propoganda books. 

In any open space without cars you'll find a soccer game happening... don't worry they'll just play around you. Capital building of Cuba in the background. 

In any open space without cars you'll find a soccer game happening... don't worry they'll just play around you. Capital building of Cuba in the background. 

School kids heading home 

School kids heading home 

Banana chips and what passes for to go packaging in Cuba. An old office form. They were super delicious. 

Banana chips and what passes for to go packaging in Cuba. An old office form. They were super delicious. 

This is Jodi! She's wearing a baby shirt so people will know she's not a stray. There's no collars in Cuba. Awwwww Jodi we love you. 

This is Jodi! She's wearing a baby shirt so people will know she's not a stray. There's no collars in Cuba. Awwwww Jodi we love you. 

Watch your step... Havana is under construction. 

Watch your step... Havana is under construction. 

The only wi-fi available in Cuba is at a central park in town. You'll know you've arrived when you see everybody on their phones. One hour of internet costs $2 and at least an hour wait in a line... or $3 illegally from a dude on the street. 

The only wi-fi available in Cuba is at a central park in town. You'll know you've arrived when you see everybody on their phones. One hour of internet costs $2 and at least an hour wait in a line... or $3 illegally from a dude on the street. 

Of course I have a million more photos but you gotta stop somewhere. Can't post them all. So if anybody wants to see a slideshow come find me! ha! 

It's actually fairly simple to go to Cuba legally now. Find a travel agent, fill out a visa form saying your are traveling for 'good will towards people' and off you go! It's pricey to get there but it's worth it. :) 

Cuba - Trinidad

Cuba - Trinidad

There are far too many photos of my trip to Cuba for only one blog post. So I'm going to split them up by each town we visited. First Trinidad, second Havana. Enjoy! 

Beautiful Trinidad lies on the south side of the island about a 4.5 hour drive from Havana. It was our first stop on the trip. We hired a private taxi to take us from the airport. Our driver Jesus was awesome. During the trip we had a flat tire which he changed, stopped a tiny village for a snack (a flattened bun with some fried egg in it) where I saw a dead goat slung around a guys neck being brought into town, picked up a random stranger at a gas station, and finally arrived at our accommodations 6 hours later. The adventure had begun. 

Trinidad could not be more different than Havana. It's in much better condition overall, less crowded, and calmer.  Many people get around by horse and 'buggy' here and living is an exercise in resourcefulness (as it is in all of Cuba really). There are no 'stores' as we know them in Cuba. Food is purchased at street stands. There are about 5 veggies to choose from and maybe 4 fruits. From what we could tell, meat is slaughtered every morning and sold in it's entirety that day. In Trinidad I walked by a man stitching up his shoe, friends playing checkers with old bottle caps, dried my hands on communal bath towels in public restrooms, and ate ice cream at a roadside stand with real dishes which I gave back after I was finished. There is no food packaging in Cuba. You don't buy something to go, you buy it and eat it right there... and then go. First world nations could stand to take a page out of Cuba's book when is comes to sustainability. What would you reuse and repurpose if you knew you could not get another?

Residential street near 'Three Crosses' 

Residential street near 'Three Crosses' 

Stone streets in the town center. 

Stone streets in the town center. 

Blackbirds hang on many Cuban's homes. We were told there is some sort of contest associated with this. 

Blackbirds hang on many Cuban's homes. We were told there is some sort of contest associated with this. 

We met this lovely woman after she voiced concern over our white skin in the sun. Many Cubans were concerned with this. We ended up chatting with her whole family for about 30 minutes and saw a full album of family photos. This is her adorable dog Linda. Which means beautiful. Their family had 4 dogs and they loved all of them very much. 

We met this lovely woman after she voiced concern over our white skin in the sun. Many Cubans were concerned with this. We ended up chatting with her whole family for about 30 minutes and saw a full album of family photos. This is her adorable dog Linda. Which means beautiful. Their family had 4 dogs and they loved all of them very much. 

Vegetables, fruit and meat are purchased at neighborhood stands scattered throughout the town. 

Vegetables, fruit and meat are purchased at neighborhood stands scattered throughout the town. 

This is how you buy eggs in Cuba. 

This is how you buy eggs in Cuba. 

This is how you stop for a coffee in Cuba. Drink it at the window, give it back and go about your day. No waste!

This is how you stop for a coffee in Cuba. Drink it at the window, give it back and go about your day. No waste!

This adorable guy let me take his photo without asking for money. He was pretty cute. 

This adorable guy let me take his photo without asking for money. He was pretty cute. 

Rufo gets a treat. 

Rufo gets a treat. 

Many people get around by horse and buggy in Trinidad, Cuba. Cars are almost exclusively private and shared taxis. 

Many people get around by horse and buggy in Trinidad, Cuba. Cars are almost exclusively private and shared taxis. 

We knew we wanted to hike in the parks around Trinidad. We were offered many horseback riding tours as we wandered the cobblestone streets but we felt too bad for the sad looking horses to make them work any more. We luckily discovered a nice man working at a restaurant who spoke very good English and showed us where he likes to go with his friends. So we ventured out to Vegas Grande in Topes de Collantes, a waterfall that you could swim under we were told. It was a swelteringly hot day so this sounded perfect. Everyone assured us that the waterfall was very close to the entrance and that it would be very easy. The waterfall ended up being 500 meters from the entrance... down a straight vertical cliff. We criss crossed a narrow, very muddy, path. My sandals broke and our driver (who came with us having never been there before) lent me his (awwww). In the end I just ended up hiking barefoot and that was far superior for the conditions. The hike was definitely worth it. The landscape was gorgeous, the water was ice cold and we saw banana plants, guava trees, coffee plants and air plants all growing in the wild. It was a good hike and we earned our dinner.

    Sign telling us the distance... What is happening to that little man? 

    Sign telling us the distance... What is happening to that little man? 

    Air plants in their native habitat. Those bad boys would cost $30 here. 

    Air plants in their native habitat. Those bad boys would cost $30 here. 

    Me swimming in the ice cold waterfall pool. Pretty sure I was about 10 seconds away from hypothermia right here, but the cold felt really good on my feet. 

    Me swimming in the ice cold waterfall pool. Pretty sure I was about 10 seconds away from hypothermia right here, but the cold felt really good on my feet. 

    Bananas!

    Bananas!

    Coffee beans!

    Coffee beans!

    The road up to the entrance of this park was not for the faint of heart. Cuban roads are full of potholes, no one drives in their lane and there are some pretty steep cliffs I don't think my little Honda Civic would ever be able to traverse. At one point we found this skull and crossbones warning painted on the road. So that was comforting. I learned to adopt a 'just go with it' attitude in Cuba. It's the only way. 

    Pretty view from our road to the waterfall. Historical fun fact... in the distance is the Bay of Pigs. 

    Pretty view from our road to the waterfall. Historical fun fact... in the distance is the Bay of Pigs. 

    Stay tuned for a post on Havana... which will probably be even longer than this. It's so hard to edit out photos!