I didn’t expect to be surprised by Cuba. After All, I had
read about the History, I had listened to the music, seen the photos and
sampled the rum, but there is literally nothing that can prepare you for the
atmosphere of this amazing country.
On arrival in Havana, we were struck by the colourful political
murals splashed around the city. As if the revolution of 1953-1959 had taken
place yesterday. “Socialism O Muerte” some read, with others depicting local
heroes Ché Guevara and Fidel Castro.
On Day one we chose to head out and walk the streets of
Havana. Granted, this was a rookie mistake, as it was 35 degrees and we were
not prepared for the sheer size of the city. One of the things that you must do
in Havana is take a tour in one of the colourful vintage cars that Cuba is so
famous for. My advice for this is to do it early in the morning BEFORE you have
walked the whole length of the city – We learned the hard way on that one! Our
driver Carlos brought us around the important sights, such as the Place de La Revolution,
with iconic images of Guevara and Castro, as well as a local park dedicated to
John Lennon and believe it or not, Havana’s China town! Next, we drove with the
roof down, along the Malecon, which is Havana’s seafront and finished our tour
in Old town Havana. Here the old buildings and churches are a reminder of the Spanish
Having exhausted ourselves in sightseeing, it was time to
hit Havana nightlife. A quick read of a lonely planet book in our hostel, told
us that Ernest Hemmingway had lived in Havana and was partial to a cocktail or
two. He famously said “My Mojito in La Bodeguita, My Daiquiri in La Floridita”.
A glance at the map showed us that we were within walking distance of both, so
we opted for Mojitos first. At La Bodeguita del Medio, we indulged in the world
famous cocktails and were distracted by the bland food by the incredible
passion of the local musicians who had set up in the corner. Next up on our
Havana pub crawl was La Floridita. This was the most charming place with brightly
dressed waiters, a red carpet and a bronze statue of Hemmingway in the corner.
It felt like walking into a bar in Miami in the 50’s. Across the bar in gold
were the words “The Cradle of the Daiquiri”, reminding us that there was only
one thing we should order here. Again, the music and the atmosphere of this place
were so unexpected, with groups wedged around small round tables. We propped up
the bar, watching as men and women alike enjoyed both delicately dressed
cocktails with big fat Cuban cigars. The delicious frozen cocktails were
exactly what we needed in the heat of the Havana night.
While in Havana we also did some shopping and I picked up
the required cigars and a straw hat. Next up was the revolutionary museum.
While there wasn’t a lot to see in the museum and it was quite poor value for
money, it was an important part of understanding the rich history of the
country. I was also very amused by their so-called “Wall of Cretins” where they
publically shame George W Bush and his father along with Fulgencio Batista, the
former right wing dictator. They truly were not holding back!
I spent my last might in Havana alone, as my friend was
heading to the beach area of Varadero. I decided to splurge a little on dinner
and one last mojito in a restaurant facing the seafront. After dinner I rambled
along the Malecon and stopped to watch the sun set. It was the most beautiful
end to my stay in Havana, but there was so much more of Cuba to explore…..