A Travellerspoint blog

A week in Habana

sunny 32 °C

I´ve been in Havana for a week today. I can´t believe it- time has just flown by!

My Spanish class group has been a lot of fun- as the days have passed, we´ve all got to know each other better and everyone´s really nice. After class, we spend time exploring Habana together or drink coffee in cafes nearby (or at a paladar- a cheap street stand that sells coffee/snacks in Cuban pesos).

  • **Cuba has 2 currencies- the CUP-Cuban peso (the local currency for Cubans) and the Convertible peso (CUC)- ´tourist currency´. The CUC is generally used in most places that tourists use and its interchangable with the US$ (though entirely worthless outside of Cuba) whilst the CUC is much cheaper, with 24 CUPs in a CUC...to make it extra complicated, tourists can also use CUP´s in some places (such as Paladars) and there´s no real way of telling whether a place excepts CUPs or not, so quite often tourists end up spending a CUC in a drink, instead of a CUP...meaning you´re actually paying 24 x more than is necessary! ...Oh, and all currencies are expressed with a ´$´sign too... so yes, its complicated!!!

An English girl (Sarah-Jane) moved into a casa near ours on Tuesday, so since then, David (my Australian housemate), Sarah-Jane and I have been walking to Uni together in the mornings. She´s really nice- has travelled a lot and is really easy to talk to. On Wednesday, I went out for some drinks with David and Bo (a Danish Biology PhD student also learning Spanish here). Bo had met some Cuban girls near his casa, so we went to a little cafe near the Malecon to drink some beers with them. Cuban women (and men) are incredibly beautiful- I can´t get over it! They were very poor though and its expected that tourists pay for Cubans when they go for drinks with them (the average wage here is about 40CUCs per month (about 30 euros!). The girls were really nice, but my lack of Spanish made it hard to communicate, so I was home by 7pm for dinner. I did sample my first Cuban beer though- Cristal- especially brewed for tourists. Its nice- easy to drink.
On Thursday, David, Tataki (my other Japanese housemate) and I went for a couple of drinks in town as Tataki was leaving (back to Japan) the next day and yesterday I went out ´properly´for the first time. Wow... wow, wow, wow!!! It was an amazing night! One of the best night´s out in a long time. We were all going to meet at the Malecon at 8pm, but David, Sarah-Jane and I got lost on the way and only got there at 10pm. The group we were going to meet was no longer there and having no means to contact them (we didn´t have any mobiles or their numbers) we sat on the Malecon for a bit and drank some canned beers. Two Cuban guys joined us and started asking us lots of questions about Europe/why we were here and they recommended a bar to us (Oasis) where there´s live-music and Mojitos. The guys were really nice and actually told us a lot about the politcal situation in Cuba (a topic which I´ve been avoiding here as I´ve been told people generally can´t express their opinions openly here). I was really surprised how much they told us (some stuff had to be whispered) but its really given me a new view point on it all. Its really horrible what people have been through (and are going through) with the rationing system and the frustration of not being able to get out of their situation was really obvious. Apparently Cubans are not allowed to talk to tourists as they can get arrested for ´bothering´ them and when they joined us the the Oasis bar, they had to walk infront of us (not with us) because they didn´t want to risk getting arrested.

The Oasis bar was amazing- there was a live band and we drank Mojitos and danced salsa. At aound 1ish, we went to the Malecon and all put in 1CUC (about 5 CUC was collected in total) and the Cubans came back with 2 bottles of rum, a bottle of Coke and a bucket of ice! They also brought a friend with a guitar and we sang and danced on the Malecon. Another Cuban guy and a Danish friend of his joined us and he did some free-style rapping about us- it was hilarious! One of the Cuban guys also kept trying to kiss me and convince me that a kiss on the Malecon is a must-do. I was unconvinced however, so didn´t go for it- but he was very sweet (and actually very good looking)... he also went on and on about how much he liked me (something I´ve read in my guide book as something that commonly happens)... it all amused the others though, who were listening to him tyring to convince me (apparently I have lips that want to be kissed, haha). At around 5'ish, we left to Hotel Nacional fo some breakfast and we got home at 7am!!!

I was so tired, but really had the most wonderful night. Today we were all a bit tired though, but David, Sarah-Jane and I walked to Necropolis de Colon (one of the largest cemeteries in the Americas- over 5 square kms!)' its very impressive and some of the tombs are just so beautiful! But it was extremely hot (above 32 degrees I think- and veeerrry humid) so we made our way to the Hotel Cuba Libre (where I´m sitting in the Internet rooms now) and we´re going to sit by the pool to cool down a bit... tonight, we´re all meeting at the Malecon again' but this time at 10pm so as not to miss each other again!

That´s the update for now. Once again- sorry for the lack of contact, its just a bit of a nightmare getting online. I´ll try update my blog once a week...so till next Saturday! xxx

Oh- also- I can´t download my photos... i forgot the cable to put my photos on a pen-drive...so I´m not sure how i can solve this. I´ll try my best though.
Hope you´re all well and have a great weekend xxx

Posted by -inge- 16:24 Archived in Cuba Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Recuerdos de la Habana!

First impressions

sunny 31 °C
View Cuban adventures & Central America on -inge-'s travel map.

Recuerdos de la Habana!!!!

Sorry for the lack of contact- this is my first time online (I wanted to wait with writing till I had something to say plus the Internet´s very expensive here)...
Havana is WONDERFUL!!! I absolutely love it here and so far, everything has surpassed my wishes beyond what I could have hoped.
The people are incredibly friendly (and beautiful) and the city is just breath-taking. I arrived early Saturday evening (after a 15 hour journey)- was a bit nervous at customs, but it all went well. Got a taxi straight to my casa particular, where I met Jose and Carmina, my host family. Jose is a retired engineer and Carmina works at the post graduate department at the University. The house is really great- I have my own room (with double bed, airco) in Vedado (a district next to Central Habana) and it takes me about 20 mins to walk to Uni. Every morning I get a wonderful breakfast- half a guava, banana, mango juice, warm white bread bun with bacon and cheese, hot chocolate, water and coffee (!) and evening meals vary (but are very nice- mainly consisting of black beans, rice and fruit). For 20CUC´s a night (about 16 euros) its a really good deal! (It includes laundry!)- seems the people on my course have not been as lucky as they all seem to be paying more and live further out.
Spanish is... difficult! But its great- the teachers are friendly and only speak Spanish to us, so we´re picking up the lingo pretty quickly, hehe... My group is varied, with people from all places/ages- Japanese, American, Canadian, Australian, Finnish, Danish and Chinese.
I´ve explored a little so far and have been really impressed with the buildings- wow! Especially along the malecon (a 4km seaside promenade) - HUGE old crumbly colonial houses, though some areas are obviously being renovated/tidied up. Old Havana (or Habana Veija)- a UNESCO-declared World Herritage Site, is just gorgeous (once I figure out how to post photos, you´ll see :-) and Vedado (the area where I live) is very lively/social, though I haven´t been out yet (!!!) I live about 10 minutes away from the ´Plaza de la Revolucion´(type in ´Memorial Ernesto ´Che´Guevara´and you´ll recognise it...)
Think my body´s still adjusting to the time-difference a bit, but yesterday an Australian guy moved into the other free room in my casa, so at least now I have a going-out buddy :-)
My phone unfortunately doesn´t work here in Cuba, so I´ll be hard to contact whilst I´m here, but I´ll try to check my mail at least once a week.
But for those of you worried: don´t be! I´m having a great time here and am absolutely loving it!
The thought of having to leave at some point already makes me feel sad!
I´ll try to post my photos soon (though its not possible from this hotel)
Hope all´s well with you,
Hasta luego! xxx

Posted by -inge- 13:58 Archived in Cuba Tagged educational Comments (0)

Almost reality...

1 week till I book my flights...

I've decided to set up a blog so that those who don't have facebook (and are interested in my travel plans) can follow my experiences -and importantly, see the photos! [I should warn you all in advance that I'm not much of a writer, but at least you'll get a rough idea of what I'm up to].

Yesterday I decided that I'll give myself a few more days to sort out my trip before booking the flights: I have set myself a deadline however (=27.03.09), so whatever happens, this trip (which I've wanted to do since IB2 (2003!) will finally be a reality in 6 days time (AHHH! Panic, panic...)

My (rough) plans so far are to:

  • Fly to Havana on 1 May 2009.
  • Start a beginners course in Spanish (80 lessons, 4 weeks) at Universidad de La Habana on the 4th of May
  • Begin June: meet up with my friend Elisa (who'll fly to Habana from Mexico?)- probably spend a few more days exploring Habana, then slowly make our way down to Baracoa. This trip will probably take us between 2 weeks - 1 month. Must see places: Veradero, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba.
  • Begin July: fly to Mexico city (or Cancún). I've not fully researched Mexico yet, but I'll most likely stay in Mexico City mainly due to the unrest in the North. As one of the largest cities in the world (with a population of +20 million!), I'm sure there'll be more than enough to do & see in Mexico City. I'll be staying at Elisa's place during my time there, though I'd also like to go to the Tabasco region, Veracruz, Guadalajara (Mexico's 2nd city), El Tajín...and of course: Tequila (in Jalisco). Other places Elisa has recommended are: Oaxaca city, Morelia, Chiapas, San Miguel de Allende, Mérida, the Tajin ruins and Chichen-itza (one of the seven wonders of the world) . I will try to work out if all these plans fit in my budget and make sense time-wise & logistically, but it all really sounds amazing to me!
  • Begin/mid-August: fly to Panama. Rough plans for now are to spend a couple of days in Panama City, before making my way Eastwards to Pedasí (Los Santos), where Maudy lives. Either before, or after this, I also want to go to the Bocas del Toro province (apparently one of the nicest regions in Panama) and attempt to climb Volcán Barú (3474m (11,398ft) high)- not too crazily high, but enough of a challenge for my non-existent fitness level. Apparently you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic ocean from the top on a clear day!
  • September: fly back home...

So, that's the rough itinerary so far... now lets hope I get the better of my nerves and actually book it.
Bring on the 27th! :-)

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Posted by -inge- 07:58 Tagged preparation Comments (1)

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