First Time in Cuba – Guest contribution by our Reader Elisa
So, I’ll use the chance and tell you something about my 8-day stay with my boyfriend in Cuba. At the moment I live in Candada and Cuba is for the Canadians what Majorca is for the Germans and the British. That’s why I thought I’d have to take a closer look at this island in the Caribbean before it’s too late and things change there. Also here in Candada a lot of advertising is made by tour operators with the fact that one should travel to Cuba right now, before – with the influence of the USA – there won’t be the “real” Cuba anymore: vintage cars on the streets, live music on every corner, no Starbucks or McDonalds, hardly any Internet…
Sounds great for the tourist, but for the Cubans all of this sounds more like their hard reality.
The “Cigar Festival”
On our first day at the airport, we needed to wait a good 1 1/2 hours to exchange our money. [Dietmar says: there is a second exchange office on the first floor and it is always empty!] We also realized that we don’t get very far with our English.
When we finally arrived in the streets of Havanna, we were told about the cigar festival, which is closing in two hours and everything is 50% reduced, only today. When we were told the story for the third time, we believed it and followed someone – and then landed in his living room.
We went out with a cigar, an unfriendly handshake (because it was just one cigar) and significantly less money in the wallet.
We were also skeptical with the food, what we can eat and what rather not. That’s why we were looking for a supermarket, but without any success.
But the next morning everything looked very different. We were a bit more familiar with the city, got used to the mountains of garbage in every corner and, after we mentioned that it was not our first day in Havana, we were no longer told about a cigar festival. Now the holiday could really start!
Internet in Cuba?
Thanks to an app for the mobile phone, which can be found under “Cuba” in the app store, we quickly found our way around. The Internet is even more difficult than we imagined. We bought cheap WLAN cards, but you have to plan a lot of time, because people work according to the motto: “Those who sleep all night are entitled to a little rest during the day!” Finding a time of day when the internet is not slow because of over usage is the next challenge. [Dietmar says: the internet get better nearly every month now, so expect less and less problems!]
Hunting for Sunscreen
When it comes to challenges, here is an important tip. You should definitely take sunscreen with you! We forgot this important item on our packing list and ended up in a shop in a luxury hotel after asking around for a long time. The price of what is probably the only sunscreen in Havana you can already imagine!
Cuba’s Roads are Safe
In advance, we were a little worried about walking alone through the streets, but it turned out, that we feel very safe.
Maybe it was also because we were never the only tourists around and also with the German language one we were hardly alone.
The city was overcrowded with tourists and often we had the feeling that everything was adapted to the masses of tourists.
Playa del Este and Viñales
As well as the tourist bus, which drove every 30 minutes from Havana to the beach, quite full by now! But nonetheless, super great beaches, as you would expect from the Caribbean. As a snack on the beach we often got a coconut.
That’s why the next day we organised a local taxi (of course a classic car) which took us to a national park (Vinãles) three hours away.
However, it was difficult to enjoy the ride and the passing bulls because of the not quite intact suspension of the classic car.
The taxi driver accompanied us all day long also when we went to the restaurant for lunch.
Lobster, a speciality at a moderate price
All in all, Cuba is an absolutely colourful holiday destination, which still manages without Starbucks and McDonalds. However, we didn’t live much cheaper than for example in Toronto, as one might suspect.
It is also best to let yourself be personally convinced by the impressive education of the Cubans.
Many thanks for this beautiful article by Elisa Mauk!
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