Vintage Cars and Architecture

Trip Start Feb 19, 2010
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Trip End Jan 31, 2012


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Where I stayed

Flag of Cuba  ,
Saturday, January 22, 2011

Arrived late in the night and ended up being harrassed by imigration. First off, prior to entering immigration was approached and questioned by an imigration officer about why I was visiting Cuba. After that I went through Immigration.

While waiting for my luggage, which took over an hour to appear, was approached by a customs officer who took my passport. This made me nervous since I really dont like giving my passport to a stranger but he did have a badge and he did stand with a bunch of other people with badges so I was guessing he was legit.

After getting my bags had to wait at least another 20minutes before my bag and those of a number of other people were sniffed by a dog. Then waited another 20min before being asked by customs officer a whole bunch of questions again including where Id been. Given I covered 9 countries in Central America it ended up being a long list. Thankfully while lots of people had their bag opened and checked I didnt. Dont know whether its because the bag isnt a suitcase or whether the customs guy thought he;d had enough of interogating me.

Ended up taking a cab to the hostel and paid $20, which I later found was a fair price (even though I once again shared the cab with some else). At this time of night I was happy just to have someone to take me to the right address so I could get off the street and into a bed for the night.

Day 1 - Vedado, Centro - Hotel National, University, Capitolio, Shoreline
Had no guide book when I woke up since I hadnt been able to find one at the airport. While I curse it sometimes for all its inaccuracies it is still definately useful for planning. Especially when you know nothing about a place. Thankfully the guy at the hostel had one to sell and so I bought it. Most interesting thing about the book though was teh fact that the cover was for a guide book to brazil. Guy said it was so that americans could hide the fact that the guide book was about Cuba. a place they are not allowed to visit.

Not sure what to do first and in the end decided not to catch the bus into centro since it was chocker block full. Basically most local bus stops have a large group of people that pile on into any available space with people squashed in like sardines. Wouldnt really trust the luck to not get pick pocketed in a place like that. Saw a few taxis that appeared to be running along specific routes but wasnt sure what I should be asking to get to centro and with little spanish cant really ask any questions.

In the end one of the more interesting things about Havana is its architecture anyway so wandering the streets wasnt such a bad idea. Pretty much wandered around aimlessly with a vague aim of reaching the old part of town before the end of the day. Started by heading towards the coast. along the way saw lots of old vintage cars as well as buildings dating from the early to mid 20th century. Basically ended up wandering from one interesting building to the next. Definately didnt walk anything close to a straight line. Lots of building from the 40s and 50s around the centro and  vedado areas.

In my aimless wanderings managed to come across a couple of the places listed in the book. First off came across this large hotel whose grounds you could wander in. Later determined that this was Hotel National which was once a casina and gangster hangout.

After some more aimless wandering managed to come across the university complex which once again had an interesting collection of building. At the time hadnt realised that a couple of buildings were enterable and so just walked the grounds and didnt visit the inside of any of the buildings.

Was starting to get late and so decided to try and head roughly in a straight line to the old part of town. Unfortunately at this point the weather started getting worse and then started to pour. Ended up walking along the edge of the street and hiding under the eves of the buildings during the times it was only drizzling. Unfortunely poured down on me a couple of times so ended up having to wait it out under an overhang on a couple of occasions. In the end ended up getting wet but not completely soaked through (though I did ring the water out of my shirt a couple of times.

Along the way saw a young local with an old foriegner. Guess the thing I read about sugar dadies being common place was pretty accurate.

Rain finally started to slow down a bit after a couple of hours and it was getting late so sort of gave up on wandering through the old part of town today. Ended up deciding to head toward the capitol building area as my goal for the day.

Along the way wander through the china part of town which had some interesting  buildings as well as the parks and area surrounding the capitol building. Could see that in this part of toen (unlike Vedado) the building were from an older time. found capitol area to have lots of locals around, as well as foriegners.

Wandered some of the back streets near the Capitol but since it was still drizzling from time to time also spent some time under the balconies of a few buildings watching people go about their daily lives. Given most of the old cars in Havana seem to be taxies, and I was in a central area, saw lots of vintage cars driving alround. Also saw what looked like the filming of a movie happening in some of the backstreets I wandered around in.

Up to the point hadnt been hassled by people wanting to sell me stuff but given the crowds in the area was approach a few times about peopel wanting to sell me cigars, rum, company and other various things.

Made a small excursion into the old town area but since it was getting late decided to head towards the sea front once again. Had planned to try doing a salsa class but the place mentioned in the guide book didnt seem to be holding a class so ended up just heading straight to the shore after stopping off at a shop for some supplies.

Made it to the shore and watch the city light up along the shoreline then decided I didnt want to try getting a cab but rather would just use the map to walk back to the hostel. Map said I should be able to most of the way there by following a couple of major roads and given lots of roads have markers on the corners giving the street names I was pretty confident I wouldnt take a wrong turn. If I did at least it would be easy enough to realise my mistake.

Along the way ended up buying a cheap tomato sauce and cheese pizza for about 50c from the front of a persons home. Also consider taking a rickshaw but he wanted $20 and given a taxi only costs $5 at most I had no intention of paying it so just kept walking.

Something to not about Cuba is the fact that it doesnt just have one currency and both thend to be given the same name by locals. As a result I dont only have a new currency to deal rather I have two. CUC and local pesos with most peopel using the name peso for both. In terms of value 1 CUC equals about 24 local pesos. Only way to really know which one is to have some idea of the value of things or the fact that while things such as food are relatively cheap there still going to be a couple of CUC rather than a coupel of local pesos.

After about an hour or so of walking (3-5kms) finally made it back to the hostel (located in the suburbs) and decided to head out the nearby main street. Hadnt eaten enough today so bought some more pizza from another house. As an observation it should be noted that I passed a number of houses during my walking that had small signs in front of then listing a number of goods with prices. It seems that in Cuba seems selling food such as pizza, parteries and other various foods or even services from your own very front door is the way for locals to make money.


Day 2 - Habana Vieja - Plazas, Rum Museum, Monasterio San Francisco, Castillo dela Real Fuerza
Had been warned that buses had a tendancy to get get sold out so wandered down to the bus station to buy a ticket for my trip to Vinnales the following day. Thankfully the station was within 1km of the hostel and on the way took a small detour via plazza republica. Had planned to visit a monument there which would have given me a view of the town from the top of a building but unfortunatley it was bad timing since the building was closed for the day.

After getting the ticket headed down to Habana Vieja which is the older part of town. Once had no intention of trying to cram myself onto a bus and once again didnt feel like paying for a taxi (though learnt later on my return visit to Havana that route taxis cost 50c and were easy enough to find and catch) so walked all the way back to the capitol but with significantly less detours this time.

No real plans for the day except to wander the streets and check out the buildings and locals at and between the four main plazas in the area. First plaza was in the unrestored part of twon so the buildings around here were not as in good condition as seen in other parts of the old town.

The secon plaza was plaza Vieja which had a few interesting old building around it. Still pretty early in the day so the place wasnt particularly busy. From here headed down towards the riverside and on the way passed by one of the local churches.

While walking the road near the river came across the Havanna rum factory so decided to go in and do the guided tour. Found it interesting to get an introduction to the history and process of rum making. Actually first time Ive ever found out that the stuffs made from sugar cane. While the tour should have only been in english it ended up also being in Russian since there was a large russian tourist group coming through the same time.

At the end of the tour had a rum tasting at the bar and listened to the band that was there play for a bit. Should have bought a bottle but decided against it. To breakable to be sending home in a box and since I'm not planning to post anything from cuba, dont really want to have to lug it around. Besides, I know cuban cigars will get you in trouble with US customs and not to sure about the rum. Decided it just wasnt worth the possible hassle. Especially if it ended up in me not being able to enter Hawaii.

From here headed towards San Francisco Plaza where the number of tourist started to increase. Lots of people around the plaza and a few local dressed up for people to take photos with. Decided to visit the monastary that was next to the plaza. This was an interesting enough building and museum. Also given you could climb up a few stories in one of the towrrs, it also had a spot that gave a little bit of a birds eye view of the nearby old town.

From here headed back to plaza Vieja which had started to fill out. Stood around a bit listening to a band playing in one of the nearby bars/cafe. Also as can be seen in one of the photos, the place had an interesting way of serving beer. Provided you were with friends and could go through 10 pints, it was possible to buy a tube of beer. This thing is basically two large plastic tubes with a beer tap at the bottom to get the beer out of. In this beer dispensing contraption the outer tube has beer and the inner tube has ice keep the beer cold.  

From here visited some of the nearby churches and catherdal before headed back to the San Fransico plaza and nearby Castillo de la Real Fuerza. Wander around this fort for a bit. Definately seems like a defensible place to hole up in.

With one more plaza to visit, plaza Armas, headed there and then wandered up the main street in the area. Both lots of locals and tourists.

During the day never before seen so many single foriegners prowling around the streets. Guess at least some of them were looking for a friend to spend time with on their vacation. Was approached on a couple of occasions with women asking me if I was all alone and if I wanted some company. Im guessing if I spoke spanish I would have even had more offers.

After wandering the streets for a bit decided to head back to the bar at plaza vieja and spent some time there drinking a couple of beers, watching the locals and listening to the band that was playing. Seems like you get half a dozen to a dozen songs before someone comes around looking to collect money.

Once again decided to walk back to the hostel and not going out. While a coupe of other guys were staying in the dorm (more a room with 3 beds) they werent going out and I didnt really feel like going out by myself. Especially since I dont really have the money to buy company (ie paying for someones drinks and those of their friends) or the inclination.





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