Havana good time in Cuba
Trip Start Feb 14, 2006
27Trip End Dec 15, 2006
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Well, it has been a little time since I last wrote and Louise and I have been travelling lots. I better start quickly:
At the end of Belize we made our last latin border crossing and passed into Mexico. I felt so relieved to see signs in Spanish and toothless homeless people again that I almost hugged someone in the street. I quickly thought better of this and got back into my luxury minivan. This actually sumarises the start of our Mexican adventure quite well as we spent it on the Yucatan peninsula (the Caribean ocean side of Mexico) which is very expensive, very touristy and has strict rules about hugging the locals. Our first port of call was the (port) of Tuluum. Tulum has a nice set of Mayan ruins made great by being perched on a cliff overlooking a magnificent beach
A few days later it was time to head to Cancun. The is the Little-America for Big-Americans of Mexico. Most people only ever see the hotel-strip: 25 km of beach-front mega-resorts. Most tourists never actually leave the resort they are staying in. They simply walk (waddle) out to their little strip of beach and then waddle back to the hotel again. I guess that is one way to see the 'real Mexico'. Louise and I decided that the seedy downtown area was a better bet. Our hostel, bless them, offered us free earplugs when we checked in. As I lay awake at 4am listening to people screaming, fighting and f***ing I was touched by their generosity. If only they gave me a free iron bar to beat the other people in my dorm into submission it would have been perfect.
However, the fact we couldn't sleep may have been due to the fact that WE WERE GOING TO CUBA THE NEXT DAY! Going to Havana has been one of my big goals for the whole trip and it was definitely an... experience. I wish I could say the whole thing was fantastic but, unfortunately, it was like a box of 'genuine cuban cigars' - a bit of a mixed bag.
Cuba, as many know, is one of the few surviving socialist countries in the world with salsa
Havana itself is an amazingly city. Old Havana has been given a new coat of paint and sparkles beautifully. We walked every morning about 2km down an ocean-side promenade called the Malecon where waves crashed over the baracades and drenched us. This would have been great had it not been for all the pick-pockets, beggars and con-artists trying to get our money. I thought one guy was actually about to hit me when I wouldn't give him any money. He was in the middle of calling me a 'dirty mother f***er' when a waved broke the baricade and washed him onto the motorway. A charming tourist then ran over him in a new BMW so, in a way, the Cubans did start using the new vehicles whilst we were there.
The city also venerates Ernest Hemingway - he lived there for about 2 decades and wrote 'The Old Man and the Sea' whilst living in Havana
We also visited the famous Partagas Cigar Factory where we watched hundreds of Cubans packed, cigar-like, into a huge hand-rolling-sweat-shop. It smelt like, well, cigars. When I left every bloke and his dog offered me cheap, inferior-quality fake cigars that only an idiot would buy. Luckily I now have cigars for every reader of my blog!
However, we did have some problems, some I already alluded to, all of them basically due to the fact that we were tourists and hence rich whilst the Cubans were Cuban, and hence poor (free of capitalist influence). Everyone tried to rip us off. I was yelled at, abused and we were overcharged for everything. The entire currency in Cuba is a complete crock - They have these special 'tourist-dollars' that are meant to be a 1 to 1 exchange for US dollars
Anyway - five alcohol and smoke filled days later it was time to leave. We left both drun and poor and, looking at each other, realised that we had become Cuban. That is obviously a joke but, seriously, the people in that country are really doing it tough. Free education and free health care are all well and good but if there are no jobs, no variety of food, no opportunity for travel and neither free speech nor free press - well, what's the point???
Hope everyone is well.