The Havana experience!

Trip Start Oct 03, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing

Flag of Cuba  ,
Monday, November 19, 2012

I am glad I did this trip because it is said that after Fidel dies a lot of things will change in Cuba! Things indeed started changing nowadays (just came across this article the day I was finalising this entry in my travel blog - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21008571 ) and perhaps I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the "old" Cuba!


  Some travel tips for Cuba for backpackers and not only.

Better not to travel with air Cuba as I was told there are quite a few delays with it.

When you get your baggage you have to change money to CUCS (the currency for tourists). At the exchange place at the airport ( or even at the cadecas- exchange places), you can use your bank card, so no need for cash

Bank cards issued from American banks are not accepted. All visa cards are accepted but maestro are usually not.

The only option you have for transport from the airport is by taxi. They usually ask for 25cucs for Havana. You can bargain for 15 if it is day and 20 if it is night.

There is no Internet at Cuba except at a couple specific places and is expensive and very slow. At Havana a few of the big hotels in the old city have and it ranges from 6-10 cucs an hour. Wait until the internet arrives for good in Cuba and then the real revolution will take place! When young people get to see what is happening to the rest of the world!    

So if you will keep travelling after Cuba, like I was, better book and arrange your accommodation and everything before going to Cuba, otherwise you will find yourself unpleasantly surprised, like I did.  You can always message someone back home and book an accommodation for you at your next destination, like I did. Muchas gracias Styl!

Prepare yourself for no decent food unless you are prepared to overpay for it and even then is nothing that special (although for Cuba it is).

Your best chance for decent and relatively reasonably priced meals is your place of accommodation.

There is also a quite good restaurant on the street opposite the Capitolio, on your left as you face the Capitolio. It is called "Los nadros" or something like that. There is a line for it always so you cannot miss it. It has big portions and variety of good meals for around 17 cucs. 

If you want to eat like the locals just go to the various small fast food shops that are part of homes. Prefer to go to the ones that have prices listed (which are in pesos, the local currency, and not in cucs) and do not ask for the price. Just give the amount stated on the price list. Otherwise some may try to rip you off. But keep in mind that there are only basic things in these places like small margarita pizzas and small burgers or sandwiches. Would not recommend them though to those with sensitive stomach. I had plenty of food from these places and was fine.

Go to a cadeca, an exchange office, and change about 10 cucs to 240 pesos. They should be enough for a week to use in your purchases in places where locals go.

Lastly, be prepared for the cultural shock!

Cuba is a third world country, only a couple of steps better because of it free healthcare and education.

Also the people there, a lot of them atleast, have an attitude of trying to get as much money off you as possible and are very annoying in trying to do so.

Havana

San Jose Martin 19th

Airport is old and small, probably smaller than the old Larnaka airport.

All the staff wear khaki uniforms, like military and 80% are early 20s girls! With their fishnets! Could easily be a scene from a lesbian porn movie!

God how I love old free trolleys! Cancun airport also had!

I took the taxi to the hostel and as we were on the main road it suddenly took a turn into the neighborhoods and god! It was like a third world country! My first reaction was like "fuck! Is this where my hostel is??? Stupid me!" half opened street, an alley basically. Very dirty with buildings in horrible condition! It really not felt nice. After I got out f the taxi, I looked for the hostel sign to make sure I was at the right place. I didn't want to end up being on the wrong place! No one would! It really takes a day or 2 to get your head around in terms of your surroundings! 

It didn't feel any better when I got in the hostel. The hostel inside was in good condition and was really clean. What put me off in a way was when I sat down withe the girl working there and went through some basic things with me which was really nice of her. So yes, she put her serious face on and was like, " I give u some rules to follow on the street. You need to know that 20 cuc ( 20 usd) is a lot of money, A month's wage. So you should not flash them out. Also no backpacks and cameras. Internet there is at only a couple of hotels and is slow and expensive. 6 usd an hr."

What the hell? No matter how helpfully these things are, these things are the last things you want to listen, not the first!

On another note, Cubans can be so annoying! They start by chatting with you, how r you, where you from, how long you are in Havana for and stuff. Or may just ask for the time and as soon as you reply they take no for an answer! Although not aggressive, they are very annoying. And everyone tries to make money off you

Cubans are very slow when working. Bars, restaurants, shops.

Not right. With this life no wonder they need free healthcare!

Cubans are simply not efficient in anything they do. That's why you have to book your bus ticket one day before or one hour before. That's why people wait in queues outside restaurants while half the tables inside are empty and many waiters stand leaning on the wall doing nothing. That's why it takes 40 minutes to get your luggage at the airport.  And that's why 90% of them earn on average 2usd a month. And that's why the live under the conditions they do.

A guy who had been there took us to one of the few decent restaurants.

It was playing Celine Dion from the early 90s in the background! The setting was beautiful. But had to wait for 1 and a half hour while the restaurant had many empty tables. Do not know why. Then, when we finally ordered, after waiting for long time again, they did not bring the food of one of the guy who was with us. When we asked where it was his food, the waiter simply told us they run out of that specific dish! As if nothing was happening!  I do not know how things work in Cuba but any man with common sense would just come back and inform the client that that the dish is out and what else he would like to order. But obviously they do not do that there! So the poor guy had to order again and just look at us eat until his dish arrived 20 minutes later. And now apologies no discount of any sort!

Anyhow, you can live off 10usd for a week in Havana. And that is eating like a pig! That is of course if you live like the Cubans. In every street there are places that sell basic food. Mostly pizza, margarita, for 5 pesos (1 peso is 12 cents), basic sandwich and spaghetti and soft drinks. All range between 5- 15 pesos. So when my second night I ate from there, I felt sort of bad. Everyone was getting a margarita for 5 pesos and I had 3 sandwiches 10 pesos each. It is just not right.

You also get weird situations where you get an ice cream from a cafeteria for 1,5cuc (usd) and then get twice as much ice cream from those little places for 10 pesos (40 cents)!  There is so much difference between the 2 currencies. But yes if you r prepared to sacrifice a bit of quality, go for the local food places. Regarding these small places that sell food and ice cream and other small things, they are just homes whom their owners, occupiers better ( not sure whether they own them - I think it is only recently that they are allowed to buy their own house), make and sell that food.

But I guess this is how it is with a hardcore communist system!

After a couple of days at Cuba I felt like having the dollar sign on my forehead !

Everyone wants to offer you something in return for money, and relatively a lot of money. Coffee, assistance to get somewhere, anything. At one point you become paranoid and refuse to talk or accept anything from anyone as you expect them asking for money. Even at the casa de particular I was staying in vinales, they would charge you the water even though you pay them several tens of usd per day! These Casas are basically local houses of local families that have a room or two extra for renting to the tourists. The one I was staying was charging as much for dinner as it was charging me for accommodation! First time I heard of a place charging you for dinner as much as it is charging you for accommodation! Another unpleasant surprise at Cuba. Dinner was nice indeed, normal dinner for western standards, but was not worth it's money. And when I asked for water at dinner, there were glasses but nothing to drink, she gave me a bottle of water and charged me! Where I come from, if you are paying someone over a month's average salary for hosting you, they would not charge you the water. 

I don't know what is driving this attitude in behalf of the Cubans and it is sad because tourist leave with the worse impressions. I understand that because they are poor they may be in a way tempted to act like that, but the majority of them? Since when does being poor means stop being courteous?

I really do not understand when people, who have been to Havana and Cuba, say that is extremely beautiful. For sure it is different due to the regime but beautiful? I felt more like shocked and sad with what I saw. I mean yes there are beautiful buildings, in Havana vieja, and scenic views, in Vinales, but that's about it. The system, the social conditions the Cubans live under and their begging attitudes did it for me.  Yes their music and dancing is great but is all they have and do all day long. A lot of people seem not to be working, although children seem to go to school, and there are no other social activities other than those.

Also if you go to the hotels and stay there and be actual tourist, of course you will love it! Because you pay big money and everything is superficial!

But what annoyed and saddened me the most was their attitude of trying to take advantage of every tourist/foreigner they would see, as well as the state ( no buses from and to the airport, only taxis that cost 25usd, you have to pay 25 usd when you are leaving the country and the list goes on).

Instead of being like that they could mainstream the whole tourist experience, make it simpler and have more tourists coming and more money coming as well. And not robing the few ones that come!

Overall Cuba was an experience for me but I must be honest and say I did not enjoy it. And it would be a lot more worse for me as an experience if I did not have the good company of the other travellers I met there. One week was just enough. I would not visit Cuba again as a backpacker. Maybe the best way to travel there is with all-inclusive deals and also go to some of the beach resorts. But then again you will not experience the real Cuba.Kids are the best. They get so excited when they see you and say hola to you!




Unfortunately it has been the first and probably only place I was glad I was leaving from.
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