Viva la vida cubana

2 weeks without internet. The last time I was that time not connected to the World Wide Web was almost exactly three years ago. Guess where I have been three years ago? Yes, in Cuba.

Cuba was since then my favorite country to travel. I have been to Cuba with my friend Ben and we had a great time, awesome experiences and millions of memories. It was always a dream of me to come back to this country and after I watched a documentary about Cuba in December, I asked Ben, what he thinks about a Cuba Part 2 and he said yes. Together we went for two weeks now to a country where it seems sometimes that the time sleeps and where you discover things, from what you thought they do not exist anymore. I don’t want to tell what we did every day, I think I could write hours about that. Instead I want to write about the best moments we had, things which astonished us and things which bothered us. The most beautiful places we have been and the funniest moments we had. Together with the pictures of our trip and a video which I want edit the next days, I hope you can get a bit of that what Cuba is about and what you only see if you travel like a traveler and not like an all-inclusive-tourist.

Casa Particulares

If you travel to a country which is unique like Cuba, it is important and necessary to search the contact to the people. The best way is to stay in so called Casa Particulares, which are basically private family guest rooms, instead of Hotels. One requirement here is to know some basic Spanish or you travel with a person who knows Spanish. We had a good mix, Ben knows some basic Spanish and mine is good enough for long conversation. The average Casa-Particular costs 10 Euro per person and includes sometimes, depending on your bargain skills, a nice breakfast. From the family you can get advices what you can do in the city you stay and when the buses to the next city are leaving. They recommend  for the next city always other guest rooms to stay and we thought, that this is very nice of the people, because the help each other. But we learned from a local farmer, that in Cuba everything works with commission. Always when people help you to get a guest room, a “cheap” taxi, a tour through a tobacco factory or a horse ride, they always get a commission. So go out and help yourself, and you can travel for free. Only a few people exist, who are not thinking in commissions. But they are hard to find and most of the time only in smaller cities.

Travel like a Cuban

The first time we left Havana to explorer the country we took a VIAZUL-bus, a bus company which transports mainly tourists. The other bus company ASTRO is cheaper, but tickets for foreigners are strongly limited and it’s almost impossible to get them. Anyways the VIAZUL bus leaves in time, is fast, quite expensive and full of tourist. It can be good for several trips and last time in Cuba we always traveled with this bus company. But this time we wanted to travel like a Cuban, just for the experience and it was worth. The only things you need is time, passion and no problem with full buses. One day, we spend for a trip of 130KM around 20 Eurocent per person, after we traveled the first 70KM with two small minibuses (fare 4 cent per person) and the last 60km on a front seat of a minibus for 12cent per person. Another day we used a shared taxi for 60Km, which cost around 2Euro per person and was one of the typical old cars which are characteristic for Cuba. Our backpacks where on the roof and we’ve been a bit scared that they don’t fall down. And we were fascinated that this 60 year old car has electrical window opener. For driving in one of these cars in Havana as a tourist you pay easily 20 Euro the hour. The only bad thing of this way of traveling is, that you never know if you arrive your destination on that day or not. But for more common routes like Havana – Santa Clara, you can use shared cars which you can find next to the bus station and which are a bit cheaper than the VIAZUL bus and brings you where every you want in your destination city.

Think about carefully, before using a train

Once, we used a train for a route of 180KM (Pinar del Rio – Havana), just as an experience. It was cheap and we always wanted to travel with a train. But after the train left one hour late and needed 7 hours for 180KM we decided, that it was an experience what you can skip and where you lose a lot of time. But we took a second time a train, the famous Hershey-Train. It connects Havana with Matanzas, which is 80KM away. In between is the Hershey factory, once a factory for the famous chocolate, now a ruin. We heard that the 4hours train ride is worth and it goes through beautiful valleys. The last time we tried to go with this train was 3 years ago and the train was not working. But this time we’ve been lucky and the train was almost leaving in time. But the best what happened to us, that after I was able to take pictures from the drivers-room, the train-driver allowed Ben and me to drive for the next 30min the train. What an experience! It’s a dream of every child to drive a train and for us it came true! You cant do a lot of things wrong, but you should take care to don’t hit a cow or horse, which are on the tracks and use the horn as much as you can. Even if the train constructor said “kill them”, I don’t wanted to be so cruel and used with a big smile the train horn 😀

Going to “Crab-town”

One of our destination was the famous beach Maria de la Gorda, which is one of the best beaches in Cuba and is perfect for snorkeling and diving. The only bad thing is, that you can only stay in an expensive hotel or in a very very basic Casa Particular on the same bay but 7km from the famous Maria de la Gorda beach. We choose the cheap way, but we paid a high price, even if it was a real experience! The small fishermen village, in which our house was situated, was on the way of millions of crabs, who were walking from the forest to the sea to put their eggs to the water and go back. So there were crabs everywhere. The streets, the shadows of the trees, the outside wall and the roof of the houses – all fuuuuulll of crabs. Inside the house it sound like rain, but we knew that millions of crabs were walking outside. For me it was okay, a bit funny. Ben was very uncomfortable and not feeling nice. And after the maid was removing two huuuge spiders from the wall, even me was not feeling good to sleep one night in this house. But we survived, but after we turn the light on the next morning, there were almost some crabs entering the room. Really, sometimes in was like in a horror movie…

Having Peso Nacionales

In Cuba there are two currencies. The Peso Convertible (CUC) and the Peso Nacional. The CUC is more for the tourist and has the exchange rate of the dollar. With CUC people can buy everything in Cuba, with the Peso Nacional the things you can buy are limited. Cubanos also have CUC from offering tours, taxi ride or their guest rooms, but the typical tourist does not come in touch with the Peso Nacional. But is worth to have some, because you can eat very very cheap. For a small Pizza on the street you pay 50cent, for a really big one 1,30€. You can get some street food for a good price, even if you shouldn’t look that much of the conditions of hygiene, when they prepare the food. But even in state restaurants you can eat very good and drink a beer for 3€ per person. But sometimes you should check your drink, once we ordered a Daikiri cocktail and after drinking a while we realized that the drink was full of plastic. Probably a plastic cup was fallen in the ice-crusher. But we also survived that 😉

Rum, Cigars and live music

We saved money in accommodation, transportation and food, but we also enjoyed our live in Cuba and spent a good amount of money in good rum and cigars. Every night we had a rum and cigar session, sitting at nice places, puffing the cigar and enjoy live. The swing-chair towards the street in Vinales, the beach panorama in “crab-town” or on the balcony of our favorite Casa Particular in Havana on the Malecon (Beach-promenade)  we had a perfect time and great conversation. By a chain of random moments we got in touch with different musicians from France (El Gato Negro), Sweden, Colombia and of course several Cubans and we visited several concerts of very good music. Also a Jazz concert in a nicer location couldn’t miss on our list. With some musicians from Havana we stayed longer in contact and met several time. That were young Cubans, in which you really can trust.

Trust in the people and the Taxi drivers

Normally you should put negative things in the middle to don’t give the whole text a negative meaning but in this case it just fits here in this part and is just a small negative thing. Thing which can bother you are that kind of Cubans, who tries to fool you all the time. You walk through Havana and a thousand time you here Taxi-driver asking you “Taxi-Taxi?” Damn if I need a taxi I will tell you! Or “Cigar, my friend, very good price!” Of course fake ones from where you never know what is inside. Or people who say they just want to help you and at the and they ask you for money. People like this can be very annoying and most of them can be found in Havana. But 90% of the people are super nice. They really help you, you can talk with random people everywhere and the people are open and friendly.  Especially on the countryside, you can find really nice people.

The Cuban lifestyle and why I love Cuba

The thing what makes Cuba still so special is the way of life of the Cubans, which is created by the well known circumstances. Access to the Internet is rare, not for everyone and very expensive. The life is not virtual like in the Facebook-world outside, life is happen on the street. Here people meet, discuss about baseball or politics, children are playing football or people just sitting to wait that other people are coming to communicate with them. And you can do all the things on the street, because there are still few cars in Cuba. Sometimes you can play football on the 6-lane highway because there is no car coming at all. And come on, I don’t have to talk about the cars! The old fashioned cars and the mix of horse-cars makes you feel you live in the fifties. People are more tranquil and relaxed. They seem happy with the few things they have and sometimes I think the only thing to the total happiness would be the freedom to go where every you want and do whatever you want. I like this way of life and together with my friend Ben we lived the Cuban life (Viva la vida cubana) and we are sure, that one day we will come back, to our favorite travel country – Cuba.

More pictures of the Cuba-Trip are in the Gallery.

Reisevorbereitung

Mathias Written by:

2 Comments

  1. 25. April 2012
    Reply

    Amazing! It’s just lovely! And the pictures are great!! You are really lucky to have visited Cuba twice already!! I have never been there, but by reading your adventures it makes me want to travel all those places! Well, I hope to travel there some time. Meanwhile I got the whole China to get to know :P. Saludos!

  2. 29. January 2013
    Reply

    website (the Varadero – Santa Clara – Cienfuegos – Trinidad and return service is missing from the website but runs daily). The Viazul Cuba Buses can be used theoretically by anyone, including Cubans, but in reality, few Cubans can afford the convertible peso fares. Viazul Cuba Buses reservations can be made in advance, but are usually unnecessary except at peak travel times. Do not waste your time making an on-line reservation on the website — that features rarely works. Refreshments are not served, despite what the website says, but the Viazul Cuba Buses stop for meal breaks at highway restaurants with bad food. (Bring your own food!) The buses are often over air conditioned, so bring along something warm to wear. Note that most westbound buses from Santiago de Cuba run overnight.

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