Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Old Havana

We finally jumped into the classic American style cars that everyone had been taking photos of. Three Fords from 1956 and  57 (one with a Hyundai engine, the second Volga and the last Mercedes) were to be our taxis for a one hour tour around Havana, specifically visiting the Revolucion Square ( the main square where all important political events have taken place) and driving along the Malecon. The Malecon was the street along the waterfront and today was not the best day to drive alongside it as the winds were spraying the waves up against shoreline!

Our cars waiting for us

Oma and Opa wanted the pink car

Revolucion Sqaure

Che we could recognise

For a moment, we thought this was Osama Bin Laden...

Crazy waves at the entrance to Havana harbours

The hour went by very quickly and we continued on with a walking tour of Old Havana, the restored parts, which were a stark contrast to the rest of Old Havana! Important sights we saw included the cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Plaza San Francisco de Asis and Plaza Vieja. There were many tourists from the docked cruise ship and we couldn’t but think that their impression of Havana would be so different from the “real” Cuba.

As it was our last full day in Cuba, Yoanis took us for both a farewell lunch and farewell dinner! He really has taken good care of us and obviously very proud of his country. He was knowledgeable and certainly improved our knowledge on all things Cuban from history, music, food, flora, fauna, culture, politics, to health and education just to name a few.

Here are some last thoughts on our Cuban leg…There were a few things Peregrine could have done better. This may be nitpicky but we paid enough for a private tour. First up was that they knew our travel dates way back when we booked early in the year. They should have rearranged activities taking into account New Year related closure rather than leaving our guide to find alternative days to do the activities such as visiting the rum museum and cigar factory. It also would have been nice to be prepared with pictures of a typical room in a casa. Although I could see why they may been hesitant as even on our trip, the standards varied quite a fair bit. Whilst I don’t expect luxury, a working air-conditioning unit could have been checked as a must for their recommended casas.

Whilst Cuba was a photographer’s paradise, what words and pictures would have difficulty conveying was the sound of Cuba. That certainly played a part in what made our trip unique. There were always music everywhere, of varying types, from varying sources and of varying volume! Most of the time, it was pleasant and added a lot of ambience. At times, it was just loud and disturbing.

The whole family knew in advance about the poverty in Cuba as we had done some pre-trip reading. However, despite that knowledge, we don’t think that we were quite prepared enough. It would be a lie to say that the whole trip was all rosy. We did struggle at times with the smell and squalor of the streets, the dilapidated buildings, poorly functioning toilets and taps, at times icky bathrooms, uncomfortable beds, and the same foods offered everywhere! However, we did get to see Cuba as it really was and not just the small areas that were beautified for tourists. We were so blessed with good weather. Other than the last day when it was overcast and cold, we had warm, sunny blue skies in the day and cool temperatures overnight. We were blessed to be able to travel and experience Cuba together as an extended family and to do so under the guidance of a local. I don’t think we would have managed navigating Cuba as DIY! There were numerous highlights including watching the Buena Vista Social Club live and swimming at unspoilt islands. We were glad that we came and we enjoyed most parts of the tour, however, this was about the limit in terms of length of visit and by now we were all ready to go. Thank you, Cuba, for an unforgettable experience!

Where Ernest Hemingway liked to go

A mural done with sand!

Incredible detail with different coloured sand being used

Plaza Catedral

Squares with much better preserved buidings

The governers residence

Timber road! Because the governer's wife wanted to have a good siesta and the stone cobbles were too loud with the horses hooves...

The cruise terminal!

San Francisco de Asis square

Remains of the aquaduct in Havana! Built in the late 1500s!
The only mosque in Havana

Yoanis teaching us the finer points of dominoes

Plaza Vieja

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