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Cuba. The land that time never forgot. I have a bucket list, actually two; one utterly fantastical, the other with a touch of the real, things I hope to achieve in this life time. Visiting Cuba is on both lists, that world, a mystery to so many. It was a long time coming, my whole wandering existence led up to that moment, culminated with the waiting and the planning, needless to say I was besides myself with joy the second the plane took off. I wanted to get there now. I wanted to skip all ten hours on the plane to get there already!! The anticipation was murder.
Before Karl takes you to Cuba, reducing it to a hashtag on social media, let me tell you about this land and its people. The second we landed, I knew… I just knew. It was everything I’d ever imagined and so much more. So much better. The sun dances on your skin, making it glisten in the day light, the evening sunset over the Malecon is as pretty as a spring day in May, the days are bustling with music and soul, the nights are warm, filled with chatter and laughter. The people of Cuba are wonderful and welcoming, they treat you like an honoured guest and embrace new faces.
First things first, not every car in Cuba is a Chevrolet, matter of fact the Chevrolets are mostly taxis, most people drive other cars, but the Chevrolets have a cultural significance and are not allowed to leave the country. Second, Che Guevara is akin to a god in Cuba, they love him almost as much, if not more, than they love Fidel. He was killed in Bolivia and for a long time his grave was made secret until his body was found and returned to Cuba where he rests in his tomb in Santa Clara.
We stayed in Havana Vieja, in the thick of the city, central to everything and everything in close proximity. Museums, restaurants, sites etc. Surrounded by Spanish architecture, decrepit buildings on the mend, the bones of the past are present and tell tales of an enchanting time not too long ago. Old Havana. Plaza de la Revolućion is a vast square overlooked by icons- Che Guevera’s face cast in iron on the exterior of the Ministry of Interior, opposite the statue of Jose Marti, Cuba’s peaceful revolutionary, before Castro and Che, and Camilo Cienfuegos on the far end adjacent to Che, with his famous saying “Vas Bien Fidel- You’re doing fine Fidel”. The place where people gather to celebrate, where they stood for eight hours to hear Fidel Castro speak. It is also surrounded by those classic cars and other tourists too but its so big they don’t get in the way. Plaza de la Catedral the square with an unusual church built with two different towers on either end, down the road from the church is La Bodeguita another Hemingway hangout for the best mojito. Cuba does it best when it comes to cocktails it has completely ruined me. The streets are wide and busy, the sounds melodious, music blares from every store, round every street corner. You cannot help but move with the beat as the rhythm engulfs you.
Walk the streets, from one neighbourhood to the other, plaza to plaza, Havana cannot be done in a day do the museums in a day and a half. Get lost in the crowd, exchange stories with the locals, trust their recommendations. Spend a morning until noon at a cigar museum and drink the best coffee ever. THE BEST COFFEE EVER laced with rum and fire. LISTEN. THE BEST COFFEE EVER. Starbucks? What Starbucks? Buy rum. Buy lots of rum liquors and cigars, and spend the evening on a rooftop bar smoking a cigar and sipping on rum. Ticked that off my bucket list. Watch the sun set over the Malecon as the day unwinds from her heat and blends into the pleasures of the cool evening. Lovers and friends gather at this famed spot to enjoy what is left of the day.
As the evening blends into night, the sounds are livelier. Start at El Floridita, “the cradle of the Daiquiri” where Ernest Hemingway knocked back several glasses, sometimes twelve of daiquiri before staggering to his hotel, Ambos Mundos. There is even a statue of him, in his favourite chair in the corner of the bar that has become quite the tourist attraction in itself. When you have a daiquiri here you’ll never have it anywhere again. Three daiquiris in, my sister and I called it quits and headed out to dinner at a Paladares in a crumbling but enchanting villa where Bueno Vista Social Club was performing. We met an elderly couple who told us stories and had us in stitches. They didn’t speak a word of English so we cobbled up our best GCSE Spanish, I’m sure a lot was lost in translation but its a night I will never forget. Everyone should get to see Buena Vista Social Club once in their lifetime. The night ended with us doing the conga around the villa and everyone joining in the chorus of Guantanamera, the love song about a girl from Guantanamo, sang the way its meant to be sung. Its akin to Cuba’s national anthem you will hear it everywhere you go.
On your first trip you should get a tour guide it helps you navigate the country easier, at least the first time round, and if you have good guide like ours, yours will be filled with stories and quashing legends from the outside world.
Oh and about the horses, statues, they mean something. I am going to try my best to remember this; if the horses two front feet are up in the air the rider died n battle away from home. One feet on the ground one in the air, he died from wounds sustained in battled at home. Two feet on the ground he died from old age. Looking down he died at home, looking ahead he died away… I think that is it but chances are I’ve fucked it up anyways but its something of the sort. 🙂
Tip- when you do get a chance to go to Cuba, take your old clothes, toiletries etc for the locals, they would appreciate it.