From dancing on a boat in a thunderstorm to sipping fresh Mojitos in Havana, I am sure 10 days in this extraordinary country did not even touch the surface of what it has to offer but from the time I did have, it can only be put one way - Cuba is an exceptionally unique country to visit.
Where? Havana & Varadero, Cuba
When? 10th - 20th May 2019
Who with? A girlfriend
Main highlight? Fresh fruits on the street corner, isolated islands & the 1940's CARS!!
Main shock? The communist regime.
14 hours & 22 minutes. London to Toronto. Toronto to Havana. 3 nights in Havana. 7 nights in Varadero. Havana to Toronto. 8 hours in Toronto airport. Toronto to London. 19 hours & 14 minutes. = the statistical outline of our trip to Cuba.
But let's rewind.
Cuba has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember & beginning to read up on how classic cars may not be there for all that much longer... I was determined to visit & soon. So when one of my best friends turned around & said she's there, I did not hesitate & we got planning. We found the cheapest flights possible (explaining the extremely long airport stops!) & researched all we could about this unique country. So when we landed in Havana airport, despite hours of travel, extreme customs & the extended uncertainty of whether our bags were going to come out on a third-world country luggage belt - seeing a classic yellow 1950's taxi there to pick us up bought tears to my eyes. This was it. I was here.
We got to our quirky Bed & Breakfast in the middle of the night, received by a couple of the friendliest Cuban ladies, fresh mango juice & peeling bright blue paint on the walls all wrapped up together - it was perfect. After sorting ourselves out & sleeping off our jet lag, we woke up the next morning to 2 full plates of freshly sliced fruits just for us before we went out exploring. This was the same little routine for the next 2 mornings, whatever our Cuban friends & B&B owners could get their hands on at the local market, we had it & loved it.
As 2 young white girls roaming the dusty backstreets of Havana filled with onion carts, stray cats & hagglers left right & centre, it was no wonder we stuck out - after being led 20 minutes in the opposite direction by a local showing us 'the best food around' we quickly learned our ways! So instead, we explored in our own style. Drinking every Mojito for a dollar along the way, hopping in a car tour of the old & new town, visiting the Rum & Cigar factories & finding lots of fun dinner locations! Havana most definitely has a clear tourist side & a clear locals side. There is no in between - it is an incredible place but you have most certainly got to visit one side to appreciate the other & it might sound cliché but seeing a communist country in the flesh like this makes you realise what kind of world is out there beyond our fortune in Europe - in brilliant, crazy & eye-opening ways.
We got a taxi all the way to Varadero to stay in the most Cuban Airbnb I am sure there ever could be! We were welcomed by the most brilliant family, where we were taken in for the week to be calling our host 'Mama', we were her official new daughters. She was nuts & it was brilliant. Originally we had only planned to be in Vardero for 4 nights & we were going to be going to Viñales for the final 3 days but we massively underestimated the extremely limited forms of travel in Cuba (quite literally, we were minutes away from missing our flight home due to their relaxed nature & limited transport!) & after falling in love with this town that has the longest, uncommercialised, white sand, clear water beach I had ever seen - the cost & distance of getting to Viñales just simply didn't justify. So we stayed & enjoyed a further 4 days, full of sun, dolphins, the yummiest mango juice, fresh fish, pointless taxi journeys simply to try out the different cars & oh! How the list could go on! But let's just say, I am very glad we did.
I'm also very glad that amongst the sadness & poverty that comes with this country, for us lucky ones coming from the first world, we grappled with the positive in having an unexpected complete digital detox. Lets go back to the 'shock' of this opposite way of life with an example that might hit home in our modern world - it is the restricted access to the internet. There was a little hut about a 10 minute walk from where we were staying, the only one along the whole Varadero peninsula, where you have to queue up, show some I.D, pay a couple of dollars, get given a code & ta da! You have Wifi. For 1 hour. In the 2 metre circumference of the hut. (Up the opposite end of the peninsula are plenty of hotels which have Wifi, you still pay hourly but we were in the 'locals area'). Snapchat? Blocked. Some maps? Blogs? General websites? Blocked. We sat there to keep in touch with our loved ones but not for long because of the time difference & well quite simply the fact, it was a beautiful release. No screens. Simply the sea. Books. & our life right before our eyes.
If you have the opportunity to go to Cuba...do not hesitate. Go! & go as soon as this craziness is over & commercialism takes hold. Because it's true beauty is hidden in the locals, the cars & the untouched beauty in the sea shells, the fruits & the water.