D-1Feb 15 2019
DAY 1Feb 16 2019
Vancouver International Airport
Mexico City International Airport
Mexico City International Airport
José Martí International Airport
Well we finally arrived in Cuba. Immigration was confusing as heck with people pointing at us and forms we did and didnt have to fill out. We were met by a tour guide who promptly put us in a taxi and said goodbye. The taxi dropped us off on a quiet street and I'll admit I was worried as we had no idea which doorbell to ring. After some fumbled spanish the driver showed us which door. The lady working answered and told us that we wouldnt be staying there tonight as it was full and that someone would be along shortly to bring us to another location. This lively lady came around and took us a couple blocks away. She gave us directions in Spanish that after such a long flight and not having used my spanish in so long I found extremely hard to follow. I barely caught the ins and outs of where to go for breakfast in the morning and what we had to bring... I know these facts were only minorly important however not having control and understanding of a situation is something I struggle with. I guess thats part of travelling that I havent used in a while.
DAY 2Feb 17 2019
Our first day in Cuba started out fairly slowly. We both slept in until 10am! Eventually rousing ourselves and getting dressed (as well as properly sunscreened), we made our way to the house down the street for breakfast (turns out I had properly understood last nights directions). We then left on a meandering walk around old Havana. We walked along the ocean and the battlements that must have once been for protection from the many ships landing in Havana's harbour. Winding our way around the coast line we found ourselves along the tourist centre of Old Havana. We stopped in at beautiful little park to find ourselves on the map (pictured above). We also made quick perusal of the Natural Science Museum, which unfortunately turned out to be nothing special. Old taxidermied subjects of Cuban, and sometimes international, species.
Making our way towards some outdoor musicians we sat at a Parisian themed Cafe to listen and refuel ourselves with water and questionable pizza. We found it relaxing in the shade and musical atmosphere, staying to play cards and just hang out.
Afterwards we continued our exploration of the small interwinding streets. Eventually making it back to our room and the lovely airconditioning. A quick reading and napping break for both of us and we are off to meet our new travel companions at the first tour meeting!
DAY 3Feb 18 2019
Today we started our trek out of Havana by stopping in at Fusterlandia in New Havana to see the neighborhood that had been completely transformed by Fuster and his inane ability to cover every surface in abstract almost Dali-like mosaics. Then it was a decent bus ride, probably about 2 hours long, not including stop over for lunch at a grass roofed restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
We then made it to the 'Indian caves', ancient water formed caves that were believed to have been originally used by the indigenous inhabitants of Cuba, early on completely wiped out by maltreatment from the Spanish conquerors. The caves, while beautiful, were still like almost any cave that one can easily spelunk inside. Nothing really amazing. I find that much of Cuban 'history' exhibits are really only a touch cultural and majorly only present to support the local community.
Our next stop, and the main visit of the day was the tabacco farm where we were able to learn about the growing of the plants, picking process, the many different leaf types and sizes as well as the famous Cubano rolling and preparing process. We then had the opportunity to purchase these Cubanos directly from the farmer, an opportunity for us to not only save money but for the farmer themselves to earn some supplemental income as the government only minimally pays the farmers for their months of difficult labour.
After stopping off at our Casas to refresh ourselves, we all headed out for some good old fashioned bonding, in the form of getting decently drunk together. Dinner was a semi elaborate affair overtop the mountain, not that we could see anything as it was already well past dark. The night ended the only proper way to do so in Cuba, more drinks and salsa dancing at the local salsa club.
DAY 4Feb 19 2019
Our day began as usual with a breakfast provided by our Casa. This morning's spread however included these lovely thin crepe like pancakes. We topped them with mango sauce and they were so amazing. Franny, Lou and I couldnt get enough of them! We told our hosts as much and they were very happy to have pleased us with their 'panké'. 8:30am and on the bus again, one hour later we landed at the docks in preparation for a half hour crossing on a very tightly packed boat to the resort island of Cayo Levisa. We spent the day luxuriating in the white sandy beaches, crystal blue waters and carribean sunshine. It was incredibly lovely though one had to be careful as the sun was so strong. I happened to be one of the few who escaped the day without a sunburn.
We departed the island at dinnertime taking the boat back through and another short drive to an open air family-run restaurant nestled in a valley where they had roasted us a pig. The power promptly went out right as we arrived but this did little to damper the mood, candles came out and phone flashlights turned on. The guitarist sang in the dark and we moved beyond the slight misshap as a group. I was told by Franny that dinner was really delicious. I had some baked fish that was quite good, with some garlic and onion sauce I believe. There was also a great vegetable soup and the traditional arroz morro that I enjoy. After dinner we were all so wiped out that everyone just returned to their casas, showered off the copious amounts of sunscreen and sand, and went to bed.
DAY 5Feb 20 2019
Today was a long bus ride all the way from Vinales to Playa Larga, also known as the Bay of Pigs. On our multi-hour drive we got to see much of the gorgeous countryside. I find it interesting that every town has murals and statues celebrating Castro and/or Che. It's a complicated balance between Castro having been in power until very recently and the wish of the people to make it known that they don't entirely abide by his rule. This afternoon, while on route, we stopped in at both a crocodile sanctuary and bee hummingbird site. Both of these being indigenous species that can only be found in Cuba. I'm not sure I entirely agree with all the money being put into these places where the animals live captured and for the benefit of tourist consumption. The bird site was only some guys backyard where he had set up multiple feeders and some line to create a barricade. While obviously not officially sanctioned these people do probably rely on our money to make ends meet...
Anyways, around 4pm we made it to the Playa Larga beach. We are staying in a casa directly on the beach. It was a relaxed afternoon with some sun, some shade and some drinks. I think tonight we all stayed fairly tame saving ourselves for the intense Cave party we are attending tomorrow night.
DAY 6Feb 21 2019
Another longer bus day. We first stopped at Cienfuegos to walk around the historical city, the only one in Cuba to have been founded by the French. We walked through multiple palatial residences and got to climb a watch tower to get a (practically) birds-eye view of the central square.
After another hour in the bus, we landed in Trinidad. This casa is one of my favourites because while similar to the others our hostess Juana calls us 'mis amores' which instantly makes me feel cared for.
Once we had showered and made ourselves presentable again we met at the main casa for a Salsa Lesson. Honestly, I feel like I learnt so much having lost most of my abilities once aquited in highschool. It took quite a bit to exit my comfort zone, having the instructor touching me as well as the rest of the group watching. In the end it was an overall positive experience where I learnt that pushing through can help me have a better time over all. Dinner was "family style" with almost every option of protein available, including spaghetti which while overdone was something I do miss about home.
After dinner we went to listen to some live music at the local Casa de Musica. Then onwards to the infamous Cave Club. Turned out to be so amazing! A whole club hidden deep in the natural mountain caves. While waiting in line many of us jokes that it could just as easily be a basement of the hotel... as many "sanctuaries" and "stores" had been. We were blown away by the reality that we had descended down into the mountain where a naturally formed cave had been created. Then filled with audiovisual equipment to make a once in a lifetime experience. We danced our butts off and got incredibly drunk!
DAY 7Feb 22 2019
Today was a good day. I decided last night that I probably needed some extra sleep and chose to not do any of the optional acitivities offered this morning (hike or horseback riding). Instead I stayed in the casa, slept some more after breakfast and read my book. It was difficult to reconcile being on vacation in another country and my need for some downtime. But in the end I believe this was probably for the best as I am getting tired of having to be constantly on the move. This afternoon once Franny returned, she was so chafed and sore from the horseback riding. Not to mention her sunburn from four hours of open sun riding.
The group then went to Playa Ancon, a beach outside Trinidad. Spending another glorious afternoon laying on a beach chair reading and dipping in and out of the ocean. I am really enjoying the book I am reading, Michelle Obama's 'Becoming'. I always like the former First Lady but the unparalleled access into her life and ways of thinking has allowed me to extrapolate that perhaps her and I are more similar than I had imagined (though I acknowledge there is a fair amount of projection going on). I also believe the insights she shares may help me work through thoughts I have been having about purpose and motivation. After the wonderful sunset we all walked back to the bus and after a quick change are on our way out to dinner.
DAY 8Feb 23 2019
Today we had a walking tour around Trinidad, led by the one and only Pablo. He showed us the original buildings and sites that had founded the city. The old architecture of the buildings combined with the vibrant colours of the carribean provide something uniquely Cuban. We also walked through an original residence taking glorious landscape pictures after climbing precariously up to the roof. It was a breathtaking view of the tiled rooves, flashy building colours, lush mountains and blue ocean in the distance. The home itself was also a prime example of the spanish conquest here with the home being built around courtyards and tile covering many surfaces.
After leaving Trinidad we drove to Sancti Spiritus, the location of the remains of Che Guevara as well as his comemorative museum and large cement monument. I find this whole thing very much of the 'dictatorship' side of Cuba. The way that Che died in Bolivia becoming an almost martyr. The letter he supposedly sent to Castro that neatly ties up evrything that had happened. It all seems to fit too neatly into the fascist political boxes. It was nice though to be stimulated mentally at the museum and I honestly missed the feeling of wanting to consume more knowledge on a subject.
The afternoon ended with the group once again landing in Havana. Here we topped our trip off with multiplte quintessentially cuban activities. We went for a tour of the side in three matching barbie pink 50's cars (only fitting for the 'Chicas'). We ate lovely food and drank probably what were the best daquiris of the trip, finishing the night with live music at the Buena Vista Social Club. It was a great way to culminate a trip that opened up many doors for me and my willingness to travel in a group in the future.
DAY 9Feb 24 2019
After the tour officially finishing last night, we chose to have a little bit of a later breakfast at 10am. It sure was nice to not be rushed out of bed and rushed on to the bus after eating. We lounged around our last casa, I'll be honest in saying it wasn't a great place but served it purpose well enough. We read our books and laid on the couches until it was time to pack up and check out. We went over to the main casa next door and used the internet to peruse the options for tattoo parlours. While most of them seemed closed, we decided to take a walk in that direction as internet information in Cuba isnt exactly frequently updated. We found a shop easily enough, though it may not have been the one we originally were heading for. The artist Jordan was finishing up an arm piece and told us to come back in an hour. We spent this time in a really cute tapas bar up the road, eating delicious ceviche and having lemonades. It was nice to talk with Åsa and Cristine about Norway and their travels. When you get the girls seperated from the larger collective, individually they offer great conversation anf interesting insight into life in another country. After the meal we returned to the shop, spending an hour preparing what we each wanted and working it out on Jordan's anciently slow and bugged computer. In the end it all worked out as we each came away with pretty nice tattoos at a very decent rate. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried about my choice of design or the pain but I want this to perhaps be a small crack in the door of me being able to live life a little, stressing out less and finding optimism and fullfillment in my daily existence.
We spent a couple hours just reading at the main casa before meeting up for dinner with the other girls still left in Havana. We still form a pretty impressive posse. Finding a restaurant that agreed with everyone was still a formidable task but we managed. It was a good cap to spending time with the ladies we had met and bonded with.
Glad Franny and I had coffee with dinner though as the taxi is coming at midnight to drive us to the airport.
DAY 10Feb 25 2019
Mexico City International Airport
Today I am reminded of the not so excellent parts of travelling. Like being driven to an aiport in Cuba at midnight (9pm Vancouver time), then spending the next 24hrs sitting on a plane and in uncomfortable airport seats. But I also realize that these things I find to be some of the worst parts of travelling are things that many people dont ever get to experience or couldnt experience in their lifetime. I flew across a continent and down to an island in the Carribean. People used to have to ride a horse or walk or sit on a wooden ship in the sea for months to accomplish what I did in a day. The world has become a pretty accessible place. I cant wait to see the rest of it.
Mexico City International Airport
Vancouver International Airport
DAY 11Feb 26 2019