Once again, I have not gotten around to writing a post right away. I arrived back in Canada from Cuba last Friday.
Cuba was definitely a very unique country to busy. I found food to be quite a struggle so in a way I’m glad I didn’t go for a longer time. A lot of times, I really felt like I had traveled back in time! In some ways the country seems quite poor while in others it doesn’t really seem poor at all.
My flight into Varadero went smoothly but the crowd on the plane was definitely difficult than you get flying to most destinations. For example, the couple beside me on the plane were on their very first flight and seemed nervous about it but coped with just fine. I didn’t see too much of Varadero at the time as I arrived in the dark and just took a brief walk around before heading to Havana the next morning. The town did seem to be dominated by tourists.
I had intended to take a bus to Havana but I ended up in a shared taxi that cost not much more and it was much quicker than the bus would have been. I stored my luggage at my hotel which had a very strict check-in policy (strange for a fairly nice hotel!) and went on the hop-on, hop-off bus was just 5 bucks! I got an interesting ride around the city though I only actually got off the bus once. As the route was quite long that kept me busy until well after check-in time. It ended up taking about an hour to check-in as there apparently weren’t enough ready despite being late afternoon. This definitely didn’t leave a great impression. I think the hotel seemed to rely on its history to get guests. A lot of famous people have stayed there though I didn’t end up with a room that had been stayed in by a famous person; they put pictures and biographies of famous people outside the rooms they’ve stayed in. In the morning, I heard a bunch of sirens and saw police cars accompanying another car. Apparently, the president of Argentina had come to the hotel.
We took a bus to Vinales that morning. I went on a group tour but as there were only two other people (a couple) plus the guide I was a bit disappointed. A slightly larger group would have been nice! Vinales is a fairly small town that receives many tourists. There are only three hotels in the area but there a lot of over 800 rooms within 500 homes that are available to tourists. That first afternoon, I hiked into a very nice cave; it is seven levels and we hiked into the sixth and seventh levels. The next morning, I went on a guided walk of farms just outside the town. While it was interesting, there was a bit too much time spent watching a farmer make a cigar and such. It was disturbing to learn that most of the farmers (only those whose families had their land before 1959 are exempt) in the Vinales area are forced by the government to grow tobacco! In the afternoon, I rented a bicycle and explored the area a bit more.
The next day we drove to the Bay of Pigs. I went swimming there though other people thought the water was too cold for swimming. I also visited a museum before going on to spend the night in Cienfuegos. Cienfuegos is a very attractive city that is much more organized and clean than any other city I saw in Cuba. It was established by French people who had come via Louisiana. It was a nice place to walk around but there weren’t too many attractions per se.
The next day we were off to Trinidad. I think Trinidad was my favourite place I visited in Cuba. It is one of those cities where even the “new” places seem old. Many of the older streets are covered in cobblestones. I went horseback riding out into the countryside and saw a small waterfall. I also took a old train out to old sugar mills. I was lucky that it was actually running that day as it apparently is broken often! The scenery is that area was also amazing. I also spent a fair bit of time walking around the town and I visited a couple of museums. It was Carnival time while I was there so the streets were busier and there was a lot of loud music at night.
After two nights in Trinidad we drove through the mountains which were very scenic but had only one good place to stop for a view and Santa Clara on the way back to Havana. In Santa Clara we saw the Che Guevara museum and memorial which is generally the only place people visit. We also saw a bit of the centre of town. Santa Clara definitely looked to be a poorer city.
In Havana, I had a walking tour of some of the older parts of town. Much of Old Havana has been restored but there is still definitely work to be done. Later that day, I took a bus back to Varadero. I did the hop-on, hop-off bus in Varadero which was also $5 but much less interesting than the one in Havana. There just really isn’t anything to see in Varadero. I really don’t know how people who spend a whole week there don’t get really bored!