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Curious what backpackers do in Cuba? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Day179

    Wir ziehen weiter, um dem lauten Treiben der Hauptstadt zu entfliehen und ein wenig kubanische Natur zu erleben. Drei Stunden Taxifahrt später sind wir in der kubanischen Version von Riccione angekommen: Viñales. Was ursprünglich ein kleines Dörfchen mit knapp 10.000 Einwohnern und vielen Tabakfeldern inmitten atemberaubender Landschaft war, hat sich innerhalb weniger Jahre neben Varadero und Trinidad zu einem der Hauptattraktionen des Landes gemausert. Und da man mit Tourismus mehr Geld verdienen kann als mit Nikotin (zumal 90% der Ernte für schlechtes Geld an den Staat geht), ist mittlerweile jedes Haus in Viñales eine "casa particular": ein staatlich genehmigtes BnB. Wir haben uns für eine Bleibe etwas abseits entschieden - es ist das letzte Haus links in einer unbedeutenden Nebenstraße kurz vor dem subtropischen Urwald.

    Der Rest des Tages wird damit verbracht, den Hühnern hinter dem Haus beim Scharren zuzuschauen. Nach vier Tagen Havanna ist das Entspannung pur.
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  • Day178

    Heute hat es geregnet. Dabei ist das ein leichter Euphemismus, denn die Pforten des Himmels öffneten sich und so viel Wasser ergoss sich auf Havanna nieder, als würde sich Gott spontan dazu entschieden haben, eine zweite Sintflut einzuläuten. Das dürfte nicht leicht für die Kubaner sein, von denen einige in den letzten Tagen schon ihr Regenschirm aufspannten, wenn es lediglich regnen könnte. Wir haben es vormittags trotzdem geschafft in Vedado, einem weiteren Stadtteil Havannas, den Platz der Revolution und den José Martí-Turm zu besteigen (um den ganz oben einige Geier kreisten; nichts unübliches bei den Wolkenkratzern der Stadt). Kathrin hat anschließend ganz liebestrunken zahlreiche Fotos von Ches Konterfei auf der Häuserfassade am Platz geschossen.

    Diese Wassermassen kann der Hahn auf dem Dach niemals überlebt haben. Wir freuen uns morgen aufs Ausschlafen!
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  • Day184 wird es wohl jedem ergehen, der schon mal auf Kuba gewesen ist. Bei uns waren es lediglich zehn Tage, aber sie haben uns auf eindrucksvolle Weise dem Land näher gebracht. Vielleicht auch deswegen, weil wir es ausnahmsweise nicht lediglich durch den Sucher einer Fotokamera betrachtet haben, sondern immer wieder auf Tuchfühlung mit Kubanern gegangen sind, was eine tolle Erfahrung gewesen ist. Morgen fliegen wir nach Mexico, die zweite Etappe unserer Reise. Endlich wieder vernünftiges Internet! (hier online zu gehen ist trotz Modernisierung des Landes immer noch ein ziemlicher Act, und es erforderte einiges an Planung und Vorbereitung, diesen Blog einigermaßen up to Date zu halten...). Doch wir fliegen nicht los, ohne noch vorher ein paar Props in alle geographische Richtungen loszuwerden:

    Danke an Katrin für die hervorragenden Tipps bezüglich der Bleibe in Havanna (Suramas Haus ist der Wahnsinn!) und der Auswahl der aufzusuchenden Orte; Viñales war der benötigte Ausgleich zur Hauptstadt und hat die Reise richtig rund gemacht. Danke an Andrea, die uns die "Gebrauchsanweisung für Kuba" geschenkt hat, ein wirklich großartiges Buch, welches wunderbar die eigenen Erfahrungen im Land ergänzte und erklärte. Und last, but not least, danke an Alfonso vom Hotel Los Jazmines in Viñales für seinen "Mojito Especial", dessen Rezeptur er mir nach dem dritten, den ich davon hatte, verraten hat (habe ich leider gleich wieder vergessen).

    Hasta la vista, Cuba!
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  • Day97

    A blast from the past.

    Hablo espanõl? No. We knew we were in trouble the moment we landed in Santa Clara. We were drastically underprepared for Cuba. In particular, collectively we had almost no spanish, our only booking was the first night's accommodation and Cuba has no internet.

    Alright, no internet is an exaggeration. But not far off. The only way to get online is in a "wifi hotspot" (read: plaza) with a prebought internet card. We're yet to find a casa, bar or restaurant with wifi and you can't get a mobile plan that includes it. I kid you not, the only way to get online is in a park. Outdoors!

    I'm sure all you GenY's can feel my pain. We've been travelling for three months now and all our research and bookings are done online, on the fly.

    So we're going old school. We've stepped back in time, why not embrace it? In our armoury we carry a spanish pocket phrasebook and 16,000 mexican pesos. No, if you were wondering, that's not the right currency and cubans don't take card. Period. Underprepared, entiendo?

    Drama aside, Cuba is fascinating! Colourful pastel facades of breezy single storey dwellings line streets buzzing with activity. Horse drawn carts, 1960s dodges, motorbikes with side cars and old men playing dominos are par for the course on the road. Bicycles of all shapes, ages and passengers weave down narrow streets in ordered chaos. Kids, dogs, goats and horses mingle with traffic making even just spectating quite stressful.

    We're staying in casa particulares. They're everywhere and typically are just a spare bedroom in a family home. As Cat said, it's really just Air BnB but the Cubans beat them to it. The families to date have been genial and oh so hospitable, despite our ignorance to their culture and language (oops we're sorry). Most of them don't speak english but you'll be surprised how many ways there are to communicate. Cat speaks the first most spanish, so Scott and I usually thrust her forward to recieve the barrage of incomprehensible dialogue, which is quite often followed by 'no entiendo'.

    Santa Clara is less touristy than the other areas we planned to visit, and it was nice to spend our first evening immersed in Cuban culture without the entourage of the 'you buy somethiiiiinnnggg's!!!!'. Oddly enough that slightly contradicts where the night went from there.

    Taking in the activities of the plaza from an adjacent bar, we were approached by some locals whom we chatted to between drinks. One of them, Reina de gainer - number one in Cuba, offered to show us to a nearby restaurant. We followed causiously, helping him with his litre of port along the way. He ended up dining with us and, as we grew to expect, didn't have a dime to contibute to the bill. It didn't phase us, he was great insight and even better entertainment and the total bill was less than 25USD. We even had some rums with his brother at a cafe afterwards, at 4USD per litre (yes, you buy by the bottle!?). Finally an affordable country!

    Still in recovery from the previous nights dinner, our stomachs were pleasantly assualted by breakfast. So much breakfast! Our casa mama had made (just for us) fresh fruit, crepes, omelettes, bread rolls, two types of cake, biscotti, guava smooties and espressos, all neatly set in a sunny outdoor courtyard adjacent our room. At 4USD each (we later found out we could have paid 3) I didn't want to leave.

    We spent the morning investigating transport options to our next destination, Trinidad. With buses booked out, and no trains due to a hurricane in 1993 (still not repaired), we defaulted to a taxi and spent the next few hours in the comfort of a car cruising through the Cuban countryside. Happy as Larry.
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  • Day104

    Crumbling Havana.

    Where do I even start? Five nights in Havana have blurred into one so this entry won't be chronological, but instead representative of the jumbled memories in my idling brain.

    Old Havana is exactly that. It's dirty, it's smelly and it's falling apart but the original architecture is gorgeous. I would have loved to see this place in its heyday. We're staying near Old Havana in a casa on the third storey with a very helpful and friendly young couple. They've made some good life decisions and got set up on Air BnB, now they own their house and their car (rare in Cuba) and have a steady stream of income and plenty of guests to fill her old man's taxi. Well played.

    It's hard not to overlook the poverty in this area of the city. It's not poverty like you see in countries like China or India (I assume - never been). There are few beggars and fewer homeless, and the majority are well dressed and look well fed. But the state of infrastructure is a mess. Empty shells of direlect buildings - some now hosting a variety of vegetation - are common, and piles of rubble from not-yet-completely-demolished buildings lay unsafely over the footpath. Gutters are non-existant and pipes spurt water (?...or worse?!) freely onto the street or the unsuspecting passer by. Roads and footpaths were once respectible, I'm sure, but now are buckled and cracked or with dangerously large potholes or, more commonly obstructed by piles of aggregate, rubbish, rubbish bins or a poorly parked three wheeled bicycle taxi.

    In addition, the streets are filthy (making jandals and rain a dangerous combination) and it's difficult even for the dullest of us olefactors not to be nasally assualted many times per day. Unhealthily skinny stray cats and dogs loiter the streets and skulk in the shadows, searching helplessly for aid.

    New Havana is a different storey, it's much cleaner and greener and slightly less smelly. It's on the edge of our walking range so we've only spent a morning there and to be honest we really only went for the ice cream!

    One thing the government has begun to do well is restoration. Havana contains many truely beautiful buildings, many more in fact, than could be reasonably expected to be maintained. The museum of the revolution is one such building which we spent an afternoon reading (or looking at pictures as it was almost entirely in spanish...grrr) up on our mates Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. A history every Cuban is overwhelmingly proud of, demonstrated with busts and faces created in every form of art and displayed at any opportunity. We're also yet to visit a monument or statue not dedicated to a soldier of Cuba's independence. We took a walking tour with Ernesto, who offered reasonable english, excellent insights and a ridiculous amount of dates and spanish names. Woosh!

    We've clocked up some serious distance on foot, averaging well over 20,000 steps per day. We're making in roads on waking fitness but cardio fitness is well and truely gone, as discovered on the first run in months. Two actually, along the Malecon boardwalk in the early morning, which was dotted with fishermen and some fairly impressive catches for a handline! Come to write about it, we've actually spent almost all of our time in Havana walking or drinking dangerously strong mojitos - after all we are in the home of the mojito.

    The best part of Cuba is most definitely the people. All of our hosts and guides have been fantastic. It's so nice to see locals stopping just to say hi to one another, handshakes and kisses and smiles all round. Honks and waves too, an intricate part of the daily routine. I wish I spoke better spanish and could have had some better interaction, but that's my own undoing.

    There are two things that have really been bugging me about Cuba so you're in for another rant! The first is the lack of internet. Cuba has been shielded from the world by their communist government for over half a century, and it's worked, largely I'm guessing because they're an island. Perhaps someone can tell me how that's going for mainland China or North Korea - I'd look it up but, oh yeah, I don't have internet. Private internet is non-existant - you can't buy it for all the money in Cuba. ETESCA is the only (government operated) internet provider. Cubans can set up an account with ETESCA which they can top up with cash at the shop (read: wait in line for hours) up to about 10 hours internet at a time. Everybody else waits in the same line (Scott loves doing this) and can get a max of three hours at $1.50 per hour. Then you get to walk to the nearest plaza or park, and enter the codes to get you online. Then you spend the majority of your valuable hour watching the wheel of doom spin. Or disconnecting and reconnecting. Or fending off chancers trying to sell you more internet at five times the price. IT'S HORRIBLE! Skype or data calls? You're dreaming. You'll be lucky if a picture message goes through. Oh and remember - the government controls what you can or can't see, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's blocked American content i.e. half the internet. I wouldn't know, I'm yet to buy enough time to load a webpage.

    Why don't they get with the times? Clearly they have the infrastructure, and the majority own phones. Surely it's the readily available access to information they so desperately need. The world is leaving Cuba even further behind, but perhaps that's the way they like it. Although, apparently privatisation is well on the rise, we'll see how that goes!

    The second on my list is the food. It's awful. I can and will list all the food in Cuba in one sentence. Rice, beans, chicken, pork/ham, beef, fish, bread, spagetti, cheese, eggs, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion and (to be fair) a reasonable variety of local fruit. So we've eaten omelettes and fruit for breakfast (read: ham, cheese, bread and egg). Sandwiches or pizza for lunch (read: ham, cheese and bread) no butter, mayo or tomato sauce of course. And for dinner we opt for spaghetti or rice, beans, questionable cuts of plain fried meat and salad (read: cucumber, lettuce and if you're lucky - tomato). Oh and when I say ham, it's often that gelatinous sausage that looks like dog food. Yum. That's dining at 99% of food outlets. We took a stroll through some local food markets on our 9th day in Cuba. We found chilli, capsicum, herbs and spices - litterally everything you need to turn the boring meals on their head. Why oh why do you do this to yourselves!?!? The impact of communism on Cuba for us, is most visible through the food. Citizens still queue for their free daily rations of rice, beans, oil and coffee at unmarked stores that make the 40's look like the distant future. There is only one brand of bottled water available, period. It's full of chemicals and usually makes you gag (at least on the first few gulps). Actually, the tap water tastes better but we've been warned away on that one. Coke and for that matter, anything US made - you're having a laugh. Infact, anything imported whatsoever is a lucky find. We've been on the street-food hunt, trying anything unidentifiable, hoping to crack the local secret dish - so far no luck. It's abysmal. The only incentive to eat is that it's cheap, and we're burning some serious calories on foot that need replacing. On this front, Mexico can't come soon enough.

    We stepped up our game on the last two nights and found some chinese in Chinatown which was a welcome change, followed by a Swedish restaurant which was delicious - fine dining at $15 per head. I was battling an upset tummy by this stage so I was grateful for some food I could look at without feeling sick.

    Cuba's history is repressed and unfortunately quite dyer at times. A fascinating read if you have the time, and offers a bit of insight into the above - famine and governement induced economic depression. Surprisingly, Castro even admits to making a few bad decisions.

    Perhaps I'm spoiled but in my opinion Cuba is only for the intrepid traveller. The cultural shock and intrigue wears off after a few days and the inbetween is a battle a lot of time. If I were to do it again, I'd start in Havanna, spend less time there and spend more time in the country visiting the natural beauty.

    If I haven't put you off, here a few tips I wish I had recieved prior to arriving in the tobacco capital:
    - Do you research beforehand. Plan your route, research your destinations and book your flights.
    Accommodation, buses and taxis are easy enough to get when you're there if you know where to look.
    - Triposo App is worth it's weight in gold, offline too!
    - Book buses as early as you can, they often sell out.
    - Learn some spanish.
    - Bring with you all your favourite treats.

    That's Cuba done and dusted. An empty, delayed and very short flight later, we were in the americanised metropolis of Cancun. Stomach status: on the rise. Happy days!
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  • Day194

    We spent 4 days in Havana, just a one hour flight from Cancun, Mexico. Even though there's lots of tourism on Cuba, the country seems still quite isolated, stuck in time a few decades back. Which is kind of awesome, but also kind of awkward. The nostalgia has its charm, but at the same time the "good old days" seem to be long lost and the charm is giving way to an imbalance and discontentment.

    Our first impression of Cuba was actually positively different, very likable people, classic vibe from all the classic cars & buildings, and a surprise: very good vegetarian food (= happy brother). But we also experienced ridiculous overpricing on everything touristic, mismanaged city planning, and just the sheer contrast of paying $20 for an ok meal - being the equivalent of a monthly medium wage here. Hence no wonder you will find many people looking to make a dollar or two with tourists, we called them "hustlers" and met very many of them :)

    It's also impossible to find a normal supermarket here. We were "chasing" simple things like toilet paper for days... ;) Oh, and Internet access is extremely limited also. But we also had a fantastic time, enjoyed good food, drinks and fun excursions to the fort, Che's house, and the charming city center. One of our highlights was the wind and waves by the water - so beautiful, we could have watched these forces of nature for hours.
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  • Day101

    Bicycles, Caves, Mogotes and Tobacco.

    Our western most stop in Cuba! Coming from our eastern most stop meant for some brutal travel, but I'm sure there's worse to come.

    Viñales is small. There's one main drag, one convenience store and one million tourists. It's out of the way, well off the main highway, and almost camouflaged into the surrounding landscape. From the roof of our casa, lush green tobacco fields extend gently over rolling hills to the vertical rock face of numeorus mogotes - rocky mounds.

    Rising to another casa breakfast, we opted for bicycles as our transport mode (third brutal day on the bum in a row!) and after a little hiccup over the quality of our bikes, we were off. The valley of Viñales is extraordinarily picturesque. Dirt trails cut through tobacco farms and clusters of palm trees, backdropped with the rocky faces of the towering mogotes. Farmers tend their crop, and señoritas their casas. Pigs, horses, goats and dogs stare blankly at passer bys and smell of burning wood sifts intermittently through the valley.

    Before stop number one, we asked a local man (in a very blue pair of overalls) the way to La Cuerva des Piscinas. Half way onto his bike already, he pointed the way, then led the way, mentioning something about his famillia. Little did we know he was to be our tour guide for the day and we would have to understand spanish or get lost trying.

    Our bikes took us first to a cave you could swim in. Unsurprisingly, it was cold and dark but wonderfully refreshing from the day's heat. Stop two was his famillas cafe in the valley for lunch. Stop three was his friends bar for a drink (of water to his disgust) at a very overhyped lake. Stop four, on our request, was off the beaten track, up a 'big' hill and 'very far' away. 20mins later we were there with little exertion. I'm guessing the lack of spending opportunities was the driver in his attempts of dissuasion. Our spanish improved steadily over the day, and between us (read: Cat) we had a vague idea of where we were going and what we were looking at. By the end of the journey we were more than happy to tip the man for his day's work. Hopefully it buys dinner for their family and not his beers on the way home.

    We dined out every night in Viñales and spent most meals exploring the menu in search of some delicious local food. Our favourite dish would have to be Ropa Vieja which is usually a lamb and tomato based curry but varies from restaurant to restaurant. Aside from the usual pizza and pasta, food here is repetitive and rather bland. Hopefully Havana steps it up!

    On our second day in Viñales we went ziplining over the forest which was exhilarating and incredibly efficient. That might sound and odd description but it accurately sums it up! We had a very brief tour of a tobacco farm which ended in us hiding from the police - probably because they were illegally selling cigars. Nonetheless it was a bit of excitement! The afternoon was spent swimming in the pool and relaxing at a hotel overlooking the valley - with a long walk at either end.

    We're yet to figure out the Cuban economy. There are two currencies; CUC and CUP. One CUC = about 1 USD. One CUC = about 25 CUP. Basically, CUC is for tourists and CUP is for locals. From several different conversations, a local earns the equivalent of around 20 CUC (welder) to 70 CUC (heart surgeon) per month. Say on average about 1.50 CUC per day. But, a tourist pays 10CUC per person per night for accommodation, 2 CUC for a beer and around 6 or 7 CUC per person per hour in a long distance taxi. Now I'm assuming at least half of that ends up with the government but nonetheless, why would anyone not be in the tourism industry???
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  • Day99

    Cavaillas y El Rey des Tortillas.

    Two nights in Trinidad allowed just one day and a hot afternoon by the time we added our transport at each end. It's a small town, unnecessarily confined and hosting very basic amenities. Tourism is dominant. Every second house is a 'casa particulares' or 'hostal'. Every restaurant targets tourists and every man and his dog are pushing horse treks or taxis.

    The town is quaint; old but not tired. The colours are bright and streets cobbled, and the daily scenes are reminiscent of the stone age. Life is simple here.

    We spent the afternoon wandering the streets, visiting Plaza Major, and ascending a hill for a vista overlooking the town - ever more confused on how this country operates. A cowboy atop the hill showed us up a rickety and definitely not safe ladder to a roof top with quite a spectacular view of the town, surrounding valley and distant beach - playa Ancon. No hablo espanõl was not enough to deter his sales pitch, and we ended up buying horse rides off him, almost because we'd rather do that than pay the obligatory tip.

    So day two in Trindad was on horseback, very unhealthy horseback. We trekked out of town and into the valley, from cobbles to asphalt to dirt tracks. It was fantastic! Amusement from the horses' bowel movements was plentiful (yes, some of us are late bloomers in maturity), races regular and well beyond our control and in the saddle crotches bruised and backs ached. The destination was a natural pool and (unnatural) bar, which we embraced with swims and mojitos. We made friends who spoke english and spent the remainder of the trek enjoying some welcome understandable chat! A day well spent despite our feelings for the treatment of animals.

    Scott spent the remainder of the day trying to get cash and internet which took him around two and a half hours and he returned a broken man.

    We had dinner that night at our casa. After accepting a dinner invitation earlier that evening, we thought we would be dining with our host family. That was not the case. We spent the majority of the meal, awkwardly accepting our courses and stumbling over spanish vocabulary and formalities, as our hosts waited eagerly upon us. Such a strange world.

    Our tickets out of Trinidad were again in the form of taxi, as the bus had sold out for the next few days and the taxi turned out, in the end, to be the cheaper option. Just to clarify, now that we know - 'taxi' in Cuban (I suppose the same in english) refers to a car you can pay money to for a ride. In the absence of laws or a regulatory body, there is no limit to the number of humans and/or bags (or anything for that matter) in which that taxi may carry. Or for that matter, when you're paying a predetermined fee, the route it may take, and the number of different cars you can ride in. Lets just say when we got to Viñales seven hours later, we had sore bums, sore backs, symptoms of heatstroke and one debateable case of carbon monoxide poisoning. And, we were far from the most irritable of the passengers. Surprisingly, the booked out buses could have been the better option.
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  • Day159

    Bevor wir uns auf den Weg zur nächsten Stadt machen haben wir uns nochmal Trinidad bei Tageslicht angeschaut, natürlich dank unserer wie immer genialen Planung in der brütenden Mittagshitze 😅. Da es auf Kuba nicht so etwas wie Siesta gibt war trotz allem wildes Treiben auf den Straßen und wir haben uns einen abgeschwitzt . Der kubanischen Gemütlichkeit war es dann auch geschuldet vor der Bank eine Stunde zum wechseln des Geldes anzustehen 😂.
    Es gab noch ein sehr leckeres Essen bevor wir uns jetzt auf den Weg nach Camagüey gemacht haben unserem nächsten Ziel .
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  • Day158

    Topas de Colantes . Wir haben heute eine Reise durch die Wildnis gemacht . Frank, ein Deutscher der hier lebt mit seiner kubanischen Frau und ein Casa betreibt hat sich die Mühe gemacht uns den kompletten Weg und alles was wir uns anschauen sollen aufzuschreiben und uns zu erklären .
    Am Ende des Regenbogens haben die Wasserfälle und das baño unter freiem Himmel gewartet . Einfach ein Traum ! Der Weg dorthin war gar nicht so beschwerlich wie gedacht 😬😄
    Und nein : ich bin weder hingefallen noch ausgerutscht noch hab ich mir etwas gebrochen 😉 dafür hab ich ja Aufpasser dabei 😄
    Ich hab jetzt auch ganz weiche Fußsohlen ,falls es jemanden interessiert 😜Die Putzerfische in dem Badebecken haben ganze Arbeit geleistet 😄.
    Zum Abschluss gab es einen netten kleinen Sonnenuntergang am Meer 😍

    Bei einem Barbecue bei Sergio ( Brasilianer ) und Leslie seiner Frau , die ebenfalls ein Casa betreiben haben wir den Abend ausklingen lassen. Es sei gesagt , dass Sergio ein echt guter Koch ist mit tatkräftiger Unterstützung seiner Tochter .
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Cuba, Kuba, Cuba, ኩባ, كوبا, Куба, কিউবা, ཁྱུའུ་བ།, ཀིའུ་སྦ, Kuba nutome, Κούβα, Kubo, Kuuba, کوبا, Kubaa, Cúba, ક્યુબા, Yn Choobey, Kyuba, קובה, क्यूबा, Kiba, Կուբա, Kúba, キューバ共和国, კუბა, Kiumba, គុយបា, ಕ್ಯೂಬಾ, 쿠바, کووبا, ຄິວບາ, Kiobà, ക്യൂബ, ကျူးဘား, Kiuba, क्युबा, କ୍ୱିବା, کیوبا, Cubba, Kubäa, කියුබාව, Kubë, கியூபா, క్యూబా, คิวบา, Kiupa, Küba, Cu-ba, Kubeän, Orílẹ́ède Kúbà, 古巴, i-Cuba