Two weeks in Cuba with Dean.
  • Day13

    Fabrica de Arte Cubano

    December 5, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    When you go to Havana and try to figure out where to get out at night, every person and every guide you'll find will tell you to check out Fabrica de Arte Cubano. You'll get there, see a bunch of tourists standing in line, and think it's a tourist trap.

    It's not.

    Sure, there are a lot of tourists who go there. There are also a lot of Cubans. It's just because this is arguably the best night club you can find. For real. New York, Berlin, or London wish they had something like this venue.

    Night club is not even an accurate term to describe it. It's more like a giant art center, a performance venue, a bar and a restaurant, and a hip store, all at once. Getting in is 50CUP or 2CUC, and food and drinks are not expensive.

    I'm sure I'll forget some of the things we saw there, but they include the Orquesta de Cámara de La Habana playing Hollywood soundtracks, some jazz shows, a cover band playing 90s rock hits, and a French documentary about a group of Mali musicians in Cuba (Africa Mia). The director was there and ended up DJing after the showing.

    The space also included several art exhibits, but not of the kind where your cousin has convinced the owner of a bar to hang their watercolors. They were amazing.

    If I had a place like that nearby, I would be going every week. By the way, if you're reading this and considering going, one tip: get there before they open. The lines can get very long.
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  • Day13

    Fusterlandia

    December 5, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Fusterlandia
    Capitolio
    Chanchullero
    taller de graphics'
    sitio del pulled pork delicioso
    quedamos con Luis que nos trajeron y algo para su hermana
    museo de las Orishas
    festival afrocubano
    museo en el parque cervantes
    paseo por el malecónpor la noche fuimos a la fabrica de arte cubano
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  • Day12

    Back to Havana

    December 4, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    I had a pretty bad night between the bug bites and some weird nightmares. I had planned to get up early to see the sunrise in Playa Larga, but I couldn't do it.

    This was the day we were getting back to Havana. After the Viazul experience, we had decided that we didn't want to repeat, so we took a fairly rundown shared taxi for 20 CUC/person.

    Our new place was in the center, near Vedado. It was a bit older than the previous one, but our hosts were extremely nice and helpful. We spent some time chatting with them and then we left to explore the city again.

    We grabbed food at El Biky, a pretty good and affordable place. It didn't look particularly special but both our guidebook and our hosts praised it, and it was definitely worth it.

    After eating, we went to the Callejón de Hamel, a highlight in every tourist guide that we hadn't had the chance to check out yet. It's a quite peculiar street, with murals, art and sculptures.

    We walked towards the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The bug bites were killing me and I was hoping to be able to find some aloe lotion there. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a government-run hotel, and therefore one of the places you're not allowed to stay in under the "support for the Cuban people" travel requirement. Not that we would have wanted to stay there instead of locals anyway... They do, however, have a little store with a selection of skin and hair products that would be hard to find somewhere else, and quite nice views from the patio.

    After stopping for a bit at a square to check internet, we went back home to rest and change. We had a dinner at a place called TOKE that was simple but offered pretty decent food. This is a LGBT-friendly bar and you can see rainbows everywhere.
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  • Day11

    Enigma de las rocas

    December 3, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    We had originally planned to stay in the are for two night, but we ended up extending our stay one extra night because we wanted to check out the Ciénaga de Zapata. We were thinking about going to the west of Playa Larga, but our host convinced us to go to the Enigma de las rocas instead. Price was 25CUC a person, in a shared car. Dean was a bit skeptical because he had been meaning to go to a farther place, with more birds, and also because this one was more popular and crowded, but we both ended up enjoying it a lot.

    Our guide, Mario, was savvy and showed us the plants, the rocks formed out of coral fossils, the alligators, the fish, the birds, and the crabs. We stopped at a little pond to swim and went to a cave with transparent water and tons of bats. It was a lot of fun.

    After this visit, a German couple we were sharing a car with suggested going to the Cueva de los Peces to do snorkeling. A group of Spanish women joined as well. We ate at a bar there and rented the gear (5 CUC/person). The sea was lovely and we saw lots of fish. I enjoyed the cave itself less. There were less fish there, you could feel cold currents, and the holes and cracks were kind of scary. We went back to the sea, but I stayed chatting with the Spaniards.

    We weren't very sure how we would get back, but I wasn't too worried. By then we had learned that you can't stand in Cuba for five minutes without someone walking to you and offering you a ride. Instead of that, however, we saw a bus that was going to Playa Larga and jumped in (1 CUC/person). It left us in the center and we walked back with an ice cream.
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  • Day10

    Playa Larga and Playa Girón

    December 2, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    For our first full day in the area, we had planned a scuba diving trip. Both Dean and I had done scuba diving once before, but none of us had real experience.

    Our hosts put us in touch with Carlos, a young scuba diving guide and instructor who took us to a couple of places - Cueva de los Peces and Punta Perdiz - for 70CUC.

    A colleague of him, Jorge, came with us during the first immersion, but I liked him less because he was a bit overwhelming and wanted us to feed the fish too much. Dean liked his attention, though.

    We stopped for lunch at a small and simple sandwich place and Carlos told us he could take us to Playa Girón if we paid the driver a bit more. We did it and took the opportunity to change some money and visit the museum, which has some information and items about the Bahía Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) invasion. Of course the visit included a fair amount of propaganda, but it was interesting nonetheless and cost only 2CUC.

    We did the second scuba diving immersion with Carlos, who I liked more. Dean got out of air relatively early and Carlos had to give him air on their way back to the shore.

    I enjoyed the scuba diving trip a lot. The driver was also very friendly and we enjoyed chatting with Carlos, who was planning to travel Europe on a motorbike and told us he admired Donald Trump and capitalism. Funny enough, he was probably the first person I had met who was an open Trump supporter, but of course there aren't many of them in the liberal, urban, educated areas where I've lived in the US. Many Cubans, however, are tired of the restrictions of the communist regime, so I guess it makes some sense they may have an idealized view of American politics.

    On our way back we stopped on the little stands that sold mojitos, churros, and fried plantain for 1CUC. We walked to the end of the tiny town and we went back through the beach, where the damn bugs bite me everywhere again.

    Again, we had a great dinner at the house.
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  • Day9

    Playa Larga

    December 1, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Well, this was the day when we found out that Viazul doesn't't work great, to put it mildly. When we arrived top the station, some other people were already waiting as well. The Viazul workers told us we would have got wait and see if there were actually seats available. Telling them we had "reserved" our tickets didn't really matter. We finally did get seats but we arrived in Playa Larga just to see a French couple waiting for a bus to Cienfuegos without being able to get anybody to tell them if the bus had already passed the station, if they had missed it, or if it was scheduled to arrive later. They were told though that they should stay so they could be the first in line if the bus did actually stopped there.

    Our conclusion was that we would go back to Havana some other way.

    A pedicab took us to our house for 3CUC or so. Casa Baby turned out to be the best one so far. The owners are really friendly, breakfast and dinners were delicious, and they helped us plan activities.

    We spent the rest of the day being lazy. We went to the beach, found some beach chairs and had coffee, mojitos, and friend plantains until sunset.

    It was when we headed back home for dinner when we met THE BUGS. This area has some sort of small mosquitos that come out at sunset and in a few seconds will bite you all over your body. Horrible. It seems that can't travel without getting some weird bug bite.
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  • Day8

    El Nicho

    November 30, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    We started the day going to the bus station to get our tickets to Playa Larga, our next destination. This ended up being quite a waste of time because Viazul was a total mess. We "reserved" our tickets but we didn't get to pay for them (they cost 7CUC each), and the next day we were told we would only be able to ride the bus if there were open seats.

    From there we headed to El Nicho. By then we had learned it wouldn't take us too long to find someone who would drive us. A very friendly guy did it for 50CUC both ways.

    Entry to the park cost 10CUC per person. The park is lovely, with a lot of plants and areas where one can swim, but the hikes are fairly short.

    After the hike, the driver took us to a touristy and fairly expensive place. The food was good, but Dean got grumpy because he wanted something more simple and "authentic." I just can't say "no" when people are nice!

    We went back to Cienfuegos but I was feeling exhausted. That same morning I had got news that one of the students at my circus school, back in New York, had committed suicide. I barely knew him, but he had been the first person to be nice to me when I started going to that place. He was enthusiastic, loving, and always looked full of energy. The news were devastating and my mind kept going back to them.

    In the afternoon we went to Punta Gorda for a walk. We stopped for a mojito at a place that was about to host a Quinceañera celebration - or something like that - that same evening. We didn't see the party, of course, but took a look at the decoration.

    We were trying to find a place with live music called El Cubanisimo, but it seemed to be under construction, so we took a pedicab for 3CUC that took us to a restaurant called Paladar Aché. The place wasn't particularly memorable but the staff was very nice.

    I went to sleep very early and Dean went for a walk by himself. We had planned to get up very early the following morning to take the bus to Playa Larga.
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  • Day7

    Cienfuegos

    November 29, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    We left the house very early to go to Cienfuegos, but I spent almost all the ride sleeping and didn't really mind. We stopped for lunch at a place on the road called Pio-Cua, which was recommended by Lonely Planet but was actually pretty mediocre.

    The house in Cienfuegos was centrally located and had a gorgeous patio, although the room was not as good as other places we stayed in.

    We went to have a walk around Cienfuegos. The town seems to be less catered to tourists, which I generally would say it's good, but it took us ages to find a place to get a coffee. I think there were also more references to the Revolución, but I may be wrong about this. The Malecón is beautiful and a fun walk.

    When it got dark we went to a supposedly French restaurant, Doña Nora, which was only somewhat French. The food was good though, and I enjoyed the lamb I had.
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  • Day6

    Hiking in Viñales

    November 28, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    For our second day in Viñales, we decided to visit the Cueva de Santo Tomás cave. This cave can only be visited on a tour and we decided to take the earliest one, at 9 AM. Our house helped us arrange a car (25 CUC) that drove us there and waited for us while we visited the cave. The cave was quite interesting and the guide was friendly and entertaining. We even saw a tarantula hidden in the rocks.

    We went back to Viñales, where we needed to get two main supplies that we had run out of: money and internet minutes. I waited in line at the Etecsa office while Dean went to change money. We were surprised to see we had spent so much money, but I guess we had several nice meals and tipped generously. We also got the Cubanacán bus tickets to Cienfuegos (32 CUC each), where we were heading the day after.

    After running these errands, we took a long walk around town. Truth to be said, the town is tiny and it mainly has one street, but we went back and forth looking for ice cream, a restaurant to have dinner later (it was Thanksgiving night) and to buy Dean a hat and even more cigars.

    After going back home and taking our traditional Thanksgiving picture with my fake inflatable turkey that I carry around when I travel at this time of the year, we went for a hike.

    The hike was so fun! We had read that hiking in Cuba by yourself is not that easy. There are not many well-defined trails and tour guides expect you to book their services to do this. But we did a bit of research and we found a route that seemed reasonable.

    We got somewhat lost, somewhat repeatedly, but the whole thing was a highlight of our trip and not as complicated as we had been led to believe. Many people were doing the same as us and locals were friendly and helpful when we asked for directions.

    We walked by some sort of cabins, where we saw something that looked like a giant rat on a leash. A Cuban guy told us the name and that we could pet it, which I did. Apparently it was a hutia (jutía, in Spanish.) They're rodents that live in the Caribbean Islands, and at least one-third of the species are extinct, but a couple of them are common and widespread. I'm gonna assume this was one of them.

    We headed to the Cueva de la Vaca. This was fun and it felt magical because we entered one side and exited the other without really knowing what we were doing or where we were. It was beautiful and while looking at some climbers in the rock -- this area is well-known among climbers --, an old Cuban man stopped and chatted with us about climbers, his son, who was visiting from the US, and how Americans would easily shoot you for entering a field. He was proud of Cubans welcoming and helping others, and of the Cuban doctors, who travel internationally.

    We also stopped at a bar that seemed to be the most random place ever, all empty and in the middle of a gorgeous field, and drank mojitos, which by then we were treating pretty much like water.

    We were out for longer than planned and it got dark before we were back, but we found our way back to town and had a shower before going to our Thanksgiving dinner at La Cocinita del Medio, a restaurant that we had seen recommended. It was good, but not extraordinary. We ended the night at the Centro Cultural Polo Montañez, some sort of social club with live music, where a group of young dancers was giving a show.

    Cueva de Santo Tomás
    https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g616288-d1637073-Reviews-Cuevas_de_Santo_Tomas-Vinales_Pinar_del_Rio_Province_Cuba.html
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  • Day5

    Horse tour in Viñales

    November 27, 2019 in Cuba ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Our bus to Viñales was scheduled to depart quite early. We had bought the Cubanacán tickets a couple of days in advance at one of their hotels, for 14$ each. When the day arrived and we showed up at the scheduled time, we were told that the bus may appear on time, or 30 minutes later, or one hour later, but it turned out to be very punctual, comfortable, and convenient. We had read the AC would be freezing, but it wasn't anything that a sweatshirt wouldn't solve.

    The bus... leader? Coordinator? Guide? Anyway, the guy who wasn't the driver and made sure all the passengers were there was very fun and friendly, and spent all the trip making jokes. We later would learn that his name was Luis and had a sister and Boston who he hadn't seen in a while, and we agreed to bring her back a gift from him.

    We arrived in Viñales and went to our house, simple but clean and comfortable, which was a little bit out of the main street, on a dirt road. The area is beautiful and a main tourist destination with activities, and we had planned to take a horse tour to the farms, which I guess is one of the most popular ones. We went to have dinner at a restaurant called El Campesino, which wasn't particularly special but it was very close.

    I never ever go horseback riding unless I'm traveling, but I have to admit I really enjoy it. This particular tour took us to the tobacco, rum, and honey farms. It was interesting but a bit of a tourist trap, where we were expected to tip a bunch of people along the way besides the 20$ we paid for it. Still, it was fun, and Dean got to buy cigars. I learned how cigars are made, which was actually fascinating, and we ended up swimming at a lake nearby before heading back to the house, where we had dinner and went to bed early.
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