Sunday, 21 February 2016

Our trip to Cuba

First of all I would like to say that it took me quite a while to write this entry about my very interesting 17-day trip around Cuba with my parents and another family.
So if you like it feel free to share it with others who you think might be interested or comment on the post!

I will start on day 4 because during the first three days not so much happened. We were in a really relaxing resort at the beach literally just sitting around and eating except for the last day there when a storm came up and there were a lot of big waves at the beach.

4th day
So we left the hotel at the beach and took a taxi to Havana. During (nearly) our whole trip we only resided in “casa particulares”. These are rooms in houses where other people live. It’s quite a unique and more private way to spend your night and most of the times these houses are very well kept and the hosts are really friendly and prepare nice breakfasts for you.
After we arrived in our casa particular in Havana we did a little city walk with a cuban student who spoke nearly perfect German. At a market I was very close to buying a vintage 50mm f1.2 for my DSLR but it was a little broken so I decided not to get it. Since we are Swiss people we also had to try some local chocolates which were surprisingly nice!

5th day
In the early morning we went to a car rental service near the “Malecon” to get our two cars which we used for the rest of our trip. The Malecon is the big street at the shore which was closed because the waves broke so high that they flooded the road which was therefore blocked by many rocks. We had to wait for quite a while because the car of our friends had tires that were fixed with screws so they had to go and replace them. So in this time me and the other two boys went onto the Malecon to take pictures of the waves some of which look quite interesting!
After a while, when the car was fixed, we went onto the route to Viñales. But our route took a little turn into the mountains of Viñales which were a lot like the rainforests (and I talk out of experience..). It was extremely humid but luckily the sun was blocked by the clouds! But the interesting part about these mountains, besides their funny shape, is that in this humid environnement there are partly a lot of spruce trees next to the palm trees which kind of reminded me of the mountains in Switzerland.
We also did a stop at a waterfall where we saw a lot of people talking a bath and we regretted our decision to leave the swimming clothes in the bags.

6th day
After breakfast a local showed us the way to a tobacco farm outside of Viñales where we learned how they produce the leaves, prepare them and form them into these world famous cigares. We even got the opportunity to try one which made everyone of our group feel ill until the next day but it was a unique experience! The farm which we’ve visited was all organic (they said) compared to the many facilities in bigger towns who use a lot of chemicals to make their cigars longer lasting.
All this time while the guy talked I was part-time translator for some French tourists. But it was quite hard since the English of the farmer was not good and he was mumbling a little bit so not everything was quite understandable.
After the explanations we went for a four hour walk with another farmer to see the production of tobacco, coffee and other plants. We ended up in a very narrow cave which was formed by a little river a long time ago..
Later in the night, after a very nice dinner, me and the other two boys went up onto the roof of our casa to take pictures of the bats which flew all around the place!

7th day
This day our plan was to go to go to Cayo Jutias, a location quite a way from Viñales but totally worth a visit!
On the way we made lots of stops to take pictures for example one time there was this one house with fences made out of cactus plants. There we also bought some bananas off a lady with lots of chickens and pigs, She then offered us some fresh sugarcane juice which was lovely and we stayed there for nearly an hour!
When we reached our destination we were totally overwhelmed by its beauty! There was a very rusty lighthouse at a beautiful beach and a man playing catch with his dog. In combination with the clouds that had a lot of contrast it gave me an opportunity for some lovely shots!
Unfortunately at five in the afternoon we already had to go on our way back because at six it would be dark and you could not see the many holes in the street. Yes, the roads in Cuba are a funny topic.. Some of them, like the highway or the ones in the bigger cities, are very nice. But once you are just a bit off these main roads the ground on which you should drive on suddenly has more similarities with an Emmentaler cheese rather than with what we would call a road! It really is a pain to drive on them..

8th day
Already leaving the lovely province of Viñales again we did the longest trip of the whole holiday. First we drove to “Bahìa de Cochinos”, another very pretty beach with crystal clear water (by the way that’s also the name of the local beer, cristal). Back to the trip: After a lovely swim we continued to Cienfuegos where we were to sleep for a night in yet again a casa particular; but this time in the middle of the city! Therefore we went to a salsa concert after dinner where we observed the phenomenon of what happens if you stay in this city for too long: a drunk Canadian tourist sitting on the ground in front of the band playing solos with two spoons. We also met a (fairly drunk) German grandpa who introduced himself as the oldest pirate.. As you see we had quite a fun time there :)

9th day
We had already packed all our stuff in the morning ready to leave Cienfuegos again. We noticed that it is a very lovely place when we took a tour around the city in a “Bici-Taxi”. These are some sort of Cuban mean of transport where you have two people sitting in the back of a tricycle and you have your personal driver. It was a very cool experience because our driver showed us parts of the city which we would have never seen otherwise. We also visited a Rococo-Style building in the city which had a tower to oversee the whole town.
Later this day we drove to Trinidad. In the house where we resided there was a very old piano which was in such an awful condition that it could not possibly be played by anyone but it was still fun to try it out! We ate dinner in a really fancy restaurant at the plaza where we, well especially my parents, had the pleasure to dance to the cool live salsa music!

10th day
After a late breakfast we took a stroll through the city of Trinidad and only after a few minutes we realised that the main income of this place probably comes from the tourist branch. Nearly every house in the street is either selling souvenirs or hats. But some are also selling home made cakes or handcrafted things.
Soon we saw these shops because their content is quite monotone so we visited some casas from the colonial time where the rich guys lived, the so called “sugar-barons” who were the ones holding the slaves. Really sad stories lurking behind the facades of these really pretty houses…
At lunch I had the need to do some music so I grabbed the contrabass which was laying around and I did my best to play along with the other salsa musicians! My friend Siro took the guitar and we jammed a little bit together :)
In the evening, already at seven pm, we went to a Jazz Café which we saw the day before. We went there not especially to eat but to hear the really cool group playing. They were so groovy and I really enjoyed the ambience in the café!

11th day
Since we were about to leave to go to a beach resort (yet again) for three days we went to get some bottled water in a small grocery store in town. What was really annoying about this place was that there were a couple of beggars inside who followed you around all the time. That was a thing I’ve never seen before. All that time they were right beside us they begged for vegetable oil. But we all were sure that if you would buy them some oil they would just give it back to the store afterwards to get a little reward.
The trip was really nice because of its landscape: one time the whole road was just build on water; nothing but ocean in both ways!

12th day
At 2 AM me and Siro went down to the beach at the resort in which we stayed to take some pictures of the stars since the sky was extremely clear, there were no lights and by that time the moon was gone too!
The pictures came out way better than that one time we tried to take some in Viñales.
We also tried doing some interval shots to capture the stars’ movement…

13th day
The hotel was not especially nice. There were so many ants and cockroaches in the rooms and they did not clean the dinner tables. But one nice thing was that you could go to the spa for free! So I really enjoyed a warm steam bath and me and my parents booked some massages :)

14th day
After breakfast everyone was really happy to leave this touristic place and go to Remedias. It is a very small but lovely town near the cost where we stayed yet again in a casa particular. We walked around the city, ate a pizza visited the square and the church but we decided that we would eat dinner in the casa for once since we’ve never tried that and the woman told us that she got some fresh fish just that day from the sea! And it was totally worth giving it a shot!

15th day
For the last bit of our trip to Cuba we went again for three days to Havana.
First we had to find the place where we would sleep those two nights. For nearly half an hour we drove through the “caya habana” to find the casa since we did not really know where to start looking for the house number.. On the way we saw a lot of lost tourists trying to find their way around ^^ But in the end we luckily found it! It was a really nice old house that was owned by a german guy who lives in Cuba now.
Unfortunately I was not feeling so well so we did not go to a music club that night but went to sleep a bit earlier so we would be fit to go to such place tomorrow…

16th day
A very pleasant day in the capitol city, probably the calmest one in the entire holiday.
First of all everyone got a lot of sleep, we visited the national arts gallery and then went to bed again.
In the evening though we went to a Jazz Club which you entered through an old London phone box and in this Club we’ve see a brilliant Fusion Jazz concert! (check the video below!)


17th day (last day)
In the early morning we walked to the old railways station of Havana. There were not so many old trains left but we went there to visit the market that was located inside of the station. The market itself is not really nice; if you don’t like touristic articles it’s not really for you. But the part of the market where the people sell art is amazing!! This part is huge and next to some rather boring paintings you can find a lot of things there which you would love to hang up on a wall at home!
We also got three paintings from the market and then returned to the casa where we ate the best pizza you could possibly get in Havana down at the small restaurant “5 Esquintas”. Just in time we finished eating, changed clothes and got our luggage and jumped into the taxi that drove us and our friends to the airport of Havana.

All together Cuba is a very cool holiday destination. There is so much to see, landscapes, architecture and of course the lovely people!
So many thanks to Globetrotter for planning this trip as well as to my parents who gave me the possibility to see such beautifulness and to Arianna Dipollina for text-corrections!