Or that one time we had to pay the driver of a hearse (with the coffin in the back..) for a ride to get us out of the middle of nowhere.
I think I visited Cuba just in time. We had booked our tickets, and only two months later President Obama announced that he would ease the travel ban. Cuba was already touristic at the time, but I fear that this has only got worse since.
We started in Havana, where we stayed at a casa particular with an amazing woman, in Chinatown. I loved that we were not in the touristic centre, but rather in (more) typical Cuban barrio (with a Chinese touch). And it was only a 15-minute walk to the centre!
Next, we headed off to Viñales, where stayed at another casa slightly off the main road, surrounded by crop fields, lush green bushes and sand roads. We rented some bikes and spent the day cycling around, barely encountering any tourists on the way, and sneaking into a tobacco field.
Instead of taking another (slow) bus, we took an unofficial cab to take us to Playa Larga. We didn’t particularly like this place, but the short visit to the Ciénaga de Zapata swamp was lovely (flamingos!).
Oh, and then that one time.. We took a cab to a better beach, where we spent the day at a site with unlimited drinks and saw many tropical fish when we went snorkelling. The beach side was next to a regional road (no sidewalks, no lights, no stores, just cars speeding away), and we thought we could take any cab back. Well, that wasn’t really the case. We started walking back to the town, but the sun was setting and it wasn’t very safe with the many turns, fast cars and the lack of sidewalks. Yet we couldn’t find a car that could bring us back. So we decided to stop a car from the other side, thinking that any Cuban would probably be willing to go in the opposite direction if we put some CUC’s on the table. The first car that passed us, simply waved back at us (of course, three girls lost on a road while the sun is setting, are just randomly waving at strangers..). When he saw the look on our faces in his mirror, he realised his mistake and stopped. Only when we got close, we realised our mistake – this wasn’t a normal car, this was a hearse with two mourning people in the front and a coffin in the back! The two Cubans didn’t look really happy when the driver decided to seize this opportunity to make some extra cash, the five of us had to share three seats and we went into the opposite direction of where these people were going to. (I still feel bad). Of course, the driver didn’t drop us off in the centre of the town, because if others would see he was taking tourists in his hearse, I’m sure there would be some sort of consequence.
Next stop was Trinidad, which we LOVED. A picture says more than a thousand words, so I won’t even attempt to describe this city.
Afterwards, we thought we wanted to go to Santa Clara. In the cab (which took bumpy yet beautiful country roads), we decided we didn’t want to go to yet another town, so we asked if the driver could drive for a few more hours, to the Baños de Elguea spa, to which he happily agreed. This spa was another world. A large, isolated, Soviet style hotel, which was completely deserted except for us three and another couple. Yet there was a pool, a restaurant and plenty of staff walking around. We loved it.
Hoping to end our trip at a beach resort (and getting that tan), we went to Varadero for two days. Unfortunately, there was no sun, it was cold and it was raining, so it was rather depressing with so many mass tourists stuck in their all inclusive resorts. But we ended our trip back in Havana with a blast. These two weeks in Cuba simply made a perfect trip. I can’t wait to go back and explore the east side!