I flew into Havana via Houston. The process wasn’t difficult, and after waiting for a short period I had the necessary documents to enter Cuba: the travelers insurance and tourist card, both required by the Cuban government.
The flight down was longer than expected. From Houston we flew directly across the Gulf of Mexico, so most of the trip was over blue water. It wasn’t until we were right above the island that anything changed.
Not surprisingly, the water was very blue. The flight path didn’t take us over any special beaches, but the bottom of the ocean was easily seen, even the geomorphology of the reefs. Also, and this was surprising, it was quite easy to see entirely across the island. Cuba is a very narrow, or short island, so being able to see 100 to 200 miles was entirely sufficient to see the Atlantic and Caribbean sides at the same time.
After customs and a 1/2 hour taxi ride, I was in Havana, walking around. My first sites were nearly exactly what you’d see from photos of other people’s trips. Old buildings, people in the streets, old cars. How cool!
It’s tempting to put all of the photos here, but it’s better if you go to the photo gallery.
There were lots of cool old cars 😀
And it was really easy to find good music to dance to.
Havana is also right on the ocean, although there is no beach there, so it was easy to take photos of beautiful beach scenery and the pig roasts that take place just across from the Malecon (boardwalk).
The food in Havana was good. I ate a lot of seafood and even the bbq pork. Had to get a Cuban sandwich! One funny moment was when the bbq pork vendor was right next to the piña colada vendor. The sandwiches were on a generic bread (more on this later) with just pork and drippings poured over it. Of course it was good, but I was eyeballing the pineapple next door, so I asked if I could get a slice of pineapple for the sandwich, which seemed to confuse both vendors. They did acquiesce, and I got a pulled pork sandwich with pineapple and pork drippings, which I think made the sandwich much better. Somehow I found myself paying more than the total of a sandwich + a piña colada, so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – DOH! Perhaps this will give the locals an idea, and next time I visit there will be new sandwich shops with more than one filler!
About the bread. I’m convinced that communism has been played to its natural conclusion there. In 11 days I ate bread every day, and every day it was the same, whether it be on the west end of the island or 700 miles away on the east coast. The only thing that changed was the shape of the bread (some rolls were rectangular, but most were square). My guess is that the government has installed bakeries (of which I saw several) and that the bread is prescribed, meaning every bakery must make the one type of bread. No independent bakeries seem to exist, so everyone eats what the government gives them. If you walk around Havana or Santa Clara or Santiago at night, you’ll see bakeries pumping out thousands of identical rolls in preparation for the next day. It’s possible to get them hot out of the oven. The rolls cost only a few cents each, but don’t look for variety. You won’t find it.
We have an image of Cuban food in the US. It involves fried plantains and sandwiches stacked with 3 or 5 types of meat. Don’t expect to find either. The sandwiches tended to be either pulled pork or ham. Once I got a sandwich with ham and a cucumber. That was a rare improvement.
To my surprise, I didn’t see a single plantain in 11 days even though every morning I was served a platter of local, delicious, ripe fruit. Occasionally I did get fried bananas for a side at dinner, and I saw banana trees everywhere, but there seem to be no plantain trees on the island. More on the delicious fruit later!
Now for some of my other favorite photos from Havana.
That last photo is an important one. Private Wifi doesn’t exist in Cuba, but every city I visited had at least one Wifi hotspot. No where else I went had it, even the wealthy B&B owners (if you can call them that). You had to find a government kiosk, usually near to the park, and buy internet cards, similar to phone cards in the US. Connecting was not always straightforward, and sometimes I had to try for 15 or so minutes just to connect. This of course had several effects. One was that the parks became a sort of zombie playground where hundreds of people (at night, or tens in the day) would hang out looking at their phones. The other effect was that I got over using the internet very quickly. Since it sometimes required a taxi ride and sitting in the rain just to check my email, I had to really want to connect to make it worth while. The same must be true for Cubans, and I didn’t see a single person texting and driving!