Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Havana and the Road Home

Finally, toward the end of the trip, we made it to our main objective – Havana.  This time we got a better price of 90 CUC for a three hour taxi trip, but the car, while promised to have air-conditioning didn’t, and it was tiny and a most uncomfortable drive.  As always though the view of the countryside and small towns was great, and when we arrived at our pre-booked AirBnB apartment it was exactly as described and most importantly came with kick-butt air conditioning in the bedrooms.  Did I mention it was crazy hot and sweaty most of our trip?  I had forgotten a hat, and my face was constantly sweating and burning.  Our clothes were also rank after just one wearing.

Rejuvinated by the air-con though we spent the first afternoon/evening exploring Vadado, our immediate neighborhood in Havana.  We visited the University and had a drink at a rooftop bar overlooking the U.S. Embassy and the Malecon and sea below.

All of these activities were recommended by our fabulous host Carlos, owner of the apartment we were renting.  He was touted online as a fantastic planner and helper and he didn’t disappoint.  He also recommend a local Bar-B-Q restaurant for dinner, and we had a very memorable night, first due to a huge downpour that made for the indoor/outdoor restaurant having to convert to all indoor in a hurry, and then eventually to the cheap, good and plentiful food.

The next morning Carlos arranged for us to have a wonderful guide, Jose, to make sure we saw all the important sights in Old Havana.  This was another highlight.  Viejo Havana is very cool, and Jose spoke perfect English so we learned a lot about the history of the city.

Wilder and Mark also spent some time learning about and buying a few cigars.  Then Peyton and I got to shop for perfume.

Our tour was only supposed to be 3 hours long (for 40 CUC) but in typical Cuban fashion Jose changed his plans and spent three more hours taking us to Miramar, another part of the city, to help us do a favor for a friend at home.  Our friend Maggie grew up in Cuba, but left after the revolution and hasn’t been back.  She asked us to try to get some photos of some buildings her father, who was an architect, had built.  We aren’t sure we found the exact buildings, but we did try hard!  Jose didn’t charge us any more for what was double the work.  We enjoyed getting to know him.  He is a cigar expert and has traveled to over 25 countries in that line of work.

Our last dinner in Havana wasn’t especially memorable, but a stop at the Chocolate museum afterward was.  The chocolate was outstanding.  If we didn’t know it would melt into puddles we would have brought lots of it home.

After a really good breakfast for 25 CUC the next morning (another recommendation by Carlos) we hit the road back to Varadero as we had a 7:30am flight out of there the next morning. Our hostess from out last stay had told us to come back and she  would try to find us another place as hers was already booked.  That didn’t however go quite as expected.  When we arrived she first chastised us pretty seriously for not staying for three nights in the places she arranged in Cienfuegos, never-mind the fact that they were not as described.  Then she declared that there were no rooms available.  When we joked about sleeping in the airport she said it was a good idea and offered to call us a cab.  Finally she agreed to let Wilder and I sit in the yard with our luggage while Mark and Peyton once again hoofed it around to try to find us a place to sleep.  Wilder was lobbying hard for spending the night on the beach, but I wasn’t having any of that.  This time our failure to plan hurt the worst, after a couple of hours Peyton located a hotel that offered us two rooms at $150 each.  By that time we felt lucky to get them.  They did turn out to be decently nice with good aircon, but we later found out the location was less than ideal…

After recovering from our last accommodation hunt, Peyton (again) located us a rare and perfect restaurant for our goodbye to Cuba dinner.  It was maybe a bit out of our price range, and we were counting down our last converted dollars.  The setting was ideal, with a talented classical guitarist playing and one of the best meals of our trip.  We ended up with a bill that came within $3 of the cash we had – cutting it quite a bit closer than we would have liked.  Still, we tipped the guitarist our last coins and went to bed with nothing except what we expected to need to get to and out of the airport the next day.  This last evening was magical and maybe summed up our trip.  Dinner and our time together and interactions with the Cuban people was perfection, but as we tried desperately to sleep through the night, the crazy bumping disco across the street (till 3am) reminded me that this was our experience with Cuba – part perfection and part unreasonably difficult.

Our taxi arrived on time at 5:30 the next morning and everything else went off without incident.  We sailed through immigration and customs in Miami without a single question about our itinerary.  It turned out I had been worried about all the wrong things.  Our son, Wilder though, gave me a gloriously satisfying thank you for the experience as we were returning home today.  Our daughter’s thanks showed throughout the trip, as she has perhaps adapted to this type of travel the best of all of us (ironic because she was the most bitter traveler on our big trip.)  As for myself, I decided I am perhaps getting a bit old for this type of travel.  Still, now that it’s done I wouldn’t trade it for a more posh time.  Because we did manage it, our Cuban adventure, and those 9 days helped us recapture the 9 months we spent, now 5 years earlier, traveling the world.

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