Our arrival in Havana was not without drama. Havana airport is manic, getting through immigration is unbelievable, as you go one by one into a small room where you are interrogated by a person who could have belonged to the Gestapo. When finally passing through immigration then collecting the baggage, naturally you head toward the way out, looking for the welcoming agent to take you to the hotel. Wrong. We got outside, no agent and could not catch a cab because the money exchange office is in the terminal and you can't get back in. In most countries that is not an issue as you can use a credit card. Not here. Cuban money or tough titties. Eventually it all got sorted and we got money and a taxi to our hotel. Never a dull moment.
But after a bad introduction to Cuba we fell in love. The place is delightful. Just as you imagine it to be. The old cars are considered to be part of the Cuban heritage and it is forbidden for them to be sold outside of Cuba. These cars are the pride and joy of the Cubans and there are hundreds of them in every town, some are a little worse for wear, belching thick black smoke out the exhaust and body work that is held together with what looks like putty and duct tape, but most are the pride of their owners.
The towns are a riot of colour, buildings are painted in every colour of the rainbow. The roads leave a lot to be desired and despite the old cars in the towns there is not a lot of traffic outside the city areas, which is just as well as the roads are quite rutted – but not as bad as Madagascar.
Every form of transport is in use. People get around on foot, bicycle, and bicycle with carriage attached. Horses are another common form of transport, be it horse and cart or horse and carriage. It is not unusual to see a horse being ridden bare back through the city and town streets. Trucks are another form of transport with many converted into a very basic form of bus, some with roofs, minimal seating and people squeezed in standing up like sardines in a tin.
The days are hot, very hot and as is normal in the tropics the afternoon sometimes brings cooling showers.
The Cubans are very patriotic and have no love for the good old USA. Fidel, Raul and Che are spoken of with great love and respect and the longer we stayed the more we came to appreciate the efforts of those guys and the revolutions that have taken place in the country over the last 200 plus years. The Cubans have every right to be very, very proud. It was so interesting to hear the stories of their revolutions over the centuries, from the days of slavery to the overthrow of Batista and the arrival of Castro. Of course their view is quite different to that which we have been brain washed over the years, they have had a rough trot.
Tourism is big, especially at the moment as it seems the whole world wants to get there before the Americans arrive later in the year with the easing of tensions and travel between the countries. We all know the Americans will wreck the place. The only good thing about the impending invasion is that the standard of hotels, transport and food will not suit the Americans so hopefully they will stay away in droves. Also Cuba says they will insist that that there are no McDonalds, KFC etc and also that if there are new hotels etc built, then Cuba must have the majority holding. We shall see.
What is delightful is walking around and not being crashed into by people using mobile phones, they are rare down there. People actually walk along the streets and talk to each other – what a strange thing to do!!!
So what did we do. Well we visited the Australia sugar farm which was once huge but sadly is not longer. It was near Australia that Fidel had his headquarters during the days of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
We visited museums, had train rides through sugar plantations, cruised around on various boats and generally sat around in bars and restaurants drinking the cheap beer and rum and of course, took 1 or 2 photos.
It has been a good group, most of whom belong to either PCC or DYCC, no getting to know you stuff, from the 1st rum we were fine.
When the sun goes down every town and city becomes party central. The city squares are the venues for various musicians who bring all their own band equipment, speakers and amplifiers. The locals all dress up and let their hair down. Great stuff.
We had almost 4 full days in Havana. What a city. Back in the 30's when this place was a mecca for the world's trendies it must have really rocked. There is just a beautiful feel to the place, like visiting a time warp. The architecture is mostly Art Deco but sadly it is, for the most part, in a very sad state of repair. A faded rose. We did the Hemingway thing, walked the streets, even rode around the city in a 1940's open topped Oldsmobile and drank more rum. We needed to leave to dry out but will miss the $1.50 beers and $2.50 Pina Coladas.
What we will not miss are the 3, 4, 5 and 6 piece bands that descend upon every eatery at lunch and dinner. They insisted on playing Beseme Mucho and Guantanamera loudly and pretty much in your ears, they scrambled what was left of our rum soaked brains.
But apart from that grumble, Cuba – we love you.
Starting off in Sydney we head over to the US for a few days in Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and finally over to the Big Apple. Then off again, down to Cuba for about 18 days for some old cars, cigars and Baccardi. After that we head north, this time to Toronto in Canada for a whistle stop before crossing the Atlantic to the UK. One of the highlights there will be a week down on the Isle of Wight. Jetting off again we will then spend approximately the next two months driving around Italy and France. After all that hard work we journey over to Greece where we will island hop using the local ferry systems, with 3 nights on Santorini, 3 nights of Mykonos and 3 nights on Paros. Yep, we love doing the tourist stuff! Finally we begin the long haul home stopping off on the way in Honkers for a little retail therapy.