Cuba Journals

Cuba: Finalmente, Finally

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A December 2003 trip to Cuba by ext212

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean More Photos
Quote: Cuba has always been at the top of our travel list. This journal is appropriately titled because we finally made it in 2003-2004.

Cuba: Finalmente, Finally

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Overview

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
This journal is appropriately titled because getting to Cuba as an American is a big goal in itself. The Cubans we met were very warm and they were very curious about what we thought about the embargo. Winning a domino match in Trinidad against a Cuban family was a big highlight. Traveling all over the east coast of the country, we read so many revolutionary signs that gave away pieces of Cuba's history. Quick Tips: As an American forbidden to travel to Cuba, I flew to Burlington and drove to Montreal. From Dorval airport, I took a Cubana Air to Havana. Netssa will help you purchase your tickets to Cuba without any questions. Your bill will no...Read More

Casa Particular in Santa Clara: Casa Berta

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Santa Clara: Casa Berta"

Casa Particular in Santa Clara Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Santa Clara: Casa Berta, US$20/night Señora Berta Padrón MorellMaceo No. 4 (Norte)Independecia y CéspedesSanta Clara, Villa Claraphone: (042) 292708 We were supposed to stay at Casa Consuelo but the place was all booked when we arrived. We were referred two blocks away to Señora Berta's casa. Señora Berta and her husband are very quiet. They're such a nice old couple that we actually felt bad about staying only for one night. They did their best to make us feel welcome even for a day. The casa is a brisk walk to the center plaza and a nice, long walk (only if you're a New Yorker) to Che's monument. ...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 1, 2004

Casa Particular in Sta Clara: Casa Consuelo

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Sta Clara: Casa Consuelo"

Casa Particular in Santa Clara Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Santa Clara: Casa Consuelo, US$20/nightSeñora Consuelo Ramos RodríguezIndependencia #265 (Este) Apto. 1Unión (Pedro Estévez) y San IsidroSanta Clara, Villa Claraphone: 202064 | 202944While in Santa Clara, we stayed at Casa Berta because Casa Consuelo was all booked. When we arrived in Santa Clara, Señora Consuelo's husband picked us up at the bus station with a taxi for $US3. We were welcomed by Señora Consuelo's daughter with two bottles of cold beer. They walked us to Casa Berta and invited us back for dinner and drinks. They also arranged for a taxi to take us to Caibarién. Their whole family is a very good reason why y...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 1, 2004

Casa Particular in Caibarién: Virginia's

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Caibarién: Virginia's"

Casa Particular in Caibarien Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Caibarién: Virginia's Pension, US$20/night Señora Virginia Rodriguez CabreraCiudad Pesquera #73Caibarién, Villa Claraphone: 53-42-363303We ate very well in Caibarien because of Señora Virginia's sister-in-law. She's the designated cook of the house and even our taxi driver told us that she is one of the best cooks in all of Caibarién. Señora Virginia was the businessperson and she never failed to ask us how our day, how our dinner was. Her husband, Señor Osmany was just our own personal entertainer: his smile never failed to make us laugh. They arranged for a private taxi to take us to the cayos because only licensed car...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 1, 2004

Casa Particular in Caibarién: Eladio's

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Caibarién: Eladio's"

Casa Particular in Caibarien Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Caibarién: Pension of Eladio, US$20/nightSeñor Eladio Herrada Bernabeu (nickname: Yayo)Ave 35 no. 1016 B10 y 12Caibarién, Villa Claraphone: 36-4253Señor Yayo was the sweetest father ever. He took care of the casa instead of his wife (we only saw her when we checked-in and never again). He sincerely wanted us to feel at home. He followed us in the balcony when we wanted to chill and he sat with us in the living room if we wanted to watch TV just to give us company. For Christmas Eve dinner we asked for fried chicken, but when it was time to eat our chicken it also came with shrimps and pork, all because he said it i...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 2, 2004

Casa Particular in Trinidad: Hostal Guerra

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Trinidad: Hostal Guerra"

Casa Particular in Trinidad Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Trinidad: Hostal Guerra, US$25/nightSeñor Armando Guerra FigueroaSeñora Clara Mendoza ValladaresCalle Lino Pérez No. 305 (Altos)José Martí y Francisco CadahíaTrinidad, Sancti Spíritusphone: 3270Our favorite town, our favorite casa, and our favorite family. Trinidad had it all: colonial feel, new city, beach, and live music. We were scheduled to stay with Señora Ruth, Señora Aleida's sister-in-law, but when we arrived her place was booked. Señor Armando picked us up at her casa with his bike to show us the way to his Hostal Guerra. We were a bit dismayed to see the building at first because it was next to a bi...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 2, 2004

Casa Particular in Morón: Casa Noris

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Morón: Casa Noris"

Casa Particular in Moron Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Morón: Casa Noris, US$25/nightSeñora Noris HernandezCalle Sordo #416 y 8Morón, Ciego de Avilaphone: 5-4112Morón is the least exciting town we visited and we think this is the reason why the family was the least exciting of all. Except for the son-in-law who was fluent in English, no one bothered to make sure we were having a good time. They never bothered to ask us our names and Señora Noris always used the customary "Pssst" to get our attention. They did help us hire a private taxi that could take us to the cayos legally, but to no avail; there was a lack of cars and mopeds for hire in this small town. Señora Noris' husband d...Read More

Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 2, 2004

Casa Particular in Havana: Cuban House

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Hotel | "Casa Particular in Havana: Cuban House"

Casa Particular in Havana Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Havana: Cuban House, US$25/night Señora Aleida Ravelo GarcíaCalle 28 No. 270 Apt. F21 y 23, VedadoCiudad de La Habanaphone: 30-8007e-mail: aleidagarcia2000@yahoo.comweb: casaparticularcuba.com When we started planning for our Cuba trip two months prior to our flight, I e-mailed a few casas in Havana to start off our journey. Señora Aleida was the only one who e-mailed me back with an interest to help me plan our whole trip. I was sold. I sent her a list of towns I wanted to see an...Read More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 1, 2004

Day 1 / Havana

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Story/Tip

Cuba <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
We step out of our casa particular in Vedado, a suburb of Havana, and immediately see what will become the familiar silhouette of Ernesto Che Gueverra. As expected, there are frequent reminders of Cuba's history wherever you turn--inspirational quotes from Cuba's national hero, José Martí, and dates of historical importance that most, if not all, Cubans know by heart: July 26, El Triunfo de la Revolución, the Triumph of the Revolution; October 10, the War of Independence; January 1, Liberation Day. We arrived last night from a direct four-hour flight from Montréal. We showed our passports to the customs agent, answered a few questions, and made sure that only our tourists ...Read More

Day 2 / Havana

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Story/Tip

Cuba <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Vicente drives through the Malecón, a highway along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Waves are furiously crashing against the seawall. We tighten our light jackets as the weather in Havana is surprisingly mild. Our first stop is Cementerio Colón, the main cemetary of Havana that is full of funerary sculptures and stories. We did not know we could get a map with our US$1 admission. We walked around casually and somewhat aimlessly. One of the security guards approached us after seeing me flinch when I saw two dead chickens lying in one of the small alleys. "Santeria," he says, referring to the Afro-Cuban religion brought by the hundreds of thousan...Read More

Day 3 / Havana

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Story/Tip

Cuba <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Our next stop is Plaza de la Revolución, the site of the largest Che display in Havana. Hasta la victoria siempre is one of the many revolutionary slogans we will see posted around the country. The plaza is disappointingly empty. However, we were told Cubans congregated here during the Revolution and still do so for commemorative events. The rather phallic memorial dedicated to José Martí is across the street. There is a lift to access the highest point in Havana, but because it is Sunday uniformed guards stop us from ascending the ramp and entering the premises. Havana's Chinatown, El Barrio Chino, is notable for the complete absence of anyone who looks remotely like us...Read More

Day 4 / Viñales

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Story/Tip

Cuba <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
We felt like we'd had enough of Havana, so the next morning we woke up to our second omelette with sausages while Señor Paolo waited for us to finish. There was bread and butter on the table, but no milk like yesterday. We didn't ask and drank coffee that was blacker than the sky last night. We arranged for Paolo to drive us out to the province of Pinar del Rio, west of Havana, to the small town of Viñales in the valley of Sierra de los Organos. It's a three-hour drive but Paolo kept us company by telling us about his life and about Cuban life in general. During the drive we witnessed a lot of Cubans waiting for rides. If our car had not been privately hired, it most likely would have been flagg...Read More

Day 5 / Santa Clara

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Story/Tip

Cuba <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
We'd already made plans to get out of Havana. We visited the primary school across from Aleida's house to give the principal a few boxes of pencils, Crayons and coloring pens for the children. They were thankful, uttering Qué bueno as we told them about our impressions of the county. Vicente drove us to the Viazul bus station, where we had reservations to Santa Clara in the province of Villa Clara, the home of Che's monument. We pulled into the Santa Clara bus station before 8pm, where an older gentleman from our casa particular greeted us. A cab ride later his family, Señora Consuelo, and their daughter welcomed us into their home with a couple cold beers. Their place is...Read More

Day 6 / Caibarien and Remedios

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
In Caibarien, our room at Señora Virginia's casa is occupied. She arranged for us to stay at their friend Señor Eladio's house until the lone Italian tenant leaves on Christmas Day. Señora Virginia's husband, Señor Osmany, reminded us that we should consider eating inside the casas for the rest of our stay in Caibarien because the holidays are the only time the town is mobbed by tourists. Eating home-cooked meals in Caibarien was an easy request for us to fulfill: the town doesn't have much to show for except for horse carriages. We asked Señor Eladio for chicken for dinner because it was the simplest meal to prepare. But when it was time to eat, we were also served pork and shrimps. He told u...Read More
Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
The day started out foggy. Jorge was on time ready to take us to the cayos, specifically Cayo Las Brujas, the first of the cays to be developed for tourism. Cubans are not allowed past the checkpoint on the causeway. We have to pay our driver the going rate of US$50 a day to get to the beach. His car is licensed to drive tourists to the cays. We learn later that he knows practically every guard at the checkpoint. Cayo Las Brujas lets tourists like us not checked in one of their villas to enter the property for a fee of US$4 each, which includes a burger and a drink in the restaurant bar. We pay our dues, walk past the resort guests who are taking their time to eat breakfast,...Read More

Day 8 / Trinidad

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
We arrive in Trinidad after three stops, two for directions and one to change a tire. Jorge asked for US$90 to drive us from Caibarien to Trinidad. We called him crazy and asked Señor Osmany to find us another car. He found an acquaintance who wanted to make an extra US$40. We were joined by his wife and their son who squeezed into the front seat. The son ducked whenever we drove past military officers. We were scheduled to stay with Havana's Señora Aleida's sister-in-law while in Trinidad but as usual, her room was booked when we arrived. Señor Armando picked us up five minutes later and he walked us to his place to meet his wife, Señora Clara and their young son, Armandito. We were taken aba...Read More

Day 9 / Trinidad and Playa Ancon

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
The next day we started early to see town life on a Sunday morning. Some of the alleys were quiet and we thought that maybe people were in church. The public markets have started to set up and vendors showed us their embroidered linens and shawls. We walked to the bus station to reserve seats on the bus to our next destination. After that was out of the way, we met a Canadian couple who were waiting for a cab to the nearest beach, Playa Ancon. We agreed to split the US$14 round trip cab fare and 30 minutes later, we were again near the water. The beach is okay and is part of the Ancon Hotel. Thatched umbrellas were installed along the beach for the guests. There is no other shade. Wh...Read More

Day 10 / Trinidad and Salto Javira

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
We started early in the morning and met the man the boy was talking to yesterday about horse riding trips. We walked to the other side of the town and met a few cowboys who were all on their own horses. Raphael became our designated tour guide. If I remember correctly, my horse's name was Vivian. We mounted our own horses and started the slow, easy ride through the Escambray Mountains. When we had reached a valley, I suddenly heard Raphael shaking his whip, which was enough to get our horses to gallop fast. Unprepared for the surprise to come next, suddenly I was bouncing up and down on my horse, shaky, and scared shitless that I might just fall and die. The boy caught up to me and told me to stand on...Read More

Day 11 / Ciego de Avila and Morón

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
The next morning Señor Armando, probably with a painful hangover, walked us to the bus station to catch our bus to Ciego de Avila. We arrived by noon and were solicited by taxi drivers as soon as we got off the bus. We wanted to arrange our bus back to Havana for the night of January 1, 2004 and because it's a smaller town and we wanted to make sure that important business was taken care of as soon as possible. An Astro Bus clerk told us he could sell us Viazul Bus tickets, the preferred bus company for tourists. We followed him to his office even though the whole business seemed shady. We were only able to buy one ticket back to Havana. The only explanation we got was that seat availability on the bu...Read More

Day 12 / Morón and Cayo Coco

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
Señora Noris' daughter tried to help us rent a licensed cab that will take us to the beach. The only driver available was asking US$60 for the round trip. We immediately refused. There were also no mopeds available for rent. Our only way was to hitch from the main rotunda on the way to the beach and hope that tourists with rented cars would stop to pick us up and take us to where they are mostly headed, Cayo Coco. Señora Noris' husband (we never got his name because he didn't talk much) drove us in his sweet white car to the gasoline station where most cars stop on the way to the cayo. We asked a parked younger couple where they were headed and if they could give us a lift. But they just...Read More

Day 13 / Morón and Havana

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
We woke up the next morning to a Morón that was different from the one we've come to know the past two days. Stores were still closed, but there were more people walking, biking, riding the bus, or running after the train. Because of our depleting dollar resources, we just opted to hang around lazily and wait for the time when we would have to drive back to Ciego de Avila and catch our midnight bus back to Havana. We still had to worry about buying an extra ticket. Señora Noris' nephew accepted US$15 to drive us back to Ciego de Avila. Back in the Ciego de Avila bus station, the boy kept bothering the lady at the ticket counter every time a bus heading to Havana pulled up. We just wanted to mak...Read More

Cuba Accomodations: Casa Particulares

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Story/Tip

Cuba: <i>Finalmente</i>, Finally Photo, Cuba, Caribbean
Quote:
In 1997, the government finally allowed Cubans to rent out rooms in their houses to tourists. Proprietors are taxed and are subject to health and sanitary regulations imposed by inspectors who visit almost every day. A legal and licensed casa must have a sticker on their door with two blue chevrons against a white background [photo below: Señora Virginia's sticker with Arrendador Inscripto written on it.] When you check-in, you have to give your passports to the owner of the casa so they can write your information and passport numbers down in their log book, which are also thoroughly inspected by government workers. Cubans who have casa particulares ar...Read More