Back in mid June bubba Trump said he wanted to make "new restrictions" on travel to Cuba, what he was saying is they want to close the "people to people" loophole that allows individuals to make educational and curatorial trips to Cuba with out the overwhelming cost of a organized travel agency style trips. So we rearranged work and life and jumped on a JetBlue flight about 3 weeks later meeting up with some friends in Cuba.
Day 1: Landed HAV
After settling in to our bnb we took to the streets of Havana. It was nothing like I thought it would be, I have lived in central America and the Caribbean for years but this was soo different it was more like New Orleans meets Spain. Tiny streets with an amazing mix of architecture, Colonial style buildings just crumbling away next to Neo- classical and art deco building that are splashed around the whole city.
The culture felt more like a lost in time European city and people could not have been nicer with the exception of a man who called me racist after I bought our tour guide a bottle of water but declined to buy him ( a random stranger who was holding a beer) one. Baffled I tried to figure out how that made me a "racist" as both the guide and the angry man where Cuban and after a few rounds in spanglish I learned that he was a really literate drunk.
Havana was under construction everywhere, the new hope of the American dollar is changing the Cuban landscape like wildfire.
Day 3: Havana - Vinales Valley
After 2 days in Havana we set off for a overnight in Vinales Valley, a 51 sq mi "karstic depression" and UNESCO world heritage site about 2 hrs west of Havana.
The one thing we could not figure out on the cheep was travel on island, we wanted to get from A to B with out wasting allot of time having to hitch or bus but there is no real good public transport so we went with private hire cars, the prices vary depending on your negotiation skills but it came out to be similar to hiring a Uber to go everywhere.
Vinales is known for a few things: limestone cliffs, large cave system, tobacco fields and a shitty massive mural of a tourist trap, I mean "prehistory". We did it all but for the mural, we slow rolled that.
After about 40min of walking quickly thru farm land in the middle of the day in the middle of summer, I was starting to miss the 3 a day showers I was taking in Havana to stay cool. About then we rolled up on some Tobacco farmers who showed us their world and a way of smoking I had never seen. After rolling the cigar the farmer dipped cap (end you suck on ) in honey. I had never had a fresh dipped in honey cigar, it definitely cooled it down and took the edge off.
Day 4: Vinales Valley- Havana
The next morning we elected to skip the "tourist" cave with a boat and go for the one that is in the National park but what our guide did not tell us and we should have figured from him not going was it's a cave in the side of a cliff with a vertical hike up and once inside a cave is generally cooler but this fucker was like a sauna with a dog in it. After we made it out we stopped to cool off and do some ziplining. This time our guide was first in line.
Day 5: Havana - Varadero
Lazy Sunday: we slow rolled over to catch the ferry to Casablanca where we became part of a neighborhood tug of war while waiting on our "train" to leave for Varadero. It's called a train but its more a trolly, the Hershey train is a sometimes functioning public rail that can run from Havana to Matanzas about 57 miles east. I say "sometimes" cause its down allot and "can" cause its a gamble, we where told it was not going to Matanzas but about 75% of the way and the conductor was nice enough to call us a taxi to take us the last stretch.
We made a ton of stops along the way some at stations some just so staff could take a piss, it was packed for about 90% of the trip but fun despite the tin can feeling.
Once in Varadero we cruised over to the beach for a quick dip then to check out the wild themed bars along the strip all showcasing music of different genres.
Day 6: Varadero - Havana
Back to Havana but this time we are riding in style.. or stupidity your choice. We arranged a sweet cherry red BelAir to takes us the 2hrs west to Havana. We left early in the morning so the first 30min where great but then the sun on the leather was starting to bake us but we held tru and covered up like bedouins to survive.
Our last night in Havana we spent trying to get hold of what is know as "The Package" or "Weekly Package" by others. We learned about this day one but had not had time to find some one till now. With limited internet access Cubans can not access outside media other then the state, thus no outside movies, tv shows or music, no news, apps or software but like everything someone figured out how and then they made copies on hard drives and started the underground rental of "The Package". It's updated weekly and has a huge network, people all over Cuba who know of it and use it. Here's how it works:
Call a person, they come to your place or a meeting spot, it was about $2 and you get the HD for the night. Most people transfer the files to a flash stick, then return and enjoy. It's no secret everyone we talked to used it or knew about it and there are some really great articals out there if you want to know more.
With Cuba growing so fast I worry the American dollar will bring a huge change in good and bad ways. I fear it will turn in to a Cancun but I saw everyday how tourism was helping. Airbnb is a perfect example of the good ways, empowering people to make more income and build a better life for their families.