Elena and I booked ourselves a return ticket on Cubana airline from Cancun to La Havana @ US$276. At Cancun airport we were asked to pay about US$20 for airport tax and 130 pesos Cuba Visa. We finally got thru after 1 hour. As we enter the plane we noticed that it looks old, the seat can be folded forward instead. As we were about to take off, tons of smoke starts flowing out from the air con hole and water starts dripping from it. We thought it was funny and took some video of the scene. It was a short 1.5 hours flight and thank god we landed safely! We were really excited now as we were queuing for our passport stamp. I was clearly surprised when the immigration officer starts to speak to me in mandarin! He has studied in Beijing for a year and speaks fluent Chinese. Another surprise was to find out that I actually do not need to pay for visa to enter Cuba, stupid of me to pay in Cancun as I wasn’t thinking coz I did checked before I got my flight ticket that Malaysian do not need a visa for Cuba. There goes my 130pesos…L
We were welcomed by Laura at the airport, Elena’s friend. She has arranged for us a place to stay, they called it Casa Particulars, they are local that rent out their room in their house, and they have to legally register to the government to rent out their room. At their door they place a blue sticker that looks like a big alphabet I. Yellow is for rental to local Cubans only. They pay certain amount of money monthly to the government to be able to do this. This lets us experienced living with the Cuban. The room is usually air condition with attached toilet. The owner Carlo and his wife was lovely people, they have a big house. We were also 1 block away from Elena’s brother’s place. We paid 15CUC pp/pn = US$15. We plan to stay 2 nights in Havana, see Havana for a day and leave to Trinidad the following day.
Havana is the capital city of Cuba, a city with its unique colonial buildings, building that looks like they just went thru WW2, 1950s car, Fidel Castro face all over, Cuban music, Mojito, Cigar and Rum. Nowhere else in this world can brought one back in time like how Havana did. I think one just needs to put on black and white sunglasses and you are back to the 50s. :-)
The next day we ventured to the Central Havana after sorting out our bus ticket to Trinidad and I got into some money problem. Ya! Disaster! I can't withdraw money from my Citibank card. I was told I can withdraw the money with my passport at the bank counter. So we plan to do that first thing in Trinidad. So we took a local bus called “Guagua” to the central. We walked from the Capitol building thru old Havana to Ave Del Puerto then strolling thru all the old streets, it was really beautiful, the feeling of out of the real world. People here are overly friendly, from the unstoppable whistling and "hola" by the Cubans (young to old) while we walk on the street, taxi driver stopping us at every corner, stare from everyone on the street. Cuban who chats with us and offer us a "free" walk, asking if we want to buy a cigar, asking where we are from, they only managed to guess I am from China, Korea and Japan :-) it was a really interesting day.
There is so much stuff that shocks me as I learn from the Cuban how their life is rule by the dictator. Everything is controlled here, from what they can do to what they can buy, they have “limited” freedom I would say. They still use the booklet to get their monthly supply, anything extra they will need to pay for it... sometime in peso sometime is CUC. Oh ya there are 2 currencies here, the local peso and the convertable peso (CUC) foreigner usually transact in CUC. 1 US$ = 1 CUC, 1 CUC = 20 pesos. Sometimes we can eat for as cheap as 0.25 CUC at local stall, but mostly at the touristic place we need to pay around 5CUC for a meal.
We arrived around 2pm at Trinidad, our host pick us up at the bus station. We explored the beautiful streets, not to mention the hassle I had to go thru getting some money, I was not able to withdraw money from my CITIBANK card as it is an American bank. I have to sell my Travelers Cheque at the bank to get some money and borrowed some money from Elena :-( Well luckily we managed to find some local stalls that sell food at the local pesos, a breakfast of bun with fried egg and a coffee cost CUC25cent.
Trinidad is declared UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988 with it's colorful old colonial houses lies on a slope of a hill. Pebble stone road pave between the colonial houses. I wasn't expecting it to be so pretty. Walking on the stone pave road gives a kind of foot massage to the feet but at the end of the day, it's awful. :-( There are more than 400 Casa particulares here to choose from. We settled with a casa recommended by the lady at the ticket counter at La Havana bus station. It has a nice room on the roof top with TV, Refrigerator, attached bathroom and roof top balcony @ 10CUC pp/pn. The owner Rionaldo and his wife were nice. They offered us a nice dinner at 5CUC served at the roof top. They also rented us a bicycle for the 2nd day at 2CUC each.
At night we went to the famous Casa de la musical for some salsa music, it was good, there were live band and performance, we finally get to dance some salsa with some Cubans. Some of them are really good dancer, especially the older man. :-) We were told later that it is illegal for the young Cuban to dance with the tourist, if they are caught they will be jailed for a day and 30pesso to be released. This rule applies only at the Casa de la musica area. We are not sure why at other area of the town it is not a problem. It doesn't make any sense for me. The 2 cuban guys who dance with us stuck to us all night long like glue, after the first dance they wanted to have a relationship. Oh gosh! And they decided to skip their work the next day to join us to the beach. Lots of them do this to get away from their country.
On the 2nd day, we rented a bicycle and cycled to the beach, we stop at La Boca beach for a swim and the 2 Cubans spent the whole day with us. We finished the day at the deserted Playa Ancon 12km away. We had the entire beach for just the 2 of us. Oh the 2 Cubans dare not follow us to Ancon because there is the illegal area for locals. :-)
At night, there was a pre-festival of Trinidad. We met up with the 2 Cubans again and they were worried about the police checking them at the Casa de la musical, they suggested we go to the festival where it is not a problem. The pre-festival is not really great, not the kind of music I was expecting.
Next morning we pack and leave to Varadero. Varadero is well-known for its beautiful beach. It was damn true! The long stretch of white beach and turquoise water makes a perfect postcard photo. Our Casa particular is 100m away from the beach, we soak in this huge swimming pool and get more tan! Prices here are more expensive from Trinidad. We have not much money left for Cuba, lucky we found a local bread shop that sells reasonable price for pizza and pasta. We only spent 1 night here, took the next day bus back to La Havana.
Laura’s has invited us to hang out with her and her brother. Daniel cook us delicious dinner, the 2 of them are really hospitable. We can’t thank them enough. On the last night in La Havana, we just went walking in Old Havana and sit by the Malecon and enjpy some nice rum.
Since we didn't book for any Casa Particula in Havana, we crash at Daniel house illegally. The next morning, we took the antique taxi to the airport, cost us only 1 CUC per person. Our flight which was scheduled to leave at 12:55 pm got delayed to 11:30 pm at night. :-( Luckily the airline put us all in a hotel with a room to rest a buffet lunch and dinner. :-) That ends our trip to Cuba.