On the 27th of October, I met a well-traveled Australian who had spent some time in Cuba. His impression, and his attempts to describe this country reminded me of people talking about India: cultural shock, passion and difficulty to express with words the intensity of the place… “You just gotta go there mate!”
The surf forecast for the next 10 days in Mexico were not promising, so I booked my flight to Cuba on the 28th of October and flew on the 30th. I was aware that Cuba is not all about surfing. In fact I would have been pretty lucky if I got some descent waves (I didn’t!). It needs some kind of a hurricane passing by further out from the coast instead of right on the coast, like Sandy did the previous week.
On my way I bought National Geographic magazine at Mexico airport; on the cover: Cuba, on the edge of change. What a read. I was getting pretty excited. Travelers sometime question whether the preparation of a trip is more exciting than the actual trip: definitely not for Cuba!
2 hours after I arrived I was already sitting in this home with two young locals I met in the center of Havana, who took me to their grand-father so he could explain to me a bit about the country. Great start. A good variety of experiences followed:
Havana is busy, but in a fun way. Everything happens on the street: people playing domino, kids running everywhere, teenagers selling cigars and everyone with a house facing the street is either sitting there observing, or selling the most random mix of products.
I met my great Peruvian friend Jano there, by pure coincidence! A great way to ensure that all local Rums were tested.
By staying with local families, called casa particulars, I learned more about their unusual political system: 2 different currencies, collapsing communist system, rations almost forcing them to starve (2kg of rice per person per month) and an average salary of $60 per month…
I went to Trinidad, a colonial town that is like a movie set: it all looks and works like it was in the 50’s, from the train to the cars to the horse carriage to the salsa dancing. I ended staying 4 days with a lovely family.
I rode a bike around Vinales, a small little village in the hills, surrounded by tobacco and coffee plantations. Magic!
On the last week I met this very entertaining Aussie block in Gilbara, who was traveling with his Cuban friend. We hung out with their local amigos, drinking and eating, and getting around in a semi-reliable 1947 Buick. On the second day with them, we hiked to a pretty special place 4kms away from the coast, a very rare cave formation filled with salty water… In 1988, one of the guy we met found this cave, then he went on to explore it in 2005, using scuba diving equipment from World War II, and a torch wrapped in a condom! He then invited National Geographic to film a documentary, but no tourists had been there before and only a few locals. We felt pretty special and whilst we didn’t have the skills or the diving equipment to explore the kilometers of underwater caves, we were still able to swim in the crystal clear water of the main hole. The Buick broke down twice on the way back.
I am now back in Panama, looking for a barber shop. I realised it was time to shave when I was stopped 3 times by tourists who wanted take a photo of me. Weird!
Awesome photography by Jano Cortes. janophotography.com