Lock and I had huge talks about visiting Havana, intrigued about this old island. Our fascination grew more after our friends shared their experience of salsa nights and Cuban sandwiches. They recommended visiting before the tourist population grows, and already the country is opening up to foreign visitors since the embargo was lifted by Obama.
We both have a love of architecture and cars. Cuba is renowned for being frozen in time, boasting old cars, colourful building facades, and street jazz.
Screw it, let’s go! We need to see it for ourselves.
And so we are off, accompanied by our suitcases overloaded with necessities, as after some research we find it may be a little hard to come by some products in Havana. We then head for Houston, Texas – baby slept, just not mama…
Once grounded, sweaty, overtired and smelling like a pair of dirty shoes, we hang out in the airport for our connection to Cancun. Travelling to Cuba has ongoing restrictions, requiring a special licence for Americans. This still makes it hard for other foreigners to gain entry, mainly due to flights. To avoid any issues, we go through a gateway method connecting onto Cancun and obtain a hassle-free visa there.
Why not stay for a few days in Mexico? Ahh, yes please!
Riley was only 4½ months old at this point, thankfully sleeping well inflight. However, my mum radar won’t shut down, which means I am awake the entire flight watching his chest rise and fall – gaaaa!
Still, the Mexican heat soon soothes our travel sores and we bounce back into our happy place, with four days of chilling and eating tacos – indisputably my utopia.
Before long we are sun-kissed and back on the burner to Havana, Cuba. We fly with AeroMexico with a win of front row seats. We watch as the plane traces the land, patched with tobacco farms.
After touching down, our baggage wait exceeds our patience at around one hour, but we brush it off acknowledging the process.
We are excited to see the world through our grandparents’ eyes, with no cellular phones, wi-fi or internet available on the island, forcing a disconnection for the week, no new vehicles on the roads and original rustic buildings. This requires a bit more attention to detail and pulling out the ole paper map now and then. It also prompts us to really engage more with the locals, learn more about our area and explore with more focus.
Although there are a few hotels, we were advised to stay in a casa (private homestay), which is a wonderful, warm experience. We choose to stay in La Habana, around 15 minutes’ walk along the esplanade (Malacon) to the Old Town. The wide streets, smoky from the fumes, are lit up in bright yellows, and soft pink dwellings in concrete with large porches offer rooms for accommodation, sharing with Cuban families.
Our apartment is modern, clean and private, and we also have a kitchenette and much needed aircon. Each morning our lovely hosts prepare us in-room breakfast of fruit, coffee and even eggs. We are very spoilt, and of course they dote over our little baby who brings lots of joy to their mornings.
A day in the old town leads us through the busy, loud colourful streets where the air is filled with strong fuel vapours and cigars. Small bands of buskers play cellos in the streets. The locals capitalise on the tourists snapping photographs, charging them as they approach. Street cafes are buzzing with people drinking mojitos and the famous strawberry daiquiri, a fav of Hemingway’s. On that note, Ernest Hemingway is a well-respected name here, as he spent 22 years in Havana. The love he had for Cuba was certainly returned by the people, and today many of his old haunts are massive tourist attractions. We don’t really follow his footsteps as some do, as it is not that easy with a little baby in the heat. We do, however, stop by a beautiful 1920s hotel with a brass elevator, velvet chairs, and barmen wearing suspenders and bow ties who were mixing cocktails into crystal glasses. Here we also find many portraits of Hemingway in the lobby, and the hotel gloats about his writing of “The Old Man and the Sea”.
We follow the crowds through the old town streets, the aroma of roasted coffee beans leading the way to an Irish pub, in full character too. We stop for a coffee boost and a Cuban sandwich while I feed the baby in front of a massive howling fan – it’s hot to say the least.
The streets welcome some locals selling art, but the majority leave you to your own business. We make our way to the centre of town, where lines of shiny old cars are perfectly parked awaiting tourist passengers. We take our pic and head for a cruise through the remainder of the town on our way home for an afternoon kip.
With new light comes a new day, and we book a private day tour in a 1950’s red Belair for Lock’s birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!
It seemed to be the fastest way around the main attractions with baby, and we drive the streets in the convertible hearing old stories of the city from our guide, as we stop by influential houses and step back in time in the parks dedicated to John Lennon. Havana is aesthetically beautiful with some incredibly unique buildings – (explanation through photographs). We pull into the old fort and cool off with an unforgettable pina colada served from a side of the road bar. To this day we chat about that cocktail.
Our tour guide insists on a local lunch, and after a few hours of village visits and sightseeing, we are super keen. We park up and sit in an outdoor eatery with four or five restaurants serving BBQ pork with plantation chips, while a sneaky band greets our table, singing to Lock for his birthday.
Over the next few days we make daily strolls along the water and into the town, find lovely places to eat set on rooftops and visit more fascinating buildings. Slowly, Havana is growing popular, attracting international tourists and opening new restaurants and cafes – we hope this helps the economy without stealing its old-style charm.
We leave wanting more and eager to return one day.