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Cuba Day 2: Exploring Havana


· Travel journal,Cuba,Joey

Hunting for supplies

Our first mission of the day was shopping for the necessities. Like at many casa particulares, only one roll of toilet paper is usually provided. I was also determined to find cheap water, to avoid the nightmare of having to pay 3 CUC ($3; £2.4) again.

We grabbed some water at the hotel shop (this time 2 bottles for for 3 CUC) and walked around the town of Vedado for about half an hour, asking people on the street where the ‘tienda’ (shop) was, saying that we wanted to buy water and ‘papel higienico’ (toilet paper).

(*Side note: toilet paper isn't always a given in Havana. They often run out of stock, and apparently people from some towns like Vinales have to drive to Havana to get hold of them).

Finally, we found a large shop with a Panamericana sign outside that people seemed to be coming out of holding bags of toilet paper. Jackpot! We were asked to deposit our bags with a clerk, which I remembered reading is normal in Cuba. We handed over our bags, just in time as the people coming in behind us were refused entry - they had run out of space to check bags into!

The shop was nothing like what I’d seen before. To the right hand side of the shop was a counter with a display counter that contained toiletries and perfume. To the left was a queue (“cola”) with a giant pile of toilet paper rolls. Towards the back of the shop was a section for drinks - bottles of rum, soft drinks and WATER! I checked checked how much the water was (70 cents - local price!) and paid for a couple of bottles. We then queued up to buy some toilet paper, which we paid for in CUP (moneda nacional).

Our main task for the day complete, we popped into a cafe near the shop for breakfast. Most casas offer breakfast to guests, although it’s comparatively expensive (usually 5 CUC per person without haggling). As we were staying at a completely independent apartment, this option wasn’t available to us. The meal was great and quite cheap at 5 CUC for both of us for a couple of eggs each, ham, toast and butter with a large americano.

On the way to Old Town - sophisticated jineteros

After returning home to drop off our shopping, we headed towards the Old Town (Habana Vieja) along the Malecon.

On the way, we were approached by a guy asking us if we’re staying at Casa Gustavo. He said he was a friend of Gustavo’s, and I think he said he saw us getting out of the taxi the other day - it was hard to tell. He said tonight was the Festival de la Salsa in Old Town, and that today (of all days) happened to be a special day where the cuban cigar workers’ co-operative were allowed to sell discounted cigars on one day of each month. He didn’t push either event very much but pointed towards the direction we were going and said we should check it out if we had time. We shook hands with the guy and continued walking. My skeptical side was screaming “HE KNOWS WHERE WE ARE STAYING, AND THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE OUT FOR THE DAY!”.

This happened a couple more times in quick succession, with friendly guys coming up to us, introducing themselves and telling us about the Festival de la Salsa and this “co-operative”, whatever that was. I wondered whether was a genuine thing or an elaborate hustle. I suspected the latter, but the guys just left us after telling us about these places without giving us an actual location for the place or offering to take us there (which we were warned might happen).

Finally, we bumped into some well-dressed people who asked us to take us a picture of them. I obliged - being Asian, I get asked this a lot on holiday… After some chit chat, a girl from the group again told us about the cigar co-operative and offered to take us there, saying it was on the way to Old Town, saying she was heading that way anyway to buy a drink. We shrugged, curiosity getting the better of us, and followed the girl.

The “co-operative” was a tiny ground-floor house, where a girl with a laminated name badge greeted us (as everyone knows, laminated = official, right?). There was an elder lady and a child in the living room, with an assortment of cigars on a small table in the corner of the room. The girl that brought us sat down on the sofa and watched us intently. The woman with the badge proceeded to talk us through her cigar collection, ranging from 30 CUC for a small packet, to 100 CUC for a large box of 25.

They were pretty good prices for top cigars from Cohiba and Montecristo, but we chose not to buy any, as we’re on a budget and no longer have a steady income stream! I also doubted the legality of the whole operation. After a few “No fumo mucho” (I don’t smoke very much) and “No tengo mucho dinero” (I don’t have much money) and watching the woman’s facial expression pass through increasing annoyance to resignation and acceptance, we said goodbye and quickly left the establishment to explore the Old Town.

On the way to Old Town

On the way to Old Town. Parts of Havana aren't in the greatest condition.

Old Town

A long street (Obispo) runs straight down the middle of the Old Town. Here we found countless souvenir shops, restaurants, hole-in-the-wall sandwich/pizza/booze/ice cream shops, as well as a very busy cadeca.

Walking down Obispo in Old Town Havana

Obispo, the high street in the Old Town of Habana Vieja.

We spent the rest of the day ambling around the Old Town, admiring the architecture and the various squares, taking in the Havana vibe and trying out the street food.

We tried a pork sandwich from one of the hole-in-the-wall shops and also at a café to compare - I wouldn't be afraid of trying the cheaper variety! Street food in Cuba may not be the most nutritious, but we found it was safe - no upset tummies!

Plaza de San Francisco de Asis

Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. Great place for people watching!

Weird statue in Plaza Vieja

Weird statue in Plaza Vieja, which used to be known as Plaza Nueva. I guess even the old square was new once.

After rambling around for hours in the Old Town, we walked back to Vedado as the sun was setting. We grabbed dinner back near Vedado in a funny little place called La Roca. The décor was quite something - like for a really tacky wedding! The meal was delicious though and Iris even got to try some Caribbean lobster. I ordered a very generous helping of Havana Club 12 yr rum (where have you been all my life?) and we called it a night - we were jetlagged still!

Caribbean lobster at La Roca - looks different to the usual Maine lobster but very meaty!

Caribbean lobster at La Roca back in Vedado near our casa. Looks a bit strange but very meaty and still tasty! Also, despite the dated décor, this place was RAMMED!

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