Monday, July 25, 2016

EXPOLORING HAVANA, CUBA


I will forever remember my 33rd Birthday in Havana, Cuba. Because walking through Havana feels like you’re walking in a post card. The buildings are beautiful including the ones that are abandoned and falling apart. If I come back to Havana I’ll know what to expect and would advise others to save as much money as you can so when you visit you can go big!

HAVANA IN THREE WORDS

If I had to describe Havana in three words they would be: 
Charming. Expensive. Humid.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Next the humidity! I hate it. My body feels swollen the air is thick and filled with engine exhaust from all of the old cars. It’s almost unbearable for me. I love walking especially while travelling because I feel like I can see and absorb more of the city rather than in a car/bus. We had to limit our mile walks to the mornings and spent the afternoons and evenings using the Hop on Hop off bus and Co Cos (a little three wheeled taxi.) And I usually don’t get sunburned but here I did because we walked soaked/drenched with sweat in the blistering sun. 

All of the bloggers who said Havana/Cuba is not backpack/budget friendly were totally right! The currency and pricing are confusing. There is one set for foreigners and another set for locals. It sounds easier than when you're experiencing it. When we converted our Euros the rate was 1-1. At the end of the day you make peace with how much you are spending because ultimately you are supporting the Cuban people. 

Cubans are so friendly and have a great sense of humor. When I told our bike cab driver it was my birthday he told my husband, “Here is the best place to celebrate with your wife. But be careful, one mojito and one baby.” It was funny to see some people shout at my husband, “India?!” He would nod and they’d give him thumbs up and we smiled. Men also told my husband, "you have the beard of Fidel" and again we smiled. 

WHAT SURPRISED ME ABOUT HAVANA?    

Here are a few things that surprised me about Havana.

I want to say about 10 minutes before we landed the flight attendant said, “Cuba requires us to spray the aircraft for health concerns. The World Health Organization has certified the spray we are using. Thank you for your cooperation.” This really irritated me; feeling forced to sit with (who knows if it’s toxic or not) spray. But that’s what traveling does it makes you go with the flow. 

And, "Wow!" It was super easy entering this country. Contrary to everything I read and advice given about how one could be interrogated and how we should “know and stick to your story." We weren't questioned and didn’t need to show travelers insurance. I'll tell you entering Havana was quick and easy. 

Next, did you know there is a dress code to go to the bank? Well folks here in Havana, NO: flip-flops, dresses, tank tops, or shorts are allowed in the bank. We went to the bank to exchange money because the airport money exchangers were all closed- they were eating dinner. Also the bank only allows as many people as there are tellers into the bank at one time. Then when you get into the bank the guards tell you to sit down. There is no order to who gets to go to the teller, the guard picks; at least this is what it feels like.

Many people thought we were Cuban; other foreigners would stop and ask for directions and locals asked us for the time. And while leaving Havana we were on the same flight as the Cuban Olympic Team! 
  
WHAT DO VEGETARIANS EAT IN HAVANA?

Vegetarians can eat a lot of cheese pizza! Think an ultra thin crust, tomato sauce that tastes like the sauce you get in canned pasta like Spaghetti-O’s and cheese, French fries, fried egg sandwiches, ice cream, rice and beans, salad, plantains, churros. That’s about it. Super limited and expensive. Think eating three meals a day in your hometown and definitely not the same quality, but hey you’re in Cuba!   

TIPS- In this section I've laid out tips if you're interested in traveling here...

DO:
Use the red Hop on Hop off bus. We definitely got our monies worth! The first time we sat up top and the second time on the bottom. We saw more of the city than we could on foot. Use a bike taxi, Dennis (our bike rider) took us to a few cools spots before dropping us off in the city center. Take a car ride across the bridge to see Che’s house and get cool panoramic views of Old Havana. Bring sunblock and aloe even if you’re like me who never burns the sun here is unreal and you will wish you had brought it. Bring lots of extra Euros! If you run out of money you will be screwed!

EAT:
Stock up on snacks in Mexico City and bring them with you if you’re a vegetarian. Doing this really helped us. Don’t eat pizza before you get here because it was the cheapest and most abundant meal we had.

STAY:
Plan to stay somewhere central otherwise you'll spend more money getting to all of the attractions. If you’re using Airbnb try to see if someone will pick and drop you off from the airport. And know that if you stay someplace that’s on a high floor the water pressure is next to none. 

When I come back to Havana, I'm going to go big. I'm talking four star hotels and tours! Saving up to see you next time!