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La Habana

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

HavanaHaven’t posted for awhile as I was waiting until I could write a positive post about Havana but that isn’t going to happen so here’s my take on it. Keep in mind that I am NOT a big city type of person & that I am a traveller NOT a tourist. Will srart with the worst & try to end on a bit of a positive note but at this point in time I am seriously considering calling my real estate agent in Antigua Guatemala to see if there is an appartement available for Feb 1.

To start with I have not had a conservation a single person on the street that didn’t end up with a request for money nor sat on a park bench for more than 2 minutes without being asked if I wanted “company”. This gets monotonous after a while & is not condusive to a nice holiday or relaxing long term stay. Actually on my first tripin 2005 the same thing happened in Santiago de Cuba & again in Gibara in 2006. To be fair to the Cuban people I noticed that in Holguin City in 2006 there was no problem so I lay the blame entirely on tourists being way too free with their money (Holguin is not a major tourist centre like the nearby resorts) & ruining the main tourist areas.

Also every thing runs when, if & how the people doing the job feel like doing it like with the Havanatour buses routes which only follow the listed routing & times if the driver & guide want to, other wise it runs where & when they want. A perfect example of this is at 2:00pm I asked my casa owner to call me a taxi to go to my Spanish lesson (about 5 minutes away) for 3:00 pm so he immediately calls the taxi & when I complained it was too early he said “it’s Cuba” which is fine as long as you aren’t the one wasting 40 minutes because you are early.

Prices are way too high, in old Havana the tourists might just as well have “sucker” branded on on their foreheads (similar to cruise ship tourists in Antigua). The best you can do there is $25.00 cuc/night for a room + maybe another couple CUC a day for street food & that’s not going into any attractions which most cost 1-5 CUC, while any where in Central America you can do better for 1/2. Example it’s costing me $50.00 CUC for 2 hrs daily Spanish lessons including my casa & food, where as in Antigua it was $25.00 US (room & board included) for 4 hrs & you could talk to people without getting hit up for money.

Now on the plus side the dentist was very professional & had my best interests in mind when he recommended I return to Canada
(due to complications as a direct cause of our system) for the work. I believe every one knows my feelings & experiences on the subject of Canadian health uncare so we won’t go there, subject closed!

Also I found Jorge to be excellent & his guide Dania to be great not only as a guide but a source on Cuban life, well worth the reasonable fee charged & unlike some Havana guides does not charge Casa Particular owners a commission on referals; is the contact for any info & prices.

I guess the bottom line is if you have unlimited funds for a short stay as a traveller or you are an AI tourist Cuba is OK, other wise there are other places out there where you get a better bang for the buck. Sorry Cuba fans but that is my honest opinion.

The jury is still out on where I go the end of January.

New Years in Havana

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Nuevo Año en La HabanaSaw the New Year in at Hotel Nacional in Havana as there didn’t seem to be much of a public celebration mainly people celebrating at home with family & friends. The had 2 dinners followed by a dance. One was in the garden restaurent & the other in the high end one $45 or $150 CUC but the same dance for each price, no need to ask which one I attended.

The one in the garden was perfect & made a dent in the pig population as 3 were served along with vegetables & of course rice & black beans also a local group sang requests while selling their CD. I checked out the dance which had a fine orchestra but decieded to see the New Year in outside overlooking the Malecon where the fireworks were visable & consider myself priviledged to have been in Havana for the 50th anniversary of the revolution. Even ran into an interesting man from Moroco who now resides in London & spent a couple hours trading stories then saw the sunrise over the malecon on the first day of the New Year.

The Hotel Nacional is an awesome hotel & well worth a visit, if you are feeling flush I am sure the $1,000 CUC Presidental Suite would be really nice. However be prepared to be in the minority if you speak English as it is a truly International hotel with guests from all over the world.

Have now moved to my casa & have a dentist appointment Monday at 10:00 when I will finally meet Jorge. Today will visit Revolution Square which is only a 5 minute walk from the casa, yesterday visited a CUC store & found the shelves pretty bare of some things especially meat. More Havana adventures to come.