Our arrival could have been more pleasant, but when we finally wake up in the city of Havanna on Thursday morning it is exactly how we´ve imagined it. The scent, the people, the colors, and the life running through the vains of a poor but genuinely open and friendly society. I take my hat off for the Cubanos.
After a fairly tiresome travel day containing most of what you don´t wish for to happen during a long distance flight (stuck in the plane for 3 hours before take off because of system breakdown, daughter peeing all over herself in the plane and parents discovering they forgot the extra clothes, more delay at travel destination because of bags stuck in Amsterdam and finally a broken sink and carpenters in the middle of the night at our hostel in Havanna) we are here. We are here and it´s amazing. Even though we have to walk around in the same sweaty clothes in 30 degrees heat for 24 hours before our bags arrive it´s still amazing. And it´s hard to keep this first blog post as short and focused as it should be for our stressed readers to hang on. But have patience with us. There´s just so much running through our heads right now having spent our first days in this fantastic island.
We spend our first day in Cuba walking the streets of Havana and talking to people. At least try to talk to people. Even though I spent some hours with my Spanish app before we went I still have a long way to go compared to my “days of glory” studying in a Spanish university in the year of ´99. But people are very friendly here. Many of them know a little bit English or at least speak pretty understandable Spanish and they really want to help you. Not first and foremost because they want your money, but because they are genuinely helpful and friendly. Many of them are poor, but they hold their head up high, with grace. And very few are complaining.
We pop by a place in Havana, looking like a normal grocery store. Only the only thing filling the shelves is eggs. Curious we ask what this place is, and an old lady tell us that they hand out egg portions for citizen in Havana. “12 eggs each” she explains. “Per week?” we ask. “No, no, no” she says laughing and shaking her head. “12 eggs per month”. I think of the omelette we´ve had for breakfast at the hostel. Eddie barely touched his.
A nice man called Suniel drives us around in Havana in a horse carriage. We ask for a good restaurant, where the locals eat. He looks at us and laughs: “But the food is much better at the tourist places. I would like to go to these places myself, but I cannot afford it” he says. In Cuba there are generally no hidden local places where the food is simply better than in the high prized tourist spots. Here you pay for what you get. Simple as that. And most of the Cubans can´t pay.
After two nights in Havana we travel west in an old Chevy from 1956. It is a so called taxi collectivo, a shared taxi mainly operating on long distance routes. As a family we get blessed with the whole backbench while in the front 3 large guys including the driver fight for the best and least sweaty positions. The road is sometimes very bumpy, but the 1956 feathers makes you feel like you are riding a rollercoaster. The kids love it. Of course the car doesn´t have special seats for kids nor any seatbelts. You just have to trust. And the Cubans are easy to trust. On the road as well.
After three hours we arrive in Viñales, the UNESCO valley of Tabaco. But we are not staying today. We want to go to a nice beach, so the kids can finally go swimming; the only thing they´ve been talking about since we arrived in Cuba. One of the best beaches in Cuba is called Cayo Jutias. It is a virgin beach and lies pretty far off from everything. The closest town is called Santa Lucia and lies 14 km away. This is where we are heading.
In Santa Lucia we are the only tourists at the moment. We stay with a nice lady called Cusy. She offers a simple but very charming place in this laid back town on the country side. Besides her whole family (mom, sister, niece and son) the house also host chickens, a rooster that wakes us up at 5 am in the morning, cats and dogs. Heaven for our children. The main road (and only road) of the town is very often frequented with horse carriages transporting people and goods back and forth. Everywhere you see dogs running around and sometimes one or two pigs are hitting the streets as well. A young guy comes riding down the main road like crazy on a horse. He looks at us with a grin when he passes us. It reminds me of the young people with their mopeds driving up and down the streets in our home town in Sweden. Same, same but so very different.
On Saturday we finally reach the amazing virgin beach of Cayo Jutias. I was never in the Caribbean before and only saw these white beaches with coral blue ocean in a picture. Until now. It is exactly like a post card. Only you get to touch it, feel it, swim in it and smell it. In the beginning we are almost alone at the beach but after a while other people are showing up. In the afternoon there´s life everywhere. A salsa band is playing in the beach restaurant. People are half dancing, half walking around drinking mojitos and coconut from a straw. Life on a string.
On the way back we go to a grocery store. I want to buy chips, nuts and candy but the shelves are few and mostly filled with different juice from concentrate. The guy just looks at me and shakes his head when I ask for different things. I buy some beer and water and ask for a bag. “No, no” he says. “No bags on Cuba I ask him?”. “No, señora”. Instead he helps carrying my groceries to the car while the other customers are waiting.
This is Cuba. Full of contradictions.
Ps. Since there are only limited Wi-Fi spaces on Cuba you can expect some space between our blog posts these first couple of weeks. We will also not be very fast in answering comments on the blog and in social media, but we see them, appreciate them very much and answer as soon as we have the possibility. Thank you very much for following our journey.