A Travellerspoint blog

February 2014

Our Woman in Havana

sunny 29 °C

Unlike the protagonist in Graham Greene’s Cuban novel, ‘Our man in Havana’ our secret weapon turned out to be a woman: Lourdes, the charming owner of Villa Lou, a casa particular, (a privately owned B & B), who not only served an excellent breakfast everyday but also chauffeured us around the city each morning and acted as tour guide without charge. Here is Lourdes with Sheila under a loaded banana palm in the villa’s lush garden…

Cuba is truly a tropical haven with exotic vegetation sprouting from every crevice, and the sights, sounds and scents constantly remind us that we are in the Caribbean…

Life is lived on the streets in Havana where the word ‘chilled’ only applies to Mohitos and beer. It’s midwinter, so the days are pleasantly hot, the nights are warm, the sea is balmy, and a million northerners are here to escape the polar vortex. Today, tourism is Cuba’s largest industry and the narrow streets of Havana’s old city swarm with visitors. However, while other Caribbean islands have been ravaged by the influence of Uncle Sam and the almighty buck, the ongoing American embargo has largely saved Cuba from the sport of gouging the tourist – where else in the world can you get a beer for a dollar or a four course lobster dinner for $15?
This is one of the many beautifully restored squares in Havana…
However, following the revolution in 1959 many historic buildings were abandoned as hated symbols of colonialism and they now lie in ruins…
The days of Soviet subsidised sugar, tobacco and rum production are long gone and Cubans are learning the ways of capitalism. Since the Marxists slipped the leash on small businesses a few years ago, restaurants, taxis and bed & breakfast guesthouses (casa particulars) have flourished, and the prices are very reasonable. A large room with ensuite and excellent breakfast in Havana costs less than $50 Cdn a night, while in the historic city of Trinidad we had a beautiful four room suite with two private terraces for just $35 including an excellent breakfast. Here’s our view of sunset from the west terrace…
And this is Norelvis and his charming wife, Luibetsy, who gave us five star service, and fabulous meals, throughout our stay…
Other forms of private enterprise have also blossomed since the relaxation of Communism and this is very evident on the streets of the capital where bevies of beautiful young women and handsome young men offer dubious pleasurable services to foreigners. However, these costumed beauties are unlikely to go further than posing for a photo for a fee…
Prices in general are low and for fifteen dollars each we have eaten three course haute cuisine dinners in fine dining restaurants. The food has been superb: high quality; perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, and the service has been impeccable.
This is the tower of El Cocinero restaurant – a converted peanut oil factory near our casa in Havana – where haute cuisine is taken to new heights. We paid peanuts for excellent dinners under the stars while being serenaded by soft Cuban jazz.

There are no satellite dishes here and the internet is restricted solely to the military and to emails. The web is illegal in private houses but, we are told, that is simply because the cable connecting Cuba to Venezuela has a limited capacity. The result is that Cubans are shielded from worldly distractions like Facebook and Google and have time for singing and dancing in the streets…

Much more to see and do in Havana - Hasta luego.

Posted by Hawkson 16:29 Archived in Cuba Comments (5)

Mexico Revisited

But it wasn't our fault

sunny 31 °C

We finally did it … following years of torment from our friend Catherine we flung caution to the wind and braved the frigid North Pacific for a true Canadian Polar Bear swim on New Year’s Day. Here we are enjoying the balmy waters of Taylor Bay on Gabriola Island..

That was more than a month ago and we simply never warmed up to the Canadian winter so, when the mercury flatlined at zero and the snow began to fall, we decided that enough was enough. And when we were invited to Vancouver to be interviewed by Sheryl McKay on the CBC about our new book, Slow Train to China, we thought – why stop at Vancouver?

So here we are in the balmy turquoise waters of Playa del Carmen in the Yucatan Peninsula and tomorrow we fly to Havana in Cuba… and finally we are warm. Here are our friends Keith and Helen keeping a place for us on the beautiful white sand beach of Playa...


Turn up the heating and stay tuned and, internet permitting, we will take you on an excursion around Cuba for the next couple of weeks.
Hasta luego nos amigos from sunny (and very warm) Mexico.

Posted by Hawkson 16:33 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

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