Warm greetings to you all beloved
Happy 2017! I trust you have had a great start into the new year. My year kicked off in New York City with my auntie Selaelo and my little brother Diego. In my culture your mother's sister's children are your siblings. Your cousins are your mother's brothers children. Off on a tangent, I know. Anyway, you probably know that New York is my favorite city so this means my year started off well. I then left NYC for another solo trip. This time to Cuba for the first time. I started my trip at the capital city Havana followed by the popular beach resort town Varadero. The next blog post is all about my Varadero experience.
I took off for Cuba on 5th January 2017 very early in the morning, my flight was at 6am. I had some anxiety as I did not know whether I would be allowed to fly to Cuba from the USA or not. I had read some weird stories online where people had to cancel their trip at the airport because USA officials would not allow them. These were recent stories (post the embargo being lifted) so I was worried. I had made calls a few weeks before to find out from various embassies and flight help centers. Unfortunately received mixed responses. Some said it is not allowed, others said it is allowed. I decided to book everything and take my chances. I would like to thank the former POTUS, Mr Barack Hussein Obama on relaxing the decades-old trade embargo on Cuba. I had no trouble getting to Cuba on a tourist visa from USA. I got my Visa at the Cuban embassy in Tshwane. Took 2 days and only costs about R270. I did not make an appointment, just showed up at the Cuban Embassy with supporting documents. These documents consisted of proof of flights booking, accommodation booking, application forms and my passport. There are direct flights from NYC to Cuba but they were fully booked for my dates. I had to fly via Miami and that flight was filled to capacity. Americans are flooding there for vacation.
The United Airline flight to Havana, was like being in a time machine taking me back to the 1950's. Havana is everything I expected and more. As we drove into old Havana from the airport. I was astonished by the beautiful and timeless architectural structures, classic vintage cars that roam the streets and the ordinary Cuban people going on about their lives. I was in awe and filled with so much excitement. Couldn't wait to get to the hotel. I stayed at Ambos Mundos. An elegant old hotel located in the heart of Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Here are some pics of the hotel.
Sadly my room did not have natural light so was a bit dark. The state of the room was decent. You can't afford to be a snob in Old Havana hehe! With all the stray dogs in the streets, broken bathrooms in restaurants and just nje the level of hygiene. I hate non-white bedding at hotels so was not fond of their bedding. I enjoyed my stay at Ambos Mundos nonetheless. For the amount I paid for the hotel, I would get way much better in SA. So getting decent to good accommodation in Cuba is pricey. I loved hanging out in the lobby and rooftop bar. There is wifi at the hotel lobby and rooftop restaurant, 3 CUC gets you an hour. I suggest you buy the wifi card from the street guys because the hotel charges 4.5 CUC for an hour. You can log in and out, you do not have to use the whole hour at one go. Not to put the snobs off from staying in Old Havana, there are 5 star hotels in the same areas. Not sure what they look like inside. Mine was 4 star. Below is a pic of my room.
The room was kept very clean which I appreciated. Breakfast was always at the rooftop area which was nice and the staff was awesome. I remember how excited they were to hear that I was from Sudafrika. They called me their amigo (friend). I thank the friendship between my late president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Cuban revolutionary Comandate Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. During apartheid, Cubans were friends of our revolutionary organisation, the African National Congress (ANC). The lift attendant knew a lot about the ANC. He asked me how the ANC is doing, lets just say I got a little sad to answer that question. To my luck the lift arrived so I did not have to answer him, had to get going. Those of us who had either aunts, mothers, uncles or fathers that joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC. You grew up knowing that the Cubans are our friends. My uncle Eric was in the MK and used to talk about Commander Fidel Castro and sometimes mentioned the military leader Ernesto Che Guavara during my childhood. These names I knew before I started grade 1.
"The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character." - Nelson Mandela
The pic above is one of my favorite. The shirt Tata is wearing is rife in Havana street. You will see a lot of gentlemen wearing it in the streets.
So a trip to Cuba was definitely going to happen at some point in my life. Now was that time. My step father was in one of the Angola exile camp of MK. In his camp, training took place by Cubans and soviets so he is very fond of the Cubans and highly influenced by their culture. I would be lying if I said he didn't inspire me to go to Cuba now. At home, you are guaranteed good Cuban music on our patio whilst the gents endulge on some Montecristo, Cohiba, Partagas and other great cuban cigars.
The location of the hotel was great as I could explore old Havana by foot and live right in the lively Cuban music buzzing ambiance, rich history of Havana and get to chat to lots of locals at my doorstep. Wifi network within the area is the strongest by Ambos Mundos. Therefore will always have lots of young people chilling there trying to connect. The picture below was taken in the same block as Ambos Mundos. It was the first pic I took as I stepped out the hotel to explore Havana.
A friendly Cuban young gentleman called Lorenzo, came and introduced himself whilst I was taking this pic. That was a start to a friendship. His English was not great neither is my Spanish but for most parts, we understood each other. I then set out to roam the streets of Havana and my new friend insisted that he comes with. Ola Havana!!!! It was pretty cool to have someone show me around and take pics of me haha!