Hola de Cuba! Cubans are a very friendly bunch who are in no sort of hurry, ever. Our arrival at the airport was smooth, even though I made a mistake on my visa paperwork and accidentally wrote the day’s date instead of my birthdate, which should have invalidated my visa. I don’t think the custom’s girl even looked at it though, she just stamped, took my picture, and moved me along to the next line. The adorable customs girls wear tight uniforms, fishnets, and very high heels. Little did we know, this is quite conservative for the fashion of Cuban women. Lycra. Bodysuits. Everywhere. No joke. Elena and I are on the hunt for ours, obviously.

After customs we found our cab driver who was holding mom’s name on a paper, and proceeded to wait in line to change money. We got Euros before we left to change into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) because there is a 10% fee for changing American dollars. We waited in one of three lines for 30 minutes or so, then right as we were almost to the window, our line closed and we had to go to the back of the other line and wait another 30 minutes. Thankfully our cab driver waited for us, this line business is normal. To our great enjoyment, our cab was a classic 1954 Chevy. Classic cars like these make up the majority of cars in Havana, and almost all the private cabs. The old cars are super cool looking, but they don’t have seat belts and may break down during your trip (one of ours did!). Our ride to Vedado cost 30cuc.

We are staying in an excellent four bedroom two bath casa particular complete with kitchen and hot or cold water (but not warm), though we’re all taking cold showers because it is HOT here (like 92 degrees and very humid). Our neighborhood is right on the border of Vedado and Centro Habana. It’s a colorful place full of Cubans living life and only a few tourists. We are across from the Convento & Iglesia del Carmen and next to a fabulous bakery.

Iglesia del Carmen:


A helpful Cuban cab driver:

Cubans wait in line for things. Long lines. Lines with hundreds of people. They wait all day.

Line for Coppelia ice cream:

Line for Yara movie theater:

A kid’s park in Centro Habana:

Cubans are very friendly, helpful, and happy to chat with you. We have had many wonderful conversations with locals. They like to ask where you are from and we have been thanked many different times for visiting from the US. One of our favorite Cuban friends we’ve met is Wolten. He’s a fortyfive year old salsa dance instructor with six kids and on his seventh marriage. He showed us around Callejon de Hamel, a community art street with a school for kids. Wolten and I spoke Spanish together and he told us all about the street. One artist created most of the street murals and found object sculptures. The art is centered around Santeria and Afro-Cuban culture. The different color combinations in the art reference different orishas (deities in Santeria).We got to see inside some funky galleries and ring the wishing bell. We are all taking Wolten’s salsa class on Thursday!

I was told this is a Cuban drone:

Click picture for big version:

The school:


The Malecon is the sea drive that spans from Vedado to Habana Vieja. Empty during the day because of the heat, it fills with Cubans at night for socializing, sunset watching, and fishing. It’s an excellent place to watch the sun go down with the locals.

Click picture for big version:

The US embassy is on the Malecon. Apparently there used to be a huge ticker on the building showing messages from the US government, so Cuba built all these flag poles next door so the flags would block the view of the messages from Havana. Obama had the ticker removed.

One of the huge hotels along the Malecon is the Hotel Nacional, a fancy joint that makes you feel like an imperialist to visit. We used the internet there. Internet is extremely hard to come by in Cuba, hence my infrequent posts. You can go to large hotels with business centers and pay 5cuc per hour of decent internet (good enough for a video call). You can also walk around until you notice a whole bunch of people staring at their phones, usually in a park, which means a temporary internet hotspot has been set up and you can connect by finding the person running it and paying 2-3cuc per hour. The locals call these places “Zombie Park” because everyone is dead to the world staring at their phones. I haven’t tried this internet yet but I might give it a shot on my phone at some point.

Hotel Nacional:

We’ve also been to Havana Vieja. Not our favorite. There are many lovely sculptures, plazas and museums, but you have to dig to find them under all the cruise ship tourists. There seems to be a cruise ship everyday and the place gets overrun with annoying tourists, not what I’m here for. There seem to be no Cuban locals around, only those who are working to serve or otherwise make money from the boat people. Our neighborhood is much more real so we’ve preferred to spend our time here and in Centro Habana.

We enjoyed an excellent monsoon and lightning storm upon our exit from Habana Vieja.

There are so many sweet dog buds here! And they’re all short-long dogs like my pup Poco! We’ve taken to saving our restaurant scraps in a ziplock to hand out to the stray pups we see. Cubans seems to be nice to them too, we’ve seen them get scraps from locals. Many Cubans have pet dogs as well, though non seem to be fixed, hence the strays.

I hope to do a couple more posts, though they may need to wait until I am back home. Hasta luego!

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  1. Reta says:

    Looks like you are having a wonderful adventure! Thanks for sharing!

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