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The Cuba Diaries: Part 1

Celebrating her 50th year in style, Sharon embarked on an escorted tour of Cuba. We’re usually very trusted travel agents who wouldn’t dream of reading a client’s diary. But seeing as we have permission, this time we’re making an exception. Enjoy...

03.12.18 | Flying to Havana The end to my 50th birthday year and the beginning of three weeks travelling around Cuba. My first Shazzy moment arrived early… I registered my car using part licence plate number and part postcode. I also left the Christmas cards I was supposed to send from the terminal in the car. Not a bad start to the holiday! I made it onto the correct plane, a Boeing 747, and took the stairs to my seat. It was the first time I have been upstairs on a flight and I enjoyed every moment (glass of Prosecco in hand). Next, it was time to watch ‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ with a little Gin and Tonic - Happy Birthday to me! It definitely pays to fly Premium on long-haul, I had a fantastic flight and in a flash, I was walking through the airport in Cuba.

I was met with heat, chatter and yellow cabs, everyone was very friendly. I got myself some local currency and then took a 20-minute taxi ride to the hotel.

It was 7pm - so very dark with minimal street lighting and lots of hitch-hikers, which I’d read before arriving was completely normal. I checked into my hotel - which was certainly not three-star by European standards (Cuba is going to be very basic). Since arriving, I have already managed to leave my bag in reception and broken the toilet.

I also need to walk outside the hotel to a WiFi cafe to buy tokens for the internet. Since I’ve lost my way amongst the bungalows a number of times already, I think I will be staying put tonight.

04.12.18 | Never ending cocktails I woke to a beautifully sunny day. I had my breakfast against a backdrop of the sea and a man playing the accordion to a salsa backing track. I met our guide, Yoban, and my travelling companions, or ‘family’ as Yoban liked to call us. I will be travelling with Lisa and Vegard for the next two weeks.

We set off in our minibus to the centre of Havana. Yoban took us on the walking tour of Hemingway’s cocktails, showing us where Hemingway stopped for his strawberry Daiquiri, Pina Colada and Mojitos.

As we’re all fairly young and made good timing, Yoban took us ‘off programme’ to downtown Havana and here we learnt that everyone in Cuba lives off rations. The rations are monthly but usually only last for two weeks, meaning there is a lot of black market activity.

We headed back to uptown Havana for a cocktail. Unfortunately, Pina Coladas were off the menu as a cruise liner had arrived the previous day and drank the bar dry. We had mojitos instead - such a hard life!

Lunch was served in a rooftop restaurant tucked away in a secret spot. The food was delicious - a lovely piece of fish with rice, sauce and vegetables. All accompanied by another cocktail of course.

Next up was a salsa lesson. Held in a small room, we had a 1:1 lesson for 1.5 hours. It was such good fun and a shame we didn’t have longer. To maintain their classic cars, the Cubans travel to Russia to buy parts and then have them shipped back. Sometimes it can take a couple of months, which is a long time to have your car off the road in a country with hardly any public transport. The children of slaves and the children of slave-owners also grew up together, which is why there are black and white dolls sold by street sellers.

Most of the Cuban women wear leggings, no matter their size. Yoban said even his Grandma owned a pair!

05.12.18 | On the road again My hunt for a WiFi card is over. £11 for 5 hours. Now I just need to find a WiFi spot...

Today we drove to Santa Clara, our second Cuban city. The motorway is three lanes, with hardly any traffic, I am unsure why they need such wide roads.

It was common to see people with bags standing by the side of the road - where they had come from is difficult to say as there appeared to be no sign of life near the motorway.

Other sights we saw - a child riding along in the top of a truck, horse and carts, cyclists, street sellers.

Sidenote: the Cuban’s aren’t into saving the planet. Plastic straws, plastic bags and the constant smell of fumes is a daily occurrence. Although, I imagine saving the planet is the least of their worries! My Fitbit announced that I completed 10,000 steps, despite me sitting in a minibus for two hours. It must be the state of the roads and the swerving along the motorway to avoid potholes that are knocking up those steps. Santa Clara feels like the real Cuba. There is a real hustle and bustle, with little tourism. Decrepit buildings, streams of overhead cables, transport by horseback, horse and truckloads of people, cars, mopeds, tuk-tuks... it was all going on.

I had an amazing lunch of chicken bruschetta - my friends had a delicious paella. Then it was back into the bus for another two-hour drive to Tortes des Collantes.

Located in the National Park, it was a beautiful journey with lots of windy roads and chickens roaming the street. We even saw pigs!

Basic accommodation again tonight, but the place is clean and dinner was buffet-style in a large cafeteria.

06.12.18 | Forest hikes and stolen food Today we hiked through the forest. We’ll be doing three hikes during the trip and I’ve been told today’s one was the hardest.

We walked down a mountain along a trail with rocks - certainly not for the faint-hearted - to a breathtaking waterfall. Luckily, we were all able to jump in for a swim (and to cool off).

It was downhill all the way and then uphill after our dip.

We were rewarded at the end with a banana and nut bar bought from the local hut. After I’d finished eating my banana I lay the skin on my leg. Before I knew it, a chicken had whipped it away and starting eating it. The same happened again with my peanut bar, only this time the chicken grabbed the whole thing from my hand.

We stopped for a late lunch at a local restaurant. There was so much food, I’m still full now!

07.12.18 | Jungle fever A fantastic day from beginning to end.

We took a ride in an army truck, stopping to learn about and taste coffee. We also walked through the jungle to a waterfall and after a swim, we grabbed lunch.

Tonight we’re staying in the Casa Particular in Trinidad de Cuba. Dinner was tasty, followed by dancing - I didn’t make it back until 2am.

I learnt so much in the jungle. There is a tree that smells of marzipan when you pull the bark and one that treats toothache. The weather tree has leaves that turn inside out when a storm is due.

This was the best day of the trip so far!

Sharon Keeps your eyes peeled for part 2 of Sharon’s Cuba Diaries…

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