We finally arrive in the pretty port town of Cienfuegos. We decide to knock on a few casa doors to find a casa that suits our needs and budget. The number of satin bed sheets and dusty rooms horrifies me. Five cas’sa down and we spot a friendly Cuban who takes us to his humble abode in the hope that we will stay there. The casa is lovely and I form an instant fondness for his adorable wife. 20 Cuc for one night with breakfast and we had ourselves a deal.
We freshened up and decided to explore the old port town. The town is famous for a chap called Benny King. I do not have a clue who he is but there is a statue of him in the centre and he was a short fella who likes wearing hats.
Walking around Cienfuegos, we attract a lot of attention as its obvious we are tourists going trigger happy with the SLR. I cannot believe that they actually use horse drawn carriages to get around the city. I thought they were just for tourists. Not ones to miss out we strike another deal to get a ride around the city in a horse drawn carriage. Once, again the Cubans rip us off.
Whilst on our adventures we bump into a Pakistani medical student who sends us on a horse and carriage to his dorm where we meet a group of Pakistani female medics who cook chicken and chapatti for us. I never thought I would be speaking Punjabi in Cuban and hanging out with Pakistani people. The Pakistani girls look like they should still be in Pakistan. Seven years later and they have mastered Spanish but not integrated into the Cuban way of live or dress. These women prefer to cover up, rather than letting it all hang loose. On our way home, we discover a Pakistani food house, where you can buy Pakistani food cooked by Cubans. The food is the worst Pakistani food I have tasted but it beats rice and beans and is costs less than 50p.
The next morning I had to endure the oddest conversation with a 50-year-old Canadian whilst trying to enjoy my Cuban breakfast of; fresh juice, coffee, eggs, fruit and dry bread. The old man was apparently in Cuba to see his 21 year old girlfriend whose job was entertaining men. This gave me a different insight into Cuba where I quickly discovered that many tourists came to Cuba for sex. For 20 Cuc, less than £10 these men could spend the night with a sensual beauty half their age. The man disgusted me and I had no qualms in calling him a pervert. I was relieved when the lovely casa owner told him that they were fully booked as our room would have been next to his.
After exploring more of Cienfuegos, we decided to catch the bus to Trinidad as it is only an hour and half journey and 6 Cuc per person by bus. The bus surprisingly does not leave on time. Nothing in Cuba happens on time. The blanket and pillow I borrowed from our Virgin flight comes in hand, as I drape both on my seat. I am allergic to dust and not resting my head on a dusty pillow.
Trinidad is a gorgeous little touristy town with amazing French style colonial buildings. We manage to find a delightful casa with a terrace and swing to stay in and again get it for a bargain price. We roam around Trinidad and are amazed at the beautiful buildings and blazing heat. Our evening is spent listening to live music at casa de museu and dining in a terrace top restaurant. It was the perfect setting for a romantic evening for the two of us.
The next day we went on a little road trip and again were ripped off by a Cuban taxi driver. Note to self, I really need to figure out the taxi prices. We went to National Park and waterfall. The waterfall itself was not spectacular but it was great to be able to swim in the spring water and go hiking. Cuba is surrounded by natural beauty and it has a lot more to offer than just beaches.
Trinidad’s cobbled streets are not great on the feet and shoes. I broke another pair of shoes. Note to self. Take better practical shoes. We decided to treat our feet to a foot massage and I opted for face massage as well. The foot massage was great, but I had to tell the man to wash his hands before he touched my face. My feet are clean, but I do not want foot-handling hands caressing my face. My facial was meant to last 15 minutes, but it was over in five minutes so I did what any alpha female would do and refused to pay the agreed amount. Luckily, the man could not be bothered to argue with me so gave me a discount. I think he just wanted me out of the shop.
We spent the following afternoon on the beach and I finally got a ride in one of the classic 1950s car. The beach is so pretty with clear blue water, I would recommend everyone to visit the beach, and you can go snorkelling as well.
Finally, I managed to get a good price on a taxi from Trinidad to Santa Clara, the resting place of Che Guevara. The taxi ride was a nightmare and I had never seen so many potholes in the road in my life. Getting a taxi to Santa Clara from Trinidad is two hours quicker than getting the bus. Thank god, the taxi had seat belts and I slept with one eye open. Two hours later and we finally arrive in Santa Clara. Santa Clara is a small university town and famous for being the place where Che was buried. We did a quick deal and got ourselves a great casa in the centre.
Santa Clara is the cheapest city we visited in Cuba and I would urge anyone going there to make sure they have some Cuban peso to save a few pence. The Cubans love salsa and I found myself a Cuban who was more than happy to teach me a few moves. Luckily, he had a lot of patience as I have two left feet when it comes to salsa. I would strongly advise taking earplugs if you are staying in the centre as the disco is very loud and you can hear reggaton until the early hours of the morning. Now, I know why the casa owner was so keen to give us the front room. I wanted to strangle him and his bloody cowboy hats that night.
The next day we walked around Santa Clara and visited the Che museum and memorial. You can visit all the sites easily by foot and do not need to get a taxi. Unlike the other cities in Cuba we visited, the locals here did not hassle us at all. It was a relief to just walk around and not have people ask us if we were from Israel. My friend wears a hijab and as far I am aware, Israeli women do not wear a hijab.
We wanted to visit Verdura, the beach but decided that it was too far and too expensive to reach by taxi and the bus left first thing in either the morning or late evening. We decided to spend another night in Cienfuegos and sample some Pakistani food. We hustled a shared taxi to Cienfuegos and soon discovered that travelling in a shared taxi meant being huddled in the back and front of the car with random Cubans. We also paid about 5 times what the Cubans paid for the same journey. Why didn’t I learn Spanish at school? If I had, I could have pretended to be a Cuban.
We stayed at the same Casa we stayed at last time with the funny woman and thank god, the old pervert was not there. I did not want to listen to him banging on about how his hired girlfriend is not faithful to him. My friend feeling generous decided to treat the Cuban boys we met last time to dinner at the Pakistani food house. The boys thinking we were going to treat them to some five star restaurants were greatly disappointed that dinner consisted of beans and chapatti. ‘No rice, no salad’ said the boys. I said no this is it. They were happy to find out that the place had juice. Note to self, do not invite random boys out to dinner when travelling abroad.
We spent our last two nights in Havana in a gorgeous casa on Havana Street, which had an amazing restaurant opposite it, 51 Havana Street that served incredible fish dishes. At last, we had tasty food. I fell in love with old Havana, its windy streets, and old crumbling building.
Cuba is an incredible country and I am so glad I had the opportunity to visit it before the US invades it and adds a Starbuck on every corner.