HAVANA, CUBA: No wonder why the famous American writer Ernest Hemingway chose to live the last years of his life in Havana; the city of life. Time seems to stop in the city of Salsa and strong Ron (Most-used Cuban word for Rum).
Why would anyone choose to travel to Cuba though? To experience life, Raw as it is. To get drunk while dancing to Salsa moves. To love every detail of everyday life. To be disconnected from Internet for most of the day, yet more connected to oneself.
Traveling from Beirut to Istanbul for 4 hours, then having a direct flight for 14 hours to Havana airport, the experience was definitely worth it.
Here is a glimpse of a huge Cuban experience I encountered in the heart of Havana. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to plan your own trip with some amendments:
Planning a trip to Cuba might seem like the hardest experience, yet it gets easier with more time and research.
In order to have more convenient prices, it is preferable to book your flight ahead of time - that is, 6 or 7 months before your trip. If you are going there from another continent, like myself, you should expect high prices.
Accommodation prices vary according to region. Havana, is cheaper than Varadero, but more expensive than Vinales, the exquisite area we visited, filled with mountains and valleys.
It is also preferable to book all activities ahead of time, excluding museum or art exhibition visits of course.
How can Habana be described exactly? It’s like daydreaming with soft music around. Walking around old Havana streets is a small trip on foot.
I took the walk, surrounded by cafes featuring live jazz bands appearing out of the blue while people are sitting eating. In one of these encounters, I was having some coffee with my friends, when the Rumi band brought their instruments and starting playing fine tunes.
The beautiful thing about musicians in this city of culture is that they welcome all audience to sing and dance with them. It is more like a cultural, artistic inclusion.
Most of the places playing jazz have photos of Che Guevara on their walls, decorating the place. He’s just everywhere!
Salsa (a type of dance mostly famous in Latin America) talks. 12 days of discovering several places in Cuba, and for sure, and Havana having the biggest share, I felt like Salsa was a real person walking, talking, acting, laughing, and doing everything humans do.
It follows people everywhere they go and whatever they do. In one of the places, dancers were moving to Salsa tunes while the theater play seemed sad, and in other places, people danced out of bliss.
It talks, in the way people of Havana walk. They walk as if they are dancing. Even talking Spanish has its own influence from the famous dance and vice versa.
When someone in Havana salutes you by “Holaaa”, which means Hello, they would also be expecting a salsa-way of talking. They exaggerate and sort of expand the word. So, replying by “Hola”, you wouldn’t be as welcoming.
VINTAGE CARS… AND MORE!
After having some coffee, and a delicious breakfast in a Cuban restaurant, how about reserving a vintage classic car to discover Havana on wheels?
It won’t cost much if you divide the amount between all passengers, and you will get to see El Capitolo, The National Capitol Building, which is now The Cuban Academy of Sciences, after being the organization of the government in Cuba until after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Reserving a vintage car is very easy. You just stand in Central Havana, enjoy the view of all of the colorful cars there, and then bargain the drivers/owners on a good price.
Friendly drivers await you for a very cool trip. In case it rained in the tropical island full of rapid weather changes, you need not worry. The car ceiling will be fixed to keep away raindrops from entering the car.
One of the places to visit in the vintage car is John Lennon Park, where a statue of the former Beatles singer awaits. As if he’s viewing the neighborhood in Vedado, where the park is located, Lennon sits on a bench he’s dominated since 2000.
However, you won’t find the iconic round glasses Lennon used to wear since they were stolen several times.
Right on the floor under the statue sculpted by Cuban artist José Villa Soberón, is an inscription from the famous song “Imagine” reading: "Dirás que soy un soñador pero no soy el único" which means "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one".
Once you party in Havana, all other parties might seem lame. From Cafe Cantante and the live bands there inviting people on stage, to King Bar and other partylicious pubs, Havana is the nightlife venue part-goes enjoy.
Some party-goers have come from Germany, Sweden, or Australia, since “HAVANA IS THE PARTY,” they told Annahar.
Alcohol is very cheap in Havana nightclubs and restaurants, and bartenders are experts at making the best cocktails.
For 2 Peso (the Cuban currency), you can get into a huge nightclub, and enjoy more than 10 shows with professional singers and dancers.
Spanish and English songs with remixes await you, and of course, live bands you will not be surprised to find wherever you go!
Grab a partner next to you, and they will surely be more than happy to teach you some salsa moves!
DRUNK ON HAVANA CLUB
There’s one word you better memorize for a promising trip, that is, Havana Club. It’s the top 1 premium Ron (Rum).
Havana Club can be imbibed alone in Havana, or with mixed coca cola (there’s a local coca cola, since Cuba boycotts most of the American products, or sells them with high taxes). So, Cuba Libre is one of the most famous drinks in the city.
Havana Club is the preferred drink of nightclubs, restaurants (with a delicious seafood meal), or at any other time of day in the sun.
Could it be the secret for citizen’s happiness?
DISCONNECTED VS. MORE CONNECTION
In a world where social media rules our social lives, I can say it was a difficult task at first to stay away from social media platforms. Yet, the next day without Internet felt a lot more soothing.
Finally, I am able to discover the movement of life around me, from realizing mere equality in the city of life, as students wear a united school uniform and get free access to education, to paying more attention to old cathedrals, enjoying the sound of birds in most of the parks, and just walking or running around Havana.
To get connected for very few hours in the day, one can buy an Internet card from telecom shops. The card will expire in one hour, and it is only usable in public parks or some hotels. Very rarely is wifi found at homes.
After all, more connection to oneself is much more important than being connected virtually.
“From Cuba with love” is the first episode of a series of travel events experienced by the writer in her latest travel trip to Cuba. To contact the writer through email: [email protected]
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