If you’d asked me a few months ago if I thought I would be spending a weekend in January in Havana, I would have laughed. However, somehow, I ended up there last weekend!
I happened to be in Miami for work meetings when my close friend Brian, also know as The Points Guy, decided we should set off for Havana in lieu of the relaxed travel restrictions set in place by Obama. We’d be the first set of American travel journalists to visit Cuban as per the new rules.
If there is one thing I know about Brian, it’s that when he makes a decision, he goes through with it, and just hours after deciding we wanted to go, we found our selves buckling up on an AA flight to Havana routing through Grand Cayman.
The new restrictions were supposed to begin on Friday, January 16th, and I truly think we were the first American journalists, (possibly the first Americans in general) to step foot in Cuba, as our flight arrived at about 12:30 am in Havana!
We finally made it to our hotel, the Memories Miramar and immediately crashed. The next morning, I woke up and POW was hit with this totally awesome view from my hotel window. Although I was tired from the travel day before, I was super excited to begin exploring Old Havana.
The city is even more stunning that I would have ever thought. After a short taxi ride along the coast into Old Havana, we finally arrived. Riding in is amazing for variety of reasons. First, you round a curve and surprise, you are hit with beautiful ocean views and a sighting of the Fortaleza, which is reminiscent of the same castle, fortress structure guarding the beaches of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. To your right, on prime ocean-front property, you have creepy high-rise housing projects and grey, forlorn looking communist style buildings.
This may be one of the only cities in the world where the poor get to have ocean-front, sea view properties. This isn’t Benidorm, that’s for sure. I am sure, however, once American real estate agents get their hands on this prime real estate, that this area will be covered with over-priced high rise hotels and luxury apartments, like in Miami or otherwise.
This reminded me so much of so many places, the old crumbling cobblestones of Spain, the spanish railings of New Orleans, the bright colors of Puerto Rico and the general shabbiness of Thailand or Portugal even.
The plazas were lovely and full of life and music, Gutanamera playing on every street corner. The vintage cars completely blew my mind. I was expecting a few in the tourist center, but they are really on every corner, and probably make up at least 50% of the cars on the the road. We ending up riding home in one later that day, a 1957 Ford Barbie pink convertible, Cuba salsa blaring all the way back to our hotel.
The best thing to do in Old Havana really is just to wander. You can get a great sense of the city by just walking around. The city is strange because it’s falling apart, but so beautiful at the same time. I feel that same effect in Portugal…I think the deterioration of the buildings somehow adds a special, unique charm.
The double-decker bus tour is also a cheap (just $5) and easy way to see the city center. Though be careful because some of those trees are low hanging!
Since we really only had two days, the first day we did our own “walking tour” and the bus tour, and the second day we had a guide, Ozzy, who showed us around Old Havana, as well as the Fortaleza and the Plaza de la Revolucion, where as you might guess from the name, the Cuban revolution took place.
Exploring the Fortaleza area was historical, and we also saw the beautiful Cristo Blance statue and got some great views of Old Havana.
We also got to see the amazing Tropicana dance caberet show. Being a dancer, I of course adored it, and the costumes were just impeccable!
I have no idea how they can dance with all those heavy headpieces on.
The girls were stunning and the guys even prettier, and I loved every second of it! A total blast. Not cheap at $95 for the best seats in the house, but worth every penny in my opinion.
I really wanted to go to go salsa dancing at the Casa de la Musica afterwards, but unfortunately we were just too worn out.
The following evening we ended up getting invited to a dinner party through friends of friends at the house of talented Cuban artist Damian Aguiles. It was an interesting evening, being able to chat with Cubans and really hear their stories. Throughout the night I chatted with both the ambassador of Norway and the ambassador of Sweden, the artist himself and his sweet wife Pamela, a few young girls, one of whom LIVED in my building in Madrid for a year, (what a coincidence) and one of who was a concierge at the famous Saratoga hotel. I also ended up chatting for quite awhile with a lovely woman who I later found out was Raul Castro’s niece. I find when I travel the world with Brian I really never know where I will end up.
I would like to point out that in general, we were treated so well by the locals in Cuba and I loved getting to know people. Politics and government can hate but aint’ nothing gonna stop Lori from meeting, spending time with and getting to know people from all over the world. We are all, in the end, the same…just people!
I loved being able to have this amazing experience with such a good friend too. Brian and I have been traveling together for many years, and we always have so much fun together. It’s wonderful having someone in your life you know you can always laugh and have adventure with (though I am very lucky, because I not only have Brian to do this with but also Jorge, and several amazing travel-minded friends as well)
The weekend trip was a whirlwind, and before I new it, I was back on the plane routing through Grand Cayman heading for Miami. Until next time!