I am writing this as I am sitting on the plane to Panama from Cuba via El Salvador. This journal entry will be my longest to date.
I will not go into the politics of this country, as I believe that Cuba's social regime was dealt a considerable disadvantage by the trade embargoes that have been in place on the country by the United States. In my short visit to this beautiful country, what I could see is a place that at its core holds an outstanding balance and fairness on its Cuban citizens, but as I said, this was a short visit. However, I do say this to anyone who criticises the Cubans Socialism; remember the regime before Fidel and recognise the harsh discrimination translated by Cuba's trade embargoes.
Nonetheless, the last two weeks have been marvellous and full of mojitos, old cars, Casa Particulares and plenty of cigars.
Day 1. Monday 16/4
The first thing we noticed apart from how friendly and laid back the people are is how old the cars are. We had heard plenty about the cars' age and other such wheeled things like the police motorbikes, but nothing prepared us for the saturation of antiques on wheels. We were in aw at the pre-1955 vehicles that drove around; likewise, the police motorbikes were very impressive.
We soon settled into our first port of accommodation, our first Casa Particulares, which is a family's house where you can rent a room and eat a huge and tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner for an extra cost.
It wasn't long before we were strolling around the neighbourhood looking for our first mojito in Havana. We scored a well-mixed mojito along with some cigars at a very friendly local bar.
This first night we settled into some fish and salad at our Casa Particulares Gloria.
Day 2. Tuesday 17/4
On day one, we had arranged a car for rent, so this was our first mission in Cuba. Pick up the car and drive to Cienfuego.
Upon arrival in Cienfuego, we found a Casa Particulares called La Casona De Conde Hostal that we settled into and watched a sunset near with some beers. Later that night, we ate fresh lobsters and prawns while the casa owner entertained another group of people near us with his guitar and strong voice. This night turned out to be a ripper, the other group left, and the owner came and sat with us, drinking his rum and singing and playing his guitar while giving us some insight into Cuba. Much to our pleasure Bronnie impressed us with her beautiful voice and skills at playing the guitar.
Day 3. Wednesday 18/4
Our aim or Bruce's excitement today was for Playa Girón, where the 51st anniversary of Cuba defeating the United States in a battle which set Cuba's Revolution in concrete.
On route for Playa Girón, we stopped at a dairy farm. This sighting was one of the more giant dairy farms I have seen since leaving Tasmania for this trip. Its dairy was an eight bale swing over milking one hundred and forty cows year-round. The cows were fed grass, hay and molasses. The cows were presently producing eight litres a day.
After arriving in Playa Girón, we read and view our way around the museum based on the USA's humiliating battle, a small but very informative museum telling the story of the Cuban triumph and the pathetic, if any reason, the USA to be there in the first place.
We discovered out that the main ceremony would be the following morning.
After the museum, we drove to a beach near Playa Girón called Playa Larga, where we stayed the night. Here was very relaxing until there was a sunset mosquito attack on us during dinner. The dinner made up of a very delicious and juicy lobster and crab plate.
Day 4. Thursday 19/4
We enjoyed another delicious breakfast and then travelled back to Playa Girón for the ceremony. The ceremony was hard to follow; Bronnie translated bits and pieces to keep us informed and happy.
Upon completion of the ceremony, we set our sights on Playa La Boca.
We were ready for some white sandy beaches to relax and to swim. Unfortunately, we travelled further than we initially thought, as Casa Particulares were full. We found an excellent Casa Particulares to stay on a rocky coast where we tempted the sea urchins to our juicy toes.
Day 5. Friday 20/4
This morning, we set our sights on reaching Camaguey after viewing Trinidads historical sites. Before we reached Trinidad, we stopped at the resort beach of Playa Ancon for a quick taste of the silky white sands and the blue water.
Trinidad kept us entertained for one or two hours before we had enough and drove onto Sancti Spiritus, another historical colonial town that tourists hadn't visited much. The reason why tourists don't visit Sancti Spiritus over Trinidad was evident upon arrival. It seemed to be lacking the number of old buildings and the cliché markets and shops that go with this sort of touristy town. Overall it was a good break to have on our way to Camaguey, and we're happy we stopped here.
On our arrival into Camaguey, a cyclist chased us who liked to hassle and tell us that their mum and dad's Casa is close, cheap, clean and near everything. It didn't take us long to catch onto this everyday occurrence of the local touts throughout Cuba that would try to find you accommodation by telling you they were related to the Casa they were leading you to. Some we would follow out of interest and others, well the advantage of escaping them was in our car. Tout's weren't a big problem and often were quite handy. If some touts hadn't been pushy, they would have received their commission from our acceptance of their accommodation. On one occasion, I remember Jo and Bronnie knocking on the door of a Casa as one bloke walked up the street and told us he owned the Casa. The owner opened the door, and we soon realised that the bloke outside with the person and us at the door didn't know each other. The bloke had lied to stand there with us to score some commission.
Eventually, we found a Casa of our backs, settled in and went out for dinner, cabaret, mojitos, cigars and a tour around part of the city by a peddle powered tricycle.
Day 6. Saturday 21/4
Today we left Camaguey for Cuba's second-biggest city Santiago de Cuba, which is nestled in the opposite corner of the island to Havana in the South East.
After arriving, finding accommodation at Casa Azul, we went for a stroll towards the middle of the city to buy some beers to drink on the rooftop of our Casa. At the same time, the sun lowered below the horizon and left us with a brilliant sunset across the roof terraces of Santiago.
After we finished our sunset drinks, we set out for dinner and open arms for what might happen after dinner. We soon found ourselves in a famous Salsa club in the middle of Santiago. It wasn't long before Jo and Bruce were up on the dance floor, moving their hips and entertaining themselves and the locals. This evening was a very classic and entertaining night in Cuba full of salsa, cigars and mojitos.
Day 7. Sunday 22/4
Upon arriving at our next destination, Baracoa, famed for being Cuba's first settlement, lush tropical rainforests and its beaches. We soon found another Casa Particulares with a rooftop (very important to find rooftops where you stay in Cuba for the views!). We settled into some sunset drinks before tucking into another delicious meal of home-cooked fish, prawns and salad.
On the way to Baracoa, we experienced quite an enjoyable windy road that lifted a little elevation to relieve the heat below.
After dinner, we went for a stroll to walk off the generous servings we ate. It wasn't long before we found ourselves at an open rooftop bar with a live band playing regatron and a couple of rounds of mojitos.
Day 8. Monday 23/4
We set off for Gibara, also known as 'The White Town', a small coastal town that suffered during the hurricanes of 2008. This town is where Bruce and I bought fifty Cuban cigars between us at a fair price. We purchased a twenty-five box of Fidel's favourite cigars and a box of twenty-five of Che's favourite cigars.
After we left Gibara on our way to our next destination, we stopped at the stunning beach Playa La Herradura.
Day 9. Tuesday 24/4
With the whirlwind tour around Cuba drawing to an end, we decided it was time to accelerate our trip back towards Havana. There were two more stops to be made, the first one being away from the beach in the countryside of Najasa. Jo and Bruce had picked out an eco-lodge called El Rancho Belen.
We were lucky to stay at Rancho Belen. As we walked into the lodge, we were met with the staff preparing to leave for the day, as there were no other guests. This stay was a bit eerie, but we lapped up space and the pool there. We were even surprised when we took a look in the stables to find antelopes, deer and zebras.
Day 10. Wednesday 25/4
Before driving west of Havana, our next stop is Santa Clara, where Comandante Che Guevara lays buried. This city is known for the last battle in the Cuban Revolution.
Here we settled into a marvellous meal of lobster again before setting out on a horse and cart ride around the city.
The day we left Santa Clara, we stopped at Che Guevara's Monument and Mausoleum.
Day 11-12. Thursday 26/4 - Friday 27/4
Our last stop before returning to Havana is Viñales, which is full of traditional agriculture and pretty wooden Casa Particulares with porches nesting a couple of rocking chairs each.
Each breakfast, lunch and dinner, our hosts served delicious food. We had lucked in with our host, who was a talented cook.
We ventured on horses into the hills. This ride was Bronnie's first horse time on a horse. Unfortunately, the owners could have fed the horses better. Nonetheless, this was a fun day that involved learning how tobacco is grown, cigars are made, tasting naturally made mojitos and filling our lungs with the fresh countryside air.
Day 13-14 Saturday 28/4 - Sunday 29/4
Hola again, Havana! After resting for two nights in Viñales, we felt ready to tackle Havana for another two nights before departing.
We caught up with Emilio Jorge Rodriguez, a friend of my family's friend Geoff Goodfellow. Emilio took us on a short but insightful tour around some of Havana's sights; one included the hotel where Ernest Hemingway would stay on his trips to Cuba.
We thought one of the best ways to see more of Havana would be to jump up on one of the double-decker city tour buses that drive around. This bus turned out to be a horrible decision; the suns intensity joined us, and most of the sights were four or five-star hotels and not much more. We saw a lot more by walking around the streets, lapping up Havana life and all of the historical buildings that make up this marvellous city.