Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hola Cuba

First things first given I am so behind: In real time, I am soo happy that Barack Obama won the election! It was so exciting to see that the palpable sense of hope I felt in the US in the lead up to the election carried through to the polling booths.

In blog time however, T and I are experiencing probably the most stressful travel situation ever in Toronto. We almost missed our flight to Cuba, namely because:

1. We slept in (how could we not in our two bedroom suite at the Metropolitan?!)

Juice by you.

2. We had lunch at Juice for Life (oh, how I love thee). The reasoning behind this was that we were fearful there wouldn't be much available in the way of vegan food in Cuba and we needed to fuel up (how right we were!) It just took a little longer than we expected...

3. We had to return our rental car, which caused a millenium of problems. Crazily enough, one of the employees from our charter airline returned it for us. Trevor of Sunwing, I salute you. I even forgive the surly French Canadian travel consultant who hung up on me when trying to book the trip initially, all because I didn't speak French to his standards. Hmmph. 

We had to run to the gate, so by the time we got there, I was almost comatose. We had to sit separately, which unfortunately meant that I had to sit next to two guys who watched porn on some sort of hand-held device for much of the flight. Still, we got there despite it looking very unlikely earlier on. 

As we flew into Varadero, we had to make a 1.5 hour bus trip to Habana. It was a fascinating drive, as there was lightening flashing across the sky illuminating the many palm trees on the way. I enjoyed seeing families, friends and dogs hanging out on stoops in the towns we passed through. It gave me the impression of Cuba being a very relaxed place. This impression has stayed with me.

We were staying at the NH Parque Centrale in Centro Habana, which was pretty swanky. I was impressed though that all the staff were very friendly and noone treated us like riff raff, which had happened in other hotels. I especially enjoyed our first day (and most other days in Cuba as it turns out) with a cocktail in the hotel lobby:

Pina Colada by you.

Much of the day was spent exploring the streets. My favourite part of the walk was a late afternoon walk on El Malecon, the Habana seawall. We stopped along the way for more cocktails, and came across a very odd situation. The police had detained a young woman, and all manner of people were showing up and having words with the officers, or just watching from the sidelines. Our waiter was one of the spectators, so we asked him what had happened when he came back in. As it turned out, the police had accused the young woman of being a prostitute, and she denied it. She had to get her parents to come down and tell the police that she wasn't. I was quite taken aback, as she was only 16 years old, and dressed like any other 16 year old girl. 

Car II by you.

Solo by you.

We hung out on the sea wall near the Hotel Nacional and enjoyed the sunshine like a lot of the locals were doing. We got hassled a little, but it was much less than I expected. I enjoyed how a guy kept riding past us on a bike, saying "mojitos?......cigars?" I'm not sure what he would have done if we had said yes. Maybe triple us on his bike to find said mojitos and cigars?

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