Cuba: Part 1

The last week of May we were lucky enough to travel to Cuba via Norwegian Cruise lines. We spent two days in the port of Havana, and embarked on a few tours of the city. Our main goal was to see the city as it is before renovations and too many touristy things take over, as well as take a ton of pictures.

Right off the bat, Cuba is hot. So hot! For a couple of people who are used to hot weather, this was so much worse. The few days we were there it was 95, sunny, and 80% humidity. Our tour guides warned us to drink lots of water, and said the summertime is usually their slow season because it is too hot for tourists. We survived, but make sure to bring clothes you don’t mind being soaked in sweat!

The border control was fairly relaxed. The first time getting off the ship took some time, you need to have a passport, and tourist Visa. Our entire visa was taken the first time, our passports were stamped, and our picture was taken. We then needed to go through metal detectors, and have our bags x-rayed before heading out. The Terminal Sierra Maestra looks fairly new and renovated, and on the bottom level is a large area for buses. Once you leave the terminal doors you’re literally downtown in the middle of old colonial Havana!

Our first tour was via an air conditioned bus (with bathrooms), and took us on a panoramic tour of the seafront and a few stops. The majority of the buildings are in disrepair, or being renovated, but the greatest part was seeing the different styles in architecture all over the city. We thought a tour of soviet-era, colonial, and modern architecture would have been a bit more enjoyable, and interesting, but we only got a small taste of that. 

The first major stop was at the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, named for Christopher Columbus. We were given a walking tour off the bus of a few notable monuments and resting spots. We also learned that the government takes care of all funeral costs, and how most bodies are removed after a few years because of space issues. There was one grave with a line of people visiting, who had an interesting back story. Amelia Goyri de Adot, or La Milagrosa, who died during childbirth with her baby. Per Cuban tradition she was buried with her child between her legs, and years later when her body was exhumed the child was found being held in her arms. Our tour guide demonstrated how visitors come to the site, knock three times on the grave, ask for help with certain problems, then walk backwards without turning their back to her. People claim their problems are fixed, and that she is an unofficial saint. Her tombstone is covered in plaques left by people she helped. We didn’t partake… 

Our tour bus continued throughout the city and we quickly realized how passionate and friendly Cuban’s are. We had a younger tour guide who was very happy to discuss the good and the bad that she experienced living in Cuba. The majority of services are paid for by the government, and she emphasized how good mental health is a key philosophy, the government wants you to be happy. Education is free (however high you want learn such as a PHD), all health care is free (including gender re-assignment, and plastic surgery), and no one in Cuba will go hungry with food ration cards given out monthly. The main downside she pointed out were how low the salaries are no matter what your job is, and how this keeps people down. You can never really save up to travel or vacation, it’s hard to improve your house, or purchase new things; you’re kind of stuck at one level. 

Our next major stop was the Morro Castle. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, and it was sort of overrun with souvenir booths. The view was great, but we mainly just wandered around and took in the sites. The area had a lot of cute stray dogs, and a line of old cars full of tourists coming to see the fortress. 

Nearby our entire bus voted to stop and shop for cigars before heading on to the next location. We’ve been told to only buy cigars from government approved shops, and to avoid people selling them on the streets. Our tour guide took us to Ron’s Tabaco Cafe in the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana. We have zero experience with cigars or any knowledge, but purchased a 5-cigar variety pack for $60 as a gift. It seemed the average was between $10-$20 for a single cigar, depending on the length, brand, and whether or not it came in a tube/box. 

Our next and last stop was at the very large marble statue of Jesus, El Cristo de La Habana, which is in a small park overlooking the port of Havana. There wasn’t much to do here, but there were some great views and really bright red trees (Royal Poinciana Tree) in the park. The tour continued a short drive around Havana, heading back towards the port, where we headed back to the ship for a quick lunch and rest…

Part 2 will be posted next week, it’ll cover our free time in Havana, and our colonial night walking tour!

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