Sunday, 27 October 2013

A journey filled with salsa, sunshine
and a bunch of silly people.

This merry little band is made up of my cousin Llyris Berry, her friend, Joan Mauchline, and the love of my life, Robert Stock.

This blog is not intended to be a travel guide but a shared experience with some tips on how we survived the revolution, sipped mojitos, skidded over pot-holes, enjoyed interesting home-stays, all the while being embraced by Cuba and its colourful people.

2 weeks in Cuba and 2,500 kilometres later I think we can justifiably say that we have travelled the length and breadth of this fascinating island. 1,250 kms wide, with an average width of 100km Cuba remains in a time warp stuck somewhere in the ‘50’s. It is a dichotomy on every level – physically, economically, emotionally and politically.

We used the following reference books on Cuba:
Eyewitness Travel
Insight Guides
Lonely Planet.

Car reservations and hotel bookings were made with Alberto Barrientos from Caribbean Travel and Trading Group: and our man on the ground was Sergio Ameneiro – and they come highly recommended!!

The 2 week holiday, including return airfares from Johannesburg-London-Havana (with Virgin), car rental, fuel, food and accommodation in Casa Particulars (home-stays) will cost in the region of R30,000 (US$3,000) per person (with 4 travellers).

Pour yourself a stiff rum, settle down and join us as we salsa our way around Cuba……

Our journey started on Monday 4th November, 2013. We had broken the long flight to Havana by staying with an old school friend in Northumberland, in the UK, for a couple of days before joining our travel companions at Gatwick. Jane kindly took us to the airport in Newcastle at 4am in the freezing cold, where unbelievably people were already drinking beer and wine in the departure lounge. Nothing like starting the working week with a shot in the liver.

As we boarded the plane following a dull line of black clad people, the traditional garb of Londoners, we stood out like a sore thumb with Rob in his blue and yellow Jules hounds pants (I am sure they are supposed to be pajamas!) and me in my Sri Lankan dress with leggings that don't really match. We met up with Llyris and Joan, who added to the colour combo.

The flight was jam packed with package holiday makers. I sat next to Debra from Chiswick who also has a house in Provence. We were probably the youngest on the plane.

We arrived in Havana at 5.30pm in the rain. The immigration queue was a nightmare with a laborious process to examine exactly who you are. Our luggage took forever to crash onto the noisy carousel. The rather gorgeous Sergio, our man on the ground, met us and promptly announced there was a 'slight problem with car' as the previous renter has dinged it, so it won't be ready on time. Gathering by the gesticulations our taxi voucher was also under debate.

That sorted we drove into Havana to the Park View Hotel, clutching our vouchers, only to be told there was a 'slight problem' and we were moved to another 4 star hotel, Palacio O'Farrill, a couple of blocks away. A drink was now necessary. A rum each, a glass of wine and beer cost more than the meal of pork and shrimp.

Whilst we were grateful for air conditioning, it is piped and freezing. 4 star is also probably a local classification! Towels are teeny and the hot water, well, not. The building was an ancient fort consisting of 18, 19 and 20th century structures. We are in the 18th Century, in the bowels of the old fort, with no windows.

With the delay of the car we changed our itinerary preferring to drive a shorter distance on the first day rather than stress out getting to Camaguey.  Quite sure that 'we have a problem' is about to be our mantra.

Llyris is in charge of finances, Rob driver and itinerary, I am admin and record keeping and Joan slipped in with an easy 'photographer'.

Cuba has an interesting monetary system:  locals use pesos and foreigners have a dedicated currency called the CUC. Exchange rate R10/US$1 = 1 CUC. CUCs are only available in Cuba.

5th November, 2013
With the delay in delivering the car, we walked around Old Havana in the vicinity of our hotel, where the road is completely dug up making way for underground cables. 

We met Cesar and his pink Cadillac and promised to find him on our way back. We took pics with 'Morgan Freeman' and his plastic gun and truncheon. We got caught in intermittent showers that were polite enough to stop as quickly as they started.

We also challenged the hotel for what we still believe to be a massively incorrect booze bill. We gave up as our Financial Director (Llyris) had chucked the bill.

Sergio came with the car and the contract, and separating from more CUC's for insurance and a full tank of fuel, we took possession of our Gleagle (we have never heard of these cars before either!) - we headed off towards Santa Clara - or so we thought. After going at least 10kms in the wrong direction we went back to where we started this time going eastwards. Now, 2 hours behind schedule we hit the right road - in the pouring rain.

When we finally found the A1 it was a surprisingly good 3 lane highway. Cuba is run by horse power - literally. Horses and buggies are everywhere - even coming at you in the wrong direction.

We reached Santa Clara at about 4.30pm - after getting horribly lost, or so we thought, only to discover that we were actually a couple of blocks away from our home stay.
Llyris and Joan are about a block away in another house. Each one competing for decor parallel to that of Kassies Baai! Sort of retro kitsch.

We walked to Revolution Square. This is distinctly Che country and he is revered everywhere. We had a good tot of rum in a bar on the way home, and a super meal at a restaurant called Renaldos.

Our hosts are very pleasant, as are Llyris's - an ex teacher who says he earned $22 a month. He no longer teaches.

Our homestay address:  Valdez Perez, 106 Luis Estevez St, Santa Clara. Hosts: Teresita and Roberto.


  1. Have the time of your life <3

  2. Don't stop, I want to read more! You've done a great job Lois - I hope Cuba was everything we made it out to be? Hope you don't regret it.

  3. Thanks so much Alison - it was that and more. Not an easy journey, quite exhausting, a real time warp - but compelling and totally fascinating.
    Thank you for all your inspiration!!! I shall return your book next week - over coffee/ wine!!