We spent six days staying in a Casa Particular on the Caribbean island of Cuba where we fell in love with Havana. Here’s why we would come back to Cuba again.
Whenever I think of our stay in Havana, I’m reminded of a Maori proverb that states the most important thing in the world is people, and that’s because of the heart-warming interactions we had with so many people. The most important thing in Havana is the people, and it was the people that truely made our stay beautiful even though we were in such a culturally differing environment.
We became familiar with our neighbourhood including the “too cool” teenage school kids, the fed-up business mama, the aimless old guy, the provocative old lady in the doorway, the fruit stand guy, the parents rushing their kids to school in the morning. On the whole we found the way friends interacted with each other was very playful with a lot of laughter. The few we had the pleasure of building relationships with had poignant stories that was simply part of their every day life. In so many we saw joy in spite of their poverty.
You can read more about our experience here.
We experienced a couple of amazing thunderstorms. The rain poured down in bucketfuls and the streets completely emptied. The thunder was so deafening it scared the little ones initially, but after half an hour they settled into the noise and were comfortable to go outside and dance in the rain.
We asked Julio if there was a nearby beach where we could go for a swim. He said his absolute favourite near Havana is Santa Maria and that he would arrange for a taxi to take us there and bring us back after an hour for CUC40.
After lunch we quickly packed some snacks and headed right back to the restaurant. We weren’t really sure if we’d be swimming so none of us packed togs. What a mistake!!
This beach is absolutely stunning. We couldn’t resist jumping in with our clothes on. Hubby took a hit for the team and sat out because 2yo was sleeping and 4yo found the waves a little too rough to run in.
You might laugh at me in my comparisons but I couldn’t help thinking of our favourite beach in Auckland at Tawharanui Regional Park. For a few of reasons. Although no-one was boogie boarding this would be a perfect boogie boarding beach. And it was a safe beach where I would happily let my older two swim without needing to supervise them because the current was not so strong and the depth was shallow enough at low tide that they could walk out a fare way. It was clear waters and the beach felt so untouched by humans.
But you’re right, in many ways it was nothing like Tawharanui! It was a white sandy beach in the Caribbean Sea with tropical warm waters that had a crystal blue hue as you gazed upon it. It had no shady spots so we sat under an umbrella. Interestingly, this was our first experience of having sunseats on the beach with an umbrella where you paid someone to use it for an hour. Although it’s not common in NZ and Australia, I’ve heard it’s quite common in other countries. It was very convenient instead of having to take your own seat and umbrella to a beach and it wasn’t much of a fee given the scorching heat.
Apparently there are many beautiful beaches around Cuba and we are so grateful we had the chance to experience one of them.
Some of the beautiful buildings in Havana were made as early as the 1600’s and have been modelled on the buildings from whoever was the biggest influence in Cuba at the time: first the Spanish, then the French, and lastly the Americans before they were kicked out by Fidel’s revolution. The Catedral de San Cristobal was built in the 1700’s along with much of Old Havana.
Many of the central residential buildings have ornate designs on pillars or French balconies but have not been well maintained since the Castro family took over Cuba. Some of the them are colourful while others look decrepit. Regardless of how well maintained, people dwell here.
The place across the road from us had two stories that looked uninhabitable. Yet every morning I would see the family leave through the front door which I could only assume meant they were living on the third level. Over the weekend awesome music came pumping from up there which confirmed it.
Ground level windows generally have grills on them to prevent theft which I assume must be pretty high since people lock their scooter inside their home. Many of the residential homes are three to five stories high but only one family would live on a level. The level above us had four families occupying the space of our one casa particular. We were the mezzanine level of a four story building which apparently would be where slaves would live while their owners occupied the levels above.
In many photos of Cuba you will see cars from the 1950’s. That’s because after Fidel Castro became the leader Cuba in 1959, America and Cuba began imposing trade restrictions with each other. Cuba outlawed importing any American cars or parts. It was only in 2015 when Raul Castro changed a law so new cars could be imported. Having said that we saw very few brand new vehicles and they were taxis. These beautiful Classic American cars are still hugely common and are somehow still functioning inspite of the spare parts import limitation.