Day 1 Saturday:
Arrived met girl in airport Maria Elena who I thought was Brazilian, ended up that she was in fact from SF after talking with her for a few minutes in Spanish. She knew people because she has studied for a month at the University taking Spanish and was in town for one day prior to flying back to the states. She helped me find a casa particular and invited me to go out at night with her friends to Fabrica de Arte which is a combination of art gallery and a club. Met some cool people, housemate from Belgium Katrien, Michael from Trinidad. Explored Fabrica de Arte until about 3am and met folks in the band which is from Santiago de Cuba and was invited to join their fiesta the following night at some park in Habana.
Day 2 Sunday:
Went out to explode the city with Katrien the Belgian as discuss the evening prior since it was her last day. We walked around all day and eventually ran into Michael randomly on the street. We grabbed lunch and enjoyed the best mojitos thus far at 5esquinas. In the afternoon we took a open convertible 50s car for a tour and then got the sunset at the melecon. Lost Michael so couldn’t go out later and last night for the Belgian and couldn’t get in touch with band members I met night prior to find out where there park was that they were hanging out at night.
Day 3 Monday:
Solo day, walked around old town and enjoyed the day. Went back for mojitos at 5 esquinas gave my left over lunch to a group of workers. Hung at the Malecon from 4–9 watching fishermen and chatting with girls that knew them while they fished. Got invited to join them next day for food at their house then ran to join Poppert for drinks. Was late but ended up getting dinner and a show, thanks to Poppert at Habana Cafe, also thanks to Princeton that fronted the bill. Hung with that group til 3 am.
Day 4 Tuesday:
Slept in a bit longer bc of the long night and was late to call my Cuban friends. First call no one answer I tired again 15 mins later and got in touch with Elisabeta and confirmed I would be coming. Got in the cab and headed to the rougher section of town according to the cab driver. Put my faith in the people I met the day prior and was rewarded. Met the dad first (El Tigre) as the people I knew where away. Very friendly and a great carpenter. Enjoyed the entire day with them practicing my Spanish and working on foreign relations. They live a very simple life, no running water and each person get $24 a month but they seemed to enjoy life! One of the most fun afternoons I have had with people, a true appreciation for the other people around them, I felt honored that they invited me to eat lunch and dinner at their place. True hospitality at its finest degree. The new Cubans friends are Ismel (El Tigre), Ruben (Bambino), Elisabeta, Isandra, Elisandra (Oshin), Raythel, Karelia. I spent 12 hours with these great people sharing food and drink and just enjoying the day. Mañana is a birthday celebration for Oshin and I have been invited to join them and head to the beach as a group which should be a lot of fun!
Day 5 Wednesday:
Went and found my friends, again they weren’t sure if I was gonna show up. We went as a group to the beach Topicoco via buses with all locals. Had a nice day of swimming and enjoying some whisky (wiki how they say it on the beach). I was invited back to their place post beach for dinner then to go out. I went back to my place for a shower then grabbed a cab back to the CERRO district. Again the cab driver had a bit of a tough time finding it and again was a bit worried as he said this part of town you can have some great people and some not so great people. We ran into chichi who had been at the beach and he pointed us in the right direction. Bambino had his fair share of wiki during the day so he stayed in but the group that went out was 5 strong including me. First stop was Casa de Musica Havana but it looked very quiet and they wanted $10Cuc per person. This ended up not being to our liking and we headed elsewhere, La Gruta. This was a wise decision and we got in for $3CuC each and hung there well into the evening dancing. They were patient with me and gave me a few pointers/lessons. I would say I went from a beginner to and advanced beginner in salsa. It’s amazing how hot the salsa clubs get, temperature and dancing wise! Looking around I felt every other person out there could possibly have been a professional dancer! Eventually we called it a night around 3am and hailed a cab back to my stop and then theirs. It’s good to always negotiate and fight for the price as cabs will always quote you a high price to begin! Good time and plan is to meet them again tomorrow at 7:30 at la casa de Tigre for another evening out on the town of dancing.
Day 6 Thursday:
Slept in a bit and got up around 9:30. Enjoyed another delicious breakfast of fruit and then was introduced to the husband of the lady watching the casa particular. Adiel took me walking all over Habana Viejo. We explored and talked in Spanish the entire time. Delicious daiquiris at El Floridita bar and then continued to see the city with a local guiding the way. He even treated me to a guarapo frio (cold sugar cane drink) and a street tamale which was very generous. Even when people don’t have a ton of money here they are still very generous which the funds they do have, hospitality is big in Havana. Eventually we made our way back to the casa particular and I took a much needed siesta. Got up for dinner which was tasty and then tried to hail a cab to meet my friends at la casa de Tigre. Turned into a extremely hard task and I had to have the people in the casa call a taxi 4 times before one finally showed up. Needless to say I didn’t not arrive on time as planned, I got to their house around 10pm, just a 2+ hour delay… We hung out there for a while then made our way back to the area from the night prior. One of the places they had been thinking was not very crowded so we returned to La Gruta. It was not salsa night but a different style which made it much harder for me. Still another fun time out, the night ended around 4am.
Day 7 Friday:
Spent the majority of the day with Adiel walking around exploring the Necropólis Cristóbal Colón and the surrounding area near the Plaza de la Revolución. It was very elaborate cemetery and quite large, 3rd most famous in the Americas according to my guide and friend. In the evening I tried to call all the numbers I had for my Cuban friends however I got an education in how hard it can be to call people in Cuba as all of them had $0 remaining on their phones so I was unable to talk to anyone. Eventually Adiel came back to the house and let me use his cell phone to send them a text message which they received and called me from a pay phone. It was late at this time and I decided a relaxed / low key evening would do me well but coordinated with them plans for the following day.
Day 8 Saturday:
El ultimo dia (my last full day in Habana) started out with me grabbing a taxi over to my friends house around 9am. Yet again the taxi ride over turned into a trek as the guy wouldn’t listen to me even though I had been the past few days. We spent 30 mins looking for the place and eventually found it with my friends wondering if I was in fact going to show up (a common theme since I was continually late because of the searching and taxi discussions). Once there we waited for everyone to pack their bags for the beach and headed to go catch the buses that would take us their. Bus used was the one to Guanaba again to Playa Tropicoco. We spent the entire day enjoying the water and eating the meal they had prepared for the beach which was delicious pork chop with lots of spices. Around 5 or 6 we packed up and headed back to town to the Melecon to catch the sunset since it was my last day in Havana. I was going to run home quickly to take a shower and then return to the casa de El Tigre before we would head out. This time I told the taxi driver the nearest main cross streets Vigia y Christina only and instructed him that I would direct him from there, this ended up being much easier and I got to the house with relative speed compared to the prior trips. We spent a little time at the house but then headed in a group of 4 (Bambino, Isandra, Elisandra, and myself) to the casa de musica Habana. We probably spent 4 hours there hanging out and dancing until the club closed down at 3am (live music didn’t start until 1:30am!). Video below of me doing my very best to keep up. Isandra is a great dancer and even made me look somewhat decent on the dance floor. After the casa de musica closed up we walked down to the Melacon again and hung out there until 5am chatting and exploring some of the art installations which had been setup the week prior. Although I was tempted I resisted the urge to stay up for the sunrise on the Melecon since a few of the folks were tired in the group and sleeping on the wall would risk someone falling into the water. We packed it up, hailed a maciano taxi and headed home. I was crawling into bed around 5:30am, a good send off for the time in Habana.
My Dance Moves: https://vimeo.com/132059100