Hemingway, Cohibas, Mojitos & Salsa Dancing? Oh Yes!

Next up in my ongoing mission to conquer the world one country at a time? Cuba! This coming Friday, I’m headed South for my boldest adventure to date.

This country has been on my travel bucket list for years. I want to visit this old Communist relic before the Castro regime fades into memory and the Americans annex it as a new state.

My Style of Travel

Most Canadians head to Cuba for a resort style vacation.  They spend their time lounging on the beach, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and hanging out with other tourists. They don’t stray from the resort and sadly, don’t experience much of what the country has to offer.

While these resort style vacations appeal to the masses, they aren’t for everyone and they certainly aren’t for me. My style? To go out and see the real Cuba. Or as close to real as I can get? I want to walk the streets, stay with locals, eat dinner with them, talk with them, learn as much as I can about their life and their culture.

Just how will I do this? I’ll be doing home stays at “casa particulars“.  I’ve even made plans to hook up with some locals in Havana to go salsa dancing next weekend. As I make my way around the island, I hope to meet other travelers or locals and find more salsa dancing accomplices.

My trusty Lonely Planet guide will be my “bible” as I’ll use it to hit most of the main sites.  On the flip side, I plan to get lost and explore streets randomly. I also hope to find places suggested by locals that aren’t written about in any guidebooks.

Flying Solo

I’ve been told to expect the unexpected in Cuba. Patience will be key.  I may encounter a cold shower, no electricity or creatures like insects or lizards to keep me company at night.

I’m also not really sure how I’m going to get from town-to-town or where I’ll be laying my head each night.

Add to this is that as usual, I’ll be taking this trip alone.  Yes, I’ve become the cliched “solo female traveler“.  I’ll have to take care of myself and rely on no one.  This uncertainty is frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

A lot of people have expressed amazement that I’m going on this trip and have asked me if I fear for my safety or if I worry about the third world conditions.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. Yet, the things you’re most afraid of often become the most worthwhile things you’ve ever done.

Mohammad Ali said “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself“.

Well, I believe in myself enough to know I can go on this trip and have an amazing and unforgettable experience. When I travel, I am at my best and happiest. This vacation won’t be any different.

The Action Packed Itinerary

I have a pretty ambitious agenda for this trip.  It’s highly likely that I won’t be able to accomplish everything on my this marvelous itinerary but I’m going to try my best!

The adventure will commence in Havana where I’ll be staying for the weekend. Planned highlights?

  • Tours through Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Centro Habana, and Vedado, snapping photos of the colonial architecture at every opportunity.
  • Buy and smoke a freshly made Cuban cigar. I’m not talking Romeo y Julieta cigars either. I want to smoke a cigar made by a local with no big-named brand attached.
Smoking A Cuban Cigar Is Quite The Bucket List Item
Smoking A Cuban Cigar Is Quite The Bucket List Item
  • Sip a mojito a La Bodeguita De Medio, a bar past frequented by great writers like Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  • Walk or bike the entire length of the Malecón, a 8 KM  esplanade, roadway and seawall.
  • Go out salsa dancing.  As I mentioned, I’ve already made plans with a local (who I’ve been chatting with through the couchsurfing forum) to burn up the dance floor.
  • Take in an Afro-Cuban show.
  • Experience my first home stay.  I’ll be staying in Vedado at a Lonely Planet recommended accommodation:

“Eddy is a fantastic host with a great knowledge of Havana and his huge colonial house has hosted many visitors over the years. It’s an inviting abode with a well-kept garden, grand exterior and Eddy’s 1974 Argentinean made Dodge parked in the driveway. Guests are accommodated in comfortable quarters and one room comes equipped with a kitchenette.”

I spoke with Eddy last night on the phone and I was delighted when he confirmed they have space! He told me that it’s very warm there and said  “it’s too much hot”. I laughed and told him that since it was snowing in Canada, I’d welcome the heat with open arms.

I can’t wait to see his Dodge!

If Eddy's Dodge Looks Like This, I Want A Ride
If Eddy’s Dodge Looks Like This, I Want A Ride

After Havana, I’m headed to Laz Terrazas, a model village and eco-lodge housed in a reforested UNESCO Biosphere reserve for two nights.  Here I’ll indulge in some more adventurous activities.

  • Horseback riding at an old coffee plantation.
  • Visiting the eco-lodge Hotel Moka and learning exactly how they employ a green philosophy. I’m hoping they’ll let me take a tour if I tell them I’m a travel writer …

I originally wanted to stay there but when I called to make a reservation, they were booked solid. Instead, I’m staying in a near-by town Soroa, “living large” at a fine 2 star establishment.

I May Need To Wear One Of These For "Protection"
I May Need To Wear One Of These For “Protection”
  • Hiking one or more of the reserve’s trails.  I’d like to make the 13 KM hike along the San Claudio trail which leads you to a 20 m high water fall. Another option is the 8 KM El Contento trail leads to a Che Guevara monument.
  • Swimming at Banos del San Juan, a quaint spot with natural pools fed by small waterfalls.
  • Zip lining! I’m scared of heights but want to conquer my fear. Sailing through the air along a cable almost 1 KM should be the good test.

Next, I’ll travel to Santa Clara for two nights where I plan to indulge my left-wing leanings and reaffirm Glen Beck’s assertion that all liberal types must be communists and socialists. This is how I’ll carry out my evil red agenda:

  • Take part in the required Che Guevara pilgrimage visiting his monument, mausoleum and museum. I’ll probably pick up a t-shirt too. Cliche yes, but you know you love it!
I Don't Think I'll Be Able To Find This Shirt In Cuba
I Don’t Think I’ll Be Able To Find This Shirt In Cuba
  • Read a book or write in my journal in Parque Vidal.  I’ve even packed revolution themed books – Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, Victor Sebestyen’s Twelve Days, and Istvan Orkeny’s One Minute Stories.
  • Do a cigar factory tour observing Communist industrialization in action.

I’ll spend my last days in Cienfuegos to take in even more beautiful architecture and relax in a seaside setting. What will I do?

  • Walk a lot. I’ll start with the Paseo Del Prado, the Malecón and Punta Gorda again snapping photo after photo. The city is said to be stunning.
  • Visit 1-2 cemeteries which are considered national monuments.
  • Go on a sunset dinner cruise.
  • Attempt some water sports. I may try kayaking.
  • Stay at a casa particular in Punta Gorda that has it’s own private beach!

Thinner from all of the walking and red from all of the sun (pasty white girls like me don’t tan), I’ll return to Havana and sadly say goodbye to Cuba. I have a feeling that I’ll be back to visit this country someday!

Founder of cherylhoward.com. Canadian in Berlin. Frequent traveller now at 43 countries and counting.

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