I have the feeling of being in a time warp.
And then I get a burning sensation in my stomach and my fists are clenched and I’m frustrated for being scammed again and then I get yelled at or cat called or asked for ‘taxi lady?’ Just when I think it can’t get worse, I end up in Havana Viejas and the sun sets behind the buildings and cobble stone streets and the music is playing softly by a band and the beer is ice cold.
Wait. It does.
Someone makes us pay $40 for a taxi that takes us to a nightclub that is way expensive even by Canadian standards and I get angry some more. Our host, a neighbor of our new Cuban friend, insinuates that we are white over-privileged kids and we may very well be. But we choose to spend our money on travel and our hearts yearn to see places we haven’t before.
That night, we talk for a few hours in the common room of our hostel, where we met. A foursome was born. A United Nations of backpackers who, according to the Cuban who invited us into his home for a new years eve dinner, are trailblazers.
We choose to get the hell out of Havana.
The city is beautiful for sure. But it’s not at the same time. The facades are crumbling, blackened by heat and wear and tear. The streets are muddled with garbage, with taxis, collectivos, bike – taxis, tourist buses, local buses and brightly painted old American classic cars. The Malecon, an 8 km walkway next to the ocean, is dirty, sandy and hot. The sun beats down on you so hard, you shudder at the thought of stepping onto it. The national revolution musuem is riddled with blood-stained clothes and artifacts, pages of letters and an almost-shrine-like display of Che. The hostel I ended up picking was far from the city centre, next to a baseball stadium and a 45 minute walk from Parque Centrale. It was bloody awful. I had a feeling of hatred towards Havana, more than any other city I had been to. It overwhelmed me. It challenged me. It broke me. And to add insult to injury, it rained every time we passed through it.
But it also brought me the friends I traveled with and I can’t imagine Cuba without them. I also found a really good pastry shop that I spent a few days trying to eat all of them. We met a Cuban-American who took us around and brought us into his home and fed us a New Year’s Eve dinner and answered any question I could come up with. How many times do you get to experience a city through the family home of a stranger?
So early New Years day, we walked to the bus station and headed to the country side. Havana to Vinales. And as we waited to negotiate a price for a taxi to the valley, we met two Turkish guys and thus our foursome began to roll six deep.