Day 19: Back From The Back Of Beyond

Sat. 1st September 2012

Havana Vieja at sunsetOur transfer on Friday back to Havana from MLG was uneventful. As we didn’t leave until 2pm it meant that we could have a fairly lazy morning (we do need to make better use of transfer days). Just before we left, the TV in the bar started showing the preamble to the Friday Premier League match (I didn’t get to find out what the match was going to be – only that they have a woman host and men blathering on in Cuban football programs just as in the UK).

Our 2pm start also meant that by the time we got back to Havana, it was too late to book our onward transfer to Trinidad so we opted to spend Saturday night in Havana – what a great choice this turned out to be. Isabel, our host in our casa was happy to extend our stay by another night and also was able to book a casa in Trinidad for us.

Havana Bus Tour - Good but not as good as it could beWe decided that the best way of seeing a little further afield than just Havana Vieja was to take the Havana Bus Tour hop on hop off tourist bus(the T1 route if anyone is interested). You did get a reasonable drive round the city for about an hour and a half, however:

  1. The supposedly bi-lingual commentary was indecipherable in both English and Spanish;
  2. It covered some of the places that we had already seen such as Revolutionary Square and Miramar;
  3. There was significant overlap between the outward and return routes;
  4. The bus stops were not well signposted and not necessarily stopped at which made the hopping on and hopping off harder than it initially sounded. We did however get off at University for a bit of a look around where we als saw the famous Copellia ice cream parlour.

All in all, I’d give the experience about 5 out of 10.

Smile while you get ripped off!At least I can come up with a rating for the bus – I still really don’t know what rating I would give for our ‘being ripped off for photos with an old car’  experience that happened later that afternoon. I spotted a great looking orange Buick Speedster. But when I took an initial photo, the owner was straight on me with the old ‘come on, come on, sit in the car and let me take your photos line’. Obviously (with hindsight) the problem came after the photos were taken. I offered him 1CUC and he wanted 10 for this. Much protestation (both sides), shrugging of shoulders (both sides) and threats to walk away (me)  ensued. In the end, we halved the difference in our starting points and I suppose that neither of us were entirely happy or entirely upset with the outcome. At least the photos were good and the car spectacular!

Freddy (our Exodus tour guide) suggested that we cross over the harbour bay and watch sunset and the canon ceremony from a restaurant on far side looking back across to Havana. Our guidebook suggested that a ‘cheap but slow way’ of crossing was by taking a ferry. So we thought that we would give that a go. Little did we know that:

  1. There are two ferries that cross the bay! They both start from the same pier in Havana Viaja, but the ferry on the right hand side goes to the middle of the harbour not near the harbour entrance where we wanted to be.
  2. Security not happy with laptop in our bag – apparently, there has been a hijacking attempt on the ferry as someone wanted to get to Florida. Eventually after much shaking of heads and shrugging and saying ‘prohibado’, we were let through.

We get on the (wrong) ferry, take a short trip and find that we are in the wrong place. We are then helpfully directed out the exit of the ‘terminal’ (don’t think in too grand terms – think ‘shed’) and then back in the entrance – more security and more fuss over the laptop and back on to the ferry we had just got off. The ferry then went back to the starting point – except this time on the left-hand rather than right-hand side of the jetty. Key difference!!

El Cristo de Habana esta roto!This then got us to where we wanted to be, just down the hill from the Christ statue (El Cristo de Habana). This huge statue was erected by the Batista regime a year before the revolution – I suspect that is why nobody is in a huge hurry to finish the renovation. A short walk past the statue, took us to the (newer) old fort with its collection of old missiles then on to the old old fort – where the views were spectacular.

Cuban missile defence system!From here we were able to see the signs and paths down the hill to where the restaurants and pubs that overlooked the harbour were located. After all the effort and adventure, we thought it would be rude not to take full advantage and so first we found a bar for a cocktail and then on toe the Restaurant La Tasca that was mentioned in the guidebook.

We are so glad that we made the effort – there is a real lesson about just giving things a go. This was probably the best meal that we have had so far in Cuba – both from a food perspective and from a location and viewpoint. This has to be absolutely the best view in Cuba and one of the best anywhere that we have ever experienced. It was magical sitting in the restaurant overlooking the harbour and Havana with the sun setting to the side. Then combined with the orange and red tints of sunset, we could see a lightning storm behind (and highlighting) one of the larger buildings.

The view from our table!Fortunately, the battery on my camera lasted long enough to get some great pictures. Also fortunately, it then expired as otherwise, Janet would never have got any conversation out of me !

(Guys & Girls from the Exodus trip, I’m sorry, but you would have absolutely loved this. I will email Freddy to say that he should put this on future itineraries.)

To cap a really good day off, our taxi home was a ‘52 Chevvy with a big growly V8 that always threatened to shake the car to pieces. Every pothole and bump in the road made the suspension squeak and the car roll. I doubt that there is an original part in the car, but we absolutely loved it – a great way to finish a great day.

Looking across the harbour at Havana Vieja

PS – Sorry this is such a long post – it was just such a memorable day!

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