Stepping out into Central Havana the next day was pretty scary. There I was, standing outside my Casa; the walls of the once beautiful colonial buildings surrounding me were either empty shells or homes in the midst of crumbling down. There was dog shit everywhere from the hundreds of stray dogs that roamed the streets, people were watching me – not just glancing, but really watching. I’ve never felt more out of place. Regardless, Seamus and I start walking to understand our place in the city.
The weather was also pretty bleak when we arrived – coming towards the end of the hurricane season. There was no blue in the sky and the grey only seemed to echo through the streets, enhancing the overwhelming sense of poverty that I really wasn’t expecting.
However, you adapt quickly enough. After changing money at the bank and sorting out the basics we headed to a bar that was recommended in our guide book as being cheap and tourist/Hemingway free. Our first Mojito and first cooked meal was at El Chanchullero, a small, bohemian style dive-bar.
Behold – our favourite bar in Havana
El Chanchullero. The Mojitos were pretty damn strong, the food was without doubt the most DELICIOUS I had eaten in any bar and the music was pretty good. One drink and one meal – £3.50. With the price of a cocktail averaging £1.20 I know I’m in for a good time.
Our first night out
On our first night out it rained heavily. As we tried to navigate our way through the streets in search of a place to have dinner, taxi men by the dozen were shouting at us to get in. Desperate for business, every cafe/restaurant owner we passed tried to lure us in, at times following us down the street. No five steps taken were taken in peace. We gave up and went back to our bar – El Chanchullero.
I went to the toilet – no seat. This is common in Cuba – seats are expensive to replace. I come back and Seamus is taking pictures for a couple, Betty and Miqael. Betty is from New York and works for an organisation called Artists Making Changes. The foundation fosters the creative development of underprivileged groups of children by bringing art workshop programmes led by skilled artists to their home-towns. Betty works with young school children as part of this organisation and is engaged to Miqael, a Cuban guy who owns a taxi bike and lives in his parent’s home in Centro Habana.
As the evening rolls on and the rum starts to take a hold of our senses we begin to learn a lot about Cuba, Betty’s work, Miqael’s work, the fact that Seamus is a spitting image of Cuba’s national hero, Camilo Cienfuegos,
and that the very bar in which we are sitting is owned by the nephew of Fidel Castro. Drunk and in need of a proper introduction to the city, we are charmed into taking a $15 CUC (£9) 1 hour bicycle taxi ride around Havana with Miqael the next day.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.