Havana by coach

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Thu 2 Jun 2011 13:35
Our last trip in Cuba was to visit Havana, surely a 'must-see' on anybody's itinerary in this fascinating country.
So early on a Friday morning we caught a taxi to the bus station in Varadero for the 08.00 departure.  The comfortable air-conditioned coach (made in China) cost only $10 each for the two & a half hour journey to Havana.  Although not fans of this mode of travel it was good to be high up to appreciate the scenery as we sped along the coast, called into the airport, through the town of Matanzas and on to the suburbs of Havana.  There was a pit-stop along the way where other local & tourist buses pulled in for a break, the usual cafe, gift shop & loo stop with the addition of a Pina Colada bar complete with musicians.  The mix was poured into a glass with the bottle of rum on the counter for you to add the alcohol content at your own discretion - dangerous, but a good idea at this time in the morning!
Getting off the coach near the old part of town by the port we were immediately approached by all sorts of people offering accommodation, taxis, horse & cart rides, restaurants, cigars, rum, good music & more.  The four of us strode purposefully off in the direction of a Casa Particular our friends had previously stayed in scattering the hawkers in our wake.  The side streets were busy, noisy, colourful, a little bit dirty, a little bit smelly but somehow the exquisite architecture both restored & in ruins made up for it all.  Havana buzzed.  But you needed to watch your step!
The Casa was full.  The owner called another one run by a friend & walked with us to the busy back street.  The building was, well, a little older, not actually charming or bijou nor in the best area but it would do.  The very narrow stairs to the second floor were dark and dangling with electrical wires. 
However, the rooms were reasonably clean & Maria made a very nice breakfast despite communication being not that easy with our limited Spanish & her little English - thank goodness for sign language. The shared bathroom sandwiched between the two bedrooms each with an access door to the facilities was a challenge. A keen ear was required from each room as the bathroom could only be locked from our side of the door, whereas when we were in 'residence' we could lock their access door from the bathroom side. But apart from one time when Phil opened the bathroom door thinking Tom had knocked and finding Chris in teeth cleaning mode and nothing more sinister it all worked pretty well considering!
Bags deposited safely we set off to explore.  Actually that's what we did for three days.  In short we walked miles, took hundreds of photos, drank gallons of Mojitos (THE drink to drink whilst in Cuba), ate fantastic food, watched & heard brilliant live music, saw excellent art - in fact a complete sensory overload.  In the time allowed we couldn't hope to 'do it all' but certainly got the flavour of Havana along with copious lungfuls of choking exhaust fumes from the elderly car engines that belched smoke consistently.
Our pictorial memories of this unique city are broken down in successive posts as there is simply too much to capture and place in one blog. Old colonial architecture, people, art in many forms, transport and something you certainly don't expect to find in a city.........