Cuba Independently? Es Posible! #3: Old Habana/Vieja
Along Calle Obispo we encountered some particularly persistent hawkers though this was done in a reasonably friendly manner. In fact, we were quite amazed at some of the stories that were used to convince us that we should be parted with your cash for cigars etc. Most included tales that they had friends who lived in various parts of the UK and that they were saving up to go and visit them. In hindsight, we should have taken up one or two offers to visit a palador (private house serving meals) for lunch as later in the trip we found these to provide the best food on offer and at fantastic prices.
One unwanted aspect of the hawking along these streets was the various offers of Cocaine. A useful defensive tactic to deflect the attentions of any hawkers was to take up the pretence of not being able to understand much English, Spanish or German. Neil had a basic knowledge of Swedish and a few words in a relatively obscure tongue (for Cuba) soon had hawkers thinking that they were not going to get through to us and sell any of their wares, possibly a little underhanded on our part but it was mightily effective.
We did find a good cafï¿½ for lunch that served excellent Cuban sandwich and very cheap starters of ham and cheese: Cafï¿½ Dichiosa on Calle Obispo.
C. Obispo leads to one of the architectural treasures of the city, its Cathedral set in an attractive square, surrounded by shops selling tourist goods (postcards and stamps too). In the square is the El Patio restaurant that is given good write-ups in both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet Books. We waited for 40 minutes after ordering drinks for them to fail to arrive, it has to be said we were not the only ones amongst the clientele to leave without ordering food.
The Capitolia: The building seemingly based upon the design of the White House in Washington DC is open to visitors and still played host to the House of Representatives before the revolution.
For $3 (all prices will be in US$ as this is the tourist currency) entry, this allows unlimited photography and a free cocktail in the Capitolia Bar, this was our first of many on this trip and the Mojito became the “Cocktail of choice” for the remainder of the trip. This refreshing cocktail consists of Rum, sparkling mineral water, Lemon/Lime juice, sugar and a sprig of mint.
Our final night in Havana and we were well under our daily budget, with the following day being the beginning of our travels out into the wider countryside, the group decision is to splash-out on a meal at the flagship hotel in Havana The Nacional.
We were offered the deal of three buffet meals for the price of two (total bill of $50 for all you can eat). The food was a fantastic improvement on the fare served up at the Neptuno-Triton, with some typical Cuban cuisine of Roast suckling pig, yucca, as well as international standards such as pasta and a wide array of fresh fruit and vegetables which are not easy to come by.
Post meal we retired to the hotel grounds that overlook the Malecon for some mojitos. The grounds here are very relaxed with none of the piped musak or impromptu jamming sessions that occur in many other bars. The popularity of Cuban music seems to offer a real boon to any musician in Havana as almost every bar and cafï¿½ has its resident band, all very accomplished, but the tranquillity of the Nacional that evening was just what the boys required.
We were treated to a natural spectacle of breath-taking proportions as the wind was in the North. This forces the swell on the Straits of Florida to crash on the rocks below the Malecon and the resulting waves send spray hurtling across the road well over 20 metres. We estimated that one cyclist took around 10 minutes to travel 100metres dodging a soaking. Our taxi journey back to the hotel included several waves crashing over the roof of the car (an early contender for champagne moment of the trip.)