A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about hot

Finally made it to Cuba

Billy's first plane ride and our magical time in Havana

sunny 30 °C

Despite my parents giving Billy and I money towards tickets for Christmas to go to Cuba, we had never found the ideal time to actually go. Billy and I were at a local pool bar in Cabarete when we decided to start placing some high stakes bets on the outcomes of our amateur games. We often settle an argument with a game of pool, so it isn't an uncommon thing. More often than not though, it is about who gets to give a massage or who will cook dinner. This day however, I decided to throw down the idea that if Billy lost we would go to Cuba for our anniversary. I don't know if he lost on purpose - because he certainly doesn't usually lose, but he lost...

So a few days later, we booked and paid for our tickets and began to prepare for what would be our first international travels together - and Billy's first time off the island and in an airplane EVER! I think everyone else was more excited for him than he was, either that or he was trying to be too nonchalant and cool about the whole thing. He did swiftly kick the guy out from the window seat that Billy had sweetly smiled for at checkin, and then proceed to stare out of the window as we headed to Cuba by way of Panama.

It was ridiculous to fly such a short distance, what would usually be a 2 hour flight, via Panama. It meant that we took nearly 11 hours to arrive! But by now I have well and truly learned cheap flights is a great way to keep costs low in order to spend longer on the road. We landed in Cuba with only a slight hiccup - they nearly didn't let Billy in! They called secondary immigration to interrogate him.... Oh, how I love you secondary immigration. You never cease to remind me of that day in LAX where I was kept away from my parents in an armed room with 40 illegal immigrants and Temuera Morrison who looked at me compassionately as he sighed "They always do this to us Maori's." Anyway, this wasn't quite as strict as the USA and he merely had his passport examined with a magnifying glass and was asked some strange questions in regards to his position in the Dominican Republic. We had to laugh when we asked why he was held up - apparently a threat for Zika. Strange they didn't stop me, considering we came from the same country and how I'm Miss low immunity and covered in a million mosquito scars - when Billy never gets bit (the bastard!). We had no accommodation booked (breaking my usual rule of always having the first night planned) but thankfully our friend had given us a local card with an apartment address scrawled across it which was what finally bought his way through customs and we came away smiling as the hot pink Cuban stamp was issued into both of our passports, the first of many to come for Billy I am sure.

The smelly and old fashioned airport gave insight into what we were to expect over the next 2.5 weeks - stale smoke mixed with government enforced weekly fumigation were the overwhelming scents in every shop, home, hotel, bar, restaurant, and business we entered. We were bustled out into the waiting area where a thousand taxis, shuttles, and vendors wanted our attention. We decided to stupidly put our trust into the first person we saw - who told us he would take us to a money exchange that had a line shorter than the one tailing around the arrivals lounge. He also said he would take us to a casa particular in the centre of the city. Pfft, first Cuban trap - he did neither of those. And then promptly took our 40 euro as well as collecting his commission for dropping us at an overpriced apartment that resembled a stark hospital room.

We woke up early the next morning, packed our bags, and found our own way to a cadeca (money exchange) that gave us a better price for our euros as well as had us meeting our first Cuban friend who spent the morning showing us a little bit around town - and collecting free food and drinks from us - as we made our way towards what was our new home in the city of Havana.
SAM_4555.jpgSAM_4548.jpgSAM_4541.jpgSAM_4546.jpgSAM_4563.jpgSAM_4564.jpg

We loved walking around and seeing the beautiful buildings and the crazy old cars. We kept turning around each and every corner and there were so many! It was interesting to be in Cuba during the time of change and growth that it is experiencing now. There were many new and modern cars amongst the old american gas guzzlers.
SAM_4624.jpgSAM_4558.jpgSAM_4570.jpg

On one of the days, we finally worked out how to take the local transport through havana without having to pay like a tourist. It took asking about 20 people before one kind man gave us a truthful answer. We got in the beautiful old car (albeit slightly beaten up, but still running far better than my beetle ever did!) and asked him to take us in the direction of the number 13... which we believed to be around Miramar area. We drove along the melanin (boardwalk in english I think? The road that goes along the sea...) and finally got out to a wealthy looking area of the suburbs. The driver pulled over, looked at us and shrugged "this is the end of my route." We looked at each other and back to him as he queried, "Where are you two going?" and I replied "Well, maybe this was a bad idea because we have no idea where we are going!" He roared with laughter and told us that it was surely not a bad idea as we were only 2 streets away from the National Fair of artesian products - what luck! So off we went, paid a fortune to get in - only to have our first encounter with how Cuba really survives on the bare minimums. There was hardly anything at the fair, huge parts of the convention centre were empty, and what was there was at an absolutely ridiculous price - as was the $16 euro entry price that we had to pay as non-nationals. We left quickly, and found the worlds largest ice creams and ate them in the super hot sunshine before hightailing it back to the city.

Another of our days in Cuba, we visited the Museum of the Revolution which we had promised my father we would definitely check out. Wow, what a bizarre place! Their version of the revolution, the way everything was written and the story being told was absolutely fascinating. We were super impressed also by the building itself and the artifacts - which even included Che Guevara's hat !
SAM_4584.jpgSAM_4586.jpgSAM_4594.jpgSAM_4602.jpgSAM_4605.jpgSAM_4611.jpgSAM_4619.jpgSAM_4598.jpg

We drank overpriced Daiquiri's at Floriditas - one of the top 7 most famous bars in the world due to being the birth place of the Daiquiri and the frequent hangout spot of writer Ernest Hemingway.
SAM_4726.jpgSAM_4725.jpgSAM_4649.jpgSAM_4728.jpg

I loved how the local people would dress up either themselves or their pets and pose for pictures - and ask ridiculous amounts of money for them! Billy and I got super sneaky at taking sly photos and then just dropping a few local pesos into their collection baskets instead.

SAM_4661.jpgSAM_4662.jpgSAM_4655.jpg

We walked and walked and walked around Havana for what felt like years - but really was only 4 or 5 days. We refused to take taxis anywhere because they were so expensive, so we walked everywhere instead. It was great though because it meant we could stop where we wanted to take photos, to dance to live music in the parks, to browse through bookshops, and to partake in the local attractions.
SAM_4720.jpgSAM_4747.jpgSAM_4706.jpgSAM_4689.jpgSAM_4685.jpgSAM_4764.jpg

We even found an airgun shooting range where we could aim and fire at a range of different targets. I shot every single one of mine, and Billy even shot one of his so well that the target flipped off and fell to the ground! SAM_4792.jpgSAM_4791.jpg

We saw the camera obscura which is a weird contraption that uses mirrors and light refraction to show a live picture of the city on a huge disk inside an entirely dark room. I found it fascinating, especially because one of my favorite books as a child was called the Camera Obscura and I had always wanted to see one. There are only 5 in the entire world, so I jumped at the chance!
SAM_4781.jpg

We were super surprised by a few things in regards to our initial time in Cuba.

1. You are either Cuban or you are not. Speaking Spanish doesn't mean you get a discount on anything, which was a huge shock for me as my bilingualism has always served me ridiculously well as I have traveled my way through Latin America. Billy being a native speaker and from the neighboring Caribbean island made no difference either. We had to pay the full tourist prices pretty much everywhere we went.

2. The racism and the attitudes of the local people towards us was practically nonexistent. In the Dominican Republic - which I often refer to as the most racist country I have ever traveled to - it is almost impossible to walk down the street without people abusing us or racially profiling either of us. Billy of course is too black because of his Haitian/ African heritage, and I am the color of the tourist - which means I have (supposed) money and am to be worshipped, ridiculed, and extorted all at once. However, in Cuba this attitude didn't seem to exist. We could walk down the streets hand in hand and people barely even noticed us - let alone stare and then yell abuse! Billy of course knows nothing except the attitudes of the country he has grown up in, so for him it was a blissful insight to what life might be like in New Zealand if we ever do make the move home.

3. The difference between the local prices and the tourist prices were EXORBITANT! Trying to understand the two different currencies was something that took me a few days to wrap my head around, let alone poor Billy who had never worked in a new currency at all ! We had fistfuls of both local and tourist pesos and were forever confusing the two.

4. Most of the nice old cars are there for tourism. The really preserved and maintained ones work as private taxi and touring cars available for private hire (for nearly 60 euros an hour!!!). The older and less maintained ones are used as local transport which we took out to the artesian fair. Private cars seemed to be all newer models. Yet there were hardly ANY cars on the road when traveling between towns. It was very strange to see such wide and empty roads with no one traveling upon themSAM_4637.jpg
SAM_4751.jpgSAM_4741.jpgSAM_4739.jpgSAM_4735.jpgSAM_4627.jpgSAM_4624.jpg

5. The food really wasn't as bad as we were advised. Perhaps we had expected worse? Perhaps we are too used to Dominican food which can often be lacking in spices and taste - think never ending rice, beans, and chicken! The cheapest street food was mostly pizza and spaghetti which came with the saltiest, stringiest, oiliest cheese we know - and which we got very addicted to after initially hating it! And we got addicted to fresh churros with cinnamon and brown sugar !
SAM_4779.jpg8AD1208EA4D53957778114E3D5A23E1D.jpg

6. Everything is Cuban made. And if it isn't, it is is practically unaffordable. Most things have the same label or come from the same place - and you realize they are the communist version. Eg, you can only buy one brand of bottled water or soda etc.

7. The best drink in the entire world is Malta Bucanero - malted drink that is not too sweet and not too malta-ry. The best drink to cool you down during a super hot day in the Cuban sunshine. We must have drunk one each and every single day for our entire vacation!
SAM_4644.jpg

8. For a country that is so "un visited" they are certainly VERY set up for tourism. Official bus stations just for tourists to travel upon, official tours and treks in each town, hop on and hop off bus systems, home stays (casa particulares) where your details are registered everyday with the government to keep an eye on you, everything having two prices, and of course laws about keeping tourists and locals separate. Billy even nearly got arrested one day for walking with me as we entered our favorite locals only (shh, don't tell anyone we weren't local) breakfast spot. We had worked out how we could get 4 egg buns, 2 coffees and 2 juices for just 1 euro. He was suddenly surrounded by questions from 3 policemen while a further few waited at the door and on the street. All Billy had to do was say "Buenos dias" for the lead officer to speak into his walky-talky and tell his backup that "it doesn't matter, stand down - he is a foreigner too like her..." We did of course think that was super exciting to have nearly been arrested for being together!

9. The propaganda and patriotism is EVERYWHERE! Reminders of the revolution and encouragement for socialistic practices are painted beautifully on most public spaces.
SAM_4698.jpgSAM_4743.jpgSAM_4762.jpg
10. It was in Havana that we took our most favourite photo of our trip :

SAM_4754.jpg

Posted by chasingsummer 12:01 Archived in Cuba Tagged walking city fun havana hot adventures touring exploring old_cars Comments (0)

On top of the world

Minca, Sierra Nevada, La Guajira, and a few flamingos too

sunny 35 °C

Phew, I have to write this because if not, I will never catch up. Every single day has just been one adventure after the next. From beautiful location to beautiful location, I seem to just wander in a daze, completely lost in the moment and just wanting to absorb every single second.

I arrived in Minca to work in the restaurant for 3 weeks. The town itself is TINY and set in the mountains about 15km above the city of Santa Marta. The town has lots of waterfalls, rivers, secret spots, coffee farms, and a few tourists that wander through to explore and enjoy it all. My restaurant ‘lazy cat’ or ‘gato perezoso’ was known as the place for tourists and locals alike, as there was a mix of Spanish and English speaking staff, as well as being famous for cooking the best food in town! I was so excited after my first day, when I had spent 80% of the day as a waitress speaking only Spanish! I had made absolutely NO mistakes, kept up with everything, and even made myself a tip! At the end of the week, when the tips were added up, I had actually made 30,000 pesos which is about $20 NZD and a fair amount of money here!
90_20140711_134544.jpg20140712_093239.jpg20140714_102958.jpg
During the week, I would begin work at 3pm. This meant I had most of the day to explore as the sun changes around 3pm and gets ready to set at 6. Every day meant a new adventure (two meant a vomiting virus that affected the entire town) and every day meant new people, and making friends with the people of Minca. It was really great, being one of the only tourists who spoke (reasonable) Spanish because I made a name for myself in the town very quickly as the happy Kiwi girl who was friendly with anyone. I think they really enjoyed being able to talk to and joke with a foreigner, I get the impression that opportunity didn’t present itself very often in Minca! I ended up watching a local football game one evening, it was very intense! The ref even had yellow and red cards! It blew bubble soccer matches completely out of the water! This was a very good place for me to be... not only did I spent hours watching games and laughing and talking with locals in Spanish, one team wore teeshirts and the other didn't so they could identify each other. I got to watch sweaty, tanned, sexy, delicious men run around and play soccer without teeshirts on!!
20140714_213101.jpg
I spent one lovely day at this river filled pool, high in the mountains. It was so lovely to just jump in and then tan dry in the sunshine.
20140714_121715.jpg
One of the days I went to a place called “las piedras’ which means ‘the rocks’ in English. It was a really cool place where two rivers met and created water tunnels and a massive waterhole with high rocks to walk through and jump off into the cool water.
90_20140717_101738.jpg90_20140717_101302.jpg
When I was tanning here, I met a group of young local boys. Two who worked as tourist guides in Minca. They were showing me how to jump and do different types of bombs, one could even dive off like a champ! They were really impressed that I would jump straight off, apparently most girls here don’t do these things – especially without being scared! They were horrified that I hadn’t been to Pozo Azul yet, which has an even better place for jumping. So they told me we were going to hike there right away. The hike was very long, and very hot. We bought cubes of ice (long thin plastic bags of frozen water) and they were luke warm water within 15 minutes. We must have hiked for over an hour, but when we got there it was totally worth it!
90_DSC04395.jpgDSC04397.jpgDSC04399.jpg
The boys knew of other secret spots, from growing up in Minca and now being tourist guides. So they took me to a couple of other spots further up the river. I had such a magical day with them and I felt as if I had met the first people like my Kiwi friends, since leaving New Zealand. They were so funny, friendly, adventurous, and super patient with my Spanish. I did give them a few laughs though when I messed up a couple of words REALLY badly… I said “are you going to Julian’s” but apparently what I said was “are you going to anal sex” … Oh Spanish, how you can be so cruel to me sometimes!
DSC04396.jpg
Unfortunately things weren’t quite so perfect in paradise. Some of the other volunteers from other restaurants and hostels in Minca were having a tough time in their placements. One day we all went down to Santa Marta to have a break from the town. It was a bit of a crazy day, lots of emotions, but nice to be together and really nice to have no language barrier.
20140718_124306.jpg
I decided that one week was enough in Minca and I wasn’t going to stay for the full 3 weeks. I began to feel unsafe, and this meant I needed to follow my heart and leave. I was very sad to leave, but thankfully the owner of the restaurant was super kind and understanding which meant that I was able to leave with my head held high. From Minca, I headed further into the mountains to a place called Casa Elemento. I honestly believe this place is about as close to heaven as I have ever been.
DSC04414.jpgDSC04413.jpgDSC04407.jpgDSC04408.jpgDSC04409.jpgDSC04410.jpg
I feel that my whole entire life, all of my travelling days, I have been looking for what I found here. Every single person who made it up, became a friend, because all that arrived were true travellers. They were people who were there for the experience, in South America because their hearts had called them there. The staff are amazing, the view spectacular, and they cook the best vegetarian food I have ever eaten. Heaven.
826BC6FE2219AC6817FA23A393487E66.jpgDSC04412.jpgDSC04415.jpgDSC04416.jpgDSC04417.jpg
I stayed for 5 nights and loved every single minute. I worked on the giant hammock, I went for hikes to find fresh avocados – and eat them straight off the floor of the jungle, I ate bananas fresh from the bunch hanging on a tree, I tried cacao fruit, I saw a coffee farm and drank freshly roasted coffee. I hiked to secret waterfalls with my mountain man (named Jesus!), and slept on the giant hammock with friends, under a sky full of shooting stars.
90_DSC04430_1_.jpgDSC04433_1_.jpg90_DSC04431_1_.jpgDSC04429_1_.jpg
DSC04418.jpgDSC04423.jpg
The saddest part of Casa Elemento was leaving, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Thankfully the giant thunderstorm that had hit 2 days prior (resulting in us all needing to wear our shoes due to the lightning hitting the house in the past, and coming about 5 meters away during my stay) had destroyed the power supply. So on the day I left, the pool was being drained and there was no ice for the rum. It certainly made it easier to depart!
I left for the coast with my friend Jaime, a lovely girl from Canada who shared my passion for flamingos. We headed to a place called Rancho Relaxo, a sister hostel of Casa Elemento. We slept at the mirador, a 20 minute hike up to a gorgeous spot that overlooked the Caribbean sea. Sleeping in a hammock with a nice sea breeze is definitely now one of my favourite things!
20140725_100815.jpg20140724_082434.jpg20140724_082259.jpg
Rancho Relaxo was pretty cool, it had painted goats that cuddled up like lap dogs!
90_20140724_193848.jpg20140724_202648.jpg
We spent 2 nights there, and left for La Guajira to see the flamingos. We got on a bus, and then another, then a moto (motorbike taxi), to finally be thrown off in the middle of the desert! Poor Jaime, as she struggled with Spanish, I think she was quite shocked and only half believing me when I said we were finally nearly there.
DSC04457.jpgDSC04456.jpg
The moto men took us down a dusty path, to where we saw native people - Wayuu tribe wearing their traditional white robes - and then arrived at the flamingo lagoon.
82AE2C4C2219AC6817F8CD596B65ADA9.jpg
Sadly, the coast of Colombia is currently in drought status. Water is very low in supply, and this had affected the flamingos. Where there are usually 5 – 7 million in August, there were just 30 flamingos! But they were 30 more wild, Caribbean flamingos than I have ever seen, and I was the happiest girl on the planet as we were pushed around in a boat (the man was literally walking pushing the boat because the water was so low).
DSC04441.jpgDSC04443.jpg90_DSC04444.jpgDSC04445.jpgDSC04447.jpgDSC04449.jpgDSC04450.jpg82AF38C12219AC68175137BED67665B1.jpgDSC04451.jpgDSC04452.jpg
The following day, Jaime and I headed to a beach called Playa Los Angeles. It was a lovely beach, but the water was a bit too rough and I could see the rip so I didn’t get in past my knees. The colours of the water and the sky, the most beautiful contrasts of blue and aqua and green, are just amazing. My camera does not do it justice. I think I need a new camera, one that captures the world the way my eyes and mind do.
20140725_151713.jpg20140725_123301.jpg90_20140725_140616.jpg90_20140725_140808.jpg
Last night I arrived back into Santa Marta. I am staying with Cindy and Didi’s family here for a couple of days before I head to the Caribbean island of San Andres. This island is Colombian territory, but it is closer to Nicaragua. I believe it is a paradise for swimming, tanning, snorkelling, diving (but I can’t due to asthma), rum, and adventures. Also shopping as they don’t pay tax – how convenient! I am going to the beach this afternoon and tomorrow with Didi’s brothers Jamir and Ariel. I need to keep working on my tan, I am still too brown. I need to be black.

x

Posted by chasingsummer 08:59 Archived in Colombia Tagged waterfalls beach caribbean hot flamingos minca santa_marta giant_hammock Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]