Cuba: Horseback riding in Viñales

A bumpy journey from Havana and about 3 hours later, I arrived in Viñales and worried where I would stay for the coming  nights. Sweat was falling off my back and forehead, I walked towards the accommodation that my host in Havana had contacted. Luck just came to me from one place to another, and I got a stay. It was about lunch time and everything around here was quiet and empty. The still numbed me a bit until the sound of some horses galloping from distance broke the silence. I wondered where those had come from.

Just to wander around Viñales, there was nothing much interesting to do and things were staying as quiet as it could be. But I was hunting for the ride on a horse because it looked quite tempting to me. I probably had been on a horse before but years years ago. All I remembered was a picture of me and my mother horseback riding on a beach somewhere in Vietnam. So that trip would do me good to remind me what it had felt like to be on a horse. I booked a three-hour horse ride that late afternoon.


Mojjito was the name of my horse in that afternoon. He was a charming guy with a soul of a leader but nonetheless calm and friendly. We bonded with each other after a few touches. Sitting on a horse was not something to be expected to be comfortable but riding a horse was a wonderful feeling in which you feel you rule the wild and the freedom. It was not looking any alike in the movie that you ride horses through the meadow with the win zigzagging through your hair but the reality was looking even better than that. Around me was a spectacular view in which the picture was all painted green and it told the story of a shepherd and his tobacco farm. He lives in a hut locating just few minutes walk from the valley and his main transportation is his dear horse. His tobacco farm has been passed on through many generations and the quality of each cigar he rolls each day is unbeatable. We got to try one cigar which was freshly rolled while listening to the story of the farm and some great info about cigar that we had never learnt before. I first sip of cigar was not that interesting but the flavour remained and got me excited. That sweetness of honey used to glue the cigar was a new exploration to me which did not make me hate tobacco anymore.


It was a late afternoon so that there were not many activities going on for us. On the other hand, we caught the beautiful sunset charmingly shining on the whole valley. The picture I got in mind now had changed to a dreamy painting which the main colour was golden orange on top of that clear blue sky. Some cotton candy looking clouds were sitting on that painting to give a bit of contrast to the blue background. There was a certain energy getting to me and lifted my soul. If a beautiful sunset could make you feel that way, I reckon everyone deserves to witness it once in a while to make your world more positive.

It was not a long ride but it numbed my inner thighs for few hours already. In the end, I didn’t care what I was seeing but I gotta see and do what I had wanted to. Viñales might not have much to do but that side of Cuba is lovely without doubt. That’s the place you call peace.



Cuba: La Habana and its contrast to the rest of the world

DSC_2959I came to Cuba to see how it had been described as a ‘back-in-time’ country and I could imagine why people have called Cuba so. It is certainly a different world compared to the European life I have in Germany or The Netherlands. But, differences make you learn. If it is really so, I did learn a lot during those four days being in Havana and not just only about the city.

Leaving Varadero and its beach scene, my travel mate and I met up to take a cap ride to Havana. It wasn’t expensive and we got recommended a place to stay in that high season time. It turned out to be a very beautiful home – the apartment was just simple with two bedrooms in which one was taken by the host and the other was for us – but what made it so beautiful was the woman hosting us with her kindness and warm heart. That stay made a memorable time for me in Havana despite all the contrasts in Havana city.


Been a long while since I last travelled with someone and it has always been only me. Lasse was taking the South America trip and we somehow tried to plan to meet up in Cuba. I called my travel mate because we actually had met each other for the first time during travelling South East Asia. Somehow we got that click and became friends, good enough to take that trip together. We both agreed that it was difficult for both of us to travel with each other for quite a long period of time. And it got very intimating as well because we basically had to share one bed 7 out of 8 days we were travelling together. So there it was, the first lesson I got – sharing. Nothing was related to Havana but Havana made us to do so. Sharing bed was just one thing but 24 hours every day as well. But gotta say, quite a challenge for us two solo travellers travelling together.


We stayed in the least commercial but coolest area of Havana – Vadedo. The reality of Havana is there, where people live in old houses that you wonder if they have ever got repaired, where people walk around during the day to buy groceries in small markets, where people sit in front of their doors to chill and watch the day go by and where the tune of latino music is played all day long. It was lively and happy. Even though I couldn’t stop wondering if people had a job around here, it might have just been an easy life they having there – no stress, no expectation, no worries. They say Cuba is a poor country, and I won’t deny because indeed it is. However, I didn’t see poverty, neither kids begging on the streets or robberies. People surprisingly just looked.. happy. It got me thinking and realised – I was certainly seeing a different world, where people are pretty much placid and do not oblige to the stress that the world is putting on us. Have I told that they do not have proper internet? It is either very slow or they cannot afford it. Somehow it is a good thing because there is so much information on the net nowadays and it just makes us live in worries and stress. And there I learned that the more minimal you have, the happier you are. 


Entering the city centre, I bewildered around the European looking buildings with old-timers driving around. That could be a look for Europe and would turn Europe insanely attractive. I murmured myself and daydreamed a little. Living in the moment, I was pretty impressed and happy that I got the chance to see this place. Havana is absorbing and you can’t judge if you just sit at home watching it on television. I just stepped out of Vadedo quarter and it was another picture in front of me. The whole city was packed of tourists and of course I was no exceptionally being counted in that number. Cuban people walked to my friend and I and openly talked to us most of the time. They were so friendly, ey. But that wasn’t a good assumption because, ’til we got trapped. Every single Cuban who tried to talk to us, they always wanted to ‘sell’ us something. Cuba has become one of the most attractive destinations at the moment since the changes about to happen within the American government makes people want to see this place before it turns America. Also, the fact that the average wage in Cuba is at $25/person and that has turned the country all in tourism. I do not give any assumption here but all the scams, the tourist traps made me think so. Even though it is normal to have such scam and tourist trap in wherever your destination is, but in Cuba, it is a community associating with each other and commission is the benefit that every each one of them will have. And ‘this’ does not only happen in Havana.

What I love the most about this place is the lifestyle. What social media makes us communicate online and how they say to ‘connect people’, here in Cuba, no internet gives them the social life, the one which is off-line and requires communication face-to-face. During evenings, we just chilled along the sea wall, coming along with few beers and cigarettes, and we talked. Sometimes, I just sat still, stared at the water falling off the rocks in the dark while the street singers were singing from distance. No internet, I did not have to get so much information from people and from the world, which made life so much easier and worry-less. My travel mate and I were lucky enough to stay in a lovely home and we got to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Havana. We became a part of the Cuban family, throwing rice and water from the balcony down the street when the clock ticked 12, cheering for the 2016 and our present in Havana.




Cuba: Landed in Varadero

Taken between Varadero and Matanzas

Photo taken in between Varadero and Matanzas

After staying up 11 hours on a plane of Thomas Cook without entertainment, I was wondering if they were giving me the preview of Cuba. There had been too many stories about Cuba that triggered my nerve and certainly for my other fellow Internet addicts. One hour delayed meant one hour later on arrival. It was already 8 in the evening by the time I finished all the migration process. So now what?

It was not the first time I travelled to a place without an accommodation but this place is different from all countries I have visited. Landing on a Spanish speaking country with a minimal Spanish vocabularies that I learned from Andalucía, would that help me during this trip? Ironically, I did not even have to start showing my Spanish skills because seemed like people speaking German around here. My eyes were seeking for people who could share with me the cap ride. Saw some guys agreeing quickly on the deal $40 to the centre made me giggle a bit while other taxi drivers were offering me $25. They could never make me pay the price because I did my research. I met Ulrike and a half German dude, and we quickly decided to share a taxi to go into town. By that time, everything was hiding behind the black curtain but then a cow appeared in the middle of nowhere, and a family of pigs tried to cross the road.
“You have no casa at all?” – Ulrike asked me with a full of surprise
“I decided shortly to come here so no preparation for that. I have no credit card to book anyhow” – It is always awkward to tell people that I do not own a credit card because that sounds strange to some people knowing me travelling so much. Anyway, I have always managed.
“You are crazy. When I booked a casa, everything was already booked out in October”.

She made me nervous but somehow I was still certain that there would be something for me. And there was! I just followed Ulrike to her home stay of Bessi on the Calle 44, and after a few calls, I had a room for myself.

My tummy was growling for food because the cold Chicken Schnitzel on the flight was unacceptable. I strolled down on the street around 10, tried to find something to comfort my stomach. It was not difficult to find the way around this town because all streets are named by numbers serriedly and each block has about 5-6 houses. One thing I recognised in this town was that I was surrounded by tourists, a lot of them. Something that we don’t like but we cannot say anything about it because we are seen tourists ourselves. However, this place seems to be made just for tourists. Every house runs the casa particular business (local home-stay) and each hut in the block is built up to offer something tourists. I caught my eyes on a group of people gathering in an alley. They were local, there must be something there. A food vendor selling comidas was what I had been looking for. I was dying to try some Cuban food around here. There were about 6 different dishes listed on the board and I had no idea what they all were. Basically, I just took what other people ordered. The price was a bit confusing  with such a huge number on the board but I actually only had to pay a small amount in CUC. Turned out, those vendors offer food for local and the price stated is in CUP. How strange is that! Two different currencies – one for locals (CUP) and one for people like me called tourists (CUC). Anyhow, I was happy eating my bistec comida of rice and black beans, a big piece of pork steak and some slaw on the side. Two bucks for that, nothing to complain!

And since then, whenever I saw a big price for a small product, I knew that was the local price in CUP, and that was how I spotted local stands.