We woke up fairly late after last night’s shenanigans but all we had to do was catch a taxi back to Havana where the plan was to have a quick nap and then see what Havana had to offer on a Saturday night.
Yamilka and Ariel at the casa sorted the taxi out for us. In fact over the three days they had sorted everything out for us and our hosts Mercy and Pachi had done the same in Havana too! We didn’t quite know what to expect from the Casa Particulars but it has been brilliant. There is a standard each room must reach which includes having ensuite facilities. Breakfast has been on offer everyday and has been huge and they have been so helpful with sorting out taxis and excursions. They have been so welcoming it’s been such a delight staying there.
But anyway back to the day.
It’s fair to say we were a bit disappointed when our taxi turned up as it couldn’t have been further from a classic American car if it tried. A daewoo. Well we had little option so we helped strap the bags to the roof and just about managed to squeeze inside. Sarah’s window would open and we were just about to pull the pin on the trip but as we picked up speed it turned out it created a good wind tunnel and we were all fairly cool.
We asked the driver to stop for a picture and he stopped at just the perfect point for a view over Vinales and then as we got back in I tried to break the ice and start a conversation with our driver. Music is always a good place to start and he was a big reggaeton fan so he played me some tracks from some different countries and we began chatting.
I started by asking him about his car which it turns out actually belonged to his grandmother. She was a doctor and therefore able to leave Cuba in order to earn some extra money and then return and buy the car. Cars certainly don’t come cheap as this was a 1994 daewoo tiny thing and his family bought it second hand in 2000 for 15,000 cuc (1 cuc = US$1). Which is an absolutely huge amount of money especially considering that the average wage is 25cuc a month!!
This amazed me. He went on to say how he used to be a teacher and like doctors and other professionals his wage was controlled by the government and restricted to 25cuc a month. For an example this is how much it costs to stay in a casa for the night. A Mojito costs between 3 and 4, a beer between 1.50 and 2.50. So obviously it doesn’t leave a lot of free spending money!!
He said that he has switched to taxi driving where he claimed he earned 100 cuc a month and this was only possible as he had access to a car. Most of the money paid went to the government. I unfortunately couldn’t push him too much on how he felt about the matter but he did say that he would like to earn more money, obviously.
He also talked about the dramatic increase in tourism. Ten years ago there were hardly any tourists going to Vinales whereas today the place is full of tourists. Ten years ago there were hardly any casas whereas we reckoned every single house had a room to rent. He laughed that everyone had turned to doing something towards tourism as the money that it offered was so much greater than anything else they could do.
I asked him how he felt and he said it was difficult because on the one hand it has spoilt what used to be a lovely little village but on the other hand it has brought in a huge amount of money. He said on the most part is was nice having the tourists about (except for the Israelis!) and when I asked him about the impending arrival of thousands of American tourists he claimed that Cubans are stronger and therefore there will be no change. That should be interesting?!
We were driving at the time though a small village, more just a collection of houses. People were lounging about on rocking chairs and on the floor outside and in the shade just passing time. That is Cuban life he said…tranquilo. Meaning relaxed and he went on to say how wonderful he felt Cuba was. Especially because of the lack of drugs and violence and what a safe place it was.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get more out of him but it certainly got me thinking.
He dropped us off at our Casa and we had a little snooze before getting ready for Saturday night in Havana. We had decided to try and explore an area called Verdado near where we were staying and had marked out a few places to try.
First stop was a small restaurant on the Malecon to watch the sunset. This is a very Cuban thing to do and from sunset until the early hours the sea wall is full of people relaxing and chatting.
We were expecting a bit of salsa music to accompany our dinner but alas no but we were starving so demolished our toasted sandwiches. The sunset was beautiful and we were certainly having a nice relaxing time enjoying it. We then set off to find somewhere else where we might enjoy some music but unfortunately it wasn’t exactly a buzzing area.
In fact it reminded us a bit of English suburbia. The houses were all a bit more stately and the bars were few and far between and the one we found wasn’t starting until 11:30. Whoops, not exactly the salsa extravaganza we were expecting.
Never mind though we had a contingency plan in the form of a place called FAC. We arrived by taxi to a place which had a bit of buzz about it. It was a converted Electricity station and was a mix between a nightclub and an art gallery!! So for example we arrived and bought some cocktails and then proceeded to wander around two floors and various rooms filled with artwork! It was really quite a cool and different experience. There were three rooms set up for bands and a main central room which was showing a Metallica concert on a huge screen.
It was one of the more surreal experiences we have had. Everyone seemed to be wandering around looking at stuff and being cool. I have to admit it was a really interesting place/venue and also really interesting to see what the young Cubans are enjoying now. No Buena Vista Social Club in sight, instead walls lined with posters of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, etc etc.
It was interesting that not many people were drinking and the entry was on 2cuc so in fact the place was pretty accessible, I dread to think what a place like this would charge of it were in New York, London or Paris. In fact we decided that we could really be in any city around the world.
Not exactly what we were expecting for our Saturday night in Havana but a very interesting experience nonetheless. T
Not exactly a classic but the story more than made up for it.
Some more gratuitous shots of classic cars and scenes on our return to Havana.
The beautiful sunset we shared on the Malecon.