It's our third and last full day in Havana. Check out my previous posts: Welcome to Havana Day 1, and Havana Day 2: Cafe Arcangel and Riding in Cars (No Boys!)
On the agenda for today:
1) Exchange our last American dollars to cuc (Cuban Converetible Peso)
2) Beach trip
3)Trip the San Jose Artisan market to look for artwork
4) Friend's Rescheduled meeting from day 1
5) Enjoy our last Cuban dinner.
Since we knew we wanted to pack a lot into this day, we asked our Airbnb host to prepare breakfast for us at the apartment. We also asked them to arrange a taxi for us to the beach. This allowed us to take our time and leisurely prepare for the day. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the extras that your hosts offer. You'll have a built-in expert, that adds a real personal touch to your trip.
Our hosts were a mother and daughter duo; Odalys and Gabby. The mother, Odalys came at 9:00 AM as requested, and started breakfast. What a sweetheart. Her English was a little limited, but so was our Spanish. LOL. Breakfast was amazing; eggs, toast, grilled cheese, fresh juice, Cuban coffee. All for 5CUC a person. Odalys informed us that the banks were very busy on Mondays and that you can not wear shorts to the bank in Cuba! She saved us wasted time. When I asked if there was a cadeca (money exchange house) nearby, she offered to walk us there and back. Just out of the kindness of her heart. The cadeca was a small room in one of the markets where they receive the rations of eggs and meat for the month. ( I've never seen so many eggs before in my life) We waited outside until we were called and converted the last of our American dollars to last us through the remainder of our trip. Odalys accompanied us back to the apartment. On the way, she answered all of our questions about the economy and life in Cuba, well, as much as her English would allow.
We got back to the apartment, threw some snacks in a bag along with the portable speaker, and headed downstairs to wait for our taxi to the beach. We decided on Santa Maria Beach. We had a lot do and not a lot of time, so Santa Maria was the closest and best option. It's about twenty minutes from Havana, 35 minutes from our Airbnb in Nuevo Vedado. Along the way, our driver gave us as much information about Cuban life as we wanted. Cuban people are very proud of their culture. They are happy to explain and share their story. We drove through a tunnel separating Havana from the area with the beach. As we continued to drive, I saw the most beautiful turquoise water in the distance. When we arrived at the actual beach area, our driver pointed out the beach shops and food stands and told us where to catch a taxi when we were ready to leave.
There was a nice mix of locals and tourists. The beach didn't appear too crowded, but since it was already midday, the chairs and umbrellas were all taken. YIKES! It's entirely too hot to sit out in the sun. Luckily I was able to negotiate a straw umbrella with a local that told us we could use it free of charge if we planned on ordering food or drinks. Deal! We spread out our beach towels, took out our portable speaker, and ordered the first round of drinks: one Mojito (for me of course), two Pina Colada's (one virgin). There is nothing more relaxing for me than sitting on the beach. I start to have withdrawal if it's been too long. This beach was paradise. The water was super warm. We spent our next few hours running in and out of the waves, taking photo shoots, analyzing Drake's new album, and munching on the tastiest cheese and shrimp pizza ever.
We got ready to leave the beach around 4:00. Here's a not so fun fact: there are no bathrooms, changing stations or showers. Yeah... You gotta get creative and work it out. The gentleman that served us food offered us a little shed to change in. I mean beggars can't be choosy. Be open when you travel guys! We were way too sandy as we walked back to the taxi area, but we had a schedule to keep. We negotiated a taxi rate in an OLD classic car. And I do mean old. I sat in the front, and there were pieces of the car that was visible, that definitely should not be, but hey we needed to get to #3, The San Jose Artisan's market. We drove for about twenty minutes before we pulled up to a huge warehouse organized into several sections of artists' booths. Loads of paintings, leather goods, wooden carvings, etc. I think the best advice is to go further into the market and don't be afraid to bargain. They want to make a deal with you. In the end, we left with a couple of paintings, some wooden fans, and a carved wooden coco taxi. Item #3 on our list completed: Artist market - Success
This was, of course, a tourist's area, so as soon as we stepped outside, we were approached by taxi drivers. Its a cut throat business so dont be afraid to negotiate prior to getting in, and if I didn't mention this before, budget a lot for taxis in Cuba. I had heard this in many trip reviews, and its the truth. You will spend a lot on taxis getting you everywhere you want to visit. This time we decided to give our money to a Coco Taxi. I've never seen these before. It's the cutest thing. A little yellow open buggy type of vehicle. No seatbelts, no doors, nothing. It's wild. LOL. But its cool, our trip was winding down, and that's something we hadn't experienced yet. Our driver was nice and had a great sense of humor. Just hold on! That that's the best advice I can give. You will feel every bump. We were off to Hotel Parque Central. He charged 10 CUC. Perfect!
Hotel Parque Central is another fancy hotel like The Hotel Nacional. This was a meeting space for my friend to do some work on her podcast "Mind Over Melanin". Check her out on mindovermelanin.com and Itunes. She did the "Traveling While Black" episode while we were in Havana. My daughter and I had about two hours to kill while waiting for her meeting to be over. We had intentions of wandering around and finding some shenanigans to get into, but I was pooped! The beach air caught up with me. There's a lounge on the second floor of Hotel Parque Central with a bar, TVs, restrooms, and very comfy sofas and chairs. You are free to sit in these air-conditioned areas and wait for people. For a good part of the time, we had a live band playing below. We parked ourselves in the lounge in Hotel Parque Central and relaxed until my friend's interview was over. The fourth item on our list of the day: Podcast Meeting - completed.
I didn't mention that our coco taxi driver offered to meet us after we were done at Hotel Parque Central, and take us back to Nuevo Vedado. I was a little nervous because this was going to be a longer ride than before. You kinda want doors for rides longer than ten minutes! But, he was so dedicated and was there on time, so we said what the heck, and gave him the fare. He was the only driver in our four days that got us back to our apartment without asking for help. He charged us 15 cuc. We paid him 18. Fun memories.
We rode the elevator upstairs up to our apartment, dedicated to not pass out prematurely. We still needed to have dinner. So we freshened up and decided to go to "La Rosa Negra", a restaurant highly recommended by our hosts. It's in walking distance of the Airbnb. We walked around and found it, even though it was dark. Maps.me was very helpful. La Rosa Negra was packed on a Monday night! We ended up having drinks in the waiting area outside and taking the food back. Tip: takeout is not always common in Cuba. I had read that people bring containers to this restaurant for their leftovers because the portions are big. Luckily, we took some containers from our very well equipped apartment. The restaurant charges a small fee for any additional boxes you may need. The food was delicious. We had grilled chicken, shrimp, rice, vegetables, plantain chips, two alcoholic beverages and an iced tea for 23 cuc. Did I mention I love Cuba?? We happily ate our food at the apartment and talked until exhaustion took over. Day 3 was a complete success. Cuba was so good to us. I knew that I would leave the next day completely satisfied with this vacation. Happy, but with a plan not only to return to see some of the areas further out: Vinales, Trinidad, and Varadero Beach, but also to continue to enjoy the beautiful people and culture that Cuba offers. I recommend it to anyone considering going.
Open your minds and heart. Try something new. Live Life Abundantly