Astonishing Valle de Bravo

13.10.2017 – 15.10.2017

I went a short weekend to Valle de Bravo. It is a really cute town with an awesome lake.

I went from CDMX to Toluca by ETN and then I took a bus to Valle de Bravo which took around 2 hours. It was already really late so that day ended without sightseeing in VdB.

Next day we had a walk around in the centre and had also a look what we could do there. We decided to go to the harbour to take a nice boat trip. Due to my strict budget we looked for other tourist, who wanted to share a boat trip with us. A boat trip (30 minutes) cost around 600 pesos and covered the most important places. After we found a couple to share the trip with, the boat trip could get started. We bought some beers and drinks and we were ready. It was a really nice day and also some really nice views from the boat. Also I found my future house, which I will buy soon, hahahah maybe. See the view by yourself.

 

We got really lucky, the couple we asked for sharing the boat ride invited us to go with them. With the car of them we visited the waterfalls nearby. Unfortunately, due to an incident, we did not have enough time to walk all the way down to the lake :/. Maybe next time, when I am in VdB I will walk until the lake.

Even that evening, we had good plans for going out and taste the different restaurants around the town. But my stomach did not want and therefore we headed to the hospital / red cross where I got an IV due to my on-going gastritis….

Next day with a healthier stomach, it was time to climb the mirador of VdB. The mirador it is an absolutely must to climb it. Entry is around 20 pesos, paid at the bottom of the stairs, you cannot miss it. It was absolutely amazing!

The bus back to Toluca was already calling. We went back to our accommodation and we got lucky again. The son of the owner was heading back to Toluca by car and offered to give us a lift to Toluca, awesome!!!

Recommendations:

  • Have a walk around in the centre
  • Boat trip on the lake
  • Visit the waterfalls
  • Enjoy the different artisanal markets

Chingon Guadalajara

02.10.2017 – 09.10.2017

443 Pesos was the cost of the ticket from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara. We took a bus from the centre of PVR to the bus terminal and the travel took about 6-7 hours due to a lot of traffic in Guadalajara.

Marc and I stayed in the awesome Hostal Nacional at the street Lopez Cotilla near to Avenida Chapultepec.

The first day we had a walk around the centre of Guadalajara, the old part. Plaza de la Liberacion, Catedral de Guadalajara and Plaza de Armas.

It was Tuesday night and that means in Guadalajara LUCHA LIBRE!!! With the help of the hostal we got some tickets and our private Lucha Libre guide. That was fun. Also try to understand what they are shouting. They shouted for sure Puto and as far as I remember Putos de abajo. 😀

Before we (Marc, I and the English “decent” clan) headed to Chapala, we ate a big cheap salad near out hostel. The place was called deli-salads (Lopez Cotilla and Calle Marsella).

By Uber (ca. 300 pesos) we drove from Guadalajara to Chapala, which is a lovely town with an awesome lake and malecon. Unfortunately the people there did not recommend swimming in the lake due to the pollution. Also rent a boat to see the nearby island and sights due to an incident we did not rent a boat…. Also what a saw that they have a lot of nice restaurant, buffets and bars which opens during the evening. We did not experience that. But anyway enjoy the market on the plaza, my friend both some really cheap nice leather accessories.

Next day we went to the nearby canyon. One entrance is near to the street Belisario Dominguez and take enough water with you. I remember that we needed around 1h 30 minutes down and a little bit more to climb up again. It is definitely worth it!!! Let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

Tequila Express with Jose Curevo

On that trip I met the three lovely women from all around Mexico, with whom I spent the ride from Guadalajara to Tequila. Thanks J. The program looked following.

With the train I left Guadalajara and near Tequila we changed to buses. During the change of transportation a traditional music band was playing and you had the opportunity to buy some sombreros.

Later we arrived at the headquarter of Jose Cuervo, where you see some interestings things.

After a walk around the HQ, the guest were invited to the auditorium where a tequila expert explained us how to taste tequila. I tasted tequila with coffee beans (to neutralize the smell in your nose) and also fermented sweet agave, was an awesome experience.

Then the tour guides took us on the exhibition tour of the factory and the awesome buildings around the HQ. After the tour of course you have enough time to buy tequila even they offer you a deposit service for your new belongings.

After the tour I had time for myself to have a look at the city of Tequila. Also I met Marc for some awesome birria des res in the Mercado Municipal Tequila, a must!

With a full stomach I headed back to the headquarter, where a traditional dance and music show was waiting for me.

gdl_059

Last but not at least I also head a chance to see how an unharvested agave looked like. With the whole group we went to the countryside, where some farmers showed us how to harvest the agave. Also more tequila and more music were waiting for us!!! After that I went with the bus back to Guadalajara.

During the whole trip for sure you had enough opportunity to drink for free and eat some snacks, here a small list:

In the train terminal for breakfast: coffee, hot chocolate, fruits and even some buiscuits
In the train: a snack bag was waiting with sandwich fruits and yoghurt
During the ride: cocktail service, strawberry cocktail, vampire, paloma and even cervezas
Arrival in the HQ: more tequila cocktails
During the exhibition tour: some more tequila
Again back in the HQ: more paloma
On the countryside: more tequila, however you want it
On the bus: take some drinks from the bar into the bus

Note: there are two possible ways one is
by train to tequila and by bus back or
by bus to tequila and by train back

I took first the train and then the bus so I can enjoy the train ride with full energy and in the bus back I can take some nap.

 

It was also time to taste the night life in GDL. We went to Lola Lolita, which was a crazy strange night club. Until 00:20 just girls were allowed in the main room due to the ongoing striptease show for women. Hahahah. And the boys, who needed a toilet, were blindfolded and guided through the main room. Due to the blindness the girls could do anything like touching you everywhere… crazy…

gdl_067

The last day I spent eating the most delicious tacos and tostadas!!! A small list of my favourite food places: for helping you locating the places in Mercado libertad I made some photos of the menu and the sign of the food stand.

  • deli-salads (Lopez Cotilla and Calle Marsella)
  • Tequila Mercado, in Tequila
  • Mercado Libertad
    • Tacos chava, try the bistek, pastor and barbacoa
    • Mariscos La Chipa, try the Tostadas de camaron
    • And for sure the birrias there
    • gdl_073
  • El Cuino (Taco Catrin)
    • Delicious tacos but a little more expensive, but still 4.5 out of 5. Awesome taste, I fully disagree with the google rating

 

Recommendations:

  • Have a walk around
  • Night life
  • Canyon walk
  • Chapala
  • Tequila Tour, by Jose Cuervo ($$$) or other one which is cheaper
  • Lucha Libre
  • enjoy the mercado libertad
  • Crazy Lola Lolita
  • Eat tostadas de camaron
  • Birria in Tequila
  • Tacos in my favourite place

Calm Sayulita

27.09.2017 – 01.10.217

After a 1 hour and 30 minutes trip we arrived in Sayulita where we headed to our hostel Redonda in the small centre of Sayulita. The hostal was pretty nice and relaxing first thing we did there, was to enjoy the free welcome beer.

The main beach was not that nice and also was kinda stinky… Anyway we had a nice walk around and enjoyed the different markets next to the beach.

Another day we walked to two different nicer beaches.
Playa los Muertos and Patzcuiarito

I used my favourite offline map app called maps.me to get there.

 

The beach (Patzcuiarito) was really amazing, remote and there was nobody so we enjoyed the clear water and the sun. Bring some sacks and beers with you. There is nothing around.

Friday night was party night. The whole hostal went to El palmar del Camaron, which is a nice beach bar with nice huts. Also that night there were some pyromaniacs doing their act, which were impressive.

 

My opinion: Sayulita is nice for 2-3 nights or when you really want to disconnect or work undistracted. You can also see that my blog does not content a lot of stories.

Recommendations:

  • Spend some night in La Redonda Sayulita
  • Playa los Muertos
  • Patzcuiartio
  • El palmar del Camaron
  • Spend the day at the beach and enjoy the diversity of food and souvenirs

Quite Puerto Vallarta

22.09.2017 – 27.09.2017

After some incredible time in Mexico City (CDMX, cuidad de mexico) I finally boarded the flight to Puerto Vallarta. The check-in was really quick I liked the modern and quick check-in with volaris. The flight was around 70 euros. Arrived in PVR we took an Uber to our accommodation was roughly 100 MXN from the Airport to the Malecon. That night we visited the Cuban bar and restaurant called La Bodeguita del Medio, which is the copy of the original in Havana. As soon as I entered the Cuban bar I had a flashback to my time in Cuba. People dance Salsa and the mojito with that awesome atmosphere was amazing. The night was not finished and we changed location, the new club was called Mandala and the fee was 100 MXN. The music and the location was nice for spending more hours deep into the night.

The second day in PVR started with an awesome breakfast / lunch at the “La Tostaderia” (Calle Iturbide 235). Try the Enchiladas verde de pollo, sopes con tres carnes with a flamed banana with butter, coffee, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream dessert!!!!

Day trip to Yelapa

With an Uber we drove around 30 minutes along the coast to the south. Our boat waited in Boca de Tomatlán, which droves us to Yelapa. Uber cost 200 MXN, the taxi back 300 MXN and the boat trip 180 MXN.

In Yelapa a nice small village waited for us, walk to the waterfall, ca 15 minutes (take the 3rd stop in Yelapa or ask for the waterfall (cascada) when you are on the boat). Take a swim in the pool of the waterfall and do not forget to have a massage from the nature.

As far as I remember our boat left 15:00 Boca de Tomatlán and was going back around 17:50. Unfortunately we could not spend much time there. So my recommendation is to take an earlier boat. Also take a plastic bag for the protection of your electronics, it could rain on the roofless boat.

http://www.yelapafun.com/about-yelapa/getting-to-yelapa/yelapa-water-taxi-information/

Spend the some night in the airbnb at Casa Sandía awesome ambient and relaxing.

For dinner we had pizza and pasta in La Dolce Vita. The pizza was really good for one outside of Italy.

On Monday I changed to a hostel due to budget reason. With the saved money I could reserve two days of scuba diving.

Diving first day:

Los Archos, Punta Mismaloya 1530 Pesos with all gear (got 10% off). Also we had a small incident. My budy Marc, his valve was not fully opened and after 30 minutes at a deep of 51 ft he had to do a an emergency accent due to his distance to us. Always check the valve opening twice. Fortunately nothing happened

Second day:

Islas de Marietas 1980 Pesos (15% off), one dive near to a wall (El Amarradero) and some cool caves and tunnels. Second spot (El Bajo de la Manta) had more fish also saw a tiger ray. The whole dive was had more fishes and other animals.

Also included in the trip was the visit to playa del amor (also called hidden beach). We had to swim there because the entry was just a small tunnel. Also we were really lucky that the tide was low enough to enter the tunnel.

Next to my hostal was a small restaurant owned by Emra the German. You get cheap beer for 25 pesos, good tequila also try out the steak there! The place was called Heavy-Taco-Metal and is in the street Lucerna.

After some days in Puerto Vallarta, we decided to go to Sayulita. The bus cost 45 pesos and took 1h 30 minutes.

 

Recommendations:

  • Islas Marietas / hidden beach / playa de amor
  • Walk at the Malecon
  • Eat at “La Tostaderia” (Calle Iturbide 235)
  • Visit Boca de Tomatlán and Yelapa, maybe stay there for a night
  • Dive near to Islas Marietas
  • Smoke a cigar in the Cuban restaurant
  • Have a beer in Heavy Taco Metal restaurant and greet Emra.
  • Spend some night at Casa Sandía

 

Natural Viñales

18.08.2017 – 20.08.2017

We arrived late in Viñales with the bus. That night Carolina and I enjoyed a good dish with some good tuna. Moreover we had a small walk around the cute village. There were a lot of different bars and restaurant to choose from. From our restaurant we had an awesome view on the sunset.

Next day walked around the village visited two Tabaco farms. First was not that good but nice to see how they produce some hand-made cigars from just the leaves. Next farm was friendlier and got more information about the cigar production. Also they take different parts from the plant to produce milder and stronger cigars. They lower the leaf the milder. I was also amazed by the size of the tobacco seeds, they are sooooooo small (TWSS). Also I enjoyed a cigar like Che did, cigar with honey, give it a try!!!

Between the farm and the mirador there was a delicious restaurant where you could order a buffet full of delicious looking food for the cost of 10 CUC. Unfortunately that day I had a huge breakfast and no space left for other food. From the restaurant we headed to the mirador for a small break and for cooling down. The next destination was Vale de Silencio and a small cave nearby. The entry was 2 CUC. A guide and some flashlights were included. I got some insight of the different stone types in the cave. Greet the cave frog from me!

Our route ended at a rum coffee honey farm where we tried the different products. Coffee could have been better. I was a big fan of the rum and I also bought one for 10 CUC. Good stuff.

For dinner we enjoyed the lobster from our casa perticulares. A W E S O M E!!! Just delicious and the 10 CUC for it was fair.

After two nights we decided to leave Viñales due to lack of activities there. Of course you could do other hikes or horse ride tours but we did it already in Trinidad.

Next day we travelled to Havana, our colectivo did not show up… In the end we took a regular taxi to Piñar del Rio and then a Cuban bus to Havana in total 15 CUC.

Recommendations:

  • Spend some nights in Yanet y Maritza, Salavdor Cianero (interior) Edificio 5 Apto 12, +53 58203311, try the lobster!!!
  • Tobacco Macondo Organic Cigars, nice short tour with good cigars
  • Ecological Farm El Paraiso, 10 CUC buffet and nice view
  • Mirador next to th El Paraiso
  • Valle del Silencio
  • Cave de Silencio with guide and lamps (2CUC)
  • Coffee, rum and honey farm (between Valle del Silencio and Viñales)
    • All points are available on the app maps.me

 

***Back to the overview***

Santiago de Cuba

09.08 – 12.08 & 15.08

I arrived exhausted in Santiago via overnight Viazul. This kind of travelling (night) I should cancel in Mexico.

After organizing the next steps of my journey. It was negotiation time. Numbers up and down. Until 15 CUC for a casa perticulares fell. Shake hand and even the taxi ride of 2 CUC was not that bad. After a power nap I had a look around. Different parks, cathedral, the old military barracks and the view on the sea from the upper part of Santiago de Cuba filled the day. Also I could arrange a tour with Cubatur to the grand piedra and the nearby “nature” swimming pool the next day. The pool gets filled by river water and a little chlorine gets added. Recycling the chlorined water? Nope, just let it flow down the hill.
Grand piedra was so worth it. Amazing view and the atmosphere is so different at 1250 m.
On Wednesday I have met Alex the French guy we had a good time together. Unfortunately I missed the second appointment.

The day tour (8:30 to 17:00) grand piedra and the natural swimming pool cost 17 CUC. Plus maybe additional entry fee to the grand piedra. Even one lunch and a drink are included! Pick up is in front of the ugly big Melia Hotel. Cubatur is in the corner of Av Victoriano Garzon and calle 4 near Melia Hotel.


It was a last minute decision.
I went with two tour guides to Palma. We arrived late and Palma was not so great, for sure some small parks and cute houses that was it. But it was worth a try. Do I regret it? Nope not at all, sometimes you have to risk getting more than the usual.

After a shaking camion ride (5 CUC) from Palma back to Santiago I had to eat something. I was dying of hunger. It was bread with delicious pulled pork from a street food shop for 5 MN.
The head of financial of the camion told me first 10 CUC. I said ah cool 10 MN. He replied: no no here in Cuba we prefer the money you need normally in you’re a daily life (he meant CUC). Also they promote their camion as following: Santi Santi go go.

The rest whole day was rainy and my throat was hurting. So I was looking for medicine and some nice place to relax.

Next day I had a colectivo to Baracoa (20 CUC).

While coming back from Baracoa I enjoyed the last moments in Santiago de Cuba with me freshly made friends from Italy, Marta, Gabriele and Luca. Ate some edible pizza at the Louvre and enjoyed a tasteful beer (beer dispenser) in the Puerto del Rey bar next to the Malecon (Paseo de Alameda).

 

*** Pirate Bay Baracoa***

 

Recommendations:

– Grand Piedra (17 CUC)

– A walk around the city

– Museum in the old military barracks

– Castillo de Morro in the south of Santiago de Cuba

– Enjoy a beer dispenser in the bar (Puerto del rey) next to the malecon, good beer 3 L 9 CUC

–  Enjoy a snack at the Louvre (Pizza for 10 MN, on the boulevard next to Parque Serrano and El Rapido)

 

Santa Clara

29.07 – 04.08 & 06.08 – 08.08 & 16.08 – 18.08

Not really a special but a lovely city. In my case the people made Santa Clara a dream and unforgetful.

I have to mention Ignacio and his wife Rous at this time. I had a great time with them. With the knowledge of Ignacio I enjoyed Santa Clara in a Cuban way.

– Cafe de museo (bar for tourists however awesome mementos pictures and medaillons from the revolution). Cerveza 1.5. Mojito 2.5.
– Che Guevara con Niño statue
– Memorial of the visit of the pope
– Small airplane and helicopter exhibition

But for the help of getting around cheap I am still owing him something. He helped me to get to Viazul station, to a bank to get stamps (sellos) for increasing visa and immigration office. Motoneta (motorcycle with 3 wheels), bus and carriage with horses were our chosen means of transportation. Muchas gracias Ignacio. It was a big pleasure to invite you and your wife for a pizza!!!

Also due to him I got a cheaper and really helpful (stomach) casa perticulares (10 CUC) and I found the service station in Capiro where I have met Gustavo the second time. I got to know Gustavo in a colectivo in Habana while we drove from the beach back to Habana centre.

With Gustavo, his family and friends I had a great time. I did things I did not expect to do on my travel abroad. Some examples share rum with awesome Cubans. Eat dinner with a Cuban family. Dance with Cubans at a festival. Play Call of Duty MW3 at a small lan party. I am grateful that I have met Gustavo. And also his recommendation to climb the stairs to the loma de capiro (lookout over Santa Clara) was remarkable.

My challenging stomach slowed down my schedule. I spent many nights in Santa Clara and finally could continue my writing for wwW and reading of “Helmet for my pillow”. For the night of the 3th August I booked a ride with Viazul to Santiago de Cuba (12h 33 CUC). But I scrapped my plan of going to Santiago de Cuba. Stop stop stop. Gustavo scraped my plan and persuaded me to go with him to Matanzas. Thanks god I accepted his offer to accompany him and his friends!!!

***unexpected Matanzas***

Comment: You can return your ticket and get your money back. You have 30 days valid from the day of departure to get the money back from Viazul (-25%).
Recommendations:
– Have a beer in Cafe de Museo
– Tren Blindado
– Have a walk around the airplane exhibition
– Che Guevara con Niño
– Memorial of Che Guevara
– Loma de Capiro (at night)
– Mejunje club for going out, expect huge queues or enter before22:30, Ron Decano for 50 MN
– Walk around the plaza and the cathedral
– Be fascinated by the green hotel in the centre, visible impact craters from the revolution 1958
casa perticulares (Sra. Morales and/or Hostal Roymar, in the impasse of Cespedes and corner with La Cruz, near to tren blindado) 10 CUC / night

Back from Matanzas I enjoyed the time with Gustavo and his friends. Also I could extend my visa in Santa Clara. Six hours waiting in a line that was a huge pleasure…

***famous Santiago de Cuba***

The third time in Santa Clara, I was celebrating the birthday of Gustavo’s father called Gustavo. So there was Gustavo and Gustavo Junior. J. It was a great party a lot of different delicious food. I cannot recall everything but one thing I remember clearly is the winning streak in domino with Yanet. We owned three times in a row. At this point I have to mention and thank my domino teacher Gustavo. Also I could experience the unique atmosphere in el Mejunje (5 MN entry when a Cuban can arrange it for you). Moreover I enjoyed the electronic music which added a greater variety of music to Cuba. The last few weeks my life was always accompanied by Rageton. The last hours I enjoyed with Gustavo and Flago (David) near the Malecon. It was time to prepare for Viñales.

To all the Cubans in Santa Clara and the guys in Matanzas huge thank you for the nice atmosphere, the good time, open minded and lovely hospitality. With you I gathered memories which I will never forget. Secondly, I had some interesting conversations which will stick in my head for ever!

To all the domino, dota 2 and call of duty players out there, be prepared when I come back!

 

*** Natural beauty, Viñales***

 

Playa Larga 21.07 – 23.07

Schweinebucht, bay of pigs or simply bahía de cochinos
Divers should stay more nights in the bay of pigs!

After a bad attempt to buy a ticket from Viazul to leave Habana to Playa Larga, we had to deal with the “greedy” colectivo drivers. The tickets for leaving Habana for the next day were all sold out and we had no other choice than hire a colectivo driver. After 35 minutes of bargaining we had to accept the offer of 25 CUC per person without pick up. After 3 hours of sleep, we were ready for leaving Habana and left our known casa perticulares to discover more from Cuba. Around 8:45 we arrived at the Viazul station and our agent was also there. I think he had to protect us like goods from other drivers, maybe we would have found a better deal, you never know. Anyway, after a while our agent could find a taxi that picked us up and finally we were on the road.
But wait there was at first a better attempt, a small Suzuki picked us up and the driver asked us where in Santa Clara we want to go. So our response: Playa Larga not Santa Clara. The Suzuki came to a full halt and the driver was swearing to our agent and we could leave our “taxi”.

The “real” colectivo was a big jeep with 8 tourists inside and everybody paid 25 CUC. A commission for the agent some CUC for petrol. I think they make good business, which also a hard working Cuban confirmed me. People working for the tourist or with the tourist are from the upper class.

We were happy when we saw the sign of leaving Habana, the happiness did not last long. Due to a stop at the workshop our journey was more delayed. No worries it is normal in Cuba. Enjoy the moment.
Finally we have made some progress and after a small break at Jagüey Grande we enter Playa Larga, where we got off the colectivo.

Right next to the big crab statue in the centre the tourist information waited for us. The lady there was so nice and helpful and explained us everything. Even could she recommend a casa perticulares nearby, which we booked and not a single penny did we regret our decision. The name was: Hostal Caribé Kairos 2 minutes from the local shop.

After a small break we went on our first adventure: the crocodile farm. Taxi from the centre to the farm would have cost around 20 CUC. We decided to do the Cuban way –> colectivo. After spending some minutes for waiting and 2 CUC spent we arrived at the farm (5 CUC). The crocodile were awesome there were even other animals but after 1h – 2h you have seen it all. With a bottle of rum and thirst for adventure we began looking for a colectivo. After many failed attempt and a bus driver that wanted to rip us off, we finally found a lovely family who gave a lift back to Playa Larga (2 CUC).

Some Wi-Fi, good Rum and the heat made us very hungry. A big big big dinner waited for us! Rice, breaded chicken, mashed potato, vegetable soup and for dessert pomelo.

Full with food and delicious Cuban tastes we headed to the nearby carnival. Fancy self-made attraction could have been seen in action. Also some “tattoo” sprayers were doing their jobs for children, which we for sure also tried. The fancy attraction was 5 MN and the tattoo 2 CUC.

Diving, Diving, Diving
On Saturday we booked a diving tour. But before it started we woke up to a fabulous breakfast. At 8:00 am the bus picked us up at the crab statue and we headed to the diving centre. Geared up, we were on the way to the first diving spot. Three dive groups were made: zero dives, open water and advanced. Alex with zero dives had a small introduction and also had some tasks to do in and underwater. I went with the open water group and enjoyed the dive to the fullest. The advance group went to another spot where they could dive through tunnels and small caves, awesome, maybe next time J. We booked this tour at the tourist centre, Alex paid 25 CUC + 10 CUC (introduction), I paid 25 CUC for one dive. You could also dive a second time for additional 25 CUC but they told me snorkelling is way better at the second spot, so I did snorkelling. The second spot was a breath-taking beach also nearby was a 70 m deep cenote. Around 15:00 we were back at Playa Larga where we met Sanchez (colectivo agent). We booked a colectivo for 10 CUC to Cienfuegos next day.

 

Saturday we discovered the surrounding of our casa perticulares. A small visit to the bar nearby and an awesome time with the casa family at the carnival filled Saturday night. The stars and the milky way were awesome that night. Walk a little bit north outside of Playa Larga to see them clearer. Do not forget to visit the crab and the tank.

The stay in Playa Larga was awesome, I think the lovely and warm family in our chosen casa perticulares made the visit 3 times better. Food, bed, services and conversations were fabulous. You could feel that the family loved and liked the job of hosting tourists. Thank you very much for the good time!!!

 

Recommendations:

  • Crocodile farm in combination with colectivo
  • Dive tour for 25 CUC (advanced dive spot sounds awesome)
  • Visit casa perticulare Hostal Caribe Koibe, 53537192, Entroque Playa Larga C-5ta #88 e/ 4ta y final, viltres@nauta.cu
  • Enjoy the stars and milky way
  • Beach
  • Cenote
  • Dive enthusiast can maybe stay in Playa Giron (Dive centre also there)
    • Dive 25 CUC, night dive 35 CUC (lonely planet)

 

***Lovely Cienfuegos***

 

THE BAY OF PIGS

What the Cubans call Playa Girón, the rest of the world has come to know as the Bay of Pigs, a disastrous attempt by the Kennedy administration to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro. Conceived in 1959 by the Eisenhower administration and headed up by deputy director of the CIA, Richard Bissell, the plan to initiate a program of covert action against the Castro regime was given official sanction on March 17, 1960. There was but one proviso: no US troops were to be used in combat. The CIA modelled its operation on the 1954 overthrow of the left-leaning government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. However, by the time President Kennedy was briefed on the proceedings in November 1960, the project had mushroomed into a full-scale invasion backed by a 1400-strong force of CIA-trained Cuban exiles and financed with a military budget of US$13 million.

Activated on April 15, 1961, the invasion was a disaster from start to finish. Intending to wipe out the Cuban Air Force on the ground, US planes painted in Cuban Air Force colours (and flown by Cuban exile pilots) missed most of their intended targets. Castro, who had been forewarned of the plans, had scrambled his air force the previous week. Hence, when the invaders landed at Playa Girón two days later, Cuban sea furies were able to promptly sink two of their supply ships and leave a force of 1400 men stranded on the beach. To add insult to injury, a countrywide Cuban rebellion that had been much touted by the CIA never materialized. Meanwhile a vacillating Kennedy told Bissell he would not provide the marooned exile soldiers with US air cover. Abandoned on the beaches, without supplies or military back-up, the invaders were doomed. There were 114 killed in skirmishes and a further 1189 captured. The prisoners were returned to the US a year later in return for US$53 million worth of food and medicine. The Bay of Pigs failed due to a multitude of factors. First, the CIA had overestimated the depth of Kennedy’s personal commitment and had made similarly inaccurate assumptions about the strength of the fragmented anti-Castro movement inside Cuba. Second, Kennedy himself, adamant all along that a low-key landing should be made, had chosen a site on an exposed strip of beach close to the Zapata swamps. Third, no one had given enough credit to the political and military know-how of Fidel Castro or to the extent to which the Cuban Intelligence Service had infiltrated the CIA’s supposedly covert operation. The consequences for the US were far-reaching. ‘Socialism or death!’ a defiant Castro proclaimed at a funeral service for seven Cuban ‘martyrs’ on April 16, 1961. The Revolution had swung irrevocably toward the Soviet Union. Lonely Planet, Cuba, 8th Edition, 2015, page 234.

Money, CUC vs CUP (MN), bargaining, prices

CUC is the currency mostly used and as you can see the ratio is around 1 € = 1.1 CUC.
CUP is used for smaller national goods, in some shops you can buy beer, ron and water in CUP.

Normally 1 CUC = 25 CUP, in some shops they use 1 CUC = 24 CUP

Mostly CUP is called MN (moneda nacional). If the seller or any person says 20 pesos for example for a taxi ride ask again if the person meant CUC or MN (CUP)?

So far I could pay all products sold in MN also in CUC. But you will “lose” money as the ratio is 1:24 (-4%). My recommendation is that you change CUC into CUP, unfortunately I could not do that directly at the airport so look for a bank and exchange the CUP. Expect huge queues.
Also check the bills and coins carefully, take your time even when the lady at the exchange office is fed up and maybe have a look on the different bills (before you arrive in Cuba). Save some pictures from the internet on your mobile.

 

For example: I had to pay 70 MN/CUP

70 MN = 2.8 CUC (1:25) = 2.917 CUC (1:24)
So in the end I had to pay 2.917 CUC so I gave them 3 CUC and I got 5 cents (CUC back) because they rounded up to 2.95 CUC.
Increase of 5.3%, 100% (2.8 CUC) to 105.3% (2.95 CUC).

 

Some tips:
Even in the normal grocery stores you have to watch out. Calculate all your stuff together. Once a cashier charged me for 1.5 liter of water 3 CUC. But at that moment I asked friendly how much the water is and suddenly magically the total amount dropped.

Take your time while paying. If you care, calculate the total of your stuff before paying. And so far I made the experiences that you should always ask the price before accepting the offer.

Price list of goods July 2017:
Water 1.5l: in the store ~0.7 CUC, at the street 1 – 2.5 CUC
Beer, Presidente: 1 CUC, in casas 1.5 CUC
Beer, Cristal: 1 CUC, in casas 1.5 CUC
Beer, Cuban style, Brujas: 6 MN for a cup
Casa Perticulares: 10-25 CUC, 25 CUC is a lot fo solo travelling, so ask for 15 or 20. Breakfast is not included, normally 5 CUC additional. Dinner in casas perticulares around 10 to 12.5 (one person)

 

Colectivo Prices July 2017:
Airport to Havana: 25 CUC
Havana to Playa Larga or Cienfuegos: 25 CUC, 20 CUC should be also possible
Havana to Trinidad: 25 CUC (heard it from a friend)
Playa Larga to Cienfuegos: 10 CUC
Cienfuegos to Trinidad: 6 CUC
Trinidad to Santa Clara: 15 CUC
Trinidad to Remedios: 20 CUC
Trinidad to Santa Maria: 25 CUC
Santa Maria to Santa Clara (official taxi): 80 CUC (was painfully to pay)

Havana / Habana 12.07 – 21.07

So my journey started pretty awesome. All my friends who had time, where at the airport in Zurich to say goodbye and wishing me luck for my grand path 2017.

bybye_foto_11072017

Before I could enter the security zone of course I had to check-in my baggage and get my boarding pass. Small hint by the author: Do not forget the Cuban visa for the check-in procedure. Even I flew over Moscow they had to check it in Zurich. Also I was pretty lucky about the POOT (proof of on-going travel). The check-in personnel could have checked it also in Zurich and I could not have checked-in due to the missing on going travel proof. But for this problem there are different approaches for “cheating” the system, which I will list in the future. The flight from ZRH to Moscow was pretty quick and the stop over at the Moscow Airport was kind of comfortable. With the free Wi-Fi and a blanket it was pretty comfy. Also there are free water fountains for drinking. Unfortunately on my flight from Moscow to Habana I had some really strange persons next to me in combination with the NOT working inflight entertainment it was a loooong flight to Habana.

The horror did not stop when I landed, I waited about 1h and 30 minutes for my checked in baggage…. But before I could wait I had to go through the Visa check. I bought my visa at the airport Zurich (at the desk of Hotelplan), I think it was a rip off (CHF 70.-) for just a small greenish paper. I think there are cheaper ways for getting the visa. One is I think directly at the embassy but I did not look in to that because I thought I can get it cheap at the airport. At globetrotter the visa costs CHF 90.- (including shipping).

At the boarder visa control they asked me if I was in Africa (maybe due to malaria and other illnesses? I do not know). After this question the guy said “Welcome to Cuba”! which I first did not understand due to the surprising content.

On Cuban soil I went straight to the 2nd floor to change my Euros to CUC. The ratio was (including commission) 1.1. So for 140 Euros I got around 154 CUC. Take your time while checking the money.

Anyway at the moment I asked another tourist if he also goes to Habana central and if we could share a taxi. For my luck and his, his answer was yes. The taxi driver first wanted 30 CUC for the ride but we could lower it down to 25 CUC so we paid 12.5 each. The ride was so cool and I got the first Cuban impressions. I arrived at my very friendly cute casa perticulares (booked over homestay). Felize (the owner) was really supportive and explained me the important things. For example the wifi zone, the bank (open Monday to Saturday) and where I can get the wifi card (trajeta de wifi, 1.5 CUC for 1h, sometimes sold for 3 CUC directly at the wifi zone).

 

Important facts:

  • Wifi: 1.5 CUC for 1h
  • Taxi, Airport to Habana 20-30 CUC
  • Water 1.5 l for 1.2 – 2 CUC
  • Cervezas / Beer nacional: 1 – 1.75 CUC, can are mostly cheaper than bottles ask before buy
  • Casa perticulares 20 – 35 CUC

 

That night I met the tourist form the airport again, (funny dutch surfer guy) with others from his hostel we had a great time and also a nice walk in the night at the Malecon. The dutch, Loren and I walked up and down the Malecon and enjoy the vibes from Habana. Also Mr. Teeny (Señior Pequeña) was accompanying us. We had also a chance to try self-made?!? Rum from a Cuban. Can you remember Dutch guy? Thank you for the good laugh. The scenery around us looked like exactly from the game GTA Vice City. Imagine some old buildings with some green magenta neon lights, so awesome. The 70s hotel had also a club downstairs which cost 5 CUC entry fee unfortunately no entry due to my small bag.

Unfortunately the Dutch and I missed the appointment, and then I decided to go to the museo de la revolucion. The whole story with all the details was really interesting but the quality of the exhibition was not really worth 8 CUC and in combination with the three souvenir shops it seems to me like a cash cow. The most interesting part for me was the memorial at the back of the museum (it is for free!!!). You have to enter the museum from the front and when you are inside go straight to the toilet and the left then right to the cafeteria where you can walk ahead to the memorial with the nice vehicles. Later, I enjoyed the Cuban life style in the park next door where I also learnt some words in Spanish.

Around 20:00 I have met two guys from couchsurfing, Ferran and Juan. Together we discovered the 23rd avenue where we wanted to enjoy live jazz in a bar but we found out that there is no entry with tank-tops. After some beers at the Malecon we called it a day.

 

Next day I started with my Spanish lesson. I found out I still have to learn a lot J. The private teacher costs 5 CUC – 1 h. That day I took 2 hours and after that my brain had a memory overflow. Therefore I met with Juan, together we walked around Vedado (western part of Habana). Some important things to see: plaza de la revolucion, mirador de Juan Marti, cemetery and John Lennon statue.

  • Plaza de la revolucion: a lot of nice Cuban old cars and the two buildings with Guevara and Cienfuegos
  • Mirador: 3 CUC for going up, totally worth it, 5 CUC for the combination of tower and museum
  • Cemetery: had a short walk around
  • John Lennon statue and park: so beautiful and worth to just hang there and read a book or drink some Havana Club. You should also enjoy the vintage cars around you.

For lunch / dinner we went to Las Duenas (Calle 19, 14 y 16) this means at street 19 between street 14 and 16. Las Duenas is a really small cute restaurant for small budget tourists. You get a big portion and awesome flavours come with the dishes. I had fried pork with onions. After that I took the gaugau (bus 27) to center vieja for 40 cents.

Night life: Friday night it was time for la fabrica de Arte Cubano. 2 CUC entry (do not lose the card). At the entrance you get a card, on which the bartenders will write down what you ordered and in the end (when you leave) you have to pay, really dangerous. I have never been to such a random place / club. There a two version how you can describe the club or museum.

  1. It is a museum with nice art in which you can also dance, drink to music and enjoy live music
  2. It is a club in which you can get culturally wasted / enjoy fine art / discuss different opinions

It is up to you which version you chose but in the end it is pure awesomeness to enjoy a night in there. For me a must for every tourist that is in Habana. Live music (in my case Spanish rap), outside bar, inside bar, dance basement, art gallery.

Also I heard the restaurant and bar “1830” is really good (eating and dancing) but reserve a table before you go, expect huge queues.

Play del este

On Saturday I took the tourist autobus (leaves at the central park next to the capitol) for 5 CUC. I left at el Megano. At the beach I met Kiko a Cubanero and we had a great time. Good conversation and a lot of fun. Unfortunately I left him with mixed feelings but indeed he was friendly and outgoing but in the end there is always the same question that stays in the room. In total I had a great time at the beach. You could even buy original (for sure) Habaneros for 10 CUC ;). My recommendation: go before midday or around 15:00. The sun likes white skin to grill. Keep in mind that the last bus is at 18:00 and in my case I tried to take it. As a European I had optimistic thoughts. The bus that arrived around 18:20 was full with tourists, more than full, let’s say like sardines in a can. In the time I was still waiting no other bus came so I tried to find a taxi (prices varies from 10 to 20 CUC) or a colectivo. My first colectivo wanted 5 CUC, I said to myself I can do better so I waited for the next (I just had 3 CUC in my wallet left). The next one wanted 2 CUC and I took it of course. In that colectivo I have met Alejandro (don’t call my name) and Gustavo. They are two IT students which enjoyed their holidays at the beach. Hopefully I meet Gustavo again in Santa Clara (he lives there). With them I had a two hours conversation in Spanish / English, oh that was great fun, muchas gracias.

 

For the night program I met Juan again. First we ate near his hostel; I had a Schnitzel (Cuban style) with rice and avocado. D E L I C O U S! The size-quality to price ratio was top. Unfortunately I cannot recall the exact location but it must have been around the street “Hospital” and “Vapor”. The night ended with a beer at the Malecon.

On Sunday I found out that the Cigar factory is closed. But I was so lucky, the cigar outlet was open that day. From my “trusted” source the outlet is just open once a month. I absolutely believed him, aaahaaa. Also all the cigars and cigar boxes my trusted source showed me, looked really nice and the prices where affordable. Comment from the author: the trusted source was a stranger (Cuban), which will get a commission when I would have bought some products. In the end of course I have left with nothing, maybe the cigars were original, but as a non-cigar-expert I cannot tell the difference. Any money not spent is saved ;). The adventure was going on and had a walk around the east part of the Malecon. Slowly I got hungry and I went to the restaurant Hanoi, where I ate some delicious starts. Pulled pork surrounded by plantanes (1.95 CUC). As a main dish I had fish with rice and fresh vegetables and a Bucanero (beer national) made the finish. The pulled pork was so good I went also the other day again for lunch.

 

Monday, a day of surprises, I found out that the cigar factory is just opened until 13:00, hahahah. So I missed the tour again because the clock showed already 12:20 until when I arrived at the ticket office. Anyway I had still to do something else “The undiscovered land in Habana Vieja”. I did the Lonely Planet walking tour through Old Habana.

On my list where following buildings and sights:

  • Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana
  • Plaza de la Catedral
  • Castillo de la Real Fuerza
  • Plaza de Armas
  • Palacio de los Capitanes Generales
  • Calle Obispo
  • Calle Mercaderes
  • Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco de Asis
  • Plaza Vieja
  • Old Wall

 

As you maybe know, I am not a big fan of museum. Again in Habana I have not entered any museum in the old part. I would have entered the Museo de la Ciudad (City history) but unfortunately it was closed.

Around 14:00 it started to rain so heavily that the whole life stood still. It took around 40 minutes until the sky was getting calmer.

For the night program I have met my casa perticulares mates and Alex from Moscow (Couchsurfing). We had a great evening and big fun in the patio de la casa perticulares Felize. We also tried out the Habana Club especial años for 6 CUC a bottle. We had a really fun night at the Malecon. Also I have met a big group of Mexicans.

Finally at Wednesday, 19.07.2017 I could visit the Cigar Factory. I expected more insight in to the manufacturing process but unfortunately it was a really quick tour.

 

Time flew by and on the 20th there was a big surprise. Alex showed up after some days of no response. That night I have met Baldo, nice Cuban man. Also I have visited Bolabana (bar/club) in Miramar which was great fun. Even next day Alex and I went there again due to too many people at the fabrica de la Cuban arte.

 

Alex and I left Habana by Colectivo. Viazul buses were sold out for the next couple of days. After hard bargaining we got a colectivo to Playa Larga for 25 CUC.

 

***beautiful Playa Larga***

 

Comment from wwW: the Wi-Fi in Habana has an upload of circa 250 kB/s. Not that bad.

 

My recommendations:

  • Walk on the Malecon (during night and day and also near to the sunset)
  • Memorial / Pavillon Granma behind the museo de la revolucion (should be free)
  • Plaza de la revolucion
  • Mirador Jose Marti (wwW rule: always see the city from the top)
  • John Lennon statue park (bring a book and/or rum with you)
  • Fabrica de Arte Cubano (2 CUC entry, drinks 1.5 to 3), taxi 5-7 CUC (day & night, bargain and take your time, I took the taxi from Malecon y 23rd
  • Las Duenas (deliciously good food), Calle 19, e/ 14 y 16, Habana Vedado
  • Learn some Spanish with Esteban (tel: 53339368, 5 CUC an hour)
  • Hanoi, cheap and good restaurant, Calle Brasil, e/ Bernaza y Av de Belgica
  • Bolabana (bar, club) for some nice Cuba libres with modern music accompanied with live instruments: saxophone and drums