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

Boquete

Arrived in David we ate in a cantina until we caught our next bus to Boquete. The prize was fair and the food delicous. I just remember that my friend received a broken key from the person, who went before her to the toilet. So she was in a bad situation and had to give back the broken key….. Anyway after that bad incident we regarged our luck and took our ride to Boqeute.

Oh the bus drive was awesome I am not sure anymore how long it tooks us, I did not care because the whole bus was filled with nice regeton music all the way to Boquete.

We arrived, took our laguage and walked to our hostel in the north of Boquete. It was called Hotel Central Boquete and they had their own jacuzzi. It was the 24th of december and we were really hungry and of course we took a speacial dinner that night with good wine and a dessert.

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I just told you that the hotel had a jacuzzi so before we left the hotel we asked the nicley if they could set up the jacuzzi therefore when we arrived at the hotel we got changed and jumped in “our” jacuzzi……. AWESOME.

After “this dessert”, I rewared myself with the cherry on top and that was a cigarr and good ron with coke.

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Next day, unfortunately it was 25th, everything was closed so we had a small stroll around Boqeute and enjoyed the relaxed calm atmosphere.

 

 

For breakfast we had special oatmeal from our friendly american. The “special” ingredients were following:

  • dried prunes
  • allmonds
  • nuts
  • and last but not least Lurpark butter for a nice taste and
  • one bag of Quaker Instant oatmeal.

I preffered the apple & cinnamon taste… MHMHMHMH.
After that some hot water was added and we let it rest for around 2 minutes, astonishing!!!
Party in my mouth!!!

It was 26th, time to say goodbye to my friend. We started our last bus drive together to David where I said them goodbye and took my bus to Panama City where I enjoyed my last days.

Unfortunately I forgot all prices and duration of the travel…

Jungle, Lost & Found, Coffe Tour

We took our luggage and went to the water taxi, it was behind the park on the calle 1A (near Barco Hundido), we paid 6 dollars for the transportation.

After our breakfast we took our belongings and went to the water taxi service and took a boat for 6$ (p.p) to Almirante. Later we went on a bus, which drove to David. After 60 km, 2h-3h and 6$ we got off the bus and we nearly reached our destination. Between our jungle hostel and us was just a little hike of 20-25 minutes uphill with our whole luggage. For me it was no problem at all because I was fully filled with motivation. For me this was my first time in a real jungle. I say real because in Switzerland there exists a zoo with a big jungle inside a big hall. Also during the climb you can see different signs on the way to the top, which tell you how long you have to climb until the destination.

Finally we arrived on the “top” and we were astonished. I did not expect what I saw. Solid houses built out of concrete and nicely made pathways existed. Later than we checked in and visited our dorm which will be our home for three nights. I found out that we will sleep in a 24 bed room dorm.

:X ou shit I thought at first, but then I moved on because there is more important stuff to think about :). Anyway we met nice people from all over the world. Australia, USA, Israel, Schweden, Germany and also a swiss girl. That day we relaxed, enjoyed the nice view and also played some games (uno etc.)

On that day we ate rice with meat and some vegetable for dinner. Later that night I also went to the party barrack. Yes, you read rightly, there was a party barrack in the middle of the jungle. Beer or rum cola for 1 dollar (during happy hour). Also you could play table soccer, but be careful the loser has to pay a round.

Next day I did a coffee plantation tour. The plantation was all natural without any chemicals and it was really interesting how the farmer organized his plantation for the best optimized harvesting. Also we prepared our own coffee, from splitting the beans from the fruit flesh, splitting the beans from its hard shell and last but not least beans have been roasted. The highlight of this trip was the hot roasted beans with honey from wild bees. Mmmmmhhh really delicious. Anyway we also produced sugar water from a cane sugar in an old press made out of trees. That juice we drunk with a spice chili, it made my day. In addition we also got an piece of cane sugar (flesh) with a piece of orange, I really recommend you this combination of tastes. On our way back we could again get on the 4 by 4 truck and drove back to our hostel. All in all it was a great day which also ended again in the party barrack, where we had a fun time playing games and having good conversations.

The day after, we prepared us for our second trip. On this trip we drove to a nice waterfall on a private ground. From the car we had to walk around 5 minutes on this private ground to reach the waterfall. The waterfall was secretly hidden behind some small hills. We took our swimsuits and took a swim in there. After some minutes the guide showed us a small “mountain” ledge, where we could jump down. It was roughly 10 meters from the water level to the ledge. Said and done!!! Wicked, epic, awesome, after that jump I was alive again :).
I strongly recommend you this trip to the waterfall.
After one hour we kind of had enough from the water and we were dressed again and moved on to the next attraction. Petroglyphs were on the agenda. Anyway I don’t write a lot about it because for me it was really boring and not that special, I am interested in technology and mechanic therefore I was not that into this topic.

But if you are interested in it, you can read this.
http://www.yourpanama.com/petroglyph-mysteries-of-panama.html

After the petroglyphs we ate chicken for lunch and moved to the hot springs. Yeah you read rightly, hot springs. They were really hot, I guess around 40 to 50 °C. After we took a bath in the hot water, the air temperature of 30°C was freshly “cold” :). To be honest the hot springs were a little bit too hot therefore I changed place and took a bath in the river close by. Also there was a spot where the hot springs flowed in to the cold river, there you had a good balance of cold and hot water, just perfect. The time flew by and we already had to decamp. I forgot to mention, for the street from the main street to the host springs you really needed a 4 by 4 truck, it was a hell of a bouncy ride. On that night we played some games and also had good discussion again, also I could try from the rum Abuelo 12y. You could really taste the different between the normal one and the 12 years old one. The time flew by in the jungle and we already had to pack our belongings and prepare us for our next destination Boquete. Next morning we woke up around 9 am and slowly walked down hill. Down on the “main street” we were up all day to get lucky (Daft Punkt ;)). Down there we waited for a bus, which was not full. But after 10 or 15 minutes we were lucky and we had our ride to David!!!

Lost & Found and tour picture gallery
***Click here***

 If you want to read more.
Click here for the next part of the “Panama blog“

Facts of Lost & Found:
I totally recommend you to stay more than one night a Lost & Found, preferable 3 or more nights. I just did two tours there but you could do a lot more. Hike around or there was a treasure hunt organized by the hostel.

The hostel had nearly everything, food, sweets beer etc. Do not worry.

The waterfalls and the coffee tour was awesome
Especially the jump from the edge 😉

To be honest you could skip the glyphs and the hot springs, for me they were kind of boring, but still okay.
More information:
http://www.thelostandfoundhostel.com/guided-tours/

Official Water taxi 6$ (Bocas to Almirante or vice versa)

Transportation Almirante to Lost & Found 6$

Bocas del Toro

Our alarm clock rang at 5:00 am in the morning. Then we waited for our 6:00 am bus to Soná, unfortunately the bus arrived at 6:30 am, anyway the bus was on time according to the driver’s clock. In Soná we changed the bus again to Santiago and there another time to David. For the last time we changed our vehicle and got on a bus to Bocas del Toro (direction of Changuinola). We finally arrived in Almirante at 7:30 pm. It was a hell of a ride and we were relieved that it won’t take any longer to reach the islands. Anyway, we hired a taxi driver to give us a lift to the harbour where the water taxis were. Then we found out, that the last official water taxi just left and the taxi service is closed for that day…. Fortunately, two young guys shouted on us:”Come here, we have a boat and we will give you a lift to the island!” My friends and I looked at each other and I told to my friends: we have no other choice, we have to accept the offer. The boat trip cost 10$ and we were really happy that we finally arrived on the island. The boat trip was as I think in the grey area. Safety measures were solala, life vest check, flashlight “check”. It was a toy flashlight, yeah in the end better than nothing :).

On the island we asked some tourists where we could spend the night. He recommended us a party hostel, but we declined and asked for a quitter one due to our lack of energy. Then he told us about a hotel with good infrastructure. We finally took our room, private room with two beds (one double and one single) also with its own bathroom and AC. I assume the price of 15$ per person and night was okay. Because the islands were the most touristic place I have been to in Panama and therefore the prices are higher. On the same evening I ate lobster with some side dishes in that Indian “freaking restaurant near the park. Freaking because of its interior and design inside the restaurant, if you are there you think that the time stands still and the room is timeless. Don’t ask, you have to experience it by yourself. The lobster was a little bit dry but still a dream. After the dinner we were witnesses of a Panamanian Christmas parade. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of it but enough in my mind. After the parade was finished we went to the park, in which a concert was held. Some minutes later we called it a day and went to bed.

We woke up to a rainy day (yeah it rained cats and dogs) and our motivation was not that high but we were lucky that everybody was really hungry and so our mission began to find a place to eat. After a while an unimposing sign got our attention. A French restaurant just opened and they offered French breakfast with croissants. We know we found our destiny and ordered a breakfast for champions. It was delicious nothing more. I totally recommend you the place for breakfast (see the fact part)!!! On that day we walked a little bit around and played some games. The weather was really really bad and we didn’t want to waste our money for a rainy rainy boat trip (or quad tour). I was kind of happy to have a day off from adventures :). On that night my friend and I went to the Selina Hostel to have a drink. The cocktails were tasteful and the atmosphere was appealing. Later that night we went to a f***ed up pub next to the park. Also the prices were really low. A beer for 1.50$. Also that night was “jamming night” / “freestyle night” and the time went by really really fast.

Some hours later we woke up, went to the French restaurant for breakfast again after we packed our lagguage. Then we started our journey to our jungle hostel Lost & Found between David and Bocas del Toro.

For the Hostel Lost & Found blog click here!

Facts of Bocas del Toro:
Santa Catalina to Bocas del Toro with normal buses around 13h. I recommend to shorten the distance with a stop in between.
Bus costs were around 20-25$ from Santa Catalina to Bocas del Toro plus 10$ for the water taxi. Normal water taxi costs 6$.
You should arrive there before 7:00 pm due to the water taxi service opening time.
Bocas del Toro is really touristy therefore take enough money with you, also you should plan what you want to do and also what will you do when it is rainy.
Selina Hostel was recommended us but we could not try it by ourselves, but the cocktails were delicious thou.
For drink: as I already wrote, visit the hostel Selina for delicious cocktails (happy hour was I think 6 pm to 7 pm. For a really cheap beer try the pub next to the Pin Up ice cream shop.

Accommodation:
Hotel Don Chicho, 3 room private with AC and private shower, 45$ -> per person 15$.