World Travel

Havana

Return Rental Car, Cigar Factory, Museo de la Revolution, Mojito

3. April (Tuesday): Breakfast at our Casa Particular is wonderful and the best we've had in Cuba! We get fresh orange juice, choice of eggs, good bread, good coffee, fruit. Fernando even has the radio playing classical music. No flies!

Today we must return our rental car latest by 11:00, otherwise they'd charge us a penalty. We decide to use use it till then to check out the western suburbs of Havana in search of a beach near the city and then the beach of Guanabo to the east.

Driving along the Malecon, we tune in to the few Havana radio stations. Sometimes they play good salsa, then have a lot of monotonous talk. After the Malecon, we enter some affluent-looking suburbs. The wide roads are lined with trees and the houses look quite nice too.

We're away from the seaside now and drive a couple of streets north till we again reach the sea. There's water alright but no sign of a beach anywhere, so we retrace our way through Havana, continue drive through "the tunnel" and onto the Highway to Playas del Este to Guanabo.

At deserted Guanabo beach east of Havana
At deserted Guanabo beach east of Havana (scroll tight for full picture)

The route is well marked with large signs. We're none too early in our schedule, so I push the gas pedal. We pass the exit to Playa Santa Maria and continue to Guanabo. I'd heard that Playa Santa Maria is the place where the tourists go to and Guanabo is the place for the Cubans. We leave the highway and head towards the sea. There IS a beach in Guanabo, but it isn't particularly striking. After a short look around (we don't go into the water) we return to Hotel Sevilla in Havana to return the car.

I'd noticed that one of the hubcaps of our was missing since Trinidad and I was a bit concerned. Someone from the rental agency comes out and inspects the car and immediately sees the missing hubcap. He also notes down the kilometre counter and the petrol level.

We go to the office and as expected they make a fuss about the missing hubcap, demanding 40 US$ for it! They say the insurance only covers theft when reported to the police. Moreover, we must pay the additional day we've used the car (okay), a penalty for not announcing it (about 7$) and a generous difference in the petrol level (they overstated the level when we got the car and understated it now). They also refused to pay our costs for repairing the tire, saying a bill is required (the Cubans in Trinidad who did the repair job of course worked for their own account and wouldn't provide a bill). All in all, this gave a nice difference of 120$. I refused to pay, and the cheeky rental guy just said that he would deduct it from my blank credit card slip! He definitely had the advantage of the argument.

I had no desire to spend the rest of the day here, but when I relented and said 'ok, we would pay', he presented me with a NEW credit card slip to sign! I demanded to sign on the original slip but he said that he couldn't find it anymore, it must be in their head-office in Varadero. He told us to wait while he called them. Well, the phone was in use for quite a while, so we waited - and waited. In the end we just had enough and left, leaving the phone number of our Casa Particular for him to inform us.

He never did. My credit card was eventually billed for the "correct" amount.

Well, the moral of the story is to always remove all hubcaps before driving a car in Cuba! Do Cubans like collecting hubcaps as souvenirs?! Also always check if the spare tire is ok and has enough air, you will be glad if you did should need to use it!

Loads of old timers are usually parked outside the Capitolio working as Taxis
Loads of old timers are usually parked outside the Capitolio working as Taxis
Wwwaaay cool! Wouldn't YOU want one of these? A stretched Lada in Havana
Wwwaaay cool! Wouldn't YOU want one of these? A stretched Lada in Havana
Inside Partagás "Royal" Cigar Factory Shop in Havana
Inside Partagás "Royal" Cigar Factory Shop in Havana
Habana Vieja street
Habana Vieja street

We were on foot again and we tour some of Havana's sights we hadn't checked out yet. The 'Royal' cigar factory behind the Capitolio is first. Unfortunately they charge a 10$ fee to tour their factory, and since neither of us is much of a cigar fan, we just took a peek inside their shop. They have loads of cigars stacked up in nice-looking boxes with steep tourist prices to match.

Opulent Museo de la Revolution used to be Batista's presidential palace until the Revolution

Opulent Museo de la Revolution used to be Batista's presidential palace until the Revolution
The plaque says 'Space suit used by Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, the first Latin American Cosmonaut, during the flight Cuba-USSR in 1980'

The plaque says 'Space suit used by Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, the first Latin American Cosmonaut, during the flight Cuba-USSR in 1980'

After our car trip and being back in Havana we felt that our visit to Cuba was slowly winding down. The rush of everything being new was now missing, and we were taking our Havana tour much more leisurely than when we had first arrived.

We'd previously skipped the "Museo de la Revolucion" due to it's high entrance fee and our lack of interest in the revolution. After touring Cuba, especially Santa Clara and Trinidad, and knowing a bit more about the revolution, we decided to visit it. The museum is housed in the former presidential palace which is worth seeing by itself. The exhibition shows many actual artefacts like 'shirt worn by such-and-such when he was gunned down by government troops'. You can also see Batista's office and the secret passage he used when fleeing from the revolutionaries storming the palace. There are still bullet holes to be seen in some parts of the building, especially the entrance hall.

The second part of the museum is behind the main building, and houses some large military hardware: a truck, tank, missile and guns clustered around a modern building with glass walls, inside of which is the centrepiece of the exhibition, the boat 'Granma', on which Fidel & Co. sailed back to Cuba from Mexico to start the revolution. An eternal flame is burning as well to commemorate all Cuban heroes and there is another piece of the shot-down US U2 spy plane displayed here.

We'd like to see some of western Cuba so we check out the available tours in tourist folders in the Golden Tulip Hotel. There are no tour representatives at the hotel, so it'snot possible to arrange a tour for the next day.

We move on to Hotel Inglaterra hoping that they would have a tour better suited to our schedule. We have a Mojito while a group plays Son and Annewien goes in to check out the options. There is actually a trip leaving tomorrow, great! We book immediately and we arrange to be picked up by bus in the lobby of Hotel Nacional the next morning.

Fidel Castro giving a speech on Havana Street
Fidel Castro giving a speech on Havana Street
Tank used by Fidel during the Bay of Pigs invasion looks over a busload of school kids in front of Museo de la Revolucion
Tank used by Fidel during the Bay of Pigs invasion looks over a busload of school kids in front of Museo de la Revolucion
In our Casa Particular
In our Casa Particular

We return back to our room. For dinner, we decide to go to a nearby Paladar. We select a few from the LP and start off on foot for the first. It's in the process of being renovated. The next one has a sign saying 'closed forever' (did they have some problems with the authorities?).

We eventually find a nice one which is unmarked on the outside. Ringing the bell causes a second gate inside to be electrically activated by someone from the restaurant. It's modern and very luxurious by Cuban standards and has romantic music playing all evening. Some older foreign men with young sexy Cuban girls are there for dinner.

We have a "Spanish" dish with Garbanzo beans which is a welcome change from the usual Pollos and is quite good.

Our Casa Particular
Our Casa Particular

Our room's luckily within walking distance of the Paladar.

Continue to 4.4 Piñar del Rio, Viñales