Last real day on the trip and it was as jam packed as the rest of the holiday! We were up early/standard time for a walking tour of the old city. I wasn’t really sure what to expect given the tours we’d done so far on the trip had been very rehearsed and the information given was textbook or rather approved textbook.
Anyway, we started off at one of the squares in the old town – unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of it. I am terrible with names of things and it’s not in the guidebook. It wasn’t anything particularly spectacular – it was just a nice square. There was a monument in the middle of it of the first president of the new regime (I think?!) – to be really honest, I don’t remember much from the tour but I know I enjoyed it a lot. The information and feel we got from the guide is unique – he was obviously an open minded Cuban in the sense that he understood why people liked it now, but he also liked the old ways. He had been out the country to be allowed to train with a national sports team, but he always wanted to come back to Cuba, it was his home and he liked the ways. It felt like he was telling us the truth and what his honest views were which was nice – it didn’t seem to be the party line or too rehearsed. He pointed out quirky little buildings and gave us the history. Little things, like seeing the first postbox in Cuba. It was interesting seeing the buildings that the government had chosen to restore compared to the ones that weren’t deemed so important. It was nice to talk a walk with someone who really knew the area – pointed out good places to have a drink or to visit.
Interestingly, he was telling us about a coming of age custom for girls that are 16years old. They rent elaborate dresses (some sort of cross between prom and wedding!) and have their picture taken for a portfolio. This is something that parents save up for ages to ensure happens as this is essentially the currency for their daughters. This is what people will base their view of their daughter on. Personally, I really don’t agree with it, but you can’t alter tradition and culture without a lot of time and an open environment. We saw someone doing just this outside one of the big churches – it wasn’t just something guides told you about because it was traditional!
After our tour go the old town we were free for the rest of the day to explore Havana. My boyfriend and I, along with two others from the group headed to the coast to get a look at the fort. We didn’t really want to go in because we’d seen quite a few and been inside one – how different could it really be?! But it was nice to see from across the water. We then headed in to the old town again to made our first pit stop at the Chocolate museum and cafe and it was well worth it. It was really delicious – very rich but lovely chocolate. You could see them making the chocolate, there were shelves of the different ingredients in the different chocolates and vintage moulds. We all had a drink and a nibble of some chocolate. It was well worth it the relatively short queue to get in.
Then we continued on to the Arts and Crafts market. It was really like a huge warehouse packed to the brim with small market stalls, each a little room of its own. Many of them sold very similar things for tourists but some unique ones too. We spent some time in there getting presents and just having a look really. We bought another dominos set – it was bigger that the one we bought the day before so easier to play. We then got an old car up to the fancy hotel, Hotel Iberostar Parque Central, because even if you don’t stay there it’s meant to be worth a visit because of the architecture and the gardens with a few. It’s the place to have a mojito – it definitely was nice. We sat in the garden area in some shade and played dominos with a couple of drinks for a few hours – a really nice rest! We then walked up to the American embassy to get a closer look (one of the people we were with was American). Then started the rather long walk back to the Casa for a well deserved rest! We walked for about 45 mins and still weren’t anywhere close – in the end we managed to flag an american car and took the 15/20minute journey back to the Casa. That was a lot of walking for one day!!
It was then time for a rest and showers before our last night as a group. We headed out for dinner in one of the restaurants near our hotel and treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and lots of food! Then we took a short walk around the area, the square was lovely with the lights and then the lightening started. It was beautiful. We then headed back to the Casa and to the covered bar area on the roof and played dominos for a good few hours. We all had flights at different times the next day, so some people headed to bed earlier than others but it was a nice last evening together – a true Cuban gathering of late night games!
For us, the next day it was just a short walk for our last hour or so in this amazing country’s capital city and then to the airport in an old American car for our flight back to the UK.
It was a truly incredible trip and the memories and experiences from the holiday are worth much more than the money we paid for it. Would really recommend visiting Cuba, sooner rather than later.