Eating and Drinking at El Shamuskia’o in Old Havana

Cuban moussaka and vegetable crepes

Cuban moussaka and vegetable crepes

In Old Havana (Habana Vieja) we came across a small restaurant and bar with the marketing nightmare of a name, El Shamuskia’o. Located on Muralla Street in between Habana and Compostela, El Shamuskia’o became a Havana favourite for Rocío and me, visiting four times.

Seafood along with pork and pineapple kebabs at El Shamuskia'o

Shellfish and pork and pineapple kebabs at El Shamuskia’o

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Eating Japanese at Crepe Sayu in Old Havana

Japanese flag outside Crepe Sayu

Japanese flag outside Crepe Sayu

Crepe Sayu is a small restaurant on the corner of Obrapía and Aguacate streets in Old Havana (Habana Vieja) run by Japanese journalist Sayuri Yoshida. Prior to visiting Cuba I read Sayuri’s fascinating story and looked forward to visiting Crepe Sayu. Having lived in Japan Rocío was also keen.

Miso soup and main course at Crepe Sayu

Miso soup and a main course at Crepe Sayu

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Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Havana, Cuba

New Year’s Eve in Havana is traditionally not a major public celebration. Locals usually stay at home with their family eating roast pork and yucca before throwing buckets of water over their balconies onto the streets below. On this evening many tourists end up at overpriced dinners and shows.

The Old Havana (Habana Vieja) late afternoon streets contained suckling pigs either dressed waiting on a spit or already roasting over coals.

Suckling pig on spit balanced against a Havana wall

Suckling pig on spit balanced against a Havana wall

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Viñales: Beautiful Landscapes and More

Viñales including its surrounding national park is one of Cuba’s premier tourist destinations. Three hours by road from Havana, its picturesque limestone outcrops (mogotes) and tobacco fields attract day-trippers and longer-stay travellers.

View of mountains surrounding Viñales

View of mogotes surrounding Viñales

Rocío and I visited Viñales twice in January 2017: a day trip from Pinar del Río and then four nights. We arranged our Casa Adela accommodation a day in advance to ensure we had a decent stay. Over the new year we heard reports of tourists sleeping in Viñales’ streets because all beds were full.

Parque Nacional Viñales sign; note the different fingers on each hand

Parque Nacional Viñales (Viñales National Park) sign; note the different hand shapes

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Chevrolets, Architecture, Art and Food in Pinar del Río

160 kilometres west of Havana is the intriguing city of Pinar del Río. Not a major tourist destination itself, south-west of Pinar del Río is the famous Robaina cigar tobacco farm Finca El Pinar and to the north, Viñales’ wonderful landscapes.

Classic Chevrolets

After the new year in Havana Rocío and I were ready to go west. From Parque de la Fraternidad we caught the local P-12 bus to near the National Bus Terminal (Terminal de Ómnibus Nacionales). On 19 de Mayo Avenue we took an old Chevrolet van colectivo to Pinar del Río. Part way there the vehicle experienced a flat tyre.

Classic Chevrolet Van on roadside between Havana and Pinar del Río

Our classic Chevrolet van parked under a tree on the roadside between Havana and Pinar del Río

While changing the tyre, the driver used a rock to support the axle. The van’s lights contained images of Che Guevara.

Driver Changing Tyre on way to Pinar del Río; note the Che Guevara images on the lights and the rock supporting the vehicle

Driver changing tyre on way to Pinar del Río; note the rock and the Che Guevara image

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World Heritage Listed Camagüey, Cuba’s Third City

Camagüey, Cuba’s third largest city was founded in its current location in 1528. The city’s labyrinthine streets in its UNESCO world heritage-listed historic centre are worth wandering. Camaguey is also a good base for exploring its eponymous province, Cuba’s biggest, including Reserva Ecológica Limones-Tuabaquey, Nuevitas and Refugio de Fauna Río Máximo, the Western Hemisphere’s largest flamingo nesting site.

Camagüey's central square

Camagüey’s central square; the building on the right features an image of Che Guevara and a common official Cuban phrase ‘until victory always’ (hasta la victoria siempre)

Rocío and I first visited Camagüey for an afternoon in between the bus from Holguín and the train to Nuevitas. Returning Christmas day after a night on a hut floor, we desired a shower and proper bed. From our worst Cuban accommodation we chanced upon our best: Casa Juanita y Rafael, a lovingly decorated guest house with super high ceilings and a beautiful courtyard (25 CUC/US$25 per night). The courtyard included a fish pond in Camagüey’s symbol, a large ceramic vessel called a tinajón.

Our guest house (casa particular) courtyard featured Camagüey's symbol the tinajón (large ceramic vessel), using it as a fish pond

Our guest house (casa particular) courtyard featured Camagüey’s symbol the tinajón (large ceramic vessel)

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Visiting Nuevitas Via our First Cuban Train Journey

I had never heard of Nuevitas until this day. A port town on Camagüey Province’s coast, it is not on the tourist map. Arriving to Camagüey from Holguín, Rocío and I hoped to go north to Cubitas for the Reserva Ecológica Limones Tuabaquey. Instead, the fruit cart man suggested catching the train east to Nuevitas. We wanted to experience a Cuban train ride so embraced his idea.

Our bicycle taxi driver advised we buy food beforehand as the train doesn’t sell any. 5 CUP (US$0.20) per fish sandwich later and we were set.

Fish sandwiches in Camagüey for the train journey to Nuevitas

Fried fish sandwiches in Camagüey for the train journey to Nuevitas

Taking a Cuban Train from Camagüey to Nuevitas

The daily Nuevitas train left Camagüey at 5:20pm with ticket sales beginning 4pm so we had time to observe the locals in the station and watch a freight train pass. Continue reading

Holguín and Catching an Ómnibus Nacionales Bus

Rocío and I wanted to catch a train on our Cuban trip at least once. Unfortunately, the Santiago de Cuba to Holguín train times weren’t convenient. Instead, Rocío around and we went trucking.

Sugar cane, Cuba's primary agricultural product

Sugar cane, Cuba’s primary agricultural product, between Santiago de Cuba and Holguín

We caught a passenger truck one third of the way (10 CUP/US$0.40 each) and then a second truck the remaining distance (2.50 CUC/US$2.50 each). Well, we thought it was taking us to Holguín. However, it dropped us off part way.

Passing through Birán, where Fidel and Raúl Castro grew up

Passing by Birán, where Fidel and Raúl Castro grew up

Slightly annoyed we got ripped off (in Cuban terms) for the second ride, I soon became glad we didn’t reach our destination. We were about to have a rare experience. Continue reading