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