A Day alone in Havana

I love to travel. I am a great traveler. I can go with the flow and if adventure is offered, Im grabbing it by the hand and jumping on the back of its 4 wheeler to ride around the island.

I am not a great travel agent. In my personal life, details get fuzzy and I make impulsive decisions before checking the facts. Usually this ends up with a great story where only I am affected. Sometimes it affects others. Like my beautiful mother.

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This incredible woman, who puts up with way more than she should because she raised an independent daughter, wanted to go to Cuba. And so I flew her down (because I’m the world’s best daughter) and she would fly back with me. However, because details allude me, I not only bought her return ticket on a different airline, but it would also be 8 HOURS after I had left the country…

I tried everything I could to get her on the same flight or change mine, but nothing worked. So, facing the worst (or best if it was me) situation, my mother would be stuck in Havana alone for a day. It is the safest place, but if you don’t know a place, you can be somewhat wary.

So this is a post about being in a place alone where you don’t speak the language and how its totally possible because people are actually way nicer than we believe.

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She went with us for a substantially large breakfast before we headed to the airport. Then, her day alone started.

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Like anyone else who is going into a new city, she made sure to download an offline map (because there is next to no wifi anywhere in Cuba) and made her way from the Air BNB to explore the city that was all hers now.

Like most people, she had ideas on what she wanted to see and do.

We tried to look for this elusive market, but we weren’t sure how to find it. So, she would have to discover it for herself.

An open air market.

And when you have an opportunity to travel around on your schedule, you tend to get see the little gifts that you’ve waited for. Traveling alone will always offer some fantastic surprises.

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“I wasn’t nervous once I got there. The people are far too nice to be nervous around. I knew I didn’t speak any Spanish and I thought that ordering food would be difficult.

When I was reading the map app I was nervous. But when I was there I didn’t mind being there by myself. I was able to completely sink into the local culture and it was almost impossible to be nervous.”

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Luckily, my mother is pretty competent even when she is completely out of her element.

But with a smile and patience, she was able to have this wonderful little meal and explore a part of Havana that even I did not get to see.

And while I tried a mojito at every restaurant I went to, my mother (Alyse) branched out and tried a cerveza, or a local beer!

*A mom tip would be “its very important to travel with someone who does speak the language. I was able to get to places, but if I didn’t like the chicken I would have no way to say that. Fortunately I loved everything!”*

 

I asked my Mom the most important question; Would you go back to Cuba?

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“I would go back in an instant. Even if I went alone, I would still go. But if I could change anything, I would want to travel with someone who spoke the language. I mean, I could get around and be immersed in the culture, but it was all kind of superficial if I don’t understand the language.”

When you go to a new world, see everything. Find a coffee shop that becomes your favorite. Learn a couple of the phrases to get you around and enjoy every minute of it. Some people wait their whole life to live, don’t be like that. Go!

 

Before I left my mom in Old Havana, these are the phrases I made sure she knew:

Donde estas le bano - where is the bathroom
Una botella de agua - a bottle of water (only drink bottled water!)
llevame a El aeroporte - take me to the airport

 

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On behalf of the most beautiful woman I know, I will say go to Cuba. It’s a most wonderful adventure to have.

What to do in Havana Cuba in ONE weekend

Being in Cuba has to be one of the highlights of my life.

This secret world that I have longed for for years I was finally able to explore, and I didn’t do it alone. Sometimes, the greatest adventures are meant to be shared. So, Im going to share it with you.

If you’re in Havana and only for the weekend, here are some things that you MUST do.

As a fellow traveler, I usually check online and read about a place before I decide to hitch my wagon to it (usually..) and I did for Cuba. I read blog posts and news articles and everything seemed fresh and new because the travel ban for Americans to go to Cuba was lifted (#thanksObama)!

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I am a woman who loves lists, so
armed with my pen and a fresh page in my bullet journal, I was ready. I had seen movies about Havana, and especially Havana Vieja (old Havana) and I was dying to see if what they portrayed was true.

Dani (my friend that I went with) and I both had seen Dirty Dancing Havana Nights and  we were excited and expecting to salsa every night!

If going salsa dancing is not on your list, add it. Even if you’re not good, its Havana. You have to salsa in Havana. Salsa.

Speaking of lists, here is mine! Here are the things I did that I think everyone should:

1) Ride in a 1950’s car. They are taxis and it’s a blast!

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They will take you anywhere you want to go in the city, and who hasn’t dreamt of riding in the back of one of these babies since seeing Grease with your mom as a kid? The taxi’s don’t have a timer in their car, so before you hop in to see one of the most iconic cities in this country, make sure you have settled how much you’re going to pay. We didn’t pay over 20 paso for any trip (and the airport is about 40 mins from Old Havana).

2) Go to the Malécon at sunset.

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Because you’re not a idiot, you are well aware that Cuba is an island meaning it is surrounded by water as has some fantastic beaches.

Well, Havana Vieja doest have a beach, it’s more of a boardwalk. But this is where everyone goes at sunset and plays live music and drinks fantastic cuban rum.

If you’re here for sunset, you’re not moving until the sun is gone. Its too beautiful to leave.

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But maybe you get hungry when the sun sets. And as someone who just wants to eat great food and hear amazing stories, I get that.

So Dani and I went to a restaurant called La Presidenté which was right on the Malécon. If I can’t tell you about another restaurant (which I will.. in a different post) this is absolutely one to go to. And order a Mojito with Ropa Vieja. Your world with change.

And SPEAKING of mojitos..

3) Order a Mojito at the rooftop restaurant and bar of the Ambos Mundos hotel.

This was probably the greatest find that Danielle and I made. I think I may have had one

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mojito in my entire life before going to Cuba. And it was probably just a sip of someone else’s. They’re not my go to drink. HOWEVER, it’s the best drink in Cuba because of the homemade rum that is there.

Also, the view is incredible.

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It over looks the bay, and I won’t lie. We went back twice. The birds eye view is everything.

4) Go Salsa Dancing!

Like I said, it absolutely should be on your list. It was on mine, and we wanted to go to Casa de la musica, but it was closed for renovation. That is where they danced in dirty dancing. Instead we went to hotel Florita and danced to our hearts content and sweat through our outfits… You didn’t need to know.. but its true
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img_6380Wonderfully enough, Dani and I found excellent dancing partners who taught us the moves. Danielle, being much more fabulous than I, had done salsa before. Unfortunately for Alfredo, my salsa partner, I was not at the same level.

But the best part of being in a new place with wonderful people is that  they will teach you what they know.

 If you can’t dance, go out any way. Get yourself a mojito and head out to make yourself some memories. You (most likely) won’t regret it.

5) Have a daiquiri at La Florita

Ever heard of Earnest Hemingway? He’s just one of the greatest authors of all time who also happened to fall in love with Cuba. He moved there and wrote a book called “The haves and the have nots” about a man in Cuba.

 hemingway-at-the-bar2He is quoted saying La Florita makes the worlds best daiquiri and should look “like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.”

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There is now a statue of him on his favorite bar stool spot for you to take a picture with, which is exactly what I did.

The Hemingway daiquiri is the most expensive drink I had in Havana but because its Earnest Hemingway I gladly put down the 6 pesos. And it was incredible. He CLEARLY knew what he was talking about.

6) Cigar smoker? Cuba has it for you!

Im not actually a smoker at all. Danielle is and she knows that you can’t beat a cuban cigar from Cuba. There is a whole story in getting the cigars that I will share later. For now, I will say that going to one of the bigger hotels to buy your cigar is a fabulous idea. They will have lots of variety of cigars and they will sell you just one (if you just wanted to try it without getting an entire box). Thankfully we did that.. because Cigar smoking is not for me.

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It should be noted; there is a way to smoke and a way not to. I am now very aware how not to smoke. But, when in Cuba.

7) Hang out with the locals!

This should go without saying, but in a new place you absolutely should meet the people who live there. There is beauty in going to a place you don’t know and finding yourself and friends and passion.
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Dani and I were a little nervous about the lack of Spanish that we knew going into Cuba, but luckily, a lot of the Cubans we met spoke broken English. And that combined with the Spanish we knew, we were able to talk to everyone we wanted to without a problem. It also helped that we spoke about 60% Spanish together. Meaning.. I can speak about 30% of Spanish, but Dani knew the other 30%!

8) See a Museum

Maybe you’re not a history buff or care to read about how people lived back in the day, but here you’re going to want to jump in that people group. Dani and I went to two different museums. Both were old homes- and by homes I mean palaces.

Because Cuba has been closed to America, it has been this wonderful secret that I didn’t know much about. Seeing their history helped me to fall in love with the people and the culture (not that I needed help).

If you only have a short time to be in Cuba, go to Havana Vieja. You will not be disappointed.

There are some things that I would let you know now that I have been.

  • Pack toilet paper and take it with you. Some bathrooms don’t have it, and the ones that do will charge you for it.
  • Download the map.me app. This is an offline map and it saved us more than once.
  • Take a nap. Don’t try to do it all, relax a bit. Take a siesta and go out for more after!
  • Most places will accept euros. They will charge extra for american dollars, but the euro and peso are 1 for 1, so the math is easy.
  • Try foods you can’t pronounce because they are delicious. But if you need a safe bet, papas fritas are french fries.

Here are some Spanish phrases that you will use, so practice:

How much is that -Cuánto cuesta 
Thank you - Gracias
Where is the bathroom - Donde estas le bano
I love your country - Me gusta tu pais
Take me to the Airport - llevame a El aeropuerto

Have fun practicing! If you’ve been to Cuba, what did you get to see and do? Are you planning a trip? Do you want someone to come with you? Im in.

Caio!

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An Island state of mind

There are tons of Islands on this planet we live on. Theoretically every place could be considered an island. However, when I think of islands I will usually think of the ones right off the coast of Florida. Its possible thats because I grew up in florida and Im conceited.

So, when we decided where to go next, the Bahamas were an easy choice. There are over 200 small islands that make up the country of the Bahamas and each island has its own pros and cons. If you have never been to the Bahamas, its a fantastic experience. I remember going when I was 20 to Nassau (the capital) to work at an aids camp called All Saints.

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Making cement for the houses

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Hanging out with a local,      Mr Jeorge. 

I didn’t know anything about the island when I went. I just wanted to help people. I knew something about a giant hotel that people went to, but other than that, I knew nothing. When we went I fell in love with the people and the fantastic culture. I had to come back.

So 7 years later, when an option to go back to the Bahamas came up, I jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t met a ton of impulsive people, but the girls who went with me were up for anything. And those are the type of people you should travel with.

The island that was our choice is called Man-O-War Cay (pronounced key) and was about 2 miles long and half a mile wide. So, if you’re looking for an island to feel like a private place this is the one for you.

We landed in the Abbaco islands and took a ferry to our island. Its these moments that I know I am created to be on a boat. You can feel the salty air and the cold water spraying and its hard to think this is just public transportation. But if you’re in paradise, even public transportation will feel like it. 

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Although the Bahamas are not the cheapest place to travel, there are easy ways to cut costs. For example, its very easy to become friends with the locals and see what they are up to. We were able to hop on someones boat and go Conching. THIS! This was my absolutely favorite. We were also able to catch conch and ate that for dinner. So there goes your $15 you would have spent on a dinner. IMG_4956.jpg

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And you get to keep the shell that the Conch is in! Which is also saving you money that you would never see me spend at a tourist store.

*Pro Tip*

IF you’re looking to go Conching and you’re not a fisherman (hello me), you know you are getting the correct size if the flat part of the shell starts to get flatter like a fan.

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I wholeheartedly believe in doing whatever the locals are doing. I will never fly to a new place to be the same person I am back home. So when Scott, the man who owned the boat, was teaching us how to take the conch out of the shell, I jumped in it. There is a part of the shell that the conch holds on to that you will hit with a knife, making a hole in the shell. Then you scrape the conch out using a butter knife and scraping against the hole you just cut. IMG_4917.jpg

Its a bit of a process to remove, but once the conch is out you can eat it right away. Im sure I have never had fresher seafood.

IMG_4928.jpg  If you have never seen Conch before (in our out of its shell) it is the weirdest thing I have ever seen. I have seen snails in their shells and I have had conch fritters, but watching the conch from the back of the boat FREAKED me out.

The conch has what the locals call a foot which basically looks like an awkwardly long nail of claw coming out of a slug type thing.

It will extend this part of its body to move across the ocean floor or the back of the boat, where ever it happens to be. No one eats the claw but the meat around it is completely edible, though not usually eaten in restaurants. If you catch it, its fair game. And feels like you’re eating a carrot because its so thick.

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I think any time on the water is the best time, but if you get a chance to catch your own dinner then its incredible. And now that I know what I'm looking for, I cannot wait to get back into the water to catch more. Until then, I think Im having conch fritters for dinner tonight.

Soon I will post a recipe for making conch fritters. Stay tuned because I think the Bahamas has a lot more to offer than justIMG_5760.JPGconch. Conch just happens to be the thing the Bahamas are known for. That and goombay juice. Which will pair with conch very nicely.

Fun Fact: Goombay punch can only be bought in the Bahamas and doesn’t have a flavor. It tastes different to every person. For me, its a weird pineapple bubble gum. And its delicious.