A direct bus by ADO to Cancun airport was only MXP45.00 (about USD3.25).

While my flight to Havana by Cubana Airlines was being delayed for an hour, I met a Japanese backpacker in a queue to the check-in counter at the airport. His name was Aki from Hokkaido and a few years younger than me, but was already an experienced traveller: he had already travelled to many countries including some in Africa.
Aki was also flying to Havana on the same flight operated by Cubana today.


It was sunny and warm in Cancun and our plane was finally ready to fly one and a half hours later than originally scheduled.
I couldn't figure out if our fleet was going to be Airbus or Tupolev and I was strongly hoping for an Airbus, but it turned out to be a Tupolev as the seat arrangement was looking odd.
The photo below shows a very spacious leg room in front of my seat. How lucky was I to have this much leg room in the economy class?!



Despite some bad reputations as well as bad safety records held by Cubana, very fortunately, it was clear blue sky and my flight was smooth without any dramas or problems. Additionally, the in-flight snack (nuts and crackers) was surprisingly good, although a flight attendant was looking exhausted for some reason.



As soon as the plane landed in Havana, Aki and I picked up our luggage and walked straight to the money changer inside Havana airport. We needed to change our money to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP).


It's a little complicated to explain the difference in these two currencies: in short, CUCs are for tourists and CUPs are for Cuban people. We as tourists still need some CUPs if wanting to buy stuff at local shops and to eat at local restaurants.


Cuba was initially included in my itinerary for my previous RTW trip. However, I spent a lot more time than expected in both Central and South America. As a result, my trip to Cuba had to be postponed then.
Now I finally set foot in this last true communism nation in the world. Exciting!


A taxi ride from Havana airport to downtown Havana cost Aki and me CUC25.00 (CUC12.50 for each - about EUR10.00). It wasn't cheap, but we didn't really care about the fare, we were just amazed by all the classic cars passing us on our way to downtown Havana.


We checked in at a casa particular owned by lovely Cuban couple Ihovanna and Gerado.
A casa particular is similar to a guesthouse / homestay situation, and generally much cheaper and more hospitable than normal hotels (Hereafter I call a casa particular "guesthouse").
Our room is a simple tiny 5-bed dorm for CUC13.00 (about EUR10.50) per person per night including breakfast AND dinner!!

The photo below shows the dinner that I had at our guesthouse.


Two other room-mates in our dorm turned out to be Japanese (This guesthouse must be popular amongst Japanese backpackers?) - Take from Kobe and Taku from Gifu. They are in the final year of their university degrees and they'll have to start working from next year. Welcome to reality!

Although I was a little tired and I was not keen on going out on this very first night of my stay in Cuba, Take, Taku, Aki and I went out for a few drinks in a very shabby-looking bar near our guesthouse and we encountered three crazy Cubans then.



One of them looked like a famous Japanese comedian - 99's Okamura Takashi.
This young naive Cuban guy spoke good English and insisted how much he liked Japan and how Japanese he felt inside despite the fact that he'd never been to Japan before.
As he was continuously and so enthusiastically trying to convince us how Japanese he was, all of us got sick and tired of talking with him in the end. Huhhh....

The second one was a heavily drunken lady in her late 50's.
I had no idea what she was saying to me in Spanish, but she kept talking to me for a while and kissing on my cheek repeatedly.
She was later kicked out of the bar by the staff for some reason. Funny.

The third one was a skinny guy with a gravelly voice who looked just like Wesley Snipes.
We first thought that he was a bit sketchy, but he turned out to be a cool guy and the nicest one amongst these crazy Cubans in the bar.
"¿Qué paso?" was a phrase that he often said and we just loved imitating him by saying "¿Qué paso?" "¿Qué paso?" all night long.

Anyway, there were too many strong characters for my very first night in Havana. We had a big blast at this local bar, though.


!!!!! Note !!!!!
A bottle of beer at this bar was only CUP10.00.
As of November 2011, EUR1.00 could buy CUC1.30, and CUC1.00 could buy CUP24.00. So this beer was only EUR0.32! On the other hand, a small bottle of mineral water in a grocery store in downtown Havana costs CUC0.50 (about CUP12.00). Better drinking beer than water!


After our crazy night-out yesterday, Taku decided to take it easy while Aki, Take and I went cruising around the historic centre of Havana today.




We saw lots of musicians and dancers performing at cafes, restaurants and on streets.
A great thing about them was that they were really really good (almost professional), but it was free of charge for us to see them. You pay them if you think that they are good (I did, of course).



What amazed me more than anything else here in Havana was a number of classic cars in very good conditions and they were still running everywhere!
These cars were definitely adding spice to groovy Havana.





Havana is neither Paris nor any other well-established cities I've been to in Europe. Havana is Havana in a very extraordinary way.

By the way, an ice-cream that I had on a street today was only CUP1.00, not CUC1.00. Amazingly cheap!



I took the above photo from the balcony at my guesthouse this morning.
It was sunny today and it was going to get hot. Very hot!


Today was another day for me to spend cruising around Havana. I never became bored wandering around this city as there were so many cool retro cars everywhere. The whole city was like a museum to me.




I was really stoked to ride one of those classic American-vehicle cabs to go to the bus terminal today as I had to buy a bus ticket there for my next destination - Santiago de Cuba.



The fare was only CUP10.00 and I bought an overnight-bus ticket for Santiago de Cuba then.
Funnily enough, while the taxi-fare was only CUP10.00 one way (about EUR0.33), the bus-fare was CUC51.00 one way (about EUR40.00). The name of the bus company was called Viazul.

!!!!! Note !!!!!
There is also another bus company called Astro which is much much cheaper than Viazul. However, Astro buses are only for Cuban people and foreigners are not supposed to (or allowed to?) ride it.
Nonetheless, (technically speaking) you could ride an Astro bus if you were able to speak fluent Spanish.


All the Japanese youngsters who I met at our guesthouse will be staying in Havana for at least another few weeks. Meanwhile, I'm leaving for Santiago de Cuba tonight.
There is still something super magnetic about Havana. So I will be back here in a few days.

My Viazul bus left Havana at 18:30 yesterday evening.
The photo below actually shows my dinner last night when the bus stopped for a break. It was a very very simple pizza.


The bus arrived in Santiago de Cuba around 6:30 in the morning today. The ride was 12 hours in total and it was surprisingly good except the intense air-conditioner which almost froze my entire body.


Still feeling a bit sleepy, I found a street-vendor selling an espresso just outside the Viazul bus terminal. The espresso was only CUP1.00 served in a shabby used plastic cup. This espresso was very strong and very sweet. I wouldn't say that it was a good coffee, but it definitely had a kick on my sleepy brain after I was shivering and constantly waking up in the middle of the night inside the bus.


It was supposedly a long walk from the bus terminal to the city centre of Santiago de Cuba and I couldn't be bothered to walk all the way. So I tried a tri-bicycle ride for the first time this morning.
The fare was CUC2.00 and my tri-bicycle rider was getting very sweaty as he was taking me a long gentle hill upwards (the city centre was located on top of the hill).


Unlike Havana where quite a few different ethnic groups such as Caucasian, African and others were living, people in Santiago de Cuba appeared to have strong Caribbean influence - very dark skin, small faces and quite slim. I found a lot of women here exotically beautiful.



I met an Israeli guy out of the blue when I was buying an ice cream in a mini-market in the city centre of Santiago de Cuba. He was an interesting guy to talk to and basically told me the following;

" Go out to a bar or a disco while in Cuba. Buy a girl a drink or two. And don't be cheap! It only costs you CUC2 or 3 anyway. But don't go for the first girl you met. Wait for the second one! "

His advice must have been truly based on his own experience. I had no intention to meet local girls here in Cuba, but I would take his advice seriously for the rest of my life.


There is a castle / fortress called Morro Castle located outside Santiago de Cuba - the name of this fortress in Spanish is "Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro", but it's too long!
I went to this fortress just before 5pm. A taxi cost me CUC10.00 for a return trip while the entrance fee was only CUC4.00. I was lucky enough to see a ceremony held by the guardians inside the fortress as the sun was gradually going over the super-calm Caribbean sea.



Somehow, this extremely calm sea made me wonder if this was where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara launched their very first revolutionary movement in the 1950's.