Tales from Cuba

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Cuba is definitely one of the less travelled destinations one can think of. Culturally rich and scenic but cut off in many ways from most of the world, Cuba remains something of an enigma. Television host and stand up comic Akbar Chaudhry and his lovely wife, yoga practitioner, Ramsha, shared their honeymoon travel stories from Cuba and Mexico  with us.

Here is a look at unique, beautiful Cuba through their eyes.

The streets of Havana

What made you decide on this destination for your honeymoon?

Ramsha: Well, both of us love to travel and I have never been to this part of the world. And Akbar was very keen on it. But my parents were quite horrified (laughs). They were like ‘who goes there for a honeymoon?”

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So how does one get to Cuba?

Akbar: We went to Mexico first and then got a visa from there.

Your first stop was Havana?

Akbar: Yes. The immigration officials were quite surprised to see a couple from Pakistan and asked us a lot of questions. But they were very polite.

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Classic vintage cars in Havana

We spent a couple of days in Havana. In my experience, capital cities are a little underwhelming as compared to other parts of a country and it’s the same for Havana. Although it has a lot to offer of course.

What were some of the highlights of Havana?

Ramsha: There are the famous Pink Cadillacs which take you on city tour. This is a good way to take in a large part of the city.

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El Capitolio, or the National Capitol Building (Capitolio Nacional de La Habana) is a public edifice and one of the most visited sites in Havana,

Akbar: There is the Fidel Castro museum and the Che Guevera museum. One should visit the iconic Revolution Square. There are also several famous landmark hotels and cafe, one where the revolution was planned.

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An iconic image of Che Guevara looms over Plaza de la Revolución “Revolution Square”. This is a municipality (or borough) and a square in Havana, Cuba.

Then there is the restaurant  which Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. They have a statue of him as well. It is known for the world’s best daiquiris.  There is another cafe which was also the favourite haunt of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The atmosphere in Cuba must be very different from what we are accustomed to.

A typical Casa particular in Cuba – Casa particulars are homestays in Cuba

Ramsha: Oh yes! Cuba is still under communist rule and is suffering from trade embargos with the result that they are behind the rest of the world in many respects. Internet, for example, is a luxury. One has to go to  a government owned kiosk and buy one hour for one US dollar.

A few central locations actually offer wifi but it was so cumbersome that, after a few days, we gave up and went off the grid.  And actually it was really nice. It was a complete detox of social media for ten days. We didn’t have access to google maps and it was nice to navigate the old-fashioned way and ask for directions.

That must have been an experience in itself.

Akbar: It was. On our first night in Havana, we got lost and, of course, we had no acess to google maps. We were staying in the old part of the city which is full of beautiful buildings but is a little run down. It was getting dark and it was a bit scary.  Coming from Karachi we expect the worst so when these two big, strapping guys approached us we were like ‘there go our phones’. But they were so kind and helpful and directed us to our lodgings.

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Our shared taxi was called collectivo in Cuba for travelling between cities

Ramsha: Also, if you go to a grocery store, they have very few things. We are used to shelves filled with items. Most memorably, they had a bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo locked in a glass case as a luxury item!

There are no brands, no chains. The cars are very old and people have come up with all kinds of improvisations for running them…like using blender parts etc.

After Havana where was your next stop?

The beautiful valley of Vinales in Vinales known for its tobacco and coffee plantations
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Palmarito lake in the valley of Vinales, Vinales.

Ramsha: We drove to Vinales next. We travelled in a shared car called a collectivo. Several people hire it together and so we travelled in very close confines with strangers. But they were really nice. Vinales is very scenic and beautiful. It is famous for tobacco and coffee plantations. We took a horseback tour of the plantations, saw how cigars are rolled, coffee beans cleaned and roasted. It was a wonderful experience.

Horse riding through the valley of Vinales to see cigar rolling by the locals and visiting the local coffee and tobacco plantations

There are also many beautiful hiking trails here. In fact much of the area has been designated a national park.

Jardin Botanico de Vinales is a very small, humble botanical garden with Cuban plants, including trees, flowers & tropical fruit in Vinales, Cuba

What was you last stop?

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Akbar: We next went to Trinidad which is  a lovely town known for its colonial architecture and here we saw the best beach we have ever seen. Talk about white sand and clear waters! Playa Ancon is like an idyllic photograph come to life. We would grab towels and a few essentials  and drive down to the beach where we would spend the entire day.

Is Cuba a safe place to go to?

Akbar: It is actually very safe and they have a lots of tourists but it is not commercial or over run. One striking thing about Cuba is that, although one can see a lot of poverty, the people seem happy. One doesn’t see misery. People are hanging out, listening to music, dancing.

Stay tuned for the next part of the couple’s honeymoon trip onwards to Mexico. 

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