Dodgy headline writing aside, Cuba was brilliant. Such a colourful, noisy, vibrant, sunny place with much better food than I'd been expecting and some damn fine mojitos too. We started in Havana, went up to Viñales, down to Cienfuegos, a bit further down to Trinidad and then back up to Havana. All in about 12 days.
Cuba is a destination that gives you a lot to think about. They're so proud of the revolution all these years later and they know they achieved something great and lasting during those five years of conflict that ended in January 1959. Despite not being the richest country in the world, the Cuban state really looks after people; they have brilliant hospitals and some of the highest literacy rates in the world.
It's a country and socialist ethos that seems to work for the most part, which is not necessarily how Cuba is always represented to the rest of the world. That's not to say it's perfect. The roads outside of the big towns and cities have some formidable potholes and there are a lot of crumbling buildings in need of serious repair.
Then there's the bizarre two-currency system, which seems to be creating a two-tiered society. Basically, if you're Cuban you pay for everything with Cuban Pesos (CUP). They're worth 1/25 of a Convertible Peso (CUC), which is what tourists use to pay for everything. So if you work in the tourist industry you have a way of making way more money than your regular Cuban. There are doctors driving taxis in the evening because otherwise they earn maybe US$25-30 a month. So hey, Cuba's not perfect but where is?
The internet hasn't really reached Cuban society in any big way yet either, which is nice for a tourist like me wanting to disconnect for a couple of weeks but probably quite frustrating for Cubans. You can get the internet on your phone by buying a card for an hour's wi-fi time, but then you've got to find a public wi-fi spot by looking out for a street corner or square where everybody is on their phone. Basically it's a faff and so we decided not to bother and have a couple of weeks internet free.
Having learned a bit of Spanish came in very handy, I'll tell you that for nada. Without it, we would have struggled to talk to the owners of the casas we stayed in about basic things like breakfast and how much rooms cost. My Spanish is very basic but if you can hold a conversation I reckon you could really venture off the beaten track in Cuba and go the places not many tourists get to.
All in all, Cuba was superb and I'd really recommend it to anyone. Some places are changing pretty quickly though (since Fidel handed over power to his younger brother Raul about six years ago), so go sooner rather than later!
Now I've bored the arse off you trying to prove I paid attention in Cuba, revive yourself with some photos.
Behind me is a statue of a naked woman riding a giant chicken while holding a huge dinner fork. There was no plaque explaining it but a bit of internet research tells me it was by a Cuban artist called Roberto Fabelo, who includes naked women and large birds in a lot of his art. So that clears that up, then.
How many cats can you spot among this scaffolding in Havana?
Cuban pottery shop. Trinidad is well known for its ceramic pottery. Bought a couple of things myself. I think Harriet was surprised/impressed by my sudden, unexpected interest in ceramic pottery. I'm a man of many surprises.
Went snorkelling and got this photo of some coral. I thought I'd got loads of photos of brightly coloured fish too, but my underwater photography skills are a bit rubbish, it turns out.
Gran Teatro de La Habana lit up at night. It's something to behold by day but is even more beholdier at night.
Band playing in a bar called Cafe Taberna, which always had live music every time we walked past, day or night. So we thought we should go in and check it out. They know how to bash out a tune, the Cubans.
A cracked mausoleum in the Necropolis, Havana's sprawling cemetery. I guess the two bits of the archway are just leaning against each other at this point. There were a lot of graves and mausoleums in need of some repair work in the cemetery but then there's a lot of all kinds of buildings in need of repair all over Cuba. When you don't have much money, it takes a while to get round to these things, I guess.
Last photo I took before we had to head off to the airport. Local kids playing football in Plaza Vieja. I'd say football and baseball were about level pegging in popularity in Cuba.
The next installment will probably be my trip to LA, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in October but if anything exciting and travely happens before then I'll blog it, you can be sure of that.