Cuba on your own
The old Chevy engine roars, the mighty red back seat gently rocks us to the beat of the bumps. "Quieres un cigarro?", The women sitting in the back offer cigarettes to the driver. Rear, that's where the cargo hold once was. Today there are two tiny wooden benches built for hitchhikers, because hitchhikers mean extra cash for our driver Paolo.
My friend and I met Paolo at the Cienfuegos bus station this morning: He offered to drive us 300 kilometers to Batabanó for $ 50, the same as the two tickets for the bus would have cost us. Now we are on the way to the ferry dock in Batabanó, where we want to translate to the legendary pirate island "Isla de la Juventud".
The magic of the dollar
Paolo is one of the new rich Cubans who offer tourists their services to get the coveted US dollars - illegal though, because he is not allowed to earn any foreign currency by the state, but it's worth it. Since the introduction of the American currency in 1993, many things can only be bought with "devisas". Luxury goods like cosmetics and toiletries anyway, but also useful things like building materials and gasoline. The fuel is scarce since the distant brother behind the Urals has stopped his donations - and therefore the farmers must again put their oxen in front of the plows.
Poverty yes, misery no
Again and again we meet cyclists on the "autopista", the highway that runs across the country: A dead goat on the rack, smoked ham on the handlebar, a wedding cake on the self-made trailer - so is here some Cubans on the way. There is little traffic, because there is hardly any money for cars, and when the money is there, the cars are missing.
The Cubans are not rich, no, but misery is nowhere to be seen - unlike in other Latin American countries, where ghettos and demoralized people are part of the street scene.
At Iraida on the Isla de la Juventud
Good mood and always helpful: Our landlady Iraida with her husband
As every evening, the evening sun bathes the conical marble mountains around Nueva Gerona in warm light. As the sky blushes, the little town seems to awaken. Up here on the roof of our "Casa Particular", in which we have rented ourselves, we are lulled to sleep - by the music that comes from the houses, the hammering and sawing, the grunts of the pigs, the voices of the people and television , the pitiful croaks of the roosters ... the bell of the neighboring evening school dismisses the pupils in the after-work hours. It is 19 o'clock - time for us, anxious to descend the spiral staircase to the terrace. Because there is the evening mast cure waiting for us.
The table, next to which a Russian refrigerator loudly serves, bends under plates of cucumber and coleslaw, rice, black beans, meat, fruits, malanga, and yuka. It does not help: even if we leave tons of stuff every evening and emphasize again and again that it was delicious but too much - there is no mercy. We do not know if the Cuban government is imposing an obligation on the operators of private pensions to demonstrate abundance to foreign guests. In any case, the Cubans are satisfied with a plate of rice and beans.
As soon as Iraida arrives, balancing with delight tartlets and ice cream: Like every day she has found a "surprise" for us for dessert. Cake or strawberry ice cream for a little black coffee - or both. Because so much has even penetrated to Cuba: Germans like to eat cake for coffee ...
Short info Isla de la Juventud
The typical royal palms for Cuba donate shade when hiking. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes also prefer to stay here ...
Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by the activities of the pirates on the "Isla" to his novel "The Treasure Island". If you're looking for treasures, you do not have to go far either: on foot you can discover the northern part of the island from Nueva Gerona - the sugar cane fields, the groves of the royal palms typical of Cuba, idyllic agrarian communities and the tropical marble hills , Or you drive a few miles - preferably by bike or much more romantic with the horse-drawn car, which can be rented for ten dollars a day with the coachman. On the way to "Playa Paradiso" you should definitely visit the museum "Presidio Modelo": A gigantic prison from the Batista era, in which once also Castro and his comrades were sitting.
The southern part of the island is a nature reserve. This can only be visited as part of an organized tour: to visit the cave "Cueva de Punta del Este", which is considered by archaeologists as the Sistine Chapel of the Caribbean Indians. And to enjoy the gentle waves on the lonely beach. Getting there: By ferry (6 hours) or the speed boat "Kometa", 2 hours several times a day from Surgidero de Batabanó. Optionally by Aerotaxi daily from Havana and Varadero.
residential: "Villa Felicidad" Iraida Hernandez Calle 36 between ("entre") 35 and 37, n ° 3504 Nueva Gerona Tel. (61 for the island) -2 10 47 Iraida rents a generous double room. Nueva Gerona is located in the north of the Isla and is a good starting point.
Short info Trinidad
Day awakening in the former city of sugar barons
In 1988, the former sugar capital Trinidad was declared a World Heritage Site. Accordingly restored are the decaying colonial buildings of the former sugar barons. A tranquil little town between hills and the sea - with cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages and many American road cruisers.
Numerous paladares (private restaurants), casa particulares (private pensions), an Internet café and a dollar supermarket make life easy for tired vacationers. The countless Son and Salsa bands that are at home here play mostly for tourists. Very nice is the nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the sugar cane mills). Day trips by taxi or bus to the Playa Ancón (four kilometers of palm-free beach with good diving possibilities) are possible. There are also a few uninviting hotels.
residential: Belkis and Rolanda Calle José Marti No. 331 Tel. (419 for Trinidad) -4398 Beautiful rooms and a courtyard full of plants and birds. The food is good, the people are nice. Very central.
Short info Cienfuegos
Evening mood on the bay: View from the Palacio de Ferrer to the Parque José Martí
Much more sprawling than Trinidad is Cienfuegos, also called "Pearl of the South": wide boulevards instead of narrow streets, large squares and multi-storey buildings. The colonial and neoclassical buildings are also relatively well preserved. The city is located in a beautiful bay, on the headland "Punta Gorda" once Spanish and French aristocrats resided.
residential: After the dubious enjoyment of six-legged "spices" in the soup, we would not recommend our accommodation ... The most beautiful Casa Particulares are - although a little out of the way - in Punta Gorda. There are excellent Mojitos in the south of the headland, which can be enjoyed especially at sunset (bring insect repellent!).
Short info Havana
Witnesses of former wealth: Villa in the Vedado
The many sights and museums of the Caribbean metropolis can not be mastered in one day. Tourists are mainly in La Habana Vieja (Old Town), Habana Centro and the Vedado. A classic, of course, is the Malecón, Havana's famous seafront promenade, which, contrary to common clichés, radiates less Caribbean than socialist charm. Here is also the glamorous Hotel Riviera at that time, the US gangster Meyer Lansky built in the 50s in the Las Vegas style.
residential: The most relaxed way is in Vedado, the former residential district of Havana, where settled after 1898, especially Americans. If it does not bother you that the plaster peels off the once magnificent villas and the roots of the jungle giant blow up the sidewalk tiles, you can rest here well from the hustle and bustle of the old town. Tip: Francisco Rodríguez Sánchez Calle 17, between C and D, 558 Vedado Tel. (7 for Havana) -32 5003 One of the few restored villas in Vedado, with a shady tree in the backyard.
Quick Info Viñales
The tobacco growing area around Viñales is beautiful: bizarre limestone cones ("mogotes"), similar to southern China, rise in the fertile area. As everywhere in the province of Piñar del Rio, there are palm groves, tobacco and malanga fields, in between small farmhouses and dry houses where the tobacco leaves are dried.
The attraction of the Villa Odalys are the inhabitants: Odalys' father Tonio (left) will delight you with enthusiastically mixed mojitos
You can just run from the place, let yourself drift or visit one of the numerous caves. Bicycles and mopeds are also available for hire. A beach trip to Cayo Jutías, a tiny island north of Viñales, is also worthwhile. On the white sandy beach you can be alone and enjoy the turquoise blue sea. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway. Viñales itself is not much more than a village street.
residential: Villa Odalys Carretera Cementerio no. 24 A Viñales
Travel Info Cuba
Travel time: The most pleasant travel time is from November to April. During the dry season, the average temperature during the day is 27 degrees. In the evening, it can be a bit cold in the Cuban winter. In the Christmas holidays, however, is high season - prices are rising and many places are crowded. Entry: European tourists need in addition to the passport with at least 6-month validity, a "tourist card". It is available in travel agencies. Many travel agencies make the sale of tickets to a hotel booking - choose one that does not. The immigration authorities in Cuba, however, can cause trouble if you have not specified a government hotel as a tourist destination on the tourist card.Just enter any you find in your travel guide. And then take a taxi to the next Casa Particular ...
Language: If you travel on your own through Cuba, you should definitely be able to speak some Spanish. Hardly anyone speaks English, a few who have lived in the former GDR speak German.
Money: There are three currencies - the peso, the peso convertible and the US dollar. Generally, tourists pay with US Dollars or the equivalent Peso Convertible. The only exception: ice cream, pizzas and juices on the road. There are no ATMs yet, the fees for Traveler Checks are quite high. The best part of cash, little travelers checks (no American!) And a credit card (ditto) take: The omnipresent civilian police, it is very unlikely to be robbed.
residential: Recommended in every respect are the "Casa Particulares" (private guesthouses), which are marked with a blue triangle on the door. Food and accommodation are generally better and cheaper here than in the state hotels and restaurants. For the Cubans, renting a room is both a chance and a risk. Irrespective of the demand, they have to pay high taxes - on the other hand, the rental offers access to the coveted foreign exchange.
Getting Around: The most practical but also the most expensive is to rent a car, as the public local and long-distance transport is not very well developed. But imagine that instead of the usual signposts propaganda signs line the streets. For Cuban workers, there are trucks, but they do not take foreigners, hitchhike locals. Anyone who decides against a rental car, but can rent taxis, private cars, horse-drawn cars, bicycles or mopeds everywhere - for trips to the beaches or the surrounding area.
Beaches: If you travel to Cuba mainly because of the beaches, you should book a package holiday. The most beautiful, palm-fringed beaches are mostly in the hands of hotel chains, which are very expensive for individual tourists (from $ 110 upwards). The beaches that are accessible to Cubans are often less beautiful. However, there are some beautiful uninhabited beaches for day or camping trips.
Orientation: The Cuba map of www.lonelyplanet.com provides a first overview of the island. The English speaking guide "Cuba" by Lonely Planet is highly recommended. If you prefer to take part in an organized trip, you will find it at the special tour operator www.cubastartravel.com.