Havana, Cuba: Part 3

Check out part I and part II of this trip to Cuba if you haven't already!  Also, here are some of the people we met during our time in Havana.

One of the most attractive bits of a trip to Cuba is, without a doubt, its beaches--the nation is a Caribbean island after all!  As we were short on time, we chose to head out to the Playas del Este, a 10-mile stretch of white, sandy beaches lovingly referred to as the Cuban Rivera and located an easy 20-minute car ride from central Havana.  This is where many Cubans go to escape the sounds and smells of the city, and we wanted to make sure we were a part of the local action. Of course, most tourists head even further east to the nicer beaches of Varadero, which is, sadly, just like any other sterilized Caribbean resort (geared to those who want to say they've traveled to another country without actually leaving the protective White-Western bubble of their homelands).  In my opinion, if you're going to travel to a country like Cuba, why stay in an area of it that could be any other island in the area (or, Florida, for that matter)?  Okay, so maybe you were hoping for a little German banana-hammock action on your holiday...if that's the case, I'll give you your Veradero!

Once our car pulled up to a large building that looked like a Soviet-missle research institute, we knew we had arrived at the main "resort" hotel of the Playa Santa Maria, the Hotel Tropicoco.  The beach here is nice, the people are friendly, the bands hawking their renditions of Buena Vista Social Club hits are quite entertaining, and the Cristal beers are some of the coldest around!  And, as so often happens when you mix rum with fresh coconuts on the beach, we even made quite a few friends to help us enjoy the day more!

Although we were sunburnt to a crisp, it still wasn't hard to get lost in the beauty of the streets back in Havana...

One of the best parts of our wanderings was stumbling upon this tiny little bar in one of the barrios.  After two days of stopping in, we were "regulars," and had such a good time and conversation with the workers (talk about giving our Spanish a workout!).  One of our newfound friends, Adriadna, even invited us out to her family's home for lunch with them on our last day in Cuba, where we got to meet her mom, grandma, neighbors, and sweet little niece.  It was definitely such a memorable way to end our trip, as we got to experience first-hand that hospitality for which the Cubans are so well-known.

This little sampler into Cuban life has definitely left us yearning to come back to the island for more.  We feel so fortunate to have experienced a country that is, quite literally, unlike any other, and to experience it before it opens up and does eventually become so much more familiar commercially.  As an experience of a lifetime, especially to those Americans who oppose the ridiculous continuation of the Kennedy-era embargo, all I can say is vaya, vaya, vaya!!  Gracias, Cuba!