By: Andrés Yunior Gómez Quevedo.
Cuba is a different country, mostly because of its history and the actual consequences it and for that reason it is now at its best! If you are going for the first time,having a tour guide with you to show you around and explain a lot of thingswill enrich your experience on this great island.
To enjoy the country and understand its rhythm and its sights it is better if you have an idea of all the history and gossip that this island has behind buildings, streets, landscapes, food, cocktails, behaviors, words and people.
If you know Spanish get ready for a challenge because the Castellano, which is the Spanishwe speak here, it is really fast and has many words that in other LatinAmerican countries and even in Spain does not exist or have different meanings.
In Cuba, people laugh at their own problems and anything can inspire a joke, a song, a dance or whatever that means joy. The crazy Cuban sense of humor has been the lifeboat of this society for centuries, and words like Negro, mulatto, fat and crazy are not derogatory. There are not sexual harassment accusations because people look at each other’s attributes all the time, and the men whistle when the ladies pass by, and the ladies throw pick-up lines to the boys and to show affection people can call you “my negro” even if you are white, the young ones greet with a “what’s up crazy?”, and you can see and sense how carefree this people is inspite of all the problems and necessities and struggles.
Again, Cuba is a different country full of fun and a sense of freedom to enjoy every minute with no rush.
As a tour guide, I always welcome my future friends at the airport, I know that my country has been on an unfair blacklist for so long and to have a smiling face welcoming you at the airport can be very cheering.
And to be honest, I love the idea of waiting for complete strangers that I’m going to be with for days. The adrenaline of not knowing how it’ll be like.
I try to go with an old American car with AC to make the experience even more interesting. Havana it is a like a live museum of cars, and we are all so used to see them going around, but I know that people also come to Cuba to live the contrast of the old 40ies and 50ies with the influence of modernity that seems to be entering in the country more and more every time.
One of the first things I make clear it is that living and being in Cuba is a big exercise of patience, because there are many things that are hard to find easily, a lot of stuff must be getting with old fashion means, you are going to be offline most part of the day and to be online you really have to want it because you have to get a WiFi card and go to a WiFi spot. Things here are not like you know themat home. Cuba in many ways seems to have stopped in time and closed the door,but left the window open and there is a lot coming in through that window.
In Cuba, you’ll have more time to actually live, like we all used to do years before, interact, meet and talk to people old school style, go with the flow of the country that it’s very easy to follow because all seems to be about chilling out and drinking and learning too.
After the accommodation and a cocktail and depending on the time of the arrival I try to show first the Old Havana. It is a walking tour with stops in very cool places full of history and fun, like La Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita, the four main squares of the old town with the explanations of the sights and the culture, including some information about the culture of cocktails in the country, religion, art, society and politics. Some stops will be longer depending on the people’s interests and the people around, the music, the weather, the drinks, whatever that makes the stay better.
Some people have asked me “don’t you get bored of saying the same thing in the tours everytime?” and the answer is no, because the interaction makes it different, thefeedback and the individual interests make a change and the information mightbe basically the same, but again, the interaction does its magic.
For smokers and drinkers, Cuba is like a paradise since here you can smoke and drink almost everywhere. For those who love music and dance, it is the same, in fact, there will be a time in which you’ll long for silence because there is music all around. For coffee lovers and organic food lovers Cuba is awesome too, but vegans and vegetarians might have a hard time finding the proper meal for the Cuban diet is full of meat, we even use sausage and pork to make the beans.
If you like jogging you can choose the sunrise or the sunset when the weather is cooler and do it through El Malecon with the Ocean on one side and the city on the other side, take little breaks seating in the same Malecon surrounded by fishermen, guitar players, people in love, friends laughing, old cars passing by, sellers,tourists, locals, all type of people, and the best thing: it is really safe.You can even walk around after midnight in the Old Havana without fear.
Part of the classic tour is to get an American car, can be a convertible or not(convertibles are more expensive and they don’t have AC) to take the two or three hours ride through El Malecon to Miramar (the old rich neighborhood, well,still nowadays since diplomats and embassies are there), Fusterland, The forest of Havana, the Revolution square (where I explain more about the revolution)Vedado neighborhood and Central Havana, to end up crossing the tunnel of the Bay to see the Statue of Christ, the Fortress and the amazing view of the city from there.
For nightlife there are options that can’t be missed like The Factory of Cuban Art, well, we call it just the Art Factory, if you like Cuban music and Jazz, La Zorra y el Cuervo is the only bar that plays real Cuban Jazz every night from 10 pm to 1or 2am, also the Jazz Café. The gay bars, and if it’s a weekend you’ll have more than 3 options, you can also do some kind of gay hopping since two of them are near each other in the gay friendly neighborhoods and the one with the latest show it is ironically placed in front of the Revolution Square. There are other options like the EFE bar, King Bar, and eventual concerts or activities of last minute, because in Havana somethings can happen just like that, and you can suddenly find a concert or aparty going on anywhere.
I love the Cuban Symphonic Orchestras and try to take the ones who love this type of music to the places where they have concerts, they are old churches with the right magic to season those rhythms…something to see, and also, the artistic quality is really good. The same with the Cuban Ballet. Access to art in Cuba is not expensive and it is so worthy.
We try to have two or three days in Havana, and also save one of them for an Art tour in the museum of Cuban Fine Arts along with visits to private galleries and studios, and also save a piece of day for the gay beach Mi Cayito.
There are places in the country that are so worthy to see, and two of them are Viñales and Trinidad. Viñales it is like one of the most beautiful country sides of Cuba, and even if you are not into cigars that are the main industry of that area will be hard not to fall in love with the sights and the tranquility, the pure air, the food and even the nightlife which is way different than Havana.
Trinidad it is a city that never changed its looks, the colonial architecture it’s original, nothing fake, and the accommodations will be full of the best and more beautiful from the vintage and the best from nowadays for the tropical weather, AC and showers. From Havana it is two hours to get to Viñales and 5 to get to Trinidad. You can do Viñales in one day and go back but Trinidad you have to stay, and it is so worthy.
Of course, these places are touristy, but in Cuba all the best is touristy since not much locals can afford any of these simple pleasures, there are a few places the locals use that tourists find interesting sometimes, but those eventually become touristy too. The good thing is that the locals mingle with the foreign very well and the American influence in the Cuban culture through history until nowadays it is very alive.
Gay life in Cuba it is not something forbidden anymore, and you’ll find amazing how supportive people can be. Most of the more popular restaurants and bars have gay owners ora story related to a gay character or gay waiters, so you don’t have to be in a gay-friendly neighborhood to enjoy, in fact, it is more likely that you’ll have more fun in a mixed place than in a gay bar. Farewells are always hard and the feeling of becoming friends can come so easily in Cuba, maybe it’s the weather that makes us like that, because even the tourists become more friendly, it can be the alcohol with the music and the heat, you don’t know until you know, but there is a magic in the air of this little country that makes people happy, and believe me, you’ll go home or wherever you are going next feeling luckier and better. I partner with Charles Kimball in the USA at www.outincuba.org to make this all happen. If you want to know more from the USA or anywhere please contact Charles Kimball at Outincuba@gmail.com or call him in California at 707.266.8235.