our mantra on this trip: live your best life
took this trip to recharge after a stressful & emotional school year – i got way more than what i bargained for.
I arrived at José Martí International Airport around 12 PM, one hour earlier than expected. Surrounded by familiar palm trees, I felt a sense of “home”…until I arrived at immigration and all I heard was Spanish. The immigration officer shouted “LATINO!!!” at me when he saw me & he was confused when I told him no. After I passed immigration, I got my suitcase and then had to wait an hour or so for my cousin’s flight. I finally saw her, we waited another hour to get her bags, and then searched for the money exchange. We exited the airport and quickly found a man holding my name on a sign: Kaiomi Innies. I laughed & chatted with him in Spanish. I already felt the warmth of Cuba with that first conversation.
After we exchanged our money, we made our way to Centro Habana. We got to our casa particulares on Corrales and met our Cuban family. Magela and Yuri and their two kids greeted us and gave us advice. We quickly put our bags down and headed out to wander the streets of Habana.
The familiar hot sun blazed down, Cuban children gathered on the street, a few tourists with maps caught my eye and we did the tourist nod of acknowledgement that seems to occur in Habana. I began to notice cultural differences between Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago. The women wear shorter clothes in the street and it’s normal in Cuba, but in T&T women are told to cover up more, so I found this quite interesting.
After, we reached a park where I was immediately bombarded by jiniteras. These women fooled me into thinking they were interested in where I was from, etc., but they just wanted my CUC (tourist money). First lesson learned.
More Cubans shouted, “turista!”, “americanos!” and “nueva york!” at us when we walked further. When I told them that I was from Trinidad y Tobago, they seemed to be happier and said that we’re “Caribe neighbours!”.
Seeing the 1950’s style cars made me feel as though I was transported back in time.
The first restaurant we ate at was terrible “Spaghetti y Noodles”. We were hungry and just entered a random restaurant. Second lesson learned. After this terrible meal, we walked back to the casa and went straight to sleep.
I woke up that morning feeling revived and ready. Creds to Steve Madden for our comfy shoes. Breakfast at our casa was a plate of fruits – banana, pineapple, guava, mango, and paw-paw; freshly blended mango juice, bread & fried eggs, toast & honey, and Cuban coffee. Breakfast was done by a lovely lady who I called “mama” because she reminded me of an aunty. She was shocked when I did not want any meat.
After breakfast, we headed to the Museo de la Revolución but on our way there we were persuaded by Fernando, a man with a horse-carriage, to take his tour around Habana for 30 CUC. At first, I was dismissive of him but he was such a sweet guy. I was incredibly happy that we took the tour because we found so many things that we probably wouldn’t have on our own, and it gave us a sense of direction for our own explorations.
We arrived at the Museo del Ron which has an on-site bar and ron y tobaco shop. We ordered 2 mojitos and enjoyed the live music.
The live band played familiar Spanish language songs like Bailando, and I couldn’t help but get up and dance with them. My heart was filled with so much love & light in this moment.
After this, we went to various markets. I bought a Havana Club T-shirt. We talked to local artists. And after, our tour was over we stopped off at another casa for a local Cuban lunch (hoping it would be better than our spaghetti y noodles experience). I am happy to say it was 100x better. We also met an older couple from France at the casa. After dinner, we walked back through Centro Habana to walk off the fullness in our bellies. We arrived at the casa and slept through til the next day. I felt a tinge of sadness throughout the night because I forgot my T-shirt at the other casa. Overall, the day was filled with so much happiness, dancing, and “I love you!” from Cuban men.
Another day, another amazing 5CUC breakfast, except this day we had breakfast with two backpackers from Mexico. We spoke to them about their travels and our wish to visit Tulum. They left for Viñales for a climbing trip but left us with some spicy Mexican candies.
After breakfast, we took some photos on the balcony & decided that we would get to the Museo de la Revolución this time for sure.
We made our way through Centro Habana and towards Habana Vieja to get to the museum. However, we got sidetracked yet again by a double-decker bus tour for 10CUC that makes multiple stops throughout the day. We decided to do this and head to the Plaza de la Revolución first instead. The bus tour gave us some great views of Habana streets.
We arrived at the Plaza de Revolución and were overwhelmed with the amount of history available to take in; the Che mural, José Martí statue, the library – it was a lot. I am intrigued by Revolutionary history so this was great. I was hoping to see more women figures represented.
After this, we hopped back on the bus, stayed on for an hour taking in the scenery & then dropped off at our original destination – the Museo de la Revolución. The museum really taught me a lot & there was a room dedicated to the women who fought in the revolution. There was also a room showing how Castro’s government was pro-black, sending troops to Angola and Namibia, among other African countries to help them resist capitalist & anti-black regimes. The museum also provided some great views of the architecture.
After the musuem, we headed across the street to ChaChaCha – a restaurant that Magela personally recommended. I ordered a mango daiquiri and Xochete ordered her usual mojito. Lunch here was great and very top-notch.
After lunch, we sat around for a while talking about our future, as we have done since we were children. Discussing future travel destinations, our immense love for Cuba, the revolutionary history, etc. We decided to walk back to try to find where I left my shirt, and all of a sudden Xochete found a familiar face! It was her friend Kande from secondary school back in Couva, T&T. We stopped in the street & talked to her for a while & she invited us to come out for drinks with her later that night. Which we did. We met up with her and her British friend, along with two local Cubans. They took us to Cafe O’Reilly for tapas, drinks and a good ol’ time.
After the tapas and strong mojitos, we headed in a colectivo and towards a nightclub called “La Gruta”. This is where the locals head to on Friday nights. We entered the club was that blazing with Reggaeton and packed with Cubans dressed their best. I ordered a mojito and immediately joined in on the dancing.
Cuban men are not hesitant to ask you to salsa & I’m not one to pass up the opportunity. We danced with strangers. We laughed. We hugged. We sang. It was amazing.
We headed back home sweaty & free.
It was Saturday, the day after our night of dancing and laughter. We woke up late, had our breakfast and decided to find a salsa class – to no avail. We ended up just walking on the Malecon and going for drinks. We got tipsy so we decided to walk it off. We ended up again at ChaChaCha – I accidentally ate meat, but I tried to ignore it (lol). We ordered mojitos con frutas. Sat and talked about what our next move would be.
We decided to just walk and admire the architecture in Habana, before going home for a a siesta.
After our day of aimless, but seemingly purposeful walking, we decided to let the night take us where it wanted to. We made our way to Plaza Vieja, went to the Museo de Chocolate that was way too crowded because of mother’s day. On our way out of the crowd, I was serenedad by a Cuban man whose lyrics translated to, “I want to kiss a Trinidadian girl”. I gave him 1 CUC.
After we found a tapas place and bar called Cafe Bohemia.We sat, drank, and took in the movement of people as the sunset. While sitting outside on the plaza, we saw two Cuban guys taking pictures and were admiring how one of them was directing the poses. We laughed. Eventually one of them asked to take a picture of him and his cousin so I did. We got to talking (only one spoke English). The one who did not know English was quiet so I struck up a conversation with him in Spanish. They asked us if we wanted to go somewhere and at first, I was weary, but then I remembered – wherever the night takes us.
Emanuel, the one who does not speak English, and I had a loooong convo about life and realized we were the same age and liked similar things – photography, Maluma, modelling, etc (haha). We ended up at Hotel Inglaterra where there was rooftop bar with salsa. Emanuel tried to show me how to salsa, but I’m terrible so it didn’t work. At the end of the night, we exchanged Facebook names & made plans to meet up the day after.
Even with a language barrier – I am not fluent in Spanish & he knows little to no English – our conversation was amazing and I felt like we were friends our entire lives.
I woke up this day knowing that it was our last full day. Sadness crept over me, however, after breakfast and hugging mama for mother’s day, I regained my happiness. We walked over to Callejon de Hamel – an Afro-Cuban community centre that has live music every Sunday inspired by Yoruba traditions.
We met up with Emanuel & his friend that we met yesterday there. The music was great – the beats of the drums reminded me of home. After the music was over, we wandered into some of the art shops.
We headed towards Vedado, stopped at Coppelia’s ice-cream and waited til the rain finished falling to continue. Emanuel went through my pictures and he saw one of New York and said “OMG New York!” and asked me to send him more pictures of New York when I got back. I told him one day he could visit me in NYC. Xochete and I left Emanuel and his cousin, to go get ready for our last night.
On our last night, we stopped at a cigar bar, where I had too many mojitos. Emanuel told us he has a surprise for us, so we followed him. We ended up on a newly constructed boardwalk out on the ocean. It was beautiful. At the end of the night, they walked us back home & ordered our taxis to the airport for us.
The day I left:
Xochete left before me so we had two separate taxis. I said goodbye to her. Then soon after, bye to mama and the rest of my casa family. I wrote them a note in Spanish and watched their faces light up whilst reading it. Emanuel accompanied me to the airport (so nice of him) and I said good-bye to my new favourite place in the world.
My time in Cuba was incredibly short and if it were possible I would have gone for at LEAST two weeks. I needed this trip so badly. My heart is full and I feel revived and recharged. I cannot wait to return. Cuba, te amo.