Eat like a local. Cuba

 

Wherever I go, I always eat like local people do. Forget about familiar food and go to explore one of the most important parts of the culture!

Cuban foodie tradition is a mix of traditions of Spanish, African and indigenous people of Cuba (Taino). Sound intriguing and promising a diversity of different tastes, right? Read More

Escape from Havana

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Alarm clock tried wake me up softly but insistently. I had to get ready for the trip to Trinidad, to pack things again and say goodbye to my host Anita.

Suddenly I heard some rustle behind the door. A white sheet of paper appeared on the floor under the door. I waited a bit until person behind the door went away and picked up the sheet. It was written: “4 nights, $ 60. Usually we take $ 80, but Sylvia give you a discount. Leave money and the key on the table when you will leave home. Anita.”

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Havana. Colon Cemetery And Much More

I’m not a type of tourist who does sightseeing every day and plans well his to-do list. I like to see interesting spots but I’m also ok if I spend a day in a country doing nothing, just hanging out with locals, getting lost on the narrow streets, reading book in the park. I love to observe everything around, to catch little differences in culture, to look at people and talk to everyone who open for a chat. I learn a lot this way, maybe more than by visiting museums or running in rush with a guide book. Read More

Central Havana, Scruffy But Lovely

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Central Havana is my favorite part of the city. It is less touristic, little bit dirty but with a real cuban ambiance. Peso-restaurants with super-cheap food, fresh juices for 1 peso on the street, houses with opened doors, children playing football on the streets, people living daily life…

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I like to walk without a goal. I fall in love with Central Havana, scruffy, full of strong mixture of smells of cheap gasoline, rotting trash, pizza’s and sun-heated streets and walls. People smiled and greeted me.

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I went to one of the churches. I was immediately followed by the “guide”, whose services included only the fact that he looked in the same direction as I did and exclaimed “Beautiful, right?”.

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There are two currencies in Cuba – CUC and CUP. The first one was created for tourists, 1 CUC = 1 $ or 25 CUP. In Old Havana all restaurants write prices in CUC. The second currency is CUP, or peso, that what locals use.

In Central Havana (and Old Havana also but you need to spend some time for searching), you can easily find peso restaurants for the locals. There is no special sign on it, but you will see it easily because it always crowded by cubans.
Menu is written on the wall behind.

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In some of them there is no tables and chairs. You order your lunch and sit nearby on the stairs or on the ground. At this fast-food places you can find delicious freshly squeezed mango or guarawa juice for 2-3 peso ( 10-15 cents), pizza or spaghetti with cheese and jamon for 12-17 pesos (less than a dollar). Don’t expect italian pasta here. However it is quite tasty and will fill you up for very cheap.

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For breakfast they make sandwiches with omelet or burger with a cutlet for 5-8 pesos.

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For dinner, you can find a peso restaurant. Usually it’s a room with a fan, and you can eat chicken or beef with rice and black beans, a big burger with a good piece of meat, cheese and salad inside, for garnish – boiled bananas or tamal. This dish will cost you 30-35 pesos, a little more than a dollar.

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Thats all about cuban peso – food. They eat here very simply. I won’t say that cuban cuisine is my favorite, but I really liked tamal, ice cream at Coppelia (everyone knows about it in Havana) and all this fresh juices that we drank like hundred glasses a day. The rest… well, I wasn’t starving, so what can I ask more?)

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I have a tradition to try coffee everywhere I go. I did it also at the peso restaurants, to know, what average people imagine when they talk about coffee. Of course, I could get it for few bucks at the good place but if I decided do everything like locals – well, this rule should works with coffee, too.

The price was about 1-2 pesos. They make this coffee in a large bucket and mix it with sugar. Then they put just a little, in the manner of espresso, on the bottom of the cup. It tastes slightly like Vietnamese cheapest coffee. Cubans are not coffee-lovers. It was fun to try ones but I decided to keep coffee-free diet for a week until I will get to Colombia.

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They grow coffee on the island, on Sierra Maestro region. Most of the coffee going for export. Most popular brand is Serrano and Cubita, but you hardly will find it in the shops (only souvenir places). Locals drink another kind of coffee called Hola or other cheap-cheap stuff. Situation is similar to the tea-kingdoms like Sri Lanka or China where you rarely get good tea because everything is going for export.

Havana. The Friday Feeling.

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Whatever my life is looks like: if I’m working nine-to-five or wasting life in eternal vacation, this cherished word ‘Friday’ always has a special feeling. It’s a party time, time to go crazy, forget about routine and problems until Monday. It’s a time when my mind is spinning in the dance of night lights.

Anita, my host in Havana, left home early in the morning. I had to explore new house by my own. Cuban apartment is very simple, it has only most nesessary things. I took cold shower from the bucket. Bathroom didn’t have a door, so I was just hoping that no one will come home. In some countries like China, most countries in Africa or Cuba people care less about privacy in such special moments. In Beijing we had a toilet with a glass walls in the room, so I had to enjoy some spicy moments of my friend’s life. Maybe it made on purpose to connect people better? In Africa we had a toilet without door on the little hill with a view on the village, probably for the educational purpose, so everyone could learn that all of us, whites and blacks, are equal in that specific situations.

Travel teach us to be creative, to become a better problem-solvers and be able to quickly grab onto a new situation.

After some experiences in my life when I was starving and couldn’t get any food for different reasons (stuck in the wild far from the town while camping, wasn’t aware about working hours of shops and couldn’t get food in the late evening in the little village or came to the country on specific holidays… I often get in food-trouble), I made a strict rule for myself: always have emergency pack of food in my backpack that easy to cook.

I decided to cook breakfast at home. Yesterday I was so busy and excited about my first day in a new country that I forgot to eat – this kind of things happens to me often.

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I needed simplest element for my breakfast – Hot Water.
I did not find a microwave or kettle, pan or other water tank in the kitchen. After a long search I found a coffee pot for espresso and in its metal bottom I had boiled water about ten times for cereals and tea . It wasn’t that easy to make a fire work because a gas ballon was hidden in another room. There was no salt or sugar in the kitchen.
It wasn’t tasty but it still was a breakfast.
Okay, I had to lose extra kilos that I got on my yummy-foodie trip to Europe last month. As far as I’m not starving, I’m fine.

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After breakfast I went to the city. I like to walk alone, smile at people, take pictures slowly, taking my time to find a nice angle or funny situations on the street, wander aimlessly through the narrow streets without a map and admire all around.

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Every morning I came to the Malecone. It was my little Havana’s ritual to start a day. I sat on the embankment near the fortress, looked at Havana’s wonderful city landscape, breathe its noise, vibrations, heated air.

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Cubans didn’t give me any second to rest. They came to me to sing a song, to sell a coconut or to ask me for a walk. For many Cubans this is kind of business. They chat with tourists, offer to show them the city, and unobtrusively, but skillfully force to pay for their new cuban friend. First pizza for a couple of cents, then one or two extra beers will appear in your bill.
If you ignore the mercantile side of it, then all Cubans, and such “businessmen”, and ordinary people on the streets, are extremely sweet, positive and it is pleasant to talk to them.

I sat on the embankment, watching waves breaking on the shore, and the toothless old Cuban screamed to me “Besame mucho,” pulling strings on his old guitar.

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I walked along the promenade to old part of Havana, Havana Vieja. It welcomed me with heat and bustle. The sun was exhausting, and the Old Havana flashed through a series of impressions of that day imperceptibly. Such touristic districts with beautiful terraces in the shade and souvenir shops on every corner I saw quite a lot. I even more liked my ugly neighborhood, where I settled by chance. In the day’s light it turned out to be ordinary residential quarters, not that beautiful aesthetically, but with a real Cuban spirit. I’m more interested to see daily life of locals than tourists attractions.

Nevertheless, I must admit that old Havana is very picturesque and pleasant.

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I had no choice but to fall at one of the tables of those expensive bars and order an ice-cold beer. I honestly looked for an icy water, but bottle of cold water in Cuba costs more than beer.
Beer and shadow refreshed me. I decided to wait until evening in this little restaurant, slowly sipping a drink and write down thoughts and ideas for my blog.
However, I didn’t stay alone for a long.

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At first spanish guy Juan came to my table, treated me with another beer and left quickly. I liked it. Then the cuban man came to me and asked me to buy beer for him. This option I liked less, so he also left soon. But then he came back with the beer that he got from more generous tourists and stayed with me for a chat. His ‘work’ is to hang out near Malecone and restaurants, talk to tourists nicely and get some treats from them. He showed me all their gang, told me about their tricks. It was very interesting, because these methods were supposed to be used on me. I like to learn about people’s mind, how some tricky methods working and why.

I liked to talk to cuban people. Firstly, I practiced Spanish, so I was very glad to have any conversation at any time. Secondly, they are nice and open to talk even if I didn’t give them money. They didn’t insist on it like in some other countries and didn’t make drama if I reject their offerst to be my guide or a boyfriend.

But this guy still wanted a free beer, so he left again and returned soon with a Mexican guy in a sombrero. They stayed for a while.
It was my first long chat in spanish and it was great. I felt free, expressed my ideas almost without misunderstanding. I was happy. The reason for the joy was my unexpected success in a foreign language that I already almost forgot and refreshing beers.

However, my new mexican friend was perfectly aware of what his Cuban friend really wanted from him and did not want to continue the evening in his company. We decided to escape. We promised to go together to the disco at night, exchanged numbers and ran away to the Malecon where we stopped for another beer.

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Malecone on Friday night is special. Lots of people sit along the sea side, drink, dance salsa on the street, listen music and later go to one of those discos near by. I love cities with a good night life. It’s a key to my heart, something that make me feel home and fall in love with a new place. It can be crazy beautiful place, peaceful, lovely, but if in the night it doesn’t bring people together, it would never have a special place in my memories.

It was a nice night. Beers, yummy lobsters (cuban speciality), some discos, nice talks – you know that friday feeling.

The Mexican left home the next day. Again “see you soon again”, exchange of contacts. Maybe one day somewhere on the pages of my blog you will see again “My mexican friend I met in Havana”. That’s my life. My friends are literally spread everywhere in the world. I live with them amazing moments of traveling, knowing that I will have to say goodbye sooner or later.

Havana, Cuba. First day of my world travel

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Sometimes I look at the person and feel that he will cause my adventures.

Flight Moscow-Havana filled with cubans. I clapped my eyes on a guy with a funny hair for some reason. I looked out for people to talk to and solve a problem that was disturbing me for many hours – how to get from Havana airport to the city without paying 20$ for the cab.
I like to find a stupid reason to worry about. I guess, in these worries I was nervous for the whole trip in general. The first travel around the world, alone, even with a huge travel experience, is very exciting. More freedom, more responsibility for myself, improvisation every day, every minute, necessity to speak Spanish which I already forgot…

Standing by the baggage claim in Havana, I met a Russian guy and a Bulgarian living in Cuba, one who rushed into my eyes on the plane. They were friendly, and I shared taxi with them. Since that time we were always together until I left the country.

Improvisation began. It’s when all plans crash, situation gets out of control and I rely on other people and the chance just to bring a little chaos into my life. I love when things happen unexpectedly, love to plunge into the whirlpool of events and go with the flow.

 

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I tried to refute the legend that couchsurfing in Cuba doesn’t exist.
I checked more than six hundred profiles of hosts, 590 of which offered rooms for rent, 5 were men who offered naked massage and 4 did not respond. I did my best but accomondation still wasn’t found. I wanted to experience cuban life from inside, not like a tourist and really wanted to find a host or any project with locals.

It is difficult to travel on budget in Cuba. Especially because I plan to travel for some years and for that reason my budget is extremely low. Platforms like couchsurfing and workaway not popular here, hostels on the whole island can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and even an idea of ​​allowing tourists to save money does not get along in the cuban mind.

The answer from the host came in May. Silvia, a 60-years old afrocuban woman, approved my request and offered me to stay with her daughter, Anita. I carefully read her profile again to make sure it’s not an another crap with rented appartment. All reviews about that host were so nice that it gave me a hope that couchsurfing on Cuba is not completely dead.

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Despite the fact that I had to get home first as every normal person will do, me and my new friends decided to go to the beach. We left things at Bulgarian guy’s place, in the district looked like a ghetto, and we went to the city’s muddy beach. I had pictured in my imagination a slightly different scenery when I thought about “beaches in Cuba”, but on that hot and sweaty day that beach was perceived as a revelation from above.

Suddenly the sky, that spewed out the burning sun all day, became murky. A tropical downpour began unexpectedly, blurring boundary between sea, send and sky. I could see only a wall of water. Only we could do is laugh and wipe our eyes every second to be able to see at least each other.

I’m in Cuba, swimming under a tropical downpour, with people I’ve known for a couple of hours, and I do not care that I still don’t have a place to stay. This moment when the large drops crashed down on sea and skin will be one of the greatest memories of this journey.

We ran home, although there was no longer any need to run. All our clothes got completely soaked. The roads turned into the rivers. Waves poured inside the bus. It seemed like an apocalypse, but everyone laughed and joked about it.

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Despite the weather I had to go to search for my host’s place. She didn’t give me a direction by public transport, only the adress and advise to take a taxi. I had to figure out a way by myself. From one ghetto on several buses I moved to another. I had only an address, not the most accurate one as I realized later, and I had to ask hundreds of people to find the place. They helped me a lot and finally directed me to the ugly 12-floor building. Through the yellowish-greenish bad-smelling water, swearing in russian and hoping that at least my laptop will survive under the heavy rain, I reached a place. I got lost in the maze of dorm rooms but eventually found an apartment B10.

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Nobody expected me in that apartment. I tried to explain in poor spanish “Anita-Silvia-couchsurfing-I’m your guest-hello-do you know me,” but the man in his underwear just looked at me weirdly, shook his head and sent me to another building.

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At the second place woman recognized me. She gave me a separate room, we talked for a while as it was possible with my knowledge of spanish. Life was getting better.

After this crazy day I wanted to relax. It was a bit late and still rainy but me and my new friend decided to go to the center, take a walk around, drink mojito or two. Spending first evening in the ghetto was not an attractive idea. Moreover, my host didn’t seem very interested in talking or sharing some time together. Probably she was tired.

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Central Havana was deadly empty. Our bus stopped near the Capitolio, the main traffic hub and center of the city. We walked around trying to find a cool bar. On the 20th round we got tired. I wanted mojito, but all the restaurants in that area were too expensive. I remembered about Malecon, the night heart of Havana, the legendary place where people drink and dance.

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We went there but the rain washed away all the fun.
In the meantime, another problem has fallen on us. Bulgarian guy did not answer our calls. My friend didn’t have place to stay and he left all his stuff including money and passport at the place of that men. We started to be nervous. It was so stupid to lose money and documents on the first day in Cuba – not the best way to start a holiday. We called and called again, picturing in our minds criminal stories from cuban ghetto’s life, but in a couple of hours the guy picked up the phone.

Relieved, we decided to celebrate it at the bar on Malecon. We took a couple of mojito and cuba libre, chatted about everything and … realized that it was already midnight. We still needed to return to our ghettos. What made situation worst is that our homes were on opposite sides of the city.

We had to take a taxi – the first day in a new country is always quite expensive. We were singing ‘Despacito’ in one of this beautiful old cars and life was beautiful. The adventures of my friend did not end there, he didn’t find a guy, his phone died and he had to find another place to stay in the deep night. Fortunately I left him 50$ just in case so he survived that night. But this is not my story. When it was happening I was already sleeping in my lovely cuban bed.

“I will not leave you alone” – such simple but important words when you’re in trouble. Maybe the problem is not as big as big your fear of needs to solve it alone. When people are together, all the shit turn out to be fun and we take it easier.

Turku on a bike

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It was my second day in Turku and last one of all Finland’s trip.

“Coffee and shower – the best way to start a day” – smiling, said my friend. Smell of  fresh-made coffee spead over the room. I sat on the mattress, inhaling coffee aromas and watching birds bustling near the window.

There are a lot of birds in Turku in the heart of the city. Instead of roars of cars and other city noise I surprisingly heard plenty of different bird’s songs. I have never seen so many birds in the big cities. Ecology here is pretty good.

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Day was sunny, so we returned to the library to rent a free bicycle. During 2 months I unsuccessfully tried to find a company for cycling trip to the Turku archipelago, but no one supported my idea. When I came and saw the weather here at the end of April, I understood why. Nevertheless, it was very desirable for me to ride a bicycle even for a one day in the city. Finland for me is a country of bicycles and it was my little must-do here.

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Turku is a Finland’s oldest port city. Here was a trading post since an Iron age. For the centuries Turku was a Finland’s gate away to the Baltic sea. River Aura crosses the city, along its bank everyone bikes and drinks in the summer. On the boats moored in the port you can find dozens of restaurants, bars and even a karaoke kebab. They are quite overpricy but nice.

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We biked to the Abo Castle, which was built by the Swedish king in the 13th century, at the time, when these lands belonged to Sweden. Name ‘Abo’ it get from the Swedish name of city of Turku – Abo.

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Turku is a small city. We biked around all the center in a few hours and decided to explore its outskirts. We went to the local cave, located among the huge boulders in the forest. The place called Luolavuoren luola.

I love such mystical landscapes with stones covered with moss, when only a creak of trees breaks the silence.

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At this weekend we explored almost the entire city, although we were not in a rush. Turku gave me the impression of a calm and quiet city, green and clean. Of all the Finland’s cities I’ve been to Turku is my favorite.

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Evening we spent doing typical finnish “kalsarikanni”, that means “drinking at home in the underwear”. Yeah, they have a special word for this! We drank gin and watched travel program called Madventures. It is quite old, but, in my opinion, these guys are the most desperate of all I’ve seen before.  They have a the real spirit of the traveler!

The next morning was the Most Early Morning In The World. We got up at 4 a.m to catch a bus to Tampere. I had to say goodbye in front of very first Hesburger in the world. As usual, sincerely and with an endless desire that the said words will come true one day, I had to say classic ‘See you soon again’.

I met a lot of good persons on that short one-month trip to Finland. As someone travel to see beautiful buildings, monuments, museums, landscapes, food, as I’m searching for the beautiful people. Again and again peer into their eyes, smile, learn from them a simple wisdom of life, discover the world in a new colors. The eyes of kind people and the smiles of the happy ones are just as beautiful as the most magical sunsets and the silent outlines of the mountains. This world is infinitely wonderful.

And now it’s time to leave again.