Cuba Part 2: Nee-haaay-ria!
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE LACK OF SNAPCHAT.
I confess, one of my favorite things about staying in a hotel was it included very limited, pretty expensive, BUT nonetheless existent Wi-Fi!
Pardon my excitement,
but Wi-Fi in Havana is comparable to
tomatoes in Lagos right now –
So you’ve got to get it whenever you can.
They have only a couple of areas designated for Wi-Fi use in the entire city so if you’re walking around and see a sea of youngins all crowded around on their cell phones? Wi-fi spot!
Think of it as a social media party. Facebook and Instagram are the cool ones hosting the event. And needless to say, Snapchat is the needy friend that isn’t even invited. Awkward.
Yeah, Snapchat is not yet allowed in Cuba. I’m sure this will change soon enough, but till then - Instagram stories?!
We initially wanted to stay in an AirBnb (or a Casa Particular as they call it) to get a more local Cuban experience. But as we planned the trip so close to our arrival, our options for those were pretty slim. Melia Habana hotel ended up being fantastic for us though. Apart from Wi-Fi, it came with access to lots of amenities and numerous opportunities to meet fellow travelers while lounging in a pool and simultaneously sipping on a mojito. Yeah, Melia Habana was it.
$$$ - In regards to currency exchange, we brought cash. This was easy to convert at the hotels concierge, but be warned:
ATM machines do NOT work with foreign cards… like, at all.
And you also can’t swipe your debit/credit card to pay for things. So whatever currency you bring with you to Havana, that is literally all you have to spend during your time there.
Good thing we had decided to ball on a budget, right?! –
Cause that was now our only option.
Viva La Revolucion
The first half of the trip was spent doing mostly “touristy” activities. We visited quite a few museums and plazas and learnt so much about Cuba (and why they
have had a huge problem with the United States). It was really thought provoking to get a different perspective on the vendetta. If you’re interested in their side of the story, look it up! It’s definitely worth a google.
To be honest though, the entire city is like a museum.
Although deteriorating, it boasts stunning architecture from different periods, most notably Art Nouveau, Beaux Arts and Art Deco, as well as almost every other Western architectural style including the French and Spanish Renaissance. The design of each building is impressive, but looking at groups of these buildings together? Beyond magnificent! It really does feel like you were transported to a different time period.
I admit, I’m also quite obsessed with doors, entryways and intricate architectural details and Havana met and surpassed my expectations. Gorgeous, colorful doors and details at practically every corner! It was phenomenal to witness.
Our interactions with locals were probably THE best parts of the trip.
We quickly found out that Cubans are probably one of the happiest people on earth. Every one we met on the streets of Old Havana was singing, dancing or both. So we joined them.
Music is undeniably a huge part of Cuban culture - In the streets, markets, and restaurants… everywhere. You can always hear music. I mean even the bicycle-taxis have speakers! Can you imagine? And if they didn’t have, the drivers would play music on their phones and sing along as they drive. It was really quite hilarious.
Most people we interacted with did not speak English, but were very patient and happy to talk with us. Between the three of us our Spanish was probably at the level of a 5 year old. But whenever we were in doubt, we spoke French and pieced the rest together. And it worked! – about 48% of the time.
Initially we would tell people that we came from our respective cities, NY, DC and Dubai, but quickly realized Nigeria (Pronounced Nee-haaay-ria!) is were it’s at.
From then on anytime someone asked,
“Where you ladies are from?”
We would scream in unison, "Neehaaaaaayria!"
and our new buddies would get so excited and proceed to show us to the
next restaurant or salsa location.
We met a few Afro Cubanos who believed they originally came from Yoruba land in Nigeria so every now and then we would exchange a few words in Yoruba to keep things interesting. Even though I'm not Yoruba, cheers to Mr. Adeolu Ademoyo, my Yoruba Professor at Cornell – some of his lectures actually retained! Ese, Ojogbon.
The second half of the trip had a turn of events… We were faced with seemingly annoying incidents that could have a way of dampening moods. Check out my next post to hear about how we tackled them. – Cuba Part 3 – Good Vibes only.