Cuba | Backpacking around the World

Museum de la Revolution, Flight back to Austria

Our last assignment in Cuba was initially planned for our very first day in Cuba – the “Museum de la Revolution”, a place for Cuban history – and a little Cuban propaganda. It used to be the Presidential Palace until Fulgencio Batista decided to flee the country on the first of January in the year of 1959. Fortunately the information’s are bilingual and some interesting pictures and films are on display. Most interestingly for me, behind the building the “Granma”, the yacht which took Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba found its last haven.

After a final lunch at the Prado, we took a taxi back to the airport to smoke a our last Cuban Cigar – Fidel Castro’s favorite Cohiba Lancero and enjoy a bottle of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años.

Viva la Revolution!

Las Terrazas – Havana, Museum of Tobacco

A Dutch couple was kind enough to offer us a ride back to Havana via the Cuban “Highway” – the Autopista Nacional (A4) which runs from Pinar del Rio to Havana. The so called highway is really unique, as you can expect any kind of vehicle on the road – starting with bicycles, horse drawn carriages to brand new German cars.

We where dropped of a little outside of Havana and got into the city by taking a ride on truck turned public bus. A unique but dreadful experience as it takes ages to get into town and the truck is crowded with people.

After checking in at the hotel “Inglaterra”, which was inaugurated in 1875, and is currently one of the oldest in town, it was time to visit one of the best places for Cigars – the Partagas Tobacco Company, right next to the Capitolio. We had previously bought some cigars at the factory store and smoked them in the park right next to the Capitolio. This time we joined the factory-tour, which started on the lower floor where students learn cigar production and continued upstairs, where workers produce the world finest cigars. It’s not just a myth that tobacco factory’s have a reader who is employed to entertain the workers. Usually they read out the newspaper, but as most of the factory workers are female, they also offer romance from time to time. According to the guide, the Montecristo cigar brand got its name from the novel that was read to the workers.

Unfortunately filming and taking pictures was forbidden, but we discovered a flourishing black market inside the building as a lot of workers made inviting gestures and offered cigars “under the table”.

We spent the rest of the day walking around old Havana for the very last time, visiting “El Floridita” for a fine but overpriced Daiquiri and the La Bodeguita del Medio for a obligatory Mojito to pay tribute to Ernest Hemmingway who had smashed himself quiet often at those now tourist hangouts. Shame on me for never reading any of his books…

At night we met up with Merete again for dinner and a late night guard show at the El Morro Castle

Pinar del Rio to Las Terrassas

Las Terrazas , a small village in the Sierra del Rosario Biosphere Reserve was our last “new discovery” before returning to Havana. After we checked into the Hotel Mokka – a fancy 4 star hotel (we decided to treat ourselves a little bit on the last days) we went to the “Banjos”, natural sweet water pools, about 45 minutes to walk from the center of the village. Unfortunately it was very crowded and the locals obviously had never heard of the concept of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Rubbish (beer cans, rum bottles etc.) was all over the place and floating around in the river. A real pity to see such a wonderful place being treated like a giant dumpster. But a little further down the river, away from the crowds, the pools offered a fresh relief after the long walk in the hot and humid weather.

At night we ate at the El Romero eco-restaurant, one of the best meals we had in Cuba during our entire trip.

Maria la Gorda to Pinar del Rio

After some sun bathing and a final swim in the Caribbean sea time had come to go to Pinar del Rio, one of the larger cities in Cuba with about 150.000 inhabitants. It was Saturday night and the center was filled with young people and we had fun talking about Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley with the local youth.

Maria la Gorda

Maria la Gorda is about 306 kilometers south west of Havana. The name refers to a Venezuelan beauty who was marooned here by pirates. Unfortunately, at the time we got there, no single Venezuelan beauty (or single girls from other nations) where there at all. Especially our first night would have been perfect for a big party with some single (preferable Scandinavian) girls as we had a large lodge with three big bed’s and a spacious bathroom.

The resort turned out perfect to relax for a couple of days, go for long walks, do some snorkeling or– in the case of Severin – join a tour to explore the underwater world off the coast. The underwater flora and fauna was (according to Severin) really impressive, but unfortunately the quality of the diving equipment wasn’t.

The property was fenced of left and right, but we managed bypass the barbwire and set up a bonfire for a little beach party with a Norwegian couple on our last night in this peaceful paradise.

Vinales Valley

May 6, 2007, Havana to Vinales by bus
After a supreme Mojito on the rooftop of a very fancy and expensive hotel we once again boarded one of the comfortable Tourist busses (Tourists are not allowed on local busses and vice versa) and headed towards Vinales in the Pinar del Rio Province, famous for its tobacco farms and magnificent landscape.

Severin’s sister had been to Cuba just a few months earlier. She got to know a very nice farmer family during her stay there and had given me a few presents for them (some chocolate, shoes for the boy and toothpaste for grandma). So upon our arrival we started to search for the family, which took quite a while as they literally lived off the beat track.

The entire family was indeed extreme friendly and open towards us. Offering fresh tasty coffee and hand rolled cigars (which were really strong).

May 9th, 2007, Viñales Valley
The Viñales Valley is yet another Unesco world heritage. We spent most of the second day exploring the area and hiking around. In the late afternoon we visited the farmer family once again to get some coffee roasted on open fire and smoke a few more cigars.

A little outside of Vinales are the caves of Santo Thomas which we had picked as our main event for our third day. The guided tour took about 2 hours and after that we hiked up one of the surrounding mountains to get a better view of the valley. By sheer luck we bumped into a guy who offered us a pack of excellent cigars for a very reasonable price. Usually we declined offers to buy illegal cigars because of the poor quality, but these cigars where in perfect condition and must have been straight out of a factory.

On our last day in Vinales we decided to explore the valley on the back of a horse. My horse went by the name of Palomo and was easy going, Sev’s horse on the other hand was a fiery black stallion called Negro. A funny incident was a short break at the very interesting holiday camp called “Dos hermanos”. “Dos Hermanos” means “two brothers” in Spanish and in the case of the holiday camp refers to two giant rocks (Mogotes called in Vinales)that are left and right of the camp. The real fun part was that the camp by name “two brothers” was full with Homosexuals from Havana on a holiday break. We bumped into larger groups of Homosexual men in Cuba twice, and every time it was hilarious how stereotypical they acted – female-like tone, even lipstick and makeup, pink belly free T-shirts.

Trinidad, Playa ancón

May 3, Santa Clara to Trinidad by bus
Before we left Santa Clare to go to Trinidad we went to the place where Che and his comrades derailed a train which ultimately led to the victory of the Revolutionaries.

Trinidad offers fantastic Spanish colonial architecture and was rightfully declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The cobblestone streets can be a bit hard to walk on, but we got used to it after some time. As we were exhausted after the past few days of hectic travelling we decided to take it easy, enjoyed a lovely sunset above Trinidad and spent the evening smoking cigars and drinking.

4th of Mai, Trinidad, Beach day!
After all the sightseeing we decided it was time for another day on the beach. We rented two bikes and went to playa ancón which is about 45 minutes away from Trinidad. Unfortunately, on our way back to Trinidad it started to rain heavily and when we took shelter at a bus station outside a little village we “donated” our soaking wet T-shirts to a local when we took them off. First he arranged his bike so he could jump on it easily and then he grabbed our T-Shirts and took off. Luckily we did not leave our backpacks unattended! But we did curse the local and vowed to come back in a couple of years and burn down his entire village. As the name of the village was “La Boca” we would randomly shout out “Burn la Boca, Burn!” if something went wrong for the rest of the trip.

May 5, Travelling from Trinidad to Havana
To get back to the Havana we decided to try a different type of transportation and shared a taxi with two English girls. To be honest, it was a bit tight to sit in a Peugeot 303 with three other tourists and the driver for a couple of hours without air condition, but as it was only half price compared to the bus, it was worth it. Unfortunately I forgot my hat, which I had bought in Australia in 2001 and which had travelled with me on many adventures on the cab.

Back in Havana we went down to the Malecon once again and walked to the Hotel Nacional for a late night “Club Sandwich” I had been dreaming of for a while. Hotel Nacional is an impressive building from the early 20th century, which has seen such famous people as , Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and Ernest Hemingway and the equally famous but less likable Al Capone.

Santa Clara, visiting Che

Santa Clara and the infamous “Mausoleo Che” could be compared to what the St. Peter Basilica in Rome is for the Catholics and Mecca is for Muslims: A sacred place for Socialists. We spent our first day in Santa Clara walking to the mausoleum, about 20 minutes outside town, which is guarded by armed soldiers 24 hours a day. Beside the impressive statue and the remains of Che and his comrades, there is also a very interesting museum with a lot of great pictures (yes, there a lot more than just one!) and items such as his inhalator and weapons. The museum offers a very personal and intimate insight on Che and his time in Cuba. Among my personal favorites was a picture of a very surprised looking Che whith his mouth wide open while eating a sandwich. Another great one of him was taking up in the mountains of Sierra Maestra when one of his comrads was pulling a bad tooth out of Che’s mouth.

May 3, 2007, Santa Clara to Trinidad,
Before we left Santa Clare to go to Trinidad we went to the place where Che and his comrades derailed a train which ultimately led to the victory of the Revolutionaries. Feels great to experience the place first hand where such an important event took place.

Trinidad offers fantastic Spanish colonial architecture and was rightfully declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. The cobblestone streets can be a bit hard to walk on, but we got used to it after some time. As we were exhausted after the past few days of hectic travelling we decided to take it easy, enjoyed a lovely sunset above Trinidad and spent the evening smoking cigars and drinking.

Camagüey, Viva la Revolution…

Camagüey, the third largest city of Cuba is one giant labyrinth, so it’s best to try and avoid to get lost in the city. We got there on a very important national Holiday. 1st of May is, just like in almost every other country on this planet the International Workers’ Day (Labor day). But in Cuba it’s a little bit bigger than in most of the other nations, one giant celebration for the Cuban revolution, its heroes (Fidel and his entourage) and Socialism. Some might just call it shameless propaganda…

The celebrations took place around the Plaza of the Revolution. Cuban Flags everywhere, people singing “The Internationale”, fiery speeches and – most of the people apathetically marching along to the exclamatory chanting of the presenters on the stage in front of the monument

”Viva Videl” – Viva Raul, Viva la revolution etc. !

After the celebrations where over, all the people disappeared quickly and we were all by ourselves on the giant square . Camagüey also offers a Zoo, but most of its inhabitants (even tigers!) are in a very poor condition paying the entrance fee means you keep those poor animals trapped in their misery.


Bayamo is a city that most people pass through on their way from Santiago to Santa Clara. Luckily for us, most of the tourists skip that city and it has remained an almost untouched gem. Horse drawn carriages and no beggars and tricksters roaming the streets. We got lost once in the city and asked a guy for directions, he instead offerd us to walk there. He even invited us to have some coffee. The reason to be so kind was not so that we give him some tourist money , but to improve his English and because he was interrested in forreign cultures.

So, if you ever get to the city I strongly recommend it – unfortunately our tight schedule did not permit staying longer in this lovely place and we once again boarded a bus for our next destination, this time in the later afternoon.