Okay, I have a little confession to make.   I took some artistic liberty at the end of last night’s blog.   I actually typed it all while in the hotel lobby and just predicted I would hang out along the Malecon later and people watch.

The truth is, I never hung out there last night.

I know, I know, shame on me sprinkling in some fiction into this blog!

I mean, I anticipated hanging out there people watching.

Problem was, it was windy enough where there were waves actually crashing over the seawall onto the sidewalk where people normally congregate.

I mean, it’s kinda hard to people watch when there aren’t any people…

As for the real end of the night last night, it was something way less exciting.

I got back to my casa after dinner and spent the rest of the night catching up on some TV shows I had missed the last couple weeks.

Before I knew it, the night had passed by and it was midnight and time for bed.

Figuring out my pesos

So, as I wrote about a couple of days ago, I’ve started to keep a pretty close eye on the money I’m spending and making sure I had enough to see me through to the end of my trip here in Cuba.

For the record, I hate traveling like this.

I don’t want to nickel and dime and worry about whether I can afford this or that.

On other trips I haven’t really had that situation.

If I run out of money, there’s always an ATM down the street to give me some more.

Cuba, though, is very different.   It’s hard to get more money here and, when you do, you pay a ridiculously high fee since the official conversion rate you get is less than half what you would get exchanging on the street.

Also, you don’t want to end up with too many pesos at the end of your trip because you can’t exchange them back to dollars to take home.

So, a few days ago, I sat down and literally budgeted out my remaining days.   The first thing I did was set aside $30USD for the taxi back to the airport and then I figured out how many pesos I had left over.

Those pesos would be for buying souvenirs and for my remaining meals.

Everything was right on track and I was going to make it to the finish line just fine!

And then I got an email this morning.

Before I departed for my trip, I tried to reserve a table for my last night at an exclusive restaurant here in Havana known by many as the best restaurant in Cuba.

I put my details in and it said I had been added to a list.   Not a confirmed reservation, just a list.

Okay, then.   No worries, there were other places to eat.

Well, the email last night was them telling me my reservation was indeed confirmed and they looked forward to seeing me tonight.

Well, this spices up my money situation a little bit.

Obviously, I could just not go and it wouldn’t affect my budget at all.

But, if you know me, I like to end a trip with a bang eating a really nice meal.   Kind of a treat to myself, ya know.

Now, I treat myself, but you have to remember that this is still Cuba and it’s not like the menu would be in the hundreds of dollars.

I was looking at probably a $40-50 bill tonight.   Of course, I had only budgeted a third of that.

I mean, damn, I just had to figure out how to make this work.

I had already shaved pesos off here and there with cheaper meals the last few days so I was a bit ahead.   I just needed to figure out where I was getting an extra 8500 pesos ($34) from.

In the end, I figured it out.   I would spend a bit less on souvenirs and instead of paying with pesos for my meals at the Hotel National today and tomorrow, I’d pay with my credit card incurring a higher bill but at least I’d have pesos freed up for dinner.

So, with that all out of the way, it was time for breakfast.

Breakfast Buffet

I was up at 7am this morning and on my way to an 8:30 breakfast at the nearby National Hotel.

Going to a hotel, even if you’re not guest, is a nifty little trick when you’re traveling.

Because you look like a guest, they will happily help you and you can basically just hang out in the courtyard or lobby as much as you want.

You can also glean information from the people working there because they usually speak really good English.

Oh, and they usually have a great American style breakfast available.

Well, that was the case here at the hotel.   My casa host had told me about a 1500 pesos ($6) breakfast buffet they had here so I was going to try it today.

I entered the hotel, walked down the stairs to where they were serving breakfast.

My heart sunk a little when the lady at the front host stand asked the couple in front of me their room number.

But, it turns out, non guests were welcome to.

The breakfast is included with their stay and for the rest of the riff-raff like me, it was 1500 pesos.

So, let’s talk about this breakfast…

Yeah, you get the idea.

There were stations for meats, cheeses, fruits, cereals, breads, and juices.   There was also a pancake and crepe station and an egg station where they made both for you to order.

And when you thought you had seen it all, there was also a station with non-traditional items like rice, beans, pasta, and even fried chicken.

Oh, and to finish it all off there were pastries and even jello.

Jello!

Jello for breakfast!   Am I living the dream, cause it sure feels like it!

There was soooo much of everything and it was only $6.

They even had a violinist and guitar playing duo going from table to table playing Cuban music to entertain you whilst you gorged yourself.

This was definitely one of Havana’s best kept secrets and, thank God, my casa host told me about it because otherwise I would have never found out about it.

By 9am I was done my breakfast and headed upstairs to the lobby where, since I was in food mode already, I spent some time on my laptop to pinpoint exactly where I’d be eating tomorrow night when I was on my layover in Mexico City.

Done and done.

Food.   It’s a beautiful thing!

The shuttle bus saga

At 10am I finally left the hotel.

Remember that shuttle bus I was asking about at the hotel yesterday?   Yeah, the one where two different people who worked there gave me “what is he talking about” looks.

Well, you’ll never guess what I saw when I crossed the street outside the hotel.

A big bus stop sign showing an hourly timetable along with a route between hotels here in Varedo and the airport.

Just yet another thing that isn’t well known but is out there for us as travelers.

I actually only found out about it after searching for awhile online and then I think I only read one little blurb on one website about it.   No timetable, no pricing.   No website to visit to get more information.

In fact, honestly, if I hadn’t randomly seen the sign across the street, I would be convinced that if there was actually a shuttle bus, that it was long discontinued since the people working at the hotel had no idea what I was talking about.

I still wasn’t 100% confident this was a thing though.   This could be a sign from when the shuttle bus ran a few years ago and maybe it is now discontinued.

Traveling in Cuba you just kind of expect that kind of thing.

Very little info out there and the stuff that’s out there should be taken with a grain of salt since most of it is inaccurate or outdated.

Well the next hotel stop on the route on the sign was just a few blocks away and I was heading in that direction anyway.

Let’s see if there’s a bus sign there too.

And wouldn’t you know it, there was!

Okay, feeling more confident…

I decided to take a photo of the sign and go inside this other hotel to ask them about it at the front desk.

The lady there confirmed that, indeed, the bus ran every hour from that stop to the airport.   The journey takes anywhere from 40-60 minutes and costs $6 that you can actually put on your credit card on the bus.

Alrighty then, things are looking good.

Around this time, my casa host, returned a message I had sent earlier about arranging a taxi ride to the airport for tomorrow.

Wouldn’t you know it, while the guy he uses has a broken down car, he actually recommended the same shuttle bus I was literally just looking at.

Well, if that’s not confirmation, then nothing is.

That $30 I had tucked away in my bag for taxi fare tomorrow could be spent now, right?

Well…

Hold on one moment.

Even though I’m 99.999% sure that the shuttle bus runs and I know when it comes and how much it costs, what if it doesn’t show up?

Even worse, what if it doesn’t show up and I no longer have that $30 cash because I spent it?

Without a doubt, that would be catastrophic.

I couldn’t even imagine what I would do, out of money without a way to get more, and needing to grab a taxi urgently to the airport.

So, as confident as I am that I’ll be on that shuttle bus tomorrow, I’m still holding onto that $30 safety cushion just in case.

A 7km walk

Yup, you read that right.   I walked 7km around the Vedado section of Havana today.

I honestly had no plans really.   I did have a couple things marked on my map so I headed off in that direction to see what was out there.

As I walked the street I had taxi drivers a few times drive up slowly behind me and honk their horn to get my attention.   Even if I needed a ride, I still wouldn’t take it from you because I can’t think of anything more annoying than that.   Let’s just say, that’s not how you get my business.

After awhile, despite it being windy and overcast, I had still worked up a pretty good sweat.   Of course, it didn’t help that I was also lugging around my laptop today unlike when I’m usually out on the street.

I mean, if my laptop doesn’t have internet at the casa, I kind of need to take it with me so I can type up my blog at the hotel.

I walked down the infamous Calle 23 and came across the first couple things I had marked on my map – the Yara theatre and Coppelia Ice Cream.

Well, the theatre was just an old building with a cool sign.   I’m sure there’s a big story behind why it’s marked on my map, but honestly, I have no idea what that story is and really, at the end of my trip with spotty internet, I don’t really have an inclination to look it up.

The ice cream though, well, you know me and ice cream…

Walking up you can see why it’s such an attraction as it literally takes up an entire park spanning an entire block.

There are tables set up in two different areas and servers taking orders and bringing ice cream bowls over to the people.

I tried to go into the seating area and a lady sitting next to the entrance said something in Spanish to me.

Turns out there was a line.

A long line.

A really long line.

Like a block long.

What the actual hell?

I mean, sure it’s ice cream and cheap ice cream at that, but, damn, who the hell lines up that long for ice cream?

Well, not me, that’s for sure.

Ice cream would just have to wait for later.

On my way to my next stop, I came across some souvenier stands in two different areas across the street from each other.

Naturally, I picked some up cause, ya know, tourist and all.

At Paseo de los Presidentes, I hung a right and walked down through the park in the middle of the street that seperates it all the way down to where the Malecon is.

Next stop, the Dance Museum.

Again, I’m not really a museum kind of guy but, hey, a Dance Museum kind of intrigued me.

I got to where the map pointer said the Museum was to only find an old decrepit building where, I assume, it once was.

Man, I having zero luck on these attractions today!

I told you stuff wasn’t accurate online…

No worries, though, I was still enjoying my day just strolling down the streets taking everything in.

Honestly, this was kind of how I imagined today would be when I was thinking of what my last day in Cuba would be.

Just wandering through a new neighbourhood and enjoying the sites.

At the end of the Paseo was the famous seawall, the Malecon.

Again, as with yesterday, there’s wasn’t really anybody out and about there today.

It was windy and the waves were still randomly crashing onto the sidewalk.

Despite there being nobody out there, someone I was still approached by literally the only two people I came across on my walk back to my casa.

Shocking, I know.

I made some small talk with each and then bid goodbye before it dragged on into the inevitable request for money or something like that.

Oh, and I found the US Embassy here in Cuba too.

As I walked up to the building distinctive by the American flag blowing in the wind, I saw a guard booth situated on the sidewalk up ahead.

Curiosity got to me, I wondered what would happen if I just snapped a photo.   One teeny, tiny photo.

Well, it got one of the guards in the booth to start walking towards me.

Luckily, that’s where it stopped as he just kind of stared at me as I walked past him and carried on my way.

It would have been interesting if I had stopped to take several photos.   I’m guessing the response would have been a little more intense.

By 1:30 I was back at my casa.

Man, that was a long walk.

Lunch

It wasn’t long before I was back out there though.   It was 2pm and I was starving.   I also was trying to time my meals to space them out since I had a dinner reservation for 7pm that night and I knew I’d be dining well.

I popped out into a rainstorm.

Damn, was not expecting that!

I quickly went back and grabbed my umbrella only for the rain to stop mere minutes later.

Okay, weather Gods, ya got me.   Good for you!

For lunch, it was back to the Hotel National to the same restaurant I had my meal at yesterday.

Now, usually when I travel I try to go to many different places to try different menus and explore a little.

Honestly though, it’s the end of the trip and I’m kind of in auto pilot right now.

Despite having marked off several places around the neighbourhood, I’m just kind of happy having my meals here.

Yesterday I wanted to have a pina colada and a plate of bbq ribs and, yesterday, they were out of both.

Let’s try my luck today…

Pina Colada?

Si!

Ohhhhhh…

This is a good start!

BBQ Ribs?

Si!

Yes!

The plate of ribs was huge! Despite it being priced a little less than the pork tenderloin I had yesterday, this meal was so much bigger.

So big, in fact, that not only did I skip the dessert I planned on having again, but I also packed some up for takeaway.

Hey, it’ll make a nice meal at the airport while I’m waiting for my plane tomorrow.

In order to make the pesos I had in my wallet stretch a little more, I opted to pay with credit card today despite knowing I would be taking a hit on the exchange fee.

The bill came out to $16.65 and she punched it into the debit machine.

Oh, no room for a tip…

Hold up!

I pulled my card out and, using my Google Translate, let her know I wanted to make it $20 to leave a tip.

She rewrote on the bill, $16.65 + 20 = $36.65

Wait, wait, wait, wait…

Did she really just assume I was going to leave a 120% tip???

I know this is a fancy hotel and all, but what the hell are people tipping here if she thought this was a normal tip?

After lunch, I hung out in the lobby for awhile beginning this blog and downloading some stuff for the plane rides home.

Pretty soon it was time to head back to the casa.

I had another meal to get ready for!

Sad dinner

It was 5:30 and my dinner reservation was in just 90 minutes.

Honestly, I was still pretty full from that huge lunch I had.

I noticed in the confirmation email that they had mentioned if I needed to contact the restaurant that you could do it via WhatsApp.

Well, it turns out that’s kind of become my communication style of choice while traveling so I whipped together a quick message to them.

“I have a reservation for one at 7:00 tonight, could I possibly change it to 8:00?”

I mean, if I couldn’t it wouldn’t be the end of the world.   I figured I’d just drink first and slowly ease into my meal.

But, not more than 10 minutes later, they contacted me back to say it wasn’t a problem.

Awesome.

After hanging out a the casa for a bit, 7:30 rolled around and it was time to head over to where I would be dining tonight.

A 15 minute walk later, I had arrived at La Guarida.

The restaurant has been called “the best restaurant in Cuba”.   Movie stars, politicians, and other forms of famous people have dined here.

And tonight, so did I.

So, you can tell by the title of this section that it wasn’t a great experience for me.

In fact, of all the meals I’ve had here in Cuba (and there’s been alot), this was easily the worst one I had.

Partly because of the food but also partly because of me.

Let me explain.

I rarely eat out in fine dining establishments and really only save the experience for my final night of my trips.

When I do, however, I go all out.

You only need to look back at the dinner I had on my last night of the last trip I was on to see how full out I can go.

Problem was, on this trip, I had limited funds for this dinner.

I had an envelope with 12,500 pesos in it which is the equivalent of $50usd.

If you go to the restaurant’s website, however, you’ll find no prices next to the menu items.

After poking around a bit on the internet, I found a couple photos people had taken of their bills.   One, from last spring had a bill for dinner for 2 with drinks, appies, and entrees priced at $97, so, basically $50 a person.

And that’s essentially where I came up with the number for me.

I didn’t take a couple things into account though.

First of all, the conversion rate from dollar to peso on the bill from a year ago was 170, however the conversion rate at the restaurant tonight was 275 which meant my 12,500 pesos wasn’t $50 after all, but $45.

So, now I had $45 to spend, but then there’s the second thing I forgot to take into account.

The tip.

I always tip 20% here.   Even if they’ve already added the common place 10% tip, I still add 20%.

What can I say, it’s the waiter in me and, truly, I believe in karma and, frankly, if you’re a waiter and you’re traveling overseas, you gotta take care of your brothers and sisters out there.

So, where does that bring us?

Well, that $45 is now actually only $37.

And now the kicker…

Inflation!

Yup, those prices are much higher than what I was expecting.

I had visions of drinks, an appy, an entrĂ©e, and a dessert to finish and now here I was staring at the menu trying to add the things up in my head so I wouldn’t go over my allotted $37.

What is meant to be a joyous occasion of gluttony and excess had all of a sudden turned into sadness and even a bit of depression.

It’s just a horrible way to eat.

I had to literally nurse my one drink the entire meal because I couldn’t afford another one.   Oh, and I couldn’t order water cause, well, it wasn’t in my measly budget.

Dessert was out the window.

In the end I ordered snapper carpaccio to start, and suckling pig with a side of rice for dinner.

Oh, and of course a pina colada.

I just felt so defeated as I sat there nursing my drink.

This was supposed to be an amazing meal – a last hurrah for Cuba – and, instead I was just sitting there miserable.

To top it off, the food was actually pretty bad.

The carpaccio was alright but a bit salty but the pork, man, it was so dry I only ate about half of it before I threw in the towel.

The one saving grace from the dinner was that I was able to pack up the uneaten pork for takeaway and I was able to feed a few cats on the walk home.

Yeah, so, that was my last dinner in Cuba.

It’s such a shame because I genuinely have had some really good meals here and, ironically, the most expensive one turned out to be the worst.

I’ve also loved my time here in Cuba and I hate that I ended this trip on such a sour note.

So, as I walked along the Malecon in the dark returning to my casa, I had an idea…

Happy dessert

Yup, nothing solves your problems like good old fashioned dessert!

I had passed on dessert at lunch but, hey, why not now?

It was 9:30 and the restaurant at the Hotel National was still open.

Let’s pop on in there for another caramel flan and, oh, maybe a pina colada too.

Pina colada for dessert?

You bet!

I ordered the flan.

Nope, they were out of it.

Okay, no worries, we’ll go with ice cream then!   Half and half, chocolate and guava.

And a pina colada!

Nope, they were out of that too.

Okay, I get it!   Fine!   Gimme a cafe con leche por favor.

If I’ve learned anything about my travels here in Cuba is that you have to adapt.

Many times the stuff you want just isn’t available.

Viva Cuba!

You just gotta go with the flow and adapt!

So, there I was, sitting in an almost empty restaurant with my 3 scoops of ice cream and a nice warm coffee.

Life is good!

Tomorrow, I fly to Mexico City in the afternoon where I have a 16 hour layover before continuing back home to Vancouver on an early morning flight the next day.

I have one and only one plan for tomorrow night in Mexico…

A full on, full out, final meal.

I’m on a mission and it’s called Dinner Redemption!

Cuba Trip 2024, Trip Journal, Havana, Cuba
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