by Aaron Etches

HAVANA TIMES — My first trip to Cuba was two years ago in September 2014. Two friends and I bought a boat in Key West and brought her down to Central America. We stopped for two days in Havana and it was the highlight of our trip. It left me wanting more! Much more.

Not really needing an excuse to return when I heard the Rolling Stones were doing a free concert for the people of Cuba I couldn’t pass it up. Never seen the Stones, wanting and yearning to return, and for what seems like an obvious serendipitous reason, a direct flight from my little island to Cuba is now available on a Honduran airline called Easy Sky every Wednesday!

What started out as a Facebook post in jest about flying to Cuba to see the Rolling Stones quickly turned into a motley group of 14 Roatan residents consisting of 2 Hondurans, 7 US citizens, 2 Canadians, 2 Dutch and one Englishman. A great group that surprising got along very well.

Tickets bought and after securing our rooms through we were all set.

My wife and I stayed at a clean and inexpensive little “casa particular” in Old Havana, Gatos Malan. Basic, but centrally located and within walking distance to all the top attractions in Old Havana. And we walked! A lot. Museums and cafes by day, bars and restaurants at night. Could have used the peddle cabs more, but every time we asked for a recommended bar or cafe the answer from the friendly Havana residents was always ‘Dos Bloques…”. It never was, but we didn’t mind.

At our favorite cafe "5 esquinas"
At our favorite cafe “5 esquinas”

Our favorite cafe for breakfast was 5 Esquinas. Breakfast consisted of coffee, fresh juices, fresh fruits, eggs and meats all for less than $5CUC! Ate there quite a bit. Also had their pizza a few times and it was very good.

Our favorite restaurant was called El Carbon on Chacon St.. My wife had the dolphin fish and I had the suckling pig. We had a group dinner here on out last night and they handled our motley crew with ease.

Contrary to what we heard, the food in Cuba was great. Out of seven days we only had three bad meals. Prices had gone up since my last visit, but still reasonable. For libation we followed Hemingway’s advice, “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita”, but after explored elsewhere.  Music was everywhere. Good music, acoustic music! Best we found was at a bar called Lluvia de Oro. Always had a good crowd and lively entertainment. Not as nice as the others, but the drinks were priced accordingly. Mojitos always made the night, but the morning tax on our heads was heavy.

In Varadero
In Varadero

Wanting to get out of the city a few of us decided to hire a taxi and hit Varadero. Literally hit it since we decided to play golf. The course was in great shape and the scenery incredible. Xanadu and the surrounding buildings were in immaculate condition. This was our most expensive day of the trip, but we had to do it.

The course seemed relatively easy to us “25 handycappers” until hole 16. We should have known something was amiss when the club Pro drove by us at hole 11 and told us to “Say hello to the water..HAHAHAHA”. Scores after this hole were about 101-110 for the day. We left lots of balls left for the locals to swim out. Our beer cart lady Maria always had cold Cristal and a warm smile for us. Extremely proud of her son who is the local champion and a scratch golfer so be prepared to listen.

The Rolling Stones concert in Havana on March 25, 2016
The Rolling Stones concert in Havana on March 25, 2016

The Rolling Stones concert has been written about enough already, so I won’t go into great detail about it. We arrived early at 3pm and settled in until the 8:45pm start. Now Friday the 25th will go down as one of the best days of our lives, but one thing we were disappointed in was the “Free Concert” turned into a scalper’s dream with a special section for those with “Invitaciones”.

Although these invitations were given out free to students and factory workers, they had no trouble embracing capitalism and selling them to foreigners. From talking to everyone prices for the invitations varied from $3 CUC to $30 CUC. Nothing exorbitant, but turned the venue into a two class tiered show. Our group “reluctantly” paid the piper and enjoyed the show having come all the way from Roatan, Honduras.

Our group.
Our group.

Overall a spectacular experience that will go down as the best concert I have ever been to. Must say that Mick Jagger at 72 years old has found the Fountain of Youth somewhere and is hiding it from the rest of us.

Our flight left Wednesday the 30th. All of us said we’ll be back. Havana may be changing fast, but Cuba is an enormous island and we can’t wait to explore it. Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago are on our lists. I’m sure more will be added in the coming years!

Aaron Etches
Roatan Honduras.

PS: My wife packed an extra suitcase of old toys that our kids had gotten tired of. While walking around she handed them out to kids. The smiles we received paid for our trip!

47 thoughts on “My Second Cuban Experience

  • April 11, 2016 at 12:12 am

    So you kinda totally agree with all my points, but you don’t agree with how I stated them.

    I can live with that.


  • April 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Eden – I’m not sure you recognize how critical and angry you come across. You trash Aaron behind the veil of an initial compliment and then your true colors really show when you no-holes barred slam on Terry and Informed. The transparency of your written rage is not only totally disproportionate to any “crime” you feel Aaron committed but it also negates the significant point you want to make.

    Your statement to me – “that indiscriminate gifting to people who you do not know is never a good thing. Period..” – is clearly not one a thinking person would make. Nearly all charitable funds go to people who the donor does not know. Have you never helped out a stranger in need? Common acts of courtesy take place every day between strangers. Stick with your point and avoid open ended condemnations.

    The one point I understand you are making is that giving money to random kids both encourages a beggar culture and plays into the hands of older Cubans who pimp the kids to get tourist money. Good point. All you got to do is say it.

    You seem far more interested and eloquent in Aaron and others) that they don’t respect Cuba than you are in appreciating that he tried, even if you think he failed. Good intentions do matter. Better someone who tries to help than the classic entitled American tourist who sees Cuba as a cute 1950s island mean to service his/her holiday desires. Not only will they not respect Cubans, they won’t care if they don’t.

    All you gotta do is say, ‘Hey Aaron, it’s great that you want to give but there are probably better ways to do it, why don’t you check out X, Y and Z.’ It’s a nicer and more effective way to get your point across.

    Also, the whole definition of a “short term tourist” is basically being new to a country, its customs and lifestyles and issues. It’s not so obvious to all visitors that child begging is a problem in Cuba (or other developing countries). Foreigners don’t necessary encounter the same thing, nor are aware that kids are cutting school or being pimped out. And there is a difference between kids who beg as an occupation versus those who ask for a CUC for a photo. Some of the responsibility here falls on Cuba to figure out ways to deal with the problem internally.

    It’s not as cut and dry as you make it, nor is it a clear act of disrespect and ignorance. It’s more a lack of understanding that comes from inexperience not malice. Try being a bit more of an educator than the morality squad. There’s no question that Cubans want tourist money and do a number of things to get it. Should visitors avoid giving money to the costumed Colonial-era ladies who smoke cigars and pose for a photo for a buck? You tell me…

  • April 8, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    We were actually pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cheeses at a couple restaurants. Cheese that tasted fresh and not full of preservatives.

  • April 8, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Agree. But both countries followed different paths and one is a helluva lot worse off than the other today. Honduras today is worse off than Cuba before the revolution.

  • April 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Which is exactly my point. There’s not an endless stream of “throw candy from the bus” tourists there, thus the begging culture is not nearly as prevalent as elsewhere. Good on you for being a respectful tourist.

  • April 5, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Have you been to Marea del Portillo? First of all there are a lot of repeaters who have become friends with the locals and help them out. Many new visitors went to the schools in the area. We all do what we can and maybe a few indiscriminately hand things out but they are not a majority at least not in Marea.

  • April 4, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Informed Consent and Eden, I think all the points regarding Aarons post were made and discussed. Lets move on to other articles and issues and keep from insulting each other.

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