The Wonderful People of Cuba

Cuba is a “melting pot”. The races have so intermingled that it is impossible to categorize the population’s mixture with 100% accuracy.  As of 2012, the population of close to 12 million was made up mostly of  Spanish and Africans.  About 64% of Cubans consider themselves white, or of Spanish descent.  27% of the population is mulatto and mestizo, and 9%  is black. 

With Our Personal Tour Guide in Habana Vieja

Crafter in Trinidad

With the Bartender, chef and waitress at El Zaguan in Havana

With Chambermaid at Palicio O’Farrill Boutique Hotel in Havana

 A very small number of the country’s Chinese population lives in Havana’s Chinatown, where at one point, this area, known as Barrio Chino, was said to have been the largest in Latin America.  However, today, the Chinese population has almost diminished, and/or blended into the Cuban culture, and the neighborhood (Barrio Chino) has lost most of it’s splendor. 

Most Cubans are Roman Catholic.  There are also Protestants and a small Jewish population. Before the revolution, there were close to 20 thousand Jewish people in Cuba, mostly seeking sanctuary during WWII.  Now, there are a few thousand.  Many of Cuba’s blacks are followers of Santeria

The Cuban people are friendly, outgoing, stylish, and a s helpful as can be.  If my group even looked a little confused, there was a passerby at the ready with directions, information, or legitimate suggestions.

Artist in Trinidad

With Artists at the Rumba Festival in Habana Vieja
Stylish Teens in Habana Vieja

Stylish Toddler in “Jellies” in Pinar del Rio

Newly passed regulations now allow for some forms of capitalism.  The Cubans are very hard-working and are known for their entrepreneurial skills.  To be able to branch off (somewhat) on their own is a huge stepping stone for them, and an opportunity that they do not take lightly.  During our visit we met an English professor-turned-independent tour guide, grammar school teachers, paladar (both small and large) owners, artists, fishermen, musicians, farmers, concierges, chambermaids, doormen, a dentist, bartenders, a cigar-maker, tour bus drivers, IT specialists and chefs, to name a few.  Each and every one of these people, worked their craft with noticeable passion. 

Cigar Maker in Vinales

Cocktail Crafter at Cueva del Indio in Vinales

With Constelacion group members at Hotel Nacional de Cuba

Doorman at Palicio O’Farrill Boutique Hotel in Havana

Farmer in Pinar del Rio

Fishermen in Havana

Teacher and Students in Trinidad

Musicians at La Moneda Cubana in Havana

Note From Chambermaid in Trinidad

With Artist in Havana

 One thing I can personally say about the Cuban people is that they truly made me not want to leave them.

Concierge at Palicio O’Farrill Boutique Hotel in Havana

With Tour Guide in Havana

My Favorite Farmer in Vinales

Cuban Dining…Good Without Excitement

The food in Cuba was good, but void of the heat and spices I enjoy so much.  Actually, I would venture to say that had I stayed there for a few more days, I might have grown a bit bored with the cuisine.  While the Cubans tend to be conservative when it comes to experimenting with ingredients and flavors, the local produce is fresh and usually organic. And the chicken, rice and beans, a national staple, were perfectly prepared each time I had it.

Also, there were days in a row where I had delicious lobster for lunch and dinner, so I am not really complaining.

With the new ripple of paladars and privately-owned restaurants popping up, I look forward to a little more excitement in their culinary growth. 

Dining in Havana

Lamb in Vinales

Lobster in Vinales

Lobster in Havana

Pumpkin Soup in Havana

Chicken Sandwich at a Rest Stop in Pinar del Rio

Ceviche in Varadero

Chicken in Special Sauce at El Aljibe

Flan in Vinales

Dining in Vinales

Havana, Here We Come!

After months of planning and preparation for our trip to Cuba, the time had finally come!  We spent the first evening in Miami at the Sofitel Hotel, as our flight the next day was an 8:30am departure and we were told to arrive at the airport 3 hours in advance.  The Sofitel Hotel is a few minutes from MIA, offers a free airport shuttle pick-up every 30 minutes,  has nice rooms and a couple of nice dining options. It was just perfect for our overnight stay.

The next morning, we met in the lobby at 4:45am for our 5am shuttle.  We arrived at the airport, met with the Cuba Travel Services represenatative, picked up our Visas, roundtrip plane tickets and boarding passes, checked our bags (yes, I had to check a bag for the first time in ages!) because the weight exception is very light and very strict, paid our $25 entry/departure fee,  and waited patiently to board our non-stop 45 minute flight to Havana.  The process of submitting our itinerary and obtaining our special travel visas was a much smoother process than we imagined. 

We boarded our Sun Country charter flight, and departed on time. No sooner than we took off, we landed.  It was a sunny, hot day in Havana.  The airport was bustling with tourists, divers, people-to-people groups, clergy, families, officials and other workers.  It was exciting, festive. After quickly clearing customs and retrieving our luggage, we headed outside the airport and were greeted by our waiting minivan driver, then off on our 20 minute ride to our first stop, Hotel Palacio O’Farril in Habana Vieja.  We were hours early for the 4pm check-in, and the hotel, like almost every hotel in the city, was full, as Pope Francis was on the island for another couple of days.  We checked in, left our bags, and went in search of an early lunch.  The hotel doorman, Clemente, not only suggested a place for us to go for lunch, he walked us two blocks to El Zaguan restaurant.

We were the only customers in the restaurant.  It was only 11:45ish. I went in  thinking I’d start off my visit with a Cuban sandwich.  After seeing the menu, I opted for “Lobster Tropical”.  Great choice!  It was paired with pumpkin soup, rice, black beans, plantains and Cristal beer.  Dessert was flan and Habana Club rum.  All for about $20.(we had to pay for everything in Cuban Pesos, of course.)

Now, off  to walk around Habana Vieja before settling into our Habana home for the next 2 nights.  We are so looking forward to the week ahead.