Back in Havana, we prepared for our visitors to come and join us. Excitement of a different kind was now mounting and we were both thrilled to see my Mum & Dad and Hester & Richard step out of their taxis into the craziness of Centro Havana. They on the other hand, slightly jet lagged and culture shocked, took a little time to register they had just flown halfway round the world to see two familiar faces…albeit one a lot more bearded than it had been six months ago!
After a good night’s sleep we planned and plotted to see Cuba together, squeezing in Havana’s sights, some colonial treasures, a taste of revolutionary history, a bit of beach time and even a salsa lesson too.
Havana is an assault on the senses in so many ways but what struck us all first was the abundance of classic American cars. These are not museum pieces, they are truly functioning everyday vehicles for Habaneros. Relics of the revolution, some are falling to pieces and cough out plumes of black smoke but many are cared for beautifully and fixed with whatever possible means; trading in and buying new just isn't an option here.
Havana Vieja, the city's most central and visited district has been lovingly and beautifully restored by the city's historian. Other parts of Havana however have been left to crumble and decay and far from being deserted, it's likely that even though it's in this state, there may well still be people living in this building.
Where restoration has begun, it has sometimes stalled too. The greenery growing amongst this scaffolding suggests that work to restore this building was halted some time ago, perhaps around the time the car in front of it was a new model?
The view from the Malecón shows that major development in Cuba just hasn't happened - in any other capital city, you'd expect the seafront boardwalk to be awash with bars, cafes and skyscrapers. The biggest buildings here are the few hotels outside of the city centre.
It was Dad's birthday while we staying in Havana and the birthday fairy arranged for two classic cars to collect us all for a sightseeing trip around town. The '55 Ford and the '59 Buick were an instant hit.
The '55 Ford car that took us around Havana.
The '59 Buick in dazzling orange was our other classic taxi.
Then on a trip to the Hotel Nacional for birthday drinks, we found ourselves in yet another classic car. This one managed to squeeze all six of us in.
Piña Colada, Cuba Libre, Mojito, Daquiri...the delicious classic cocktails of Cuba enjoyed in a classic setting. Outside, on the terrace of the Hotel Nacional, overlooking the Malecón and watching the sun set over the Atlantic, we felt like we'd celebrated Dad's birthday in style.
Birthday celebrations over, we headed for pretty Trinidad in the centre of the island. Once a Spanish colonial stronghold little has changed here over the past couple of centuries...
...we stayed in beautiful colonial casa particulares, like this one with Buri and Ernestina, who by a stroke of luck, happened to make delicious cocktails for us to enjoy on their patio!
From Trinidad, we headed out to the jungle for a day's hike to a waterfall in the Sierra del Escambray. Half the hike was a hot rocky descent, the other half a hot rocky climb...
...but we were rewarded with cool green pools of mountain water which James of course couldn’t resist jumping into!
We saw hundreds of majestic palms and many tropical birds including the national bird of Cuba, the beautiful tocororo.
They're all smiles now they've reached the bottom, but wait until they realise it's a two hour climb back to the top!
Leaving Trinidad for a few days, on a side trip to Santa Clara, we stopped at the site of a former sugar plantation. This tower was used to check on workers in the fields and the bell sounded when a day sweltering in the heat chopping down cane was finally over.
Under the shadow of the watchtower, a man makes cold sugarcane refrescos using what looks like a mangle.
Truly delicious, the ice cold sugarcane juice with a hint of lime keeps me buzzing all afternoon.
As the site of one of the crucial battles of the revolution, Santa Clara has a special place in Cuban history. Ché led the guerrillas to a victory here that sealed Fidel's bid to become Cuba's new leader. When Ché's body was found in Bolivia in the 1990s (where he had been executed following guerrilla battles on behalf of Bolivian revolutionaries), it was removed and brought back to Santa Clara. A monument, mausoleum and museum have been erected in Ché's honour and the whole city echoes with his legacy.
Our last day back in Trinidad provides an idyllic day on the beach. Out at Playa Ancon, we snorkel, buy coconuts with straws in and lounge around in the sand. We're rewarded with a beautiful sunset....
...and it seems a good time and place to take a group shot of the happy beach campers.
A pit stop on the way back to Havana from Trinidad at Laguna Guanaroca for the bird enthusiasts in the group. We spot flamingoes, hummingbirds, terns and giant egrets and a few "black and white thingies" that we can't identify. The keen ones with binoculars have got it sussed, the rest of us just squint and point.
One more chance in Havana for cocktails and silly faces. A great fortnight had by all, it's hard to say goodbye to each other and to Cuba....
....but as night falls in Havana we feel there will be a "next time" here...the music, the people, the history, the setting, the cocktails have had us all hypnotised and it won't be hard to find more than one reason to return.