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  • Writer's pictureGina Cho

Havana and Varadero (Cuba)

HAVANA | Day 1-3

the second i stepped off the plane with both feet on land, that feeling came back. the feeling of adventure and the unexpected. i didn’t realize how wide my smile was. and i’m talking both feet on pavement, not on a vacuum sealed walkway to the airport gate. there’s something about landing and walking to your gate. i think it’s because after flying, you’re itching to get outside. i’m finally free. 

today has been wild. i lost money in converting my USD. i didn’t speak up, i assumed he wasn’t ripping me off. i’m at the airport for christ sakes and there’s a camera on him. i don’t want to believe he was though. i didn’t bring enough and i didn’t plan well. 

to further that last point my hostel is ~3 miles from downtown. which is not bad, especially for someone but who loves to walk it’s fine. but i am awful in the heat and this city is a sauna. it’s a shame because the best places to travel to are the ones with the most sunlight (an opinion i think is fact). and i am solar powered. so i’m not sure what i’ll do tomorrow. to save money, i need to walk. but with the heat, i might - kid you not - pass out. i’ll just figure it out. 

first meal of the day. the entire day. and it’s 7 pm. i cant tell if it’s malnourishment or what but it’s amazing. grilled chicken and white rice. i’m disappointed because i wanted authentic cuban. (what is traditional cuban?) but my cabbie took me here as a suggestion. and i cant complain it’s absolutely delicious. afterwards i walked an hour home in the dark. call me crazy (which my dutch friend did) but how else do you get to experience the city? i’ve been getting stared down left and right. asians are rare here and i feel like the first for some to see. 

being here solo - actually solo - is .. i cant find the right words. interesting? exhilarating? lonely? it is lonely. i’m here wishing i had a boyfriend to occupy my thoughts. or a really cool traveler to exchange horror stories of the bull shit we went through. (this will soon change). but this is a time for soul searching. i’m truly independent. no boyfriend to call frantically at every chance i get. trying to figure out what he’s doing without bragging about what i’m doing. no friend to worry about if they’re enjoying their time. ‘are you happy?’ i spend too much time worrying about how others are feeling. i truly believe life is what you make it. and for some of those, i feel that they don’t know how. and it’s my job to help. but i don’t have that job anymore. not this week at least. 

it’s 9:15 PM. just arrived back at my hostel, speed walking home to avoid anyone talking to me because all conversations have begun with a cat call. i had an entire conversation in spanish today of which i’m very proud of. about going to vinales for a day. talking to a cab driver who wants me to pay either 150 or 120 CUC. money which i don’t have. i will probably not make it to vinales. (1 CUC = 1 USD)

i spoke to the hostel owner. a kind handsome man who asked me to try my spanish bc his english is “terrible”. it’s not. my spanish is. two french girls from connecticut came soon after. it felt like an american hostel where our paths won’t collide. i can blame it on me watching netflix but i did start 3 conversations. none of which they wanted to continue. they obviously have 0 interest in me. 

it’s 11:30 PM and i’m at la casa de la bombilla verde. i listened to a powerful, exhilarating acoustic show and am having a beer. i have large money so he let me have the beer for free ($2 CUC) but i told him i’d come back tomorrow to pay him back. otherwise very chill vibes. the bartender later came over to wipe the table and give me a napkin for the beer sweat. in it i noticed something sticking out. a folded note that said hi. i opened it up and he asked me to go out for drinks on monday afternoon. 2 beers later, we closed out the bar together and he walked me home. 

on the second day i toured downtown with my dutch hostel friend. it was so hot. we left shortly after seeing the many sites to go to a beach. which was just a calm tide crashing on rocks. i swam with my sneakers to avoid injury. then we went home to rest and go out to la fabrica. on our mile long walk, 2 boys, maybe 17 approached me. levys had left a note saying he stood me up due to family emergency. the hostel confused it for my sister who is trying to send me money. he said sorry and he wants to see me. the boys said return to bombilla verde. my friend wanted to go to fabrica so we continued on. i got the feeling she thought it was unsafe to go. i still owe him 3 beers.  fabrica is an art gallery with dance halls and shows. there was theater upstairs. downstairs we took a seat to watch live music and dancing. i had 3 gin and tonics which might as well been straight gin. we watched live music and flamenco dancers. we danced after. alex, a cuban, liked my friend but she has a boyfriend. daniel, a german from the hostel, danced with us. shannon (i believe her name) recollected the night the next day. i don’t remember watching the three boys dancing amazingly like she recalled.  slightly hungover or from lack of sleep due to the heat, we headed off to playa de santa maria our third day, about 25 min away. (dutch girl slept 24 hours at the hostel so we didn’t meet until day 2). it was perfect. we shared a very late lunch of chicken, rice and salad. it was so good and the last thing we ate for the day. i met another dutch staying with us and at night the german, dutch duo and i went to a concert that was filled with every cuban in the city. we assumed downtown would be empty but decided to head there since the concert was just a suffocating sea of cubans sweating and sticking to one another. after walking for hours we made it to hotel inglaterra for 2 beers, live music and locals dancing. then we took a cab home. the boys and i sat on the roof drinking havana club rum for another hour and we went to bed in our underwear. it’s that hot. and i didn’t sleep. 

VERADERO | Day 4-5

this next morning, day 4, i took a bus to veradaro. the land of tourists and all inclusive resorts that separate them from the locals. at the station they refused my ticket saying the email had to be printed. a dutch man helped me argue to let me on the bus. the bus was 3 hours but felt like 10. (still haven’t slept). i took a cab to calle 44 and walked along the houses and asked a woman for elyse maria. she said she’s down the street. i asked another women and she said it’s right behind me and pointed to the home. “hola? senora?” i found an elderly woman in the kitchen. i arrived! surprisingly. i went to the beach after settling into my room. the beach is perfect. absolutely perfect, a dream. it’s a long stretch of calm vivid teal blue waters with white sand. you can swim along for ever, it’s so shallow and just the right temperature where it’s not too warm to feel like bath water but cool enough that you can stay in the water for hours. i cleaned up 3 soda cans i found in the sea while the locals stared. other than that, the ocean is clean and there are fish swimming within a foot of the tide crashing.  it’s 9 PM and i’m finally eating dinner, i skipped lunch. paella which has shrimp but it sounded too good to pass up.  before dinner, i spent about half an hour talking to the grandmother here. she told me about her children, the travelers and her life. she and her late husband started this home stay to make more money, renting out their bedroom. he passed two years ago and she said her body aches. but when she’s booked with english speaking travelers, the pain goes away because she’s able to practice her english. she prefers not to decipher what little spanish i can speak. (i told her i haven’t eaten and we will continue to practice her english in the morning).  which by the way, i apparently know more than i thought. staying remote in havana forced me to speak spanish. it didn’t help with haggling. but i can order cabs and food and ask for directions. when the locals blew the dutch girl and i kisses, we smacked our lips right back. they often said “hola lindas” just loud enough for only us to hear as soon as we were within earshot. but some men are more confident. it’s interesting how men approach foreign women this way. i haven’t heard anyone catcall a local. but again, most of this is done just within earshot. the dutch girl said they don’t even glance at her when she’s alone, it’s me they’re calling for. this makes me even more nervous and hyper aware when i’m alone.  so another thing to note is the looks i get. i’m stared down like i’m the first asian they’ve seen. and by stared down, i mean they won’t break their gaze until after i pass and who knows, they are probably staring at my backside. (sunglasses are a godsend). the locals said a lot of chinese tourists come. in total i’ve seen 5 asians, 3 korean. i’ve seen more dutch people than chinese. i’ve gotten comments from the home owners and cabbies that i’m beautiful though. (shout out and thank you for the compliments). funny story, i spoke to cab driver who asked for my name. “gina” “ah china, mucho gusto”. “GEENUH” “ah china, ¿donde vas hoy?” i forgot to mention the indian at my hostel in havana. the hostel is a shack of metal wire frame beds that i’m surprised can support the weight of my bag. the indian sleeps all day. we arrived on saturday and he stays in bed with the sheets over his body, over his face. he’s thin, so it doesn’t even look like there’s a body beneath the sheets. he has the fans pointed at him at all times and roberto, the hostel owner, keeps moving the fan to face me and the other travelers. is he cold? or anti social? he stays in bed all day sleeping leaving to go out for wifi only apparently. i don’t know if he even eats. he says he speaks english well but stares at me like i’m talking to him in mandarin. the way he looks at me makes me feel uneasy. i stop inviting him to places. he doesn’t want to come anyways.  back in varadero, after my paella i go to a bar for another beer. i picked this place because of the group of people seated together. they don’t share any similarities that would deem them as friends from the same country. there are norwegians (one is half thai though) and mexicans. i purposely seat myself next to them and wait for their invitation. when they pay the bill, anders, a world class poker player asks where i’m from. he invites me to go to a club and so as not to act too eager i said i’ll meet them there. shortly after i go to la casa de musica where there’s a long line and no mexicans or norwegians. assuming they’re inside and not in the mood to club, i approach a group of europeans (swedes and british) and ask them about the club. we decide to stay outside the club and drink beers and play piccolo app. caliente. anders finds me and ditches the club to play. at the end of the night, anders pays the tab for us and i head home and get stopped by locals. i practice my spanish for an hour and promise one that i’ll see him tomorrow. i don’t though. 

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