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Thread: Report on trip to Cuba - super strong mojitos, jineteros and food poisoning

  1. #1

    Report on trip to Cuba - super strong mojitos, jineteros and food poisoning

    I had planned a week's trip to Havana, Cuba near the end of May and Matt (MrCurta) had given me plenty of great advice. I also read the Cuba threads to pick out places to visit and things to do. As a photographer I was also hopeful that I could maybe get some good images.

    I stayed in a casa particulares - a B&B, in Vedado, about 10 minutes' drive from the old town (La Habana vieja) and which seemed more lush with lots of greenery and quieter roads. These casas are great places to stay - miles cheaper than hotels and you can normally book into a large room with it's own bathroom. It's also a chance to meet with the hosts, and it really helps if they speak English (more on that later).

    Vedado was certainly a 'nicer' area to stay - I remember walking back one night from La Abadia, a restaurant on the Malecůn - it took me 45 minutes...in many other cities this would have been a crazy thing to do but here I felt safe. Would I stay in Vedado again? Possibly not. You see, I had to flag down a taxi every time I wanted to go to the old town and back again, which not only cost between £4-£10 per journey, but sometimes I had to wait up to 20 minutes in Vedado as it was becoming more common now that taxis would not stop for tourists (the owner of the B&B told me this). Taxis came is all shapes, sizes and colours. You had the yellow ones belonging to the government and also private ones which were the 1950s classic chevrolets, pontiacs, Fords, etc plus the old Russian cars that were tiny and falling apart. So, I would recommend someone to actually stay in the old town if possible and if they were planning on going to the famous attractions (Floridita, Obispo street, terrace bar at La Manzana, etc).

    One reoccurring theme was the terrible state of the pavements - I would advise extreme caution walking anywhere and especially in the dark - you really do need to use the torch of your phone to avoid a nasty injury.

    Food and drinks were fairly inexpensive and not being a big drinker I soon discovered that a Cuban mojito was about 5-6 times stronger than an English equivalent! The price? Even at a 5* hotel you wouldn't pay more than about £4. Water - you probably already know this but always buy bottled water and make sure the seal is not broken.

    The temperature was extremely hot with humidity nearing 70%. This made it really tough walking during the day. I'm fairly fit but it just wasn't possible to walk endlessly between 11am and 5pm. I would avoid the months of May onwards and stick to the cooler months from October to March/April.

    Jineteros are the street hustlers and I was approached with offers of cigars, to see inside someone's house, to go to a cafe, and to buy some weed. I found people generally friendly but definitely cautious of tourists, especially in the side streets. It was a real eye-opener to see how people live, and try to make the best out of it.

    So three quarters of the way into the holiday and I became ill. It could have been anything really that caused it, but it was certainly a rough experience. I had to go to a local 'tourist' hospital and luckily, the owner of the B&B, who spoke English, came with me. Despite being a tourist hospital, no one there actually spoke English. I dread to think what would happen if people are admitted with life threatening illnesses. So one consultation (in Spanish) and two injections later I was back at the B&B and spent the next day lying in bed. I flew back the day after and have been recovering since. My advice is to be very careful what you eat and drink and take rehydration tablets with you. I think the language barrier is another fairly big obstacle - very few people I came across actually speak English to a good level.

    I've included a few pics below. For anyone into photography thinking of going - I would try to go as minimalistic as possible. I cannot stress how beneficial to your spine and stamina it is to carry the lightest amount possible. You won't need to bring a range of lenses and I found 24mm - 35mm just about right.

    If anyone has any questions on Havana or Vedado please ask away.
















  2. #2
    Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    Thanks for the write-up, Shane. Really sorry to hear about you falling ill, I hope that it didn't spoil things too much for you. Your photographs are superb!
    M

  3. #3
    Thanks Matt, and thanks for all the help you gave me. I thought I'd got away with stomach problems but it hit pretty hard - today (six days after returning home) is the first day I've actually felt anything like normal.

    It's an amazing place, like no where else I've ever been to. I don't think I could have prepared better!

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Curta View Post
    Thanks for the write-up, Shane. Really sorry to hear about you falling ill, I hope that it didn't spoil things too much for you. Your photographs are superb!
    M

  4. #4
    Master petethegeek's Avatar
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    Really like those photos and wishing you a speedy full recovery.

  5. #5
    Thanks Pete :)

    Quote Originally Posted by petethegeek View Post
    Really like those photos and wishing you a speedy full recovery.

  6. #6
    Master
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    Great pictures, lovely warm light


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  7. #7
    Always wanted to visit Cuba, thanks for the informative feedback. Hope the illness isn't too serious and you are recovering well.

    Felt compelled to post here, because your photos are, simply, stunning! Do you have more / other albums to share? You have a great eye for composition, and I'm really fond of your post processing.

  8. #8
    Master Wolfie's Avatar
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    I loved Havana when I went 20 years agoÖ. Those pictures brought it all back

  9. #9
    Master wileeeeeey's Avatar
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    Wow what great photos! Looks amazing but I think I'm more impressed by how good your photos are!

  10. #10
    Great pics and nice write up. One place Iíd love to knock off the list.

  11. #11
    Journeyman
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    Love the photos the first especially which I think is majestic.

    I went to Cuba about 10 years ago, had a fantastic time but do echo you in be careful what you eat.. my wife wanted some Chinese so we found a Chinese of all things in Havana.

    The place was packed and the lonely planet reviews were complementary so we thought we would give it a go. We ordered some pork dish, however two bites in it was clear it was not cooked and still very pink in the middle. Needless to say we left pretty quickly and lived for another day. My wife did not eat pork for some time after that.

  12. #12
    Master blackal's Avatar
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    Fantastic photos - truly evocative.

  13. #13
    Journeyman
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    Very much enjoyed the write up and the photos are simply stunning!

  14. #14
    Master Franco's Avatar
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    Love the photos - Habana is a great place and the music pubs are supposed to be spot on.

  15. #15
    Grand Master
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    Why would they be cautious of tourists, why would taxis not stop for tourists?

    Wishing you a speedy recovery.
    When the going gets tough, the DAF gets going.

  16. #16
    Grand Master TheFlyingBanana's Avatar
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    Beautiful photos - and that last one is a cracker!
    So clever my foot fell off.

  17. #17
    Master ryanb741's Avatar
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    Sorry to hear you were feeling poorly but glad that you seem to be on the mend.

    I went to Cuba 6 years ago and absolutely hated it. I thought it was a dilapidated sh*thole with miserable inhabitants and I got totally bored after 2 days. Hopefully they have started to modernise the city of Havana as whilst faded grandeur might sound nice in a tourist brochure in reality it gives off a very third world vibe and the place just felt backwards. Call me unclassy but a brand new modern shopping centre with restaurants, cinemas etc would do wonders for the city.

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  18. #18
    Grand Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by ryanb741 View Post
    but a brand new modern shopping centre with restaurants, cinemas etc would do wonders for the city.

    Sent from my SM-G950F using Tapatalk
    Why would you need to go to Cuba for that. Same thing modern hotels. Itīs all the same anywhere so why would you suffer hoķrs of airplane for that or the expense of it?!
    When the going gets tough, the DAF gets going.

  19. #19
    Journeyman
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    not a frequent traveller myself, but the images are very invocative and what portrays cuba to a non travelled person. but I too and curious as to why taxis etc would be cautious of tourists'?

  20. #20
    Thanks guys for all the positive comments - I just want to clarify what I said about the locals being cautious of tourists. I had read that Cubans were extremely friendly people who would come up to you and start a conversation, maybe show you their inside their house, etc. My experience (and this is subjective, based on my few days in the old town and Vedado) is that while I didn't feel any danger and it is true that 2-3 people came up to me and said hello, I just didn't feel that there was a friendly atmosphere. I can easily understand why people would be downbeat because living conditions in most places were bad, and it makes you grateful for what you have. I think the YouTube reviews and vlogs/blogs on Havana are quite skewed and not completely realistic of what it is actually like. So by cautious, I mean reserved.

    As for the taxis not stopping - this was more in Vedado on Avenida 23, which is the main street for hailing a cab. I had varying success with getting them to stop - sometimes it took 2-3 minutes and one time I was waiting 20 minutes. There are lots of Colectivos - shared taxis, but even they were reluctant to stop for me. In the old town near the main square and 5 star hotels it is pretty easy getting a yellow cab, but you do have to pay more.

    Thanks for all the great comments on the photos - I actually enjoy the editing/colour grading etc as much as taking the actual pics. I have a website which has more images: www.shanejohns.com/

  21. #21
    Grand Master
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    Thank you for expanding on it.

    Also for the fotos and the link.
    When the going gets tough, the DAF gets going.

  22. #22
    Master
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    Some fantastic photos there.
    Regarding the cabs not stopping for you. I have never been to Cuba so I donít know what system they use out there but over here I often drive past people who are trying to flag me down. Itís not because I donít want to pick them up, itís because Iím on my way to pick up a customer who has booked by phone.
    Could be a similar system out there.

  23. #23
    Grand Master SimonK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ryanb741 View Post
    Call me unclassy but a brand new modern shopping centre with restaurants, cinemas etc would do wonders for the city.

    Sent from my SM-G950F using Tapatalk
    OK, you're unclassy. Shopping centres replete with multi-plex, Sephora, Starbucks, KFC, GAP, etc can be found everywhere from Sheffield to Shanghai. I love spending time in malls in the US, in fact I'm probably a bit of a mall rat, but the beauty of a visit to Cuba is just how different, and often surreal it is. Havana is run down and delapidated, tragically so, but like no other city I've ever visited. The landscape, especially in Vinales is spectacular and seeing other towns with their Spanish colonial architecture, or visiting the Che Guevara mausoleum and rum distilleries and cigar factories are, for me, what travel is all about.

    By the way, the Netflix series 'Four Seasons in Havana' is well worth a watch - both for the storylines and the Cuban locations. It is based on best-selling Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura's Detective Conde series.

  24. #24
    This pic was just taken with my iPhone when I was sat inside a cafe. I heard this deafening squealing noise, turned around and saw that a pig was being tied to an iron gate with the cafe's cat watching intently. Not something you'd normally see in London...


  25. #25
    Master
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    Get well soon & absolutely love your photographs, thanks for sharing.

  26. #26
    Thank you, and thanks to everyone who wished me well - I'm on the mend and hopefully by this weekend will be almost back to normal.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nealywheelie View Post
    Get well soon & absolutely love your photographs, thanks for sharing.

  27. #27
    Grand Master VDG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ryanb741 View Post
    Sorry to hear you were feeling poorly but glad that you seem to be on the mend.

    I went to Cuba 6 years ago and absolutely hated it. I thought it was a dilapidated sh*thole with miserable inhabitants and I got totally bored after 2 days. Hopefully they have started to modernise the city of Havana as whilst faded grandeur might sound nice in a tourist brochure in reality it gives off a very third world vibe and the place just felt backwards. Call me unclassy but a brand new modern shopping centre with restaurants, cinemas etc would do wonders for the city.

    Sent from my SM-G950F using Tapatalk
    Makes a difference from seedy, stinky and blingy Thailand full of dodgy types and fake smiles innit.

    Excellent snaps OP, glad you enjoyed your trip.
    Do they all hum the Mission Impossible tune when they assemble for their Cobra meetings to give the whole thing more intense and sombre mood so they do not piss themselves laughing while squandering taxpayer hard earned as nothing usually comes out of it? Just curious.

  28. #28
    Master ryanb741's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by VDG View Post
    Makes a difference from seedy, stinky and blingy Thailand full of dodgy types and fake smiles innit.

    Excellent snaps OP, glad you enjoyed your trip.
    Well I imagine your niche is probably Pattaya so no wonder you have that impression. Fortunately, being fluent in the language and having access to an altogether loftier side of the country suits me as well. Each to their own.

  29. #29
    Master Maysie's Avatar
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    Great images. I am very envious of your trip!

    Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  30. #30
    Grand Master VDG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ryanb741 View Post
    Well I imagine your niche is probably Pattaya so no wonder you have that impression. Fortunately, being fluent in the language and having access to an altogether loftier side of the country suits me as well. Each to their own.
    Ah yes, the loftier side

    Last edited by VDG; 4th June 2019 at 12:41.
    Do they all hum the Mission Impossible tune when they assemble for their Cobra meetings to give the whole thing more intense and sombre mood so they do not piss themselves laughing while squandering taxpayer hard earned as nothing usually comes out of it? Just curious.

  31. #31
    Grand Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by ryanb741 View Post
    Well I imagine your niche is probably Pattaya so no wonder you have that impression. Fortunately, being fluent in the language and having access to an altogether loftier side of the country suits me as well. Each to their own.
    I donīt do jealous and live in vacation country myself but that sounds both rťally enjoyable and interesting; congratulations.
    When the going gets tough, the DAF gets going.

  32. #32
    Journeyman
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    Thanks for your report!
    Personally I will be travelling to Cuba in the first two weeks of August this year. I'm going on my own. Just have made some reservations, travelsites resource was pretty helpful for booking a hotel as well as flight. I'm just trying to find a decent car rental. That resource has offers too.

  33. #33
    Craftsman
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    Quote Originally Posted by VDG View Post
    Ah yes, the loftier side

    If you're going to join a gang the Yakuza looks inviting.

  34. #34
    Very interesting review and great photos.

    We went to Santiago de Cuba and Havana in 1997 and absolutely loved it. Doesnít sound like itís changed that much. The food wasnít great but we found the people were very friendly. They didnít have accesss to foreign goods so we ended up giving away all our leftover toiletries, make-up and even some clothes.
    I remeber we went to someoneís house in some village and had the best lobster and rice Iíve ever tasted all washed down with rum. Thereís a reason why cabs donít stop but canít remember what it is as we saw that all the time in Havana.

  35. #35
    Master Mouse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Casper View Post
    ..............Thereís a reason why cabs donít stop but canít remember what it is as we saw that all the time in Havana.
    Disc pads made out of bits of old shoe leather

  36. #36
    Craftsman
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    Great photo's!!

  37. #37
    Master
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    Was there about 12 years ago. Amazing place and brilliant vibe.
    Super photos and certainly catches what I remember so well done.
    You need to put up with atrocious service but hey ho
    RyanB you really did miss the point of Havana-Why the hell you went in the first place is beyond me.

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