Driven To Wander - Vancouver to Patagonia

Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Havana, Cuba. A time travel to 50s. Part - III


Although we were learning a lot about Cuba, we had also done our research about some things in advance. We felt mighty proud of ourselves for bringing enough cash, when we saw a desperate looking American tourist searching in vain for an ATM machine that would accept his card. We might have been unprepared for empty grocery stores, but we knew there were no ATMs that would work for our North American accounts! We did have to go to the bank one day to exchange more US dollars, and that took hours of waiting in a bank line that wrapped around the corner of the building. So be sure to exchange more at the airport when you arrive to avoid that one.





























Another no-no, is thinking you can easily rent a car and drive around Cuba. There are 3 companies that purport to rent cars, but they are actually all the same government run company behind the scenes. Usually they have no cars, or you might need to wait a day or two to see if one becomes available. That online reservation you have…it means basically nothing. Most people give up while waiting at the airport and take a taxi to their lodgings. Should you be able to actually get your hands on a car, better check the tires, and not drive too far. They are known to break down, get flats, and fuel stations that actually have fuel seemed to be either well hidden or non-existent.

And why would you want to rent your own car, when you can get driven around in taxi cabs that make you feel you are living on the set of “Happy Days.” Okan thinks our trip to Cuba was all worth it just to see the classic cars. They were everywhere. If and when the trading between Cuba and the world normalizes, the wealth of Cuba would be raised in folds just because of these old cars.

So, where do all those old classic cars everywhere get gasoline you might wonder. Those old classic cars are actually no longer classic, and have had diesel engines dropped in them. You can tell pretty quickly once you hear the engine and see black exhaust. The taxi drivers get their fuel from the black market. The black market diesel is why the taxi rates are actually reasonable. To get around, your best bet is to simply hire a driver to take you where you want to go, or hop on the many collectivos (small vans or large jeeps that wait for a full car, then drive to a destination for a fixed rate). This turned out to be quite easy and the way we found ourselves to the beach.





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The beach was interesting…extremely packed with people, with competing loud music. We rented a beach umbrella and took in the young Cuban crowds enjoying the beach, and got in the water several times ourselves. The water is beautiful, and although the partying is taken right out into the water on floats and boats, we found some pockets of open space to swim. We had some greasy but yummy food from a local stand, before finding our ride back to town. We shared a collectivo with a group of other tourists on the way back. Our new friends must have been better negotiators, because they were paying $10 for the 5 of them, and we were paying $10 for the 3 of us. They wanted to argue with the driver to get us a better deal, but we said no thanks and let it slide.





I must say that not being able to find groceries in Havana turned out to be a good thing. Despite catching one waiter at a cafe trying to inflate our bill (we did stand our ground on this one, and had him correct it) we ended up finding some great restaurants and had some really nice evenings out. At our first restaurant, Indigo was behaving and wait staff were great with him, so we splurged on a pitcher of Sangria. The meal was incredibly good, the price was reasonable, and thankfully the walk home was short.

We found another restaurant where we could eat outside and listen to Cuban music. The evening was so nice we returned here several times, letting Indigo run about the street while we sat and listened to the music.


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Coming from Mexico, where kids run around everywhere, and the entire community shows them tons of affection, Cuba was a surprise to us. In Mexico, we’d see 8 and 9 year old kids holding hands or carrying around toddlers and infants, with adults patting them all on the heads as they walked by. In Cuba, we hardly saw any children anywhere. I snapped one shot of some school kids while walking through a square, because seeing a group of children together was such a rarity here. Indigo didn’t get the pinched cheeks and hair ruffles and all that he was used to in Mexico. He was actually ignored here, which to him was probably a relief.





I asked our hosts about families sizes and attitudes about children, and discovered that most families just have 1 child because it’s expensive and difficult to find what you need to raise a child. Angered by the Church’s denunciation of communism, Castro had nationalized Catholic schools, muzzled Church publications and expelled many priests. Without the Church’s influence dominating social norms, and readily available birth control provided by the state, people have full control of their family size…and it seems they mostly choose to have 1 child.


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Uniforms were everywhere in Cuba, from the school kids to officers of all sorts. But just like the friendliness of most people we met, the officers were not intimidating and as friendly as everyone else. You would often see those is uniform approaching people on the street with a smile asking for a light. I saw military officers asking taxi drivers, bike taxi drivers asking police, or anyone else for that matter. Perhaps they all know each other? Regardless, we found Cubans to be the most friendly group of people when it comes to helping others, and especially when one is in need of a light.


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Although not a uniform, I noticed a large number of people dressed in all white. These are people going through the initiation process of Santería. Santería is a fusion of Catholic practices and African folk beliefs. Followers are required to stay inside at night for an entire year and only dress in white. No one is allowed to touch the follower aside from family members or lovers. Santería emerged in Cuba during the 17th century when the slaves from West Africa were brought to the island. Slaves were banned from practicing their religion, and so they disguised their gods as Catholic figures and continued to pray. Santería has no written doctrine and has been passed through generations orally. It is estimated that up to 80% of Cubans follow some Santería practices.


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As our time in Havana came to an end, we had walked everywhere imaginable, pushing Indigo in his stroller. The apartment was getting small, our feet were tired, and we were missing our own bed (our camper’s bed is very comfortable!). We decided to have our last meal at the airport to save the trouble of finding an open restaurant before noon. But as luck would have it…the one and only airport restaurant ran out of the only option (one of two options) on the menu we wanted….so we settled for a lunch of french fries.

I am hopeful that Cuba will continue it’s current trajectory of providing Cubans with more freedoms, and that the embargoes are ceased and the gracious people of Cuba get a chance to fully embrace the world again. Their people are genuine and warm, and have done so much with so little…they are truly inspiring.
 
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
We have left the Peruvian coast and headed to mighty Andes. Cañón del Pato (Duck Canyon) was as spectacular as it gets. Narrow one lane road with vertigo inducing drops up to 1000 meters snakes along a path hewn out of sheer rock and passes through 35 tunnels, hand-cut through solid rock.













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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
One of the most breathtaking places we have seen!!! Lake Parón, the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca, on the Peruvian Andes, altitude 14200 feet (4200m). It is surrounded by outrageously imposing granite peaks that are the highest outside of the Himalayas. Hiking at this heights is taxing but views give you goose bumps.
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Hummelator

Adventurer
Awesome thread!
Do you think you would enjoy this trip more if you didn't have a son?
I can see him being there brings certain joys but must also be accompanied by many stresses
 

Driven To Wander

Adventurer
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Awesome thread!
Do you think you would enjoy this trip more if you didn't have a son?
I can see him being there brings certain joys but must also be accompanied by many stresses.
Difficult to answer. Biggest reason we are on this adventure is to spend more time with him, instead him being raised by a nanny while we worked long hours. If we were just two of us, we would have done more challenging stuff like multi day hikes. But kids are adored in Latin America like no where else and having him by our side breaks the ice with locals and allows us to interact with them in a warmer way. He also forces us to slow down and enjoy the things that we would have missed totally like ice creams in every town :).
 

Driven To Wander

Adventurer
There are more than 50 peaks of 18700 ft (5700 m) or higher in the Cordilleras of Peruvian Andes. In contrast, the whole North American continent has only three. Yesterday we dropped the camper and drove up some crazy switchback dirt roads to 15400 ft (4700 m) on Laguna 69. It is nice to put the truck in 4x4 low and climb. Words, even pictures, cannot describe how amazing this place is. We would have stayed there, just sitting and enjoying the views for days but when the sun goes down it is brutally cold.
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locrwln

Expedition Leader
There are more than 50 peaks of 18700 ft (5700 m) or higher in the Cordilleras of Peruvian Andes. In contrast, the whole North American continent has only three. Yesterday we dropped the camper and drove up some crazy switchback dirt roads to 15400 ft (4700 m) on Laguna 69. It is nice to put the truck in 4x4 low and climb. Words, even pictures, cannot describe how amazing this place is. We would have stayed there, just sitting and enjoying the views for days but when the sun goes down it is brutally cold.
.
Follow us at :
Facebook/driventowander
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www.DrivenToWander.com


















You have given me and my wife another destination when we get that area. We love those kinds of roads and can't wait to do our own exploring. We will be starting our Pan-Am early next year.

Thank you for the updates.

Jack
 
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