© 2012 . Alle Rechte vorbehalten. Vinales and Havana


To the gallery

If you asked me how to describe Cuba in a sentence I would probably say: „Two worlds clashing“. What else can you expect in a country that uses two different currencies simultaneously? Where the concept of socialism tries to keep up with more efficient market systems. But let’s not get philosophical here.

The green car is a collectivo

The hostel I stayed in for the past two weeks is a little gem hidden behind the Estadio Latinoamericano, the biggest baseball stadium in Havana. Nice and cozy with three different apartmens in one big building it served as my second home in Cuba. The owner, David, and especially Isnoel, the guy in charge, helped me a lot with all my troubles in and around Havana. It all started with me trying to somehow get to the Spanish school in Miramar without having to use any English. Isnoel explained to me very carefully what options I had: Bus, Collectivo (shared Cuban taxi), normal Taxi or simply walking. Since I had no idea how long it would take me to get there (it is in a totally different part of time) I decided to use the most convenient option, a cab, the first morning at 8:15. When I got to the school about half an hour later, everyone else was already getting instructions which did not really matter since without an prior knowledge of the Spanish language I would be in the absolute beginner’s group. Our teacher, Cari, was a roughly 60 year old, tiny Cuban lady with more energy than a kid on ADHD. Needless to say we worked great together. Unfortunately there was a mix-up with the teacher and instead of being just three students in the intensive class we ended up with the regular course (except for an hour before and after their class was done) and 10 students in total. Definitely not a good way to start. But Cari’s performance was flawless and not only was class a lot of fun but we also got through quite a bit of grammar. Fortunately for us the school had already organized an additional teacher for our second week.


After the first day Cari approached me and asked me how I would get home. By foot probably, I said. No, no, no she yelled in a way that allowed no refusal of her offering to show me how to use public transport properly. With her, Isnoel and a lot of failed attempts of getting to places I finally managed to get the collectivo business. On my last day I perfected it with minimal walking distances while costing me about 2 CUCs for both ways (Taxi: 5 CUC one way and no more convenient). I also tried the bus system but after taking one with 300 people and 40°C I only gave it one more shot at which time I took the wrong bus (with the same name! How can you name two buses P1??) and ended up in a somewhat wrong direction. For those of you who are interested in collectivo details, read on, for those who are not, skip the next part.

Not a collectivo, just a cab

Basically what the collectivos do is drive down the main roads. There are certain landmarks or intersections where the different “lines” collide and depending on the driver’s agenda he will stay on his line or tell you, in advance when you get in, where he will be heading off to. Sometimes I got really lucky and the driver would take me to the language school but most of the times I had to switch collectivos at a certain point and get a second collectivo. Sounds like more hassle than it actually was since getting a collectivo usually took around 1-2 minutes and switching them was a matter of seconds. Each ride would set me back 10 pesos nacional (CUP) which is roughly 40c. For longer rides like going straight to Miramar cost the same as switching collectivos, so 20 CUP. Paying in the tourist currency CUC (24 nacional = 1 CUC) was the only time in Cuba where using CUC was cheaper than paying in CUP because you would get 15 CUP in change and they ended up charging 9 CUP instead of 10. Although Lonely Planet and other guidebooks say that foreigners are not allowed to use the collectivos which explained the lack of other tourists using them and the looks I got from time to time when I got off but I never had any problem with a driver refusing service. In the end even in Cuba it is all about the money.

Basket Place

Talking about money and taxis. A normal doctor in Cuba earns roughly 24-30 CUC per month. Collectivo drivers can make that in a single day. Socialism simply works. Well it was not all bad but try getting decent food here. If you are not addicted to rice, beans and schnitzel you will have a hard time. Even in tourists restaurant, which cost a fortune, it was only a little better. But what they lack in diversity they make more than up for in creativity. My favorite food spot in Havana is located in a tiny alley close to the hostel which we simply called “the basket place”. It consists of a door with menu and bell, a rope system and a balcony on the third floor. When you’ve chosen what you want to order you ring the door bell and a lady shouts from the third floor “what do you want?”. You yell your order and roughly 10 minutes later she reappears with your food. The food is then placed in a tiny basket which is then roped down to street level. Once you’ve taken your food you attach the money to a money clip and the entire construction gets pulled up again. If you want you can even eat it right there on the street and they provide you with knives and forks.


For the weekend some people from the language school and me hired a bus to Vinales, a small town roughly 2.5 hours from Havana. The bus ride was a rather unpleasant experience with minimal leg room and no head rest. But Vinales really delivered. Saturday we did a 6 hour horse-riding tour through the greater Vinales area which included trying local cigars, seeing cigars being handmade, some relaxed swimming in a lake and more than enough horse riding. Since only two of us were experienced riders we had lots of laughs whenever the horses got up to speed and more than once it looked like someone would fall off rather sooner than later. It did not really help that all horses seemed to be totally crazy and hate one another. More than once I ended up yelling “Get your horse away from me, it’s trying to bite mine!”. The nightlife in Vinales was dull and I ended up falling asleep on the porch twice before I went to bed. On Sunday we went to the city and rented to taxis to drive us around so we could visit the famous cave. The bus driver had promised us to pick us up at 17h but off course he never showed up. One of the ladies at the casa provided us with a ride which would not show until 21h. Also the lady forgot to mention that not only were we not the only people taking that particular bus but also that driver was on some crack-cocaine mixture that prohibited him from using his break at the appropriate times. But when you need them the most, good friends help you through tough times and our good friend Mr. Rum sure did that.


On my last night in Havana Isnoel took me and a girl from Iceland to a party in-house. It was basically her, him, me and 20 Cubans going crazy on Salsa and Reggaeton. The alcohol might have helped a little bit but after just a few minutes we were right in the action. While it seemed like we were surrounded by professional dancers we let our hips swing and danced the most basic salsa steps. Every Cuban in the room seemed to make it his or her mission to radically improve my dancing skills. The first guy who came up to me tought me the basics of hip swinging (and I quote) “just imagine a girl in front of you and do to her whatever you want”. We practiced for roughly 30 seconds until I realized a circle had formed and I had to perform in front of everyone. Pretty emberassing but what a fun night!

Isnoel and David

There were other things that happened, but I want to spare you the details and just point them out: Visiting Hemingway’s estate, swimming with the locals at the malecon with razor blade sharp shells ripping everyone’s hands open when we got out, lots of partying on the street, visiting the shadiest neighbourhoods to score cheap cigars, getting ripped off by street vendors, nice beaches, more partying, purses robbed from under the arm and tons of really nice and interesting people both at the hostel and the language school.