Where to Eat in Havana, Cuba

I was really worried about the food situation in Havana. I had read online that most of the restaurants weren’t great, and that the food was super bland pretty much anywhere that you went. However, I’m happy to say that I found that this was not true!

I ate at several different restaurants while in Old Havana, and had excellent experiences at all of them. My personal favorite was a restaurant called El Teniente del Rey, but every single one of the restaurants that I ate at was very good! Here’s a list of the restaurants that I visited and that I would recommend.

El Teniente Del Rey

This was hands down my favorite restaurant that I ate at while in Havana! It’s very centrally located on the street, El Teniente Del Rey (yes, the street and the restaurant share the same name). It translates to, “lieutenant of the king.” On my first day in Havana, I did the free walking tour, and at the end, this was one of the restaurants that my guide ended up recommending. I’m so glad I listened to him and checked it out!

We went in at around 3p on a Friday, and we had the entire restaurant to ourselves! Maybe just because it was a random time? I wouldn’t be surprised if this place gets packed, as it is relatively small and in a great location. It was amazing, and the service was fantastic! The restaurant is open air, and open to the street, however, halfway through our meal the waitress closed the door because a cat kept coming in to beg.

My guide had recommended the seafood at this restaurant, and I decided that I should get seafood, if that was what he suggested! I ordered a chef’s special, which was grilled fish, lobster, and shrimp, served with white rice and some veggies. I also decided to order myself a pina colada!

Everything was absolutely amazing. I’m not normally a huge shrimp person, and thought that of everything, I would end up not eating the shrimp. Boy was I wrong! I scarfed all of the shrimp down. I also devoured the fish and the rice. Surprisingly, I didn’t love the lobster, but I think that was just me. I shared a meal with another solo traveler, and she ordered the exact same dish, and she ate ALL of the lobster. Also, I had filled up on the rice and simply didn’t have room for the lobster.

Just LOOK at this masterpiece.

The pina colada was also excellent! Almost every single drink that I had while in Cuba was uber-strong. They’re really heavy handed when it comes to liquor! At El Teniente Del Rey, though, I didn’t find the pina colada to be too strong. It was just as delicious as my meal was!

Dreaming of this pina colada.

The best part of the meal was the cost! Although it was one of the most expensive meals I ate while in Cuba, it was definitely worth it. I believe that my drink cost 4CUC (1CUC=.87USD). My entire meal cost 15CUC, and it was a ton of food. I definitely think it was worth it. Here in Chicago, that same meal would’ve cost me easily $25-30, if not more. It was incredibly reasonable, the food was delicious, and the service was fantastic! I definitely recommend this place.

El Dandy

El Dandy was recommended to me by a friend of a friend, and it did not disappoint. This was actually the first dinner that I ate in Cuba!

It’s actually located less than a block away from El Teniente Del Rey, on the same street. Super convenient. When I approached El Dandy to attempt to eat there, I found the doors closed. I tried to open them, and a man came out and informed me that there was a meeting occurring at the moment, but the restaurant would reopen in 30 minutes if I wanted to come back then.

I wasn’t starving, so I decided to just come back in a half hour. This “meeting” was occurring at 6p on a Thursday! I found it interesting, there were no signs or anything up about it.

In a half hour, I returned and was seated immediately. Upon arrival, fresh popcorn is served to the table (complimentary). I ate two bowls of it! Oops. I ordered pork tacos (carnitas), and they were absolutely delicious. One thing I noted is that in Cuba, cheese is not easy to come by! I ordered tacos or taco-like dishes multiple times, and none ever came with cheese. The pork tacos that I got were simply pork, chopped onions, and cilantro, on corn tortillas. They were so good!

Please excuse the blurry image, I was itching to dig in!

I decided to live on the wild side and try a drink that my tour guide that morning had recommended. Called canchanchara, this is supposedly the “drink of Cuba.” I heard that said about many drinks while over there, so maybe take that with a grain of salt! Canchanchara is rum, lime, honey, and ice. Super simple. El Dandy makes it STRONG. Holy smokes! I didn’t even get through half of it.

A super blurry pic of my drink!

El Dandy was super scrumptious, very affordable, and the service was excellent! I paid less than 16CUC for my dinner (tacos), and a water and canchanchara.

5 Sentidos

This was without a doubt, the fanciest place that I dined at in Cuba! I was staying nearby, and walking past, it looked nice. So I thought that I would try it. It was really fancy, especially considering the nearby places that I dined at.

Unlike most other places that I dined, this place was NOT open air, and the doors remained closed and guarded by an employee so that randoms didn’t just wander in and ruin the fancy ambience. It reminded me of a fancy Italian restaurant, with fine white tablecloths, wine glasses, and heavy silverware.

I dined at 5 Sentidos at around 7p on a Tuesday, and the place was relatively empty. There were maybe 3 other groups dining, and I seemed to be the only person in my waiter’s section. The service was insane.

I sat down and was immediately served a drink on the house (I have no idea what it was, and it was definitely not something I would’ve ordered myself! Very fruity). I ordered a water and checked out the menu.

It was also slightly pricier than I expected, with most of the entrees pricing at around 15CUC (close to what El Teniente Del Rey cost). However, the prices weren’t bad at all! I decided to order a super cheap meal only because I was totally running out of CUC and really didn’t want to have to change any more money.

I ordered the pork sirloin, and it cost 9.50CUC. It was a great amount of food, for that price, too! It was served with arancini, and those were delicious as well. The pork sirloin was served with a type of citrus sauce, and I was surprised by how much I liked it.

I mentioned that the service was phenomenal? I ordered and had my food in probably less than 15 minutes. Then, because my waiter had nothing better to do, the minute the last bite of pork was in my mouth, he swooped in with a container of toothpicks.

The good service/empty restaurant was both a blessing and a curse. I loved how quickly I got my food and the check, etc., but at the same time, it made me uncomfortable because he essentially watched me eat my entire meal. He literally had nothing other to do than stand and watch and make sure to be ready if I needed something. I guess that’s not terrible, it just made me slightly uncomfortable!

This was one of the few restaurants that I ate at in Old Havana that had a dessert menu! The desserts all looked and sounded phenomenal, but due to my budget constraints, I had to pass. My entire dinner (water+pork), cost about 13CUC. The cost, ambience, and speedy service make this place totally worth a stop!

Habana 252

As I mentioned above, the food/dining situation in Havana made me nervous. Because of this, before I came to Havana, I had restaurants in mind based on extensive Googling to see what places had the best reviews and what people recommended. Habana 252 was NOT on my pre-approved list of places, but I tried it anyways. And I’m glad I did!

When I was searching for internet near my Airbnb, I found that Parque Cervantes was the best and closest place. The first night that I went to sit there and use the internet, I walked past Habana 252, and it piqued my interest.

I sat down in the park and observed the restaurant while doing some quick googling. I actually had a hard time finding it on the maps (you have to zoom in a lot), and it had less than 10 reviews, although all were good. I decided to take a chance on it, and wandered on over.

Like many restaurants in La Habana Vieja, Habana 252 is really small. Oh, and it gets it’s name from the fact that the address is 252. I would assume it also gets the name because it is in La Habana Vieja, near Habana, the street. I was offered the option of sitting at the bar for drinks, or going upstairs for food. I was obviously there for food, so upstairs I went.

The best part of Habana 252 (aside from the food, service, and cost), is that it’s so close to Parque Cervantes, you can actually pick up the ETECSA wifi! This means you can have wifi while you eat, which is a total game changer. Almost no restaurants in Cuba have wifi available.

Super cute little eating area upstairs!

The upstairs was a pleasant surprise! It was super cute and very instagrammable! I was highly impressed. I was the only person dining (7p on a Monday), and so the service was insanely quick. I was in and out in less than 40 minutes, and was reminded of dining at a busy Chicago restaurant during the lunch rush. The service is quick, excellent, and the food is delicious!

Arguably one of the best meals I had while in Cuba.

I ordered ropa vieja. I had been in Cuba for almost a week and had yet to have the iconic dish! It definitely did not disappoint. And it was less than 10CUC! They do have a Happy Hour special on Monday nights (I believe it’s 50% off drinks before 6p), but I was there after 6p, so I missed out on this deal.

Habana 252 is definitely a hidden gem! I totally recommend this place, and honestly, I almost went back there a second time. The only reason I didn’t was because I needed to try more places!

O’Reilly 304

This restaurant was another restaurant that was recommended to me by a friend of a friend. However, on top of that, it was also recommended by several of my guides. I’m also really glad that I checked out this place. It was delicious!

I dined in for lunch around 1p on a Tuesday. I was seated immediately in the upstairs area, and was thrilled to find out that my waitress spoke fluent English! If you’ve been to Cuba, you know that finding English is a novelty. Especially finding someone who is fluent in English. I was so excited!

I was in a huge hurry, as I was running late in my plans, and I needed to get to my art lesson at 2p. Luckily it was only a few blocks away. I was really happy with the speedy service at O’Reilly 304. Like many places in Havana, it’s kind of a hole in the wall with terrible signage. I almost walked into the wrong restaurant trying to find it!

The waitress brought the menu and I just ordered a water. I loved the look of the funky water glasses, but I found them very hard to drink out of due to the shape and the thickness of the glass. They serve you chips (delicious!) and salsa which is complimentary. I chowed down on that while perusing the menu. On a whim, I decided to just try the O’Reilly Tacos. There was no real description on the menu, and I decided to just go for it.

They serve you a TON of food. It was seriously a ridiculous amount of food, and it was seriously messy. If you want dainty, ladylike food, this is not the place for you. At the end of my meal, I was a wreck. I’m sure I looked a sight while devouring my food! The service was also super quick, I was in and out in 45 minutes. I was impressed.

What made me love this place the most (despite the fact that the waitress spoke English), was that when I was presented with the check, she also gave me a beautiful lily! I almost never get flowers, so any time that I’m given a flower, it makes my whole day, if not my whole week. I was smiling from ear to ear as I walked out. My bill for the water and the tacos was around 13CUC, so not bad at all! This is another place that I would totally have visited again.

Jesus Maria 20

This was the very first place that I ate at in Havana! I booked an amazing Airbnb Experience, and this was the meeting place. I wasn’t anticipating ordering a meal, but upon arrival, I found the other participant ordering a meal, so I decided to eat, too.

The restaurant is super cute and colorful!

Jesus Maria 20 is a bit more off the beaten path. It’s located in San Isidro, the Arts District of Old Havana. It’s not far from everything else at all, though, and it’s very walkable. It’s such a cute place!

We ate on the upper level, which is really quite nice. Our Airbnb host told us that the restaurant opened recently, and is relatively new. It was all excellent! I ordered the burger, and it only cost around 6CUC! It was served with chips, and the burger itself was delicious.

My burger and chips.

I’m really glad I visited this place! It’s super cute and instagrammable, and also located right by the water, which was nice. I totally recommend it!

All of the restaurants I ate at were delicious! Don’t be afraid of the food situation like I was, it’s really not nearly as scary as my research and online sources made it out to be!

Green Bay Waterfalls

Green Bay is probably most well known as the home of the Green Bay Packers. I’ve now visited the city twice in the past year, and wanted to write about the waterfalls I visited on my most recent visit.

Green Bay is about 3 hours from Chicago, and it’s a super easy drive! Once you’re up there, there is plenty to see and do! I recommend finding time to visit these two waterfalls.

Wequiock Falls

Wequiock Falls is located just off of Highway 57 to the north of Green Bay. We stayed near Lambeau, and it took us less than a half hour to make the drive to these falls.

When I say, “just off the highway,” I mean, JUST off the highway. We almost missed the turn into the parking lot, it comes so quickly after the turn off of the highway. But this place does not feel at all like you’re located near a busy road! It’s truly a hidden gem.

When you pull into the parking lot, it doesn’t seem like much at all. In fact, I was getting nervous thinking I’d chosen a dud for us to stop and see. We walked up to the head of the parking lot, and immediately realized that we were above the falls! There is a small ravine that the falls flow into.

Looking down at Wequiock Falls. It took us a second to realize the falls were underneath us! I also loved how someone shaped the rocks down there into a spiral! Very Moana-ish.

There is a concrete bridge built so that you can walk from the parking lot over into a grassy park area. There is also a neat statue in this area. If you walk towards the road (parallel to the highway), you’ll find a staircase leading down to a view looking at the waterfall. If you’re not feeling adventurous, you can stop here!

Haha I didn’t realize my brother had snapped this one of me trying to pick my way across the rocks in my dress! So ladylike.

If you are looking for adventure, you can continue down the stairs. At this point, it’s marked as unmaintained, continue at your own risk. We took the risk! The lower stairs are pretty dilapidated. I hadn’t expected to be climbing into a ravine and was wearing, of all things, a white dress, and Birkenstocks. Not the best apparel for climbing over damp rocks!

I would recommend bringing water shoes to this spot. I was able to navigate along a bit of the sides of the ravine wearing only my Birkenstocks, but eventually I ditched them to walk across the rocks closer to the falls barefoot. The water flows towards the Bay, and there is a neat graffitied underpass, of sorts on one end.

Wequiock Falls!

When you head towards the falls, it’s gorgeous! Honestly, you can easily forget that you’re in Wisconsin. Such a neat place! The falls are surprising. I relied on my go to waterfall site, and it told me that Wequiock Falls is often dried up in summer time. We went in late June and there was plenty of flow, although we did go the day after a large storm.

All in all, this place is definitely worth a stop! It’s truly a magical hidden spot.

Fonferek’s Glen

This was actually the waterfall we went to first. I was majorly impressed, until we saw Wequiock Falls. In terms of size, this waterfall is much larger. It actually is a 30 foot waterfall, so it’s pretty large!

If you weren’t looking for this place, you would never find it. We pulled into the parking lot, and were surprised to find a house and a barn. Luckily, I had done my Google research and knew to expect this. Simply follow the trail around the barns and outbuildings, and you will reach the overlook for the falls.

It honestly took my breath away. I was not expecting it to be so large! And the same as with Wequiock Falls, I had read online that if you visited in the summer, there would be little to no flow. However, again, this was not the case! There was plenty of water flowing over the falls the day that we visited in late June.

Beyond the overlook, you can take a trail to head to the top of the falls, or a trail to head to the bottom of the falls. I’ll be totally honest. If you are nervous about hiking or nervous about waterfalls in any way shape or form, don’t do it. Both of these trails are blocked off, and marked with “proceed at your own risk” signs. We took the risk and skirted the barriers on each side and explored both trails.

More full disclosure? The Google Reviews of this spot literally have someone complaining about the fact that their daughter died at these falls, and that they’re incredibly dangerous and the country has done nothing despite their continued complaints. And after the trails we explored? I completely understand the danger and do not recommend hiking here unless you feel 100% up to it.

Looking down from the top of the falls.

Back to the point. If you hike to the right, to the top of the falls, you’re able to walk close to the edge and see right over the top! The water is chilly, but wasn’t horrible. You can also walk across to the other side, where supposedly a path will take you down to the bottom of the falls. We did not do this! We simply splashed around a bit and then headed to try and hike the other blocked off trail.

The other blocked off trail, to the left of the waterfall overlook, is considerably more blocked off, as it should be. We had to climb through the fence to hike this trail, which, maybe we shouldn’t have done. It’s pretty much a straight drop to climb down to the bottom of the falls. Again, I was wearing my white dress and Birkenstocks, so trying to navigate this was a nightmare.

While my family chose to scramble over the treacherous rocks like mountain goats, I went off in search of another trail that would hopefully lead to the bottom. I eventually turned back because the trails grew so narrow and steep that I deemed it not worth it. Instead, I cautiously picked my way down the steep rocks, only to find that it was still another straight drop of 3-4 feet down to the actual banks of the water. At this point, I gave up.

I would love to go back and explore more, in more appropriate clothing! It just wasn’t going to happen in my dress and sandals, while carrying around my massive camera. There is also supposedly a natural bridge in this park, so I would love to try and find that next time!

I absolutely recommend visiting this place, but please, please, do so at your own risk. I see the dangers of this place, and cannot in good conscience send anyone there without this warning!

If you’re planning to visit Green Bay, make sure to visit both of these spots!

Cuba Day 8

I couldn’t believe that it was finally time for me to head home. My week in Cuba was quite literally life-changing. For my first completely solo vacation, it was absolutely amazing. I woke up early, not wanting to risk missing my flight.

See, I had done research. The Internet and countless travel guides told me, “Arrive at the airport at least 3 hours early, as the Havana Airport can be unpredictable.” My flight wasn’t until 11:45, and the airport was only about 35-40 minutes away from my Airbnb. But, being extra cautious, I had my taxi come a bit before 7a.m. Just to be safe.

My ride to the airport.

By 7:30, I was already in line at the airport. I had checked in and gotten my tickets, and was waiting to clear customs. It seemed I had drastically overestimated how much time getting to the gate was going to take. Or had I?

The line wasn’t bad. I waited for about a half an hour, and then I was finally 4 people from the front of the line. This is when it all went horribly wrong. We stood still, not moving, for a long time. Finally, people began to get antsy. Of course, 97% of the people around me only spoke Spanish, so I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening.

People were getting nervous about missing their flights. It was only 9a.m., so I wasn’t panicked yet. However, people began to press and shove forwards. Fortunately, I was up front so I could see what was happening. I was juggling my large shoulder bag and my suitcase, while wearing a jean jacket (because the plane would inevitably be freezing), and people began to surround me on all sides. I started to sweat. It was getting unbearably hot.

Waiting in the endless line for them to stamp my visa and let me through customs.

With hordes of people surrounding me, and confusion running rampant, I was starting to get nervous. There was no ETECSA, no wi-fi, no cell service. I was completely alone to deal with this situation. We finally were made aware of what was happening. EVERY. SINGLE. COMPUTER. Had shut down. Nothing was working. No one could clear customs. God, what a nightmare. I swear I have PTSD.

Their first plan was insane. People who had imminent flights (as in, departing in less than 30 minutes), were told to pass their PASSPORTS forward through the crowds to officials. They would call out a flight number, and you were to relinquish your passport to strangers while it was passed forward to officials, who would then manually check your information. Your passports were then supposedly returned by officials pacing the length of the crowd yelling, “John Smith?! John Smith?! Passport for John Smith?!” It was insanity. I knew then and there that my passport was not leaving my hands. I can’t believe how many people willingly gave theirs up.

When it became clear that that wasn’t working all too well, they started trying to force people to clump up by flights. I heard the yells for “American!” and hustled over to the far corner, where I was squashed even more by angry crowds. A woman asked me if I was also taking Flight XXX (in Spanish), and I replied to her in broken Spanglish. My mind was in a frenzy, so I told her to give me a second to compose the answer in Spanish. She laughed. She spoke perfect English!

It turned out that she and her husband were not only getting on the same flight to Miami as I was, but they were also later taking the same connection on to Chicago! In the chaos, I decided to stick with them. It was inching closer and closer to time for our flight to depart. Finally, we started being allowed through the gates slowly.

Throughout this whole ordeal, tons of people had been putting their phones up above the crowd, as though at a concert. Videoing the chaos. Naturally, as I run a blog, I decided to do the same! This way, I could show people what the airport might be like, and why you need to arrive early.

I was finally allowed through customs, and entered the area to go through security. I snapped one last video of the masses pushing up against customs, and headed to put my stuff onto the belt. The next thing I know, a man is approaching me, yelling in Spanish. My Spanish is bad? His English was far worse.

Apparently, it’s incredibly frowned upon to take pictures and videos of their airport. Like, DON’T DO THIS. He and a few other officials snatched my passport. Then they demanded to see my phone. I was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. I finally realized they were angry about the videos. I showed them my phone, and they kept saying, “basura, basura.” I know enough Spanish to realize he wanted them thrown out.

I apologized and erased the videos, my hands shaking and my heart racing. They were threatening to not let me board my flight. They were holding onto my passport. I was already dangerously close to missing my flight. God, how had this day gone so wrong? I honestly thought they might try to detain me. I was terrified!

Once I erased the videos and showed him that they were gone, he handed my passport back reluctantly and waved me through. I sighed in relief, and sprinted through security to my gate. Where I realized– my flight (which was supposed to depart in 10 minutes), had been pushed back 20 minutes.

I went up to the gate agent, and she wrote down my name, to track that I had made it through security. We were finally allowed onto the plane, but we had to wait another 40 minutes (causing a total of an hour delay), for other passengers to clear security. What happened to “the train waits for no one?” Apparently, that’s not a thing in Cuba. I swear we waited for every single passenger.

First sight of the contiguous U.S. on the way back!

We finally were airborne. I was worried I would miss my connection! The minute we touched down in Miami, I was running. I sprinted through customs (thank God for Global Entry), and rushed into the airport. At customs, I was shocked. The guy didn’t bat an eye at me obviously returning from a Cuban vacation, something Americans aren’t technically supposed to be doing. It made it easy!

Once through customs, I had to go back through Miami Airport security to get into the terminal. With minutes to spare, I sprinted up to the Admirals Lounge, the exclusive lounge for American Airlines frequent flyers and cardholders. I quickly filled up my water and grabbed a few snacks for the road, then cruised down to my gate.

Got home just in time for a beautiful Chicago sunset.

I had made it with 20 minutes to spare. Once on the flight to O’Hare, I finally let myself relax. My first solo vacation was over. I had done it! I hadn’t died. I spent a whole week alone, and learned and grew a lot. I made it. It was truly the best week.

Cuba Day 7

I woke up around 8:30 to get ready for the day. Ana had my breakfast ready for me at 9, and oh man was it delicious! The bread that she served was unbelievable, so I may or may not have eaten the whole basketful. Oops.

She also cooked some fried eggs, and served them with platters of fruit, some sort of breakfast cake, and juice. It was all to die for. I was curious if she would make it at 6:30 tomorrow morning before my taxi arrived, but also, I didn’t want to be a jerk about it and make her get up at the crack of dawn.

After breakfast, I headed to the wifi park near the house, Park Cervantes. After letting everyone know I was alive, it was time for my drum lesson! It was ridiculously close by the house and the park, so it was an easy walk.

My Drum Instructors

I wandered in and we got started. I worked up a sweat! It was so much fun, even though they spoke very little English. We played several songs, and took a coffee break as well. It proved I still don’t like coffee, but I drank it to be polite. After my lesson, I was dying. It was so hot in their tiny apartment/music school.

I headed back to lay in my air conditioned room (which was less than one block away), for a little siesta. After relaxing and enjoying the AC, it was time to get on with my day. From the house, I walked up to the ETECSA one final time.

I was surprised at the chaos. I was able to slip in through the door, which was for once, unmanned. I sat down quietly to wait, and connected myself to the internet. Seeing that I knew what I was doing, a French woman begged me for help with the wifi, and I gladly obliged.

After awhile, I realized no employee was going to come and tell me that it was my turn. Instead, I needed to go stand in the chaotic “line” and wait. After a long wait, I received my last 3 ETECSA cards of the trip. 21 hours of internet, I’d bought, in total. All from this place, which meant that I’d come and gone from there 7 times! Will I finish all my cards? Probably not. But they don’t expire for a year, and they only cost $1 anyways. Maybe I’ll come back?

I quickly ran down to the restaurant that I wanted to eat at for lunch. I parked myself into a small table on the upstairs level, and was thrilled to find that the waitress spoke English! Excellent English. I ordered the O’Reilly Tacos (I have no clue what was in them), and then had a bottle of water and chips. All of it was delicious, if not super messy. When she brought the check, she brought me a flower, and it made my day.

From there, it was a short walk to the art studio. I actually had a brief moment to hop online on the way, and update my family. The art class was AMAZING. All three guys were great and spoke excellent English. Two kids from the neighborhood came and crashed the class for a bit as well, which was super fun.

We learned a few different art forms, and I had so much fun doing crafts! I feel like I never get to do stuff like that anymore. When the class was done, they told me that I could come back at 6p to pick up my art. It needed a bit more time to dry off. I said no problem! Then they shocked me by giving me a caricature! I’ve always wanted one, so this made my day even more than the flower had. I loved it.

From there, I headed back home to rest for a few before going back out in search of internet, dinner, and ice cream. I dropped off my flower from O’Reilly 304 and cooled down for a second.

Then I was off to find some internet! I sat in Cervantes Park until about 6p, when I headed back over to La Ubre to pick up my artwork. They had packaged it so nicely! I brought the package home so I didn’t have to lug it around, and walked myself over to dinner.

5 Sentidos was much fancier than I had imagined. Imagine an upscale Italian place. 5 Sentidos had a very similar vibe. White cloth tablecloths and napkins, with a guard manning the door to keep random people out. I was served a drink on the house the minute I walked in! The waiter was so attentive that it made me super self conscious, as I read my book and enjoyed my pork. He literally watched as I ate (the restaurant was relatively empty), and the minute the last bite of pork was in my mouth, he swooped in with toothpicks. A bit overmuch, in my opinion. I decided I should probably not eat dessert, and save my last 5CUC in case of emergency.

I headed back to the park, where I hung out until 8. At 8, I got up to go and was halted by a strange man who asked for a light (I had no idea people still did that), and got sucked into a strange conversation and Cuba vs. The Philippines. Finally, I excused myself, as I really needed to go home.

I got home, took a shower, and packed my bags. Snuggled into bed, I finished my book, and went to sleep. 

Cuba Day 6

I woke up early. Somehow, despite the roosters crowing at dawn again, I had managed to sleep through it this morning. However, I still needed to be up at 6:30 to have plenty of time before the taxi arrived.

I rolled out of bed and got ready to go, then asked Susana to turn on the wi-fi. With the internet on, I caught up with the world until breakfast was ready at 7:30.

I got the rooftop to myself, and basked in the glory of the new day. It was going to be gorgeous out. After breakfast, I waited for my taxi. He arrived at around 8:20, and I was excited to see a modern car (relatively speaking) instead of a 50s car! His 80s sedan had AIR CONDITIONING! And nice seats WITH HEADRESTS AND SUN VISORS. Oh the things we take for granted. I was the first pickup, and as such, I got to sit up front.

Next, we picked up a nice, elderly German couple. they were very curious and told me I was the only American they had met in Cuba so far, so I explained the process of coming here as an American. We pulled up in front of the 3rd party’s house, and I was mid-conversation with the couple when I heard, “Hi, I’m Jenny!”. I turned around in shock and saw that it was the Jenny I had befriended while riding horses two days before.

We both quickly caught up, and then relaxed for the long ride. We only stopped once, for the man to use the bathroom at the side of the road, and after that we cruised quickly to Havana.

We stopped just in the borders of Havana, and Jenny switched cabs, as she was not going the whole way into Havana, she was heading to Varadero. We said goodbye, and we drove into the city!

I was dropped off next. It was impressive. My ride from Havana-Viñales had taken almost 4 hours, and this ride barely took 2.5hours. What a difference a modern car and an organized driver makes! I was stunned to discover how centrally located my new Airbnb was. And it was ICY COLD due to working AC, with a massive shower. I was overjoyed.

My host was also very nice. She arranged for my laundry to be done, and organized breakfast for 9am the next morning. I laid in the cold room relaxing for an hour. I needed a nap because I’d woken up so early! Then I set out to find internet and alert the world that I was still alive.

I headed up to ETECSA, which was now gloriously close to my Airbnb and purchased 3 new cards. I updated the world a bit, and then went to Central Park to sit in the shade and read a book on my Kindle.

After an hour there, I decided to head up to the Museum of the Revolution. It seemed worth checking out! I arrived and checked my bag in, then bought my ticket. I was expecting the museum to take at least an hour to explore, if not more. The building itself is massive! However, this was not the case. I found that 90% of the building was under construction and not able to be seen. I saw (and read) everything there was within 45 minutes. Also, it wasn’t all in English, which was unfortunate. But I am still glad I went!

They do have a cool outdoor exhibit where you can see planes/trains/automobiles from the war and Revolution, and I thought that was pretty neat.

I walked around a bit through Old Havana and found a wifi park where I sat for a bit. I informed everyone I was going for a siesta, and went to lay down and read a book in my air conditioned room until dinner.

After my siesta, I headed back towards the wifi park, where I sat for an hour, enjoying the last sunshine of the day. A little boy approached me asking for money or food. I handed him a fruit leather strip, one of my remaining few that I had on me. I felt bad not giving money, but I was running low on funds and really did NOT want to have to exchange my last bit of USD before I left. I noticed a restaurant on the corner near the wifi park that looked really good, and I decided to chance it. I’m so glad that I did!

Habana 252 was delicious and had fantastic service! It was comparable to Chicago, and I was in and out in under 40 minutes. I was highly impressed on the whole.

After my dinner, I went back to sitting in the park. My little amigo found me again, and I felt bad that I had nothing more to give him. Oh well. Maybe tomorrow!

I headed back to my Airbnb where I found my laundry done and folded on my bed. It made my whole night! I definitely didn’t need to have laundry done (I totally overpacked), but I appreciated having clean pajamas and the fact that I could pack my suitcase without having to worry about bringing home mountains of dirty laundry.

I took a shower and curled up in bed to watch movies that I had downloaded to my devices. It was almost time for my last day in Havana.

Cuba Day 5

Ahhhhhh beach day. I woke up early to the sound of the roosters at 5:10 in the morning. They didn’t let up until 8a. It was insanity.

I lounged in bed on my phone until it was time for breakfast at 8:15. Having Internet in bed was such a luxury, I honestly could’ve laid there all day. Breakfast was out of this world. Looking at the mogotes from Susana’s rooftop was amazing. Stunning. I enjoyed my breakfast, but definitely could not finish it all.

I got my bags ready for the beach, and at 8:50, my taxi arrived. I was the first to be picked up. We rode and picked up a girl who spoke English, I was so excited. She and her father were travelling from Germany. She had wanted to come solo but her parents were too overprotective.

After picking them up, we picked up 4 others who spoke different languages. As our driver called it, it was a “coche del mundo,” or a car of the world. The ride to the beach took about an hour and forty five minutes. If the roads were better, it would be much quicker, but the roads are so pock-marked, it’s impossible to go quickly. Especially in a car from 1953.

It was very funny. 4 cars left Viñales at a similar time, and we kept leapfrogging one another the whole way there. Relatively smooth road? The new Hyundai surged ahead. Smaller potholes? The old blue Ford would pass us! Then all of a sudden, we’d fly past them both. It was a fun pattern that I enjoyed observing.

Finally, we reached a sign marking 4km to Cayo Jutias. Time to rejoice! Except… he quickly informed us that the sign was incorrect and it was not 4km, but 11! I was squished between the driver and another large man, with no leg room. It was getting hot and uncomfortable, so I was so happy when we finally arrived! We all decided to meet back at 4, to head back, and we hit the beach.

The final stretch of road… The views were STUNNING.

I found a secluded spot down the beach, and laid out my stuff to relax. It was glorious. I don’t ever remember being so relaxed. I got to lay in the sun and read a book for 5 hours! The restaurant also serves you beachside, so I was able to order and receive a pina colada without getting up! And it was only 3CUC. The small price to pay was the waiter asking me to go out to salsa that night, but I just politely declined.

My Pina Colada.

The beach was interesting. Not overly crowded, and a lot of Europeans! Halfway through, I started noticing that there was a lot more nudity than I expected!

At 4p.m., we all piled back into the clown car. I thought it was hot being squished between them in the morning? After the black cab had been sitting in the sun all day, it was now boiling. I was melting on the way home, and of course our driver kept stopping to chat with friends on the side of the road!

After we dropped everyone off, I asked if he would be able to take me to the Prehistoric Mural. It was less than 4km away. I told him I would pay extra! He took me to the mural, and allowed me to practice my Spanish with him along the way. We paid the 3CUC admission, and I got out to explore. I asked for five minutes, but I know he would have been fine with more!

I didn’t want to take too much of his time, so I got out, checked it out, and quickly returned. Upon arriving back at my casa, he informed me that the cost for the WHOLE DAY (journey to and from Cayo Jutias and then to the moral and back), was only 20CUC! I was astounded. I had previously been told that the ride to and from the beach was 25CUC total, and assumed the mural would cost me at least 10CUC extra. My cab driver, Joaquin, is my new favorite person!

Back at Susana’s, I took a quick shower and then watched the sunset over the mogotes from her rooftop, ending my day as it had started.

Cuba Day 4

I woke up and laid in bed reading for a bit. Then, I went off in search of a Cadeca (money exchange). I went the wrong way, several blocks. Then I asked 3 different people, and finally found the cadeca. It was very close to my Airbnb!

I exchanged more of my money, and then set off to find the wi-fi park. I sat in the wi-fi park for 1 hour, communicating with the world. Then, it was time to go pack up my stuff.

I packed up and said goodbye to Rafael. He brought my bags downstairs and tried to convince me to wait upstairs. The weather was nice (ish), so I decided to wait outside. No worries!

At 11:15, my collectivo (shared taxi) pulled up in front. See? Waiting outside had not been an issue. I squeezed into the backseat with two large men. We began the drive into Old Havana. Soon, the two men got out, and it was just me and the woman in the front seat left. She was let out soon after, and it was just me.

We made the drive back towards Revolution Square, where he stopped and parked near the Viazul bus station. Before I knew what was happening, he put me in the front seat and had let a family into the back. And we were off!

Or so we thought. 15 minutes later, we were BACK at the bus station, picking up one last straggler. Now, we were heading to Viñales and Pinar del Rio. Once on the highway, we were flying. Almost immediately, he stopped by the side of the road for snacks. I shook my head, because I had snacks in my bag!

Then, we stopped at a gas station for no apparent reason. We waited for a few minutes, then got back underway. Then we stopped at another gas station where we had to wait for a long time to get gas (there are lines at gas stations in Cuba). Finally, we were cruising. First, we dropped the family off in Pinar del Rio. Then, the straggler and I were the only two left. Once in Viñales, we let the straggler out at the gas station. And it was time for me to ride horses.

We arrived at Boris’ place around 3p. I had to leave my bags there and was immediately placed on top of Piña Colada, my horse for the day. She was 10 years old and I loved her the minute I laid eyes on her. I was shocked that they did not offer any sort of instruction. I was simply thrown up onto the horse.

For me it was a non-issue. I spent a lot of time riding as a child. I would definitely not have wanted to do this experience if I’ve never ridden before though.

We were led through the trails to a small house where we were offered drinks. I had a mango juice, which was delicious. Then he brought out the Cuba libre, which was rum mixed with cola. It was crazy strong. I started talking with the other guest on the experience, Jenny. She was super nice, and also a female solo traveler. Thankfully, her English was superb.

After our drinks, we were taken to learn about coffee. Our guide was so knowledgeable, we learned about coffee and how it was grown, harvested, and produced, and also the same about rum and honey! We were able to sample the honey and take a shot of the rum. It was strong stuff (40%)! I wished I could’ve bought some honey, but they only had large bottles which would not go in my carry on luggage.

From there, we went back to learn about cigars and tobacco! We were able to see the entire process. He explained how they dried the leaves, and then showed us how they roll their cigars. It was amazing. I also got to smoke a cigar! I did NOT end up making a fool of myself, thankfully. I coughed on the first try, and then smoked nearly half of it. I bought 6 to bring home, 2 for each step-brother and 2 for my step-dad!

After this, we continued our ride. We rode our horses up to a stunning lake. Jenny and I were able to take pictures of the mogotes and the lakes. It was absolutely amazing. We saw so much wildlife! It was fantastic. Then, it was time to go eat.

We went back to where we had our drinks earlier, and were immediately served platter upon platter of food while we watched the sunset over the mogotes. It was all to die for! We had rice and beans, chips, a salad, and yucca with pork. Delicious! I also had another mango juice.

After we ate, they tried to teach me how to play Cuban dominoes. It was way trickier than I thought, and I still don’t fully understand it! It’s almost like mahjong. We played 3 games, and I think I won one. Maybe. After that, we got to ride our horses home.

Piña Colada was amazing and picked her way from the dark with ease, allowing me to marvel at the constellations above me. It was truly magical. From Boris’ house, a taxi drove me to my casa in Viñales, and that was that!

My host Susana was amazing. Her house has wi-fi, which is super rare. I had her turn it on and was able to browse the internet before bed, a luxury I hadn’t had in DAYS. I took a shower and climbed into bed.

How To Finger-Knit

I first learned to finger knit when I was in high school. I wanted easy Christmas gifts, and arm knitting appeared on my Pinterest one day. So, that year, I arm knit scarves for EVERYONE.

Shortly after that, it occurred to me. If I could knit on my arms, why not my fingers as well? I later would try and apply this concept to knitting with chopsticks (because I was not about to spend money on knitting needles if this was going to be an epic fail), and it did not work nearly as well. But the finger knitting? Cake.

These have become my go-to gifts for people. This year, I knit scarves for the entire support staff of my office, as I wanted to give out little gifts. Everyone loves these things, and when they find out you’ve made them, they’re instantly more impressed!

The best part about these scarves is their price. You can get a skein of yarn for about $2 at Walmart, and you typically only need one skein to complete a scarf! So these make great gifts, but also, if you love wearing scarves like I do, you’ll be able to own scarves in every color for a super low price!

Here is a video tutorial of how to finger knit a scarf. Hope you enjoy it!

Let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to help in any way that I can!

Cuba Day 3

I woke up late, around 9:30, on my second morning in Cuba. I spent awhile lounging in bed, reading on my Kindle, and letting my poor, aching, foot rest. At around 10:30, I emerged from my room and asked my hosts if it would be relatively easy to find a taxi in front of the house.

Claudia began making calls immediately. It took nearly a half hour, and we finally decided to just go down the corner and try and find a cab! I was surprised by how long it took. Once in the cab, I was surprised when the cabbie told me it was only 5CUC to get downtown. I definitely was not going to pay more than 5CUC to get home tonight then! No way, Jose.

I had him take me to Central Park, where I planned to stay on the internet for an hour or so. I didn’t need to be anywhere until 12:30. I sat online and caught up.

Shortly after I parked myself on a bench, a man came and sat down next to me, trying to strike up a conversation. After 30 minutes of stilted conversation came the sob story. He needed to go pick up his baby and he and his wife had no money for milk. If it were anywhere else in the world, I’d have given him a couple bucks to get him off my back. But this is Cuba. In Cuba, my credit and debit cards did not work. My money supply was limited, especially now that I was relying on cabs.

I apologized and handed him a few cents. Less than .50cents. But it was all I could spare. And with that, he left. Shortly thereafter, another man came to strike up discussion. I shut him down quickly telling him I needed to be on the internet, and so he moved along.

The lovely ETECSA on Obispo.

At this point, I decided to go to ETECSA and pick up a few more cards. Why not? I was not doing anything. I grabbed three more cards and sat and enjoyed the wifi for a bit. It was time to head to Sloppy Joe’s Bar to meet my Airbnb Experience! I arrived right at 12:30 and introduced myself to the two guys. There was a driver and a photographer. Both seemed nice! However, the other two people who had booked the experience did not show, and by 12:40, we decided to go without them.

I lucked out, I had a 2 hour private tour of Havana by car, and due to the fact that the others had booked it and bailed, I was able to only pay $20 for the whole thing. Typically, a car rental costs $60 (according to most Airbnbs–this is not necessarily true here in Havana). However, since 3 of us were meant to be on the tour, it was meant to be $20/person. The host graciously honored that pricing for me, despite taking a huge loss!

I enjoyed the tour for the most part. I had chosen a very short, very flippy dress, and it happened to be the windiest day of the year. It was ridiculous. On top of that, the host spent a lot of the time hitting on me, which was super unprofessional, in my opinion. It was the first time I felt uncomfortable in Havana! But we did see many cool places, including the statue of Christ and El Morro, two places I had not expected to make it to during my trip (not for lack of want!).

After the tour, I met back up with Marcela by heading to meet her at her place. And guess who I saw outside? My salsa teacher from the day before! What are the odds? It was a fun, brief reunion.

Marcela and I decided to try El Teniente del Rey, and it did NOT disappoint. We both got the Mariscada, which was a chef specialty. It was grilled lobster, shrimp, and fish, served with rice and veggies. For only 15CUC! It was a ton of food and it was delicious! I also splurged and ordered a piña colada, which was also fabulous. We had the whole restaurant two ourselves, which was nice, and service was fantastic. Halfway through our meal, we were joined by a begging cat. The waitress informed us that she had given birth days before. She had 7 kittens, but only 3 were surviving. 4 had died. What a tragic story!

From El Teniente del Rey, we walked up to Central Park to connect to wifi. I also showed Marcela La Floridita and La Gran Manzana Hotel! I could be a tour guide by now. We agreed to meet back in Central Park at 6:20, after my next tour!

In case you’re wondering what a “death cab” is…

From Central Park, I took a “death cab” as I decided to call them, up to La Punta to meet Daniela, my next photographer. Of course, my decision to hop in a death cab was met with so much rain! I was wet and cold by the time we reached La Punta.

I met Daniela at 4:30, and had a blast getting to know her and taking so many pictures over an hour and a half. We visited many famous places, such as La Punta, El Paseo, the Capitol, the Revolution Museum, and more. And the pictures turned out amazing!

At 6p, I told her I had to go and meet Marcela. She even walked me back to Central Park, as I was hopelessly spun around! She was absolutely fantastic. 

Marcela and I wandered around for awhile. We were stopped by a woman who was begging us for diapers. She wanted us to go into the drugstore with her and get them, as she was heavily pregnant. Due to my limited funds, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. The woman wanted like $30 worth of stuff! Marcela proved to be a much better person than me.

We went into the store and purchased diapers and soap for her (well, Marcela did). They were crazy expensive!!! I attempted to take a picture of the store (as it was EMPTY), just so I could show my Mom what a drugstore was like. (She had told me to go buy “liquid band-aid” to fix my foot. I said I didn’t think drugstores had anything. I was right.) Surprisingly, the pregnant lady saw me trying to snap a picture and started yelling at me!!! So I didn’t get a pic.

After this interlude, we simply parked ourselves in the alley by Hotel Inglaterra and hung out on the wi-fi! We stayed for nearly an hour and a half! Her excursion for Saturday had been cancelled so we tried to see if she could join me for mine! Unfortunately, it did not work out. We said our goodbyes, as she would be leaving before I returned on Monday, and I hopped into a cab back to Centro.

To ruin my day completely, I was ripped off by my taxi driver. I wish that I was the kind of person who could say something or stick up for herself when that kind of thing happened, but unfortunately, especially with the language barrier, it’s very difficult. I’m not an idiot though, I know to pay attention to my money.

I handed him a 20CUC and asked for change. He “sneakily” swapped my 20CUC for a 20CUP he was holding. Then told me I needed to give him 20CUC. So I was forced to exchange a perfectly good 20CUC and take his 20CUP which he was claiming was initially mine. It sucked. Majorly. I got into my room and cried about it. I had just lost over 30USD to a 2km cab ride.

To further explain: 1CUC=.87USD. So basically an even conversion. However, 1CUC=24CUP. So it takes 25CUP to make ONE USD. That conversion is astronomical. He took my 20CUC (the equivalent of 20USD), and swapped it for 20CUP (the equivalent of LESS than 1USD). It was the scummiest thing!

I wish I could’ve or would’ve said something, but I knew nothing would come of it. My day was officially ruined. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted! But I refuse to let this ruin the rest of the trip. I allowed myself to cry for the night, but the next day, I would be okay.

Cuba Day 2

Oh what a day! I woke up bright and early because my Airbnb host wanted to make sure that I was OK before she left for work for the day! I figured I’d start my day instead of sleeping for another hour as intended.

I read a bit on my Kindle, then got ready for the day. The minute I walked outside, I was wishing for a jacket! It was chilly and slightly misting. I was surprised. Not the best weather for my first day in the Caribbean. Oh well!

I walked to the park where Rafael and Claudia had told me that I could buy internet. I made it there easily, but couldn’t find anywhere to buy ETECSA cards. Dozens of cars were on the street, but they clearly were not where you purchased cards from.

I approached a woman who was sitting by herself, and thankfully she spoke English! She told me to walk two blocks to the west to find ETECSA to buy cards. Three blocks later, I gave up. West was the opposite direction of Old Havana, where I intended to spend my day. I figured I’d find something along the way.

I almost got hit by a bus, but finally made it to the Capitol building. Hm. Where to go from here? I found Central Park, the meeting place for my Airbnb tour, yet I still needed to locate ETECSA. With time to spare, I typed it into Google (I had downloaded Google Maps of Havana and so I was able to search without Internet) and found that the Obispo location for ETECSA was not far.

The masses trying to get internet at ETECSA.

At ETECSA, I was very confused by the process. What a nightmare! I was told I needed to sit and wait. So I went to sit. There was a man directing everyone where we were to sit. He ignored me so I chose my own seat. Somehow, everyone was called before me. Even people who had come in after me!

Everyone was waved through quickly to the front desk, one after another. Finally, I sat up front, irritated with the whole situation. It had been almost 20 minutes. He glanced at me, and instead of waving me to the front of the office, he sent me to the very back. Why did I have to wait? No clue. Why was I sent to the back of the building instead of the front, along with everyone else? No clue. It’ll remain a mystery for forever.

I was asked how many ETECSA cards I wanted. I replied, “20, or however many you can give me.” I was hoping to get a week’s supply all at once. She told me, they could only give 3 per person, but I could come back in an hour for three more. Fine. Whatever. I let her see my passport and paid her 3CUC (1hr=1CUC). With that, I had internet. With only 30 minutes until my tour started, I set out to find a hotspot right away. Central Park happened to be one, so I sat there to be online and wait. I assured everyone that I was alive, and sent them some pictures to appease them.

Central Park

At 10:30, I stood up and began to look for my guide. I finally approached a man who was standing alone and asked if he was the guide. He told me that we were expected to have 6 other people in the group! We waited for almost 20 minutes, but no one else showed. So I got my own private tour of Cuba!

My guide, Fernando, was fantastic. His English was the most impeccable that I had encountered thus far. And even as I write this at the end of Day 1, it remains the most impeccable. He formerly worked as a translator for the government, which is a part of the reason his English was so superb. He was incredibly knowledgeable and told me so much about Cuba! We covered a lot of ground in two hours. And luckily, at this point, the weather had gotten better. Sunny and no more drizzles.

At the end of the tour, my feet were SCREAMING. I had tried to wear my Birks hoping to avoid that ugly break-in period. Bad call. I definitely did not avoid it. I headed back up to ETECSA to grab more internet. Once there, it was a much quicker process! He sent me back very quickly. I realized the ETECSA store WAS an internet hot spot, so I stayed there for almost an hour, catching up on internet usage. Then it was time to head to activity #2.

With my feet very nearly bleeding, I made my way towards the Arts District of Havana. Halfway there, I decided I needed food. I had forgotten to pack my snacks in the morning (yes, I travel with food), and hadn’t eaten since my flight the night before. I stopped at a cart on the street and bought a banana!

I walked to Jesus Maria 20, the bar at which we were meeting, snacking on a banana. I leaned against the wall, and realised I was 15 minutes early! I could feel that the ocean was close by, so I decided to walk over and see it while I waited. As I was about to go, a man stopped me and tried to tell me something about my banana. Due to his poor English and my poor Spanish, I didn’t get what he was saying. I felt bad. However, I asked for the garbage and he was actually kind enough to throw my peel out for me!

And so, now banana-less, I walked to the ocean. Halfway there, I was stopped by a man who wanted me to eat at his restaurant, some John Lennon place. He was super nice and friendly. His wife was from Chicago so he was excited to meet another Chicagoan! I told him I’d try and come back and headed to sit by the ocean.

At this point, I needed to do something. I pulled out the flat sandals that I had in my bag in case my Birks failed and threw them on. It was a WORLD of difference. With happier feet, I headed back to the bar.

At the door, I showed security the screenshot of my Airbnb experience and asked if I was in the correct place. He told me yes and sent me up the stairs to the rooftop! I walked up and hesitantly showed the waitress the same picture.

She smiled and pointed me towards the table where a girl was seated. I walked over and introduced myself, thinking she was the photographer! She said, “Oh I ordered some food, I hope you don’t mind.” And I was ecstatic because despite the banana, I was starving! I ordered a hamburger and we made small talk.

A few minutes into our stilted conversation, another girl showed up with a camera. It turned out, the girl who I was sitting with, Marcela? She had also booked the experience! We each believed the other to be the photographer! However, Lisi was our real photographer.

Lisi held conversation with each of us as our drinks arrived (Marcela had a mojito, I was boring and just had a water!). Then she invited us up to the upper level of the bar to start the photo session. As we were ascending the spiral staircase, our waitress delivered our food to the table. Marcela and I decided to keep taking photos and wait to eat. She went first, and then went down to eat, then it was my turn!

The rooftop mural at Jesus Maria 20.

Lisi and I then went down to join her while I enjoyed my hamburger! I have NO IDEA what was on it, but it was delicious. And, it was only $6! We chatted for awhile, then asked for the check and began taking more photos in the bar. Finally, we were ready to go!

We hit the streets, looking for fun murals and street art to pose with. We had the best time with Lisi, and the three of us all hit it off. After taking several photos in the streets, we wandered into an art gallery. Lisi wanted to take photos of us in the gallery. It turns out we had just missed salsa lessons! However, the band had hung around. The next thing I know, Marcela is salsa-ing around the gallery like a pro, and it was a full on dance party!

The Art Gallery

And all of a sudden, I’ve got a guy trying to teach me how to salsa, as Lisi is snapping pics of my inadequacy and Marcela’s grace! It further proved that I cannot dance. Oh well. I tried, and had an absolute blast!

From there, we headed to take more photos with street art. I ran into my banana vendor friend, who was super excited to see me again, and very very friendly. So that was fun. After posing with many other murals, I glanced at the clock to see that it was 4pm! Our photo session was from 2-4. I looked at Lisi apologetically and told her I felt horrible that we had gone over.

However, she told me that she wanted us to get all of the pictures that WE wanted. The Experience promised that we would get to see the Capitol, and since it was included, Lisi wanted to make sure we got pics there. I am so so grateful to her for sticking with us crazies!

My feet had been faring much better up until now, but as we were picking our way through the chaotic streets of Old Havana, I felt it. The blister popped. Instant, horrible pain. I refused to say anything and simply limped along beside them, trying to keep my gait normal.

We reached the Capitol and I told Lisi to go ahead and shoot Marcela first, as I wanted to deal with my foot. Ugh. I looked down to see the blister to end all blisters on the sole of my foot. Thanks Birks! I stuck a bandaid on, knowing it was a futile attempt.

Lisi snapped some pics of me in front of the Capitol, and then we walked (I limped) up to the very front of the Capitol, where she took even more pictures. At this point, I threw my Birks back on, hoping they would help support my blister rather than antagonize it, as my flat, unsupportive sandals were doing. It helped, but not much.

I very nearly was hit by a car as I was crossing the street, but I survived! And so ended our photo shoot. Lisi gave us tons of recommendations, and we all took a selfie! At the end of it all, her photo count was upwards of 700 photos of us. Oops. But the results were absolutely amazing. Of the three photo shoots I did while in Cuba, Lisi’s pictures were my favorite.

Marcela wanted to check out a clothing store Lisi had mentioned, so I tagged along with her. Clandestina is a Cuban clothing brand, and they had some amazing stuff! I felt bad that both my budget was so tight, and that my suitcase had so little room to spare. Marcela bought a super cute t-shirt, and we chatted with the employee about wifi and where to find it. And about what their lives were like without it! It was a fascinating conversation.

We decided to get dinner together at El Dandy, a restaurant that had been recommended to me several times. However, when we crossed the street to head in, the doors were locked! We were told that there was a meeting going on, and the restaurant would not open for 30 more minutes, if we wanted to wait and come back.

I realized the ETECSA was not far from where we were, so I decided to head up there and told Marcela she was welcome to join! We each bought 3 more ETECSA cards (this time I got waved STRAIGHT back with no sitting and waiting! — moving up in the world), and sat down to utilize their wifi. Before we knew it, we had been there for nearly 40 minutes! We were able to connect on social media, exchange pictures and videos, and catch up with our social medias, emails, and messages! Time well spent.

Then we headed back to El Dandy. We were stopped by a man who wanted to sell us tickets to a salsa festival! Marcela was excited because she thought it was the one that she was going to, and she wanted me to get tickets and join! If not for my foot’s bloody condition, I totally would have.

However, she soon realized that what the man was talking about was different from the salsa festival she had bought her tickets for. She decided to think it over and see if she’d rather go to his. We went to sit in El Dandy, and she decided that she wanted to get tickets to this different one!

We ate a delicious dinner. I had carnitas with a traditional Cuban drink called Canchanchara. It was STRONG. I shared with Marcela and she agreed! I couldn’t finish it. After dinner, we asked the friendly security guard for directions to buy the tickets for the salsa festival. I told Marcela I would walk with her to do it. However, his directions confused us even further. we decided to first go to her Airbnb, so I would know how to find it tomorrow. (441 Villegas). After she showed me her place and swapped out her purse, we headed to look for salsa tickets. We realized it still wasn’t the right place, and she gave up on attempting to go to salsa for the night. We said our goodbyes and finalized our plans to meet up for tomorrow (making plans is REALLY hard when you have no way to contact the other person day of!), and that was that.

I decided to walk up to Central Park to connect with my parents one last time and let them know I was alive. Due to my foot, I was definitely taking a cab instead of walking the nearly 3km back to my Airbnb! I got online at Central Park, and touched base with home and the rest of the world. Then it was time to find a cab.

I approached a group of men and asked for a taxi, showing them my Airbnb address. They all looked befuddled. I tried to explain, it’s not far from here, I walked this morning! After several minutes of head scratching, they quoted me 10CUC, a price that my screaming feet happily agreed to. I climbed into the cab and bid Old Havana goodbye.

However, that was not the end of my day! My cab driver took me to the wrong location. I put it in Google Maps and showed him that we needed to be heading the OTHER direction on Padre Varela, the street I was staying on. We did a U-turn and headed back my way. All of a sudden, we were passing places I’d passed on my morning walk. Irritated, I handed him his 10CUC and said I’d walk. Luckily it was less than a block away!

Home at last. I took a shower, very gingerly, as I protected my poor foot. Fun fact: my Airbnb shower was clearly not pictured online due to its size… I hardly fit! 12 inches from the curtain to the wall, and less than 3 feet wide! I pancaked myself in and faced the curtain, trying not to move at all, because any move I made simply glued the shower curtain to my wet body. It was an experience.

I crawled into bed, ready to sleep for years.  Just checked my step counter– I walked over 10 miles today. It’s fine, I’m fine. Why did I not eat more? I should be starving. And super thirsty. Hm. I resolved to not walk nearly as much any of the following days, my feet were in rough shape.