Cuba – climbing out of the past

It seems a lifetime ago now but just ahead of the US presidential visit, we achieved a long-held ambition to visit Cuba.

When I saw Obama’s entourage on the news, sheltering from the torrential rain under their umbrellas, I thought of the dozens of families living in this derelict building next door to us in Havana. I knew they’d be getting wet – because you can see the sky through their “roof” and this grand, colonial structure no longer has any doors, windows, or proper drains.

A dozen or more families live in this dilapidated building in Havana.

A dozen or more families live in this dilapidated building in Havana, a few doors along from our Casa.

Thousands of people live in similar conditions in Havana and Obama’s carefully managed tour definitely didn’t include places like this.

We stayed in Centro Havana, not the swankiest part of town but close to the old centre and everyone we met was very friendly.

We stayed in Centro Havana, not the swankiest part of town but close to the Vieja (historic old town) and everyone we met was friendly and made us welcome.

We only had a week, so we decided to focus on Havana. We didn’t want a sanitised, tourist experience and we wanted our money to go directly to the locals who need it most (the state, still owns or controls almost everything in Cuba). So, rather than staying in an international hotel (as depicted in “The Godfather”, many were run by the US Mafia before the revolution), we sought out a little “Casa Particular” (a private home with a bit of space to rent). It was very basic but we could not have been made to feel more welcome.

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Havana is a visual feast, held together by rhythm, rum and sunshine. Go with an open mind and you’ll meet great people and come home with memories to last a lifetime.

I’m looking forward to going back to explore the climbing in Valle de Viñales.

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