I don't normally do stories from the vault.. but, here you go:
Old Havana was so much better than the tourist traps
It was just what we needed after a brutal winter in Montreal — a warm sea breeze, rum on the beach, and music wherever you went. I fell in love with Old Havana with its beautiful Spanish architecture. While the presence of the police on the beach was a constant reminder that we were in a communist country, for the most part we stayed oblivious, chatting with locals, building bonfires on the beach, haggling over prices of street art and, of course, cigars.
One day the four of us decided to drive down to Varadero, a city built for tourists. We had to pay a tax to drive in-a convenient mechanism to keep the locals out, and I was disappointed at what greeted us: a long road with big resorts on either side. There was absolutely no character, no music, but ATM machines aplenty!
I felt relieved that instead of this manufactured holiday, we had experienced the ‘real’ Cuba! After spending the day in the comfort of a luxury resort, jet-skiing and the like, we decided to drive back to Havana at about 3 am. Half an hour into the journey, a thunderstorm washed out the road and we could barely see the night! Not sure if we were even on the road, we steered on until we found the light of a cafe in the distance. The locals were stranded much like us, and because my friend Ivan spoke Spanish, we spent a great evening laughing with them, finding out about their lives. And then, just as suddenly as it had started, the rain stopped — as torrential downpours often do!
We got home by sunrise, and went to Havana to have an early breakfast at a popular local restaurant. Women arrived to buy freshly baked bread, and Varadero and its shiny buildings seemed like a bad dream!
The last day turned out to be cloudy and the beach was closed with a red flag. A few of us made our way down there despite the lack of sunshine. I’m not sure how, but Ivan almost magically found a band of local singers to serenade us. Authentic, yes! Comparable to high-end resorts? No, actually, they don’t compare!