After the escapades with Ty's snoring we were pleased to hear over breakfast that the Polish were only in our dorm for one night.

Our first stop for the day was at the Casa de Cambio around the corner to change some of our CUC into the local currency, the peso, before Kylie, Ty and I wandered leisurely along the Malecon (waterfront promenade) towards the Old Town, stopping to look across the straight to the imposing fortress on the other side. Wandering around Havana is like stepping back in to a time warp. It is a visual feast for the eyes, everywhere you look classic American cars are picturesquely parked beside dilapidated buildings, once grand in their heyday and still beautiful now, but in need of some tender loving restoration. They city feels rather like a beautiful lady in a ragged dress.

Our first opportunity to use the local peso was to satisfy our grumbling tummies with icecream, empanadas and pizza from one of the hole in the wall places that, since the regime changes, are now a common site in any Cuban town. While definitely not coming close to New York Pizza or Italian gelato when lunch for the 2 of us was only 16 peso ($0.75 US) we weren't complaining!
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The Capitol building
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Menu board at Tys favourite pizza shop
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Vintage
We decided to relax in the park next to the Capitol building where we got the chance to watch a rather spirited debate between a group of Cuban men. Initially we thought they were having a fight but apparently its more likely that they were debating baseball (the national sport).

Fidel’s gift to the people was affordable ice-cream and after a siesta at the Casa we set out with Kylie and another German girl for Copelia (the government chain). Previously the Havana site was occupied by a notoriously elite ice cream parlour. Silly me left my sunglasses on the airport bus, and unlike other countries sunglasses are not an easy thing to come by in Cuba, so, tired of being squinty eyed, Kylie and I bought panama-style(ish) hats from a local street vendor. Arriving at Copelia the security guard tried to tell us that it was closed to foreigners for the day and a friendly local and his girlfriend struck up a conversation with us. We had heard about the ‘jinetaros’ who try to solicit tourists, and then take a cut from wherever they take them, and the German girl we were with had had a bad experience with one of them during her trip, so in her rather brusque German manner told this guy to go away. It was a bit awkward ‘cos I think he was just a genuine nice guy who wanted to be helpful to our situation and he told the security guy we just wanted to go in to take a photo. We walked inside to have a look and in my rather poor Spanish I asked one of the staff that since we had peso’s were we allowed to eat there, and he said it was no problem so we joined the queue. Apparently its not closed to tourists but they want you to go to the outside icecream stand and pay in CUC, as the security guard came over later on to try to get us to leave again. 

Tyro was debating with me about the fact that I was taking subsidised icecream from the Cuban people and accused me of just not wanting to pay more for it, but for me it wasn’t about the price – I wanted to immerse myself in Cuban culture and the Copelia restaurants are a key part of celebrations for Cuban peoples so I wanted to experience that. Plus I thought he was being a bit hypocritical since I couldn't see the difference between me eating peso priced icecream and him eating peso priced pizza. Copelia is open from early morning to late at night, 7 days a week, and at all times you will find a queue of people waiting for their treat. After about 15 minutes we were seated and able to soak up the atmosphere. The icecream flavours depend on what’s available, or in season, and for 5 peso ($0.20 US) we were given 5 scoops of vanilla and orange icecream. It was delicious! The Cubans around us were really going to town and ordering bowls of what looked like a sponge cake to eat with it. 
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Mmm icecream!
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Mojito's at the Hotel Nationale
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Hotel Nationale by night
We had heard that the best place to watch the sunset is at the Hotel Nacionale; Havana's grandest hotel, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Malecon. Although we took rather the long route there we managed to arrive in time to sit on the waterfront, mojito in hand and watch the fading light bounce off the white buildings.

Back at the hostel we joined the other backpackers for a delicious lobster dinner on the rooftop. When it’s the same price as chicken it would be rude not to! Leo, seeing us drinking the Havana Club Especial again, took it upon himself to give us foreigners a lesson in Cuban Rum and Cigars before we headed out to Casa De Musica.

Every medium sized town in Cuba has a Casa de Musica or a Casa de la Trova, where the locals go dressed in their finest to dance beautiful, sensual dances to modern Cuban beats; and the tourists go dressed in their travellers clothes to watch, and wish they had the ability to shake it in the same way that the locals seem born to. Interspersed between the dancers were beautiful, young Cuban men and women looking to sell their services to unsuspecting tourists. The entry and drinks were pretty expensive, but it was a great introduction to the Cuban music scene and we had a fun time dancing in the smokey cigar haze until being kicked out at closing time (3.30am)

Walking back through the dark streets to the hostel made me a bit nervous, but Cuba is a pretty safe place in general and in a country where streetlights do not always work you soon become accustomed to it and stop being afraid of what’s hiding in the shadows.

To be continued…

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Rum lesson with Leo
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The band at Casa De Musica
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Crazy bootyshakingness
 





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