First Casa Particular -Casa Javier then a stroll along the Malecón
We walked up to the door of this fairly run down building and knocked. We asked if javier was expecting us? The guy said “Si” and invited us in.Common practice is to take a look at the room before committing and so we were taken through the front room (with a couple of rocking chairs, a TV and a mirror with lots of photos of previous guests), past what was obviously the breakfast table (with the kitchen behind a curtain) and shown our room. It was basic, with a double bed,
mirror (complete with Che Guevara sticker), ensuite bathroom with toilet and shower, an air conditioning unit and no windows to the outside but spotlessly clean and, not having anything to compare it with, we said yes. The price? $20CUC including breakfast per room per night.
We then made a closer inspection and discovered the a/c unit was Russian.
It also turned out to be incredibly noisy but it kept us cool! Other Russian touches……the key fob from Becherovka (a well-known herbal liqueur!)
The ceilings were 5m high- this is because most Cubans have never had air conditioning so the houses were built to encourage air flow.
INFO: Casas Particulares (private rooms) are a government taxed homestay system throughout Cuba. Owners pay a monthly tax regardless of whether they actually have any guests, plus a percentage of their income. They also have to register all guests’ passport details and report each new arrival within 24 hours. One of our Casa owners made a very minor spelling mistake and so crossed out that entry and started again- the State can still instil fear into regular Cubans. Regulations have eased since 2011 and owners can now rent out multiple rooms if they have them. (We saw some building extension work in Viñales- owners can make as much in one night – $30CUC – as they receive for a month’s salary, especially if they offer a full evening meal which typically costs $6-10CUC per night.) Casas need to meet certain requirements such as a hot shower, air conditioning and a fan. All the Casas had the same electric shower
Looking around, there was also an old Sanyo double radio cassette tape player, a few hooks to hang our clothes on and some very dodgy plugs! (Health and Safety? What’s that?) We checked out the facilities- the loo had no seat, let alone a lid and I unfortunately managed to immediately drop the half loo roll (which happened to be the softest one we came across during the whole 10 days!) down the loo. I felt bad as soft toilet rolls are a luxury in Cuba but luckily we’d brought some of our own. We had been warned!
We were booked to stay two nights so unpacked and then headed out. The Casa was located right on the northern (coastal) edge between Habana Vieja and Centro Habana so we decided to head west and walk along the famous Malecón which was only one block away- a fabulous location.
The Malecón, the magnificent but shabby, wide 8 lane roadway, esplanade and sea wall stretches for 8km along the coast. Lonely Planet calls it ‘a substitute living room for tens of thousands of cavorting, canoodling, romance-seeking habaneros.’ This wasn’t particularly true during the day although there were people wandering along as well as fishing but, come 10pm, especially at weekends, anything goes! Musicians also played and sang, adding to the atmosphere…..not to be missed!
There were a few bars and even fewer restaurants (anywhere else in the world and this would be a mass of cafés, eating places and shops) and it feels as though it will change and become more developed but, for now, it is a romantic, evocative promenade and you take your life into your hands as you cross the 8 lane roadway (they’ve not heard of pedestrian crossings), dodging a few cars and taxis from the sea wall/promenade to the buildings
the other side to seek out a refreshing mojito or iced drink. We stopped at one such bar for a mojito (it was 3pm by now!) for the amazing price of $1.95CUC at Bar La Abadia, and people-watched while we decided on our next move.