in mexico city, we had pulled out 1/3 of our money saving the other 2/3 to withdraw in cuba. andrew and I don’t like traveling with large sums of cash on us and stupidly figured that we would be okay. when we got to havana however, our cards didn’t work. I don’t know if it was our bank, maybe or cuban ATMs not adjusting their system to our american cards just yet but we quickly realized that we had a fixed amount of money. I had only booked two nights worth of airbnbs before our trip because we were going to rent a car and road trip to different national parks and camp. well, with our cards not working, we couldn’t rent a car. it was frustrating because we had the money, we were just incapable of accessing any of it. making the best of our situation, we decided to hitchhike our way around. we figured that we could either pay to sleep in hostels with air conditioning every night and eat decently in havana or rough it out to explore. we chose to explore as we forever will.
before I touch on some of our adventures, I should probably mention that we almost starved. we rationed out our money for each day and because we willingly chose to forgo comfortable beds and good food in the pursuit of adventure, we ate bread rolls, guavas (holy amazing – so fresh!!!), and bananas the whole trip. I do not regret our decision in the slightest but I’m not going to write/pretend that our trip was all easy and carefree. because we were solely living off water, bread and fruit, we lost a lot of weight and energy from the vigorous walking and hiking not to mention the 90% humidity. despite all of this, I was happy – the happiest, even. the views were incredible! outside of havana, everything was green. for miles all around, all you could see were green landscapes and blue skies. we also met some of the kindest people our world has to offer along our short journey. those at fruit stands in particular were the kindest. these people would share their fruit out of sheer generosity and even though it was their only source of income, they happily gave what little they had.
those that gave us lifts while hitch hiking also have a special place in our hearts. I have picked up hitch hikers before but had never done it myself and when we finally tried it, a new world inside of me was awaken. hitch hiking was never part of the plan but looking back, I’m grateful that they were the cards that were dealt to us.
when we first started out, we had no idea where to go or even how to start. we made our way to the main highway and just started walking in the direction we thought we wanted to go holding our thumbs out. I honestly thought we were going to get picked up almost instantly but we ended up walking almost five miles before a car told us to hop in. our first ride, three men in a chevy bel-air all jokingly said to andrew, “shame on you for making your lady walk so far.” they were so kind though and drove us as far as they could go without missing their turn. we realized that the further we were away from the city, the easier it was to hitch hike, which was ideal for us because we were trying to stay away from there anyways. some cars (and horse carts) drove us just one mile while others took us to our desired destination. via hitch hiking, we were able to understand a new meaning of hospitality and were able to see different parts of the country simply through kindness.
we didn’t make it to half of the national parks that we wanted to because hitch hiking took up all of our time. while we could have sulked about plans falling through, we weren’t upset or disappointed but instead saw as much as we possibly could. through hitch hiking, we probably saw more of cuba than what we would have if we had driven. eventually, we made our way to topes de collantes, a national park. there was so much to see there but the strange thing was that you had to pay for EVERYTHING. I have never seen a country take the phrase ‘nothing in life is free’ more literally than cuba. in this particular national park at least, you had to pay a fee just to hike a trail. it was only five dollars or so but we were clearly pressed on money and could only pick one trail if we wanted to hike in other parks too. slightly saddened that topes was not our oyster, we carefully chose the trail we wanted to hike. I am almost positive that we ended up choosing the best one though because we found this semi-underwater cave that you had to swim and hike through to get to the other side. after making it through, a lush tropical forest was there waiting for us! it was beautiful and almost sacred with not a single person remotely around (we actually bathed in one of the nearby rivers a few times). all around us, there was silence – silence in terms of humans but chaos in terms of sweet mother nature. with the water rushing along side of us, the birds singing their spanish songs, and the trees dancing with the breeze, andrew and I found our nirvana.
side note: I didn’t get the best photos of the underwater parts because my camera source broke half way through the trip but at least you get a glimpse of it.
our view for MILES and MILES…
in the cities, most housing structures are just large block buildings with narrow hallways that house at least five small apartments. many people rent them out as hostels, which we did staying in that back balcony during one of our first nights. it doesn’t look the best but it was one of the cleaner and friendlier ones that we saw.
we were hiking up a paved mountain when an old man delivering handmade candy bars told us to hop in the back of his truck. as he drove up the mountain, the sun setting on cuba and the ocean became our view.
I wish I got better pictures of the underwater parts of the cave, I was just too scared to drop my already broken camera
will post part III soon! until then, here’s a cuba vimeo video I made. it’s a shame my camera source broke:(