Casa Particulars

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cuba economy began circling the bowl. This time in Cuba’s history is called “The Special Period”. The Cuban government put in place economic measures to re-vamp the economy, casa particulars are one such measure.

Prior to the re-vamping, all hotels and motels were government owned. Post re-vamping, the government allowed citizens to rent out rooms or suites in their private homes. The term casa particular is such an accommodation. The renting of casa particulars are government taxed and regulated.

 


The quest for our casa begins with a young cabbie putting our backpacks in the back of a French Peugeot of questionable mechanical status.


 

His black dress pants, creased back and front, a crisp, and spotless white button down shirt offers a reassuring sense of professionalism. But, it’s really his smile and “sorry my Ingles is not so good” that is disarming.

The drive through Old Havana is a case of “where do your eyes want to fall”? It is easy to fixate. The disrepair? Some a little scuffy, others bombed out. The restoration? Some small, some buildings of huge proportions. The street life? Front stoop dominoes. The vintage cars? Almost all with mag wheels. All this to a Cuban Latino soundtrack, courtesy of our cabbie’s radio.

The first stop on our quest for an un-reserved room is in a three story colonial a block from Plaza Viejo. Our first casa pick on the second floor is booked solid, though Anna the casa owner on the top floor has a room. Dianne and Anna haggle over price and duration. The deal… one room, separate bath, two nights, maybe more, thirty five dollars per night, breakfast five dollars per person. All that is academic. The casa is in a glorious Spanish colonial building. Our corner room has a balcony looking out over Viejo Habana. Anna’s flare for period decorating is evident throughout the casa. My thoughts on the accommodations? Irrelevant. Dianne and Anna laugh and giggle over prices, mispronounced/corrected Spanish, all while sipping Cuban coffee from fine china.

Dianne and Anna significantly bonded; we throw our backpacks on our queen-size bed and prepare to explore Havana. Before we can leave, Anna’s maid grabs Dianne to pass a message to me, “Tonight we are going out dancing and drinking Mojitos”. Then she adds “Without you, you have to stay here, we’re going to have fun.” The jest is accompanied with laughter, a hug, a peck on the cheek and “enjoy,” as she sends us out the door.

 

Havana/Habana

Our original itinerary was two weeks travelling through West-Central Cuba. Due to budget restrictions, we amended our plans down to one week. Weighing our options, we decided on one week exploring Havana. With the caveat that should we become bored, tired or restless with Havana we would move on.

Downtown Havana proper has three major areas, from East to West, Old Havana, Central Havana, and Vedado, each district having its own points-of-interest and flavour to offer. We opt for Old Havana/Habana Vieja. The notion of waking up in Old Havana, walking the brick-lined streets and experiencing the oldest part of Havana first hand by far outweighs any pre-travel biases. The Havana of before and after revolution and Havana present day is somewhat cryptic to me.

 


I cannot shake the skewed preconceived notions from my youth, nor the warning of the “resort travellers” who speak of Havana in thinly veiled shock.


 

 

The narrow streets of Old Havana are set out in a grid pattern, making it a dream for navigating. Shady plazas break up the grittiness of the barrio, while offering us a cool respite. We follow our guide book suggestion for a walking tour, taking us though most of the highlights and points of interest. Let there be little doubt, Havana has something for everyone from, museums, art galleries, world renowned ballet to judo/ boxing clubs that are happy to have participates from other countries. From the time the bus deposited us on the street to the ride back to Varadero, we were many things, but bored was not one of them.

Old Havana

About The Author

A local Portage la Prairian and his wife caught the travel bug early on in life and share some of the stories and recipes from their journeys.

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