A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Cuba - Havana

27 °C

Cuba wasn't on our list when planning our adventure but after hearing from a few travellers how great it was and that things in Cuba are really about to change we started to consider it. Then when Paul's sister started talking about visiting Cuba, we decided to join her and booked our flights!

We flew in via San Salvador to Havana and braced ourselves for something quite different. The country has been run by Fidel Castro under a communist regime since 1959. Due to significant trade embargoes from by the USA and other countries, Cuba has almost been cut off by the rest of the world meaning that they have lived with very little since then. For example the majority of cars are still running from the 1950's and crumbling mansions continue to serve as people's homes. Only the Soviet Union (pre 1991) and China (now) have supported Cuba with products and infrastructure. It's only since Fidel stepped down in 2008 (his brother took over), that Cubans are starting to see change...such as the allowance to operate their own business (2011) and own mobile phones.

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Our first impressions were a little different as we where whisked away from the airport in a new Kia Carnival with driver chatting on his iPhone. But once we made it into the old town it felt like we had stepped back in time. We stayed in a Casa Particular which is a room in someone's home marked by a symbol on their door as there are no hostels in Cuba, and it was a great way to meet and support local people. Our hosts Wilfred and Mercedes were fantastic and very welcoming.

It was great to catch up with Sally (Paul's sister) who arrive a couple of days later. We explored the nearby area, checked out the Malecon and Old Town where USA cars from the 1950's and Russian Lada's from the 70's and 80's are everywhere. It's hard to know how some of them still run, but the locals have no choice but to repair. The old town is huge and has countless beautiful old buildings. Before the revolution, this was a rich country and you can tell...so many of the aging houses and buildings are grand and ornate. The lack of large stores, commercialism and advertising was refreshing, except for when you needed something! We got immersed in Cuba's other love, music. Live music is at pretty much every restaurant and bar, and the musicians are so talented. The late night jazz at La Zorra y El Cuervo was brilliant.

We took a day trip to Vinales, which was fantastic as we got to see how tobacco leaves are grown on a tobacco farm, dried and then how Cuban's hand roll their famous cigars in a factory. This coupled with tour of a rum factory, a boat trip through ancient caves and a view of the giant Mural de la Prehostorica.

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Due to Cuba's rapidly increasing tourist levels, in most large cities or tourist areas we were constantly approached by touters. As a result of the low wages and communist regimen in Cuba, tourism has become one of the only ways to make the extra money many need to get by.

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 22:51 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Panama - Panama City

34 °C

We flew into Panama City, and having few pre-conceived ideas we soon discovered that the city is comprised of a flashy new centre and an old crumbling historical centre. There were many buses running through the city to ferry people in and out, we got to take our pick between the new air conditioned buses, or the colourful old American school buses. It was stifling hot, so more often than not we chose the air conditioned ones!

The old town was left almost abandoned until recently, and now lots of work is being done to restore it's grandeur and it has quickly become the main tourist area. Full of crumbling buildings and empty mansions with gardens taking over the insides, it was a very interesting place to wander through. The charm is that it hasn't yet been made to look perfect, but there are beautiful plazas, streets and buildings amongst the older ones. A nice walkway along the waterfront gives a great view back across the modern sky scrapers of the commercial city centre.

The Panama Canal is an amazing feat of engineering, opened in 1914 to connect the Atlantic ocean with the Pacific, making trade between Europe and the rest of the world a lot easier. There is an inland water system, which has had several giant locks added to it to create the Panama Canal. The whole canal stretches 77.1km. We were lucky enough to see a giant cruise ship, followed by many cargo ships pass through the Miraflores lock where the tourist centre is set up. The centre has loads of info about the formation of the canal, well worth a visit.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 22:38 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Panama - San Blas Islands

29 °C

Our stop in Panama was convenient for our forward journey to other destinations, and we also had the opportunity to visit the San Blas Islands. When we were travelling in the north of Colombia we heard lots about the San Blas Islands as it's a popular trip to sail between Panama and Colombia via the San Blas Islands.

Since they recently upgraded the road it's much faster to reach the islands from Panama City (approx. 2hrs in a car, then a short boat ride depending on which island you're heading to), however it is a roller coaster of a road, be careful if you get motion sick! The Islands are an archipelago comprising approximately 378 small islands, of which only 49 are inhabited. They are small sandy islands covered in palm trees, and pretty much define 'tropical island paradise'. We weren't really sure what to expect in terms of accommodation and facilities and we were in for a bit of a surprise. The inhabitants are indigenous and live in a traditional way, which was great to experience.

We payed for an all inclusive home stay with some locals which included all meals, accommodation and boat transport to explore some of the islands. The downside? The facilities were well, rustic. The toilet? Perched directly over the ocean. Shower? A bucket. Still, it didn't take anything away from how beautiful the islands were. Some no bigger that a football field, with palm trees, white sand, crystal clear water, tropical coral and fish, not to mention giant star fish! Camping in a small tent and exploring these islands was fantastic, and we had some great sunny weather. Isla Perro even had a ship wreck from 100 years ago which Paul spend hours exploring. Then a group of us decided to take on the challenge of a swim to a neighbouring island, well it looked fairly close..!

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San Blas is an ideal getaway for back packers, and if you're after something slightly more comfortable we hear there are islands with resorts which are a little less basic!

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 22:30 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

South America - Goodbye!

34 °C

After almost 12 months, sadly our time in South America has come to an end. We've explored hundreds of towns and hostels, rode countless buses, and met brilliant people along the way. We have seen and experienced so much. This continent truly has everything, we only really scratched the surface!

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Some of our great hightlights that we recommend have been:
1. Patagonia in both Argentina and Chile including: Ushuaia, Torres del Paine, El Chalten, El Calafate
2. Carretera Austral, Pucon, Santiago and Valparaiso in Chile
3. Salta and Cafayate in Argentina
4. Salt Flats tour from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni in Bolivia
5. Potosi and Sucre in Bolivia
6. The 'Ride and River' journey from Sorata to the Bolivian jungle
7. Machu Picchu and Cusco in Peru
8. Huaraz and Chachapoyas in north Peru
9. Ecuador journey from Vilcabamba to Otavalo, exploring markets, colonial towns, Ban├Ás, Quito and Mindo
10. Galapagos Islands
11. Colombian coffee region near Salento
12. Tayrona National Park and Cartagena on the Colombian Caribbean
13. Rio de Janeiro, in our opinion, South America's best capital city
14. Iguazu Falls

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or would like any advise. Goodbye South America, you will be missed! Next up, Panama...

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 01:02 Archived in Paraguay Comments (3)

Paraguay - Asuncion

34 °C

Paraguay - Asunciontal of Paraguay and we weren't really sure what to expect. First impressions weren't the greatest as we trudged down a main street loaded with our packs in scorching humid heat surrounded by loud and smoggy buses racing past! Once we stepped into El Jardin hostel, our view changed. A lovely hostel complete with garden and pool it felt like a different world.

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Ascuncion is unlike any other South American capital city, it feels less hectic and you can sense a great divide between the rich and poor. The roads were packed with Mercedes-Benz cars both brand new and others from the 70's still chugging along. This was mirrored by the housing, shanty areas and opulent houses akin to Toorak in Melbourne.

There were some nice buildings to explore, South America's first train station and once interesting place was the huge 'Mercado Quatro'. The market was packed with alleyways and sold everything from hanging tripe to clothing and owls! Sadly this is the last city for us to explore on our journey through South America.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 00:44 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

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