Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!
This week, I’m welcoming back a familiar face on Postcard From – blogger Kunal from Little Blue Rucksack has taken part a grand total of four times before with some fab postcards from Japan! Quenching his wanderlust, losing himself in a good book and enjoying cinematic catharsis are a few of Kunal’s favourite things. An architect and urban designer by choice, a traveller by blood and a self-proclaimed movie buff is how he would best describe himself in a (very big) nutshell. Kunal has been travelling since he was 3 months old, thanks to his dad’s job as a diplomat, and now it’s become his addiction. If not physically travelling, he escapes the daily grind through books and movies.
Welcome back to Postcard From Kunal! Where have you been now?
I finally made my way to the Caribbean – my first beach vacation ever. I’ve always heard about Cuba, but nothing every drew me to it, till I saw pictures of Havana! I decided to finally try out one of those all-inclusive deals in Varadero. I booked 7 days at the Iberostar Laguna Azul, which falls somewhere towards the end of the 22km Varadero stretch of land.
Ooh, jealous already! How was the weather?
The weather was a nice balmy 30 degrees in the middle of May. But with the Caribbean sea breeze, it felt more like 23 degrees.
How was the resort?
We’ve all heard about the Cuban resorts and how “bad” they can be, so I went with a resort that came highly recommended by a friend who has been to many Cuban resorts. So if you don’t trust me, go ask some close friends. Good references in Cuba can make or break the deal. I was very happy with the Iberostar Laguan Azul. Yes, it wasn’t 100% clean and yes they didn’t always restock the fridge and yes the food was terrible, but it was far better than what I had prepared myself for.
Did you explore much of the surrounding area?
When you decide to go on an all-inclusive trip, remember that sometimes there isn’t much to do outside of the resort – and that’s definitely the case in Varadero. I did end up renting a scooter for the day (at the resort) and headed downtown where you can pick up some great knick knacks as souvenirs, and spend the day at the (super clean) crystal-clear-water-and-white-sand beach. There isn’t much to do in downtown Varadero except for a drink here and a dinner there, so don’t get your hopes up. The resort however offered some great activities. They have shows every night, speciality restaurants to choose from, beach parties once a week or every other week, sailing, scuba diving, pool activities, massages – they even have a gym for the health freaks. With countless pools to choose from, and a gorgeous beach, I spent most of my days reading and people watching, and I had tons of fun. This is coming from a person who can’t sit still for more than 15 minutes and needs to feel engaged and doesn’t necessarily like beaches (yes there are people like that too :P)
It sounds pretty chilled! Was there a highlight for you?
The highlight of this 7 day trip was my day trip to Havana. I rented a private cab and made my way to the capital and I fell in love. They aren’t kidding when they say Havana is the city which seems to be caught in a time warp. With colonial Spanish buildings crumbling at the seams, this city is frozen in time. It’s sad that the country’s economic turmoil is seen as aesthetic arousal by foreigners, but you can’t help but feel that the city will lose its charm if everything was to be repaired. Old Havana is the place to be when you visit. You can walk the entire town in one day and enjoy all the highlights it has to offer. My highlight within my highlight was a visit to the The Maqueta de la Havana. It is a scaled model of the entire city, and as an Urban Designer/Architect I spent at least an hour there. This gorgeous reconstruction of the city will keep you glued to all the detail work and gives you an appreciation for how city planning works. Many tourists give it a pass and head to other tourist attractions, but I would highly recommend a visit here if you love architecture. It only takes 3 CUC to enter and an extra 2 CUC if you want to use your camera.
You’ve already mentioned that the food wasn’t great on the resort – what was so wrong with it?
We’ve all heard about how terrible the food in Cuba can be. Well they were right. With buffet food being prepared on a daily basis for three meals at the resort, the food can taste pretty bland. Now apparently the reason for that is that they try to cater to the medical needs of a majority of customers – which is why they barely add spice and sometimes even skip on the salt. But when in Havana, you’ll see why it is worth trying food outside of the resort. Wherever you decide to go make sure you order a fish dish – their fresh fish cuisine is delectable. Their mouth-watering preparation had me craving for more fish (and I don’t even like seafood).
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a trip to Cuba?
Wherever you decide to go in Cuba, definitely add Havana to your itinerary. In fact many tours offer a nice split, where you can spend a few days in one city and the remaining days in Havana. I would highly recommend that, since Havana could use more than a one day visit, to be able to enjoy the night life the city has to offer.
Also, remember to tip generously. The people working at the resort get paid peanuts! In fact peanuts are pricier than their salaries. They also appreciate gifts. For example, I made a little bag for my house keeper and stocked it with some essentials like toothpaste, brushes, ear buds and other knick knacks, and gave it to her on the second day. Needless to say – she kept the room super clean!
Also don’t be afraid of the locals. Many will come up to you to talk to you. It’s natural to be on guard and be worried that you might get mugged. But don’t worry – you won’t. Yes they want your money, but no they won’t pickpocket you. I found Cubans to be extremely safe in that regard.
Did you read any new books on your trip?
That’s all I did! Got myself a good book to read on the beach and at the pools. I read The Girl on the Train – a good book for all the thriller lovers out there.
And finally – what do you love most about travelling?
You know how everyone has their own way of getting an adrenaline rush? Whether it’s a movie, a book, or a roller coaster ride? Well travelling is my drug. It’s my rush. The exhilaration that comes with travel is happiness epitomised. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gives me the same joy as travelling does. You know how partners complete one another? Well travel completes me.
NB – All images are owned by Kunal.