It's been decades since Sublime first sang their hit song, "Santería," but today, few of us have any idea what Santería actually is. Well, on our last trip to Havana, we decided to find out, and what we discovered was completely unexpected....
Something like 90% of all tobacco in Cuba comes from the Pinar del Río province, and Viñales is the cultural center of this province. That means that, if you have ever had the pleasure of smoking a Cuban cigar, this is (probably) where it came from. But Viñales has a lot more to offer than just agriculture; it's also a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as a national park in Cuba.
Matanzas is a small sea-side city that sits 56 miles (or 90 kilometers) east of Havana, on Cuba's northern coast. It's located in the Bay of Matanzas and is the capital of a province that is also called Matanzas, and it was definitely one of my favorite places in Cuba.
We arrived in Matanzas via camione, and then our adventure began...
Spoiler alert: this was one of my favorite places that we visited during our time in Cuba.
It was the culture and the politics that originally drew me to Cuba, but that didn't mean there was no time for relaxation. If you've already read Peter's Guide To Traveling To Cuba As An American, you know that relaxation is not *technically* even allowed for Americans in Cuba... but we're punk rockers and we broke the rules. Cuba has some of the Caribbean's most pristine beaches, so we decided to take a couple days to enjoy them.
A unique set of geo-political circumstances dating back more than half a millennium have made Havana, Cuba into one of the most unique cities on this planet. To fully understand Havana as it is today, you'll need to brush up on your history, but the most recent development is that U.S. and Cuba have taken meaningful steps towards deescalation. And as of August 2016, Americans like me can legally visit Cuba—so that's exactly what I did. And one of the first things I learned is that internet is tough to find in Havana. That means that you won't be able to re-read this article once you land, so you might want to take some notes. ✍️
Landing in Havana was, in some ways, surreal for me. This city had been cloaked political taboo for so long that it occupied a mostly theoretical space in my mind. Seeing rural Cuba fly by as we made our landing in Jose Martí Airport removed this cloak quickly and unceremoniously. Despite all the build-up this trip had had, all I could think about was how surreal it was to finally be in this country.
“Cuba. Here it is. It’s real. And I’m in it.”
After decades of harsh political rhetoric, assassination attempts, international crises, violent incidents, and economic sanctions, the American and Cuban governments have taken the first step towards making nice. The first direct international flight from the U.S. to Cuba touched down in August of 2016 so, for Americans, Cuba is now open for business!
Er, well, sort of.
I've been itching to travel here for too long, and now that America has normalized relations with this little Latin American jewel, I don't have much time left. Things in Cuba are going to change as American tourist dollars begin flowing in. I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of the old Cuba, or whatever is left of it, before the age of globalization is fully realized. In America, talking about travel to Cuba often garners some raised eyebrows. Cuba and America haven't gotten along very well in the past 60 years, and that's putting it mildly. Cuba has long been considered a mortal enemy of the U.S., but aside from a few bullet points about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs, how much do you ACTUALLY know about the history here? Be honest.
And so the saga continues of my much-anticipated trip to San Francisco. I was tired, but this city was so compelling to me that I found the energy to walk all over it. With a couch in the Marina District as my home base, I walked (and Uber'd) all over town, from Russian Hill to the Mission District. San Francisco unfolded before me like a unending yuppie playground. It was diverse, beautiful, and hilly.
Prior to my arrival, I had no concept of how huge this place was going to be! San Francisco is deceivingly large because it’s hilly to the point that if you stand at the top of the right hill (and find the right angle) you can get the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the city all in the same shot. Seeing my friends post these sorts of photos had, throughout the years, given me the false impression that San Francisco was a small place. Adding to this fallacy was San Francisco’s position at the end of a long peninsula, which can make it look pretty small on the map. Well let’s set the record straight right now: San Francisco is anything but small.