Arriving in Havana
As we arrived at our lodgings, several moments of “what have I done” came over me. We appeared to be in a less than salubrious neighbourhood, and I was questioning our level of risk taking and thinking a hotel might have been more comforting at this point in time. We had decided to stay at a Casa Particular ‐ a private Cuba residence.
The next few minutes validated the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” and I felt immediately relieved. As we looked outside the cab, there was Senor Geraldo Calderon from ‘Casa Calderon’, beaming at us with the largest, whitest smile we had ever seen, and ready to welcome us into his home.
Hidden behind the crumbling streetscape and three separate security doors, was the Calderon private residence, and further down the back, was our own private room, complete with a full bathroom, air conditioning and even better…..a full bar fridge. A room like this would be a treat for many Cubans, let alone travelling visitors.
We were fortunate to be able to spend some quality time with our host over the five days which allowed us to learn more about how the Cubans lived, and the issues, challenges and opportunities they faced living here. As we sat drinking Cuban rum with him upon our arrival, we learnt that Senor Calderon, a doctor, was quite wealthy by Cuban standards, and was excited about the possibility of future change for he and his family.
In Cuba, eating out is not as universal as it is in many other countries, and breakfast can be particularly tricky. At Casa Calderon, we elected to have our host provide our breakfast and dinner meals on most days.
This served us two-fold. Firstly it guaranteed we could find food when we needed it and secondly it gave us another personal experience of eating authentic family food. Eating in Cuba for tourists can be a health mine field, and our travel doctor had pre-warned us about eating fish, salad, fruit and vegetables here in Cuba.
The mantra was essentially if it isn’t boiled or fried, don’t eat it. Whilst Cuba has some of the best health facilities in the world due to the focus placed on this by the government, unfortunately their farming and food preparation practices can mirror third world activities, making it a bit of a russian roulette situation when it comes to eating some local food.
The food prepared for us was amazing and oh so cheap. 5 CUC (Convertible peso) which is US$5, saw our breakfast table filled to overflowing with eggs, salad, pastry/bread, coffee, freshly squeezed fruit juice and plates of fresh fruit. There was so much food it was difficult to eat it all, and we needed to explain as delicately as we could about our hesitation in eating the fruit. Each morning, the breakfast was done slightly different, to ensure that there was variety.
Staying here was one of the most inexpensive places you could ever find, and substantially less than any of the hotels. For 25 CUC ($US25) a night, we also got an experience that would never have been possible in a sterile hotel environment where you are simply treated as another tourist. The warmth and hospitality that Senor Calderon extended was extremely generous, even ensuring he was on hand to provide us with any assistance or travel advice we needed.
Finding a reputable Casa Particular in Havana can be a little daunting. Following are a couple of links that provide reviews of Casa Calderon and the booking agency for it (and others)