Canadians assume you go to Cuba for all-inclusive beach vacations, a normal assumption since it’s cheaper to book that type of vacation than just a flight by itself.

Having opted out of the resort-style in order to to stay right in Havana (while still getting the airport transfers and hotel included- sweet deal!), I felt a little nervous- as I always do before a trip- that I’d forgotten to how to travel and that I would never figure it out again.

But the shock of the sight of the ocean and cars from the 1940s reminded us what it is like to discover and rediscover, my mother and I dusted off the frustrations of airports and broke out our rusty Spanish. Once settled, we slowly began to learn how to navigate the puzzling streets of Old Havana.

We also learned how and where to change money (flexible fact: to change money at a fancy hotel, you have to stay at a fancy hotel… which we weren’t. Exceptions occur on Sundays, sometimes).

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Our nearly-daily money-changing ritual at la cadeca (we aren’t very good at estimating how much we’ll need, apparently).

After being taken for a ride and charged $5 for two tiny bottles of water the first day, we also learned where to eat and to ask how much things cost before agreeing to them, no matter how thirsty we were.

When our feet got tired and hot, we’d duck into fancy hotel lobbies. This is where we realised that while our little hotel may be fine for us (the towel-folding art delighted us each evening when we got back), it was no fine hotel. For instance:

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Swans made out of towels in our hotel!

We did get a little sick of the dust and chaos and and noise and this was supposed to be a vacation! So I got a beautiful sunburn on the Playa del Este, the local beach (about 20km from Havana) and had the best shrimp I have ever had in my life at the canteen near the beach.

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We sat in the shade all day, and yet…

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

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