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Saturday, 26 March 2016 La Habana, Cuba

rolling stones

The highlight of this week: most definitely the Stones coming into town and throwing a mindblowing concert. For me, they pretty much trumped Obama.

A couple of weeks ago I heard of this rumour that the Rolling Stones would be playing in Cuba. I didn't really think much of it at first, but it turned out they would be performing for free and after their stay in Havana, donate all their instruments and I think even equipment to the Cubans. I can't really say I know a lot about the Stones and their music, but really, that was just no excuse for me not to go.

Luckily, my language school was able to provide us with transportation, without any it would have been a real nightmare, but it ended up being one anyway. I've never seen so many people in one place, ever!They were from all over the world. Locals, tourists and even latinos flying into Havana specifically for the Stones. From 5 y/o's to real oldies, pretty princesses to punks; every imaginable human being was to be found and it was absolutely fantastic.

Even the weather played along. Although the whole day had been a bit downcast, of course the sky openend up half an hour before the concert, revealing a beautiful sunset. 

The crowd was booming, completely hyped for what was about to go down on stage. It was quite funny, everybody mistaking me for a cubana and trying to talk spanish with me and due to the huge amount of people, there was no possible way of contacting or even finding each other if we got lost. But that's not relevant, what I enjoyed most whilst waiting for the concert to begin was people watching. It's always delighting to do so in different countries and crowded places, but on the huge field where the concert took place, people watching reached a whole new level. I wasn't able to take in everything fast enough. There some youngsters with combs stuck in their afros, next to them the rastafaris, people patriotically waving their flags from argentina, cuba to russia and behind me people dancing salsa, smoking cigars and drinking their rum. The character's I came across that evening can't even be described. Hardcore Stones fans, Asian tourists of course with giant DSLR's in hand, locals in the crowds but also on the roofs of the surrounding houses cheering and drinking their heads off, and of course the overly excited, drunk and crazy ones. And I was just sitting there taking it all in.

At 8:30 the concert finally started and in Cuba, I at last experienced something tk start without delay. That was hard to believe, next to the fact that this time it wasn't me that got a beer cup thrown at my head, but the lucky person standing next to me. Tough Luck. (;

The Stones absolutely rocked the stage and the crowd loved it. I, in particular, enjoyed watching the drummer. While the rest of the band, admittedly probably having entered their 60s, were jumping around on stage like true rockstars, the old, grey guy playing the drums (shame on me for not remembering his name) sat their, with an almost bored look on his face but absolutely smashed it. In fact, they all did. Mick Jagger and his moves (got the moves like Jagger - for his age SO impressive!) were of course legendary, the bassists solos incredible and the overall performance mindblowing.

It was definitely an unforgettable event of which I migbt be able to tell my grand children about (; Although, I have to admit I was quite disturbed by how many outfit changes Jagger had on stage. Seemed to me like he had packes more clothes for 2.5h than I had for the next 5 months. Well, I guess you can't have everything when you're not a legend like Jagger.

Thursday, 24 March 2016 Havana Havana

havana craziness!

(spot the dogs)

Half time! Well actually, as I'm writing this I only have two more weeks left here. A bit sad, but to be honest I'm getting kind of bored. Of all the German people at my school and being stuck in one place for most of the time, but that's soon about to change.

I have to say, this week was actually quite intense. Starting off with the first storm and rain I was surprisingly glad to be able to walk through Havana without breaking a sweat in somewhat milder temperatures. Next to that, Obama flew into Havana for a couple of days, creating quite some craze (A guy from school arriving on the same day and a couple minutes before Obama had to first land 2h outside of Havana before being allowed to finally land at the appointed place). Even the locals complained. Although, being delighted and hopeful at what Obama's visit might hold for Cuba, some were afraid of the consequences of something happening to Obama, annoyed by all the blocked roads and the sort of farce made up for him, not really allowing him to see the 'real' Cuba as stated in all the news papers. I actually got myself one of those, the news paper of one of the most important days for the cubans - the first time since 1928 that a US president set foot on Cuba. What a great thing to be a part of.

Additionally, the Rolling Stones are doing a free concert in Havana for everyone to see. You can't even imagine how many people are here. The hotels and casa's are bursting at their seams. First due to the journalists and people wanting to see Obama and now because of Easter holiday and a huuuge free concert. Not sure what to expect tomorrow but knowing the cubans by now, it'll be a huge fiesta.

I actually went to see a Ballet, at the gran teatro de la habana, alicia alfonso and it was amazing. Don't really know what else to say to that.

Kary, my spanish teacher, is still a cheeky little thing, taking us around town without telling her boss and trying to hammer every spanish tiempo into our brains. At least I can now say what my plans for the following weeks are. With Kary and one of her Alumnis (who drove us around for some business negociations?!) we qued 30 minutes for the oh so famous Coppelia's ice cream. Except the amount of ice cream you get for 25 cent it wasn't that special. I swear, ice cream and sandwiches are some sort of national dish here. It's all you can find and the Cubans seem to inhale it in a matter of seconds. My diet's definitely going downhill. 

The day before yesterday, some friends and I once again explored La Habana. We came across this beautiful, african and slave inspired artsy corner where some cuban guys who clearly knew what they were talking about showed us around. And howelse could it be, the blonde in our group soon found herself a date for the night, that would take her salsa dancing - something at that moment I hadn't planned doing and especially not without having taken any classes yet! 
I could explore Havana every single day and discover something new at each corner. Here a little barber shop squeezed into a room smaller than the bathroom at home or there a new little bar that offers even cheaper mojitos than I ever thought possible. Alcohol here is swallowed like water. Lovely.

In the evening we actually ended up eating at a horrible, touristy place and I only got to eat side-dish rice. Again, my healthy diet's going downhill. However, after that ever so filling dinner we made our way over to the Hotel Florida to find the blonde friend and her new friend. Soon enough, after having paid a stupid entrance fee, we found ourselves in a huge room, surrounded by spinning couples dancing like crazy. It was pretty damn fantastic. Somehow, I ended up dancing as well but next to all the pro's and locals I did feel like a rhythmless human being with two left feet. It was definitely fun, but I got to start working on my moves (;

That's it for now. Actually planned on going to Cienfuegos and Trinidad for the weekend, but all the bus tickets are gone and I ended up staying here. A bummer but hopefully I'll go there next week and after that I'll hopefully meet up with some friends from Switzerland!

Going to find some food now and then heading off the Fabrica del Arte, apparently a really cool place at the Malecon.


Viñales, Cuba

cowboys, countryside and jesus

Currently, I am sat in a guagua (pronounced as huahua I think..)' a bus that will hopefully take us to Viñales, at least that's what it said on the cardboard stuck to the windshield. In Cuba you never know though.

Week two is coming to an end but it feels like I've been here forever and can't believe I have another 3 weeks ahead of me. I feel like I'm spending my money at every open opportunity and am quite afraid of how I'll manage the next four and some months. But oh well, I shouldn't really worry about money, right?

This week I got assigned a new profesora, Kary, a typical caribbean, fierce and proud mamey, who reminds me a bit of my Granny Iris from Grenada. She's great, although a bit cheeky and I definitely learned ny doing. Instead of sitting in a little room, she took me out to explore the streets, name different colours, showed me the animals and we even visited the local food market where we completed her weekly shopping (of course I was the one to carry her bags). Although she likes to talk a lot - mostly about family and a swiss rich guy she wants to marry - she's lovely. And since she couldn't pronounce my name at first she simply gave a new one: sol, "because you shine like the sun" and she even tried to hook me up with a cuban guy she knew. In fact she tries to do that with every guy we pass. ¿Tu no tienes novio en suiza, sol? Ayyy, ¿por que? That's my Kary, Kary, Kary.

I might not have pointed it out yet, but Internet here in Cuba is close to non-existent. However, whenever you spot a park with a TON of locals and couple of tourists with their faces glued to their devices, you know the time has finally come to log yourself into the Internet and somehow keep track on what is happening outside of Cuba. If you look around searchingly, maybe even with some cash in your hand you'll soon be getting discreet but clear hand signs by sketchy looking cubanos - we call them the tarjeta (Internet card) dealers. It's some type of black market that allows you to access the internet a lot cheapee than if you'd buy them elsewhere. I haven't really figured out yet how they managed to come up with those cards but to be honest, I probably don't even want to know...


Compared to Havana, the capitol of Cuba, Viñales really's just a long road with houses (that all seem to be casa particulars!) along it. It's tiny, but awfully cute with the church in the town center on which at all hours you can find this one, stereo-typical Cuban guy smoking his cigar and who if need be starts shooing away stray dogs (they're everywhere) in a not so friendly way. The true countryside of Cuba.

I must say though, that this little village was practically bursting with tourists. When we arrived and tried to leave the bus, the local people trying to sell their available rooms screaming 'I have casa, need casa? Lovely two bedroom apartment!" nearly made this task impossible. We had a pre-booked casa, but as it is in Cuba, this guy failed to pick us up and we somehow had to find it ourselves, which we sure did. But that was not all that could be found in there. Of course, I first of all had to rid myself of all the mosquitos, found one or two cockroaches and on the last day was attacked by ants whilst enjoying Jesús' lovely home cooked meal (probably the best and most I ate so far!) Yes, it was quite an interesting experience, but I'm not complaining. As i said before, living with the locals allows you to not only improve your Spanish but actually experience cuban life at its best. Overly romantic spanish ballads playing from the living room, white rocking chairs in front of the house, the infamous cigar smoking men and women (!) and since it's the countryside, horses and carriages passing by every so often carrying cubans with hats, giving them the appearance of a cowboy.

Here, everybody helps each other in any way possible. When we said we'd wanted to take a tour Jesús immediately had a relative who could help us with that. Oh, and when we aplanned to hire a bike for the day, the next morning some other guy suddenly appeared in front of the house without us so much a having to step outside of our room. They really do everything to make the best deals.

The bike tour we did, with ourselves as guides was probably the best thing we did. Although, looking back a nightmare trying to navigate in the heat but the valle, farm land and thr famous Viñales mountains were sights definitely worth it. We even climbed a hill, that left me a sweaty mess but was definitely worth the view again and of course the descent (; Might have to get myself a bike here in Havana for the last couple of weeks left.

Now, we're heading back home, of course after taking a picture of Jesús in front of his house (by his request so I could show everyone) and I can't wait to finally lie in a more comfortable bed in which I at least don't have to feel every single spring poking into my back. I'm so spoiled.

¡Hasta Luego!
Monday, 14 March 2016 La Habana, Cuba

From rocking chairs to internet cafes

I've eaten chinese three times in the last five days. 
It's a tragedy, I know, but it's pretty damn hard to find food here!

If you walk in to a super mercado (it'd be best if they'd just leave away the super) the first thing you normally see is alcohol. Not just a couple of bottles, certainly not, there are actual walls full of Havana Club and what ever alcoholic beverage your liver might desire. A paradise for some but I for one was just on the hunt for water, something that is quite hard to find here sadly. The mercados here are definitely something else. Instead of having different types of foods all you really find are crackers, biscuits and if you're lucky some pasta, rice and beans (had enough of the latter too be honest!) and if you're really lucky and early; meat. It's really quite sad and especially after a discussion I had with a local about the rationing and money the make per month (equivalent of what I spend per day!) I was pretty shocked. We even looked up the super super mercado but even in there, most of the shelves were empty and we had to que more than half an hour to pay for some biscuits and crackers. And when looking for something to eat a restaurant all the really offer are sandwiches. Jambon y queso, wherever you look. But of course, besides the sad reality Cuba has so much more to offer (actually ate some pretty delicious fish)

The first thing anyone here will notice are the cars. The first time I drove in a 1950s Chevrolet I felt as if that poor thing, with way too many miles on it would fall apart at any moment. They are called taxi collectivos, taxis where anyone can just hop on and they'll take you into and from Havanna for 1CUC (~1$). One time we were able to squeeze in six of us, the driver not included and when passing a policeman at a check point it was of course me at the back who had to bend over and was covered with bags. Next to those events, bicycles and horse carriages on the freeway(!!!) all I can say is; welcome to Cuba!

I have no words for the people here. When buying something at one place and asking where to get something else, they refer you to their neighbours or cousins, who too try to get you to go to their neighbours or cousins. I love it. It's not everyday you see people helping each other out in any way possible and throught that I got to learn so much more about the locals. That's actually how we ended up on the rooftops of Havanna in a restaurant a normal walkerby would have never discovered. We walked up several staircases, actually passes through family homes and soon enough Havana lay at our feet. An unforgettable moment.

However, when my roommate and I roamed through Havanna, at every corner you turned you heard an 'aaay mamey' or 'que linda' and 'you so pretty!'. Great for the selfesteem, I must stay, nut it does get on your nerves after the 100th kissykissy sounds they make. It is, however, simlply what they do and they don't really have any intentions behind it. If I went up to them to confront them, I can tell you they wouldn't now what to do with themselves. 

For the weekend two german guys, my roommate and myself decided to take a weekend trip to Varadero, a town 2h from Havana with supposedly the nicest beaches in Cuba. Of course we took a collectivo (not sure that was a good idea for such a long trip) and you just feel as if you're in a completely different time, with the wind (sadly quite polluted air) blowing in your hair when sitting in those vehicles more than twice as old as you are. We stayed at a casa particular, a couple of kilometers outside of Varadero and I have to say, that was the best part of the trip. When staying at a casa, you're actually living with a cuban family amd experiencing how the locals live. It was like a movie. Our part had rocking chairs on the patio and from there you heard vendors, shouting whatever they were selling, horses and carriages passing by and buses filled to brim, nearly exploding with how many passengers it carried. At night, our meighbours had a great gettogether whit looooots of rum and other beverages. And whilst I was trying to sleep I was even able to understand what they were heatedly discussed about although the Cubans have a tendency to not pronounce the letter s at all. But I'm pretty damn proud I understood at least a few things (high five to me)

In the morning when our host prepared a delicious breakfast for us, we got talking with the whole family. I learned so much of the spanish language, cuba's history and problems the locals were confronted, it was overwhelming. And turns out the owner of the casa was quite a famous fisher in cuba who seemed to have received some kind of award. Always nice to meet celebrities (: By the way, apparently Obama will be in town in a couple of weeks and the Rolling Stones are doing a free concert, whaaat?!?

I'm currently sat at a wifi spot, a place where anyone can log oneselve into the internet as long as they have a tarjeta, a card with a code that one can either buy through the black market (yes, there's a black market for internet access) or at official institutions. It's quite funny amd sad at the same time to see how dependent I myself and tourists in general are. But seeing that this is more or less the only way for the cubans to connect with the world outside of acuba is quite frustrating. Whenever you drive by a park, sitting area or hotel where a ton of people are sat in front od with their mobile devices, you always know there's wifi (;

Adios for now (and until I find the next wifi spot),

Havana Havana

Welcome to cuba!

How wonderful. I killed about 15 mosquitos by now, not even close to how many of those bloody bloodsuckers have tortured me for the last couple of days and many more days to come, but I accepted the fact that they, as seemingly any guapo appears to love me. But that's a whole other story for itself.

I can't believe it. Time flew by and before I even knew it, the first week has passed. 1 down, 20 to go. It's not as if I'm doing a countdown 🙈.
Well, to start off, when I first landed everything seemed to just go completely wrong. But of course, things like that have to happen to me. After standing at the airport for roughly 2h, completely starved due to the lack of filling food by Iberia and trying to find my luggage whilst the staff seemed to have a blast exchanging the latest gossip stories (not that I understood any of that at that point) I was close to loosing it. Fortunately, I met this Swiss girl Carmen during passport control (something the cubans didn't seem to take quite serious either) and she kindly waited with me, after her backpack was the first one on the baggage belt to arrive. And what a darling she was. Like me she intended to visit a language course and prepared as she was (shame on me...) she seemed to be able to understand the guy at lost and found who didn't seem bothered at all, to simply be patient and wait for a couple of minutes. I was fuming and thankfully Carmen took it upon herself to keep up the small talk with the Cuban guy (by all means I can't remember his name!) and as she worked at the airport in Zurich, was able to start the tracking of my suitcase. I by then came to terms that I'd be without my luggage for what might be quite some time, shrugged it off and tried to find my transfer to the hotel. The transfer, however, was nowhere to be found. I had just given up hope by then, as well as Carmen and we both took a taxi to our accommodations. Some hope left in me I was looking forward to a shower and a bed, but someone seemed to have other plans for me. And as I've been going on about this rant far too long I'll just cut it short and say that in the end I FINALLY got a room in an apartment with another Swiss girl, who however didn't know of my coming in the middle of the night and was quite surprised to see me in the morning. Cuba, I love you by now, but getting used to how you deal with everything does take some time.

I started school the following day at Sprachcaffe in Miaramar, a couple blocks from where I'm staying. As you might have guessed, it didnt' really go as planned as well and my bags were still not in sight. It didn't however bother me as much as I thought and I was happy to finally learn some Spanish. And after only a week, I have to say I'm able to understand more than I ever thought possible.

In my course but at the school in general are sooo many Germans. They're nice and everything, but it was just a bit of an overload and paired with the fact that simply aren't able to get rid of their accent even when speaking Spanish always gives something to laugh about.

As we're staying a bit outside of Havana itself, the school offered a small tour of the city and I was absolutely blown away. Although I didn't really see much of anything during that small tour Havana captured my heart from old Chevrolets built in the 1950's, stray dogs and the old guys puffing their cigars with a glas of rum in their hands at the corners. 

Goodbye for now, oh, and don't worry I've made sure by now that every single bloodsucker in my room is squashed and dead and I can finally let myself drift off into dream land and not be distrubed by a constant buzzing sound.

Bueno y hasta luego from a more than paranoid Joelle x
Tuesday, 8 March 2016 Havana Havana

Off I Go

It's pretty damn crazy. A little more than a week ago I was selling iPhones to various customers whilst solving their Apple-ID problems along with trying to figure out where and what I'll study come September. Nothinf And now here I am sat in a spanish airline crammed between two spanish guys and I guess taking off and completely stepping out of my comfort zone.

Even yesterday I wasn't able to comprehend the fact that in a matter of hours I would be boarding a plane, leaving the comfort and simplicity of home and heading into completely unfamiliar and foreign territory.  At first all I really felt was excitement. I must admit the excitment kiiiind of overruled the fact that I was procrastinating (something I'm a bloody champion at) not only in terms of planning 😅 but actually realizing what I was going to do. It's not everyday that you decide to leave everything behind and venture out in to the world for five months. By yourself. Oh well, now the time has come where everything sinks in. The doubt, the fear, the uncertainty next to the mind boggling anticipation. I'm all over the place to be honest.

Although saying goodbye to all of my friends was hard, it wasn't as hard as expected. It simply felt as if  I was leaving for a short holiday and would be seeing them in no time. As I said, I wasn't really aware of what I was going to do. Leaving my mom at security, however, was more than eye-opening. Only then, after some emotional tears were shed and I trotted over to security it all just came over me. Every step I took made me realize that I was distancing myself more and more from everything I knew . And let me tell you it was hard. Harder than I ever thought to not turn around, to not think 'oh, come on, why not just go home, back to my cat and my probably still warm bed and spare myself any kind of trouble' (and let me tell, trouble is definitely awaiting me). But I knew that that wasn't what I wanted to do and if I would have changed mind, I would have deeply regretted it by now. I'm just going to do what I always wanted to do, without looking back ....
And the good thing is I know there's always a home to return back to (as long as my room during the time away will not be turned into a tv room..)

Still sat at Zurich airport now though, with the sun unremittlingly blinding my eyes (que the hot flush) and waiting for the plane to finally depart. But of course, the crew found some sort of malfunction and now we're delayed. I can only hope I'll make it in time to board my connection flight and if not I guess I have no other choice than to go out and explore Madrid. Heard it was quite charming (:

Until then, goodbye for now & hasta luego,


Edit: made it in time of course and now I'm all safe and sound in Cuba. My luggage however didn't seem to make it... But that's a whole other story for its own (:
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