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 – email@example.com or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!
This week, I’ve been chatting to the lovely Claudia, the blogger behind My Adventures Across The World. Claudia is from Cagliari (Sardinia) and is obsessed with travelling. A former human rights lawyer and academic, after devoting her life to the protection of cultural identity, in November 2013 Claudia decided to give in to her biggest passion and started travelling around Latin America, and she has hardly stopped since. Blogging came as a natural consequence, for Claudia wanted to let her family and friends be updated with her adventures.
I love hearing about your Latin America travels! Tell us about one of your favourite trips there…
I backpacked in Cuba in February 2013, with my sister Elisabetta. We spent a little over 3 weeks there, sleeping in casas particulares (homestays). Travelling together is one of “our things”. We had read a lot about the country before going – guide books, sites, blogs – and we are experienced travellers, so we thought we had it all figured out. We were so wrong! Cuba was a total shock to us – a completely different culture even compared to the rest of Latin America (where we both have travelled widely); it was hard to go where we wanted because of the transportation system; we had to bargain ruthlessly and work hard to avoid all the scams. It took us about a week to start relaxing and enjoying the country, and once we did, we completely fell in love with it and had a memorable time, so much so that once back I was inspired to start a blog. Yes: my blogging life started with Cuba!
What’s the Cuba weather like in February?
February in Cuba is a great month. The temperatures are warm, yet not as suffocating as they may be in other months. We mostly had good weather – sun every day, and a little rain in the most tropical regions.
It must have been a brilliant trip. What kind of accommodation did you opt for?
We mostly stayed at casas particulares (homestays). It was a great way to peep in the life of a Cuban family and get to know the locals a bit better. Casas particulares are actually lovely: some of them are in amazing old colonial buildings; the owners are kind and welcoming too.
So was it all beaches and cigars – or did you find plenty of other things to do, too?
Cuba offers a wide range of activities, and I think we did all of them, or almost: from biking around Viñales Valley to snorkelling to see the coral reef at Cayo Jutias and Bahia de Cochinos; from hiking el Yunque near Baracoa and Topes de Collantes near Trinidad, to visiting amazing cities like Havana and Camagüey. We tried local food, we argued with the locals, we met other backpackers and we had an overall blast.
Sounds incredible – I’ve been desperate to visit Cuba for a while now! So what was the highlight for you?
This is a tough question. I would have to say I loved Viñales Valley for the wonderful countryside and the relaxed pace of life there. We left it as our last stop in Cuba and it really was like having that great cherry on the cake!
Where did you find the best food?
The food is good all around Cuba, but the best and most interesting one was by far in Baracoa. I had shrimps, lobster and octopus in coconut sauce there and I still dream of going back to eat it again!
Were there any random, off-the-beaten-track discoveries?
When we visited Parque Baconao, near Santiago de Cuba, we made a last stop at a dolphinarium. It was an odd place, an ’80 style looking park. Yet, I had this idea that we may try to swim with the dolphins there. So we negotiated a price and we did! We had not even bothered to bring towels, because we had no idea that day that we may do such a thing. But it was a total blast. I remember shedding a few tears of happiness for that.
That sounds amazing, what an experience! So, what advice would you give someone heading to Cuba?
Cuba is a very unique place, and the best advice I can give to anybody travelling there is to go with zero expectations. I had read everywhere about the kindness of the people, and I was actually shocked to see that to the locals I only meant money. Also be prepared to be harassed on a regular basis: there is no peaceful walking around in Cuba. Every two seconds you will be stopped to be asked if you need a room, a restaurant, a taxi, a guide, or to be asked to give away clothes, pens, pencils, soap and what not.
I love reading books about the countries I visit – can you recommend any good reads for Cuba?
When I was in Cuba I finished at least 3 books. One of them was a biography of Ernesto Che Guevara written by his wife, Aleida March. Once I got back from Cuba I started reading lots of books about Ernesto Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution, as well as the books he wrote.
And finally: what do you love most about travelling?
I love learning about new cultures; meeting people from both the country I am visiting and other travellers with whom I can share experiences; seeing the natural beauty of some places is one of my goals in life. I love the sense of happiness and freedom that travelling gives me.
NB – all images are owned by Claudia