Friday, June 21, 2013

L'Hotelito, Tulum

We found this place by chance and loved it immediately. The italian family from Trieste running this place has about 10 rooms to rent out. Some with AC, some without. We had a big room with two beds and a fan under the thatched roof for 32CHF/USD including breakfast. The mother is running the hotel while the father is a great cook, tending to his little herb garden. We had a great dinner at the hotel!

Buzos de Mexico, Isla Mujeres

We found this nice place only by accidents while looking around for another dive shop. The owner, Misael, is half swiss so he talked us into to take a look around the shop. He showed us his new equipment and the big boat he has to go diving. His mother, Pia, rents out rooms just above and behind the dive shop, with a little discount for the diving.
Thats how we ended up with a room just above the dive shop and by chance Patricks instructor, Nathan, was swiss as well. We liked it so much we stayed much longer than planned. Diving with Nathan was really relaxing, we did a wreck, drift ;) and night dive besides the usual reef dives.
The boat leaves form the pier at the restaurant/museum of Capitan Dulce where they are building a new dive center/shop/storage. At the moment there was only the grass roof, but looks to become nice!

Little advice: If you plan on going to snorkel with the whale shark, check if they are going out on their own big boat. If not just shop around for the cheapest tour to go, as all are more or less the same.

Tulum, Playa del Carmen and back to Isla Mujeres (08.06.2013 - 18.06.2013)

Arriving in Tulum we looked around for a place and found by chance a lovely little hotel, called Hotelito. The next day we rented some bicycles and rode to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. The ruins were nice, especially the towers next to the turquoise water. But there were way to many tourists for our taste...
Afterwards we rode back south and went swimming at one of the beach clubs, +1 beach ;).
Later we went to look around for a place to stay at the beach, but it seemed the times of cheap cabinas right at the beach is longe since past. Did I mention my 7 year old Lonely Planet? So we stayed at the town during our whole trip.
The next day we went to dive in the cenote (a sinkhole, link) Dos Ojos. A total new experience for all three of us, non of us has been diving in fresh water or in a cave before. The view was extraordinary! There isn't much to see besides stalagmites and stalactites, but they made uf for all the missing fish.
After so much excitement we decided to spend a day at the beach. We headed to the Playa Papaya Project to lay around at the empty beach, eat mango ceviche (yeah!) and drink cold beers ^^
The day after we went to dive in the cenote Anglita, a deep dive (part of Melanies Advanced Open Water) with a hydrogen sulfur cloud at 28m. Beneath it is pitch black! Coming up through it again is an spectacular sight. The second dive we did in Casa Cenote, another kind of cenote as the two before. Most of it is overgrown by mangroves and algae. Awesome sights as well!

Heading back north we stopped for two nights on Playa del Carmen. We spent the day at the (crowded) beach and the evening at the (crowded) 10th avenue. Nothing to recommend.

We ended up again on Isla Mujeres, this time we wanted to stay closer to the party and headed to the Poc-Na hostel. But after hearing their prices and seeing the rooms we changed our mind and found another little hotelroom. Getting up early we took the 1.5h boat ride to find the whale sharks in the middle of the ocean. There where dozens of boats but even more whale sharks! The captain would drop of a pair of us together with the guide and pick us up later so the next two could go into the water. It was a crazy experience to swim next to these huge (up to 7m) fish. They looked lazy but with just a stroke of there massive tails the would leave you in their wake. Next to the sharks where also some big manta rays doing somersaults in the water, awesome view as well. On our way back we were caught by a massive storm! The rain felt like hail on the bare skin, the waves were crashing against our small boat and the temperature dropped. Some times we could only see for a couple of meters because of the heavy rain. That way it took us almost 3 hours to reach the Isla Mujeres, were the weather was good again and we enjoyed some ceviche and cold beers standing in the surf.

The next day was the last for Patrick, as he headed home to Switzerland. Right in time for his birthday party ;)
Melanie and I decided to check out Cozumel and maybe do the Rescue Diver there...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Isla Mujeres, Mexico (26.05.2013 - 07.06.2012)

After arriving in Mexico we where overwhelmed by the first (or at least second) world abundance! Fast and free internet, fast food chains and supermarkets full of stuff to buy. Usually a supermercado in cuba had rum to sell, maybe some beans and a couple of different kind of pasta, not much more.
The first night in Mexico was quite different to Habana as well. In Habana we weren't afraid once, entering the darkest and narrowest streets, we were never bothered or hassled. Something we didn't try in Cancun...
Looking around for a nice and cheap dive school for Patrick we read in my 7 year old Lonley Planet that the Open Water Course would be 50CHF/US$ cheaper on Isla Mujeres than in Cancun. So we only ended up by chance on this lovely island, just a 20min ferry ride from Cancun. But it couldn't be more different!
Touristy but little streets and after a couple of days we knew a dozen people, most important THE BAND which would play in different compositions almost everyday in the Las Terrazas bar. Later in the evening everybody would meet at the beach bar which belongs to the Poc-Na youth hostel to party.
First we only planned to stay till Patrick had his Open Water Course, but we liked it so much he also did his Advanced Open Water Course. We lay on the beach, rented one of the many golf carts and went diving. We visited one of the wrecks, saw lots and lots of fish, turtles, lobsters, devil rays, eagle rays and lots of huge sting rays!
Thats how we ended up here almost two weeks till Melanie arrived and joined us for another day diving before we left the island to head south!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Casa Javier, Habana

S.Lazaro 24, Prado y Carcel, Centro Habana - 0053 52836814 - 0053 78606231

The lovely casa in Vinales recommended a casa particular in Habana. But their toilet needed fixing and she sent us to one of their neighbours. Thats how we ended up at Javiers place. We got a huge and tall room with tiny bathroom and even a kitchen. It even had a air condition with climate control! The second bed was quite crap, so we took turns for sleeping in the more comfy one.
The casa is between the Malecon/sea and the Prado, we found it every night ^^
We paid 25CHF/US$ for the room. Ah Javier is propably gay, but we didn't mind ;)

Casa Dario y Tuti, Viñales

Calle Salvador Cisneros #48, Viñales / / 53 ‐ 52 78 37 50 / 048 ‐ 79 60 22

Having allready spent three nights in Viñales we wanted a casa closer to the “city centre”. So we went to look around and found a place with a room on the first floor with a tiny balcony the first time we were in Viñales.
But this place was occupied when we got back from Playa Maria La Gorda and we had to settle for the casa next door. Which turned out even better! The room was nice and the backyard was really nice. There where sunchairs and a cross between a big fountain/tiny pool. But we didn’t went swimming... ;)

The night cost us 20CHF/US$ and 3CHF/US$ per person for breakfast. The dinner was excellent! I had the best cuban lobster at this casa, a bargain for 12CHF/US$!

Hotel Playa Maria La Gorda, Playa Maria La Gorda

Beside the diving and the sunsets there is nothing to recommend here.
All of the buildings have seen better days. The fist room we got had a broken toilet, which they were still trying to fix 3 days later, Cuba!
We payed 54CHF/US$ for our room with sea view, another would cost 5CHF/US$ less. Breakfast was included, dinner cost us another 12CHF/US$ each! Quite a ripoff, especially for the poor food we got. But as on the the Isla de Juventud, there isn’t anything nearby. If you want to go diving you have to stay here...

Casa Yaneris y Yudan, Viñales

Calle 9na, 2da y 4ta, #4, Rpto La Colchoneria, Viñales 

This casa was a recommendation from the casa in Habana. Off the main road we had a small independent casa which was quiet and clean. We paid only 15CHF/US$ for the night. Breakfast was 4CHF/US$ and dinner between 8 and 10CHF/US$ per person.

Hotel Velasco, Matanzas

Next to parque libertad 

Quite nicely restored colonial building, with tall but a little cramped rooms. Our room smelled a bit from the "washthingy" next door, but we had a scale in the bathroom (I’m only 45kg! lol).
The night cost us 46CHF/US$, so not so cheap.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Soroa and then Habana (20.5.2013 - 26.5.2013)

In Soroa we took a hike uphill for the view. Afterwards we skipped the orchid garden and wanted to have a drink at the bar on top of another hill. But we sadly came too late, a couple of years it seemed, as the place was abandoned and in shambles. So we settled for  a swim in the Hotel pool full of cubans ;)
The owner of the casa we stayed owned a 1958 Ford Fairlane, with which he drove us the next day to Las Terrazas. We wanted to stay there for a night or two to visit the park but the hotel didn't have any free rooms left. Having run out of Peso I had do exchange my last US$ as there was no ATM in sight. So we gave Julio a call and he drove us all the way to Habana in his old car.

The first night in Habana we did a little bar tour through Habana Vieja and Centro Habana. Later we decided a bottle of rum from the store would be cheaper and we settled down in the nearby park with it. As we where sitting there we thought there where quite a lot of ugly women smiling at us, till two siblings on the bench next to us told us this was the place where all the gays and cross dressers would meet...
The next day was all about getting some cash! All the ATMs we found wouldn't accept any of our 4 different creditcards, so in the end Patrick exchanged his last couple of €uros. Afterwards we took a walk through the city and bought some groceries so we could cook some nice al dente spagetti! In the evening we went out in the old town again. The evening was still young when half of Habana Vieja had a power failure. So all the bars were closed and we wandered around in the dark streets till we found a bar with some candles lit and the staff having a great time playing music with their cell phones.
The next day was the third day in a row we where broke again! In the end we finally found a bank where they would accept one of our creditcards, yeah! Having some money to spend we went to eat in one of the fancy restaurant on the tourist strip and ordered a lobster boat, two lobster tails stuck into each other and covered in shrimps. Super tasty! ;)
Having enough of the smog and the heat we decided to spend the next day at the beach. So we headed to the Playas del Este. We wandered aimlessly along the beach and managed to see not a single tourist during the whole day! But there where plenty of cubans having a great time, bringing coolers full of beer and barbecue equipment to the beach.
That evening when we were walking around we saw that one of the hotels had a rooftop terrace and soon afterwards we found us smoking a cuban cigar and drinking a mojito in a nice lounge overlooking the old town. Despite its nice location, service and atmosphere it wasn't expensive, actually it was quite cheap compared to the bars around this part of town.
The next and last day in cuba we wanted to spend it like the other tourists, so Patrick bought a hat ;) Afterwards we wanted to take a trip on the tourist-hop-on-hop-off-double-decker-bus, which supposedly should run till 9pm. But as this is cuba the woman in the tourist office hat 5 in the afternoon told us it would only run for another hour... As we really wanted to see something else than the old town we ended up in one of the restored/maintained old american convertibles. So we drank the bottle of rum and cola we planned on drinking on the bus in the back of the shiny blue Pontiac while driving through town. We drove around the placa de la revolution, took a picture of Che and Cienfuegos and of the Jose Marti concrete thing. We had a great time and when we left the car the bottle was empty ;)
This time we wanted to visit the rooftop bar of another hotel, but the security guide in the lobby didn't wanted us to enter. So we ran past him into the elevator, but he reached us before the door could close and we had to leave... ;)
The rooftop bar we stayed the night before didn't mind us entering so we spent our last hours in cuba there lounging and watching the stars go by.