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Entries about salsa

Colombia: Medellín

A write up on my time in Medellín; musical, progressive, diverse, inviting, stunnngly beautiful and boisterous city of proud paisas... and why it would likely be Daryl Somers' favourite city.

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Medellín

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Medellín is a truly beautiful, diverse, friendly and fascinating city!
I had a truly amazing time here; made great new friends, danced, explored and learned a great deal about Colombia's broader and complex history here.

Once upon a time Medellín was a nucleus of woes that are now long forgotten, and of which no real signs exit anymore.
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Medellin is also known as the city of eternal spring for it's great year-roundweather.
It sprawls across gorgeous canyon like terrain, woth has magnificent views from every point in the city.

Wildly musical; originators and proponents of Reggaeton, stoic flag bearers of Salsa and embracers of modern rock and electronica - Medellín nightlife is full on, varied and comprehensive!
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Many taxi drivers and local friends were pretty insistent that Salsa culture in Colombia started in Medellín.... long before Cali...
This may have been symptomatic of the extremely competitive paisa nature, especially when it comes to other cities in Colombia.

Medellin has amazing public spaces and, arguably the best infrastructure in the country; which includes Colombia's only metro system, a solid road system, clean and safe streets, etc.
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Colombia is generally a very friendly country, but Medellín's hospitality was a totally standout experience.
It swiftly became my favourite city in Colombia.

Metro and Metrocable

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The immensely impressive Metro Cable is just another example of Paisa prowess.
It provides a fast, clean and efficient means of transport to the very difficult to reach, less wealthy areas that are embedded in the giant, steep hills surrounding the city, that were once illegal settlements.

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It also adjoins the city's amazingly, clean, fast and efficient Metro system; the only one in Colombia!
This feat is indicative of the inclusive, altruistic nature of the region...

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...levelling the playing field by providing very cheap, reliable public transport to all, including those that were once prohibitively isolated.....
Medellín may be second in size to the capital, but they certainly compete strongly for the premiership!

Botanical Gardens and Public Spaces

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The public spaces in Medellín are some of the best in the country.
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And none more amazing than the Botanical Gardens!
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The periphera spaces are equally impressive and seem highly utilised.

I visited with a friend during Sunday afternoon, the area was ALIVE with and families, kids, chanting capoeira groups, buskers, and more!

Events and Socialising

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It was really easy to make friends here; even with my broken Spanish.
Especialy through Medellín's very active Couchsurfing community.

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I went to picnics, language interchange events, karaoke and games nights, etc.

Taxi drivers were always up for a chat; to practice English,recommend places, ask myriads of questions about Australia... and to totally hype Medellín!!

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Downtown

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Wanderings and Walking Tour

The Real Walking Tour in Medellín is an absolute must!!
We traversed the downtown area, where many local friends advised me not to go...

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As we walked through bustling markets blasting classic Salsa, and full of smiling, raucous and enterprising vendors, our guide explained the very complicated, at times turbulent and ultimately triumphant history of Medellín; the events, circumstances and personalities.

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It was the best insight I got into Colombia's past/present/future.....
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It seems many a tourist hears the same warnings from their new local pals from the safer, wealtheir hills of El Poblado... don't go downtown!
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Our guide suggested that the motive behind the warnings are actually double edged...

One being safety...
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The other side indicates a more subversive motive.....
That the in-your-face hustle and bustle of downtown Medellin doesn't suit aspiring image of mainstream Colombia.

I really hope there isn't merit to that suggestion, because Downtown is the most friendly, jovial and boisterous area I visited in Colombia,

Though, to be fair, it probably isn't the safest at night.... but neither is King St in Melbourne on a Saturday...

All of the major administrative buildings are in this area, plus some really beautiful parks and public spaces.

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Parque Botero has some stunning examples of Botero's work, and is always full of interesting activity.

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Despite what people say Downtown is an essential visit!

Lodgings

I stayed at Hostel Antiguo - a stunningly beautiful and tranquil place that adjoins a honey factory!
It has the best facilities I've seen in a hostel!!

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I definitely recommend staying here, even for a couple of nights... for one or two nights, but take a taxi at night.

Food

You're unlikely to find a gluten free/ vegan/ decaf joint around here, but you will find traditional paisa beauts like gut busting bandeja paisa (Colombia's answer to a full English), and many fried goodies.

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You will also find a lot of bakeries and street vendors with fresh fruit.

Shopping

There are many stalls and shops here selling clothes made by the nearby factories.... pretty awesome bargains to be had in lovely old buildings!
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El Poblado

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This is the most popular area for tourists; with the highest concentration of hotels, nightclubs, high end restaurants, mega malls, etc.
It is 100% safe; day and night.

El Poblado is a significant distance; geographically, socially and economically from downtown....
...and home the highest echelons of Colombia's apparently rigid social hierarchy..

As I browsed the very impressive Santafé mall I couldn't help feeling my watch and shoes being so obviously and routinely regarded, as if by reflex...
....by every shop assistant and attendant...

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I just hope that my travel-chic Nikes and G-Shock didn't ... er shock ;-)
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On weekends the huge Zona Rosa; condensed with hundreds of swish restaurants, bars and clubs gets pretty crazy.... a contrast of stunning and elegant Colombian beautification with gringos at their most casual....

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...and so the streets and bars interweave designer clad, super preened and manicured enterprising locals.... coexisting in relative harmony with many pale, bearded, shaggy, backpackers dressed / smelling far worse than the folks downtown, who my protective pals here so fervently told me to avoid.

There's probably some irony there.
I heard someone say recently, that folks try so hard to look like they are having a good time in El Poblado, that they actually forget to have one.
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Laureles

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This is by far my favourite part of Medellín, and probably Colombia!!
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It has many parks, tree lined streets and feels tranquil.
There are also great restaurants and (for me anyway) the best nightlife in town... along la 70!
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There are plenty of great hotels, but it doesn't feel overly touristy; and generally caters more to a local crowd (and those who want to get down in a local way)

Food

There are many health cafes and great including the amazing Paradisíca!!

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Culture

The culture here is open, friendly, easy going and progressive.

I stopped at Kapital Kuts and spoke with the dudes that run the place for a couple of hours (the haircut only took 20 minutes), and got a nice insight into both Paisa and Colombian popular culture in general... and some good tips.

I definitely recommend stopping by for a solid haircut and cup of strong coffee that the lads brew throughout the day!!!

Nightlife

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The best in Medellin! La 70 is a long strip of restaurants and places to drink/dance/socialise...
You will only hear latin music along the massive stretch of clubs, and discoteques - Salsa, Vallenato, Merengue and a hint of Bachata

It's really nice to walk along at night.

SALSA!

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I visited a lot of Salsa joints in Medellin, across all parts of town... even more than Cali.
I liked dancing in Medellin, as folks are easy going, and really, really dig the music.
Just like Cali, many people bring their own percussion to clubs to add their own rhythmic fire.
In Medellin entire social groups brought Cuban decorated claves, cowbells and maracas.

Here are my top places:

El Tibiri

As an aspiring Salsero, I had an awesome time at the subterranean, El Tibiri.

This place is everything a Salsa joint should be - a space for dancing, loud music, posters of Salsa legends, a Cuban flag and just a few tables and chairs... boom!!
It becomes a sweat box very quickly, but that adds to the authentic flavour! Boisterous, authentic, pretension free and awesome.

Eslabon Prendido

This joint is definitely the most gringo friendly.
Their biggest night is Tuesday and it felt like every backpacker in town was there when I was... iinterspersed with passionate local salseros!

The band here totally cooked!!!

Son Havana

Quite possibly my favourite Salsa venue on earth!!
The name says it all... this a place for those passionate about Salsa... and only Salsa.... no crossover.... nothing else except pure Saaaalsa.

bup-bup-bup--bupbup ;-)

Armies of folks; young and old danced around with their Cuban-flag-painted-BYO instruments, banging out beats, shaking shuffling...it really does add to the atmosphere.

...and on Saturday nights the 9 piece live band totally cooks!
I visited on town separate Saturdays and it was consistently packed with a rapturous crowd.

Daryl Somers would love Medellin

As a drummer, I loved Medellin for the passion around percussion.
It wasn't just in clubs.... one of favourite cab rides in Colombia was in Meds when I had a drum-off with the driver as he blasted classic tunes.
Daryl Somers would have loved it!

....*don't worry Mum it was only when we stopped at the lights *;-)

Pueblito Paisa

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Atop a giant hill in the middle of the city, with some of the most awesome views... is historic Pueblito Paisa.
The views are breathtaking, especially at night, and certainly has a romantic air about it.

I'm sure many a proposal has taken place in the serene corners here.

Thanks Medellin, adieu Colombia

Yes, Medellín is a special, and beautiful place, and probably my favourite city in Colombia, which says a great deal.

Hasta luego!
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Posted by SkinnyFists 22:18 Archived in Colombia Tagged salsa paisa medellin pueblito_paisa laureles el_poblado colombian_class_system colombian_salsa Comments (0)

Colombia: Cali

Journey to the world capital of Salsa!

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The Capital of Salsa

To get you started, here is a video I put together of snippets I recorded at concerts, conventions and Salsatecas in Cali:

Cali, Colombia is widely (and aptly) known as the capital of Salsa.
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Salsa is more than a pastime and interest for Caleños, it is an obsession, transcending many generations since the 1960's.

Many famous and popular Salsa artists from Puerto Rico and Cuba ended up moving to Cali, to be amongst it.
It's in the air and everywhere....in supermarkets, taxis, hotel foyers, air lounges, bars, discotecques, hospitals, family lounge rooms.

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My Salsa teacher in Cali told me that over 40 percent of Caleños are involved in the music/dance industry, and it's hardly surprising.
J Lo often calls upon dance troupes from Cali for her performances, and the bloke who invented Zumba is a Caleño.

Salsa dancing flows throughout Cali.
I even saw homeless folks dancing salsa caleña in the streets without music!

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I had the good fortune of arriving in Cali for the city's fair - Feria de Cali - the biggest Salsa festival on Earth... and it was amazing!!

This article sums up Cali's Salsa culture perfectly:
How Cali’s DIY dance clubs keep the spirit of salsa alive

Cali Fair

Superconcierto

Some friends and I attended 'Superconcierto' at Pascual Guerrero Stadium, featuring the biggest Salsa, Salsa Choke and Bachata artists; Romeo Santos, Chocquibtown, Grupo Niche, Guayacan, Willie Colon, Oscar D'Leon, Binomio Golden and Daniel Calderó!

I haven't seen such a huge and emphatic music crowd since Glastonbury in the UK.

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All the bands and artists were on serious fire and blew the crowd away.

Hermanos Lebrón

The Lebrón Brothers celebrated their illustrious 50th year of creating music magic with an amazing show!
Even in posh theatres, Colombians bring their own cowbells and beat perfectly in time!!
This concert was a highlight of my trip!

Tascas

Cali's central park converts to the wonderful Tascas for the fair.
A huge expanse of food vendors, tables, stages and of course spaces for dancing which were constantly packed!!

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Canchas Panamericanas

Canchas Panamericanas played host to the biggest celebration of Salsa music for the fair.
It featured talks from collectors, venue artists, central figures and artists alike.

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There were many stalls and shops selling records, and artefacts from Salsa's rich history.
It was like Comic-Con for Salsa!

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Salsa Venues

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There are more salsa venues here than any other city, including Havana.
You are spoilt for choice! The most gringo friendly is probably Tintindeo... and it's excellent!
Unpretentious, with both beginners and local veterans dancing together. I had many a great night here and met new friends.
La Topa Tolondra is another cools place, but it is very narrow, and not really conducive to busting your new moves.

In the north east of town are the bigger clubs, some dedicated to Salsa and others play a mix of latin styles.
Take your travel buds with you to these places, and grab a table as the majority do; and dance between them or on the myriad of dance floors scattered around these vast joints!

Markets

Cali's downtown/market area has to be seen/heard to be believed.
Bustling, crowded and musical. Music blasts from every shop and stall with a view to attracting customers.

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Lodgings

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I stayed at three places in Cali:

  • Hostel Encuentro is a fantastic, tranquil family run place where you will be also welcomed and treated like family.
  • Hotel Granada Real is ideally located close to all of the action of Avenida 9, and super cheap.
  • Every city in Colombia now has Hampton by Hilton franchises... and they are excellent!

For approximately $60 per night, with 5* facilities and service you can't go wrong. Cali's is outstanding!

Transport

Cali doesn't have much in the way of tourist friendly public transport.
Uber is definitely the way to go. It's reliable, cheap, and all of the drivers I had in Cali (over 30 trips) had wonderfully immaculate cars and were amazingly professional.

Cali, The City

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In comparison to the other big cities in Colombia, Cali is a gritty town.
Once ruled by the ruthless Cali Cartel, it seems to be in the throes of recovery.
Though it's difficult to tell if they are keen to progress or fine as they are.

Medellin, by comparison, was hit even harder back in the day, but has now shaken it's torrid past off, and taken enormous strides to become arguably Colombia's premier and most friendly city, attracting the most foreign and local migrating workers in Colombia.

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Cali certainly doesn't market itself as a tourist centre; Caleños get on fine without tourists.
I read a quote in that famous travel guide... you need Cali more than it needs you... and it's so true.
Any visitors who arrive with a lofty entitled, tourist pedestal will be very quickly ignored... or worse.

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Don't expect to come to Cali and find tourist maps, museums, etc.
The attraction here is the very rich culture of music and everything that surrounds it.

Cali is just one example of Colombia's vast and varied musical tapestry; which is just one of the many marvellous factors that distinguishes Colombia from the rest of the region.

I had a great time in Cali, made many new friends, learnt some new dance moves and got a wonderful insight into Colombia's musical jewel.

I went to the capital next... boundless Bogotá!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 14:25 Archived in Colombia Tagged salsa colombia cali salsatecas Comments (0)

Colombia: Rodadero, Santa Marta, Barranquilla

Exploring serene El Rodadero, heavenly Santa Marta and the boisterious rhumba of Barranquilla!

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El Rodadero

It was time to move on from Cartagena and explore the rest of the Caribbean north.
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I took the Marsol bus without hassle along the busy yet gorgeous coastal freeway, stopping occasionally for snacks, and finally arrived at the very lovely, quiet, family oriented beach town, El Rodadero.
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I was lucky enough to be there for Día de las Velitas (Day of the Candles), where families light candles and spend special time together just before Christmas.
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The atmosphere was serene!
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The beach was full of people yet calm... music played and people danced...
the night illuminated with candles and lights.
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The beach is a big drawcard here.
The water is calm and safe and the sunsets are just downright magical!
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Calle 11 Hostel

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This place has an interesting history.
It was reportedly owned by a mafia kingpin, and then sold by the government after his take down.
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It's one of the most luxurious and best run hostels I've ever stayed (no, they aren't paying me).
Backpackers will appreciate the spaciousness and privacy curtains provided for the beds.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta is heaven!
It's clean, beautiful, friendly yet boisterous, with wonderfully warm weather, stunning beaches.
Not too big/yet not tiny with very much a strong sense of community!
The streets are full of character.... and full of music.
We stayed at Chocolate y Candela hostel and I recommend them to you!

Nightlife

There are a few big clubs in Santa Marta, but the best time is probably had at the chilled bars surrounding Parque de Los Novios.
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Later though, you'll no doubt end up dancing somewhere, whether you intended to or not!

Police Escort

One night a couple of friends and I ventured out clubbing, and decided to walk.
The club was about 5 minutes walk from the hostel....
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As we progressed down one of the silent streets, 3 police saddled up to us, riding Segways.....
(in Spanish)
"Where are you boys going?"
"Miko Bar, why?"
"You shouldn't walk at night..."
... the officer directed us to turn around...
A group of rascals, who were probably harmless, had been following us from a distance, and were now cautiously diverting their path.
One of the officers said.... "We'll take you to Miko...."
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Barranquiila

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Barranquilla is famous for two things... pop star Shakira, and the world's biggest Salsa carnival every February.

Many people overlook Bazza outside of Carnival time, because it's isn't an especially pretty city, and lacks tourist attractions.
This is a shame, because it's a really friendly, welcoming and fun place, and a significant cog in Colombia's gloriously diverse society and economy.

Hostel from Hell

As Barranquilla isn't really on the backpacker's trail, there is a lack of hostels.
In fact we could only find one, and it was, well interesting....

The reviews were mixed, to say the least, but my compadres and I took a punt. How bad could it be?
.....nothing prepared us for the horrid, turgid, pungent, mess that was The Meeting Point Hostel, Barranquilla.

<cue Deliverance banjos>
When the three of us entered our dorm, we were greeted by an odd fellow lying on one of the bunks, wearing only his undies.
As we settled in, the odd fellow just stared art us.
Mildly disconcerted, we continued our conversation about whether to leave/stay/sleep outside.
Our staring friend continued to gaze, voicelessly.

I had pre-arranged to meet someone via Couchsurfing, so mentioned I was going to shower (there is only one).
Suddenly, the staring elf jumped up and yelled ....
"Are you having a shower?!! Are you having a shower?!!!!!!!... I was going to have one..."
hmmmm.... oookay
"OK buddy, go have your shower."

Here's my Tripadvisor review:
The putrid waft hit us as soon as we walked in.
Dirty clothes and clutter are draped everywhere, cats roam the halls where the owners leave handfuls of food for them on the floors.
The dorms are scary. No A/C or decent fans in a very hot/oppressing atmosphere.
The dorms are cramped, yet did seem relatively clean, though the loose live wires hanging from the ceiling was disconcerting.
The bathroom was horrible - no shower curtain with water splashing everywhere across the filth.. hair and stains everywhere.
My feet have been itchy since we left.
The owner family are indeed friendly and helpful, but the padre smokes in the common area (inside) - and it wafts through the entire building.
Do yourself a favour, heed the other reviews here and stay clear!!

Second Chance Pays Off

After a horrid night's sleep, my homies and I quickly prepared to escape.
Whilst my pals opted to return to serene Santa Marta; I thought.... that there had to be more to Barranquilla!
So I stayed a while.... and so glad to have!

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There really isn't much in the way of sites, but it's a very nice city, easy to navigate and has really friendly people, and a positive vibe!

I walked most of the city; past the panaderías, markets, the mechanics and factories, through the fancy shopping centres, and via the very picturesque and spotless neighbourhoods.

Salsaaaa and Nightlife

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By contrast to say, Cali where folks bust a frantic move, Barranquillan's prefer to savour the music... sitting in big groups, occasionally dancing between the tables.... closely with their partners.... or banging out rhythms with the cowbells and claves that they brought from home!

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There are many many discoteques in Bazza.... but the most famous one... the must see....
.... and my absolute favourite on earth is La Troja!
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It's boisterous, friendly and totally unpretentious.
People congregate and dance inside the venue, and at nearly every available space on the periphery.... literally stopping traffic.
There are street vendors outside servicing the additional crowd... who are there for the magic of music!
It's a very incredible experience!

Definitely check out their Instagram for a taste!!!

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Inside, there are also TV screens everywhere showing boxing and football too!

I'll be back....

If you want an authentic Colombian experience; to see just one of the true beating hearts of this amazing country with such diversity and contrasts, then please do visit.
You will have a great time, and have the (unfortunate) luxury of being one of the only tourists around.
Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Cartagena are so starkly different yet essentially Colombian, it's really incredible.

I can't wait to get back to Bazza for Carnival and rejoin the nice friends I met there.

Posted by SkinnyFists 16:14 Archived in Colombia Tagged salsa colombia santa_marta barranquilla el_rodadero colombian_beaches calle_11_hostel Comments (0)

Colombia: Cartagena

Border advice plus... dancin', chillin, cyclin' plus more in Colombia's paradise on the Carribean coast

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Arrival Colombia

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I left Central America full of great memories.... via Avianca and landed on the sunny shores/airport of tropical Cartagena.
Luckily I had bought a bus ticket to Ecuador for a month's time, because the customs officer asked for evidence of my departure before letting me in to the country.
This has happened twice for me so far.... so be warned.

I made the mistake of not supplying onward travel evidence in Costa Rica.
It created all kinds of havoc, though I'll save it for another chapter dedicated to border crossings.

Lodgings

I stayed at two different hotels at different times, and both were excellent!
Though, I really recommend Patio de Getsemani.
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It's run by a super friendly family, the rooms are wonderful, cool and quiet... and the hotel has the most amazing rooftop patio/garden with astounding views.

Getsemani

Barrio Getsemani is a wonderful, hip suburb just outside of centro.
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The streets really come alive at night... many families blast music out of their front rooms with the windows open and often sit out the front socialising with their neighbours and tourists alike.

It's a very nice environment to be part of.

There are many bars in this area, but the spot where most people congregate is Trinidad Square.
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Many food stalls surround it, and there is often sound systems blasting quality tunes.

Centro

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Central Cartagena is wonderful!
It is a photographers dream, and most likely heritage protected as it has a very antique feel, retaining its 600 year old charm.

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You will find all of the boutiques, upscale shops, and fine restaurants in an amazing setting.
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It seems like from the facades the city has not changed since inception nearly 600 years ago!
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There are many squares, where people either sit and eat, or amazing performers ply their trade.

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Café del Mar

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If you want to impress your loved one, book a seaside table at Cafe Del Mar for sunset.
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It's a truly beautiful spot with incredible views out to sea, and out to Bocagrande.

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Beach

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Cartagena isn't famous for the beach, but it is nice.
It is easy to get to the more pristine places like El Rodedero or Playa Blanca

Explore by bike

Cartagena is a great place to explore by bike.
It is very flat, and doesn't have much road traffic, with many bike friendly avenues.
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I took 3 hour tour covering centro, Getsemani and often less visted barrios for a bit of contrast.

Festival of Lights

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Cartagena put certainly put on a show in terms of Christmas lights.
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Huge light statues and presentations were scattered all over the cities and parks.

Nightlife

Cartagena has amazing nightlife! All Latin forms of music plus electro are catered for here!

Salsa

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Salsa is the staple form of music in Caribe Colombia, and Salseros are in for a treat.
You can study at Crazy Salsa, and enjoy some awesome venues to dance or just listen and marvel.

Here are some venues I visited....

Donde Fidel is a small bar with a huge voice!
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(Folks sit outside of Donde Fidel, in the main square enjoying the music by night)

There isn't a great deal of dancing here, it is more of a place to sit appreciate/talk about music with others so passionate about it.
Many groups, couple, individuals sit and appreciate the tunes, amidst the photos of famous Salsaneros who have visited the place.
Bring sticks and even a cowbell!

Quiebra-Canto is a 3 story venue dedicated to Salsa.

quiebra_canto.jpgThe bottom venue attracts many casual punters, and the top floor was filled with aficionados passionate about the music .
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I spoke with the barmen about different artists... and they of course bash rhythms and singing passionately when they aren't serving drinks.

Havana Café. Arguably the premier live Salsa joint in town.
They have smokin hot musos gracing the stage and a really festive environment.
My only problem with it was that it was full of tourists and no room to dance.

I had the best time at Donde Fidel and Quiebra-Canto!

Music

One day I came across a busker playing didgeridoo... in a way that Colombian's would - rapidly, with marvellous complex rhythms and a strong groove.
His girlfriend was playing a soulful clarinet accompaniment.
It was truly amazing and I'm kicking myself for not filming, but if you visit Cartagena watch out for them!

I saw a lot of other really wonderful performances in different pockets of Cartagena.
It was my first taste of the country and the importance of musicality in Colombian culture quickly became very clear.
I could write subjective tomes about it... and others have done exactly that....

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

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The Jewel of Cartagena and a very significant/strategic part of Colombia's history.
I spent more than four hours exploring, via aid of audio guide.
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It was really fascinating, especially to lean that at one stage British Pirates conquered the fort.

Amable personas

Cartagena is just one of the many magnificent cities of the Carribean coast of Cartagena.

I also had an amazing time in Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Parque Tayrona, which I'll write about shortly.
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I definitely recommend Cartagena as a destination for families and backpackers alike.
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Hasta luego!

Posted by SkinnyFists 14:18 Archived in Colombia Tagged salsa cartagena colombia_cartagena Comments (0)

Cuba (part 3): Trinidad

Spectacular, historic, amazing, musical, friendly, beautiful. Everything you need in Cuba is here.

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Trinidad

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Gorgeous Trinidad

Subjective advice for anyone coming to Cuba.... make Trinidad a priority over Havana.
My highlights, in terms of music, bands, nightlife,architecture, food, historic sites, people and (err) vibe, lie squarely in Trinidad.
Cuba is an amazing country, unlike any other and Trinidad is petite glistening jewel.

Every glance.... every corner, every street.... house, church, is picture worthy!
It's beautiful!
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I almost feel guilty writing about it now, in fear of contributing to a mounting crowd of SLR toting hordes lacking self awareness, muddying this pristine example of aural and aesthetic utopia.
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Yes, it's one of those places you want to protect... with a relatively small population (70,000 or so) it is very small, and dutifully protected by UNESCO Heritage.

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Tourist infrastructure, music cafes, superb restaurants and bars are emerging everywhere, yet inconspicuous, blending with the town's ethos.

Gorgeous Streets

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I booked a walking tour via the Cubatur office.

Being the only taker for the day, I had a private guide.
She walked me through all of the major historic sites, and explained Trinidad's controversial history as a wealthy slave trading port.
I was amazed at how well kept and relatively pristine the whole city is.
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The cobblestone alleys, colourful frontages... and the familiar sound of rhumba rhythms and Salsa, everywhere.
Though, for the visual experience alone, Trinidad is amazing!

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Amable Personas!

The folks of Trinidad, are happy, boisterous, outgoing and unassumingly superbly stylish.
I marvel at Cubans... they are not influenced by trends, etc of other countries... blissfully unaware that they eat western fashionistas for breakfast without trying... and the friendliest, happiest, artfully creative bunch I have observed thus far.

Trinidadians are curious about visitors. Keep in mind...we need them more than they need us ;-)

Santería

During my tour and beyond I learned a great deal about Santería.
When Africans were brought in as slaves they were forbidden to practice any of their homeland traditions.
Eventually they developed a hybrid blend of Yoruba mythology with Christian and Indigenous American traditions, formalised in Santería.

Here is Google's explanation
Santeria (Way of the Saints) is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yoruba beliefs and traditions, with some Roman Catholic elements added.
The religion is also known as La Regla Lucumi and the Rule of Osha. Santeria is a syncretic religion that grew out of the slave trade in Cuba.

I visited many gorgeous Santería churches in Trinidad.

The formal dress is all white, and looks magnificent.
I also saw the presence of Santaría in Cartagena, Colombia... more on that later

Musica

Local Magic

Cuba has a wealth of music options. Music is the national passion is very much in flight here.
I saw many bands at every scale and was duly impressed... mesmerised... everywhere.
What I like about Cuba again, is how unassumingly talented they are.

At a small rooftop cafe, where I was the sole patron, a young band was rehearsing.
The songs were solid yet whimsical, with a really interesting and subtle groove.
During their break, I spoke with the singer.
They write all of their own songs together, from rhythm up to lyrics and vocal melodies.
I watched them work through a new piece... their calm, inclusive and very technical nature of collaboration... progressing bar to bar was astounding.

After 30 minutes, they had two minutes of musical magic.

Casa de la Musica

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Casa de la Musica sits at one of Trinidad's major squares at the top of a hill, overlooking the gorgeous town.

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The venue is open air, and free to join in the fun.

Every night a schedule of bands/performers fill the evening which truly mesmerises.

Before the shows....
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Locals and tourists alike packed in the the tiered area for a view of the acts and to dance.
This is a gorgeous, fun, festive and welcoming evening.... and was a highlight of my trip to Cuba!
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Casa de la Trova

Outside the venue...
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This small venue has a very homely and welcoming feel.

Band warming up in the afternoon...
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The house band are incredible, and audience members are invited to take a clave to learn the rhythms participate in the rhumba!!
Some folks sat with their cocktails to really take in the band, whilst many danced in the lovely courtyard.

...otros

I passed by many, many other music venues in Trinidad that I will have to visit next time!!

Salsa love

What amazes me about Salsa is that it really, really plays with aspects of music; melody, tempo, cadence, emphasis, volume, rhythm... in very unique and skillful ways, largely absent in other forms.
It's the most dynamic form to listen to. I can listen to songs for hours and not get bored trying to dissect or simply marvel!
Seeing proficient Salsa musicians interact and work together is really something special!!

Accomodation

Lessons learned and advice...

I stayed at a hotel on the beach. In hindsight, winging it and looking for a Casa Particular would have been a much better option.
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Advice for anyone going to Trinidad, Cuba.... avoid the beach at all costs and stay in Trinidad town... either at Iberostar, or a Casa Particular.

Further, with the beach hotels being so far from town, and taxis being expensive, you will eat through CUCs and time ferrying back and forth.

Thanks Trinidad!

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Trinidad was absolutely a highlight of my time in Cuba, and highlight of this trip so far.
I can't wait to go back and explore, listen, dance and learn more there.

Posted by SkinnyFists 09:55 Archived in Cuba Tagged cuba playa trinidad salsa casa_de_la_musica Comments (0)

Cuba (part 2): Viñales, Varadero.... and understanding Che

Out to the valleys, through the mega resorts, then stopping in Santa Clara to understand Che's journey.

sunny 35 °C

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Viñales

I jumped on a tour through the Viñales; a gorgeous, lush, hilly region of Cuba with many tobacco farms and rum mills.
We first stopped at a local tobacco farm where they also make cigars on site.

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The proprietor took us through the journey… from tobacco leaf to cigar... and rolled some right in front of the group to sample.
As with all production businesses in Cuba….90% of his output goes to the government.
The rest he keeps for himself for consumption or to sell on for extra money.
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Same deal for the rum factory where we stopped.
It was deliciously sweet stuff!

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Our next stop for lunch was in the lovely countryside at the foot of The Mural de la Prehistoria, where the cliffs had been painted in a huge art project in ancient times.
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Finally we stopped at the famous cave systems with rivers running through it; for a superb journey by foot and boat through the amazing stalagtites
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This day trip was arranged by a government owned agency (one of only two in the country).
Quality is pretty much assured here because of rigorous standards....
Further, in Cuba, every guide has to pass rigorous English, German and/or Russian exams...I'll babble/gush about Cuban education later ;-)

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Varadero

Varadero sits upon a truly magnificent coastline, with enormous mega all-inclusive hotels.

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I booked two nights at an all inclusive for a bit of chilled beach time, and also out of curiosity.
Upon arrival I was issued a wristband, which gave me licence to eat/drink wherever/whenever across the four restaurants, and several bars in the megaplex.

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They even had barbecues scattered around the beach making burgers to order.

I met mostly Canadian and Russian visitors….
It's worth highlighting Cuba and Russia's very close, long standing relationship.
Whilst there are huge personality and cultural differences, their greater good ideologies are largely aligned, and for this observer, there is an evident kinship.
Russian's have been visiting Cuba for a very, very long time, and also aid their comrades in many ways.

Back to the resort.... everyone was drinking and eating to the max, seemingly for the entirety of their (for many) two week stay.
I joined the hotel pool games, politely declined the drinking games, but had a great time in very luxurious surrounds.
Nothing was too much trouble!
My laundry was crisply ironed, and steaks, pasta and mocktails made precisely to order.

No internet of course, but I called home with the dedicated aid of the hotel's very courteous operator.
Yes, Don Draper would have loved this place.

At the enormous pool, there were games which I, and most of the other guests participated.
It was a nice platform to socialise.

The service and facilities across the board at this place was absolutely incredible.... for the equivalent of AUD$80 per night.
At home something like this would be ludicrously expensive.

The hotel sat upon the west facing beach.. and was absolutely incredible.
Perfect warm blue water, and flawless sand....

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One evening, I went to see a band billed as the Buena Vista Social Club.... which was a bit of a con, as only 3 of the members were actually affiliated with the group.... beware if you're considering this.

Nonetheless this band were absolutely incredible, with ace dancing too!

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After 30 minutes the 400 strong crowd were also up dancing for the remainder of the show!

Sanda Clara & Ernesto "Che" Guevara Mausoleum

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I boarded and very early morning bus bound for Santa Clara.

During the 3 hour bus ride the guide explained the Ché and Fidel's revolution in amazing detail, from inception, planning, rationale, key battles, and Cuba's transition and evolution.... after the revolution.
She also talked in great detail about Che Guevara - as we approached the mausoleum, including:

  • Growing up in Argentina
  • Education in medicine
  • Journey from Argentina to Mexico,
  • Joining Fidel in planning and executing in the war
  • Life thereafter as head of Cuban Bank
  • Involvement in the Congo ...and ultimate capture and murder in Bolivia by the CIA.

Ché's mausoleum has a very detailed museum with comprehensive documentation, photos and artefacts,and also acknowledges the fallen guerrillas who were captured and killed along with him.
It is a fine tribute to the Argentinian, who became saviour and hero to Cuba and international inspiration.

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Bound for Trinidad

I farewelled the tour group from that point and changed transports, bound for Trinidad, along with two Danish couples in their late 50’s.
They had travelled most of Latin America and gave me all of their contacts in Colombia…

Stay tuned for Trinidad!!

Posted by SkinnyFists 19:46 Archived in Cuba Tagged beaches caves vinales trinidad salsa varadero che_guevara mausaleum Comments (1)

Cuba (part 1): Havana

Stepping back to the good ol' days - amazing music, awesome cars and hand-rolled cigars.....magnificent and potent culture...

sunny 35 °C

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I had a totally amazing time in Cuba... it is an unashamedly charming, stylish, welcoming, musical and wondrous place....
Here's part 1 in Havana....

Visas

Visitors to Cuba will require a tourist card/visa.
Visas can be arranged through through embassies, or if travelling from within the region a tourist card, issued at the airport suffices.
I flew with Interjet from Cancun, and they had a separate tourist card stand next to the check in counter.... where I arranged mine in minutes.

Arrival Havana

As soon as I left the plane at Havana Airport, it felt like stepping back in time - to the good ol' days of formal smiling service, pay-phones and paper forms.

Money Exchange

The money exchange is outside of the airport. As you leave the arrivals section, turn right.
Note that foreigner used currency (CUC) is not traded outside of Cuba. You need to buy them after arrival.
In hindsight I underestimated how much cash I would need, and found it very difficult withdrawing money thereafter... so be warned... cash is king in Cuba, and you can always change surplus back to Euros/Pounds on your way out of the country.

The best rates seemed to be or Euros. GBP/USD can also be exchanged, though AUD cannot.

Taxis

Just like almost anywhere outside of the "west" meters are not used in cabs, so negotiating price before setting foot is essential.
The first driver I met wanted 30CUC to my Casa, and we finally agreed on 25.

The drive from the airport was nothing short of spectacular....
Cadillac after Chevy after classic car traversing the palm tree lined motorway... each car full to the brim of people.

We passed through bustling Habana Centro in all of it's original 50's glory to my Casa Particular, the border of Habana Veijo.

It felt like the beginning of a Mad Men episode... Don Draper would have loved Cuba.

Homestay

I wanted an authentic experience, so opted to stay in a Casa Particular in Havana i.e. family home.
There are many advertised on Tripadvisor, or you can take your chances by walking the streets, as families have signs posted outside of their homes.

Casa Pablo Menses was recommended to me by a travel compadre, and it was a solid, solid choice!

I was warmly welcomed to the home, and to my lovely room; complete with a brand new air con system, glistening bathroom, comfy bed, fridge and TV.... opening out to the casa's lovely courtyard.

Welcome dinner at Casa Meneses
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Casa Pablo Meneses is a grandiose, immaculate family home which surrounds and enclosed open courtyard with a lovely garden and latticed furniture. Their tiny pseudo restaurant is also renowned in the neighbourhood.
On several nights during my stay, a group of French tourists visited for a banquet, favouring Meneses to their posh hotel around the corner.

This intrepid group, all had disabilities of varying forms, some travelling with dedicated carers, some in wheelchairs, etc.
They had bonded over the internet and joined together for a self managed adventure traversing Cuba... determined, jovial and absolutely adventurous!

The patriarch of the Meneses house, Cesar helped arrange a private guide/spanish teacher for me, and taxis when I needed.
I had many broken Spanglish conversations with everyone in the family, and I really can't recommend their hospitality enough.

There is a pedestrianised walkway near Meneses, leading from the main square down to the coast.
People trade, hold group discussions, sell art and have performances along here....
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Habana

Havana is a dynamic, festive, musical, friendly and relatively safe city.
The old city is particularly amazing, and absolutely gorgeous!

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I booked a private guide though Saint Cristobal, and she took me to all of the squares, explained the history of Cuba and significance of landmarks; from Spanish arrival, to the independence revolution and ensuing abolishment of slavery.... right through to Che and Fidel's revolution and beyond.
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Havana was of course home to Ernest Hemmingway. He lived in Hotel Ambos Mundos....
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His hotel room is now a museum, and atop the hotel you will finds some of the best views of Havana
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....and most delicious mojitos.

Music is everywhere in Havana!!!
You won't hear much recorded music playing in the old town.
Instead, almost every venue has a band playing during all hours of trade!

Casa de la Musica is definitely worth a visit, however I was most impressed by the bands at smaller venues!

The small bars are ace at night!!
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My favourite band were at Cafe Paris...
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Walking the back streets of central Havana, I stumbled upon a massive block party.
They had set up massive speakers in the middle of the street, and guys were rapping in heavy Español Cubano with an enormous, rapturous crown encircling them. It was MEGA!!

During my time a huge public concert took place to celebrate Independence Day.
It felt like most of Havana came for it. It was a spectacular setting, with musicians from all over the world including China visiting to perform.

Setting up....
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During the show...
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Cubans take music very, very seriously and it is their national passion.
I haven't seen virtuosity, unassuming talent or genuine interest in music like this anywhere else.
Lone pianist... twinkling the ivories
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The big hotels are worth visiting even if you don't stay in them.
They are relatively unchanged since the 60's and all have working banks, salons, etc, and are immaculately kept.
The Museo de Revolución took 4 solid hours to pass through, and documents Che and Fidel's revolution in meticulous fashion!
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Revolution Square is also well worth a visit!
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Havana at night is also magnificent.....
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Just like any tourist destination, there are sharks, but harmless if you politely catch them out and decline their game.
There is a visible police/military presence especially at closing time...but not perturbingly so.

Pimps are everywhere, and they will make it their business to convince every male they meet (single or not!) that their providers can make your Cuban stay more authentic.
I was out with a lady friend from Colombia one night, and still had to shoo a cheeky pimp and one of his ladies away!

Resources

I definitely recommend taking a guidebook.
You can find (slow) wi-fi at the big hotels, however you need to purchase an exorbitantly expensive login card, which aren't necessarily available at the hotels themselves.

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I also used a fantastic offline app called Havana Good Time which contains many user reviews.

I'll be back....

...more from Cuba shortly.... Viñales, Varadero, Cinfuegos and Trinidad.

'luego!

(sad to leave Havana...)
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Posted by SkinnyFists 14:59 Archived in Cuba Tagged cuba music havana salsa havana_veijo casa_particulars Comments (0)

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