Our Man in Havana
As I mentioned in my first post, I had booked accommodation online for the start and end of my visit to Cuba, but not the middle, as one always has to have some flexibility when things go awry.
I expected that once in country with the lay of the land, I would be a bit smarter or effective in finding places to stay. The other part of my plan was to go to the farthest point from Havana first, and then work my way back.. My route was Havana, then fly to Santiago de Cuba – somehow a 15 hour bus ride didn’t sound very attractive – then start to work my way back to Havana incrementally in shorter hops, i.e. Camagüey, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos.
It turns out the first idea wasn’t such a good one, because I was relying on Internet access to book rooms. Without Internet, I was a bit screwed.
The other way of course is to just arrive in a place and let the touts have their way with you, something I am loathe to do. After my third or fourth day in Havana, and not being able to book anything even when I did get dubious Internet access, I was started to get annoyed. I asked the lady who owned my Casa, how she got Internet in order to accept her bookings and send notes, and she confessed that it was a friend of hers who did the bookings because she didn’t speak English, and he was a tour guide. His name is Fernando.
I decided to check him out a bit, by booking him for an afternoon tour in order to cover some of the sights in Havana that we less accessible to me on foot.. and it turned out to be fine, and I got some historical background as well on the central part of Havana. When I told him my booking problem, he said he knew places in other cities and could arrange it as this was part of his guide service and a normal business for him.
Okay problem solved for me, and the price was pretty good for the two places I had yet to find accommodation. Its not like I didn’t understand the deal that he would be getting some kind of commission from the other Casa owners, but it was transparent to me, and like I said the price wasn’t inflated, in fact it was a better deal than the online booking service.
As it turned out, the Casa in Trinidad that he had lined up for me was top notch accommodation.
Even the bicycle taxi guy that I took from the bus station new the place when I showed him the address and commented that it was very good, and indeed it was. I had to cancel the place he had lined up for me in Camagüey, only because of the bus schedules. There was only one bus out of Camagüey to Trinidad and that was at 2:30 am, since I was arriving that night at 8:30 pm, it just made more sense to hang out at the bus station for the time in between, than trying to find the Casa only for a few hours rest, or blow off a day in Trinidad and stay in Camagüey effectively 2 nights.
Luckily for me there was a very decent Italian restaurant just opposite the bus station in Camagüey that allowed me to hang out until it closed and I waited the remaining time in the station.
So the reference to Our Man in Havana, is from the Graham Green novel, and movie starring Alec Guinness, whereby a simple vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana gets recruited by British MI6 to spy in Cuba and feed them information. The salesman starts making up fictional reports of rocket launching facilities being built and forwarding them on to MI6 where his importance and stature grows… Its an amusing comedy so I won’t spoil the plot anymore.
Suffice it to say that the twist with this narrative is that Fernando’s information and advice is actually very good and accurate, as both a guide around Havana and nearby parts, and for making arrangements all around Cuba.
His contact details are:
Fernando Castano Dominguez
Translator, Tour Guide, Lodging Agent
Tel: (+53) 77841235
Cel: (+53) 54415311
Address: Ave Rotaria #651 e/ 1ray 2da, Regia, Habana, Cuba
He was a bit worried about the title I used for this post giving the wrong impression, not that of inaccurate information, but more in the vein of his services being mis-contrued as a companion, rather than a professional guide. I assured him that I would endeavor to only send him elderly ladies of the blue hair’d persuasion, but if he let them pinch his butt, he might get a huge tip. I am sure that put his mind at rest……
Seriously though, he is a good guide and resource and I have no hesitation recommending him.