City Tour of Havana, Cuba

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We booked a Havana city tour through Havana Journeys, which was great with communication about dates and times. They picked us up from our casa particular in Centro Habana and we began our day with Cafe Fortuna, which was a cool, eclectic cafe with hipster decor inside.

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Cubans really know how to make a good sandwich.

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We bought cigars from here, but later found that they were similar priced at the airport – if you are looking to buy souvenirs, just get them there.

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We learned a lot about the history of Cuba.

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A pharmacy!

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We bought tickets here for the concert that night. Can’t go to Cuba without going to a live music concert!

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The singers would walk around to your tables so you felt like you were a part of the show.

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$5 breakfast at our casa particular.

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The end.

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Cuba: strolling through the streets of Trinidad

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I hired a taxi through BestCubaGuide.com. They emailed me to make the arrangements. The price for a Modern Taxi from Havana to Trinidad was 160cuc(160 USD) back in May of 2017.  We paid the driver directly in CUC. When the driver arrived, he had his wife/partner with him. He didn’t speak much English so we communicated in Spanish. Afterwards, I made arrangements with him directly to come back the next day to pick us up.

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Havana to Trinidad by car: 4-5 hours. In between, we stopped for a bathroom/snack break. Bought a hot dog for $1 and it tasted very strange… We saw a lot of local people getting it but it didn’t jive well with us.

Once we arrived at our casa (also through Airbnb, and I highly recommend this one!), our host Yacquelin presented us with ice cold fresh mango juice which was amazing. She didn’t speak English at all so we communicated through Spanish. For some reason, I understood her more than I understood the driver — maybe she was used to tourists so she spoke slower and used more simple vocabulary? Yacquelin was the perfect host.

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The casa was a house connected to their family-owned ceramics factory, where people took tours! You can also buy souvenirs here.

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After our mini tour, Yacquelin helped us order a taxi to go hiking.

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We hiked to this waterfall and spent some time in the water.

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Our casa was about 15 minutes walking distance away from the city center (Plaza Mayor), so we walked through the neighborhood, which was interesting.

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My favorite part of the Cuba experience was live street music.

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What I noticed while walking through the neighborhood was that you can see through most homes and stores – there were no glass, no curtains. We saw family pictures, furniture, beds, people sitting on their couches watching television — everything could be seen from the outside. It was bizarre, like looking into someone else’s life. Passing through the neighborhood, we saw a lot of locals sitting in front of their houses just chatting and spending time with each other. It was nice to see that they weren’t on their phones typing away in silence, like we often see in the U.S. When we went back to our casa that night, we hung out on the balcony, sitting outside feeling the breezes, just like the local people. Even though it was hot, the breeze felt nicer than the AC.

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We encountered a couple of local Cuban people who asked us for our “things” — my friend’s plastic wrist band, my pusheen keychain hanging off my bag, in exchange for some goods that they were selling. It broke my heart when a father of a little boy begged and said “please, we can never get it here…” A little girl asked my friend defiantly for his wrist band, and her mother said it was her birthday (the father of the little boy also pulled the birthday card). We got the feeling that it was a common thing to do — foreigners would give away “things”, just little things that we usually don’t even notice, but they would treasure them because it was nearly impossible for them to get them. They never asked for money, just things.

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Our host recommended this restaurant, Esquerra – right next to Casa de la Musica, and they had a live band too!

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Complimentary drinks.

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Ropa Vieja

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Casa de la musica at night.

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Casa de la musica during the day time.

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Staying at a casa meant home-cooked breakfast for $5! Our breakfast here was the best meal we had in retrospect. Yacquelin prepared all this for four of us. I LOVED THE FRESH MANGOES.

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Trinidad was my favorite part of Cuba. Definitely worth the trek.

Travelogue: Arizona: Camelback Mtn & Grand Canyon (April 2016)

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Solotrips are fun in that you get to do whatever you want whenever you want. Naptime anytime. The only downside is not having a consistent photographer to take pictures of you. I loveeeeeeed Arizona and will definitely have to go back. There’s so much to do and eat.

For this trip, I booked 2 Airbnbs. One was in Paradise Valley and the other in Downtown Phoenix (for the next post). I took an Uber from the airport (prices are really cheap there). There are specific pick-up areas called “prearranged vehicles” that are basically designated just for Ubers.

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Paradise Valley is a really nice neighborhood, and I chose it because I wanted to hike up Camelback Mountain as soon as I landed. My Airbnb place was right near the Echo Canyon trailhead.

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This is where I stayed for 2 nights!

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It was only 10AM and the parking lot was full already. Good thing I only had to walk from my Airbnb.

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It was 90 degrees and sunny. Bring lots of water!!! The Echo Canyon Trail is very steep with lots of scrambling. It was a lot of fun and I met people from all over the country along the way.

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There were stairs and then there were railings to hold onto…

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Some wildlife.

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This was not an easy hike, especially in 90 degree weather. But I loved it.

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At the summit, you can see the city of Phoenix.

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It took about an hour & a half to get up there (stopped to take pictures) and faster to go down. Be careful, as it can be very steep.

The next day, I took a Viator tour to Sedona and the Grand Canyon.

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(The view from my Airbnb at sunrise)

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Walked through some residential areas to go to the meeting place. The tour guide/driver, Robert, picked me up right on time at 6:40AM. The company that Viator used was Detours of Arizona. I didn’t want to drive 3 hours to the Grand Canyon and only had a day to spare, so this was a great way of seeing it (next time, I’ll go back to hike & camp).

Sedona first.

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Robert gave us time to wander and showed us cool places to take photos. And then gift shops, of course.

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This was half of my gigantic sandwich that was included in lunch. So tasty.

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When in Arizona…

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Next, we drove to the Grand Canyon.

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

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We went along the South Rim and stopped at different spots to take pictures.

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

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Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

Phoenix, Arizona (April 2016)

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Definitely coming back to the Canyon. It sure is grand.

I loved living next to a mountain. On my last night, my Airbnb hosts gave me a homemade blueberry protein shake. They were both ultra-athletes and told me about the running routes nearby, so I took their advice the next morning.

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The neighborhood was really something. Although it was hot, it wasn’t humid. “Paradise Valley” was aptly named. I felt like I was in Hawaii again.

Downtown Phoenix coming up next! To be continued…