12. - 17.11.2016: Havana - Mexico City - Santiago de Chile - Bariloche - El Bolsón

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Saturday, 12.11.2016: Varadero to Havana, 140km - sunny, 28°C

After a final breakfast at our little stand up café we got into our taxi that had arrived 25 minutes early! At least we were already packed. We shared with Katarina and Andreas from Munich and they were really happy to be able to speak German again.

We were chatting so much that the 2 hour journey to Havana went very quickly. I did manage to keep an eye out for one of the stops along the way - Puente de Bacunayagua. It's Cuba's longest (314m) and highest (103m) bridge started in 1957 and opened by Fidel Castro in 1959. It spans across a densely wooded canyon that separates Valle de Yumuri from the sea. The taxi driver pulled in for us so that we could stretch our legs and take photos.

Back in Havana Katarina and Andreas were dropped off first and then I guided our driver to our Casa - he didn't know about the road works and that one of the streets was blocked. But he had me to guide him!!

We were warmly welcomed back by Lourdes and it felt like coming home! We had a different room but still en suite and very clean. We thanked Lourdes for arranging everything for us and told her about our trip. She was really happy that we had enjoyed it so much. I also asked her about departure tax because we would need 50 CUC. Apparently, it was stopped 2 years ago and now it is covered in the flight cost. It meant we had extra money to spend - you can't take Cuban currency out of the country because you won't be able to exchange it.

We also arranged for a taxi to get to the airport at the ungodly time of 3-45am!! The middle of the night! Kirsten went off to buy some drinking water, lemons for her tea and some biscuits whilst I unpacked the kettle so we could have a cup of tea.

At 5pm we walked into town looking for a hairdresser so Kirsten could get her hair cut. We'd seen one that only charged 1 CUC but couldn't find it again. Other places gave us the tourist price of 10 to 25 CUC. So no hair cut. We walked to the crêperie we had been to when we were in Havana the first time and found that it was closed! It's in the upstairs area of a flower shop and when we asked there we were told that it was closed for renovation but would be open on Wednesday - the day after we fly out!! Damn! We had been really looking forward to some crêpes!

Now we were back to the search for food and we eventually ended up back at the Italian restaurant we had been to before. Kirsten ordered shrimp and lobster soup and I wanted Cannelloni but they didn't have it so I ordered pork medallions. Big mistake! I needed a power saw to cut through the meat because it was really tough!

The waiter saw that I hadn't eaten much and I just said it was a bit tough - diplomatic as ever! He gave me a free dessert. Wow! I got an almond and chocolate tart but it was completely frozen!! Oh well, after a while it thawed out but it was really yummy!

On the way back to our Casa we found a hairdresser that was still open and Kirsten got her haircut. The ladies were really nice and we spent more time chatting than getting Kirsten's hair cut but we had a lot of fun and the woman cut her hair really well.

Sunday, 13.11.2016: Havana - sunny, 28°C

We had breakfast at our Casa - omelettes, fruit salad and fruit juice and then we walked back to Callejón de Hamel to hear live Cuban music again. The first band was the one that is mainly men and a completely different style to "our" ladies! We listened for about 30 minutes and then walked to the Dulcinea bakery for chocolate éclairs and a cold drink.

When we got back the ladies were playing and we stayed for 90 minutes listening to them. There was a big crowd and it was quite hot but it was well worth coming back here. They are really very good.

We returned to our room for a cup of tea and to do some work on the website. Later we went to Hotel Inglaterra to ask about tours to Partagas, the major cigar factory here. It would cost us 10 CUC per person and we can get the tickets tomorrow.

We went on a short sight seeing tour to see the train station that is being renovated and a church that was more like a ruin and we couldn't go inside. Then we started the usual search for food and ended up back at the Italian restaurant again. Kirsten had spaghetti Carbonara and I had bruchettas.

On the way back to our Casa we found a stand that made churros and stood in line. There was a German couple also in the queue and we gave them tips about the places in Cuba we had already been to. We also found out about the German football league and our team from Hamburg had managed to keep losing! At least the national teams of Germany and England had managed to win their respective qualifying matches for the World Cup!

Monday, 14.11.2016: Havana - sunny, 28°C

We had curried scrambled eggs for breakfast along with fruit salad and juice. After walking to the Hotel Inglaterra to buy tickets for the cigar factory tour, we walked about 3km to get there.

The Partagas cigar factory was full of tourists waiting for their tours in English, German, French and Spanish. We joined the English tour but we weren't allowed to take photos. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and was really interesting.

The factory moved here 4 years ago because the normal factory next to the Capitol building is being renovated. There are 160 workers, 60% women because they are better and faster at making cigars but the men still earn the same salary - between 16 to 25 CUC per month ($16 to $25 US per month).

Hours are 8 hours per day and one hour lunch. There is a cafeteria in the factory and the meals are cheap. They get 4 weeks holiday per year and they even get maternity leave which is 12 months. They produce 25,000 cigars a day and the best workers can make up to 160 cigars a day but it depends on what type and size of cigar they are making.

They make 7 different brands, the top brand is Cohiba and the second is Montecristo no 2. Each cigar has 5 leaves - 3 fillers, 1 binder and 1 good leaf for the outside layer. Natural glue from a plant in Canada is used to glue the last part onto the cigar.

Two different types of leaves are used and they are fermented for 2.5 years and then dried. The cheaper brands only ferment for 6 months. The most expensive Cohiba cigar costs 35 CUC. We went upstairs to watch the cutting, rolling and finishing process but we weren't allowed into the control area where all cigars are meticulously checked. Any rejects are given to the workers who are allowed 5 cigars a day.

The finished cigars are stored between 16 to 19°C and 65% to 70% humidity. They can be stored for up to 2 years but then they need to be smoked! After the last leaf is added to a cigar there needs to be a 24 hour waiting period before it can be smoked.

The tour was very informative but not very long. It was a pity we couldn't take photos but we still enjoyed it. Afterwards we walked to the Chinese quarter and went to the restaurant that is listed as the best in Cuba for fried wantons and spring rolls. Maybe our expectations were too high but we weren't that impressed. We've also eaten real Chinese in China so I suppose they can be excused!

On the way back to our room we bought some cakes and other supplies for our long journey and flights starting very early in the morning. Later we went back to the churro stand but a different server tried to charge us double and wouldn't give them to us for the same price as yesterday. So we found some ice creams instead.

We changed our last CUC into Euros (they didn't have any other currency) and went back to our room to pack. It took us longer than we expected and we didn't get to bed until 9-45pm. It took us ages to go to sleep and we ended up only getting 5.5 hours of sleep knowing we would get even less over the next 3 days!

15. - 17.11.2016: Havana via Mexico City, Panama City, Santiago de Chile to El Bolsón - sunny, 28°C

Our alarm went off at 3-15am, our taxi arrived on time and it took us 25 minutes to get to the airport. There was a long queue to check in which took us 45 minutes. A TV screen showed what looked like a big storm heading towards Cuba from the south! Oh boy, hope we can take off! When we went through customs and immigration they started boarding early, 20 minutes early. Seems like they wanted to avoid the storm aswell!

Our flight to Mexico City took 2 hours and 45 minutes and over an hour to get through customs etc. in Mexico. The official thumped the Mexico passport stamp directly over a US stamp - take that America!! I waited in terminal 2 whilst Kirsten went to fetch the bag we had stored at the hostel. It took her over an hour and then we went straight to Carl's Jnr. for a burger! Real french fries using real potatoes!

We had to wait a few hours and then got our flight to Panama City (3 hours 10 minutes) and onward to Santiago de Chile (6 hours and overnight). There was no tea served on either flight! We couldn't get comfortable and on the last flight everyone got woken up by a woman screaming. Her husband had some kind of fit (epileptic?) and an announcement was made for a doctor on board. From the way she had screamed, it sounded like he had died! Later I saw him walking down the aisle towards the toilets and it looked like he had been sick but he was definitely alive.

We arrived in Santiago at 6am and had to wait until 8-30pm for our bus. We decided to try and find a room for the day but the tourist info at the airport wasn't much help. At least we could use the computer they have for public use and booked a room close to the bus station on Bookings.com without knowing whether we could get it for the day and not the night.

We took a taxi there and the man on the desk was really nice. We explained our situation and he even gave us breakfast right away that was included in the price but we wouldn't be here the next day to have it! We even got proper tea!

We managed to get 6 hours sleep, showers, and packed up to leave. Our bus left on time and we even managed to sleep on the 20 hour journey. The seats were far more comfortable than on the planes!

The following day we drove through the Chilean and Argentinian borders which took 1.5 hours plus a 50 minute drive between the two border posts. We arrived in Bariloche at 3-50pm, bought tickets and got on another bus to El Bolsón at 4-30pm. We did a bit of shopping and got a taxi to our campground at Klaus and Claudia's where our 70 hour journey had finally been completed and our motor home was waiting.