We arrived to a hot and sticky Havana and could immediately tell that Cuba was going to be a different country. There was no no crush of taxi drivers vying for our attention at the airport and the fixed price taxi ride we did catch (no bargaining or buses) took us through clean orderly streets and even highways (hurrah- city planning is seriously lacking in Latin America). This lack of tourist harassment was the norm in Cuba. With the government controlling all activities, things were much more orderly, calm and 'normal', however it made independent travel on the cheap much more difficult.
We decided to stick to the western part of the country and our first few days were spent enjoying the best of Cuban culture; rum, cigars dancing and beaches- they know how to enjoy themselves here! We took in old Havana architecture and culture, not missing the must see Havana Club Rum factory and cigar factory. Later, we went shopping for cigar bargains in the back of an employee's house and were very happy when we saw what Cohibas cost full price! We saw the greater Havana area and Playa del Easte, a beautiful golden sand beach covered with bronzed Cubans. The country itself seemed to be doing well without the American influence and has a noticeable lack of consumerism. The antique cars, equipment and buildings and old ways of doing things add character and not desperation and makes the place feel distinctly Cuban.
We then headed for Varadero, to an all inclusive resort to stuff ourselves and relax for our last few days of vacation. The resort itself was pretty good- can't go too wrong with unlimited rum in the Caribbean, but the thing that makes Varadero is the beach. Ridiculous turquoise blue water and clean white sand for miles makes it one of the most beautiful beaches that we have ever seen.
As the title of this entry implies, Cuba is the final stop on our 9 month and 22 country tour of the Americas. We have seen and experienced so many great things that it is hard to succinctly summarize: we have traveledby aeroplane to rickety and overcrowded local chicken buses, been from sea level to altitude sickness heights, from frozen glaciers to hot beaches, from sticky amazon forest to dry barren desert and stayed in luxury cruise ships and insect infested mud huts. It has been a great trip and we excited to be coming home to Kelowna!