Cuba was a very last minute trip. I had maybe a couple of weeks notice. I had a friend who was going to the free Rolling Stones concert who suggested I should come for the experience and photographic opportunities in Cuba. I decided to go very last minute, and of course it was near to impossible to find a place to stay in Havana at such short notice and at the same time thousands of people were also looking to travel to Cuba for the concert. I used Airbnb which seemed to be the most popular way to find accommodations in Cuba. Forget a hotel, they were all booked. Airbnb was just as daunting, and I had my booking canceled many times. I was mistakenly only trying for Old Havana. In the end, to secure a decent place to stay I booked a room at a small Casa Particular in Centro Habana. This was a great decision. This area was more gritty, more the real Cuba, than the more touristic Old Havana.
We arrived at the airport, exchanged some money and then took a taxi. As I was not in Old Havana, Centro Havana was the first drop off. The Casa Particular was on San Lazaro which was a great location, just blocks from the waterfront (Malecon) and fort, and a 10-15 minute walk to Paseo del Prado, a nice pedestrian walkway which leads into Old Havana. I love to walk (even in extreme heat!) so this was nice I could walk into town to meet my friends. I also used the bike taxis which were hit or miss. I was price gouged many times, but learned quickly how to haggle. I noticed the bike peddlers would see my camera, and that I was a woman alone and try to give me a very high price - so I learned to just say no and walk away, and they quickly came down in their offer. I don't mind paying a fair rate, but not be gouged because I am simply a tourist.
So, I checked into my room at the Casa, and was amazed by how nice it was (compared to many options I was presented with at the last minute). I had my own room and private ensuite. A king bed, although very hard, was welcome. The room was an addition built on the rooftop of the Casa which I had to climb narrow steps to access (not easy with luggage). The buildings around were crumbling, this was the first thing that struck me about Cuba. Dilapidation. Poverty. Faded splendor, for I could imagine just how beautiful this place looked when a booming tourist destination, with shiny new American cars (they are called Almendrones in Cuba) and frosted pastel painted buildings. Now those pastels have become tinted with greige, and crumbling before us. The people of Cuba live in desperate poverty and simply do not have the money, nor supplies to fix up these once glorious buildings.