11 of the World’s Most Colourful Places

“With the brush we merely tint, while the imagination alone produces colour.” – Theodore Gericault

Nothing brings out the little kid in me faster than bright colours. I get all excited over blue skies and gardens of flowers, and even the shelves of paint bottles at the local art shop. So it’s no wonder that I was drawn to some of the world’s most colourful places when planning trips and itineraries. But whilst these places are undoubtedly beautiful, they each hold value beyond the paint that covers their walls – the history they hold, the stories they tell, and the insights they give imbue each of these places with greater meaning than a mere photo on Instagram can convey. So in this post I have put together a list of some of the most colourful places that Zac and I have been lucky enough to visit, and reflected on the ways that they made us think about both the past and the present. Hopefully it will pique your curiosity and ignite your imagination, as well as fuel your wanderlust. Because, as good old Gericault knew, it is our minds that truly colour the things that we see and experience.

1. Chefchaouen, Morocco

Blue Street in Chefchaouen

Tucked away in the Rif Mountains in northwest Morocco, the small town of Chefchaouen is almost impossibly beautiful, and makes the perfect escape from the frenetic pace of some of the country’s other tourist destinations (more on that here!). Hours can be spent wandering its little laneways, with postcard perfect scenes at every turn. I don’t know if it was the heat getting to our heads (it was early September and the temperature was pushing 40 degrees Celcius) but when we were there many of the town’s residents even seemed to don clothing in various shades of blue as they went about their days. But Chefchaouen isn’t just a pretty face – the town has an interesting history too, which stretches back to its founding in the 15th century. It has close ties to southern Spain, having served as a refuge for Muslims and Jews who fled when Christians reclaimed the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, and its location, its size and its past mean that Chefchaouen has a different vibe to other places in the country.

Chefchaouen Collage


2. Burano, Italy

Colourful Houses in Burano

Burano lies approximately 45 minutes from Venice proper and is well worth a visit, for obvious reasons.I think the way that I walked around on the sunny summer day when we came here would best be described as frolicking. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I snapped photo after photo of the rainbow rows of houses. I still find it hard to believe that a place can look so idyllic!

Though the island is no rival to San Marco and its surrounding sestieri in terms of history or grandeur, Burano does offer sea-village charm in a kaleidoscope of colours, and is a great place to go to escape the crowds and catch a glimpse of ‘real life’ in the Venetian lagoon. Wandering the streets, you will also come across numerous lace shops – these are the remaining traces of the island’s prestigious past, when Burano thrived as a lace-making centre that was renowned in Europe.

Colours of Burano
Green_House_Burano


3. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

Street in San Cristobal, Mexico

This colourful city lies in a small valley in Mexico’s Central Highlands, a region home to many indigenous communities. Whilst you can spend a fair amount of time wandering its brightly coloured streets and eating at the many and varied cafes and restaurants, San Cristóbal is also the perfect base for day-trips in the region. Whilst here, we spent a day with a guide who took us to two Tzotzil villages, Chamula and Zinacantan. This opened our eyes to cultures and customs that we previously knew very little about, and allowed us to get a little bit of an insight into the ways that traditional customs intertwine with realities of contemporary society in modern Mexico.

San Cristóbal is also part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network , which seeks to build relationships between cities that have identified creativity and cultural industries as key to their future development. In San Cristóbal, the focus is on folk art and handicrafts, particularly Maya textiles, and the city has been active in supporting local artisans and promoting their work, which I think is pretty cool!

Street in San Cristobal


4. Rajasthan, India

Blue street in Rajasthan, India

So, Rajasthan is an entire state rather than a single city, but how could I possibly pick between the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur, the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, or the alluring ‘Golden City’ of Jaisalmer? The region certainly has colour coordination down pat, and has an incredible history that spans thousands of years to boot. In addition to its cities of various hues, Rajasthan also brims with busy markets, in which goods of every conceivable colour and type can be bought and sold. There’s certainly no better way to immerse yourself in the chaotic pace of daily life here than by venturing into the marketplace.

Jaipur Palace of the Winds
Rajasthan Collage
India market colours


5. Trinidad, Cuba

Colourful street in Trinidad, Cuba

Charming little Trinidad in central Cuba, with its cobbled streets and colonial architecture, is bursting with life and colour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is steeped in Cuba’s colonial history, with the surrounding valley once a hub for the island’s sugar production. Plaza Mayor, with its bright yellow mansions, lies at the heart of the town’s historic centre, and transforms at night into Casa de la Musica, where crowds gather to drink mojitos and listen and dance to live salsa music. Though we were hesitant to join in on the dancing here for reasons of general physical awkwardness, we did enjoy the lively atmosphere.

Plaza Mayor

 Classic Car Trinidad


6. Symi, Greece

Symi Harbour

Just a quick hop from bustling Rhodes, picture-perfect little Symi was believed to be the birthplace of the Three Graces of charm, beauty and creativity in Greek mythology, and the modern-day island seems to have embodied these qualities: its harbour is flanked by steep hills dotted with beautifully painted neoclassical buildings that face out towards the sea. You can easily spend a sunny afternoon here wandering the pastel-coloured streets, before stopping for a frappe at local taverna and watching the world go by. Follow the road that meanders out of town and you’ll find many spots to roll out your towel and take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean. It’s little wonder that this was one of our favourite Greek Islands.

Symi Collage


7. Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The UNESCO World Heritage listed villages of Cinque Terre attract thousands of visitors each year, and with good reason. Nestled on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, the towns of pastel pinks, yellows and oranges look like perfect oil paintings on the aqua-blue backdrop of the Ligurian Sea. We spent a couple of days here walking the trails between the towns and admiring the incredible coastal landscape that has been distinctly shaped by those who have lived here over the past thousand years. In our downtime, we sat eating cones of fried seafood by the ocean, and tried to imagine what life here would have looked like over the centuries.

Riomaggiore Apartment View


8. Viñales, Cuba

Colourful street in Vinales, Cuba

Situated in Cuba’s west, the small rural town of Viñales draws many visitors seeking to explore the surrounding Viñales Valley, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The valley is famous for its traditional tobacco production, but the town deserves some attention too. Zac and I spent a humid afternoon here exploring the streets around our casa particular, where rows of brightly coloured bungalows pop against the lush green of the surrounding valley and limestone cliffs.

In a place like this, it’s worth thinking about the way that tourism has had an impact on the town’s development. It seemed that almost every house we passed was running as a casa particular or private homestay (in which a family rents out a room or two to tourists), which certainly boosts the local economy, though one resident we spoke to told us that the influx of holiday-makers has caused problems with resources and increased the cost of living. (Check out this post for more reflections on our Cuba and our adventures there.)


9. Madurai, India

Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

This imposing structure, which forms part of the huge Meenakshi Amman Temple complex, is Madurai’s main attraction, and rightly so: it is believed that a temple has stood on this site for over two and a half thousand years. The facade of each of the complex’s 14 gopurams or gateway towers is covered brightly coloured figures of gods, goddesses, animals and demons. The place is a feast for the eyes, and with over 15,000 visitors daily, attests to the centrality of religion to the life of the city.

Madurai Collage


10. Puebla, Mexico

Puebla_Colour

Puebla’s historic downtown is another UNESCO World Heritage site to make this list. Founded in 1531, many colonial-era buildings still line its streets, and countless houses are adorned with beautifully patterned and coloured azulejos or tiles. After soaking up some history, by night you can head to the Arena Puebla to catch a hilarious Lucha Libre match, if you’re keen to see a very different, more modern side of the city.

Puebla_Collage
Colourful Buildings in Puebla, Mexico


11. Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, South Korea

Gamcheon Culture Village

This area in the bustling metropolis of Busan began as a haphazard settlement for refugees of the Korean War in the 1950s. Infrastructure and other problems persisted until 2009, when the local government collaborated with town planners, artists and local residents to make a change. Nowadays, the colourful town is a good example of the effects of careful urban regeneration, and has become a centre for visual art, with many murals and other artworks adorning walls all over the neighbourhood. It has retained its character as a residential village despite its recent Instagram fame, though tourism has certainly had a positive effect on the local area.

And if you do come here, be sure to use a map to find your way around, rather than aimlessly wandering the labyrinth alleyways. Zac and I found ourselves lost in a series of deserted, narrow and incredibly steep streets as we attempted to get back to the subway, which made for some severe breathing difficulties when we found that we needed to make our way back uphill. Lesson learned!

Collage_Busan_4

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Jesus, Wine, and War: Nazareth and Beyond

Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth, Israel

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the name ‘Nazareth’. It is a name that echoes from my childhood and lingers in memories of Sunday school and Christmas songs. I’m not sure when I even realised that Nazareth was a real city that I could visit, rather than a seemingly mythical place I’d heard about at church all those years ago.

Alley in Nazareth

To visit a place that is so often mythologised is a fascinating experience in itself. The Nazareth of my imagination was always a cute little village in an indistinct desert landscape – an image no doubt evoked by the cartoons that adorned the pages of my children’s bible. Yet the real Nazareth in the 21st century is a bustling Arab city in northern Israel, brimming with restaurants and cafes and shops and bumper to bumper traffic.

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We booked to stay two nights at Fauzi Azar Inn, a 200 year old Arab mansion in the heart of Nazareth’s old city. The place was beautiful with its high, frescoed ceilings and old, creaky doors. On our first afternoon we visited the city’s main sight, the Basilica of the Annunciation, where the Catholic Church believes that the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Son of God, before feasting on a scrumptious lunch at a restaurant nearby, which included my favourite dish – hummus.

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The next day, we opted to take a day trip to the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights with a few others staying at the guest house with us. After leaving Nazareth we first stopped at the ancient site of Capernaum, where Jesus is said to have lived after leaving Nazareth. Here, we stood at the edge of the Sea of Galilee in the quiet of the early morning and watched the sun sparkling on the water, wondering if Jesus admired a similar view two thousand years before us.

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Places like this are fascinating for anyone with a love of history. To think that one of the most influential figures in human history may have once stood on the ground before you is incredible – regardless of your religious beliefs. We wandered around for a little while, looking at the remains of a 4th century synagogue, which sits atop the basalt rock of an earlier synagogue from the time of Jesus. Then, we jumped back on the mini bus to head to the Mount of Beatitudes, believed to be the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and afterwards, the Golan Heights, where we visited Banias Nature Reserve.

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Church at the Mount of Beatitudes that looks out over the Sea of Galilee
Church at the Mount of Beatitudes that looks out over the Sea of Galilee

If you had little knowledge of modern history, you could easily walk along the green paths, admire the waterfall, and simply enjoy the beauty of your surroundings without giving this place a second thought. The little trail that meanders beside the stream is so peaceful that it is difficult to fathom how much conflict this region has seen in the past. The whole Golan Heights area once belonged to Syria, before the Six Day War of 1967, when a big chunk of it was captured by Israel.

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Exploring parts of this region was a good precursor to what the day brought next. In between a wine tasting at a boutique winery and taking a quick dip in the Sea of Galilee, we stopped briefly at a lookout at Mount Bental on the Syrian border, where we could take a look at an old Israeli bunker and grab a snack from the funky coffee shop if we so desired.

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As we stepped out to walk up to the lookout, we noticed that we were parked next to a vehicle marked ‘UN’. Then we heard an explosion in the distance, and instantly turned to each other with ‘Is that what I think it is?’ looks on our faces.

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At the top of the hill we looked out at the landscape before us. The foreground was lush and green; as it turns out, it is the site of an Israeli winery. Beyond it, the land looked vastly different: it was a dry brown colour dotted with clusters of tiny squares that made up towns and villages. The one closest to us was in ruins, destroyed during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and never rebuilt. Beyond the old bunker on the hill, two UN Peacekeepers were stationed as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force who have supervised the ceasefire between Israel and Syria since the end of the war. In the distance, on the horizon, we could see columns of smoke rising.

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Syria
Syria

We hear of bombs and war every day on the news and seem to read an endless stream of statuses and articles about it as they pop up on our newsfeeds – so in many ways we’ve become desensitised to it. It’s always something that’s happening out there in the world, far away from us, and perhaps that’s why we were in a state of disbelief as we gazed out at the scene before us. There we were, mere kilometres from war, and we felt safe – all because of the invisible lines that humans draw in the sand, calling them borders. By chance I was born in Australia, and so, by virtue of my passport, I could stand on the safe side and look into the warzone without fear; I could leave the sight and sound of the bombs behind whenever I pleased. I could turn away and leave, and go somewhere else for a leisurely afternoon swim, whilst millions on the other side of that imaginary line are stuck in the danger zone, wishing they had the luck of someone like me.

That evening, we returned to our comfy guesthouse in Nazareth. We went out for a nice dinner and ordered way too much food. I remember thinking how strange it was that one day could serve up such dramatic contrasts – that you could walk around a historical site, visit a church, hike to a waterfall, taste some wine, watch some bombs go off, go for a swim – as if it was all normal. I’m not really sure what I should think or feel or say about it – except that we live in a crazy world and I am one of the incredibly lucky ones.

Colour and Confusion: Reflections on Cuba

Cuba artwork Trinidad

Sitting in our comfy London hotel room, Cuba already feels like a strange and distant daydream. It’s hard to believe that just yesterday we were walking the beautiful, crumbling streets of Havana and riding to the airport in a rickety old car that wouldn’t have a hope of getting registered back home.

Hands on the steering wheel of an old taxi in Havana

“Hakuna matata,” our guide said to us on the first evening we met her. We were seated around the reception area of a beautiful ‘hostal’ in Old Havana that had high ceilings and brightly coloured walls. Everyone donned a sweaty sheen that would become a near permanent facial feature over the next week.

“It’s not what you’re used to,” she went on.

“Sometimes things happen in Cuba, and we just need to say no worries.”

By the time we met up with the guide on our fourth day in Havana, we’d already been given a number of lessons in employing this mantra. For example:

The CADECA closed early for no reason, and we have absolutely no money for dinner, for water, or for anything. No worries.

We’re in the middle of Havana, we have no idea where we are, and we have no map, no phone reception, and no internet. Oh, and we’ve forgotten the address of our casa. No worries.

It’s midnight, the air conditioning isn’t working, and the humidity is pushing 85% in our room. No worries.

Yes! Our credit card works here! Except it just got swallowed by the ATM. No worries. (I actually didn’t freak out in this moment, as I had already learnt the ‘no worries’ lesson so well.)

Armed with our problem-free philosophy, we had an incredible time in Cuba. Despite all the discomforts that were greatly exacerbated by the oppressive heat and humidity, I woke excited each morning, ready to explore and learn and have my thinking challenged.

At the same time, and as cliched as it sounds, it felt like we could live for the day and savour each moment, largely because we were offline and completely disconnected from our normal lives. We didn’t quite realise the hold that the Internet has on us until we could only get connected for one hour over the course of eleven days. “I wonder what/why/how/who…” almost became our catch cry without Google’s constant companionship, and speculation about what people were doing at home became a point of daily conversation.

That’s not to say that you can’t get connected in Cuba. On our first evening in Havana we wandered down Calle 23, the main street of Varadero, headed towards the seafront. Along the way, we stumbled across a huge gathering of people sitting on benches, walls and the pavement, all with their smartphones out, in one of the city’s wifi-zones. As we later found out, it’s relatively expensive to buy a card to get connected for an hour (and seemingly inconvenient for those used to having free wifi almost anywhere) but it is available. A few days later, we happened to walk past the reception area of our casa where a young woman was dialling up to connect to the Internet, the familiar yet near-forgotten pattern of buzzes and beeps instantly bringing back memories of completing school projects on our first home computer back in the early days of primary school.

After our introductory briefing with our guide that night, she accompanied us to a nice restaurant for dinner. We all ordered mojitos, which would become a staple over the course of our trip, and chatted about where we were from, what we did, and what we’d been up to in Cuba before the tour started.

Our first three nights in Havana were spent at the aptly named ‘Casa Bertha’ in Varadero. It was a little bedroom in an apartment on the fourth floor of a building whose creaky front door and dimly-lit concrete stairwell gave it an air of abandonment. Bertha, the owner, was a woman in her sixties who told us that she would be there, all the time, whenever we needed her. She demonstrated how to bang on the door of her bedroom and call out to her should we need to, and said that we could return at two, three, or four in the morning and she would be there to greet us. We didn’t have a key to the apartment itself, so each night when we returned after dinner we rang Bertha’s doorbell, which was set to make a high-pitched chirping sound. She was always waiting for us, sitting in a rocking chair, watching soap operas and smoking cigarettes.

Inside a casa particular in Havana, Cuba

We divided our first couple of days in Havana between casual Spanish lessons and exploring the city’s three main areas on foot. For two mornings, I met with my teacher in the dining room of Bertha’s apartment, whilst Zac walked down the road to his teacher’s place (the second morning he got lost, and was knocking on random doors in his teacher’s apartment building). My favourite part of the lesson was when we paused each day to sip rich Cuban coffee and chat. We talked about all manner of things: her favourite movies, Finding Dory and Marley and Me; our love for our dogs and for ice cream; online shopping and how it makes people lazy; the nutritional nightmare that is McDonald’s; the ridiculousness of America’s presidential race; the timeless appeal of the Beatles… I was almost disappointed when we returned to labelling the furniture around the room and reciting the days of the week. It makes me smile now to think that our conversations flowed so seamlessly: a Cuban woman in her 60s and an Australian girl in her 20s, separated by two generations, geography, language and an American embargo, who so easily found so much common ground.

Each day after our Spanish lessons we walked from Vedado, the ‘new’ part of Havana, to Old Havana along the malecon or sea wall, as old Chevrolets zipped past us, some packed full of locals, others filled with tourists donning their straw holiday hats. The humidity was stifling, and we were constantly dripping with sweat, but the sea front buildings, beautiful in their decay and the sense of history that it evoked, were enough to distract us from this unpleasantness, at least most of the time.

Dilapidated buildings in Havana, Cuba
Cadillac on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba
Walking on the malecon in Havana, Cuba
Old car driving in Havana
Youths in the Malecon in Havana, Cuba

We wandered aimlessly for hours in an attempt to take in and comprehend the scenes that surrounded us. Every now and then we would peer into shops selling odd assortments of goods, fascinated by their time-warped interiors, which seemed to look as they would have sixty years ago. They were no-nonsense places devoid of the overt commercialism we’re used to at home. We passed a butcher shop with no meat and a bakery with a few lonely loaves of bread in its display cabinet that we would recall later when our guide talked to us about Cuba’s food situation, the rationing system, and the devastating effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought about Cuba’s ‘Special Period’, the effects of which have persisted well into the 21st century.

Interior of an old shop in Trinidad, Cuba
Interior of an old shop in Trinidad, Cuba

As we explored Havana in the sprinkling rain one afternoon, we also got a taste of its earlier, more glamorous history when we stopped for daiquiris at Floridita’s where Hemingway used to hang out. The place is famed to be “la cuna del daiquiri” (the cradle of the daiquiri) as the drink was apparently invented here in the 1930s.

When we passed an open CADECA, we thought it would be best to stop and change some money, lest it inexplicably close on us again. We stood for an hour on the pavement in the blazing sun as we waited to change our Canadian Dollars into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), one of the country’s two currencies. In the end we walked away with almost double the average Cuban’s annual salary to spend on a 10 day trip, a fact that was almost inconceivable to us. We thought about this disparity every time we paid for something in CUCs, the currency used for expensive ‘luxury’ goods and services and for tourism. Our guide later explained to us that most people do extra work on the side, in addition to their day-jobs, in order to get by. A lot of people also leave their professions to work in the far more lucrative tourism industry – at various times we were guided through city streets and tobacco plantations by a teacher, a lawyer, and a mining engineer.

Street in Havana, Cuba
Old red and purple cars in Havana, Cuba
Tree growing out of a house in Havana, Cuba

The day after we met with our guide and our group we left Havana for Viñales, a small town a couple of hours west. We drove through the city, through Vedado and then past the grand old buildings of Miramar, where Fidel Castro reportedly lives. Outside the city, the landscape was lush and green, and the highway was noticeably quiet, just a few carts pulled by horses and old cars chugging along.

Colourful houses in Vinales, Cuba
Vinales Valley Cuba
A colourful street in Vinales, Cuba

As darkness descended upon the colourful little town we’d arrived in that afternoon, we headed out to a nearby bar to enjoy mojitos (of course) and some excellent live music. As time wore on, more and more people took to the dance floor to show off their salsa moves, which were so incredible that it was hard to believe that they were not professional dancers. Whilst this was going on, those of us too awkward and uncoordinated to participate (i.e. the Australian and British tourists) sat dumbstruck in the corner as we came to terms with the fact that we would never, not in a million years, be able to pull moves like the ones being performed right in front of us at that moment. The real shock, however, came when our bus driver, a kind and quiet man who had not said a word all day, suddenly got up and busted out some spectacular salsa moves, whirling the girls around like it was what he was born to do.

Early the next morning after having breakfast at our casa, we went for a walk out into the countryside surrounding the town to visit a tobacco plantation and to stop by the house of the happiest old man in all of Cuba, where we sipped little cups of coffee brewed from the beans from his farm.

Man walking on a farm in Vinales
Cow in a field of grass in Vinales, Cuba
Coffee cups on a table in Vinales, Cuba
Old man in Vinales, CubaCigar smoking in Vinales, Cuba
Packet of cigars in Vinales, Cuba
Cigar smoking in Vinales

That night, we drove to an organic farm for dinner, sitting on the porch of the farmhouse cum restaurant to watch a fiery sunset over the limestone cliffs in the distance.

Organic farm in Vinales, Cuba
People sitting at a table at an organic farm in Vinales, Cuba

Our journey over the next few days would zip us over 1000km across Cuba, to the French colonial city of Cienfuegos, known as ‘La Perla del Sur’ (The Pearl of the South), past the historic Playa Giron where the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion took place (where you can go to a museum and pay 1 CUC to watch a 1960s propaganda film denouncing the Yankee imperialists) and on to the colourful 19th century town of Trinidad.


Cienfuegos

White cadillac in Cienfuegos, Cuba
Green car parked in Cienfuegos outside a house in Cienfuegos, Cuba

Sunset in Cienfuegos, Cuba


Playa Giron

Sign at Playa Giron, Cuba


Trinidad

Blue car on a street in Trinidad, Cuba
Square in Trinidad, Cuba
Colourful Street in Trinidad, Cuba
Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba


After spending the early afternoon exploring Trinidad’s cobbled streets, we decided to return to our casa to scrub off the ten layers of sweat that had accumulated on our bodies throughout the day. We got back, put the key in the door, turned it… And nothing. The lock was jammed. We rang the doorbell once, twice, three times, and no one answered. Two workmen suddenly appeared who also seemed to be wanting to get in to the house. They too tried the lock but it wouldn’t budge. Passers-by stopped to try their luck. One woman stopped and banged loudly on one of the door’s glass panels, whilst we watched on, silently fearing that she would break it. Another man stopped and started yelling at the upstairs window, trying to get the attention of someone inside. The neighbours came out to see what was going on. The whole debacle was causing quite a scene. Eventually, the old man living next door to our casa invited us in to wait for our hostess to return. He didn’t speak English but gestured for us to sit in the rocking chairs in his front room, whilst he switched on the Olympics for us to watch on TV. We told him we were from Australia and he mimed a jumping kangaroo.

The next day, only because I hadn’t done it since I was ten and didn’t know any better, I thought it would be fun to go horse riding through the nearby Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills). What ensued, however, after we mounted our horses, was approximately five hours of near-unbearable pain as our horses trotted around the countryside with us bouncing around agonisingly in their saddles. I don’t think I will experience that level of discomfort in that area of my body again until I give birth to my first child (and hopefully that won’t result in the same amount of chafing).

Countryside outside Trinidad, Cuba
Horse riding outside Trinidad, Cuba

Afterwards we returned to Havana via Santa Clara, where we stopped to pay our respects at the memorial to Che Guevara. Before hitting the town for one last evening of mojitos, a few of us took to some classic cars for a leisurely ride around Varadero, past Plaza de la Revolución and along the malecon.

Memorial to Che Guevara at Santa Clara, Cuba
Red classic car in Havana, Cuba
Riding in a classic car in Havana, Cuba

I don’t think we’ve ever been anywhere as confusing and contradictory as Cuba. Given that the country has exploded in popularity as a travel destination in recent years, we’d seen plenty of images of Cuba prior to our arrival – the old colonial buildings of Havana, the classic American cars, old men smoking cigars on the pavement. Yet it’s always interesting to see a place for yourself, to see what may have been exaggerated or hidden from view in all the enticing images that claimed to have captured what is quintessentially Cuban in an effort to get you to book your holiday.

What we found there both met our expectations, and surprised us and opened our minds. It only takes a few hours in Havana to realise that the country is ripe for change, and that change won’t ‘ruin’ this beautiful, fascinating and vibrant place as so many foreigners fear. On the contrary, it is clear to see that change will revitalise and reinvigorate the nation in all sorts of ways. On the surface, it will allow for the much needed restoration of buildings that are literally falling apart, and the colonial buildings of Havana will be safe in and beautiful in the same way as other European cities that we know and love.

Boys playing soccer in Havana, Cuba
Restored buildings in Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba
Crane over building in Plaza Vieja, Havana, Cuba
Dilapidated buildings in Havana, Cuba

At the same time, it will allow the country and its people to push forward into the 21st century, with all the benefits that that would bring. Hopefully, it will begin to reduce the disparity between visitors to the country and the Cuban people. The Cubans that we spoke to about this expressed a fierce love for their country, but also a desire for change that will secure their family’s and their country’s futures. Having free education and free healthcare is wonderful, but so is earning a decent wage for the work that you do, and being able to find bread at the bakery and meat at the butcher, and having all of the other conveniences and pleasures of modern life that we so often take for granted.

Antojitos to Cure Anxieties: A Mexico City Food Adventure

We arrived in Mexico City just before midnight. We were both exhausted, having left our hostel in New York around 15 hours before. We were also a little apprehensive, after so many people had, upon learning of our itinerary, said something along the lines of “OH MY GOD, BE CAREFUL IN MEXICO CITY, SOMEONE MIGHT ATTACK YOU AND STEAL ALL YOUR MONEY AND YOU MIGHT DIE.” You try not to let it get to you, but after a while the doubt starts to creep in and clouds your rationality.

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