It’s our first time in Havana and Pip has booked a couple of nights at the Roc Presidente while we find our feet. One glance at this gracious 1920s classic , where Baked Europeans encircle the pool by day and a Cuban girl band entertains guests at night, confirms that she has made the right choice. With commanding views down Avenida De Los Presidentes, immaculate staff, a nearby bank, and taxi drivers on tap, we anticipate a soft landing.
However our delight on arrival is dampened by “… we have a problem ”. We don’t know it yet, but this is a common greeting in Cuba. The explanation is vague, but the crux of it is clear — there is no room for us at this inn. To compensate, the charming Spaniard in charge has arranged for us to spend the night in a nearby hotel, courtesy of Roc Presidente.
This is the traveller’s lot in Cuba: a few days later, in Vedado, our Casa hostess (actress cum yoga teacher) was redecorating. In Cienfuegos the previous guest had overstayed, at Juan and Margarita’s, the Casa owners had died. Luckily, a community of grace and generosity is in place to remediate these challenges. In time, we reailse that staying somewhere we haven’t booked can add a surprising twist to the holiday.
Today’s problemo leads us to Qunita Avenida and an inexplicable brush with the law. After twenty minutes driving, a jaunty “nearly there” from our chauffeur (hotel manager) is abruptly interrupted by the universal sign for STOP as a uniformed officer deftly blocks our path. A conversation ensues, papers are perused, silences endured, notes jotted. The dialogue drags on. They may have been speculating about Castro’s health or Industriales chances this week. It’s all foreign to us.
As seamlessly as he appeared, the policeman steps aside. Our twenty year old auto veers left and glides to a stop in front of the slender, upright, and soulless Hotel Neptuno. This throwback from the Soviet era and its twin (Triton) are a million miles from the grace of Roc Presidente. As we trudge up the stairs, it is not difficult to imagine the party faithful assembled here.
None the less, the view from our room is gorgeous and the evening is lovely so we embark on a seaside stroll. Apart from a fisherman with an empty bucket, we two are alone out here. Broken bits of the sea wall and rusting rubbish bins share our space; the Russian Embassy looms like a grey Autobot, ready to twist into shape and transform the world. As the night unfolds, it is easy to understand the lure of the Florida Straight just a few paces away.
Hungry now, we decide to eat in. Below the surface, Neptuno is a cavernous maze with every turn revealing remnants of a life once lived. We pass abandoned stalls, and artwork that has succumbed to mould. After several mysterious diversions, a twinkling oasis beckons from a curve in the bunker and we are welcomed into the world of Cuban dining. The decor is Leagues Club circa 1970s, complete with a grand Polynesian mural on the wall. Complimentary and insubstantial Mojitos are offered and accepted. Mint leaves with stems (good) but skimpy on the rum. Awkwardly I ask for “dos cervezas, por favor” but am stumped by the follow up until the waitress mimics “drunk” or “light headed”. Opting for the latter, Cristal becomes an immediate favourite. Clear and sparkling, it is the perfect beer for this island life. Dinner is lobster and prawns accompanied by insipid, wafer thin vegetables. Day One and we’re already craving greens.
From our room, we observe a half-hearted party beside the pool and drift off to sleep with a still night all around. Breakfast next morning is is a surprise! Self-serve champagne and a centrepiece that appears to be a meringue wedding cake indicate that this is not your typical breakfast buffet. An omelette maker, perched on a small stage, understands and excels at herbs and no cheese; superb tropical fruit is in abundance, and there are pastries galore. We eat at a leisurely pace and go back for coffee a couple of times.
While we wait for Señor Roc Presidente to collect us, a Cuban beauty, languidly mopping the high-sheen floor, trades banter with handsomely groomed doormen. Their exchanges have the air of a practised routine, whiling away the hours until the old guards come.
Looking towards Key West from our room at the Neptuno-Triton Hotel in Havana.
This bus trip from central Havana to Miramar shows some of our route, starting around 12:20 mark (Avenida De Los Presidentes).
There are many appalling reviews of the Hotel Neptuno-Triton online, apparently written by people who have forgotten the maxim, you get what you pay for. Hotel Neptuno-Triton is a basic hotel where the rooms are clean and unpretentious, the food is fine but unexciting, and the staff are pleasant and obliging.
The photo at the top of the page was taken at the Roc Presidente in Havana, Cuba. On a warm evening, the veranda of this hotel is a gorgeous place to be.