Chilling out in Cuba

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After already visiting 7 amazing countries, my global gecko adventure ended in Cuba – a country like nowhere else I’d visited.

Apparently, Cuba was once completely shut off from the rest of the world and its towns and cities have barely changed in hundreds of years. It’s also a country with mile upon mile of powdery-soft beaches, crystal-clear oceans, dense jungles… not to mention some seriously good salsa clubs!

Anyway, as ever – here are my favourite experiences.

Tour Havana in a classic 1950’s convertible

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Kamira / Shutterstock.com

On my first day in Havana, I took a 3-hour sightseeing tour in the back of a 1950’s Cadillac Eldorado convertible – trust me, it’s the ultimate way to get around. Gorgeous leather seats, sparkling chrome bumpers, a growling engine that makes your bones shudder when they turn the ignition…so much cooler than any other type of transport I’ve come across (except maybe the hot air balloon ride I went on in Dubai). Although, the driver did have to prop me up on a booster seat so I could see what was going on which was slightly embarrassing…

Still, what an experience – we toured four of Havana’s districts and saw loads of tourist attractions like the National Capitol Building, Revolution Square, John Lennon statue’ park, and Morro-Cabaña fortress.

When the tour ended, I asked if I could try driving the car myself. Turns out they’re not too comfortable about handing over the keys to a gecko without a driving licence. Totally get their point.

Learning to Salsa with local street dancers

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Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock.com

Cuba is a country that loves to dance! People dance at festivals, at carnivals, in nightclubs – even in the street. I quickly found out that the most popular dance here is called salsa, which basically involves jiggling your hips to a really fast beat. The thing is, us geckos don’t really have any “hips” to jiggle, so I was going to give the whole dancing thing a miss. But then, a local street dancer grabbed me one afternoon and tried to get me to learn a few steps.

It turns out I was born to dance!

Within seconds a big crowd had gathered around and started clapping and cheering me on.
Hey, if a salsa-dancing gecko in the streets of Cuba can’t get the crowds going, what can?!

I ended up dancing the night away with another Gecko on a worldwide adventure. She was beautiful, and I’m sure she’d be loads of fun to travel with! But, sadly, my trip is coming to a close and I’ll soon be heading home.

Exploring Cuba’s caves

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If you’re not afraid of the dark, and a few bats, it’s totally worth exploring one of Cuba’s incredible caves. After plucking up the courage to explore my first ever cave in Croatia, I was all set for another underground adventure – this time, in Cuevas del Indio, a cave situated about 5km outside of Viñales village.

Apparently, an ancient indigenous group once lived inside Cuevas del Indio and it was only rediscovered about a hundred years ago. Luckily, they’ve modernized things a bit and put up lots of lights so you can see where you’re going. Once you’ve climbed down into its depths, you can take a motorboat ride along the cave’s underground river. As you head downstream through the darkness, you catch glimpses of greenery and daylight before finally arriving back outside in the sun.

Luckily, the bats that live inside the cave stay well out the way. Although at night, they all suddenly fly outside and go hunting for dinner. I’m pretty sure bats don’t eat geckos, but I didn’t fancy sticking around to find out!

Go wildlife spotting in Ciénaga de Zapata

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If you really want to see Cuba’s natural beauty at its best, you HAVE to come to Ciénaga de Zapata. It’s a virtually untouched swampy wilderness that takes up all of southern Matanzas, which is a province about 150 kilometres southeast of Havana. According to my guidebook, this area is one of the Caribbean’s largest wetlands and a UNESCO-declared Biosphere Reserve, so all the animals here are protected. Anyone standing up for nature gets my respect!

With a tour guide leading the way, I spent a day hiking through forests and wetlands looking for wild boar, mongoose, crocodiles and exotic birds like flamingos, herons, egrets and the bee hummingbird. Some animals are hard to spot, but there are loads of viewing platforms around to help you see the birdlife swooping through the trees.

This remote wilderness felt a million miles away from the streets of Havana. Seriously, the animals that live in Ciénaga de Zapata don’t know how good they’ve got it! By the end of my trip I couldn’t help wishing I could stay here in this beautiful paradise forever.
But all good things have to come to an end, and this felt like the best way to finish an incredible journey that’s taken me around the world.

I’ve been diving with sharks, jumped out a plane, went up the world’s tallest building, lounged around on tropical beaches, trekked through remote jungles, ate in fancy restaurants, and generally had a total blast! These amazing memories will live with me forever. And now I’ve got a thirst for travel, I can’t wait to start planning my next global adventure.

After all, the world’s a big place (especially for a gecko) and there are so many other places I can’t wait to see!

Published 22nd March 2016

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