My Havana Club Gap Year Experience

The Havana Club Gap Year was a global promotion offering one lucky winner the chance to spend twelve months travelling the world on a unique Gap Year, meeting genuine people in some of the most interesting and exciting locations in the world. How insane would it be to travel around the world for twelve months all paid for by Havana Club!?

My trip to Cuba was a whirlwind experience from the moment I landed on April 28th to the time I was jetting off again back to Vancouver in the wee early hours of May 3rd. We had six fully jam-packed days lined up for us so there wasn't a moment to lose! I arrived at the Hotel Parque Central around 9pm and went straight into party mode. Running into everyone in the foyer was a lucky coincidence. They were all about to head off to the Malecon for shots and getting to know each other. Since I was one of the last people to arrive everyone else had spent the day getting to know one another already and apparently drinking, a lot. By the time we got there I realized everyone was pretty buzzed and I kept hearing a mix of random languages and broken English being spoken over the waves crashing into the Malecon. After trying to capture a few names and some laughs it was time for bed at nearly 2am Cuba time.

Day 2 started off with an early wake up call at 7:30am. Keep in mind I hadn't yet adjusted to the time difference so for me it was more like 3:30am, and I'm not a morning person. I went straight to breakfast then off to the briefing for all the local winners from each country. There was 18 countries being represented in total and quite a few media personnel who accompanied them. None of the reps from Canada had elected to come so I was flying solo. We were given an outline for how the competition would go and then we were given our iPad mini's which we were to film our videos on. These videos would be a major part of the judging and we were instructed not to lose the iPad. The videos had to be 2-3 minutes in length and represent the essence of Havana. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for my video but talking to everyone else made me feel better since they all said the same thing. After the briefing we were off to lunch at the famous La Guarida where Beyonce and Jay-Z were recently spotted on their 5 year anniversary trip to the city. With food in our bellies we were carted off on a bus tour all around Havana to see the sights and attempt to take it all in. Dinner was spent at El Templete restaurant where we enjoyed a multitude of seafood dishes and the company of guest judge  Ben Southall. Winner of the worlds best job in Australia. Ben decided to pop himself down at our table of 4. It was great getting to chat with him about the competition and what he was looking for as a judge from the videos. We ended at Casa de la Musica where we danced the night away until 3:30am, again.

Ben Southall

Days 3 and 4 were all about filming. They gave us free range to go out into the city and do whatever our little hearts desired in order to make our videos. Since I had no plan I first started off with a trip to a salsa dance class with fellow contestant Natalia Gibernau Moreno from Spain. After I danced up a storm I was starving so I went to have lunch where I found my saving grace. Raul was my server and ended up being my tour guide and main focus of my video. I was able to visit his home and meet his family, who were all absolutely welcoming, and really got to see how a Cuban lives. I was able to meet a few of his friends and we even went out for a bit of drinking at the first privately owned bar in Havana, La Fontana. I could tell you more about it but how about you just watch my video instead. I will add that dinner on day 3 was enjoyed at Le Chansonnier where we ha quited a few mojitos and ate French cuisine. By the end of dinner however, it was so late and we were so tired that our end of the table ended up playing Stella Stella Ola Clap Clap Clap, yes, the child's game. This group consisted of Leenke from Belgium, Benjamin from Chile, Natalia from Spain, Vicky the judge from and myself. Talk about sleep deprivation and one too many mojito's much.

All 18 finalist from around the world

Day 5 was judgement day and the pressure to perform was on. Going on less than 15 hours sleep at this point I was grateful to be going at 11:20am for my judging. I went in, did my thing, spilled my heart out and after it was done all I could do was hope for the best. I knew I had done all I could at that point to convince the judges I was the right person for the job. Now with that out of the way it was on to some relaxing for the afternoon! I decided to spend it doing some shopping for friends and family as well as take a dip in the rooftop pool. It was a nice way to wind down after being on the go and under pressure for so long. After my lazy afternoon it was time to get cleaned up and ready for the final nights festivities.

Julian Medina after being announced Winner

The awards ceremony and dinner were held at L'Atelier which plays host to an amazing rooftop party area. First we all got liquored up on, you guessed it, mojito's! Then came the awaited moment of announcing the winner. After hours of deliberating the judges had finally made a decision as to who would win the year long trip around the world. The winner would be travelling to Havana, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Canada, Tokyo, Melbourne, Rio, Chile, Buenos Aires, Paris and ending off on a train trip along the Trans-Siberian! BOOM! I could taste it so bad my mouth was watering. Ben Southall was the lucky man to make the announcement. First were the runners up. Leenke from Belgium took 2nd runner up while Benjamin from Chile went home with 1st runner up. Now came the moment, we were all waiting on pins and needles...Julian Medina from Colombia! Everyone started screaming and shouting with excitement as I saw Julian who was leaning against the right wall melt to the floor in total and utter shock. All of us couldn't be happier for Julian who is such a great guy. After this point things get a little blurry due to the fact none of us had eaten since lunch and it was well past 10pm, but we certainly had a few drinks in us! The rooftop party was officially kicked off by Kola Loka, a very famous band in Cuba, and everyone danced, laughed and drank! I'm not sure when but at some point we were herded like cats onto a bus and shipped off to the Don Cangrejo nightclub. During the ride Sam, one of the reps, handed out all my Canadian stickers I had brought so at the club everyone was covered in them!

Shopping in Havana

After this we all stumbled back to the hotel where we partied in my room until it was time for me to head out and catch my 9am flight back to Vancouver. In the end I didn't end up winning the grand prize but I still came back a winner. I now have 18 more friend from around the world I can look forward to meeting up with in some random country at some point. I also have countless memories for the amazing trip I did win to Havana and I also have a newly refreshed love of travel to push me out the door and onto my next adventure! I want to say a BIG thank you to Havana Club for gifting me such an amazing experience, I am forever grateful.

I now leave you with the trailer for the the film that was made about all of us while we were on this adventure!