Watching The Rolling Stones in Havana

Traveler: Gökhan Eşeli – Businessman & Ex-Diplomat

What is your most unforgettable escape? I can say that all escapes are special. But my latest escape for sure has been a very special one. I spent around 10 days in Havana at a very historic time when The Rolling Stones Concert coincided with the visit of US President Obama to the island.

gökhan eşeli cuba

What was the purpose of your travel? I had lived in Cuba exactly 20 years ago as a young diplomat. An amazing experience not to describe in words. When I heard that The Stones are giving a concert in Havana with Obama visiting the island on the same week as the first US President over 80 years, I immediately decided to create some projects.

First, I bought two web-sites www.stonesinhavana.com and obamainhavana.com. These sites will serve as on-line reference documents about these two historic events. They are being designed now in an “evergreen” style and will probably gain more value as time passes by, containing all information about these two events.

Second, I decided to shoot a documentary. I have production & marketing companies, but had never intended to be a “director” before. But was so motivated about this week that I decided to do it. I shot interviews with many Cuban singers, rockers, actors, artists, dancers etc. And of course the concert. Let’s see what will come out from my first experimental shot at trying to become a documentary director.

Third, for a long time in I had in my mind to start a lifestyle travel brand. But it was just in my mind, didn’t know when and how. So this magical week in Havana ignited another creative spark inside me. To be honest for the last two years my creativity had been at a low level. But, Stones-Obama-Havana totally transformed my mood. So I launched MOMENTUM Destinations a lifestyle travel brand aiming to create unique experiences for participants. Thus, my team organized luxury colonial villas, all ground transport and VIP access to the concert including bodyguards etc. We did the marketing solely thru WOM and our own network thru social media. The result was amazing. We had 23 people coming to our first travel project. 18 people on two private jets from West Palm Beach and the rest from Europe. All these people were amazed and appreciated the service my team provided on the ground in Cuba, as it is a tuff terrain. It was all worth it because we were part of history.

With how many people did you travel? I ended up with plus 23 people in Havana not counting my Cuban crew. Only the body guards, Cuban Olympic athletes and K1 fighters were 5 persons. All together we were probably around 35, shooting documentary, organizing a high-end travel event and the travelers themselves.

gökhan eşeli cuba

Where did you stay? Everybody stayed at luxury colonial villas not too far from the center in Vedado and Miramar.

What did you most like about the trip? I think everybody including myself loved and enjoyed every minute of this trip. There was a very special energy over Havana. I even felt like there was something magical or even holy. I must admit that I am always biased towards Havana and Cuba, because I lived there before. And love Cuba. But we were there with amazing people witnessing history. And The Rolling Stones were amazing. Even to see Mick Jagger speaking in Spanish on the stage and Keith Richard in his “Pirates of the Caribbean” style was so cool.

Could you share an unforgettable memory about the trip? Leaving the Stones concert I got lost because was shooting with my camera. And when I tried to call my team on my Cuban cellular phone, I realized that the whole system had collapsed. This is Cuba. You can come on private planes, stay in the best villas, have Olympic champion bodyguards and if the cellular system collapses you are stuck on the streets of Havana with half a million people. And it is beyond your control. It was a post apocalyptic scene, it took us two hours to reunite the whole team. But even that was considered by all my friends as an experimental moment. This was a day to talk about for many years from now.

Your most surprising find during the trip? I was surprised to see that the control system of the Cuban regime had softened up a bit. It is good for Cubans. They are a special people. Also many small businesses have thrived allowing Cubans to make money. On the other hand the infrastructure of the City of Havana is still poor. Also the tourism infrastructure is not ready to accommodate more tourists. I think the Cuban government must find ways to invest in tourism much more.

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Favorite restaurant(s) or food you have tried during your trip? One of my favorite restaurants is the popular La Guarida where the famous movie “Fresa y Chocolate” was filmed. That one has become very touristic now. I recommend two very nice restaurants both in Vedado; “Cafe Galeria” and “Razones” also a bar. But there are many new private “paladares” where you can find delicious food. Especially “langosta” and “camarones” together with “congri y tostones” are my favorite dishes.

9.What are the must tries of the city? A stroll down Calle Obispo is a must. It’s my most favourite street. What an energy. Also in the Parque Central there are some musicians acting most of the day it’s fun to watch. Plaza de Armas is a touristic but must see place. I love also Playas del Este to go to the beach. A bit outside the City. These are my favorite locations.

One must taste Cuban coffee, drink rum, smoke Cuban cigars, listen to a good salsa concert and even the youngsters choice of music the reggeaton.

gökhan eşeli cuba

Any hidden gems you could whisper to us? I think Cuba is a special place in all its ways.

Would you go back? Always!

Could you list a few of your favorite finds you came back with? When I go to Cuba I buy cigars, some little souveniers for friends and Cuban revolutionary posters. I love them. This time I also bought old lp records of legendary musicians like Benny More, Irakere etc.

Any tips that might be useful to know before going there? If you want to love Cuba, take out your western chip from your brain and even the logic and be ready for the great experience. And be positive no matter what you encounter, you will love it. It is another world. Don’t necessarily compare the price-quality with more developed countries. But the total experience is always great especially with the Cuban people.

Next stop you would like to visit? Actually we are organizing a second travel project with my new brand MOMENTUM Destination to Cuba again. This time on the occasion of the Chanel Cruise Show 2017 on 3rd May in Havana. After this travel event we are planning new destinations like Latin America, USA and Russia with special projects for our fellow travellers.