“Visitors to Cuba are usually Havana good time.”
The following is one of several stories I plan on writing about my first impression of Havana. The last time here I was less than five and my sister was less than three years old. In 1958, more Americans probably lived in Cuba than Cubans lived in the United States of America. That all began to change around 1959 when the bearded one and his guerilla army of eighty (80) traveled to Cuba on a 60′ boat named Granma to start a little revolution and overthrow an American backed dictator in power at the time. For a short while life seemed good with the Cuban people until the bearded one decided he preferred holding onto power; and what better way to do so than to install a communist government.
In the early 60’s the bearded one seized all American owned property on the island, and the rest, …….. well you can easily look it up yourself; and learn about an important part of American and Cuba island history that today, as I see it, seems to still be evolving.
To give you an idea of how big Cuba is; you can easily place Cuba atop the U.S. state of Tennessee. You can also compare Cuba’s population with just one U.S. City – the City of Los Angeles.
Above just some random pictures; art work; at the restaurant of the hotel you see in the final picture; my visit to the cathedral.
And all i brought back from a six-day self guided Havana trip are pictures and some memories. People immediately began asking me how I liked Havana. My short answer is, “it’s much more complicated than just a yes or a no.
The U.S. Customs guy with my last country surname was the first to ask how I liked Havana. I found myself saying, it’s sort of a shithole place. The Oxford dictionary actually gives the definition as an extremely dirty, shabby, or otherwise unpleasant place, i.e.”this place is a shithole.
Yes there is a lot of trash everywhere. And yes things are very much run down. But somehow the people put up with it all. The last time that their frustration level spilled over and it led to social outbreak and dissent was around April of 1980.
So is Havana all a shithole place you might ask? Of course not. Just think of LA and San Francisco then subtract the thousands and thousands of homeless. Also back out anyone begging for money. Now imagine no car or pedestrian accidents in a congested city where behemoth 60’s era cars are roaming around anytime of the day or night. Safety is another honorable mention. One feels safe anywhere. Black and white in Cuba blends into people. Only those looking in seem to see “color” differences. In five days of walking around the city I personally saw only three guns. Most wore holsters with no guns in them. Surveillance cameras seem to be their preferred method of enforcement.
Endless jay walkers are usually within sight of the mostly unarmed police but, no tickets or accidents. Just don’t try speeding. That is a big no no.
If you want to visit the Havana I saw just remember that the good always comes with the bad. There is just no way of getting around it. First the flight. If your flight is at 6 a.m. just don’t plan on any sleep due to the fact that travelers to Cuba arrive with lots and lots and lots of luggage.
When you finally arrive and plan on seeing the real Cuba plan on doing a lot of walking. One good thing is that in Cuba unlike Mexico they learned hundreds and hundreds of years ago how to build sidewalks. Those same sidewalks are still functioning today. The majority of the buildings, well, that’s another story.
The hotel where my travel agency booked me was near the heart of Havana. Old town Havana is somewhat cleaner but, run down and a lot of old buildings are falling apart from neglect. Simple things like routine maintenance does not happen.
An easy blame the people will tell you is the embargo but, why does the hotel not just hire a good handyman to tighten up that grab bar or stop that toilet from constantly running or clean the A/C filter or ……. Get my point. There does not seem to be any reinvestment in the hotel cash cow.
At the Havana airport the outside terminal toilets are missing seats and there is no toilet paper. The inside terminal toilets are also missing toilet seats but, a bathroom monitor for a fee dispenses toilet paper for a small donation.
In old Havana on one residential street the sewer smell was so bad I turned around and took another street. On the next touristy street everything worked just fine. When you flush in Cuba, where do you think it all goes? Walk by the malecon near the cruise ship terminal and you can probably come up with the answer.
Prior to booking this Havana trip I found myself struggling with reasons for and against visiting Cuba. Now that I’ve visited I can give you my personal assessment.
Don’t visit Cuba if you are in constant need to be on-line. The locals all look like birds on a high wire hanging outdoors so they can get a signal. I thought cigar or cigarette smoke from smoking countries would be a downer, it wasn’t. People considerate in restaurants. Imagine that.
Even in hot humid August the 60’s era classic American cars continue to run and spew raw fuel and foul-smelling exhaust but, there always seems to be a breeze in the air. If you like historic buildings visit Havana. You will never see them in this condition anywhere else in the world.
If you think colonial forts then just watch YouTube about old Havana. That may be enough for you. Not once did I need the immodium recommended. I ate in restaurants, in houses, at the hotel, at a carnival like place however, I always bought bottled water.
Forget the mojito and go after the daquiri’s. The Floridita is where Hemingway says it is the best served. The malecon is only about a 10k walk in length. Never did do the following so if there is another Havana trip in my future then I will add motorcycle tour of the city (possibly on a classic Harley, BSA or triumph); watching a Cuban boxing match and betting on the guy with no hair; and spend more time in museums.
- From indigenous cultures to colonialism to the Cold War to current events Cuba is filled with history and there is no way to escape it as you explore the country.
- The Malecon is the perfect place to people watch. (Officially called the Avenida de Maceo). Construction of the Malecón began in 1901, during temporary U.S. military rule and its main purpose of building it was to protect Havana from the water and the so-called Nortes, but in reality, it is a nighttime spot for the young and in love.
- And last but not least for now: Best line heard on my travel to Havana by an American:
“If somebody is going to limit my travel to Cuba, then it should be a communist; and not my own government”.
Panama vs the Cuba hat; lunch at the Floridita; Hemingway hangout; sculpture.