Caribbean Islands | Cuba | Havana – Havana good time
Within a few hours of arriving here, I was already enjoying a mojito rum cocktail in the lush gardens of the famous Hotel Nacional, while being offered a Montecristo cigar. This could only be Havana, Cuba.
In Cancun I had managed to buy a plane ticket to Havana. The flight to Havana took less than an hour, and I was easily welcomed through immigration.
I checked in to a ‘casa particular’, or private house. This is the way to go in Cuba. Many people convert their homes into accommodation for travellers, usually just as comfortable as a hotel and cheaper. My hosts Fernando and Marisol provided me a room that came with breakfast, a private bath and air conditioning. I definitely needed the air conditioning, as it is darn hot here in Cuba.
Buses jam packed
To get around Havana, I was faced with a variety of options. I avoided the public buses, because if you’ve seen them, you’ll know why. The buses are always jam packed with Cubans, as there is a bit of a crisis with public transport.
One afternoon I witnessed about ninety-three Cubans trying to get onto a bus that was probably meant to fit about forty comfortably. I watched in bemusement as the bus door opened and there was a mad scrum to get on board. Every crevice of the bus was filled, with about four in each seat, people in the stairwells, and hanging out the windows. A fight then broke out, apparently over a matter of queue jumping. I’ve heard there are times when kids will jump on and hold on to the doors on the outside while the bus was moving. Crazy stuff.
Taking in history
Cuba is all about history, particularly the Revolution in 1959 that freed them from their dictators. One day I strolled to the Plaza de la Revolucion, a huge open space. Just before it is the towering Jose Marti monument. Walking around the platform, I imagined the times when Castro would address his subjects on the square, giving one of his political speeches. Behind the monument, I saw the building that houses Castro’s office.
I also visited the Museo de la Revolucion across town. While it has interesting items such as guns and weapons from the revolution, it also contained some questionable artifacts such as ‘Glasses used by Fidel Castro’ and ‘Denim bag used by Fidel Castro when his laundry was done’. So this is where Fidel’s junk ends up.
Coco-taxi to the Capitolio
One morning, I caught a coco-taxi to the Capitolio. The coco-taxi can be described as a motorcycle with a bright, round, yellow fibreglass cocoon behind it for two passengers. These are great to get around as you are basically sitting in the open.
My driver on this occassion zipped through the back streets at speed, beeping his horn and scattering children, cyclists, and stray animals in his wake. Meanwhile, I was holding on for dear life for fear of being thrown out whenever he swerved sharply or hit one of the many potholes. It was a worthy ride though, as he passed through many back streets and I was able to see Cubans going about their daily business.
When I got to the Capitolio, I was standing before a building that resembles Washington DC’s Capitol building. Only, this towering edifice is more ornately decorated. The inside contained cavernous halls under its massive dome towering above, and I walked around in wonder gazing at the intricate carvings on the walls and ceilings.
The interesting neighbourhoods are in Havana Vieja, with narrow 16th century streets and beautiful architecture. There are several squares within close proximity of each other, including Plaza Vieja, Plaza San Fransisco de Asis, and Plaza Armas.
On Plaza Armas there is an old book market where I engaged an old book seller, Ricardo, in conversation. He told me stories of the regime before the revolution, including the shootings he had witnessed. Today, he says it is still not easy but he survives. I bought an old 1961 Spanish copy of Castro’s famous 1953 speech ‘La Historia Me Absolvera’, or ‘History Will Absolve Me’.
The narrow streets are particulary interesting to wander around in, as these are were Cubans basically live. I saw kids playing baseball, women standing in doorways idly chatting, and people carrying bread and provisions around.
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The Cuban adventure continues.