Havana (appropriately named) is actually the second capital of Cuba. Originally it was Santiago in the south east of the country.
Part of the fun getting to Cuba from El Salvador was the flight to Panama along the coast, with many volcanoes to look at
along with the islands and anchorages in the Golfo de Foneseca.
and Nicaragua...which is steaming!
Unfortunately the clouds obsucred Costa Rica and the Panama Canal...Bugger! Half way across to Cuba from Panama, we were now in the Caribbean with some beautiful atolls….why are there no yachts anchored here???
and the circle cultivation on the Cuban plains was facinating. This has been used to increase productivity after all State owned farms were privatised in 1993. Farming is now organic.
Old Havana is both stunningly beautiful and very sad. Architecturally, the buildings are awesome; with porticos and Doric columns.
Huge doors that we saw in Antigua, Guatemala for the days when people went about thier business on horseback.
However the buildings have been left to crumble; although the government is slowly getting money to renovate/restore some buildings; absolutely beyond comprehension how they will manage to do this.
Some of the restoration projects have been magnificent and these buildings sit proudly leaving it to the imagination of what Havana would have been like in her former glory.
Much of Old Havana has been closed off to cars allowing a timeless stroll through a maze of cobbled streets to discover restaurants, some commercial activity (a few clothing, book and shoe shops) small museums, art galleries and a large number of bars.
Of course the music is just sensational and every hotel/bar/corner has musicians hammering out great tunes, beckoning you to dance, regardless of your ability!!!! Latinos have the moves that westerners try hard to achieve!! Centro Historico has a lot of entertainment...we feel some of which is for the tourists.
The port entrance is very small and was once a good hideout for pirates and their booty.....
with the foreshore extending along the city for quite a distance.
Some of the local inhabitants roam freely around and can be found in many a hotel lobby.
We visited Hemmingway's favourite bars, which although are very crowded in the mornings; (everyone seems to start drinking very early here!!)
the afternoons are a great time to relax with the locals...and when in Rome..... (had to have at least one Mojito!!)
Hemmingway has left his legacy all over Havana; La Bodeguita Del Medio (above) being one such place where whoever comes to visit writes their name on its walls……
making his own statement, which we are sure has been followed by others.
A famous Mural depicts life in the street; the Cuban Arts scene as it was famous for pre revolution; literature and music. The government is currentlly restoring the buildings opposite the mural so a mirror image is unfolding.
Revolution Square is used for national gatherings and more recently, to the delight of the Cubans, live concerts. The National Museum is located here with past revolutionaries such as Fidel Castro and 'Che' Guevara presiding over the square. Apparently when Fidel Castro spoke to the people in the square, his comrades would offer encouraging comments which translates to 'good words Fidel' or somehting like you are doing a great job. This is the slogan with the portraits.
The absence of a westernization of a culture ….. the commercialism, mobile phones stuck to people’s ears, fast food…..all that is visual was one of the reasons why we wanted to visit Cuba; although of course, it is what the young people now want, after seeing what the tourists have. President Obama is talking about opening up Cuba to the Americans next year…..so change is on the cards. Hopefully all will change for the better for the people without conflict. Tips are the only way the people can get ahead at the moment and whilst some expect a tip if you take a photograph, others who provide a service may not and be over the moon when one is given.
The State provides free health, education, rent free accommodation and free make-up for women! There is some opportunity to move house, although the process is difficult. Individual home ownership is only for those whose families who owned homes before the revolution and can be passed down to younger family members. Because there is a shortage of housing, young married couples have to live with either parents; sometimes up to 10 couples can be sharing a small house, so marriages quickly end in divorce due to the lack of space and privacy and the pressure of families.
As fantastic as it is to experince Cuba, differences in wealth exist and we saw little of the hardship that many people faced in their struggle for survival.
After the Pope’s visit in the early 1990’s, Catholicism is now allowed. The main Cathedral has since been beautifully renovated
while the old Church has been abandoned.
We were surprised at the huge number of tourists, many of which are bundled from one location to another on tour busses.
We preferred to run around in style...
Arriving as an independent traveller, any tours you go on consist of a handful of likewise travellers, which adds to the interest of the tour. We were often with people from South American countries.
We did see one large fruit and vege market, (important to cruisers!!) but for most of the people, there are many small tiendas (shops) that sell a small amount of items and some supermarkets, sparsely stocked, that some people can afford. Not sure of how it works, but the people are only allowed one soap bar/month and other goods are rationed. Soaps, toothbrushes, washing powder, shampoo and pens are some good trade items!
There are not a lot of cars on the road, so apart from the expensive hire cars and tour busses; the roads are almost devoid of traffic outside of Havana. Although there are busses, generally people travel in the back of large trucks into the city or there are traffic police that stop yellow plated cars (private cars) to organise a ride for the people whom need to travel in and out of Havana.
Other rural transport is by bicycle (Cuba would be a great place for a cycle tour!) or horse/bullock and cart.
In Havana, a variety of local transport is available….
Havana is one of those places where time has stayed still; Peter is in awe of the people who can keep beautiful vintage cars still running without access to spare parts. It says a lot about the ingenuity of the people, borne out of necessity.
The Cuban people’s ethnicity varies from Spanish, Italian, French, African and a mix of all in between. The original Indian inhabitants are no longer present.
Tourists have a different currency to the locals. We can only use Cuban Convertibles (CUC) with an ER of 1USD=1 CUC. The USD is penalised 10%, so European currencies are better to exchange. The locals use Cuban Pesos, for reasons we could not ascertain. Some of the older Cuban’s we asked said the ‘why’ aspect of their life is too hard; it’s up to their children to ask why. The struggle for life continues to be difficult for many.
Some businesses are private, like the beautiful National Hotel (owned by a friend of Fidel!) which houses a theatre and a Hall of Fame which is well worth seeing. There are beautiful old photos of musicians and film stars who have visited Cuba in pre revolution years and during the Communist regime. It was a wonderful place to hang out on Peter’s birthday…of course with the recently acquired Panama hat and Cuban Cigar!
Incidentally, the cannons that were positioned between here and the fort, (during the 18th Century) could fire a cannon ball up to 9km.
In Pinar del Rio, a few hours to the west of Havana we visited a local Ron (Rum) factory that produce La Occidental Ron; they add little Guava berries to the alcohol to add flavour. The factory does not produce enough for export and 40% proof, it’s not a mixer. The Cuban’s certainly drink a lot more than the Aussies….and that is saying something. Good thing I did not grow up in Cuba!!! We were mojito’d out after the first day. (Had to have just a tipple!!!) We liked the lady who wore her hair in curlers to work!!!
In nearby Vinales, Thursday happened to be market day and we hope a special day as the beer truck was in huge demand!! The locals would fill their litre water bottles up with beer for $1. Street drinking is not an issue in Cuba.
We also visited a Cigar factory (in Pinar del Rio) where Churchill, Romeo and Juliette and Monte Christo Cigars among others were produced. Contrary to popular opinion, no virgin’s thighs were in evidence in the manufacturing process; however, it was very labour intensive. Strictly no photos were allowed, which, given the working conditions of the men and women, was not surprising.
Apparently we did not miss out on much not getting to visit the chololate factory and the only Cuban chocolate we found was at the airport…it was to die for...and yes we were little piggies.
The limestone hills in the area were once a part of the coast line, during the Jurassic period. In 1962, the locals painted this huge mural to acknowledge the ancient sea level (thick black line) and the local wildlife!!
Rivers have cut many caves through the hills…..
In order to have a taste of the Caribbean without the masses of tourists, we spent a day out at the local beach near Havana…Playa Del Este which was stunning…….
at last beautiful gin clear water with the fabulous colours we saw in the Indian Ocean. Roll on the Pacific!!! We did not want to leave!!
Great palapa restaurants….there is just something about having a meal with your feet in the sand.
Of course no journey for us is complete without a visit to a marina..Hemmingway Marina was very busy with the exception of American yachts!!
We did not know what to expect with Cuba but what we saw was awesome!! We would love to spend more time here. A Canadian couple we met said that they had last been here 10 years ago and nothing had changed. Unlikely in the next 10 years……………….