Yup, Havana, Cuba. What a fascinating, bizarre, time warp trip. My mom has always wanted to go, so off we went. Amelia sat this one out and stayed with Sara in San Diego. You can now fly directly from USA to Cuba on a “people to people” educational tour.
Change is definitely in the air in Cuba. The communist way is on its last legs. Under Fidel’s brother Raul, changes have already taken place. Now there are private restaurants, joint business ventures with European companies. And a strong tourism economy that is not completely run by the government.
We had a rough start to the trip, typical travel stuff like 7 hours of sleep in 48 hours. While waiting in line at Havana Airport to have our papers checked, I was the lucky one that got pulled out of line by the “officials”. Nothing like getting the third degree in spanglish. We were warned and coached by the tour representative in Miami that it would probably happen to one of us. The coaching we received definitely helped, though I did stumble trying to explain what I do for work. (Pretty much like I always do when someone asks.) The humidity was brutal and the whole group was operating on little sleep. It just sucked the life out of us. And of course there was no AC in the terminal and baggage claim. But the AC in the Chinese made Tour bus cranked, so that was a relief, until we got to the hotel and all our rooms were like a sauna set at 95 degrees. Just a little AC malfunction, “Please don’t worry, we will fix it.” Sure enough, 4 hours later, after we returned from dinner the rooms were nice and cool. Halleujah! After that, the trip was wonderful, until our departure day.
The short departure story is our 11am flight out of Havana was delayed over 9 hours! Without a single explanation. So of course everyone missed their flights out of Miami, and we all had to spend the night there. At least we were back in the US of A!
The saying in Cuba is, “It is complicated.” Nothing is easy, or easy to explain. Here are some statistics to help paint a picture. The island is huge, over 42,000 square miles. Havana is home to almost 3,000,000 people. 78% of the working population are government employees. 51% of the population is Mulatto, a recognized race in Cuba. The women are exotic and beautiful. Slavery was really big in Cuba and wasn’t outlawed until 1896, and even then it still continued. The slaves came from Nigeria and Congo. A common fallacy is Catholicism is the dominant religion. Actually 70% of the population are “spontaneous believers” (I would fall under that category). 15% are non believers, and the other 15% go to church regularly.
There’s way more photos than I normally post. I hope it doesn’t become too boring for you.
Ruth, in Miami looking for her Visa.
The non air conditioned luggage claim.
A minute later when all the power went out. Welcome to Cuba!
Ruth, looking for her passport in Havana.
Plaza of the Revolution.
Plaza of the Revolution. Random old American car. And of course, Che.
Hubana Compas Dance Studio. I really dig the Cuban art.
Same studio. They were doing a crazy modern dance based around percussion.
Every lunch started with a welcome cocktail, typically a mojito and ended with coffee.
Bright colors and cool designs were everywhere.
The Melecon, the road that runs along the water in Havana.
If you aren’t into 50’s art deco, skip the next 7 pics.
Hotel Havana Riviera was a mobster hotel opened during the go go 50’s before the revolution. The idea was to line the Melecon with casinos just like Vegas. The hotel still had all the original art deco from the 50’s. The next 6 pictures are from the there.
I really liked this one.
Russian Embassy, from the courtyard of our hotel.
View from the balcony of our room at Melia Havana Hotel. Melia is a Spanish company doing a joint venture with the Cuban government.
The greeter in Old Havana by the Cathedral de la Havana.
Cathedral de la Havana.
This is a mail slot! How cool is that?
Havana’s version of the painted donkeys in Tijuana.
No doubt a descendent of one of Hemingway’s cats.
Very interesting statue.
Old Havana, there’s a big restoration project going on.
Everyone dries their clothes on the balcony.
Government employees! Part of the tourism department.
Putting on a show for all of us touristas.
Just another beautiful church with a random old car.
Our awesome guide, Medalia. College educated and never been out of Cuba. Married 4 times. The first one was a marriage of convenience back in the 90’s. That was how she got her first house. Back then you could not legally buy and sell homes. So many people married, six months later divorced, and exchanged the real-estate in the settlement. Marriage and divorce is as easy as going to city hall.
Another section of old Havana.
A remnant of the wall that surrounded Old Havana. There were nine gates. They opened at 5am and closed at 10pm. If you were on the other side between 10pm-5am you were shit out of luck. The city had a big problem with pirates.
Looks like I have kin in Cuba.
Casa de Fuster. Jose Fuster is often called the “Picasso of Cuba.” This is the entrance to his home and studio. He is transforming his entire neighborhood with his broken ceramic tile murals.
Does this not look like that little thing hanging at the back of your throat, the uvula?
Fuster is really into roosters.
If you are into old classic American cars, then this next set of pics is for you. If not, just by pass them.
1958 Edsel Pacer. On our last evening, four classic convertible cars picked us up for dinner.
The dashboard of the Edsel.
Great shot, cruising the Melecon, top down, sun setting.
Ok, that’s it for the cars.
Ernie and I, at his favorite bar, the Floridita.
Ruth, belly up to the bar, enjoying a daiquiri at the Floridita. The birthplace of the daiquiri.
One of the highlights was visiting a cigar factory. It was amazing. Of course like most factories, no photos allowed. The Cohiba lived up to the hype, very enjoyable.
Ruth and the bay.
Amelia is a very popular name. I was seeing it everywhere.
And this is why. The belief is if two siblings get married on the same day, one will have great luck and tragedy will come to the other. Amelia had tragedy; she and her baby died during child birth. Legend has it, her child was laid to rest at her feet, later when the grave was dug up (I can’t remember why) the baby was in her arms. Her husband visited the grave everyday for 40 years and always walked backward when leaving her grave so not to dishonor her. So now, people come from miles around and even different countries to visit the grave to make a wish. The ritual is walk up to the grave. Use the knocker to knock three times, touch the baby, walk around the grave, and then walk out backwards.
Probably my favorite pic. The graveyard was fascinating.
Since we couldn’t fly out at 11am, and they would not allow us to loiter around the airport, we loaded back into the bus and headed out to the country. Big difference between the city and country. A lot of folks on the tour said it reminded them of Costa Rica.
Finally getting off the island! But not without one last Cuban experience. The jet engines were going full bore as we were loading.