Saturday, August 1, 2015

Notes from Cuba, Part 2: Streets of Havana

Previous: Notes from Cuba, Part 1: Havana Bay >

Here are more drawings from my recent trip to Cuba with Ronnie and Margaret, a group tour organized by Jim Richards & Marimar Travel.

Old Havana. Corner of Floridita bar and restaurant, famous for being Ernst Hemingway's favorite hangout spot.

Havana, for the most part, is devastated by neglect. You can tell that this was a rich, gorgeous, blossoming city at the beginning of the 20th century, with colorful, eclectic architecture that mixes Colonial, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Neo-Classical influences. But now the buildings are crumbling. There's no real estate ownership as such. The government owns everything. People have only "moral" ownership of their abodes. If they invest time and money in fixing things up, the government can come at any point and take it, so people don't fix anything. Neither does the government. Some of the buildings have deteriorated so much that all that's left are facades with piles of bricks behind them. People, whose housing approaches a near-collapse condition, get a letter from the government, stating that they can move to a shelter, or remain in their current place at their own risk. The tour guide told us that shelters are way worse, so people tend to stay, regardless...

Fruit vendors.

There is no proper septic system (can't flush toilet paper, even at the 5-start Hotel Nacional), and in many public restrooms one must manually flush with a bucket of water.

Government food store.

Government stores are a sad sight. I had a flashback to Soviet Russia of my early childhood in Moscow, when people stood in long lines to buy food or clothing by redeeming government-issued ration coupons. And the stores were nearly as empty as this one, above. Under a watchful eye of Fidel on the poster-a bag of rice, a few piles of vegetables...

Despite the circumstances, people are warm, kind and fun-loving. There is SO much live music, both on the streets and in bars, and dancing. At night, people are hanging out in cafes, like the one below, and line up along El Malecon, Havana's waterfront, which has been dubbed the "eternal bench of the city".
Street cafe along El Malecon in Havana.
"Guantanamera, Wahira, Guantanamera..."
Street cafe at night, and a classic American car.

Old cars are the only cars in Havana. Some are Russian-made models Lada, Moskvich and Kamaz tractors (another Soviet childhood throwback), others are American relics like the one above. Most of these cars are falling apart, but Cubans have no other choice for the past 60 years...The best-looking convertibles serve as luxury taxi rides for tourists. We took a ride in this pink beauty below.

In the next post: a trip to ViƱales, cigar factory, and more...

p.s. You can see some photos from this trip on my Instagram >