It was good to be back in Havana. It’s just such a unique place. I usually categorise cities into two columns. Ones like Rio or Sydney that are pretty and you dont really need to experience the underlying culture to get a lot out of it. And the second column, cities like Melbourne and Buenos Aries where you really need to know where to go and what to do and spend a bit of time there to really get it. Well Havana somehow sits firmly in both columns. It’s stunningly attractive but yet we feel we are only really scratching the surface of what it has to offer.
We spent the morning walking around Central Havana which during the day would be my favorite part of Havana. The buildings are all old and crumbling, far less tourists and the people are real. Not a place I would spend a lot of time walking around in at night but I think that is just my own uncomfortableness rather than an actual risk something would happen. The street lights are yellow and too few and everyone sits outside on their pavements which gives it a bit of a eery vibe. But during the day the streets are just a never ending movie set. It’s a place I don’t think I will ever fully understand but we continue to try and figure it out.
For example we still can’t figure out where the general population get stuff like toilet paper or butter or milk. We pass a shop selling one thing only like bread or meat or eggs and occasionally a tienda that sells a few things together. But each counter is separate. So for example we wanted water and icecream but the man wouldn’t sell me icecream from his counter, I had to go to the next counter. But we still have not seen the shop where they buy toiletries or canned tomatoes etc. Also we hadn’t seen a lot of veggie or fruit grocers yet the restaurants have vegetables. Do they get them delivered? We just can’t figure out how the general population are making things work. It’s very frustrating not speaking fluent Spanish as we have so many questions and so few answers.
We were recommended a restaurant right in central and upon arrival you think it is just a dilapidated old building with people living in it. But you walk up two sets of stairs past washing hung out to dry and end up in this really fancy restaurant. So completely different from the surrounding area where everyone is quite poor. We sat down to eat but unfortunately the heat was uncomfortable so we abandoned that idea and ended up eating right on the waterfront.
That afternoon we had decided to go for a tour around Havana in one of the classic cars. We found a beautiful old Chevy 53 and agreed on a price with the pushy slick tour guide. Unfortunately we couldn’t do the two hour tour as our apartment only has its water on for a specific period of time which is 8-8.45am and 12-12.45pm and 6-6.45pm. Crazy I know but I suppose it is a good way to conserve water! So we decided on the hour tour of the fort, lighthouse and St Christof statue that are all on the other side of the river bank. You access this by an tunnel built by the French in 1931.
The first stop was the statue which afforded us great views of old Havana. The statue was also right beside Che’s residence when he was minister of finance. We then headed to another fort. Nothing too spectacular here other than reinforcing the fact that the port would have been heavily defensible. Our last stop was the lighthouse and fort right on the mouth of the river. Great views back along the Malecon and of our apartment complex we were staying at. All in all we didn’t learn anything from our tour guide but we enjoyed cruising around in the beautiful old car. We decided we would hire a convertible tomorrow though!
We headed out again in old town. We definitely decided that we enjoyed the city more during the day. We had both imagined salsa clubs lining the streets and music and dancing spilling out on the road. Although we have heard some amazing music, it’s mainly aimed at the tourists and we haven’t got the authentic experience we were after. Piata went to a salsa club with the dance school and said it was fantastic and mostly full of locals but we never made it that far out of town. It’s easy to understand though why the locals don’t go out to restaurants and bars as they don’t have the money. Also Reggaton has taken over here with the younger generation. We commented that the salsa music we heard they all play a lot of the same famous songs. I don’t actually know how much original music is being composed. But I could be completely wrong and maybe they are just playing those songs because it is what the tourists want to hear.
I think as a tourist you are also supposed to go to a salsa show here. But they are very expensive and it wasn’t really the experience we were after. So we didn’t go. Still that night we found a restaurant with live salsa music so sat down with our mojitos to enjoy the show.
The other frustrating thing about Havana at night is the hustlers. Well they are there during the day but I feel they are worse at night. They start off starting a conversation with you asking where you are from. We always try and be polite so don’t ignore anyone, knowing full well that they are trying to sell us cigars or take us to a crappy restaurant where they get commission. It’s really annoying as you kind of just think everyone is out to con you. So when you do meet someone bring genuinely friendly you might just walk away from them which doesn’t give us tourists a good reputation. S
The statues scattered through Havana really are impressive. This one was just down the road from us.
One of the best up old taxis we got to take. Notice the Cuban and American flag on the front.
More street shots. As you can see the buildings are a little more decrepit and crumbling than those in old Havana but for us it just feels more real and raw.
Count resist the arty shot.
We had read in our guide book that there was a street covered in murals Calle Callejon de Hamel. To top it off there was live Rumba. The murals all depict Afro Cuban deities and it was really fascinating. But unfortunately ridiculously hot so we height tailed it out of there.
We stopped off at the cigar factory which was unfortunately shut as it was Sunday. But the security guide took us in and tried to sell us “real” Cohibas for a third of the price. We knew the offical store was the next door over so went in and had a look around and politely refused as we wanted the real deal. This picture is in the real shop at their bar. The lady in there was really lovely and gave us lots of info. Tim mentioned he was buying our 5 cigars to smoke with his brother and brother in laws and that there was 8 of them. She gave us an extra 3 which are not proper Cohibas but were rolled in the same factory for a different company. Very nice of her.
One of the levels underneath the fancy restaurant. As you can see the locals live here too.
A few of the local boys excepting the heat playing dominos.
View from the statue looking over Havana.