Before leaving for the Cancun airport, I stopped to have a quesadilla from a small restaurant near my hostel. It was as good as it looked—the cheese, chorizo and potatoes tasted just like they should.
Good heavens! The Cancun airport was huge and stuffed with people. What must it be like in high season? With some rigamarole I got my boarding pass and got to the gate on Cubana Airlines. Pay tax (300 pesos), go and get a visa (250 pesos), return to receive boarding pass, go through security and to the gate. They kept announcing that carry on luggage could only contain bottles with 3.4 oz. so I knew I wouldn’t pass muster. So, I pulled out my computer and checked my bag.
Upon arrival in Cuba, there were a thousand people (several flights) all trying to get their luggage from one belt, and the lights were out in that area. After about an hour I got my pack and it was all wet, as it was raining. Then I got a cab with a mostly blind driver—still raining and now pitch dark. We drove all the way into Old Havana at a speed of about 25 miles per hour while he had his emergency blinkers going while continuously wiping the windshield (defrosters not working). Other cars (taxis!) were passing us like mad, but we did finally make it to my casa particular, which is what they call private homes that have a room or two for rent. Anyway, I met my hostess who told me that for the first night I would need to stay next door. (She said that there was a little, little, little problema—no room at the moment) Next door I got a lovely 20-foot-high ceilinged room with a crystal chandelier! The window and door opened to an open courtyard, with louvered shutters. How lovely! How Havana!! Except that it was raining cats and dogs!
A little later I walked back a few steps to my ‘original’ casa, which had the ‘Vieja Bar and Restaurant’ upstairs. It turned out to be the most charming restaurant you can imagine. I had two ‘Havana Specials,’ which are pineapple juice and rum, and then some empanadas of fish. Um, good!
The next day it continued pouring rain. I did try a little sight-seeing, but gave it up from getting so wet. I got transferred to my original casa particular. While I waited for the room to be ready I had a conversation with my hostess in Spanish (!) and she brought me a cafecito (little coffee.) I did take a little turn up to the Cathedral and around but it continued to rain on and off. I also checked out the street at night in between raindrops.
Finally the sun came out on Sunday morning—think ‘steam bath.’ At last I could see the Cathedral in sunshine. Somebody called it ‘Music in Stone.’ It was built in 1748. Christopher Columbus was interred here from 1795 until 1898, when he was moved to Seville in Spain. Where was he before 1795? Quien sabe?
Except for that, I spent a fairly frustrating morning. I tried six different museums but they were all closed on Sunday, which isn’t what my guidebook promised! Still it was fun to see the people and some stilt dancers. And yes, the old, old cars are still going! I understand they put new Russian motors in them.
It finally stopped raining late on Sunday, allowing for some good sight seeing on Monday. Unfortunately, as in so many places, many museums were closed. Still, I spent some time in the Plaza de San Francisco with its Lion Fountain, and its church and convent (closed today). Also on that square was the Terminal Sierra Maestra where all the cruise ships dock so their passengers can spend part of a day in Old Havana.
*With the architecture having fifteen-foot high louvered windows opening to the outside (as in ‘my’ casa), one ‘lives’ with the people/noises/activities of the street.
*One sees many posters lauding Che Guevera, who helped Fidel in the Revolution.
I visited the Castillo de la Fuerza, the oldest existing fort in the Americas, built in 1558. The building was far more interesting than the displays. This was also true of the Museum of the City. I did find a pretty church (Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis) and from there, walked back to rest. Actually just hanging out in Old Havana is more fun than actually visiting the museums, and there are many pretty plazas with benches in which to do just that.
I took a bicycle taxi to the Art Museum and saw oodles of modern Cuban works. They are pretty harsh, but finally I came to some older works (early 1900s), which were more pleasing. They apparently had some classic old German, Flemish, Italian, works, but the guard told me that area was closed. (I’m not sure it was!)
The Museum of the Revolution, an excellent museum, took quite awhile to see. Of course there were many pictures of Fidel and his two assistants, Che Guevara and Camillo Cienfuegos.
From there I walked a bit to see the Cuban Capitol Building next to the Parque Central. It, like many other buildings, was under scaffolding—it seems there is a big effort underway to rehabilitate many of the state buildings.
The next morning I took a ‘Hop on, Hop off’ bus around Havana. Actually, I didn’t hop off at all. Mostly we saw modern hotels, then some residential areas, and then the Colon Cemetery. I had planned to ‘hop off’ there, but the bus didn’t stop. Apparently one had to tell them in advance where to stop. There are quite a few posters/statues/ slogans relating to the Revolution to be seen. The Revolution here is not old news. The tour lasted 1 1/2 hours, but I didn’t find it very interesting. For me, being a tourist in Havana is mostly ‘being,’ not ‘seeing.’
I have had two breakfasts at Casa Kelly with a young Austrian couple, Florian and Marian. I asked them if they knew where I could buy some soap as I was running low. Little stores in which to buy supplies are almost non-existent here in Havana and soap is not provided here in Casa Kelly. They said they had brought a whole sack of small soaps to give as little gifts in Cuba. They had asked a friendly waiter if this were a good thing to do, and he had told them that it would be offensive. So they were happy to give me three little soaps!
The three of us went to the beach, which is about a half-hour’s drive from Havana. It was a perfect day and the beach was perfect. We had planned to take the Hop On Hop Off bus and hop off at the beach. While we were waiting for the bus, a taxi man approached us and said that he would take the three of us to the beach and pick us up for the same price as we would spend on the bus ($15). A deal! He drove a 21-year-old Lada, which had a newer French engine in it.
The beach was wonderful and the three of us had a lovely afternoon. There were quite a few people there, one of whom spent the afternoon doing a sand sculpture. I admired the sculpture and the sculptor! Later I had a beer and some excellent fish. The taxi came to pick us up and take us back to the Parque Central.
In the meantime I have made plans to go to Vinales today. Kelly (my hostess) has set me up with a Casa Particular there. The hostess is supposed to meet my bus—hopefully that will happen! It will be fun to be out in the country. I plan on going to three towns in the next ten days, Vinales, Trinidad and Santa Clara.